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‘No one is exempt from God’s call to be holy’

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

March 28, 2018

Bishop LaValley’s homily for the Chrism Mass, March 22 at St. Mary’s Cathedral


It’s 2018 and the times they are a-change-in’!  Pope Francis tells us that “Today we are not living in an age ofBishop LaValley change so much as a change of age.”  So much seems upside down today.  We’re told: What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right.

This ‘change of Age’ must prompt a radical change in our understanding of what it means to be a Catholic Christian today—really what it has always meant.  No matter the “Age,” Christian or post- Christian, the need for a missionary spirit is urgent as challenges in transmitting the faith mount in an increasingly secularized world.   No one, student or teacher, child or parent, cleric, religious or lay person, no one is, has ever been, exempt from responding to God’s call to be holy.

Every one of the baptized should understand him or herself as a follower, a disciple of Jesus. To be sure, there has been a lot of publications out there about intentional discipleship, disciples in mission and the like.  They all have a common theme: Church life today cannot, must not, remain business as usual.

“All disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God” (cf. Acts 2:42-47), “should everywhere on earth bear witness to Christ and give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope of an eternal life which is theirs.” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15) I love these inspiring words from St. Peter.  Each of us is called to bear witness and to give an answer for our hope. There is hope for the student who struggles with grades or with making friends, hope for parents who struggle to make ends meet. And there is hope for the exhausted priest who will hit the roof if this bishop asks one more thing of him.  One of the gifts that Bishop Chbeir gave me was a renewed hope when he spoke about his ministry to his people in Syria.

Ours is a lived faith that must be learned and deepened constantly amid a changing landscape.  Yes, serious challenges in living and sharing our faith are growing so rapidly. The support we grew up with in a Christian culture has virtually disappeared. Christian life today must be lived deeply, or else it may not be possible to live it at all.  And that place of depth grows from within our hearts.

That’s a piece of the societal context from which we come to our cathedral to celebrate this Chrism Mass 2018.  What’s part of the uniqueness about today?? -- the Blessings of oils to be used for sacramental anointings in all our parishes and the renewal of the Priestly Promises by our priests. 

You will hear me pray, as I consecrate the oil, that all those anointed with the Sacred Chrism will be “inwardly transformed… that the anointing will make those anointed radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in God.”  Inward transformation and radiance with life’s goodness happens to the degree we open ourselves to the power of the anointing which we have all received at our baptisms, confirmations, ordinations.  Inward transformation leads to radiance of goodness and boy, don’t we need a plentiful dose of radiance of just plain goodness today?  We must claim our anointing!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings…to heal…to announce a year of favor…to comfort…to give them oil of gladness…” 

Anointed with God’s Spirit we have it within us to move from self-reliance to God reliance.  All is grace.  As the Holy Father assures us, “Christ will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us.” (EG,275) One of the most common reasons why people begin the spiritual journey but then turn back is because we find ourselves failing, wearing out, or getting tired or discouraged because we rely on our own strength or intellect or talent rather than on the Lord.  We have been anointed.  Hear Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9) There is power and strength in the anointing.

Is my heart saturated enough with God’s love and mercy that the anointing I’ve received soaks through and energizes my whole being?  Authentic missionary discipleship for the parent, spouse, student, teacher, deacon, for the priest, consecrated religious, the bishop, must begin with the heart.  That’s why I thought how fortuitous that our Lenten journey began this year on Valentine’s Day.

At this Chrism Mass, I ask myself, “Has the sacramental anointings I’ve received over the years touched my heart?”  What about yours? Every day, in prayer, we must check the condition of our hearts. Prayer is a matter of the heart. Church leaders must personally live deeply our faith and provide the setting in our parishes for our parishioners to do likewise.  As St. John Paul II insisted, “Our Christian communities must become genuine schools of prayer…It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer.” Our priests tend to the hearts, minds and souls of our parishioners in these schools of prayer.

I know that the ministry of our priests is often packed full of plans, projects and activities (often in response to this bishop’s expectations): from catechesis to liturgy, to works of charity, to pastoral, financial and administrative concerns.  Amid all of these, we must still ask ourselves:  What is my heart set on?  We know that Father is anointed for his people.  His ministry must touch the hearts of his parishioners.

My brother priests, the priestly heart configured to the heart of Christ is one of fidelity, humility, closeness and gentleness.  Pope Francis said that the heart of the priest must be filled with a joy born of forgiveness, the joy of a heart changed by mercy.  The heart of the priest, like the heart of Christ must be a large one, filled with zeal, compassion and joy.  It is the richness of the heart of Christ, giving the mercy and love of God primacy in our hearts so it might be shared with our people, all God’s people.

Priests are disciples who are in love with the Master, shepherds with the smell of the sheep, who live in their midst to bring the mercy of God to them.  Every priest knows that he is a disciple on a journey, constantly being configured to Christ.  Priests are not mere functionaries or managers of the sacred, but men with compassionate hearts, who show forth the tenderness of God.

“It is impossible to persevere in giving genuine Christian witness unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him; it’s not the same thing to walk with Jesus as it is to walk without Him;  it’s not the same thing to worship Him, to find our peace in Him, as it is not to.  It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights,” as Pope Francis would say.

Jesus walks with you, speaks with you, breathes with you, works alongside you.  Brothers, thank you for your intimate walk with Christ, whom you so love and for whom you have given everything, your very hearts.  Your selfless journey with the Lord motivates and inspires ours.  I am so grateful.  We are all so blessed.

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