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Bishop LaValley celebrates Chrism Mass

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

April 13, 2022

Editor’s note: On April 7, Bishop Terry R. LaValley celebrated the Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, blessing the oils of the sick and of the catechumens and consecrating the Chrism. At that Mass, priests of the diocese gather with the bishop and renew their priestly vows. The following is Bishop LaValley’s homily from that Mass.




We live and move and have our being in a sacramental reality. That means we inhabit both a visible and an invisible world. What happens on the visible plane has implications in the vast invisible realm. In too many ways today, we have largely forgotten the invisible world – sacraments have become archaic theological concepts irrelevant to many folks.

But our bodies are sacramental. That’s why anointings and today’s Chrism Mass are so important. After all, ours is a sacramental Church. That’s why the priesthood is so important as a bridge between the worldly and the divine. A great task of our time is to gain a genuine conversion of mind and vision about the gift of sacrament.

Sacraments have become, increasingly, obsolete. A quick review of our diocesan annual spiritual reports shows a significant decline in the number of people receiving the sacraments of the Church – Baptisms, Holy Communions, Confirmations, Marriages, Sacrament of the Sick are all down. Experience tells us Confessions, as well. We must regain our appreciation of sacraments as real encounters with the risen Christ.

That’s why we’ve begun the Eucharistic initiative of reviving an appreciation and love for the Eucharist. We continue to address our second Diocesan Priority of Strengthening Faith Formation in Family Life, particularly catechesis in sacramental preparation. We always remember that Jesus Christ is the Primal Sacrament – the very meeting place, if you will, of the visible and the invisible through the Incarnation. So, our encounter, our relationship with Christ is foundational for all the sacraments.

With that in mind, there are so many I want to thank who are supporting our efforts to build up our Sacramental Church: parish staffs, faith formation coordinators, our catechists, deacons, our Catholic school principals, teachers and their staffs, parents and our students who have endured two extremely challenging years. I want to give a shout out to the students joining us today from St. Mary’s in Ticonderoga, St. James in Gouverneur and Trinity in Massena. I know our parish catechetical programs are challenged to fill their classrooms after this pandemic. Thank you who work so hard and are so faithful. Perseverance is a virtue and will not go unrewarded.

Msgr. James Shea has written that as we live out our baptismal mission, we “experience daily the adventure that arises from our encounter with Christ, we get caught up in the perilous and joy-filled work of learning to be transformed into divine beings headed for eternal rapture in the exhilarating embrace of God.” In other words, we are saints in the making and the journey is an adventure like no other. Our understanding and appreciation of the sacraments begins with our encounter, our relationship with Jesus, with prayer.

In the course of her history, the Church’s mission has taken on new forms and used new strategies according to different places, situations, and historical periods. For instance, over 150 years’ time, we are keenly aware of changes that have occurred here in the Diocese of Ogdensburg. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that our own time has been “particularly challenged by an abandonment of the faith – a phenomenon more obvious in societies and cultures which for centuries seemed to be permeated by the Gospel” (places like our North Country). The social changes we have witnessed in recent decades have a long and complex history, and they have profoundly altered our way of looking at the world.

Yet, I find such hope in Msgr. Shea’s reflection. Listen again: “Experience every day the adventure that arises from your encounter with Christ, from your intimate prayer. View the people and events around you moment by moment in the light of that encounter. Be caught up in the perilous and joy-filled work of learning to be transformed into divine beings headed for eternal rapture in the exhilarating embrace of God.” What a beautiful image!

Who among us does not desire such a life? Young students, consecrated religious, retired priests, elderly bishops. We are up to the adventure, and boy, hasn’t it been some adventure! When I enlisted into the U.S. Navy a few years ago, the promo that could be seen everywhere was: “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” Well, if our young and not so young folk are looking for an adventure, an exhilarating adventure, look to your Church.

The Holy Spirit is at work in every age, ours included. When we encounter Jesus, we know we’re headed for eternal rapture. We must seize the adventure of encountering Jesus and put on His mind and heart. There we’ll respond to the call to be holy. This is our time! God’s grace will supply us with new saints. The sacraments are the fuel!

St. John Paul II, in Novo Millenio Ineunte at the turn of the millennium wrote: “Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ. The Son of God, who became incarnate two thousand years ago out of love for humanity, is at work even today: we need discerning eyes to see this and, above all, a generous heart to become the instruments of his work,” the saintly Pope wrote.

Allow me, for just a moment, to share with you my experience, as a bishop now for twelve years, of generous hearts in our very midst who are such faithful instruments of God’s work: our priests. Soon, as they do at every Chrism Mass, they will renew their priestly promises. Before I became bishop, even before I was chancellor, I knew our priests enjoyed a wonderful reputation, well beyond our diocesan borders, for their fraternity and mutual support. But I really didn’t have any idea of what that looked like from one end of the diocese to the other. I had responsibilities in my own parish and there was enough there to keep me occupied, plenty to keep me busy.

Once my responsibilities shifted, however, my eyes were opened. I’m referring here to priests today who are serving so tirelessly several churches at one time, some with other responsibilities I’ve had to ask them to undertake at the same time! I’m referring also to our senior priests who, with such generous hearts, continue to be instruments of God’s work, even well after retirement age. Even in some instances, as soon as a need arises, they make themselves available for active ministry. I’m referring also to our priests who, because of health concerns, needed to complete their pastoral assignments. We depend on their ministry of priestly prayer and witness. It is vital to the spiritual health of our local Church.

My sisters and brothers, every one of these men is a faithful steward of the mysteries of God, moved only by zeal for souls. My brother priests, you continue to inspire when the going has been rough. One among us today, 60 years ago on this very day, in this very place was ordained priest: Congrats to Father John Kennehan. I am so very grateful, so proud of every one of our priests. They know well, theirs isn’t just a job but a divine adventure, like no other. Your bishop, your people thank you.

Again, my sisters and brothers, “Experience every day the adventure that arises from your encounter with Christ. Be caught up in the perilous and joy-filled work of being transformed into divine beings headed for eternal rapture in the exhilarating embrace of God!” AMEN!

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