Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mass of Chrism 2010 in This Year of the Priest

Today, I attended the Chrism Mass. It was a good reminder to pray for our priests. And oh, how we need to pray for vocations! At my church, we are actually blessed to have three priests. It is the largest church in our diocese. It is for this reason that we were privileged to host the celebration of this Mass in which the blessing of the holy oils takes place each year.
  • The Oil of the Catechumens is used during the Rite of Infant Baptism. It is also used to bless the adult catechumens during their study and preparation for Baptism at the Easter Vigil Mass.
  • The Oil of the Sick is used by the priest when giving the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. It is to bring comfort and sometimes even physical healing to the sick.
  • The Sacred Chrism, an oil mixed with perfumed balsam, is used to anoint the newly baptized, to seal candidates for the Sacrament of Confirmation, to anoint the hands of priests at their ordination and to consecrate an altar or new Church.
In addition to the blessing of the holy oils, the Chrism Mass is also a time for the priests of the diocese to renew their sacred vows to serve God in and through their priestly ministry. We are reminded in the second reading from this Mass of the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ from which all priests receive their call to serve.
From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever (and ever). Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty." ~ Revelation 1:5-8

Our new bishop, Bishop Joe Vasquez, spoke to us on the following special readings for the Chrism Mass.
"The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; To place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. . . . You yourselves shall be named priests of the LORD, ministers of our God you shall be called. . . . I will give them their recompense faithfully, a lasting covenant I will make with them. Their descendants shall be renowned among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; All who see them shall acknowledge them as a race the LORD has blessed." Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9
Luke, the Evangelist, tells us that Jesus read this passage in the synagogue in reference to His ministry.
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."  Luke 4:16-21 
Bishop Joe thanked the laity for their hospitality as he has begun visiting parishes around the diocese. "Diverse cultures are united in one faith and one Lord. . . . Through Baptism we are given a share in the priesthood of Christ," he said. The majority of his homily affirmed the priests in their ministry. "Some are called to the ministerial priesthood. . . . We are grateful for the ministry of the priests in this diocese. A joyful priest is the best advertisement for vocations. . . . Christ works in and through us to minister to the Church. . . . to send good tidings to the lowly, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. It is not an easy task, but it is not a burden. There is joy when we know Christ acts in and through priests - in 'persona Christi'. . . . There is a special bond between the priest and Christ. . . . Priests devote their lives to carrying out Christ's ministry through their friendship with Christ."

The following prayers were adapted from today's prayers of the faithful:

Lord, bless Your priests with the fullness of Your Love. 
Make them faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest
so that they will be able to lead us to You,
the fountain of our salvation.

Lord, bless also Bishop Joe, that despite his unworthiness,
he may faithfully fulfill the office of apostle
which You entrusted to him.
May he become more like Jesus Christ,
our High Priest and Good Shepherd,
the teacher and servant of all,
and so be a genuine sign
of Christ's loving presence among us.

          May the Lord, in His love,
keep us close to Him always,
and may He bring all of us,
his priests and people, to eternal life. Amen

As Holy Week proceeds, let us especially pray for faithful priests, for they have been made to suffer by those who have shepherded themselves on their flock. Lord, give us holy shepherds patterned after the heart of the Good Shepherd!
"I will gather the remnant of my flock, . . . and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing", says the LORD. ~ Jeremiah 23:3-4

It is interesting what follows in Jeremiah 24. It seems to be another form of Ezekiel 36:26-28.

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. ~ Jeremiah 24:7
It is through good priests (24/7) that God will accomplish this. Let us also remember our Holy Father, Benedict VI. May God enlighten him with the Truth of His Spirit and for his intentions.

March Intentions:
That the world economy may be managed according to the principles of justice and equity, taking account of the real needs of peoples, especially the poorest.
That the Churches in Africa may be signs and instruments of reconciliation and justice in every part of that continent.

April Intentions:
That every tendency to fundamentalism and extremism may be countered by constant respect, by tolerance and by dialogue among all believers.
That Christians persecuted for the sake of the Gospel may persevere, sustained by the Holy Spirit, in faithfully witnessing to the love of God for the entire human race.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ezekiel 36:26

It takes a long time to make a good disciple. God has to work with us for many years and it seems that it never ends. Actually, it doesn't end as long as we continue to grow in Christ. Each of us is a sort of house - a House for God Who is the Masterbuilder. Let us search no farther than ourselves and choose to be a place of God’s presence in the world - His House if you will - Home to the Word written on our hearts.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  ~ Hebrews 4:12
God has a promise for each of us. We do not need to remain stubborn in our ways. By allowing Him to work in us, we receive His promise:
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you ...and I will be your God. ~ Ezekiel 36:26, 27a, 28b
Let us harden not our hearts when today we hear His voice but open to Him who is the Word.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. ~ Revelation 3:20
This is a mutual indwelling - He in us and we in Him. Let us come to know His ways and believe in Him, for . . . 
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. ~ Psalm 127:1

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  ~ Ezekiel 36:26

This scripture verse is so profound when looked at in the light of the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament were kept three things:
  • The stone tablets on which were written the Word of God - the Law of Moses
  • Manna eaten by the Israelites while wandering for 40 years in the desert
  • The rod of Aaron which bloomed

The Ark of the Covenant prefigures Mary, the Mother of God in the New Testament. She may be considered the Ark of the New Covenant. For 9 months, Mary carried Jesus in her womb.Within the Ark of the New Covenant were kept three things:
  •  The Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ
  • Jesus, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, Who is the new manna
  • The Messiah, descendant of David referred to in the Old Testament as the sprout from the stump of Jesse

In no way does this diminish Jesus or exalt Mary above God Himself. Jesus became man so that we may become like Him Who is God. It is fitting that His mother's womb be a place set apart because the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, dwelt there in human form for 9 months. It is why we, as Catholics, refer to Mary as Mother of God and why we believe that Mary was spared from sin from the moment of her conception. God pre-applied the benefits of salvation to His own mother.

Jesus had a profound respect for His mother, often referring to her as "woman" - in reference to the woman of Genesis 3:15. God cursed the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve and said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."   Mary is that woman.

But again, reflect on the significance of Ezekiel 36:26 in light of Christ, our Savior. God promises to replace in Israel the heart of stone with a heart of flesh. The verses of the larger passage tell us more about how God's people who have been unfaithful and what He will do for them.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. ~ Ezekiel 36:25-28

God is telling the Israelites what He also said through the prophet Jeremiah:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. ~ Jeremiah 31:31-34

Sin hardens the heart and turns it away from God. The Grace of God calls us to repentance. When we only follow the law, it just tells us where we went wrong. When we follow God's Grace, the law becomes written in our hearts. It is the law of Love. It is the tears of a contrite heart that softens the clay of the heart so that God can mold us into the image of His Divine Heart through His Sacred Word and the Holy Eucharist.

Also, when we are spiritually wounded by the sin of others, the heart builds walls around itself to protect it from more harm. God promises us His Mercy to heal those wounds and tear down those fortress walls. He calls us to forgiveness. He wants to be our protection - our Rock of Safety, so that our hearts can be open and receptive to others. It is the only way to receive love and the only way to give love. It is the only way to receive the Spirit He has promised us.

I baptize you by you.

He will write it on our hearts! ...not hearts of stone, but of flesh. In Baptism, the image of the living Christ is imprinted on our souls. We are marked with the sign of faith - the cross of Jesus Christ. When we die with Him, we must also rise with Him. May He reign in our hearts forever!

May God richly bless you with His Grace and Peace. Join me on this journey to Him.
...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. ~ Joshua 24:15