Chrism Mass 2022
[Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9; Psalm 89; Revelation 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21]
Just over a week ago, the historic meeting between representatives of Indigenous Peoples and the Pope came to a close. Following a succession of private meetings with delegates, the Holy Father gave a very moving and powerful address. Since that moment, attention has focused largely upon his highly anticipated apology. Yet he said many other beautiful things, worthy of prolonged reflection on our part. One assertion in particular struck the delegates profoundly. He gave voice to it in the final address as well as in comments he made spontaneously in the private meetings. It is this: “the Church stands with you.” Having listened to both their struggles and hopes, the Pope assured them that the Church takes their part. “The Church stands with you.”
This stance of the Church finds its ground in the Gospel passage for this Chrism mass. When Jesus rises in his hometown synagogue and applies to himself the prophecy of Isaiah to outline the mission for which he was anointed and sent, he is saying, in effect, that he stands – that God stands – with those who are poor, blind, captive, and oppressed. In Jesus Christ, God makes clear that He takes their part, enters into the full reality of their lives, in order to set them free with the truth of the Gospel. As Saint John would later put it, Jesus, by his death and resurrection, is “the faithful witness” to the steadfast love and sure mercy of the Father. Since the Lord stands with anyone in need, so, too, must the Church in and through all her members.
But what does it mean to stand with another? What does it look like in practice? Allow me to share with you some experiences related to the Rome delegation that have helped me to discover the answer to those questions.
A number of months ago, in a kind of remote preparation for the visit to Rome, I met with Indigenous leaders here in Edmonton to get their feedback on the draft of a pastoral letter from Canada’s Bishops to the Indigenous Peoples of this land. I wanted to know how it would be received, and if they would have any suggested amendments to the wording. As you know, Bishops love to write letters, and a fair amount of work had gone into the draft. Their answer was succinct and direct. “We don’t want a letter,” they said. “We want you. We want you to meet us where we are. We want to see the expression on your face; we want to hear the tone of your voice. Then, and only then, will we know what you are really saying to us.” Here is the first answer to the question of what it means to stand with another: personal presence. We cannot stand with others by standing apart from them. We must draw close, ready to enter into the reality of the other when we are invited to do so.
Throughout that eventful week in Rome, many delegates would approach me to say that they felt truly heard by the Pope. The Holy Father gave to his visitors an amount of time seldom – if ever – granted a delegation to the Vatican: five hours in the space of a few days. Four of those five were dedicated entirely to listening, and it was clear to everyone that the Pope listened attentively and deeply not only to the words of the speakers but also to their hearts. As he explained in his final address, he allowed himself personally to enter into the stories that were shared with him. In consequence, the delegates knew, without any doubt on their part, that they had been heard. This is the second answer to the question of what it means to stand with another: taking the time necessary truly to listen to and empathize with the lived reality of the other. I fear that we have lost this ability to listen in our Western society. We seem to be far more concerned with insisting upon our own positions, often ill-informed and insufficiently considered, ready to dismiss any other point of view along with the person who holds it. We cannot stand with another if we will not hear them.
Finally, I learned that “standing with” is not something static. To stand with another is not to remain in one place. On the contrary, it necessitates a willingness to walk with the other. Those present for the Roman encounter left it with the awareness that we have a long path ahead of us, one along which we shall walk together. To “stand with” means to be ready for long-term engagement. In fact, “standing with” defines the entirety of our lives as disciples of the One who stands by us with the entirety of his.
This comes at great cost. I think, for example, of health care workers who stood with the sick during the pandemic at great personal cost to their own well-being and that of their families. Many other instances of sacrifice can be cited. On this day dedicated in a special way to them, my mind goes to the priests of the Archdiocese. These last two years have been enormously challenging to them, as they willingly and generously stood with their people. Striving in creative ways to be present to their people when restrictions kept them at a distance, and listening carefully and deeply to many accounts of suffering and trauma, has left our priests exhausted. I want to assure you, Fathers, of my esteem and gratitude, as well as that of the People of God, for the ministry that you have exercised in very challenging circumstances. Continue to draw strength from the love and mercy of our Lord. He stands with you. Tonight, as at every Mass of Chrism, you renew your promises to stand with him and his people.
Now I invite you, Fathers, to stand and renew your commitment.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph’s Basilica
April 11th, 2022