Program #0271 for Tuesday, April 3, 2012: Cardinal Seán’s homily at the Chrism Mass

April 3, 2012

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Summary of today’s show: On Tuesday of Holy Week in the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Seán celebrates the Chrism Mass with the priests of the archdiocese, blessing the holy oils used in sacraments for the next year and renewing their priestly vows. In a special broadcast from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor, first, discuss the Mass and Holy Week with Fr. Jonathan Gaspar and the listen to and reflect upon Cardinal Seán’s homily to the priests, which each year is the one he prepares for with the greatest reflection and prayer.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chris O’Connor

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Jonathan Gaspar

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Today’s topics: Cardinal Seán’s homily at the Chrism Mass

1st segment: Today the show is being broadcast from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross following the celebration of the Chrism Mass. He is joined by Fr. Jonathan Gaspar and Fr. Chris O’Connor. Fr. Jonathan said it’s always great to see so many priests turn out. Fr. Chris said many priests make a conscious decision to come from all over the Archdiocese in order to receive the oils used in sacraments and to renew their priestly vows. Many can’t come because they are needed in their parishes.

Scot said it seems the Cardinal puts extra time and effort into his Chrism Mass homily. Fr. Jonathan said the Cardinal loves to preach, but he spends a great of time preparing for this one in particular, offering the priests a message of hope and encouragement. He said the Cardinal has spent many nights over the past few weeks in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and at his desk writing his homily.

Scot said Cardinal Sean said the Chrism Mass is a sign of unity across the archdiocese in the sacred chrism consecrated today to be used in every sacrament of baptism, confirmation, and anointing. Fr. Chris said all of those sacraments are connected to this Mass today. Another element of unity is the presence of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios. Both the Metropolitan and the Cardinal spoke of the need for Christian unity.

Scot said there is a luncheon for priests after the Mass at the cathedral and each year two priests received awards for their service. Fr. Jim Rafferty and Fr. Dave Palmieri were the recipients this year. Scot noted that Fr. Rafferty received unfavorable press coverage for a pastoral decision a few years ago at St. Paul’s in Hingham and this was a chance to highlight his service and to reaffirm him as one who preaches the faith in season and out of season.

Scot said Cardinal Seán also mentioned during his homily how many priests tell him they first had an inkling of their vocation from their childhood priests who mentioned the possibility for the call in their lives. Fr. Jonathan recalled his own childhood priest who planted the idea of a vocation in him as a boy. He said Cardinal Seán told priests that the first way to foster vocations was to just smile and show the joy of the priesthood.

2nd segment: Scot said the Chrism Mass is the second big event of Holy Week after Palm Sunday. In many places, Chrism Mass is on Holy Thursday morning, but in big dioceses they move it to another day because priests need to get back to the parishes for Holy Thursday evening for all the preparations that must be made. Fr. Chris said in Rome it will be held on Holy Thursday. He said Pope John Paul II used to publish a Holy Thursday letter to the priests of the world giving them something to reflect on. He’s hoping Pope Benedict issues such a letter this year.

Scot said priests at this Mass renew their priestly promises from ordination. After 14 years as a priest, Fr. Chris reflected on the renewal and he recalled the words, “Lord, I am unworthy.” In the midst of our own brokenness, Christ continues to call us to minister to his people. It also brought him back to his ordination day, being with his brother priests and celebrating the gift of his priesthood. The only large gathering of priests for Mass like this is the ordination Mass.

The Cardinal asked three questions of the priests to renew their priestly vows. Fr. Chris said the Cardinal also asked the priests to pray him as a priestly leader. At another point, the vicar general kepis up and reads the names of all the priests who have died in the past year. About 25 priests were named this year. Scot said he reflected on how every priest present knew that one day their name would be read in this Mass. Fr. Chris said all Christians need to be cognizant of their own mortality and death, but the proximity of Easter reminds us of the promise of eternal life.

Now we will hear from Cardinal Sean’s homily for the Mass and we will stop periodically to comment on it:

Good morning everyone. Your eminence, Metropolitan Methodius, Brother Bishops and Priests, Deacons, Fellow Religious, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I first learned about the great tradition of Boston when John Wright became our bishop when I was a seminarian and he would regale us with many stories about Boston. But my favorite story of his was about Mayor Curley. Once when he was running for mayor, he was opposed by one of his lieutenants, a big, garrulous red-haired Irishman who I think was the police or the fire chief at the time. When his opponent had a political rally he decided to go. When he got there, he asked to speak. He said, “You know, every great man in history has had a betrayer. Caesar had his Brutus, Washington had Benedict Arnold, and our blessed savior had Judas. And you know? They were all redheads.

