Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Chrism Mass – March 27, 2018

What a blessed gathering this is!  Thank you to all who join with me this afternoon to celebrate this Mass of the Sacred Chrism – Bishop Timlin and Bishop Dougherty – so many of my brother priests – deacons and their wives – religious women and men –Parish Life Coordinators and numerous lay leaders – our seminarians – a special shout out to the many young people present in our cathedral from our schools and parishes – and finally, to so many of you from parishes throughout the eleven counties that make up this great local church.  …  Welcome to our cathedral.  …  Welcome to your home.   …  Thank you for your presence and thank you for all that you do in support of the Church’s mission – most especially in your service of the poor and those who struggle to find God in their lives.

On March 3, 1868, 150 years ago this very month, a story began – the story of the Church of Scranton.  The seeds for this story were first sewn 75 years earlier – a mere 17 years after the founding of the United States – when a French colony was established on the banks of the Susquehanna River between Wyalusing and Towanda.  Within that colony, was found the first verifiable presence of the Catholic faith in this region of Pennsylvania.

Thirty-two years later in 1825, an Irish born missionary priest by the name of Father Jeremiah O’Flynn used his own savings to purchase property where the first Catholic church within the territory of what we now know as our Diocese would be built.  The church, placed under the patronage of Saint Augustine, was erected at Silver Lake in Susquehanna County and still serves our people.

For the next 40 years, the Catholic faith not only took root but also flourished in this portion of God’s kingdom.  Strength was drawn from the sacramental life of the Church with the increasing presence of missionary priests from the Diocese of Philadelphia and from several religious congregations.  Dedicated women religious also arrived, caring for the sick, serving the needs of growing immigrant communities and engaging in the vital mission of educating young people in the faith.  And the blessed People of God – in their own way – assumed their role in the building up of the Church of Christ.

And build they did!  Clergy, religious and lay faithful – together – embraced and proclaimed the message of hope in Jesus Christ, celebrated the sacraments, served their brothers and sisters, and in 1868 wrote the first chapter of the story of this local Church that we know as the Diocese of Scranton.

And the story continues!  …  This anniversary year is testimony to the resolve of the faithful of this local Church – throughout its history – to embrace the anointing of our common baptism and to bring glad tidings to the poor, the Good News that is Jesus Christ.   …  Today’s Chrism Mass is a moment for all of us to renew our commitment to ministry in the Church.

In the gospel passage from Saint Luke, Jesus repeats words spoken by the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed in today’s first scripture reading.  In recalling the prophet Isaiah and his unique mission as a messenger of God, Jesus goes on to link this text to his own mission.  “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Yet, while fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the words of Isaiah also serve as a blueprint for the life of the disciple, who, as noted in today’s reading from the Book of Revelation, is loved, freed from sin and made by Christ’s Blood “into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”

These words are intended for all of the members of the Church.  But, they have a special significance for my brother priests, particularly as we gather during this Chrism Mass to bless and consecrate holy oils to strengthen the Christian faithful through the sacramental life of our Church.

The oils that are blessed today – the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, the Sacred Chrism – are channels of intentional holiness, provided for our life and salvation by the Lord Jesus himself through the unique and vital ministry of his priests.  It is well for us to remember this day that, while we give thanks for the symphony of lives open to the Spirit that serve to build the Church, it is only in and through the ministry of our priests that the sacraments are celebrated and Christ becomes present to us in the Eucharist that we receive from this altar.

And so, my brother priests, mindful of the gratitude of the People of God for all that you provide for the Church, reflect with me for a bit upon the journey of priestly ministry that you embraced two – ten – thirty – sixty year ago.

While my prayer is that our reflections are filled with joy, meaning and fulfillment, I know very well that the journey – on more occasions than you and I would care to admit – has been and continues to be difficult.  This is so, because our world – in so many ways – continues to be broken and in need of redemption.  …  It continues to bring into sharp perspective the words that we embraced on the day of our ordination when we vowed to imitate the mystery we celebrate and model our lives on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

Yet, brothers, in spite of the struggles that we face – the imperfections of our own lives – the worries that fill our minds as we seek to provide for our people – the pain that we experience in the face of a world that doesn’t appreciate the message of hope that we preach – remember one thing:

You were chosen by God.  At some point, God called you by name to be his priest – and youanswered that call.  For all that may cause you to question how and why your life has unfolded in the manner in which it has, I remind you of something, brothers:  God does not make mistakes and God has not forgotten what he has called you to be!  While your journey of priestly ministry may all too often be filled with the image of the cross, remember the words that I shared with you not long ago from a modern day saint – Padre Pio.  “The cross will not crush you.  Its weight may make you stagger but its power will sustain you.”

Brothers, you are and will be sustained – by the God whom you serve – by Jesus, who bore the weight of the crosses you carry – by the people God entrusts to your care – and by the bishop who stands before you – who all love you, who give thanks for your service and who pray for you each day.

Holding fast to this great hope, I remind you of something else, brothers.  In addition to being called and chosen by God, you were also anointed and sent.  As Jesus made the words of Isaiah his own in today’s gospel, he challenges us to place ourselves within those same words and to make them our own.  …  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. 

Brothers, the “glad tidings” of the words of Isaiah that you and I are called by the Lord to embrace undoubtedly are a source of joy to all those left behind and overlooked in our world.  Such is the case for countless numbers of forgiven sinners whose dignity and hope have been restored by Jesus himself.

Sadly, however, as Pope Francis reminded us just two days ago in his homily for Palm Sunday, the joy that you proclaim is often “a source of unease, scandal and upset for those who consider themselves righteous.”  …  It is “a joy intolerable for those who have forgotten the many chances that they themselves have been given.”  The Holy Father continued, “How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God’s mercy!  How hard it is to share in this joy for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others.”

Brothers, pray every day for these souls.  But never yield to their efforts to limit God’s mercy and love!  Jesus has anointed us and sent us on our way as his priests.  So follow where he leads, prayerfully, humbly and joyfully.  In every Eucharist you celebrate, every homily you preach, every child or adult you baptize, every truth you teach, every sinner you absolve, every marriage you witness, every suffering soul you anoint, every kindness you extend even to those who are unkind, in every action that you undertake in the name of the Lord Jesus, continue to do the work of God, bringing mercy and love to a world so desperately in need of it.

Pope Francis reflected upon our ministry in a prayer that he offered for us, his priests:  Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed.  May he renew his spirit in our hearts so that this anointing may spread to everyone, especially to those on the “outskirts” where our people most look for it and most appreciate it.  May our people sense that we are indeed the Lord’s disciples; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us.

My brother priests – ours is a privileged calling – not privileged in the sense that we’ve been chosen to stand over and above the People of God, but privileged insofar as we are given the unique opportunity to stand beside them, to speak to them about God, to work for them and to journey with them to a place of peace and finally to the eternity that God prepares for us all.

My friends, on this blessed day, may each of us – bishops – priests – deacons – religious – lay faithful – young and old – rich and poor – black, brown, white – and every soul seeking a place in the family of God – proclaim words of thanks and praise to the Lord!  …  May we give thanks for the gift of the priesthood.  …  May we give thanks for the miracle and mystery of God at work within the earthen vessels of our lives that make up his Church.  …  And finally, may we give thanks, through the grace of God, for having been afforded a place in the story of this local Church begun 150 years ago – a story that is nowhere near its end, but continues to give life through the presence of God who called us into being and walks with us always on the journey of faith.