Living the Truth in Love: Chrism Mass Homily – The Priest – A Door of Mercy



                                        TUESDAY, MARCH 22, 2016 


As we celebrate this Chrism Mass we do so during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has invoked.  For all of us this morning, it is significant that we passed through the official Door of Mercy here at St. Ignatius Cathedral.  This door is a visible reminder of God's merciful love inviting us to enter the door of His heart in order that, as the Lord tells us in the Gospel of St. John, we might make a home in Him as He makes a home in us (cf. Jn 15:4).  As a reminder that we are one family in the Diocese of Palm Beach for whom God's merciful love is always present, the door of every parish has been associated with the Cathedral door during this Jubilee of Mercy.  Also, every home has been asked to designate a symbolic door of mercy to remind us that God's love is never absent from us.


How appropriate also is it that we celebrate this Chrism Mass during Holy Week.  It is during Holy Week that we enter into the sublime mystery of God's mercy, as revealed on the Cross and in the Eucharist.  In his recent book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis emphasizes that "mercy is God's identity card."  He quotes Pope Benedict XVI who said, "Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God Himself, the face with which He revealed Himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, incarnation of Creative and Redemptive Love."  


All of us, priests, deacons, religious and laity, are in need of God's mercy which in so many ways is a reality that is alien to our present age.  We experience in our world a great deal of judgement, many times unfounded, but not much mercy.  Cardinal Francis George, former Archbishop of Chicago and a great Churchman who passed away after Easter last year, frequently stated that, "We live in a society that tolerates everything but forgives nothing."  We need to experience mercy very much.  In a recently published interview Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI discussed issues of mercy and the need for forgiveness.  He focused on modern’s society tendency to ignore personal sin but on a longing for mercy.  He said “under a veneer of self-assuredness and self-righteousness, the man of today hides a deep knowledge of his wounds and his unworthiness before God.  He is waiting for mercy.”


God created us out of love but He redeemed us out of mercy.  Mercy is the aspect of God's love which manifests how much our love means to God.  God desires a real relationship with us and absolutely nothing, not even the most heinous sin, will prevent Him from loving us.  When sin entered the world, God's constant desire to draw us to Himself resulted in His sending His Son into the world to reconcile us to Himself.  This incredible manifestation of God's mercy, which is at the center of Holy Week, is what St. Paul reminds us of on Ash Wednesday, and this year on Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians when he says, "For our sakes God made Him who did not know sin to be sin so that we might become the very holiness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).  God's mercy goes beyond what is imaginable.  The Cross which manifests God's mercy has always been a scandal to the world and is especially so today.


This Chrism Mass is a manifestation of God's mercy, not only through the celebration of the Eucharist, but also in the consecration of chrism and the blessings of oil that will take place during it.  In his homily for the Chrism Mass in 2011 Pope Benedict XVI made reference to the relationship between oil and mercy.  He explained, "In popular etymologies a connection was made, even in ancient times, between the Greek word "elaion" - oil - and the Greek word "eleos" - mercy.  “In fact” Pope Benedict continued, “in the various sacraments, consecrated oil is always a sign of God's mercy." All of us are familiar with the soothing nature of oil which not only comforts and heals physical injuries but also feeds the body with enjoyable sustenance.  This is the reason why oil and mercy are so closely associated.  St. Clement of Alexandria wonderfully stated that, "the oil (elaion) is the Lord Himself from which comes the mercy (eleos) that reaches us."


The Chrism Mass is also a manifestation of God's mercy through the renewal of the promises of priestly commitment which our wonderful presbyterate will make today. Priests are ministers of God's mercy in a unique manner.  Their hands, anointed with chrism, are those through which God's mercy is enfleshed in the sacraments, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God's mercy to those whom the priest serves.  Truly it is the ministry of the priest to be a door of mercy.  I have asked during this Year of Mercy that we seek to encourage vocations to the priesthood since the priest truly is a minister of mercy in the very Person of Christ Himself. We have extraordinary priests in the Diocese of Palm Beach to whom all of us, and I personally, are deeply grateful and indebted.  In an age when their ministry of mercy is often not appreciated and misunderstood and in an age when priests are misjudged and often not shown mercy, I think it is only appropriate that we all show them our gratitude and appreciation at this time.


