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The joy of being a priest

Archbishop Wenski's homily at chrism Mass 2019

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the annual chrism Mass, celebrated Tuesday of Holy Week, April 16, 2019, at St. Mary Cathedral, Miami. For pictures and brief bios of the priests celebrating jubilees, click here.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.”

That Luke puts this Isaian passage at the beginning of Jesus' public ministry is the interpretive key to understanding all that would follow in the Gospel. He describes Christ's mission: to announce glad tidings to the poor, restore sight to the blind, to free the captive and the oppressed, to declare a Jubilee. It is as though Isaiah has written a job description for Jesus. In a word, he unveils for us the identity of Jesus and as "Christened people," the more we understand Jesus' identity, the more we will understand our own.

At this Mass, we bless the Holy Oils and consecrate the Sacred Chrism. Today’s Mass is a celebration for all God’s people because the itinerary of our lives as Catholics is marked by various anointings.

As we were prepared for baptism, we were anointed with the Oil of Catechumens; then, in baptism and confirmation, with the Sacred Chrism. Please God, at the end of our lives, we will receive a final anointing with the Oil of the Sick so that, at that hour, the Spirit will strengthen and console us.

We also recall the institution of the priesthood – for we use these oils in our sacramental ministry, and our hands were anointed for the ministry for which we were ordained.

We also honor some of our brothers who celebrate significant anniversaries of their ordinations. Three priests, Fr. Julio Estada, Fr. Emilio Salerno and Dominican Father Gerard Austin celebrate 60 years; Father Roger Holoubek is celebrating his golden jubilee; and celebrating silver jubilees, 25 years of priestly service, are Fathers Michael Grady, Francisco Hernandez, William Muniz, Jorge Carvajal-Nino, Fidelis Nwanko, Esteker Elyse and George Packuvettihara. 

Thank you for the “yes” that you gave on the day of your ordinations, a “yes” you have lived out each day since your ordination, a “yes” that all of us will renew with you as we have done each year at this Chrism Mass

Anointed with “oil of gladness,” all the priests present will recommit themselves before God and before you, his holy people, to accept and appreciate once again this great gift – the joy of being a priest.

The priesthood can and does bring us great joy when we authentically witness to Christ, who despite our unworthiness and our human weakness, has called us to the priesthood, which is both “a gift and a mystery.” Indeed, we could say that to the extent that we are authentic witnesses we will find joy in our priesthood even when we experience hardships and disappointments.  “Authentic witnesses do not contradict by behavior or by lifestyle what we have preached and taught to others.” I repeat, “Authentic witnesses do not contradict by behavior or by lifestyle what we have preached and taught to others.” These words were spoken by Pope Francis to a group of bishops; but all of us priests should take these words to prayer.

For, if a priest strays from his mission, or forgets he is a “man for others,” if he allows himself to be caught up in himself and his own anxieties, he can lose his fervor and the joy of being a priest. 

In these difficult days in the life of the Church, we priests are uplifted in knowing – as you show us today – that God’s people do love their priests, despite our shortcomings and human frailty. Yes, God uses imperfect instruments to work his will so that we know that it is He who saves, and not us. We priests carry the great treasure of our priesthood in “vessels of clay” and we were called to this noble vocation despite our own unworthiness. To quote St. Paul, who as a one-time persecutor of the Church seemed to be an unlikely candidate to become the Apostle to the Gentiles: “…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Since our last Chrism Mass, I presided over the funerals of a goodly number of priests and I was impressed at how many of the faithful, how many parishioners of even those who had been retired for some years, were there to pray for the repose of their souls, yes; but also, to show their gratitude for these men and their service.

As St. John Paul II wrote of people today and in every age: “ the end they have but one expectation: they are thirsty for Christ.  Everything else – their economic, social and political needs – can be met by any number of other people. From the priest they ask for Christ! And from him they have the right to receive Christ.”

My people, pray for your priests. May we be authentic witnesses and the priests that you deserve.

And you, my brothers, may we in our lives radiate joy – the joy of being a priest – so that young men may be inspired to discern a priestly vocation; that seminarians may be encouraged to persevere in their vocations; and that Christ’s faithful be edified through our ministry. 

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