Text of Chrism Mass Homily of Archbishop Myers

Archbishop Hebda, brother bishops and priests, those in consecrated life, my beloved seminarians, and dear friends all.

Welcome to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where, once again, we will celebrate the Chrism Mass. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have been of such great assistance to me in recent months as I have been recovering from a second hip replacement. To the professionals who have provided care, to the great number of people who have sent cards and letters and otherwise assured me of their prayers and best wishes, I am profoundly grateful. And, of course, I am grateful to God who has seen me through what I believe is the worst part of the process and is restoring me to good health.

From time to time I have mentioned my brother Bill who recently retired as an incredible teacher of literature but who also always wanted to have a freshman class so he could teach the fundamentals of grammar and sentence structure. A couple of decades ago, Bill took up the vocation of being a story teller (although we in the family could have told you that long ago). He has become well known in Central Illinois and beyond and now revels in the fact that I am often introduced as his brother.

This past Christmas, I was able to visit with the family for a few days and was able to attend one of his story-telling sessions. He certainly has gotten better and better over the years. He speaks of family things and often includes slightly augmented or transposed stories of our family and our growing up. We are by no means exceptional. I must say that when he includes me in the stories, somehow the stories seem to become even more exaggerated.

I noted even more a few months ago at the session that I attended that he is finding a phenomenal response to family stories and family values. Whole families often come to hear his presentation. But, he is also invited to speak to groups of parents, senior groups and school children.

I think this gives evidence of the difficulties that family members are feeling today and of the longing people have for strong and stable family life. Our society is losing the values that support society and the moral principles that make the solid family life possible. The culture seems to focus on almost absolute individual freedom, which means freedom from moral norms. The media and other aspects of our culture cultivate this attitude and promote an all-pervading materialism. Sexual activity is not viewed as a sacred gift from God oriented toward the intimacy of husband and wife and ordered toward the procreation and rearing of children. It is viewed as just another means of personal pleasure, or simply as “fun.”

How does a family stay healthy and balanced? I believe it is when spouses understand when commitment to one another is foundational and that it transcends feelings and failures. It is for good times and bad. But when parents are not reluctant to embrace their role of leading and serving by example and by their own proper authority then one finds a healthy family, standing together for proper values calmly, firmly, securely and completely in communication with one another and with their children and sometimes in suffering and pain they still carry on. The home is characterized by mutual love, respect and service, and not by living in anger, bitterness or carping. It is from families such as this that well-formed and balanced children arise and I might add that vocations are nourished.

One of the most important challenges to the Church in our day is to promote this proper understanding of family, to serve those who make the commitment to solid family living based in Gospel truths and to provide a variety of ways to support parents in this important vocation.

We who are the Church have been given the gift of being a family of faith. We have been made a holy nation, a nation of priests, to give glory and praise to God our Father.

We are not a people who call ourselves together or gather in our own names or form ourselves by our own power and then call on God to receive our praise and worship. Quite the contrary is true. God takes the initiative in our lives. He calls us together, sends His Spirit to form us into the Body of Christ. Through Christ we are anointed with the Spirit and by the Spirit we are formed in Christ. In and through the Spirit of Jesus, we join in His perfect worship, His sacrifice, His everlasting praise from the rising of the sun to its setting.

We are a family of priests because we share in Christ’s priesthood and are continually built up in Christ. It is God’s loving initiative in Jesus Christ, His reaching out to us most especially through the Sacraments which we celebrate this evening. We have not chosen Him, He has chosen us, given us life, and sends us forth in His name.

Four of the Seven Sacraments include anointing as a sign of our royal priesthood which we received in Baptism by dying and rising with Christ – becoming one with Him and sharing His life. Confirmation completes the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, Jesus associates His holy and priestly people with Him in His loving self-giving to the Father. We share in the greatest possible worship and praise. In the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation the Lord stoops to pick us up, embracing us, forgiving us and reconciling us so that we share once again more fully in His life and the life of the Church. In the Sacrament of Marriage the loving self-donation of a baptized man and woman is further consecrated by Christ as their vows are exchanged before the Church and through a special anointing the suffering and death of God’s holy ones are consecrated and they are immeasurably blessed in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

The oils we bless this evening are utilized in most of these Sacraments.