Once I was visited by a priest who was very discouraged. He thought he was a redhead… He said: “Bishop, I am the worst priest in the world.” I said to him, that is quite a distinction. I asked him about his ordination and first mass. I said, “Did you fight over who was going to be first in line at your ordination? Did you betray Christ for the collection? Did you chop off someone’s ears with a machete? Did you then run away and hide? I was of course comparing the worst priest in the world with the first priests in the world, the apostles.

The vocation of the apostles begins with the joyful discovery of Christ, and with the reckless abandoning of their boats, their nets and their families, to follow the Lord. It wasn’t too long however, when they were soon in competition with each other and worried about their retirement benefits, like who was going to have the thrones on the right and the left.

They spent most of the first Sacred Triduum locked in the Cenacle, while it was the women who followed Jesus through the Stations of the Cross and to Calvary.

To me one of the most poignant scenes in the Gospels is the apparition of the Risen Lord on Easter to the 11 remaining apostles. They’re hiding out in the Cenacle with the doors bolted. Suddenly, Christ is in their midst showing them his wounded hands as if to say: “See how much I love you.” The reaction of the apostles certainly must have been one of very conflicted emotions. First of all, they were overjoyed to see that Jesus was alive and in their midst. Secondly, they would have felt a profound shame and embarrassment because of their cowardly behavior. The apostles did not surface even to bury Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. Had it not been for Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’ body would have been cast into a common ditch to be savaged by vultures and dogs. But Jesus’ love and forgiveness is so great, He does not even remind them of how badly they have behaved, but instead gives them the gift of the Spirit so that these sinners could become wounded healers.

I find immense consolation in the fact that the Gospels give us, not pious platitudes, but a gritty, realistic portrayal of our first priests, the apostles. They were ordinary men like ourselves, full of humanity and shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. They were entrusted however, to carry on the most important mission in the history of the world and despite all of their weaknesses, they did an extraordinary job.

Scot said one the ideas that stood out to him was that the people entrusted by Jesus to spread the Gospel were not those who had the courage to follow the Way of the Cross and stand at the foot of the Cross. Fr. Chris said we only know for sure that the Virgin Mary and John the beloved apostle were there. He loved how he picked up on the flaws and foibles of the apostles because it shows that by Christ picking these flawed men we see that the Church’s ministry is about reconciliation. He reconciles them to himself in order to send them out to tell about the power of forgiveness. Scot said the cardinal has immense satisfaction that the Gospels give us a gritty, real, intense view of the apostles. Our Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. Fr. Chris said it goes back to the incarnation, that Christ became human so we might become divine. Christ is present to us and offering us an opportunity to die to self, so we might live in him. That’s what he calls us all to, regardless of state in life.

I’m sure that all of us at one point have felt a certain envy of the apostles. We imagine how wonderful it would be to be there and hear Jesus’ voice, to see his miracles, to experience the closeness, the companionship and joy of being in his presence. It is ironic however, that the apostles’ worst behavior came about while Jesus was still with them. They came into their own after the Pentecost experience. It’s then that they go out boldly to proclaim the gospel and to share with the world what they have received.

Though we have not had the privilege of walking over the hills of Galilee in Jesus’ company, we have received the same Spirit that the apostles did on Holy Thursday, on Easter Sunday and on Pentecost. And now the mission must continue, despite our weaknesses and shortcomings and all obstacles. Christ is counting on us just as He counted on those simple fishermen to preach his gospel, calling people to conversion and discipleship, building a community of faith around the Eucharist. Like those first Christians in the Acts of the Apostles, we must be united in embracing the teachings of the apostles, fellowship and prayer, and the breaking of the bread.

Holy Thursday is a very special day for us priests; indeed this very Chrism Mass is an extension of Holy Thursday. On that first Holy Thursday, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles and commanded them to love one another in the way that He loves us. He also commanded them to celebrate the Eucharist, “Do this in memory of me.” And later on that same evening, Jesus tells his first priests: “Watch and pray.” Today, 2,000 years later, Jesus is telling us the same thing: we must love one another, we must celebrate His Eucharist, and we must watch and pray.

In Chapter 14 of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke reports how Paul and Barnabas gather the faithful at Antioch and they reported what God had done with them and how God had “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Pope Benedict has lifted that beautiful phrase, “the door of faith,” “Porta Fidei,” for the name and theme of his letter announcing the year of faith beginning in the fall. It will mark the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the second Vatican Council, convoked by Blessed Pope John XXIII, and which also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Blessed John Paul II. We are people of faith. Faith defines our identity and motivates our actions. Faith is our most precious gift. I am so grateful to have been born into a family of believers, the faith and example of my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles was so life giving to me as child. And I am ever grateful to my uncle, Father Jerry Riedy, who baptized me into the faith.

