Strive for the virtue of humility, Bishop tells priests at Chrism Mass
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist | Savannah, Georgia
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
April 12, 2017
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Mass of the Blessing of the Oils and the Consecration of the Chrism
Pax et Bonum! I am inspired to see so many of the faithful present here tonight. It says something about your faith. It is a sign that you see yourselves as an important member of the priesthood of Jesus and the Body of Christ. You have been anointed and called. You are among the elect. At your baptism, the priest or deacon anointed your head with Chrism Oil and said “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation: “The Joy of the Gospel” states that “the Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.” One concrete sign of such openness, he says, is that our church doors should always be open so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door.
There are other doors that should not be closed either, he says. Everyone can share, in some way, in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself the “door” – baptism.
The Eucharist, the Pope says, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, he says, priests and bishops act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.
In his “Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis lists the importance of giving proper responsibility to lay people, to evangelize professional and intellectual life, and the need “to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church.”
He notes that “pastors and theologians” should consider the implications of this “with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making…in different areas of the Church’s life.”
My dear deacons, men and women of Consecrated Life and lay faithful, I am grateful for your presence here tonight and for your contribution to this local church.
This evening, I would like to speak primarily to my priests, my brothers, because the Chrism Mass highlights, in a special way, the ministerial priesthood.
It is very appropriate, nonetheless, that the laity hear what I want to say to their priests because these dedicated men need and deserve the support and love of the people they serve.
And so, my dear brothers, this is our fifth Chrism Mass together.
This night is a gathering that I treasure. I treasure it because this Chrism Mass brings us together from all corners of our diocese and provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon Jesus’ mission and as his priests to recommit ourselves to it as men of Faith.
In order for a priest to be a man of faith, Christ must be the priest’s best friend. In the Gospels, the Greeks go to the Apostles and say, “We want to see Jesus.” Our people want to see Jesus in us; they want to know that Jesus is our best friend. In our compassion, understanding and self-sacrifice, in our lives of obedience, of chastity, and of generosity, they want to see in us the Good Shepherd who has laid down their life for them. To be such a man of faith means having a real interior life. Prayer, reflection on the Scriptures, and an annual retreat that is a serious time of introspection are all essential for our life and ministry. It also means acts of penance, making sacrifices out of love for God and a desire to make reparations for our own sins. It means making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a means of ongoing personal conversion.
Our friendship with Christ is bound to our vocation to be men of the Eucharist. As a husband kisses his wife with affection, so a priest should kiss the altar with affection. This is a very public gesture made in the presence of those gathered for the Eucharist; but it is at the same time an intensely private gesture, an act of affection and surrender, an act of love and trust.
Even more to the point, the priest’s kissing the altar is an act of identification: we are proclaiming to Christ, to our self and to our parishioners that it is Christ the High Priest who makes us who we are.
We kiss the altar as a sign of the Lord himself, the sacrifice of Calvary, and the table of the Last Supper. Everything we do flows from the altar and back to it. The kiss symbolizes our daily embrace of the sacrifice of Christ as our way of life, for on the day of our ordination, we were totally and irrevocably joined to Christ our High Priest.
At the end of every celebration of the Eucharist, Maronite priests pray a beautiful prayer that is a farewell to the altar. They pray:
“Remain in peace, O holy altar of God, I hope to return to you in peace. May the offering I have received from you forgive my sins and prepare me to stand blameless before the throne of Christ. I know not whether I will be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. Guard me O Lord, and protect your holy Church, that she may be the way to salvation and the light of the world.”
Brothers, we should celebrate each Mass as if it were our last Mass.
As priests, our love for the Mass and Eucharistic devotion are what nurture our friendship with Christ and our priestly identity as men of faith.
The priest as a man of faith is to be a teacher of the faith.
An important part of the New Evangelization is teaching the faith. For us, that begins with the Sunday experience. We must make the Sunday Eucharist central in our efforts to grow our parishes.
In his book, Rebuilt, Fr. Michael White describes his frustrating efforts to revitalize Nativity parish in Baltimore, where all of the surveys revealed what the parishioners liked most about their parish. The thing they liked most about their parish was that it had great parking.
Fr. White tried a hundred different programs, greatly overburdening himself and his staff, with very little results. He began to concentrate on the Sunday liturgy, the music, the children’s liturgy, and the preaching, and then things really began to turn around. The Eucharist is our best resource to teach the faith and build a community. If the Eucharist is the core of our own identity we will be able to kindle the Eucharistic amazement in the hearts of our people.
At the same time, if we are looking for the “perfect parish” we are in the wrong diocese. We do not have a perfect parish.
And if our people are looking for the perfect bishop and the perfect priest, they are in the wrong diocese because none of us is perfect.
That does not mean that we should not strive for perfection, but few of us, if any, will ever completely achieve perfection in this life.
I often reflect on the occasion in the Gospel when Jesus takes his disciples to the temple to point out to them that poor widow who drops her last penny in the collection basket. Jesus does not say anything to the woman, he does not give her the money back. He simply wants his disciples to see and appreciate the faith and generosity of the poor widow.
I believe the virtue for which we should most strive as priests is the virtue of humility. Nothing turns people away from the Church more than an attitude of arrogance. Pope Francis admonishes us not to be rigid, insensitive, and hard hearted but rather to be men of faith with open arms of hospitality and reconciliation. My brothers, we are called to be men of faith in a community of faith that is built on relationships. First and foremost is our relationship with Christ. Our priesthood also connects us with each other. The very ordination rite ritualizes the bond that unites us as priests.
With each passing year, my affection and respect for you only increases. This diocese is my home and you are my brothers.
After the Bishop imposes hands on the newly ordained, all the priests who are present come forward to impose hands and likewise the priests come forward to extend the greeting of peace to the newly ordained. This was done for each of us, and each of us has done this for other priests.
The vow of respect and obedience binds us not only to the Bishop but also binds us through the Bishop to our fellow priests.
Tonight, I would like to prayerfully remember, as we are gathered as a presbyterate, two of our brothers who have returned to the Lord since we gathered last year: Frank Nelson and John Cuddy. May they rest in peace.
We also lift up in prayer two of our brothers who are facing serious health issues: Mike Smith and John Brown. We pray for their healing and comfort.
And also we congratulate those celebrating their 50th anniversary of priestly ordination: Tom Healy, Willie O’Neill, Frank Patterson and Barry Stanton. We also congratulate Pat Otor who is celebrating his 25th anniversary of ordination. Thank you for your years of faithful service. Ad multus Ano.
Tonight, in this Chrism Mass, we are united in the blessing of the oils that become our tools in our shared administration of the sacraments.
As we renew our priestly promises tonight, let us ask the Good Shepherd to make us one in our priesthood. Let us be joined in an intentional presbyterate that will allow us to be of one heart and one mind as we strive together to be men of faith and priests of Jesus Christ.
May Mary, the Mother of the Divine Shepherd, help us all to be priests after Christ’s own heart and give us a very special love for the poor, the suffering, the sinner, the outcast and the forgotten. May they see in us a father, a brother, a Catholic priest.