In these moments, with reality beyond all imagining, the Transcendent God becomes utterly imminent in our lives, in our hearts and minds and souls. The wonder of the incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit make possible these continuing, very personal encounters. God’s gifts are multiplied.

In moments as concrete as the incarnation, as specific as our own personal encounters, God meets us. He accommodates His transcendence to our being. Our hearts begin to share in the transcendence for which we yearn. This perspective can help us understand the ordained priesthood and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Holy Orders is not the greatest of Sacraments, but it is, rather, at the service of the others. Priests are not necessarily holier than others any more than the Apostles were holier than the Blessed Mother. But great things are appropriately expected of them.

Those in Holy Orders are a particular continuing sign that women and men, even though alive in Christ, do not form their own church community or call themselves together, nor address the Lord God in their own names. Nor do they raise up their own ministers.

As a continuing sign of this fact, God calls forth men from the midst of His people, men who share the weakness and sinfulness of their brothers and sisters. By a special Sacrament – again accompanied by anointing – they are conformed to Jesus Christ, the High Priest, in a special way that this High Priest might reach out through them by the Sacramental Ministry to embrace and love His holy people. At special moments they act in persona Christi capitis. 

The Bishop is a sign of the Lord’s watching over and presiding over His people, the teaching, sanctifying and governing mission of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is entrusted to him in a particular way. All ministers, especially priests, share in his ministry. From the Middle Ages possession of the Holy Oils which are consecrated each year indicated that the priest was in communion with his bishop, sharing in his apostolic ministry. They indicated a special communion between the bishop and priest.

As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has emphasized, the clergy are not to “lord it over” other members of the Church or other people. They are here to serve in Jesus’ name and to be available for Him to advance His Kingdom.

It happens that a few priests and other persons associated with the mission of the Church fall into actions which are headline grabbing and abhorrent in themselves. We deeply regret that. The Archdiocese of Newark has taken every action and even more suggested by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and by the Apostolic See to ensure that these actions never happen. We reach out to victims and their families in an effort to help them heal. We pledge to continue our vigilance and our compliance but also to continue to pray in a special way for any who have been hurt by those who represent the Church. And more than our apologies, we offer our love, prayers and support.

We are very blessed in the Archdiocese of Newark to have, with few exceptions, hundreds of wonderful, generous and good priests. They love the Lord and love their people. No group at any time deserves to be judged for the actions of a few. I, for my part, want to express once again my admiration, love and support for the priests who serve so generously and so well here in the Archdiocese of Newark. I invite you at this time to join me in thanking our priests for their wonderful work.

Now dear friends, during the Holy Eucharist which we are celebrating, we meet the Lord Jesus who was completely innocent and unjustifiably crucified. Yet, He forgave those who crucified Him. It is through our faith that we may join our own suffering with His in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He continues to call and form His people and continues to sanctify them in the Church.

We are reminded that He is the Loving Shepherd and that it is He whom people in this world need to help carry on His saving mission. The Lord has anointed us and sent His Spirit. We are truly His family of faith, a nation of priests.

We honor the mystery of Christ’s priesthood in which all the baptized share and in which the ordained share in a particular way.

Intimately associated with the action of the Holy Spirit and of her son, Jesus Christ, is Mary, our mother too. Her faith made possible the incarnation and carried her to the cross and beyond. She assisted the Apostles and all the disciples through the dark days before Pentecost, preparing them for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May Mary, Mother of the Church, Mother of Priests, assist all the priests in this Archdiocese and those within the Archdiocese who are served and sanctified through their ministry and lead us more deeply into the mystery of Jesus Christ, her Son and our Brother and Lord.

May I ask the priests present to stand now and to renew the commitment that you made on the day of your Ordination.