Scot said although priests today haven’t walked with Jesus in Galilee, they have received the same Spirit the apostles did on Pentecost. Christ is counting on these priests just as He did on the apostles. Scot said the Cardinal has a passion for gathering the people of God around the Eucharistic table each week, because it is where we show our love for one another. Fr. Chris said the early Christians did this to show their love for Christ. There is an equality at that table. All are invited and equal in the eyes of God. We receive communion, we are brought deeper into the mystery of God and are meant to share it with our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Scot said Cardinal Seán later told the priests to open the door of faith to people and how grateful he is to his family for opening the door of faith to him. We are all called to show people the beauty of our faith in our lives. Fr. Chris said we learn by imitation and example and so when we see the example of those who love the Lord and willingly give their life in service to the Lord we see the love for Christ conveyed and that faith is infectious.

Preparing these reflections today, I decided to consult my concordance of the Bible. I found that the word faith appears four times in the Old Testament. However, in the New Testament, which is much shorter, the term faith appears over 250 times and the word believe also appears over 250 times. It is impossible to read the New Testament without appreciating how important faith is. Faith means not being an orphan, having a father who is our God and having many brothers and sisters. Faith is a home where we dwell and move and have our being, where we discover how much we are loved and who we are. Faith is a relationship with Christ, a loving and trusting and enduring friendship. Indeed the mission entrusted by Jesus to the apostles is not first of all to announce the gospel, but first of all to believe in him. As priests we are called to be men of faith, teachers of faith and witnesses of faith.

The epistle to the Hebrews tells us that faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. After a beautiful passage celebrating the faith of our ancestors throughout salvation history, the author of Hebrews exhorts us: “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus the origin and crown of all faith.”

A few weeks ago I was invited to give the opening talk at a retreat for 75 young Jesuits here in Boston. A Jesuit Father who is a missionary in Siberia had organized the retreat and invited me. Afterwards, he presented me with a beautiful Russian icon of Our Lady. He told me that in Russia it is said: You do not choose the icon, the icon chooses you.” A very interesting perspective.

Well, faith is born of a glance. Not so much ours, but that of Christ. The account of the vocation of the Apostles begins by the assertion Jesus looking at them. Jesus saw Andrew and Peter. Jesus saw the sons of Zebedee. Jesus saw Matthew. And having seen them, having fixed his gaze upon them, Jesus calls them to a life of discipleship. We should ask ourselves: “when did we become aware that Jesus had set his eyes on us?” When did we recognize His voice, and His invitation – “Follow me.” Each of us has our own vocational story. For each of us, there is a precise moment for each of us where we became aware that Jesus was looking at us. Certainly, there were many other moments: moments of enthusiasm, moments of definitive choice, and moments of decision to renew ourselves in the face of trials and difficulties and trials in our ministry. Even moments of remorse and shame when we had to cast ourselves on the mystery of our Lord’s mercy, like Peter in the courtyard of the high priest, when the Lord turns and fixes his gaze on Peter, who goes out and weeps bitterly.

To be under the gaze of the love and mercy of Jesus and to put our eyes fixed on Him, this is faith and from that faith comes every call, every following and even our ministerial vocation which unites us to Jesus who with love, compassion and tenderness sees the crowd and is moved because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Seeing our people’s needs, Jesus sends us.

Indeed as priests, we must persevere in running this course with our gaze fixed on Jesus, the origin and crown of all faith. It is our own Boston Marathon with many a Heartbreak Hill. It is a long distance run, not the frenetic sprint of the person anxious to be everywhere, who feels indispensable, who never has time for smile, who is not capable of listening, and who does not have the capacity for a profound silence. We need to witness the faith not by adopting the rhythms and times of this world, but rather by responding to the urgency of the gospel.
“Faith comes through hearing” (Romans 10, 17) and it is as men of faith, that we must build our lives on the Word of God. There are so many demands on our time and attention, and our energy is not limitless. It requires discipline in the organization of our time to guarantee that each day we can be nourished by listening to the Word of God. Our celebration of the liturgy is also a crucial contact with the power that comes from God’s Word and from the Sacraments. Regardless of what one may feel about the new translation, the changes in the liturgy have been an opportunity for us to focus with greater attention to the words we are praying.

