The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence delivered the following homily at the 2012 Chrism Mass held in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul last evening.
Along with my brother bishops and Abbot Caedmon, I welcome you to the Cathedral for the celebration of our annual Chrism Mass, always a significant moment in the life of our diocesan Church. Welcome to the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and lay faithful who are with us this evening. And a special word of thanks to all who have prepared for and are assisting with our liturgy.
As you probably know, the Chrism Mass, as it has evolved over the years, now includes several important themes.
First, of course, is the blessing and consecration of the sacred oils
which will be used in the celebration of the sacraments throughout the year. These signs of divine grace draw their effectiveness from the Paschal Mystery, from the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This is why the Church celebrates this rite on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum. Through the use of these oils and the reception of the Sacraments, members of the Church will be able to say: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me.”
Secondly, the celebration of the Chrism Mass is a manifestation of the unity of the presbyterate
– priests with one another, and priests with their bishop. It also expresses the unity of the entire diocesan Church, the Body of Christ, a gift for which Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, and for which He suffered and died on Good Friday.
The fraternity of the priesthood is a precious gift, one that is nourished in programs and activities, in liturgical services – including this Chrism Mass – and in many personal deeds, as priests so often reach out to support and encourage one another. But this fraternity is also a very fragile gift, one that quickly evaporates when cast into the cauldron of priestly pettiness – characterized by cynicism and sarcasm, gossip and rumor, arrogance and pride. It is a temptation we must always resist.
My brothers, let us pray this evening that we will recognize again the importance of the fraternity we share, and that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will do all that we can to foster that virtue.
The Chrism Mass also focuses on the importance of priestly ministry
. As Blessed John Paul II said in the homily of one of his final Chrism Masses, “By priestly ordination we have been called to share in Christ’s own mission and today we renew our common priestly commitments together. With deep emotion let us remember the gift we have received from Christ, who has called us to a special participation in his Priesthood.”
The Holy Father refers to the renewal of our priestly promises, an act which will take place here in just a few moments. This should be for us, dear brothers, more than a pro forma
ritual. It should be an opportunity to reflect upon the wonderful gift of our priesthood, to recall the significance of our ministry, to renew our zeal in serving God’s people, and to ask forgiveness of those times in which, through personal weakness, we have failed to live up to the dignity of our calling.
I referred to the “significance of our ministry,” and it is worthwhile to recall how important our ministry is, a truth that is sometimes lost in the routine and challenges of daily life.
Recently I spoke to a pastor in another diocese – an outstanding priest who works very hard every day, but on occasion gets tired and discouraged. He said, “Sometimes I reach the point that I look at every parishioner who comes near me as a potential problem.” It’s not a very joyful existence, I suppose, but it’s a sentiment we can easily understand.
Dear brothers, the fact remains that your ministry is really important – it affects the moral quality of our community, the holiness of the Church, the image of the Church in the world, and, perhaps, most importantly, the spiritual well-being of the people you were sent to serve.
Your conduct will either draw people closer to Christ or will drive them away. It will either open for them the door to salvation or be a stumbling block to them. That’s why your generosity, your sincerity, your zeal and your joy are so very important – not just for your own spiritual life, but also for the salvation of your people.
In a homily given on April 1, 2005, just before he was elected Pope, Pope Benedict said this:
Above all, that which we need at this moment in history are men who, through an enlightened and lived faith, render God credible in this world. The negative testimony of Christians who speak about God but live against him, has darkened God’s image and opened the door to disbelief. We need men who have their gaze directed to God, whose intellects are enlightened by the light of God. Only through men who have been touched by God, can God come near to men.
Our Holy Father’s words present a timely challenge. “Above all, that which we need at this moment of history are men who render God credible in this world.”
The question is, dear brothers, how do we render God credible in this world? Well . . .
-By striving to grow in personal holiness ourselves, so that our words and deeds have a ring of authenticity about them, we render God credible.
-By praying fervently with and for our people who so often turn to us for spiritual support and guidance, we render God credible.
-By celebrating the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, faithfully, reverently and joyfully, we render God credible.
-By preparing and preaching challenging and relevant homilies, applying the Word of God to the realities of contemporary life, we render God credible.
-By being present and available to our people, especially in visiting the sick, carefully ministering to those who mourn the death of a loved one, and assisting the faithful at key sacramental moments in their lives, we render God credible.
-By being an example of pastoral charity, and making known the love of Christ and the concern of the Church for the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, the immigrant, and the imprisoned, we render God credible.
-By forming and maintaining a community of faith, while also reaching out to inactive Catholics and non-believers in a personal commitment to evangelization, we render God credible.
Dear brothers, without a doubt the challenges of the priesthood are many, but so are the opportunities. Every day we have the opportunity to help people, to do good works, to build community, and to influence the moral values of our society. Every day we have the opportunity to “render God credible in this world.”
In presenting these challenges to you, I want to again thank you, in the presence of God’s people, for your dedicated work, and for the generous service you offer to God and His Church everyday. As I’ve said so very often, I am very proud of the priests of this Diocese. Led by truly outstanding bishops in years past, you’ve developed a wonderful tradition of priestly fraternity and service. And for that we give thanks and praise to God.
Finally, dear brothers, as we renew our promises and take up these challenges again this evening, let us strip away any hint of personal pride, pretense or achievement in our ministry and, rather, depend absolutely on God’s goodness, on the “primacy of grace.” As Blessed John Paul II told us so clearly, “It is fatal to forget that without Christ we can do nothing.”