Chrism Mass 2002
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Yesterday, on Palm Sunday we heard the powerful narrative of the Passion according to St. Matthew. There the evangelist told us just what it meant for Jesus in taking up his cross and, therefore, what it can mean for us to take up the cross to follow him.For Jesus, it meant being betrayed by one who broke bread with him at table.
Taking up the cross for Jesus meant being denied by Peter who, only a short time before, said, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.”
For Jesus, taking up the cross meant that he was willing to let go of his own desires and be about the will of the Father. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will but as you will.” “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Jesus was betrayed and denied. He was willing to let go of us own desires to be about the will of the Father. We are called to do the same.
As Catholic Christians, we see our values often betrayed and denied. I think two strengths that we need at this time are anger and courage.
Anger is appropriate when others call a child a choice, and an unborn child a fetus.
You can be angry when syringes intended to be instruments of healing are developed into instruments of death, be it by state-sponsored capital punishment or drug overdoses. It is right to be angry when those who hijacked a plane on September 11 tried also to hijack a religion of peace.
Anger is appropriate because then our nation lost its innocence, and innocents lost their lives on that blue September morning.
You are, and you should be angry at the abuse of alcohol in college settings and in private homes, violating the minds and bodies of those who drink as well as causing violence to the safety of others on the road.
There is our appropriate anger at those who through television, cable, the Internet and mass-marketed videos infect the fabric of society with the poison of pornography. Individuals, relationships and families are destroyed often in a soul-less drive for financial profit.
We are angry when persons in the Church, be they priests or teachers or ecclesial lay ministers abuse children and young people. My heart, indeed all our hearts, ache for those who are victims of abuse. Turning our anger into action will require courage.
Courage comes from the Latin word for heart. To have courage means to be strong of heart. Today we are called to be a courageous people of God. We are called to be courageous with our lives.
Priesthood takes a certain kind of courage, especially in the face of the misunderstandings so current in our culture. For example, celibacy is an issue totally unrelated to the sexual abuse of minors: some 90% of such abusers are married people, abusing other family members. Another misunderstanding surrounds the cases of 15 years and more ago: at that time the mental health experts and religious leaders were just beginning to grasp the terrible impact abuse had on the little ones. Hindsight helps us to see the damage done, but it should also guide us to judge more fairly those who made decisions based on faulty knowledge both about that damage and the near impossibility of changing course on the part of the offenders.
These are difficult times to be Catholic.
The Church has faced difficult times in the past, as well.
And throughout 2000 years, whenever the Church has faced great difficulty, God has raised up people who were faithful servants, willing to transform the world by following Jesus in bringing the gospel to the poor. Often their lives helped transform the Church as well - witness St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Teresa of Avila, to name a few.
In every age, the Church has had faithful Christians who, by the grace of God, lived with fidelity to the gospel, love of the Church, a heart that was zealous, and a faith beyond all measure. We call them saints and blessed and venerable. Jesus inspired them to seek holiness.
In the gospel passage from St. Luke we heard Jesus begin to quote from the prophet Isaiah the words of our first reading, a reading that speaks of Jesus' anointing from the Lord. It is an anointing with the holiness related to the sacramental anointings made with the oils we bless tonight. They will be instruments of the reality of God's own holiness, shared with the person whose faith accompanies the use of the oils. Holiness - what our mission as Church is all about. A holiness flowing from the holiness of Jesus who surrendered his will to the Father's, a holiness reflected in the saintly persons who have walked among us here.
Through our streets walked St. John Neumann, pastor of St. Alphonsus, and Blessed Francis X. Seelos, who served at St. Alphonsus and at St. Mary's, Annapolis, and others too. Last fall, at the Synod of Bishops, we suggested to the Holy Father that he urge the Church around the world to search out and to lift up more holy priests, especially diocesan priests, as exemplars for Christian living - and more holy laity, including married couples, as well. To the accomplishment of this task I am prepared to invite the participation of every parish in the Archdiocese.
Through our streets walked the holy widow and mother who founded a religious community and began the Catholic schools which have helped shape our living of the faith today: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. And here in Baltimore lived the courageous and visionary Mother Mary Lange, who learned English as her third or fourth language and founded the first religious community anywhere for women of African descent. Her courage in finding a way to educate the children of slaves and former slaves makes her significant in the eyes of all who see the evil of racism. The City of Baltimore has recognized her as a leading citizen. We pray now for signs of God's favor, miracles, to move her cause for sainthood forward.
God's call for holiness is touching the hearts of our young people. This year more than 8500 of them are making retreats at the Monsignor O'Dwyer Retreat Center at Sparks. A week ago Sunday 2,000 enthusiastic young people completed a weekend retreat at Mt. St. Mary's - what a joy it was to be with them. The next evening at a tavern in Fell's Point I found 200 young adults eager for a message of faith and ready with poignant faith-filled questions. On Saturday our annual pilgrimage on the Vigil of Palm Sunday brought the large World Youth Day cross through the city to the Paca Street location of the old St. Mary's Seminary and then, with the blessed palms, on to the Basilica for the Palm Sunday Eucharist.
In each setting young people told me how much good happened in their own lives thanks to priests who believed deeply and cared much for the spiritual good and growth of youth.
How proud we can be of our priests and of their courage. One illustration: on September 11th a terrorist-controlled plane slammed into the Pentagon. An Army Chaplain on duty that day hails from our Archdiocese, Father Rick Spencer. He ministered to the rescuers, and offered an open air Mass to beg God's help and guidance on those valiant labors. We pray for Father Rick and all who serve as Chaplains for the Armed Forces.
Please pray for all of our priests.
Pray also for our deacons, who have assumed more responsibilities in diocesan and in parish life, assisting, as did the first deacons in the Acts of the Apostles, in service to the table of the Lord, the table of the poor, and the preaching of the Gospel.
Those in the consecrated life give a remarkable and courageous witness to the power of God's grace and to the presence among us now of the kingdom that is to come. Their generous and faith-filled work as Pastoral Life Directors, Pastoral Associates and Directors and Coordinators of Religious Education is worthy of our recognition now.
Our ecclesial lay ministers serve so generously in a variety of ways, very especially in helping prepare for full communion the catechumens and candidates with us this evening.
The catechumens and candidates themselves we welcome to this celebration of the Eucharist. We pray that these final days of preparation be days of blessing for you and we congratulate you on your Easter entry into the family of the Church.
One other task is mine this evening: to remind us all that through baptism and confirmation all members of the Church are commissioned by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to faith, to help build up the Body of Christ which is the Church. In this archdiocese we shall be calling on all to assume a fuller share of responsibility in the ecclesial lay ministries, through a deeper formation to help guide our religious education programs and Catholic schools. We look to our clergy and to all to help by prayer and by action in the urgent recruitment of vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. At the same time we know that a redistribution of our priests and other ministers will be necessary. This will bring us challenge, and I foresee as well the promise of great spiritual growth.
In the Eucharist tonight let us pray for one another, and also for the courage to love the Church more fully. Because of you, I have great hope. I ask you to pray for me and for all who serve you in our ministries. Your prayers mean so much to me and to us all.
May the Lord Jesus, who sees and knows our weakness and our needs, take us close to himself as he renews for us the saving mysteries of the first Holy Week and Easter.
May the Risen Lord bless all with a full measure of Easter joy and peace!