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NOTE: The following letter will be published in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
The following is taken from Bishop James F. Checchio’s homily at the Chrism Mass.
When I was a young priest doing graduate studies in Rome, I was asked to celebrate Mass for some important guests coming from my home diocese. So the next time I was passing by St. Peter’s, I went to the sacristy to reserve an altar I knew they would like – the Clementine Altar, right next to the tomb of St. Peter. It wasn’t easy; there was a scheduling conflict. But I kept insisting on the importance of the Clementine Altar to the priest who served as sacristan at St. Peter’s. Finally, I said to the sacristan in my best Italian, “We can change the time if we need to, but the most important thing is that we can celebrate Mass at that altar.” And he looked at me and said, “Father, the most important thing isn’t the altar where you celebrate Mass – the most important thing is the presence of Jesus who comes to you in every Mass.” He was right; and I felt it in my gut. He preached in one sentence such a beautiful homily – don’t you wish that I could do the same in one sentence? I had become so distracted by the place, a detail, that I lost sight of the person. It’s easy to do – and we can get distracted so often – and the people of Jesus’ day were not different.
Jesus began His teaching in the synagogue by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” The Hebrew word for “Anointed” is “Messiah” and the Greek word for “Anointed” is “Christ.” Jesus is introducing Himself to his townsfolk, and us as well, as the Messiah and Christ who brings the Spirit of the Lord into the world. In doing so, He is stating that His mission is not of His own choosing but is given to Him by God the Father.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this has implications for us as Jesus’ disciples in the world today because in our baptism we are all incorporated into the Body of Christ and share in the “anointed” identity of Jesus, thus we’re called by the name of “Christian.” His mission is now our mission because we are members of His mystical body. Thus, we are not to simply read about Jesus carrying out His ministry in the Gospel; rather, what Jesus does, is meant to guide us in how we should be acting. From the moment of our own baptism, our life is not our own; instead, it is Christ who lives in us.
It is now our mission to carry on His mission, to evangelize. We must look in the world around us to see who is poor, who is blind, who is oppressed, who is captive. Then we are being asked to do what we can to help them today. This is a daily challenge for us, as it was in the Holy Land two thousand years ago. Evangelization is to be always on our minds and in our hearts, as we strive to light a fire in the heart of our Church.
In today’s Chrism Mass, we also recognize and thank our priests for having responded to the call to serve as Christ’s anointed ones as priests today. The priest acts in the person of Christ who leads the Church as its shepherds. This configuration to Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest, specifically inserts us, priests, further into the Trinitarian mystery in order to serve the People of God, not simply as attendants to religious matters, but as Christ, “who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Therefore, the virtue that animates and guides the priests’ spiritual life and ministry must be pastoral charity, a participation in Jesus Christ’s own pastoral charity.
Our people want Christ. We are His instruments, and hence they are incredibly attentive to us and kind to us, but it is Christ they want, and He is the reason they come to us. … so we must become more and more like Christ by spending time with Him each day. We need to accept His invitation, like the Apostles, first of all, to be with Him, so that we might know Him well. Then we can carry out His mission and lead our faithful into deeper friendship with Christ.
Yes, the challenge for all of us, priests and for every Catholic in the Diocese of Metuchen is to take up Jesus’ mission, to announce that the spirit of the Lord is upon us, by how we live our life. It must be radically rooted in developing our friendship with Christ each day, by focusing on Him, and not allowing ourselves to be distracted. May our celebration of this Eucharist and our reception of His Body and Blood, renew us in our friendship with Jesus and in our duty, as anointed ones into His Body, to bring glad tidings, liberty, recovery of sight and freedom to those in our world so in need of these.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen