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EXCLUSIVE: Chrism Mass Homily

4/13/2004 - 2:00 AM PST

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Archbishop Sean O'Malley
Archdiocese of Boston

We are anointed to preach the Good News to the poor.

Many times, when I visited Rome, it has been my joy to visit the chapel at the English college in Rome. So many of those English priests who lost their lives preaching the Gospel were alumni of that venerable college. During the time of persecution, whenever an English priest was martyred, usually tortured, drawn and quartered, the students and the faculty of the English college would gather in that same chapel and chant a Te Deum in thanksgiving. They were praising God for the courageous witness and selfless ministry of their former classmates and companions who bravely faced torture and death for their love of Christ and the Church. Our Chrism Mass should be a Te Deum for the ministry of our brothers.

During the Jubilee Year, our Holy Father stressed the role of martyrs in the life of the Church. With their suffering they witnessed to the Church’s faith in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. The faith is not spread by pundits or even by teachers, but by teachers who are witnesses. Martyr means witness.

As a young priest it was a privilege for me to know Monsignor Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador. I spent a month with him at Puebla, visited him in San Salvador and often received the priests that he sent to me because their lives were in danger. A few days before his death he said: “I have frequently been threatened with death. I must say that as a Christian I do not believe in death, but in the resurrection. Martyrdom is a grace from God that I do not believe I have earned, but you can tell them that if they succeed in killing me that I pardon them, but I wish that they could realize that they are wasting their time. A bishop will die but the Church will never die.” On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was murdered while celebrating Mass in a chapel of a Catholic hospital. The last Gospel that was read at that Mass is the one where the people are telling Jesus that Pilate has murdered some Galileans and mixed their blood with the blood of the sacrifices that they were offering. Monsignor Romero’s blood was mixed with the blood of Christ at the last Mass that he celebrated. He was martyred for preaching the Good News to the poor.

In today’s Gospel Jesus initiates his ministry in a liturgical setting, reading the lesson from the Book of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me and has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” As a sign of unity in this Chrism Mass we bless these oils, the tools of our ministry, but we recall too that we have been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor. In a special way we are to be martyrs, witnesses to the resurrection. It is highly unlikely that we shall be called upon to shed our blood like the English martyrs or Oscar Romero or spend decades in prison like Cardinal Van Thuan, the Vietnamese bishop. The martyrdom that you and I are called to in our ordination, the special witness that we are privileged to give takes place in the pulpit and in our ministry.

In John Paul II’s letter to close the Jubilee, Novo Millennio Ineunte, the Holy Father challenges us with the words of the Gospel, “Duc in Altum”, cast your nets into the deep. The Holy Father writes: “We must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings of the Church and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.’”

The pulpit is the important arena of our martyrdom, of our witnessing. It can be painful. It can be frustrating. But it can also produce much fruit. Both Lumen Gentium and Presbyterorum Ordinis state that proclaiming the Word of God is the first task, the Primum Officium of the ordained priest. The document states: The people of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God and rightfully they expect this from their priest. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests as coworkers with their bishops have the primary duty, the Primum Officium, of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.

Saint Paul speaking about the preaching ministry in Romans writes: “How can they believe if they have not heard and how can people preach unless they are sent.” As priests and deacons we are anointed and sent to preach so that God’s people can hear His words and hear the assurance that today these words are fulfilled in your hearing. In the letter to Timothy, Paul writes about presbyters who toil in preaching in teaching. Today with religious illiteracy at an all time high we must toil to preach and to teach. We must preach the Word in season and out of season, when convenient and inconvenient.

Pope John Paul II, who has ...

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