Bishop Ricken

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The Most Rev. David L. Ricken is the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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Bishop Ricken reflects on Chrism Mass oil

By | May 4, 2011

Last year at this Mass, I focused on the Oil of the Sick and how this blessed oil is a special gift to the Church, especially for those in our parishes and throughout our diocesan community who are in need of healing. I called to the attention of the priests how incredible it is that we are allowed to stand in the person of Christ at the sacraments. Especially for this sacrament we are the hands of Jesus touching and anointing a member of the faithful with this oil and in extreme cases we administer confession and viaticum.

I also mentioned the involvement of the entire community in prayers for the sick: through prayer groups; Mass intentions; or the special prayers of pastoral ministers with the sick in hospitals, in nursing facilities or in private homes.

This year I would like to focus on another special element of the Chrism Mass — the balsam. This is the especially fragranced oil which is poured into the oil which receives the symbolic breath of the Holy Spirit. The mixture of the fragrance throughout is combined with a special consecratory prayer which is much longer than the prayer over the other oils. Balsam has been used since the days of the Old Testament to indicate a special consecration for the sake of setting something or someone apart, and was often used for the anointing of a king or a member of the royalty.

Scholars say that balsam can be equated with the balm of Gilead that is referenced in Exodus 25, which was oil used to anoint the tabernacle of the Lord on the people’s journey through the wilderness.

It is a product of the balsam tree which is reduced to resin and then, in our case, gives a rich bouquet of fragrance to another oil. The letter of James likens the prayers of the elders to the oil of balsam and in our first reading this evening from the Prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me: to bring glad tidings to the poor to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives …”

“The mingling of the balsam with the oil is intended to symbolize, by outward sign, the good odor of Christ of whom it is written (Cantic., I,3): “We will run after thee to the odor of your ointments.” It typifies also the odor of good works, the thought which ought to inspire those who worthily receive the sacraments and it symbolizes innocent life and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (

This year we have been engaged in a process of visioning and pastoral planning which has been a great blessing since it highlights all the things for which we are most grateful in our parishes and our Diocese. The process will give us great impetus as we design concrete plans that will be implemented over the next five to seven years. The plans will focus on six areas for growth and improvement in our parishes and in the Diocese.

While visioning and planning are essential both to personal and parish growth, we would be sorely amiss if we did not anchor these efforts on the person and the power of Jesus Christ whom we are called to imitate and seek union with in this life, in preparation for the next life. While there will be some new programs, perhaps, and some new focus and paradigms, it is far more important that we all grow in the most fundamental calling, the call to holiness, which is highlighted beautifully in Vatican II and reemphasized by John Paul II. We must all answer the call as Jesus put it to us: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

Called to Holiness:

In Blessed Pope John Paul II’s document that anticipated the new millennium (2000) called “The Coming of the New Millennium,” he called for dioceses to engage in pastoral planning so that the Kingdom of God may become more evident to the world, to the light of Christ shining forth from those who love Christ.

He called on parishes to become “schools of prayer” and “places of training in holiness.”

“Our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love.’ … It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer that is unable to fill their whole life” (NMI33).

In a world that has become very secularized and is losing sight of God, it is incredibly important for all of us who are members of the Church to help to satisfy the great hunger for holiness and for meaning in life through spirituality. Some people are going to other religions or even to New Age philosophies that can never satisfy the truth and the great treasury of spiritual wisdom that is contained in the Catholic Church.

All that we do in the areas of parish life, diocesan life and in these six focus areas over the next five to seven years has to be truly marked by a desire to grow in holiness. In fact, we often need to turn over the responsibilities in these areas of growth for the diocese and the parishes to Our Lord to trust that He will make up for what is lacking in us. He will bring to perfection our good intentions and our efforts to please Him and to expand the Gospel to the world. Each of us is called, and I call myself and each of you to strive to become holy, and to become saints.

We need to make space for Christ in our minds and in our hearts which are often too cluttered. We need to make space for the gift which is Jesus Christ himself. “Jesus Christ is the center, the same yesterday, today and forever.”

As we focus on oils of anointing and upon Chrism in particular and the sweet fragrance of balsam, I cannot help but think of the “woman who came to Bethany to Simon the leper’s house and anointed Jesus with a costly perfumed oil and poured it on his head when he was reclining at table” )Mt 26:6-9). Jesus was criticized for allowing her to anoint him with such costly oil. Balsam is costly even today and it is because of this call to holiness and the desire for intimacy and gratitude of this woman toward Jesus and his mercy that we can emulate for our journey of faith.

One time, as a young priest, when I was at a fairly discouraging time in my ministry, my spiritual director at the time reached out and touched me and said “Dave, just remember that Jesus appreciates everything you are doing for him.”

Those encouraging words got me through a very challenging time and they still sustain me today. And so I say to you, you who day after day work so hard for the unveiling and the building up of the Kingdom of God in your parish and in your many ministries: Just remember, Jesus appreciates everything you are doing for Him … and so do I.

Let us help one another to walk the journey of perfection and the path to holiness so that we may grow in virtue and be that aromatic oil of comfort and healing balsam for those who are in such great need today.

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