Homily of the Chrism Mass
St. Andrew's Cathedral

April 6, 2017

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“These oils symbolize how close we are called to be. No one can receive an anointing without being really close. It’s not virtual. It’s close. It is as close
as Christ has come to us ...”

~ Bishop Gary Gordon


One of the wonderful gifts and graces that we celebrate together in our faith is this annual Mass, the blessing of the oils, the Chrism oils. These are the oils that are used in the Sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Healing of the Sick. They are used a lot. They are used sacramentally, but they indicate something very important for us: the closeness of Jesus, the closeness of pastoral ministry.

None of these oils can be used online! Or virtually! They all involve very close proximity. And, one of the beautiful things, for me, with you, and with our brother priests, is that I’m starting to get to know you. It really is wonderful to know your names, and not just your name and who you are, but to also to get to know your relations, your families. And to become close to you as Bishop. It’s getting better and better for me. I hope it’s getting better for you.

It’s also to know our struggles, our challenges, our difficulties together as God’s people. Myra’s here. Every time I see Myra, my heart is just filled with tenderness and love because her son went missing over a year ago, and no one knows why or where he is: there have been no answers. Fr. William missed our dinner before Mass. He wasn’t able to join us because one of his parishioners took her own life. So there’s a great sorrow and sadness with our brothers and sisters at Holy Cross. This is part of our life as a Christian people. This is what we share, and we share it together in the closeness of what these oils indicate: this closeness of Jesus.

Kade is here, and our heart is with her. Her husband died last year, leaving her with a young family. Cancer. There are so many aspects of our lives, but we carry on because of our deep faith in the closeness of Jesus Christ with us.

About eight days ago I was in Rome, sitting in a circle with the Western Bishops of Canada, and with our Holy Father, Pope Francis. I want to share with you what he shared with us in a two-and-a-half-hour conversation. I think it’s important for us, and it is important for our priests, who serve God’s people, and who will be renewed in their commitment to be close to you.

The first thing we talked about—and it was a discussion and a dialogue—we talked about something that is so very close to his heart: refugees and migrants. He spoke at length, talking about the fears that exist in the world. He talked about how people are so afraid of others. He knows that people are afraid. They don’t understand, and so there’s great potential for discord. Pope Francis said to us, “Don’t be afraid. We are invited to a profound moment of welcome, and this welcome will create a great opportunity of integration.”

Then he shared a story from when he was a pastor, and he celebrated a mixed marriage. He said, “This is what integration looks like.” And don’t we experience that, in our Canadian context, culturally and religiously? The Pope gets pretty revved up, let me tell you! He gets more revved up than I do. He gets pretty excited about some of the things he’s passionate about, and refugees and migrants, he is passionate about. He is inviting us, inviting us as Bishops, as people of God, as pastors: Do not be afraid.

The second thing we talked about was a question the bishops raised. We said, “Holy Father, we are challenged with trying to connect to the young people.” Young people are clearly absent from our congregation tonight. There are a few, God bless you, but clearly, quite absent from our congregations in most of our dioceses. And Pope Francis told us, “This is why we’re having a Synod on Youth and Vocations. Get close to the young people, and not just the young people who go to church. Most of them don’t go! Go talk to the ones who don’t like you because you’re Catholic. Go talk to the ones who are distant, who will never show up. Get close to them.” It was the same way he said “Get close to the refugees.” Get close.

That’s really something for you Fathers to think about. There are young people in your neighbourhood, and they aren’t in your church. Find them. Find them. If it means sitting down in McDonald’s for four hours every day, go ahead!

Pope Francis was quite insistent that we talk and get close to the people who are having trouble with the church, and don’t like us. I thought that was pretty cool.

Then we talked about something that engages all of the Bishops of Western Canada: the indigenous communities of Western Canada, and the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is very aware, and we had a very dynamic conversation of our indigenous communities, especially from our Northern bishops. And his word, in terms of reconciliation and healing, was—guess what—get close to the people. Get close. Stay close. 

We spoke about the needs for ministry in the life of the Church, with the shortage of priests. Brothers and sisters from our parishes, thank you for coming. We are trying hard that you will have a pastor in your parish to celebrate the Sacraments. But the time is coming, very, very quickly, when you will not have a priest. It’s happened in the Yukon, it’s happened in the Northwest Territories, it’s happened in most of the prisons. And the Pope said, “Be bold and take risks. But, with much discernment and prayer.” It was an amazing conversation.

And then our Holy Father spoke about prayer, and this is what I want to speak to the priests about. He said to us, “Be men of deep prayer. I don’t have the answers, and you don’t have the answers. Only the Holy Spirit has the answers.” I share those words from our Holy Father with you pastors. Be men of deep prayer, for the Holy Spirit is the protagonist to lead us to Christ. We face interesting times, and only in deep prayer will we know what to do, and where to go. 

And finally, throughout that two-and-a-half-hour conversation with our Holy Father, he always brought together our response to each one of these challenging moments facing our world, and our Church, by saying, “Discern and pray, and stay close to the people. Stay close to the action. Stay in conversation and dialogue.”

So I leave that with all of you here, and with all of our pastors, that we are all invited, as God’s people, as God’s priestly people, to deepen our prayer lives. To stay in conversation and dialogue with each other. To move forward without fear, and to be close to one another. These oils symbolize how close we are called to be. No one can receive an anointing without being really close. It’s not virtual. It’s close. It is as close as Christ has come to us, as we know he is with us. He walks with us, and our Holy Father, in so many ways, is asking us to walk with one another. 

Stay close. Pray. Discern. Where is the Holy Spirit leading us at this present time?

I like being close to you all. It’s just getting better, and better, and better. We belong to something really beautiful, and together with our Holy Father we are invited to create something even more beautiful for the whole world, in the love of Jesus Christ.

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Apr 3, 2017

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