Chrism Mass – April 12, 2022

It has been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to gather for this Chrism Mass as we do today, with all of us – priests, deacons, those in consecrated life and lay faithful – offering a powerful witness to our world of the abiding presence of God that alone is capable of overcoming the darkness of suffering and death with the life and hope of Christ.

Like so many, we have endured more than we could have ever imagined and are here today solely by the grace of God.  Reflect with me for just a moment on the past few years that have led to this day.

Think back to 2018.  Just three weeks prior to that year’s Chrism Mass, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Scranton – a milestone moment by all accounts.  That joyful celebration, however, was soon tempered by the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report later that year – a report that broke our hearts, wounded our spirits and continued to weigh heavily upon us all as we gathered for the Chrism Mass that followed in April, 2019.

By the time the calendar turned to 2020 and it seemed that there might be hope on the horizon, life came to a crashing halt around our world with the emergence of the coronavirus.  That year, there was no Chrism Mass.  Instead, we had to carve a way forward, amid fears, anxieties and a growing sense of polarization in society and in our Church.  And while we were once again able to celebrate this treasured Mass last year in 2021, we did so in a limited way that still continued to keep us distant, one from another.

Finally, as this year, 2022, dawned, we all wanted to believe that life would return to what we had known and appreciated a few years ago.  But even that simple dream was dashed as unwarranted and unchecked aggression turned into a war in Ukraine.  That unjust conflict has given us all reason to pause, to confront the reality and consequences of evil in our world and to grieve the lives that it has taken – lives of those we name as our brothers and sisters.

I don’t recount this recent history of our world and local Church to compound the pain that many of us hold within our hearts.  To the contrary, I share our history – our story – to remind us that in spite of all that we have and continue to confront in this broken world of ours, as disciples of Jesus, we do have reason to hope and to give thanks this day!

I read a reflection not long ago written about Father Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Listen to these words of the author: “One thing I learned many years ago, was that to be a person who truly lives with hope, it is likely that one has had to live through difficult times. It is also likely that one who sees possibilities of hope in the challenges faced in life, has been shaped by many challenges, setbacks or failures – yet, has come through them to be a witness of hope to others.”  …  Hold these thoughts in your hearts, brothers and sisters.  They are essential to understanding the reality of hope in our lives as Christians.

In this afternoon’s gospel from Saint Luke, the citation from the prophet Isaiah defines the character of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus will announce good news to those who are poor, blind, in captivity and oppressed.  But in asserting to the crowds the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus not only points to himself as the long awaited hope of Israel.  The very prophetic vision of hope that he proclaims for all who are burdened and oppressed becomes a reality precisely because of his own experience of the suffering and pain of his times.

This past November, in a homily for the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis offered words that speak providentially to our gathering this afternoon, as he reflected upon two very essential aspects of our lives:  “today’s pain and tomorrow’s hope.”

In acknowledging the reality of today’s pain, Pope Francis admits of a history of our lives, particularly in these days, marked by tribulation, violence, suffering, and injustice, awaiting a liberation that never seems to arrive.  He then goes on to note, however, that there is another vital dimension of our lives:  tomorrow’s hope.  …  “Jesus tells us that even as the sun grows dark and everything around us seems to be falling, he himself is drawing near.  …  Tomorrow’s hope begins to flower amid today’s pain.”

Francis continues, “We, then, brothers and sisters, are asked to nurture tomorrow’s hope by healing today’s pain.  The two are linked: if you do not work to heal today’s pain, it will be hard to have hope for tomorrow.  The hope born of the Gospel has nothing to do with a passive expectation that things may be better tomorrow, but with making God’s promise of salvation concrete today.  Christian hope is not the naïve, even adolescent, optimism of those who hope that things may change but in the meantime go on with life; it has to do with building daily, by concrete gestures, the kingdom of love, justice, and fraternity that Jesus inaugurated.”

My friends, and especially my brother priests, I implore you:  do not let the darkness of these challenging days prevail!  Our hope and peace is found in the very midst of the lives that we lead and the compassion and mercy that we extend to our suffering brothers and sisters and that they, in turn, impart to us.

Sometimes we can be so overwhelmed by the brokenness of our lives and our world that we underestimate God’s power to transform us.  Never forget for an instant that God’s love can turn everything upside down.  Jesus’ cross and resurrection are more than proof of this fact.  …  And because of his cross and resurrection, there will never be a time when Jesus will not love and sustain you!

In a few moments, oils will be presented – the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism.  These sacramental oils used to sanctify each of us as faithful members of the Church are channels of intentional holiness that will be blessed and consecrated in the presence of so many of you – the faithful of this Church – as we, your priests, renew our commitments for that intention.

My brother priests, stop and consider for just a moment the hope that you bring to the lives you are blessed to encounter.  In addition to sharing the sacramental life of our Church so generously, your presence in and among the lives of our people is far more deeply appreciated than you might ever believe or imagine. 

Most weekends when I don’t have some special event here in our cathedral, I try to visit our parishes to celebrate with no fuss or fanfare Saturday evening or Sunday morning Mass.  What I appreciate more than anything during these opportunities are the words shared by our people before and after Mass. 

I’ll confess that at times, some of the comments shared with me – with the best of intentions – can be a bit surprising and even amusing:  “We didn’t think a bishop would know how to drive a car or manage to celebrate Mass without an entourage” … Or my favorite one:  “You really seem quite normal.  I noticed that you even turn your own pages in the prayer book!” 

Of course there have been a lot of comments about Rectory, Set, Cook! …   “Bishop, it’s good to know that you and our priests can cook and take care of yourselves.”  As if we look like we don’t eat!  …  But it’s the comments about you, my brother priests, that I find most encouraging and I hope you do as well – simple words that reflect the hearts of our people.

 “We really love our pastor.  Don’t ever change him.”  …  “We’re worried about him.  We don’t think he’s been feeling well lately.”  …  “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today.”  …  “He’s a good man.  He helped me come back to the Church.”  …  “He amazing.  He knows everybody’s name.”  …  “I would have never survived the loss of our son if it wasn’t for our pastor.”

Brothers, these are all signs of you nurturing tomorrow’s hope by healing today’s painThey are signs of you embracing the wisdom of Pope Francis and that I shared during our Lenten Day of Reflection a few weeks ago.  Do you recall the Holy Father’s words?  “Every building needs a solid foundation that is rooted in the four constitutive pillars of our priestly life:  closeness to God, closeness to the bishop, closeness to our fellow priests and closeness to the people we serve.”

In the unique lives that we share as priests and, indeed, in the mission that we all embrace as baptized disciples of Jesus, I pray that we come to realize that there is simply no other way to peace and the fulfillment of our hope but through closeness to God and to those lives God has placed within our own.

We have made it through four tough years since our 150th Anniversary as a local Church.  And while the years ahead will undoubtedly bring new challenges, from parish modifications to one crisis or another, we will make it through those days as well if we are humble enough to surrender to the grace of God and to believe that through the power of the resurrection, God will continue to take care of his people as he always has – including me and you!

My brother priests, thank you for your ministry.  Thank you for your service and for the witness of your faith.  For all of the hope that you have given, the love that you have shared and the faith in Christ that you have imparted, even while struggling to carry your own crosses, your lives and your ministry are by far the most eloquent homily that can be shared this day.

And to this great gathering of the Church in all of its many parts, thank you for continuing to shine forth as the world’s greatest hope because of the living presence of Jesus within you!