Tuesday, April 3 was a joyous occasion for me. Joined by over 80 of our Diocesan Priests, I celebrated the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during which the holy oils were blessed. The sacred oils will be carried to your parishes to be used in the administration of the sacraments. The priests also joined me in the renewal of our priestly commitment to God and the service of His people. The homily I preached at the Chrism Mass is printed below.
Bishop Moynihan, Bishop Costello, my dear brother priests and deacons, consecrated women and men, dear seminarians, representatives of our parish communities, brothers and sisters in Christ, friends all.
Each year the Chrism Mass is a special moment of grace for me and I trust for all of you. The bishops and the priests who gather with me are my first coworkers in the apostolic mission of building the Kingdom of God here in the Diocese of Syracuse.
I am always deeply moved by this ceremony in which we bless the holy oils — the signs and instruments through which our priests carry out their ministry of salvation. The blessing of the oils followed by the carrying of them to our parishes and places where we serve are signs we are united in the ministry of the sacraments. It is fitting that our celebration takes place during Holy Week. For these signs of divine grace draw the supernatural power they communicate from the Paschal Mystery of our Lord’s death and resurrection.
In a special way, we commemorate this evening what Bl. Pope John Paul II referred to as “a feast of priests.” And so, I would like to talk to you, dear brothers in the priesthood, about the beauty and the duty of our calling. Our second reading tells us Christ has made His Catholic Church “a royal nation of priests in the service of his God and Father” (Rv 1:6).
Each of us who has been baptized has a priestly vocation. Through Baptism we are called to be holy people. We are called to make our lives something beautiful for God, as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often reminded us. We are called to strive for holiness, to self-denial and to acts of love and mercy. In this sense, we all share in the common priesthood of Jesus Christ.
But the ordained priest is someone altogether different — in the Church and in God’s plan for salvation. Only the ordained priest participates in Christ’s sacred ministry of redemption. You are privileged to minister in persona Christi, to renew in His name the sacrifice of our redemption. My dear brothers, by your ordination, you offered your humanity to Christ so that Christ might use you as an instrument of salvation for others. By your ordination he made each one of you “another Christ.”
How closely, how deeply, our Lord has identified Himself with you in your priesthood! This can be a frightening thought! We should contemplate it with reverence and awe. Christ uses your voice to speak His words of mercy, to proclaim the glad tidings to those held captive to sin. He uses your hands to heal the brokenhearted, and to offer His Body and Blood as the Bread of Life. Each of you is a sacrament — a sign that brings men and women to an encounter with the living God! Tonight, my brothers, renew your awareness of the nobility and the deep mystery of your calling as priests.
St. Paul said that the priest is “a steward of the mysteries of God.” And so you are! Never forget that! In all the dust of details that gathers in your daily life, in all the burdens you bear and all the challenges you face, remember that your calling is part of something greater! Your ministry is written into the very history of salvation. That is the lesson in the readings we have just heard from the Word of God. In the first reading, Isaiah’s prophecy is about your priesthood, the priesthood of the new and everlasting covenant. He tells us, “You yourselves shall be named the priests of the Lord, ministers of our God you shall be called” (Is 61:6a). And in the Gospel, Jesus announces that He fulfills this prophecy.
Christ has claimed you as His own. By the laying on of your bishop’s hands, you were anointed with Christ’s spirit. He has sent you to carry out the ministry that He gave only to His twelve apostles — to proclaim the Gospel, to forgive sins in His name, to bring all people into the embrace of salvation through the sacred mysteries, His sacraments.
As I celebrate this Mass, I am reminded of our dear brothers, who have gone before us this year: Father Anthony Cincotta, Father George Hartnett, Father Daniel Murphy, Father Gregory LeStrange and Father Robert Bogan. I pray that they now enjoy the reward of their labors — where they can praise God forever in the joy of eternity.
I am reminded too of your calling to share in the bishop’s threefold ministry: to teach, to govern and to sanctify. As the “dispenser of the mysteries of God” always keep in mind that you are the earthly source of sacramental contact with Jesus. Jesus established the sacraments as the ordinary means of salvation. It is the priest who makes Christ the Savior present sacramentally.
Cardinal Wuerl in his recent book, Seek First the Kingdom, tells the story of a priest, ordained 70 years, when asked to look back on his full lifetime of self giving, of self emptying ministry, had this to say: “Somewhere, someplace 1,000 years ago there was a priest; no one knows his name, no one remembers that he even existed. But because of his fidelity to his calling, centuries later I came to know Jesus Christ. Somewhere 1,000 years from now, a young couple will bring their child to the baptismal font to receive the new life of Christ. It will be because of me!”
Hyperbole? Not really.
The priesthood is not just for today. Its graces go cascading down the millennia. It is that priesthood to which we have been called.
And so I ask you now, my dear brother priests, to stand and recommit yourselves with full heart and mind to the wondrous exchange between God and man that takes place at ordination. Commit yourselves anew to the service of God’s people here in the Diocese of Syracuse, so many of whom are here with us to celebrate this special moment.
If you have an intention that you would like me to remember in prayer, please send it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse N.Y. 13202.