When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment.
At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.
We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.
Pope Francis, Homily, Chrism Mass, March 28, 2013
Reflection – I have been meditating on these words of Pope Francis this past month. The translation we received in Madonna House used the phrase ‘existential peripheries’, but of course ‘outskirts’ is the same word with an Anglo-Saxon root. This is tremendously important for all of us, priests and lay alike.
We need to have confidence in the power of God in us. Christ is risen indeed, the Holy Spirit has been poured upon us, the love of the Father is upon us to sustain us. So we should not hesitate to go to these outskirts, at the very least inwardly in our prayer and in our own interior being, but also in ministry and loving service.
These outskirts have so many forms. Suffering, bloodshed, blindness, prisoners—those are just the first few instances or images the Pope uses. Wherever the Gospel is not, or appears not to be, wherever God is distant or mysterious or unseen. Wherever love is debased or discounted or simply absent. Wherever it most appears that evil has won or that the salvation of Christ simply cannot have reached. This is where Christians need to go.
We can think of the poor, the lonely, the addicted, the ill. We can also think of the rich, the complacent, the elitists, the comfortable. We can think of the skeptical, the disbelieving, the scornful, the hateful. We can think of many things that qualify as existential outskirts of human life.
I think in some sense there are existential outskirts present in every human heart and life—that place where you reach the limits of your human store of goodness and wisdom, and are not so sure God’s goodness and wisdom will be there to meet you.
This is where we need to go. The pope is calling us to not retreat into safe havens, safe little bailiwicks where everything is ‘nice’ and under control and there are few challenges to faith. Our faith—the Christian faith as a whole—is not a fragile little flower that has to be protected from every harsh wind of disbelief or cruelty.
No. Christianity is strong enough, vibrant, alive, supple, to descend to the very pits of human hells and to the coldest outreaches of human lack of love. Now, our going out to the outskirts has to be done with prudence and care. It is never to be done alone without the support of the Christian community, and it is always to be done first within our own hearts as we confront the evil and darkness within, lest we be undone by the evil and darkness without as we go out towards it. If the light of Christ is not burning brightly within you, best to address that before you go too far into the existential peripheries.
But go out we must – this is our mission and our glorious call. We are not to tremble with timid fear, but to let love conquer our fear. It is a great call, not only for priests but for every baptized person, to truly carry the Gospels to the ends of the earth and to all the ends of human life, confident that within the Gospel and within Christ lies all the answers and hopes and dreams and desires of every human being