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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Chrism Mass homily: Renewal of promises and blessing of oils

By | May 2, 2012

They lived simply, praying their liturgies, sharing manual labor, selling honey at the local market and serving their Muslim neighbors. The monastery was known as a safe place of friendship between Muslims and Christians. Despite warnings for foreigners to leave, the monks maintained their daily witness to peace, offering employment in the monastery gardens and medical care. As the film unfolds, we join their prayer, discussion and discernment. We witness their brave decisions to remain with the people and suffer their fate. A “last supper” brings them all together, during which each face reflects the fear of what awaits them, and the serenity of the choice they’ve made.

After their deaths we learn of an open letter written by the prior, Br. Christian, in which he thanks God for his life and pardons his killers.

In a much different location, also in 1996, two priests were going about their daily duties and had finished daily Mass together. Oddly enough, each of them told the secretary at St. Leander Parish in Pueblo, Colo., that the morning daily Mass that day was one of the most beautiful Masses he had ever experienced. That same fateful day in August, a young man who was very mentally disturbed and off his medications was walking in the nearby park when he heard a voice tell him that he had to kill two men by noon. He saw a father and a child walking in the park, but the voice said “two men” and he was growing more and more agitated until he remembered where two men were easily accessible.

He went to the rectory where his grandmother served as the housekeeper and asked Fr. Tom during his lunch break to hear his confession as was his custom. When he got into the house, he proceeded to follow the instructions of the hateful voice and grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and stabbed the pastor over 80 times. The retired priest, Fr. Louie, who had tried to save the pastor by fighting off the crazed young man, was also murdered in cold blood. How blessed are they who lay down their lives for the sake of their brothers and sisters. You and I may not be called upon to make these kind of sacrifices or undergo this kind of suffering, but then again they were ordinary priests, engaged in living out their vocation and doing their duty.

Several French monks, priests and brothers, living the monastic life of contemplation and peace building in Algeria, and two diocesan priests from my home Diocese of Pueblo, fulfilling their priestly commitments in a struggling parish in a poor neighborhood on the east side of the city, they all fulfilled their daily duty. All gave their lives in the line of duty, service to God and God’s people.

Today in this chrism Mass, as we approach the renewal of priestly promises and the blessing of the oils to be used for the celebration of the sacraments, we would be remiss if we forget the call of the priestly service, especially in its sacrificial dimension of the priestly charism. The anointing with holy chrism at baptism, at confirmation, at presbyteral and episcopal ordination, set all of us apart to one degree or another, making a gift of self-offering. The call of baptism and confirmation sets us apart to offer the sacrifice of our lives for the sake of others especially in the state in life to which we are called. The call to priesthood and the episcopacy configures us to Christ in a particular way, not only to imitate Christ, but to become him as we stand in his person, even as the sacrificial lamb, priest and victim.

As Pope Benedict XVI writes:

“There is only one anointing that is strong enough to meet death and that is the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the love of God. There is then something that is both exemplary and lasting in Mary’s anointing of Jesus at Bethany. It was above all a concern to keep Christ alive in this world and to oppose the powers that aimed to silence and kill him. It was an act of faith and love. Every such act can have the same effect.”

As priests, we are called in a unique way to keep Christ alive in the world and to oppose the powers that aim to silence and kill him. We can and must do that best by fulfilling our duty with great love. We become like the sacred chrism itself in our ministry, unction for the love of God and our parishioners, when we conform our thoughts, words and actions to Jesus Christ by pouring ourselves out in service, prayer and servant leadership, as an act of faith and love.

As we gather to bless the oils and to renew the promises of priestly service, I want to express my gratitude to Bishop Morneau, Bishop Banks and Abbot Neville and to the religious priests and diocesan priests for the sacrifices you make in your role as pastors, parochial vicars, as sacramental celebrants, retreat masters and all the various ways you assist the spiritual well-being of our diocese.

My gratitude goes to the permanent deacons, to the parish directors and parish leaders who assist the parishes in so many essential ways. My thanks also goes to the religious communities of women and men who are a constant reminder to all of us to live the Gospel values, especially those of poverty, chastity and obedience. Our gratitude also goes to all those involved in education, health care outreach and justice ministries either institutionally or individually and to the diocesan staff who assists me in reaching out to the parishes and to our presence in northeast Wisconsin.

May the blessing of these oils and meditation and prayer for those who will be the recipients of them in the coming year move all of us to recommit ourselves to the new evangelization called for by Pope Benedict and previously called for by the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. A new document to go online from the U.S. bishops’ conference in the next few days defines what the new evangelization is:

The new evangelization seeks to invite modern men, women and the culture in to a relationship with Jesus Christ and his church. The new evangelization strives to engage our culture and to help us draw our inspiration from the Gospel. The new evangelization calls all Catholics first to be evangelized and then in turn to evangelize. While it is directed to all people, the new evangelization focuses specifically on those Christian communities that have Catholic roots but have “lost a living sense of the faith or even no longer consider themselves members of the church.”

In our Gospel passage today, as Jesus took on the mantle of the Kingdom in calling himself the fulfillment of the Book of the prophet Isaiah, so too we are being asked to be the instruments of the new evangelization. With the dawn of this new century and millennium, with the coming of the Year of Faith in October, with the implementation of my pastoral letter, which is so well under way, we are being called to take up the mantle of the new evangelization as well. Each of us, our parishes and our diocese is called to be “holy, fully engaged and fully alive!” May God who has begun this good work in us bring it to fulfillment!

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