Homily - Chrism Mass
Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Simone Weil, a 20th century French philosopher and religious thinker, is the author of a series of personal reflections put together in a volume entitled, Gravity and Grace. The premise of the reflection is that the world is controlled by the natural movement of gravity and the supernatural movement of grace. Gravity keeps us bound to this earth. Grace moves us beyond the laws of gravity into the realm of God. Gravity draws things down; grace makes them rise. However, gravity and grace are not opposed to each other for in the descending movement of gravity, grace can be found. That is the manner in which God created and redeemed His universe. Certainly, the working of gravity and grace is very evident in the pastoral approach of Pope Francis.
As we come together to celebrate this Chrism Mass, we are truly involved with the movements of gravity and grace. During this Mass, we will consecrate and bless the natural elements controlled by gravity – oils. These oils will be used during the coming year in liturgical ceremonies around our Diocese to activate moments of supernatural grace. These natural elements will become vehicles of God's grace.
The Chrism Mass is a powerful reminder of the role of each member of the Body of Christ and it has a particular significance for our priests as will soon be evident when they renew their priestly commitment. A priest is truly a man of gravity and grace. His role is to remind all of us, as a priestly people, that the world to which we are bound by gravity is permeated with the grace of God's presence. Indeed, it is the priest’s role to be such a vehicle of grace that through his actions, we not only see grace in gravity, but gravity is also transformed into grace. Pope Paul VI, who coincidentally had high regard for the mystical intuition of Simone Weil, well summed up the role of the priest in the world. He said, "The priest should seek to express the ineffable truths which call and compel us; to approach the mystery which surrounds the universe, without profaning it. I would go further: to extend the liturgy to the whole cosmos, which silently sings of God, and also to its humblest forms, to give things significance and to spiritualize language.” Pope Paul VI expressed well that the priest is a man of the world but not of the world, a man of gravity and grace. The priest reveals the meaning of creation and also brings meaning to where it is lacking.
A priest can only be a man of gravity and grace by being ever faithful to his call. Without over concern for the past and without too much preoccupation about the future, the priest lives his call in the present moment, as we all do. His faithfulness, on every day and in every minute, is what transforms gravity into grace for the people he serves, as well as for himself. In speaking to the clergy of Naples, Italy, on his recent visit, Pope Francis emphasized that for priests, "Jesus Christ must be the center." Only with the Lord at the center of his life is a priest able to minister in a world of gravity and grace. Jesus must be the center of everything that we are or our priesthood is in vain.
On that visit to Naples, the Pope experienced an unusual type of gravity and grace. In a recent media interview, he expressed how he would love to go to a local pizzeria and just have some pizza without anyone knowing who he was. A Neapolitan pizza maker, who was so taken by the Pope's words, made his own pizza with breadsticks on it spelling out "Il Papa." As the Pope Mobile came down the Neapolitan street, the pizza man ran out in front of the car, stopped it, and presented the pizza to the Pope who graciously took it. The grace is that the Pope got his pizza. The gravity is that he got it in front of the whole world - not anonymously in a pizzeria - as the incident was televised on the news that evening. Not exactly what he wanted but the working of gravity and grace.
We are blessed in the Diocese of Palm Beach with a faithful presbyterate with both of its feet on the ground and with a heart full of grace. I publicly thank our priests for their faithfulness in a world so much in need of their witness and love. My brother priests you make a difference. By your constant faithful response to Christ's call to you and by keeping Christ as the center of your lives, you transform the weight of gravity into grace and reveal God's presence among us. Your lives make clear that while good and evil are opposite, gravity and grace are not. The oils we are about to bless as vehicles of grace will be signs of your vocation as you use them this year. I assure you of my continued prayers, love and support in this ministry and I ask our people to express theirs’ to you as well.
The first oil to be blessed is that of the sick. Through the oil, the sick and suffering receive the comfort and healing of Christ Himself. Indeed, when gravity brings its natural weight of pain, age and turmoil, the oil of the sick transforms these burdens into vehicles of grace. Indeed, the oil of the sick reminds us that gravity will eventually be suspended completely in the kingdom of God where grace will be all in all.
The second oil to be blessed is that of catechumens. It is used to anoint those who are to be baptized and welcomed into the Church. The priest is happy to welcome members into a Church where meaning in life is revealed and where the goodness of creation is even more transformed as it is touched by Christ’s hands. The priest must be enthusiastic about who he is and what he does. He can never lose the enthusiasm and the vision he had when he was first ordained, what Pope Francis recently referred to as the “smell of joy,” no matter how gravity at times may weigh him down. His enthusiasm is fostered by keeping Christ always at the center of his life.
Finally, we will consecrate chrism. Chrism sets one apart as anointed. This is what the name, Christ, means. Indeed the priest is signed with chrism as he is set apart, like Christ, to be a vehicle of grace. Through all of the sacramental actions, most especially the Eucharist, the priest stands firmly in this world by the force of gravity and reveals where grace is present, while he transforms those places where it is not.
Simone Weil lived at the time of the great French Catholic author, George Bernanos. They had some correspondence in which she told him that his work, The Diary of a Country Priest, was one of her favorites. Coincidentally again, this also was one of Pope Paul VI’s favorite novels and is perhaps known to many of us. The novel truly reveals the work of grace in gravity. In it we read the diary of a faithful, humble, holy priest’s ministering to a radically poor and rural village parish of 20th century France. The priest faces all kinds of suffering in his ministry, and as the novel comes to a close, he is told that he is suffering from a terminal illness. The weight of gravity is felt throughout the priest’s life but the working of grace through him is always present. The priest never loses his enthusiasm, his ability to heal through his own suffering, as Christ is always the center for him. Facing the abundance of gravity in his life, the novel ends with the wonderful words of the priest, "Does it matter? Grace is everywhere."
Recently, Father Theodore Hesburgh, the well-known former president of Notre Dame University passed away. He wrote an autobiography on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary of his priesthood which I personally found very moving in regard to his love for the priesthood and his ministry. Priesthood was the center for him. Cardinal Dolan wrote a letter on his passing. I would like to share his following words as those which should be the aspiration of all priests. "Ted Hesburgh was first and foremost, from crown to toes, a Catholic priest. No one can read his autobiography without sensing his joy in being a priest: daily Mass, the Divine Office, visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, love of the Mother of Jesus, his loyalty to the successor of St. Peter, his bond to his spouse, the Church – we all called him 'Father,' the title he cherished most. . . . . What most of us recall most would be his priestly touch: the Masses offered in basilicas, alleys and huts all over the world, the sermons preached, the babies christened, the fallen away coaxed back into the arms of Holy Mother Church, the infirm anointed, confessions heard, couples united in marriage, the friends buried. When all is said and done, he was – even more than educator, reformer, political consultant, civil rights leader, international relief worker, and ecumenical friend, – all this and more because he was above all, a faithful priest."
I again thank my brother priests for being instruments of God's grace in the world and for being ever faithful and enthusiastic about their vocation. As we priests now renew our commitment to our priestly vocation, we do so with great joy for the privilege to live lives of gravity and grace among the wonderful people of the Diocese of Palm Beach.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 10, 2015