The Chrism Mass allows us to glimpse the grace of belonging to a presbyterate. It is this in this presbyterate, united to Christ and one another that the gifts that we received by the imposition of hands can be stirred up and enlivened. Here all of our struggles and triumphs are melded into one. The hidden sacrifices heroically made by some of our brothers, the special graces, the pastoral genius, the tireless dedication come together to forge our presbyterate. We are a body that together regenerates itself. Together we share the responsibility to announce the Gospel and to build up the Christian community.

You often hear the expression: “keep the faith.” But what we really need to do is not keep the faith, but spread it around. Our faith grows stronger when we share it with others. All of us remember fondly the priests who mentored us in the faith. Now it is our turn to share these treasures. We are earthen vessels bearing treasures. The world is being overcome with darkness. To me one of the most chilling phrases on Jesus’ lips are the words: “When the Son of Man returns will he find any faith on the earth?” In great part it depends on us. We who are Christ’s priests have a huge responsibility to announce his Gospel in season and out of season.

Scot said this was news to him about faith and belief in the Bible. It’s important for the growth of the Church to understand that faith and belief are fundamental. Fr. Chris said we have to remember that faith is a gift from God to us, which we can accept or reject. It’s also important to remember how grateful the Cardinal was that his parents were believers that they imparted their faith to him. How grateful we should be to those in our lives who have imparted the faith to us. Sometimes when we’re lacking faith, the best way to grow in faith is to tell the Lord and then to pray. We become a better athlete by practicing the motions of the sport, and we grow in faith by acting in faith.

Scot said the Cardinal said our faith grows stronger as we share it with others. We all have a huge responsibility to preach the Gospel in season and out of season. Fr. Chris quoted the First Letter of Peter, “be prepared to give a reason for your hope,” for why we believe. What are the highlights of our own faith conveyed in 3 minutes that we would give to someone who asked?

I often tell the Jesuits that I’m a little envious of them, since they have 35 craters on the moon named after Jesuit fathers. We Capuchins only have a cup of coffee…. One of the best spots to drink a good cappuccino is the Piazza of San Eustachio in Rome. If you have ever indulged yourself at one of the cafés there, you may have noticed the lovely church which looks like many other Italianate churches, except for the fact that on top of the church where one usually expects to find the cross, there is a huge set of antlers. I am sure that there is some pious explanation for the antlers, perhaps some story about San Eustachio running over a deer and miraculously providing venison for 4000 orphans. However, if you ask the Romans why there are antlers on the top of the church you may hear the story that I was told. Apparently, a young Roman nobleman married a beautiful bride in that church, but soon after the marriage she absconded with the best man. Today the man would have gone on the Jerry Springer show. The husband was disconsolate, and in his grief and rage had the antlers placed on the roof of that church. In Italian, a man who has deceived by his wife is referred to as “cornuto” which means having horns. I am told that ever since the antlers went up, there are very few weddings in that church.

Accordingly, for many Romans, the antlers on the church betoken defeat and sadness. During this year of faith we need to climb up and pull the antlers down and lift high the cross, the triumphant, life giving cross.

Our people need us to be confident and joyful teachers of the faith. Cardinal Dolan spoke of going to a conference by Cardinal Wright on Evangelization, expecting a deep theological treatise. The message of the eloquent Bostonian was simply – smile! Pope Benedict constantly dwells on relationship of faith with joy. The word joy appears sixty (60) times in the New Testament. The very word Gospel means glad tidings. We are messengers of that joyful news.

Scot said when he lived in Rome, he never saw the church the Cardinal referred to. Fr. Chris said he is going to Rome this summer and he’s planning to check it out. Scot said the Cardinal seemed to be saying that we should tear down anything distracting us from the faith and in its place to lift high the Cross. But the cross isn’t about grief. The cardinal referred to Cardinal Dolan speaking of the joy of having received the Good News and letting it permeate out hearts, even before the cross. Fr. Chris quoted St. Theresa of Avila: “Lord, save me from long-faced saints.” We should see the cross as something beautiful and life-giving. Showing the joy of the love of Christ attracts people and is an invitation to the gift of faith.

The people need to glimpse our own faith. They need teachers who are witnesses. In our priestly support groups and circles of priests, we need to talk about Christ and our love for the mission that He has entrusted to us. It is because the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus are talking about Jesus, that the Risen Lord draws near and breaks open the Scriptures for them. That experience made their hearts burn within them. Cleopas and his buddy never finished that dinner – they got up from that table probably without even paying the check and ran back to Jerusalem with the waitress chasing them down the road. They were filled with joy, and wanted to share that joy and good news with their brothers – “we have seen the Lord and we recognized him in the breaking of the bread.” Pope Benedict XVI, in Porta Fidei, writes “faith grows when it is lived as an experience of grace and joy.” He warns us not to grow lazy in the faith, and urges us to focus on Jesus Christ, because “in him all the anguish and longing of the human heart finds fulfillment.”

