HOMILY OF BISHOP STEVEN J. RAICA
CHRISM MASS - MARCH 22, 2016
Welcome one and all! What a great day for the Diocese of Gaylord to be together to celebrate this Chrism Mass that brings together priests, permanent deacons, those women and men in consecrated life, lay ministry and lay ecclesial ministers, families, women and men lay faithful from around the diocese along with our youth, and some of those who will be formally entering the church this Easter Vigil.
Perhaps for some this experience is the first time you are here in the Cathedral for this celebration. For others, it is like coming home to visit and pray with friends from around our great northern diocese! It is a beautiful expression and gesture of our diocesan church. In particular, I welcome my brother priests who are here in such large numbers today. Together we form a united college in priestly ministry to Christ and His bride, the Church.
A special welcome to the representatives from all the parishes and institutions from the 21 counties of northern Michigan that form the diocese of Gaylord!
Many of our seminarians are here with us today! They are serving at today’s Mass and later in their home parishes for Holy Week/Easter activities. Thanks for hearing and responding to the Lord’s call. Your dedication to the discernment process is inspiring to all of us. We are praying for you and your openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to guide your vocation to be true and holy disciples of Jesus, and, God-willing, deacons and priests.
Having the opportunity to celebrate this Mass with you gives me a chance to share what is on my mind and in my heart – both to the priests and to the faithful of the entire diocese. I’m afraid I can’t cover everything, so I will limit my thoughts today to a few things of importance, as I see them.
For a variety of historical reasons, the Chrism Mass is built on two foundation elements: the blessing of oils and the annual gathering of priests to renew our priestly commitments.
First, with regard to the oils to be blessed:
Last year I referenced the fact that we have the opportunity to renew the oil supply in our local parishes and institutions with newly blessed oil. I also underscored how the oil awaits to be called into service -- to strengthen, to confirm, to bless, to accompany someone -- from the very beginning of their life with Christ in baptism through the Sacrament of Confirmation, to the ordination of priest or bishop, the consecration of altars and churches right up to the Anointing of the Sick at the end of life. It waits. It is there for the benefit of and to accompany Christians on their pilgrim faith journey. The blessing of these oils today is a sign of that hope of Christ’s presence with us -- we have not been abandoned!
The second aspect of this liturgy occurs right after the homily, the Renewal of Priestly Promises which illustrates two aspects of the relationship between and among priests and their bishop: the “unity of the presbyterate” and a manifestation of the “communion” of priests “with their Bishop.”
Last year, I focused on the question of being “more united” and “more closely conformed” to our Lord. I mentioned that we cannot do anything on our own. We have a fundamental incapacity to do our ministry on our own. Only through Orders and His grace are we able to preside at Eucharist or forgive sins, for instance. Uniting ourselves and conforming ourselves to Him makes us cooperators in the very presence of Christ, living and active in our world today.
Now, I would like to take up another aspect of this renewal: “Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God?” – “faithful stewards of the mysteries of God.”
This Jubilee Year of Mercy has already had a rather dramatic impact and outpouring of grace throughout the Diocese of Gaylord. The “24 hours for the Lord” experience in our vicariates has been very well received and, I am happy to say, exceeded our expectations! Thanks to all who generously participated in this magnificent gesture. Passing through the Holy Door or visits to pilgrimage sites have been moments of grace for many already. [This summertime will be a special occasion to make the most challenging pilgrimage journey for many over to Holy Cross Church on Beaver Island!]
Our parishes and institutions and retreat centers ought to be places of welcome and hospitality, places where liturgies are prayerful experiences and well done. So, as a result, I need to remind myself as part of my own examination of conscience: Am I doing what the Church is asking me to do when I preside at the celebration of sacraments and other liturgical events? Am I struck by the awe and wonder of the sacraments I celebrate knowing that it is Christ who is acting through me? [in persona Christi capitis] Do I take the time - during my prayer -- to reflect on the prescribed words the Church is asking me to use in the various liturgical rites? Through them, am I bringing the assembly into a prayerful encounter with the Lord? After all, these are not my sacraments. They should not draw undue attention to me but to Christ who is the true actor and protagonist. They are outward and visible signs of Christ’s presence for the sanctification of the people of God and the world. The sacraments belong to the Church to be used for the faithful whom we serve. In that sense, am I a faithful steward -- protector -- of the Church’s liturgy so that it becomes truly an act of praise and glory to God?
A second part of being a faithful steward is our availability for ministry to accompany our parishioners and the People of God. A faithful steward sees to it that one is properly prepared and disposed. A faithful steward walks with one in need. A faithful steward is generous in mercy and sees in those being served the face of Christ. A faithful steward is ready to reach out and listen, to understand and care, to be present to those who call and knock on our doors or reach out to us after Mass looking for the “face of Mercy,” as Pope Francis would say.
Perhaps during this Year of Mercy, and our reflection on faithful stewardship, we will be moved to exercise our ministry with care, with preparation, with a sense of awe whenever we preside at these visible expressions of the mysteries of God. The moment we are careless in presiding at Mass, or not using the prescribed words or gestures with care, we run the risk of creating a sense of wonder or distraction among our people.
Our challenge is to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, motivated by the Church’s desire for zeal of souls. In that way, our liturgical pastoring, where we reach the vast majority of the people in our parishes, has a better opportunity to be effective and grace-filled. It is a moment of evangelization --announcing the Good News of Jesus!
Since my arrival here, I continue to be edified by the ministry of priests in the Diocese of Gaylord. Nevertheless, this annual gathering is a reminder to us: How can we retain the freshness of our priestly ministry that we had when we were ordained? The Chrism Mass today gives us important clues that aid us in our prayer and our priestly life: It is vital that we unite and conform ourselves to Him and, thus, be faithful stewards of God’s mysteries so that Christ’s work can be effective among us. My brothers, I thank you for your selfless dedication to priestly service! During this liturgy and in the days ahead, I pray that by being faithful stewards, we may be effective witnesses of the Lord’s presence throughout the Diocese of Gaylord – especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy!
So there you have it: Oil waiting to be used to accompany the Christian people on their pilgrim journey --and priests and bishop, united and conformed to Christ, and faithful stewards of God’s mysteries to those longing to see His face through our careful attention to the rites and our availability to accompany those in our care.
May God who has begun this good work in us – together – bring it to fulfillment!
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