Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week I celebrate my first Chrism Mass and my first Triduum with you.
The Chrism Mass — at which I consecrate the holy oils for the coming year — includes a powerful symbolic moment during which I breathe on the oils. It’s a recollection of Genesis, when God blew into man the breath of life.
If not properly understood, this moment can seem awkward or odd. Properly understood, however, it can be a moment of holy fear. One aspect of that holy fear is rooted in humility toward myself: who am I, after all, to “breathe life” into these oils — oils that will reach out and bring God’s grace to people across the archdiocese in tender moments of life and death? By breathing on the oils, I’m meant to give my life to and for all those moments. Surely, no human being is equal to that task!
But the other aspect of that holy fear is rooted in utter confidence toward God: ultimately it’s God’s gift, which He asks me to bestow. And God is pre-eminently able to breathe life into the oils, and reach out and touch people and be present to them in those tender moments of life and death. It would betray a lack of faith in God to turn away from the task because of my limits.
In some ways, that same holy fear is meant to be what every priest experiences when he says: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” We could never say those words on our own! But, by the grace of priesthood, the words of Jesus become our own. Each priest can only say these words with utter humility toward himself and utter confidence in the Lord. When I breathe on the oils, it’s no more and no less bold than what every priest does at every Mass.
That connection is important because the Chrism Mass is when we celebrate and rededicate ourselves to the ordained priesthood. So I ask you to pray for me, and for all priests, that we can carry that holy fear — made up of equal parts humility and confidence — into every aspect of our ministry. And I ask you to consider, too, how all the baptized are called to “breathe God’s life” into the things of ours days — family life, work, household chores, leisure, and so on — with a similar humility and confidence.
The Triduum is, of course, a special way of entering into the dying and rising of Jesus. In some ways it seems like we’ve been doing that all year! But it’s fitting that we should carry the events and trials of the last year into the Triduum in a special way this year. We’re more aware than ever of how much we need the power of Jesus’ dying and rising in our lives and in our world.
We’re all eager to leave the past year behind us. But in some ways I hope we won’t. The dying and rising of Jesus is meant to be the permanent pattern of Christian life. We would be best served not simply to leave the past year behind, but to learn from it and carry its lessons forward. How can we better enter into the dying and rising of Jesus on a daily basis, and not just once a year? Perhaps that’s something we could all reflect on as we celebrate the Triduum together for the first time.