At the Chrism Mass, I like to make an appeal, a challenge to my priests and to myself. In the past, I have asked us all to work harder on our preaching. I have asked that every priest make a serious retreat each year – I had to go down to St. Petersburg last year to make sure Bishop Hennessey was not offering the enneagram and reiki. Actually we are very grateful for the wonderful work Bob Hennessey is doing on those retreats. I have asked that each priest develop a personal rule of life to assure the balance we need to pray hard, work hard and play hard. I have asked that each priest join a priest support group to be able to build a truly spiritual fraternity with a deep sense of shared mission.

This year I would ask that each priest, myself included, to recommit ourselves to our own ongoing formation. Each of us is ultimately responsible for his own ongoing formation, which needs to be spiritual, human, theological and pastoral so that we might be the teachers of the faith our people need.

Pope John Paul II wrote in Pastores dabo Vobis: “Ongoing formation aims at increasing the priest’s awareness of his share in the Church’s saving mission”. “The priest’s permanent formation appears not only as a necessary condition but also as an indispensable means for constantly refocusing on the meaning of his mission and for ensuring that he is carrying it out with fidelity and generosity. By this formation, the priest is helped to become aware of the seriousness and yet the splendid grace of an obligation which cannot let him rest, so that, like Paul, he must be able to say: “If I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”(1 Cor. 9:16). At the same time, the priest also becomes aware of a demand, which insistently comes from all those whom God is unceasingly calling to salvation.

Scot said in the seminary it’s important to remind the seminarians that formation doesn’t end with ordination. Fr. Chris said none of us are finished products. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were on a journey and each priest has to grow theologically and pastorally. He said he was intrigued by the list of challenges the Cardinal gives each year to the priests for them to work on. It’s helpful to look on all of them and see where they’ve grown. One year is was about working on homilies. Another year was about taking a serious renewing retreat each year. Another year, they were to form a spiritual fraternity. This year it’s about ongoing formation. Fr. Chris said it’s a good reminder to all of his priests.

Scot recapped the end of the Cardinal’s homily.

For the Church, the Year of the Faith is to be the year of the New Evangelization. Our personal ongoing formation will help us as a diocese in our task of imbuing our pastoral planning with the new evangelization which means taking the Gospel to those who have grown cold, to reach out with a new ardor and with new methods, turning our parishes into communities of evangelizers where every parishioner feels a call to share their faith, to be a part of the mission to make Christ’s Gospel loved, and to promote a civilization of justice and love.

I am very grateful to Bishop Arthur Kennedy for his willingness to help us to equip our people for the challenges of the New Evangelization and for promoting our ongoing formation. I know that it seems daunting but I am confident that this Year of Faith will be great grace for our Church if we priests take advantage of this time to renew ourselves in an ongoing conversion that is a response to Christ’s loving call. Spiritual writers speak of a second call, actually there are many moments when the Lord glances at us as He did to Peter, after Peter’s fall and what I call the “Last Breakfast” when the risen Lord, having examined Peter in his love, says “Follow me” again. As we renew our ordination promises may we recommit our lives to Christ, to our brothers and sisters, in the service of the Gospel whose Heralds we are.
May the Lord grant each of us a faith that bestows confidence and courage, generosity and joy, as together we work to build up Christ’s Kingdom. Together we want to take down the antlers of sadness and defeat and weathervane of doubt and uncertainly and lift high the cross. What St. Francis calls the book that contains the greatest love story in the history of the world – and we priests are all part of that story. God bless you.

Scot said it’s his sense that the Cardinal’s hope is that each parish will come alive and each Catholic will be motivated to share their faith. Fr. Chris said it’s an insight that originates with Pope Benedict XVI, who is always talking about this new evangelization, re-presenting the Gospel to those who have grown cold in the faith, re-introducing the idea that Christ is the life and the Resurrection.

Scot previewed the liturgies of the rest of the week. He said beautiful images from these liturgies taken by George Martell can be found at Scot and Fr. Chris said the best way to prepare for Easter is to participate in all the liturgies and services of Holy Week. Fr. Chris reminded everyone that tomorrow night is the final light of The Light Is On For You for this Lent, where the sacrament of confession will be available in every church and chapel from 6:30-8pm.

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