News & Events
Homily of the Chrism Mass
St. Andrew's Cathedral
March 17, 2016
“These oils, this blessing this evening, and this Gospel reading, are invitations to encounter Jesus Christ in a new way, for the mission of the Church. These oils, which sacramentally represent an encounter with Christ, are an invitation to the messiness of accompaniment ... to be instruments of encounter with Jesus Christ.”
~ Bishop Gary Gordon
Well, I must say, it’s always a good feeling when you have all the priests in the Diocese covering the Bishop’s back! And no matter how far down this road I go, I know they’ve got my back. Thank you!
This evening we celebrate the blessing of the oils that will be used in the life of the Church over the coming year, particularly at this coming Feast of Easter, when the catechumens will be baptized and confirmed and receive their first Holy Communion. These oils represent, and are in a very tangible, sacramental way, the face of the mercy of Christ.
The oil of catechumens strengthens and protects those who are on the journey to baptism, an encounter with Jesus Christ—the good Shepherd who lifts up, carries and defends the flock from the wolves. This is the beautiful oil of encountering Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Protector of the flock.
The oil of the sick—this is one of the great graces at the very heart of the ministry of Jesus: the laying-on of hands, and the prayer for healing. These are the miracles that we read in the Gospels: Jesus reaching out, touching the unclean, laying his hands on the paralytic, putting spittle on the eyes of the blind. Jesus, touching the infirm and the sick for healing. This oil used in the Sacrament of the Sick will be blessed this evening.
And then, the oil of chrism: a special oil because we put a perfume in it, a balm, a beautiful fragrance. How many of you have smelled the chrism oil? It is really nice. I get to smell it all the time, because I do Confirmations, and it gets all over my hands, and I’m all sticky with chrism oil, and they bring me lemon, bread, other stuff, and we try to get it off—and it never gets off. It’s really, really messy stuff, this chrism oil.
And it is supposed to be messy! Because we are anointed with chrism, as Christ was anointed with the oil of gladness. Jesus Christ is the Anointed One, and we, in our Baptism, our Confirmation, and our Ordination, are anointed with this chrism—to be the balm of God’s mercy in the world.
As we read tonight’s Gospel, and the prophet Isaiah, we get the ‘marching orders’ for Jesus. We get the basic and fundamental life of the body of Christ, the Christian community, as anointed ones. To bring Good News to the downtrodden, the poor, the lowly. To proclaim a year of favour, release to captives, sight to the blind, to bind up the brokenhearted. This is the life of the Church; this describes the mercy of Jesus Christ.
And so in this beautiful Jubilee of Mercy, we are invited to take hold of these words that Jesus speaks. These are words that demand encounter. You can’t anoint anybody without touching them. No one can receive the Sacrament of the Sick without encounter, without meeting. These oils, this blessing this evening, and this Gospel reading, are invitations to encounter Jesus Christ in a new way, for the mission of the Church. These oils, which sacramentally represent an encounter with Christ, are an invitation to the messiness of accompaniment. To accompany is to create and to be instruments of encounter with Jesus Christ.
And as I said, they’re messy oils! And guess what? Encounter with the list that Jesus mentions in the Gospel—the captive, the brokenhearted, the blind, poor—is messy. Is very messy. Is terribly messy. That’s our life. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, speaks about wanting a Church that is messy and bruised. And no, it’s not so comfortable. But it is the Church of anointed ones.
Brothers and sisters, this evening, before we bless the oils, your ministerial priests will renew their priestly promises. Those priestly promises contain words that their lives will be conformed to Christ, the Anointed One. It’s been an interesting two weeks: it’s been a bit of a road trip for all the priests, as we travel from parish to parish to parish, to celebrate the encounter with the mercy of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year. It is a personal encounter with Christ’s words of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I want to thank all the priests for all the travel, the leg work, the hours. This is at the heart of the messy, messy encounter with the messy, messy broken world. It is beautiful, and we can all speak of the beauty we experience in that encounter.
Finally . . . what’s a good homily without a good story?
As a priest, as a bishop, what enlivens my heart and fill my soul, and is absolutely the most wonderful thing I can do? Get things messed up. Not in a bad way! In a good way. And it happens all the time.
For example . . .
Just moments before celebrating Mass this evening, I got a text message from some dear friends, wanting me to offer prayers for them because they’d just lost their little, unborn child. We all know the heartbreak, the brokenheartedness, and the pain. So I texted them back. I’m about to celebrate the Chrism Mass, and I will pray for you. And if I can, I’ll visit them tonight.
That’s what makes sitting in meetings all day worthwhile.
Last Sunday, speaking of setting the captives free, I was at William Head prison. A young man, who had been seeking direction in his life, was confirmed and anointed with the chrism. We made one mom, way down in the United States, the happiest mom on the planet. Her son had completed the Sacraments of Initiation, and it happened inside a Federal prison.
That’s the song of joy. That’s the gladness of Jesus Christ.
All these priests experience exactly the same things that I am sharing with you. There is no greater grace than accompaniment and living as anointed ones because we are all sharers in the priesthood of Christ. But when your name appears in the bulletin, and your phone number is under the name, you get most of the calls. Right? Thank you for answering the phone, Fathers. Thank you for answering the texts to encounter our brothers and sisters in the margins and on the edges.
Another story: about six months ago I got called to the hospital late at night. One of my friends, who spent 35 years on these streets, was in a bad way. There was no room in the inn: he was in the hallway. And yet, in that busy, noisy, bustling emergency room hallway, there was this amazing encounter with the Sacrament of the Sick.
He said, as he grabbed me, “You’re my brother. You’re my brother.” That’s the reality of the body of Christ. To be and to live the gladness of God’s mercy on this earth. What a privilege, what a grace, what an encounter. What an opportunity to accompany.
Two months ago that same individual died. On the street. In an unhappy way. When you have someone who is your brother, you can’t say, “I’m busy. I have a meeting. I don’t have time to go to Gold River.” You just cancel the meetings, and you go. Then, two nights ago, that young man’s family was in the hospital for another reason. We were riding up the elevator and his sister recognized me. I could hear people whispering in the corner, “I think that’s the minister who did the funeral.”
I looked over and I said, “I’m him!” And as the elevator doors opened, whoever was out on the other side would have encountered the Bishop in a great big hug with this young man’s sister. She was overjoyed at the moment of encounter.
I leave you with those brief stories, for they are the privilege of these priests, and that’s their bread and butter. They get to do this stuff every day. Aren’t we lucky? We have the best job in the whole darn world. It’s messy, it’s the mercy of Jesus, and it’s the long road of accompaniment, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
St. Andrew's Cathedral, Victoria BC