Many of the priests of the diocese attended the Chrism Mass on April 10.
josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice
Christ is Prophet, Priest and King
Michael C. Barber, SJ
What is the celebration of our Chrism Mass about?
A few weeks ago I was boarding a plane in San Diego to come back to Oakland. I was flying Southwest Airlines — it's kind of like a Greyhound bus with wings — and I was in the last group, heading to the back of the plane, and as I came down the first rows a woman saw my Roman collar and she said, "Father, Father, I'm so nervous. Please say a Hail Mary that we'll get there."
I said "OK, I will." So I did and we got to Oakland and she waited for me outside, and she said, "Thank you, Father, thank you."
"No problem," I said, "What parish are you from?"
She told me, and asked, "Father, what parish are you from?"
And I said, "I work at the Cathedral of Christ the Light. Come and visit us sometime."
And she said, "Oh, just a week ago we got to go there for a special Mass with the bishop!"
And I said, "I hear nothing but good things … " No, I didn't say that.
It's not about us (priests). It is about Christ, and we are his servants and his witnesses and his emissaries.
In the coming days we will celebrate Christ under his three major aspects:
As Prophet, which is about Christ speaking in the Temple (the Synagogue, actually) and the people were amazed: "There is a new prophet among us."
On Holy Thursday, we'll celebrate Christ as priest, offering the first Eucharist at the Last Supper.
And on Palm Sunday, we celebrate Christ as king, when he rode on the donkey into Jerusalem to cries of hosannas.
A prophet does not represent himself; he is given a message from God, a mission to proclaim that message to a certain people at a certain place at a certain time; a message that is not his own. Look at Pope Francis as a kind of a modern prophet, sent unexpectedly with the previous pope still living, unheard of in recent history.
The priest must be a prophet. And how can a priest be a prophet unless you immerse yourself in the Word of God?
When we priests prepare our homilies, which for most priests is almost every day, we must spend time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit, "Give us the word of prophecy. Lord, what is the word you want me to say to my people today?"
Sometimes it is just one word from that Gospel or Epistle or Old Testament reading that will jump off the page at the heart of the priest. Sometimes you pray and pray and the word comes. Other times you're looking and looking, in which case the homily should be very short!
And so you have three sets of hearts connecting: the Lord's Sacred Heart who inspires; the priest who hears and preaches; and the people who then are drawn to God's heart through the priest's heart and the words that he speaks.
And you know it's true, not just when people say thanks for your homily but when someone kneels down in confession and says, "Father, you were talking right to me, and I've been away from the Church for a long time." Then you know that the word you got was from God, and it's not your own.
We celebrate Christ as priest. Today in a special way we celebrate a priest who anoints. We are blessing these holy oils which are tools in the priest's spiritual kit, to enable him to administer the sacraments of strengthening and healing. As Pope Francis said, it's about "unction, not function."
When we administer the Holy Chrism in the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation, the Oil of Catechumens in the Sacrament of Baptism, when we anoint the sick and elderly with the Oil of the Sick, we are healing and strengthening our people.
When we anoint and we apply these oils, it's not just an action like a symbol. We care. Priests, look in the eyes of the people you anoint. Pause; let them know when you anoint, especially the sick. Lay hands on them. Take your time. Mean it. And as you take your hand away in anointing, take some of the burden of the people that are suffering with you. Take it back with you. Take it to your prayer, to your Divine Office.
At Mass we celebrate Christ as a king. He rules.
But as Pope Francis has shown us and as Jesus himself showed us, he is a king who washes feet, who kneels down and humbles himself. It's much more than washing feet. He went to the cross right after that. He is a king who even gives up his life, gives everything, to the cross, in suffering out of love for his people. If we have that in mind, then we'll be good pastors, we'll be good guides and leaders of our parishes.
One last thing the kingship of Christ teaches us is that it's His Church, not mine. It's not the priest's parish, it's not the bishop's diocese, it's not the pope's Church. It belongs to Christ.
When he was worried about the changes in the Second Vatican Council, every night before he went to bed Pope John XXIII said, "It's your Church, Lord, now I'm going to bed."
This was brought home to me when I went to St. Agnes parish to visit the school, and said a Mass for all the kids in the school. I love the First Grade because they always prepare a song for the bishop and it has hand gestures and such, and it's just really cute, and they sang their song and it was beautiful. Afterward I said, "I have a present for you, and Father Alex here will give you a little gift."
So Father Alex Castillo gave out the cards — they look like baseball cards but they have the bishop's picture on them and a little prayer on the back. We had thousands made up at my installation and still have a lot left over.
One little boy in the front row turned it around and said, without hiding the disappointment in his voice, "But it's a picture of you!" I said, "Yes." He said, "Don't you have one of Jesus or Mary?"
That boy is going to grow up and become a Jesuit, I can tell you right now.
It is not about us, it is about Him. We are merely his servants and his representatives.
Pope Francis says: "Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God's heart. 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; that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those on the outskirts, where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord's disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity. And may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness, which Jesus, the anointed one, came to bring." Amen.
(This is a compilation of Bishop Barber's homily at the Chrism Mass on April 10. To listen to the complete homily, visit Oakdiocese.org/homilies.)
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