Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Chrism Mass
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

"Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you." Luke 8:10

The Gospel we just heard begins the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. At Nazareth, where he had been raised, Jesus participates in the liturgy of the synagogue. The seven readings of the synagogue service came first from the Law and then from the prophets. The synagogue official hands Jesus the scroll with the writings of Isaiah.

Jesus reads how "the Spirit of the Lord is upon" the prophet, having anointed him "to bring glad tidings to the poor." The prophet is being sent "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" (Luke 4:18-19), cf. Isaiah 61:1ff.). When Jesus says, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21), the crowd marvels at what he says. His words have authority. His words have a sense of fulfillment. The listeners marvel at his gracious words and have nothing but praise. However, there are some who ask, "Isn¹t this the son of Joseph?" (Luke 4:22). Jesus picks up the challenge, because "no prophet is accepted in his own native place" (Luke 4:24). And, indeed, the scene ends in an ugly rejection. Those attending synagogue rise up in fury, drive him out of town and threaten to throw him over a cliff. Jesus escapes. He escapes to accomplish the work of his anointing.

As the story of Jesus¹ preaching and the working of His miracles unfold, Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God a little later in St. Luke. He does so in parables. The first and chief parable of the Kingdom of God is the parable of the sower and the seed. His disciples do not fully understand the image. Jesus speaking directly to them, not to the crowd, says, "Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you; but to the rest, they are made known through parables so that Œthey may look but not see, and hear but not understand¹" (Luke 8:10).

We might marvel at this. Jesus appears to be saying that He is speaking so that all might hear, but only a few will understand. Is His message hidden, so undemocratically revealed? We must beware of taking offense to what we might see as an affront to egalitarianism. That some will understand and others will not is a fulfillment of a prophetic passage (Isaiah 6:10). The seed has fallen on rich soil in his disciples because they understand. Like the anointed prophets of old, the mysteries are entrusted to them, and they better than anyone else are to understand them, treasure them, reflect upon them, so that in turn they may bring those mysteries to others.

The priest is entrusted with the mysteries of the Kingdom. Like the prophet, the priest is anointed. His hands are placed in those of the bishop and sacred chrism is applied to the palms and fingers that will hold the head of the child in baptism, embrace the head of the sinner in repentance, apply the oil of healing to the sick, and, most especially, caress the bread and cup that will become the body and blood of the Lord.

The priest must always be aware of the dignity to which he is called. The dignity, however, is not his. Whatever dignity there is exists only because of the mysteries that have been entrusted to him by Our Lord. Christ is the one and only high priest. We must be aware of the terminology of priesthood.

So often, and with good reason, we speak of the priesthood of believers. God¹s faithful, Christ¹s Body, is called by its baptismal dignity to share in the priesthood of Christ. Thus, we have the insight of St. Peter¹s First Letter. "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own" (I Peter 2:9). The inspired passage is repeated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Each and every member of the flock of Christ shares in this dignity. This we must not forget. This dignity, however, is not a question of prestige, much less one of empowerment. The rhetoric of power, in which our present-day society seems obsessed, has no place within a discussion about priesthood. The only rhetoric operative in any discussion of priesthood is service. And for the ordained priest, his service is seen in his custodianship of the mysteries that have been entrusted to him.

However, we must not forget the power of the analogy. The faithful could not fully appreciate the meaning of their dignity as a priestly people, if there were not an ordained priesthood to communicate what that dignity implies. The ordained priesthood is precisely that, a sacramental sign ordained to communicate what it is to be Christ as priest. The Church looks to the priest to represent Christ the high priest. Each ordained priest takes on the "persona Christi." He acts "in persona Christi." He serves "in persona Christi." He is "in persona Christi." To him are entrusted the mysteries of the Kingdom of God in a unique way. He must teach them faithfully, understand them intimately, and live them totally.

I will conclude with a little parable of my own addressed to every priest here. Once a priest came to the end of a long day, one of those days that could have been invented only by someone who hated priests. He was ready to put out the lights, when the doorbell rang. At the rectory doorstep was a man wanting to talk to him. How could he refuse? So the priest asked the poor soul to come in and have a seat, thinking all the while about the dinner to which friends had invited him in an hour. The prospect of spending an evening with hospitable parishioners would sustain him through this test to his patience. The man sat down and began to tell the priest about his life. He hadn¹t been to church in thirty years. He hadn¹t confessed since he was a child. At this the priest looked at the clock and calculated the length of this catharsis. It was at this point that a strange transformation occurred. Just as sure as the sun was setting and the day was darkening, the only light left was the one in that room. The man spoke of his trials. How he had suffered, been rejected. He told the priest about his loneliness, how the world had caved in on him. He felt no one loved him. In short, his life was a tragedy. And all the while the poor broken sinner described his turmoil, the priest, like a spectator in a tragedy, began to identify with the victim. His impatience turned to sympathy and then to empathy. He battled with the clock, his friends waiting, but something in the story of the poor man compelled him, because it belonged to him. The sinner and the keeper of the mystery in some curious way became one, and the priest could not leave. He was caught up in the mystery of someone¹s life, and the life was his own. Perhaps such an experience is granted to a parent or to an excellent friend, but only a priest can enter into the mystery in this way. The next morning, he repeated the words of another tragedy turned victorious. He took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and gave it. Four simple verbs: took, gave thanks, broke, and gave. "Knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you."