“The Lord is calling us to be a family gathering”: Bishop Hartmayer’s Chrism homily

Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Chrism Mass
March 22, 2016
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Savannah, Georgia

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me... He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives’, recovery of sight to the blind... to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

Jesus is the anointed one of God, the Christ; we are His anointed disciples, the priestly people of God... as we just heard in tonight’s first reading from Isaiah and from the gospel as well.

These words are true of all of us because, through baptism, we are all members of Christ’s body; together we are a priestly people.

Because we are all baptized with the Oil of the Catechumenate and the Oil of Chrism, we are all members of the Body of Christ.

It is always a joy to gather as the local church and to celebrate the Chrism Mass. The whole Church is represented here: the Bishop and his priests; the order of deacons, the consecrated religious and the laity;

But tonight, I would like to speak to the priests because the Chrism Mass highlights, in special way, the ministerial priesthood.

It is very appropriate, nonetheless, that lay people hear what I have to say to their priests because these dedicated men need and deserve the support and love of the people they serve.

My dear brothers, this is our 4th Chrism Mass together.

In gathering his priests, Cardinal O’Malley from Boston would say to his priests that at the Chrism Mass, “We gather tonight for the annual oil change and tune up."

The oils are the tools we use in the ministry we share, but just as important is our own tune up as we gather as a presbyterate to recommit ourselves to follow Christ and to shepherd His people.

We celebrate this mass of Chrism in which the oils of anointing are blessed. Each of the oils can symbolically stand for an important dimension of the mission of the Church.

In the coming months, these oils will be used for thousands of Baptisms, Confirmations, Anointing’s of the Sick, and two priestly Ordinations.
It is our priests and bishops and our deacons who will administer these sacraments. Your service, your generosity, your holiness is what brings the sacraments to our people and what makes the sacraments available.

Your preaching and your witness of a priestly life is what makes the sacraments credible and meaningful to our people. The role of the priest is crucial even for the priesthood itself.

In college, I minored in American Literature and Poetry. I enjoy the works of a number of American poets. Among them is Robert Frost and his famous poem: The Road Not Taken.

In the poem is the verse: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by... and it has made all the difference.”
This well-known verse has been used to relate to many life experiences. It certainly can be applied to our journey as priests.

What made US choose “the road less traveled by?

Everyone here was helped in discovering his priestly vocation because of the witness, the friendship, the advice that each of us experienced in a priest whom we knew and whose ministry touched our lives. Now it is our turn to cultivate vocations for the future.

If we truly love our people, we will want them to have the blessings of the Catholic priesthood. In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah says: “You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord. Your descendants shall be renowned among the nations.”

Your ministry will produce other ministers; other priests who will serve the next generation of Catholics. And their vocations will inspire the next generation.

Some of us have only been on the road less traveled for a short time. And some of us have been on the road for a much longer time.

Some we knew and loved, started down “the road less traveled” with us and are now with the Lord. Others started on the road and after a while decided to turn around and go down another road.

There are five among us who have been traveling the road less traveled Fr. Brett Brannen is celebrating 25 years of priestly service, and their 50th anniversary of ordination is being celebrated by Msgr. Frank Nelson, Fr. Michael Smith, Fr. Bill Leahy and Fr. Tom Nellis. Msgr. Marv LeFrois, our eldest, has been ordained for 67 years.

To these priests and to all of you, I have great admiration and affection. Over these past four and a half years, I have come to love you more and more each year. With each passing year, I feel closer and closer to you. For that, I am most grateful to God.

There are moments in our ministry that are difficult; I call them the Simon of Cyrene moments. Simon was walking down the street minding his own business when those Romans got him and forced him to help Jesus carry the cross. I am sure that he was angry, upset, embarrassed and frustrated. Being part of a public execution, I am sure that he must have felt that it was the worst day of his life.

The New Testament tells us very little about Simon the Cyrenean. We only know that he was African, and that he had two sons, Alexander and Rufus. Some scholars have identified these two sons with men who were later leaders in the Christian Community. I like to think that Simon’s experience of carrying the cross is what led to his conversion and eventually to the conversion of his entire family. What began as the worst day of his life was really the best day, something he came to realize much later.

Yes, we all have Simon the Cyrenean moments in our ministry. Those are the difficult things that we would rather not do, but we have no escape. You have all heard the story.

The oil of Chrism one of the three oils that we are about to bless is used to anoint the altar table around which we gather to celebrate the liturgy of the Mass. It is around this holy table that the church’s activity finds its highest expression of praise and thanksgiving and is the source of all the rest of the good that she does.

It is the oil of chrism that flows over the head of the bishop and anoints the hands of the priest: anointed to serve the people of God in the name of Christ.

The Lord is calling us to be a family gathering, not a house divided. We are diverse in our outlooks, ethnic background, language, age, life experience, spirituality, but we are all priests of the same presbyterate, sharing in the responsibility not only of our individual parish or ministry but also of the entire diocese.

To accept and live our consecration for service and worship, for compassion and praise, requires deep faith. It calls for times such as this when we gather around the symbols of our tradition and remember our consecration, and support one another in our growth in faith. We need one another.
Let us use our creativity and courage to proclaim Good News, to speak of true freedom, to offer sight and perspective, to proclaim what God has done for us. We have all been consecrated for God’s work.

We are truly a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims as his own.”

My brothers in the ordained priesthood, consecrated and set apart for God’s holy and priestly people, I urge you to join me in renewing our consecration for compassion and praise. Let us call on the Lord with all our hearts, let us stretch our spirits, so that we can continue to offer a leadership of faith to our people.

May the blessing and Eucharist we celebrate tonight, and the saving events we celebrate later this week, renew us in mind and heart, prepare us to rediscover, with the freshness of Spring and Christ’s risen life, the greatness of our consecration.

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