St. Joseph’s Basilica
April 10, 2017
As we listen once again to the beautiful and familiar story of Jesus in his hometown synagogue, we hear that the eyes of all present were “fixed”on him. This expression carries the sense of the attention of everyone being riveted upon the Lord. I find that that captures well the purpose for which we are drawn together this evening here in St. Joseph's Basilica. We want — we need — to fix our eyes anew on Jesus Christ.
We gather from across the Archdiocese as a community of faith in Christ entrusted with a mission of unparalleled importance. Since it is the Lord Jesus who calls, transforms and sends us, we must stay always close to him, because apart from him we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5), we can be nothing (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16). So tonight, by means of this beautiful liturgy, we fix our eyes on the Lord, in the hope that our gaze will meet his. We desire deeply to look upon the Lord, yet even more do we long for him to gaze upon us and our situation. Only by the light of his penetrating insight can we know how we must change and grow so as to follow him more faithfully.
Sacred Scripture helps us to fix our eyes on the Lord. Jesus is the centre and fulfillment of salvation history; he is therefore the very heart of all that is recorded in the holy texts. They reveal to us his provenance, identity and mission, and, in this manner, enable us to gaze upon him.
Tonight, as we listen to the passages assigned for this Mass of Chrism, we hear the Book of Revelation identify Jesus as the “faithful witness.” I'd like to invite us all to fix our eyes upon Jesus under this aspect of his identity, and by reference to this same focal point to ask the Lord to look upon us. Faithful witness to the love of God stands at the centre of the Christian way of life. It is clear to me that faithfulness to the Lord is being subjected to great pressure in our day, and at times we struggle to remain steadfast, to stay strong. By looking upon the faithful witness and asking him to return our gaze we shall both see and find the ground of our own lasting fidelity.
In all things, Jesus was faithful to the Father's will. Out of that unshakeable fidelity he accepted from the Father the mission that he first described at the synagogue in Nazareth as fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. By his faithful completion of the mission in the paschal mystery, he gave perfect witness to the power and invincibility of divine mercy and love. Since fidelity and witness form the very heart of Christ's life, they must also be the centre and distinguishing mark of his disciples. Yet it is precisely with reference to the issue of fidelity where authentic discipleship is currently under great pressure.
Allow me to explain what I mean. We live in an increasingly secularized culture that is more and more indifferent to the Gospel we announce; we are awash in a daily deluge of messaging that seeks to colonize our minds with ideas and ideologies contrary to the biblical revelation that has shaped us; and we are surrounded by an individualistic mindset wherein license masquerades as freedom and desires pose as rights, thus undermining the common good we are called to fashion and serve. When we look closely at these varied situations in which believers find themselves, we can see, snaking through them all, a common and evil thread, namely, the attempt to seduce Christ's followers away from fidelity and to adopt a lifestyle and way of thought that run counter to the commitments arising out of our Baptism and Ordination. This is a matter of utmost seriousness. The Gospel must be announced. Its effective proclamation demands that we be faithful witnesses to the life and hope it gives when we cease to be forgetful of God and instead embrace in faith his love, mercy and instruction.
How do we remain faithful in the face of the powerful temptations that encompass us? Well, let us return our gaze to the Lord. We see that, according to St. Luke, Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Later passages of Scripture will expose to our sight the will of the Lord to share this very same Spirit with his disciples. Here we can helpfully take in to our peripheral vision the oils that will be consecrated and blessed this evening. It is precisely by their use in sacramental anointing that our Lord bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, granting us thereby a share in his life and mission, fashioning us as members of his Body the Church, sending us to be heralds of his Gospel and agents of his mercy, and gifting us with a share in his fidelity by which we remain steadfast in our own. Knowing our weakness and vulnerability, Christ himself makes faithfulness on our part possible. By bestowing upon us his very life, he grants us a participation in his own fidelity to the Father. Our fidelity to Christ is possible because it is given to us as Christ's own gift. The faithful witness to the Father makes us faithful witnesses to him.
Now, as we know, there would be no sacramental celebration and anointing if it were not for the presence and ministry of our priests. This is why the Chrism Mass lifts up in a particular way the ministerial priesthood as an occasion to give thanks to Almighty God for this wondrous gift. Fathers, I know well it is not always easy to be a priest. We have to face many challenges: bringing the Word of God to bear upon increasingly complex issues; finding words to grant comfort to the many who suffer; articulating for our youth the reason for real hope; and even struggling to understand the relevance of the latest policy updates from the Chancery office! I know, we all know, it is not easy, but I also know, as do you, that the challenges in no way outweigh, indeed, they can never outweigh, the joy that is ours as priests of Jesus Christ. So, I want to say to you, and I know that all others gathered here this evening want to join me in saying to you, a very sincere "thank you" for your ministry and witness. We are blessed to have you serving and leading the People of God in this Archdiocese.
I now invite you, Fathers, to stand and renew your priestly commitment.
✠ Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
10 April 2017