The annual Chrism Mass is perhaps the liturgical celebration of the year which emphasizes the unity of the Church. I wish this evening to focus on this theme of communion, of unity.
Communion begins in the heart of God, and is best witnessed in the unity and love shared in the Trinity. The communion between the Father and the Son became visible in the incarnation and witnessed by so many of Jesus’ followers. This communion eventually and intentionally found its way into a group of twelve whom Jesus called to be his apostles, his most intimate friends. He did this to secure his desire to found a Church for the salvation of humanity. He did this also to model the fraternity, the ‘communion’ that is the essential nature of the Church.
The communion shared between Jesus and his apostles is the same fraternity that exists between a bishop and his presbyterate. This dynamic of life and walking together that existed in the early Church is fundamentally the same nature of the Church today as the People of God journey together, proclaim the Good News, and give witness to the living presence of Jesus Christ in the midst of the world today. This communion that existed between Jesus and those who believed in Him and followed Him is the same dynamic communion at work today between the bishop, his presbyterate, and the entire People of God. Our celebration in this Cathedral tonight is one of the strongest symbols of this communion that we are to live and nourish every day.
Christ is the source of our unity and the promoter of our communion. The communion Christ shares with the Father, the communion Christ shares with the Apostles is the communion Christ shares with His Spouse, the Church. This fraternal co-existence is what defines us as Church.
Our church and society today are in great need of a priestly witness and lifestyle which is permeated by the Good News of Jesus. As priests, our witness to the world begins with the fraternity and love we share among ourselves. Tonight my brothers I invite you once again to grow in harmony in service with me as your bishop, and with one another as brothers in the Lord.
In an address given to Bishops gathered in Rome in late February, our Holy Father put it this way: “brothers who love each other despite their differences in character, origin or age … This testimony gives birth to the desire to be part of the great parable of communion that is the Church. When a person feels that “mutual love among the disciples of Christ” is possible and is capable of transforming the quality of interpersonal relations, he /she feels called to discover or rediscover Christ, and opens [up]to an encounter with the Living and Working One.” (Pope Francis to Bishops and Friends of Focolare, Rome, February 27, 2014)
Speaking of this important reality of communion, Blessed John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Inuente: “To make the Church the home and the school of Communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God’s plan and respond to the world’s deepest yearnings.” … “Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up.” (# 43)
My brothers, promoting a spirituality of communion among ourselves is at the very heart of Jesus who longs for an intimate communion with each of us. His desire for such communion is expressed in His prayer the night before He died that ‘we all may be one.” (John 17) St. Paul speaks of this unity in Christ when he says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
The Second Vatican Council speaks of the Church as a people of faith on a journey. This image of life as a journey, as a pilgrimage of faith is a powerful, often repeated image for Pope Francis, who proposes that the model of communion for the Church today is the Gospel image of the Risen Jesus walking with two disciples on the Road to Emmaus.
“We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.
… we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.” (28 July 2013; Pope Francis Address to Bishops of Brazil; World Youth Day, Rio De Janero)
My brother priests, in our ministry, we are to go out of ourselves to encounter others, to accompany others. In so doing we are called to exercise the tenderness of Jesus in our relations with each other, while at the same time discovering the tender compassion of our God for ourselves. When Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to “Love others as I have loved you,” He is telling us that as His love knew no bounds, we are to love without measure, without counting the cost.
Today we must rediscover our mission as pastors (bishops and priests). We should not fear walking in the darkness as we seek out the People of God. We are to help them with their disillusionment by accompanying them, walking with them into the Light of Christ, the Light of the Gospel, the Light of the Church.
Brothers, often we experience a tension in fulfilling the various offices of priesthood; of sanctifying, preaching and governing. I believe we too narrowly associate the office of governance with modern day administration. Governing is a far greater role of the priest than mere administration. Sound administration is essential, and we cannot abandon that responsibility, nor can we focus solely upon administrative duties. But a true sense of governance means being a proper pastor of souls. Canon Law states it like this: “Clerics are to acknowledge and promote that mission which lay persons exercise in their own way in the Church and in the world.” (Canon 274, paragraph 2)
In other words, we as pastors have a role to form all of the People of God to be followers of Jesus. Part of our obligation in being ‘servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God’ (1 Cor 4:15) is to recognize the various gifts of the members of the Body of Christ. We are to help each member properly discern their own gifts which are meant for the building up of the Body of Christ. WE are to call forth these gifts and empower every member of the Church to fulfill their legitimate role in the life of the Church.
Listen to the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as he teaches regarding the co-responsibility the laity share for the good of the Church:
“…it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people. This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as “collaborators” of the clergy but truly recognized as “co-responsible”, for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity. This common awareness of being Church of all the baptized in no way diminishes the responsibility of parish priests. It is precisely your task, dear parish priests, to nurture the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already committed to working hard in the parishes. They form the core of the community that will act as a leaven for the others.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 26 May 2009; Opening of Convention of Diocese of Rome, St. John Lateran Church)
The Fathers of the Church teach: “The work and ministry of the priest is exercised only in hierarchical communion with his Bishop, who by his office and ministry maintains communion with the universal Church. Through the imposition of hands and the words of consecration the Holy Spirit is given to each ordained minister.” (LG #21) It is precisely the power of the same Holy Spirit that leads us in our ministry and the fulfillment of the various offices of holy orders. Therefore, the work before us is not beyond our ability.
Just as the Spirit rushed upon David at the moment of his consecration as King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13); and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon Isaiah and sent him to bring glad tidings to God’s People (Isaiah 61:1-3) and the same Spirit empowered Jesus as He began His public ministry (Luke 4: 16-21), so the Holy Spirit is granted to the People of God through the power of Baptism, and to the clergy through Holy Orders.
Ours is the work of God, the work of communio, and it is faithfully accomplished by the power of the same God through our humble service of God’s People. This necessarily means that we have a lot of work to do!
So, dear People of God, let us go forth from this Cathedral tonight, one in the Lord, armed with the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of our Baptism, to walk together, giving witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.” (cf. Revelation 1:5-8)