As Christians, we are all people of the Word: the Word of God; the Word Made Flesh in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God, the Word Made Flesh brings us together and addresses us — Bishop, priests — diocesan and members of religious orders — deacons, consecrated religious women, lay faithful of the Diocese of Trenton — at this Chrism Mass in our Co-Cathedral.
Words are not simply utterances that we speak and hear. Words are not simply phrases that we remember and repeat. Words are not simply thoughts, reflections of the mind and heart that find their way to our lips and ears. No. Words are expressions of intentions carrying with them meaning and purpose. And so it is with the Word of God, the Word made Flesh. This “Word” reveals and conveys God’s intentions for our lives.
As Bishop of this local Church and Successor to the Apostles, as your Bishop, let me remind you of the Word of God that, as priests united with me, we have read and preached as God’s intention; that as the community of faith entrusted to priests united with me, we have heard as God’s intention:
From the OT Book of Prophet Isaiah: "You yourselves shall be
named priests of the Lord, ministers of God shall you be called." The operative, intentional word is “named.”
From the NT Book of Revelation: "To him who has loved us and has
freed us from our sins by his Blood, ... who has made us priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever, Amen." The operative, intentional word is “freed.”
From the Gospel of Luke: "He has anointed me, he has
sent me." The operative, intentional word is “sent.”
While these spoken words are intended for us all to hear in the Church, they have a special poignancy and intention for priests in this Chrism Mass when we bless and consecrate holy oils for sacraments the faithful receive from our hands as priests. These sacramental oils used to sanctify the faithful — the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, the sacred chrism — are channels of intentional holiness that I bless and consecrate, in the presence of the faithful, as we renew our commitments as priests for that intention.
Three operative, intentional words drawn from the Word of God tonight I address now, in the presence of the faithful, to the priests of the Diocese — your priests.
Named. In the silence of eternity, Fathers, God had you in mind. That is awesome! "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart and anointed you prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5)." At some point in your lives — in your prayer, in your daily activities and interactions — God called you by “name” to be his priest … and you heard his call. My brothers, God does not make mistakes and God does not forget. “The greatest spiritual battle begins and never ends with the reclaiming of our chosen-ness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes … Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love” (Henri Nouwen,
Life of the Beloved, New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, pp.48-49). Never forget that you were
Freed. Although human life is often complicated by our human nature and circumstances, our human desires and urges, our human ambitions and pride, God graced us with a call to be
freed from the complexities of this world once we accepted that call in Holy Orders. Once you were named, the grace of Jesus Christ gave you an identity as priest that makes itself known in a simplicity of life following his own; in an obedience that places our destiny in someone else’s hands, as he did; in a celibacy that gives our heart to all not to one, in imitation of the Word made Flesh. Through my unworthy hands, God traced all of that in Chrism on your own. Like Simon of Cyrene, we take his Cross in oiled hands and follow him to Calvary, where death freed us for eternal life. Never resist or reject the oil of freedom he gave you.
Sent. You were not ordained to stand still. Jesus Christ named and freed and sent you on your way as his priest. So follow where he leads, prayerfully, humbly, joyfully.
Every assignment you are given, every Eucharist you celebrate, every sermon you preach, every truth you teach, every child or adult you baptize, every sinner you absolve, every marriage you witness, every dying person you bring to heaven’s door with the oil of the sick, every prayer you whisper with or without words and every kindness you extend even to those who are unkind, continue the priestly journey on which you were sent the day you were first ordained and don’t turn back. You were not ordained for bricks and mortar and stained glass … you were ordained for God’s people, here and at home. In faith and hope, they look for your love.
Named. Freed. Sent. Words … words that carry an intention and meaning and purpose for you and for your people. And they trust you. They need you. They love you. And so do I.
In this Eucharist then, let us bless and consecrate the oils before us, let us renew our priesthood, let us transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and let us give it all … and give ourselves away. And with the people of God all around us, let us sing forever the goodness of the Lord! Amen.
Most Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M. Bishop of Trenton