On Easter Sunday, a priest was visiting his mother in the hospital and decided to take the opportunity to visit other patients on that day. One of the hospital aides accompanied the priest and explained a little about each patient as they entered the room. The priest wished each one a happy Easter and spoke a few words with them. When he came to one room, the aide informed the priest that he would find this particular woman speaking on the telephone. The aide explained that the woman was constantly on the phone but they discovered that there was no one on the other end. She simply would make idle conversation to herself. Sure enough, as the priest entered, the woman was on the phone. She stopped speaking and said, "Excuse me Martha - a priest just came - I will call you back in a little while." The priest started his usual conversation with a Happy Easter but discovered that the woman would not stop speaking to him. Over and over again, in a polite manner, he tried to end the conversation but could not. Finally, an idea struck him. He pointed to the telephone and said to the woman, "Your phone is ringing - your friend, Martha, must be trying to get you back." Sure enough, the woman picked up the phone and began to speak while the priest politely left the room. He was no sooner out of the door when he felt a tapping on his shoulder. When he looked around, he saw the woman he just left who said to him, "Excuse me, Father, but the call is for you!"
As we come together to celebrate this Chrism Mass, we are reminded that there is a call from the Lord to each and every one of us - priests, deacons, religious and all of the People of God – a basic call to holiness in life. We are each called to a particular relationship with the Lord which is the foundation of holiness. The oils that we will bless and the chrism that we will consecrate this morning will be used in our various parishes as a reminder of that call to holiness. These oils remind us that we are all truly set apart and given the grace of the Sacraments to nurture our relationship with the Lord. They also remind us that we do not come to the Lord on our own but through His Church. We need to support each other in our vocations and to hear the Lord calling us through our relationships with each other.
The priest has a particular role in the life of the Church which is to help others discern the Lord's call of holiness to them as well as the Lord's call to him. This role is an awesome one but also a humbling one. The most important part of our lives, the foundation on which they rest, is the recognition of the reality of God in our lives and of the personal relationship that we each have in different ways with Him. This relationship brings joy in the happy times of life as well as in the difficult times. The priest stands as one who enables this relationship. However, he cannot carry out his role unless this relationship is central to him and the joy of his life.
On Valentine's Day this year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, spoke to engaged couples gathered in St. Peter's Square. The Pope emphasized the fundamental importance of the call to married and family life, a vocation shared by many here this morning. He recognized that in our society it is difficult for young people to commit to marriage because of what he refers to as a "throwaway culture." When things get difficult and the commitment becomes too demanding, it is thrown away and something else is sought to fill the void. The Pope emphasized the nature of true love which is quite the opposite of convenience. In speaking to the couples, Pope Francis stated that three simple words are the foundation for a commitment in marriage – “please,” “thank you” and “sorry.” He has spoken of these three words on other occasions. As simple as it may seem, his insight is a profound one in regard to the basic call to holiness that is given to each one of us. I would especially like to speak about these words to my brother priests as they relate to our vocation.
“Please” is at the core of what being a priest is all about. The Holy Father described "please" as the polite request to enter the life of another with respect and care. As priests, we stand before God in an attitude of “please” at every moment. “Please” is the very nature of prayer itself. As priests, we have been called in a particular way to enter into the life of God and to allow him to enter into our lives. Prayer must be the foundation of all that we do from the beginning of the day to its end and even in sleep itself. In one of his daily homilies back in January, Pope Francis forcefully stated that the priest, “adores Jesus Christ, the priest talks with Jesus Christ, the priest seeks Jesus Christ and allows himself to be sought by Jesus Christ. This is the center of our life. If we do not have this, we lose everything! And then what do we give to the people?”
There is no question that people come to us as priests because they believe that in prayer we have a special relationship with Christ and it is this relationship that they seek from us. They do not come to us because we are saints or because we do not have faults and sins. They come to us because they believe that we take our relationship with Christ seriously and because of that they ask for our prayers. We stand in a special way as an intercessor for our people. Pope Francis has frequently emphasized this role of the priest. He has emphasized that the priest must have the courage to contend with God on behalf of his people as did Moses and Abraham before God.
The essential aspect of prayer in the life of a priest leads to the important words of "thank you," which lead to the Eucharist. The Eucharist literally means "thanksgiving." The celebration of Mass is the foundation of the priest’s prayer life in which he literally stands in the Person of Christ and offers Christ to the Father on behalf of all His People. However, the priest must unite himself so deeply to Christ that he too offers himself with Christ for the people whom he serves. All that the priest does in his ministry flows to the Eucharist and from the Eucharist. A priest friend of mine summed up the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of a priest, especially as it relates to our prayer for the people, in a very moving way. He spoke of going to his office early in the morning to pray. He looked out into the empty streets as dawn was beginning to light them and visualized the people of his parish, young and old, whom he ministered to each day, and personally reflected upon their joys and opportunities as well as their sufferings, losses and illnesses. He wondered how he was to care for them and he summed up his response in these words: "I go to the church and put on the priestly garments. I kiss the altar and begin the Mass. For my people, I appear before God to be the bridge between them and Him. As best as I can I make myself one with Jesus, and together we offer ourselves to them. I tell Him all about them. I hold up the Chalice of Salvation and show them how much His Son cares about them. I pray, sometimes I beg. I've been known to cry. These are my people." Such belief is at the heart of the Eucharistic prayer of a priest.
“Sorry” is the final word in the life of a priest. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that a "priest is chosen from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people" (Heb 5:1-3). Our Holy Father has been a great example of the recognition of "sorry." When asked by an interviewer “who are you,” his spontaneous words were "I am a sinner." He has emphasized over and over the tender and merciful love of God toward sinners always recognizing his need for the same mercy. As priests, we must recognize our limitations and sins, always relying upon the grace and mercy of God, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is this which makes us compassionate towards others and understanding of the human condition.
“Please”, “thank you” and “sorry” are words and attitudes essential to all of our lives in the vocation to which God has called us. Priests help us in understanding better these attitudes as they become more and more part of our lives as priests. On this special occasion of the Chrism Mass, especially before we renew our promises as priests, I would like to express these words to our priests. First, my brothers, I say “please” to you. Please continue to support each other and to build up the City of God here in the Diocese of Palm Beach. Please continue to be the fine priests you are to your people and the examples that you are to me in so many ways. I say “thank you” in a most sincere way to all of you. Thank you for your ministry and for all of the support that you afford to me. I know our people appreciate what wonderful priests we have in the Diocese of Palm Beach and I ask them now to express that gratitude to you. Finally, I say “sorry” to you, my brothers for whatever way I have not lived up to your expectations or if in any way I have offended you without realizing it. You are the priority of my ministry. I assure you of my continued esteem, prayers and support.
As we continue to celebrate this Chrism Mass, we give thanks to God for the call to holiness which He has made to each and every one of us. As we bless the oils and consecrate the chrism which will be used to remind us of our calling, let us always be aware that God calls us each and every day, each and every moment in ways and manners we may not expect. Knowing that he is the deepest part of our lives is what truly brings us joy. When it comes to holiness let us never forget – the call is for you!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 2, 2014