Saturday, May 4, 2013

Like Oil Running Down

This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.

The readings and the Psalm of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm 133: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (v. 2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs who are numerous in these times.
Pope Francis, Homily, Chrism Mass, March 28, 2013

Reflection – I’ve been meaning to blog this homily for some time now, on the grounds of how utterly beautiful it is, mainly. Also, I think this homily gives a very good idea of the pastoral approach and basic thrust Pope Francis is calling the Church towards, and since we are all ‘the Church’, this is something for us all to listen to and be attentive.

Of course the primary audience of a Chrism Mass homily is the priests, since this is the Mass where we all renew our priestly commitment to God and to you all. But we have to remember that as goes the priesthood, so goes the laity. We are not two separate churches with two separate and perhaps opposing agendas. We’re all in this together, and the kind of love and service a priest is called to do is not substantially different from the love and service of a mother or father or religious or single lay person in the world. Christ anoints us all for the mission of the Church.

And of course this is the key – anointing is always upon the person for others. It is a privilege beyond privileges to be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ, which I can scarcely think about without wanting to prostrate myself in adoration before Him. But woe to me if I forget for a moment that I am ordained to serve, to love, to carry the yoke of Christ for His people. The chasuble at Mass is the great symbol of this yoke, and of the love that covers us so that we can carry it with grace and with peace. 'May I carry it in such a way so as to win your favor' is the vesting prayer the priest prays before each Mass.

And woe to you if you forget that you were anointed in baptism and confirmation precisely for that as well. Each according to their station in life and the work of the Holy Spirit in them, but service and love and mission nonetheless, for everyone. This is the exciting glorious call of being a Christian—we flow out like oil into the world. We carry Christ within ourselves, like Mary carrying the baby Jesus, and bring Him where He wills to go.

Now I don’t know about you, but personally I experience this glorious call in the context of a whole lot of personal poverty and ineptitude. I don’t confidently stride out of my bedroom each morning consciously anointed with Christ and knowing just how that anointing will flow today, just how I’m going to serve and love today.

Nah. Most of the time I’m staggering around like a fool, and quaking a bit in my boots at the prospect of what today will bring, and deeply uncertain about how I’m going to do any of it very well at all. And I don’t think this is wrong; in fact, I think this experience of personal poverty and our utter need for the Holy Spirit is utterly of the essence in our being true priests of God and true missionaries of Christ.

The ones who depend on their own strength, beauty, cleverness, or personal charm to see them through the day are not bringing Christ to others, but themselves. The poor and lowly one who can only cry out for mercy and strength is far more anointed, far more apt to flow out as oil into the world. And this is our Christian way of life – to feel the call of Christ, to know our own utter ineptitude to answer it, to cry out for mercy, and then to move forward with confidence to the next act of love, the next service. 

Repeat as necessary. And it will be necessary until we close our eyes in death and open them in the new life of the kingdom.


  1. Fellow Father,
    A thoughtful parishioner directed me to this post of yours, which I very much enjoyed, with which I very much identified. Oftentimes I draw upon my own cleverness, but in the face of many situations that reserve dries out. And then, "to whom shall we go?" I am hereby reminded to go to Him first. As I type this comment, it is nearly lined up on your web page with (Fr) G. M. Hopkins, another personally inspiring man. Thank you, and God's blessings upon your efforts.

    1. Thanks! It seems to me God in His mercy lets us run out of gas on a fairly regular basis, eh? So we have to do something else besides our own resources. God is good.


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