Priests are also ministers of God's mercy because they recognize the need they have for God's mercy in their own lives.  A priest who is a good confessor is fully aware of this.  Priests must open the doors of their hearts to the mercy of God.  They stand with their people, certainly not above them and not even next to them, but always with them.  While priests strive to live in close communion with and in imitation of Christ, they are not free from the temptations that assail all of the faithful and are also guilty of failure and sin.  It is the recognition of this reality which causes priests to identify with the sins and failures of others and to have a great understanding and compassion for them.  Priests are in need of God's mercy and experience that mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as its ministers and as its recipients.  Pope Francis is a wonderful example of a priest who is aware of his own limitations and who receives the sacrament to experience God's mercy.  In one of his earliest interviews, when asked, "Who are you?" the Pope spontaneously responded, "I am a sinner."


The more the priest accepts his condition as a sinner, the more he heeds the call of Christ who came to call not the righteous but sinners.  The words of the Letter to the Hebrews are so important in this regard: "Every high priest is taken 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).  How appropriate are the words of Pope Francis in his recent book, “A priest needs to think of his own sins, to listen with tenderness, to pray to the Lord for a heart as merciful as His and not to cast the first stone because he, too, is a sinner who needs to be forgiven.”


The priest’s recognition of his sinfulness is not a pious act but the admission of a reality that goes deep to his heart.  As you know when the Bishop prays the Eucharistic prayers, he prays for the Pope and for himself with a particular formula when he says, “for our Pope and for me your unworthy servant.”   A newly ordained priest so moved by these words began to pray in the Mass, “for our Pope, for our Bishop, and for me your unworthy servant.”  Someone told the Bishop about this who called the priest in and asked him “Is it true that when you say the Mass you pray “for me your unworthy servant?”  The young priest spontaneously and with great sincerity said, “Yes, Bishop, I do – I think it is such an appropriate designation for me.”  The Bishop looked at the young priest sternly and said, “Young man - stop that – let’s get one thing straight – in this Diocese, I am the only unworthy one.”  When the bishop or priest confesses he is a sinner and unworthy, it is not because it is the humble thing to say but it is because it is true.  He is a sinner and relies upon God’s mercy.  He also relies on the mercy of the people he serves for understanding, forgiveness and patience, realizing his failures fail them as well.  While we rightly expect mercy from our priests, we need to show mercy to them as well.


My brother priests, as you renew your priestly commitment this morning, I ask you to focus on words which Pope Francis spoke to the bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC, on his apostolic visit this past September.  His entire message to the bishops was a very affirming one which applies to all priests.  He specifically said, "The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care" (Jn 21:15 – 17; Acts 20: 28 – 31).  He echoed these words in a morning homily he gave at the Casa Santa Marta in January, "The first task of a bishop is to be with Jesus in prayer.  The first job of a bishop is not to prepare pastoral plans ... no, no!  Prayer: this is the first task.  The second task is to be a witness, that is to preach.  To preach the salvation that the Lord Jesus has brought.  Two tasks that are not easy, but it is precisely these two tasks that are the strong pillars of the Church.  If these columns are weakened because the bishop does not pray or prays little, forgets to pray; because the bishop does not announce the Gospel and instead takes care of other things, the Church also weakens; it suffers.  God's people suffer.  Because the columns are weak."


Prayer and preaching, by living the Gospel message, are the vocation to which we, my brothers, have been called.  It is in growing in these responsibilities that we become ministers of the mercy of God which we make present through the oils that are blessed at this Mass.  It is also the means by which we experience more deeply God's mercy for us in our own lives.  Our parishes are strengthened as we are strengthened in these tasks.


I thank all those here present for the great faith and vibrancy which is such a living part of the Diocese of Palm Beach.  All of you are witnesses of God's mercy as you experience that mercy and witness to it.  In a particular way I thank my brother priests for their ministry and assure them of my continued prayers, love and support.  They are a great witness to me.  I conclude with the words of Pope Benedict XVI spoken to priests at the Chrism Mass which I previously referenced.  They apply to all of us. "In the lamps of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry.  But as always, obtain it from the Lord in good time – in our encounter with His work, in our reception of the sacraments, in the time we spend with Him in prayer."

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 8, 2016