‘The light of Christ is radiant and bright today’

Bishop Raica celebrates the Chrism Mass

On March 26, Bishop Raica celebrated the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. During the Mass, the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick were blessed and the Sacred Chrism was consecrated. Also, during the Mass, the priests serving in the diocese renewed their priestly promises. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, every year, I look forward to the festive nature of this event. For me, it is one of the great liturgical highlights of the Diocese of Birmingham! Representatives from parishes and institution, along with friends from near and far, from Athens to Clanton, from Demopolis to Fort Payne, from Lanett to Florence, join us for this extraordinary ecclesial celebration. Thanks to our livestream services, we have listeners and viewers from around the diocese and beyond. How welcome you all are – particularly our faith family here present, those at home or on the road and those who wish to join us in spirit. In a particular way, I am grateful for the presence of Archbishop Joseph Marino and Abbot Marcus Voss from St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman. Bishop Baker, who is completing some retreat time in Assisi and praying for us today, will be back with us shortly. Today, we gather with priests, deacons, women and men religious, pastors, associates, pastoral administrators, lay ministers and lay ecclesial ministers, families, consecrated virgins, husbands and wives, families, singles and lay faithful.

It is good to have most of our seminarians back in the diocese assisting at Mass today and in our parishes. A big welcome today goes to the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre, and many other service and charitable organizations who comprise the beautiful mosaic of our dynamically alive diocese. 

Every year, we find there are some who are here for the first time in our Cathedral church, and some who are here for the first time for the Chrism Mass. For the veterans, it is a time to renew friendships and make new friends, to pray, visit with and welcome fellow Catholics from around our great central and northern Alabama diocese. In spite of the gusts of wind throughout our state last night and this morning, reminiscent of the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room for Pentecost, the light of Christ is radiant and bright today!

Our focus for this Chrism Mass is two-fold: to bless the oils used during the course of the next year in our sacramental and liturgical celebrations and to serve as an annual assembly of priests who will renew their priestly commitments.

Truly, the blessing of the oils brings us in touch with the people of God in very personal ways. Thus, the oils have a personal quality to them. 

The Oil of Catechumens strengthens one’s journey into the embrace of our faith, leading one to the sacrament of baptism, the gateway of our Christian life.

The Oil of the Sick offers healing balm, giving spiritual strength and comfort whenever our health of mind or body is compromised because of illness, disease, or setbacks, with the reverent prayers and actions that accompany it.

The Sacred Chrism is used in ordination to priestly and episcopal service – to anoint the hands and the head respectively of the one being ordained. It is also used to set things aside for sacred purpose – anointing the altar of sacrifice and the walls of the church – as a solemn consecration and dedication for special sacred purpose.

Today, especially, I turn my attention to my brother priests here present. It is that day when we renew our promises which we made on the day of our ordination. If you are looking for something to pray about during your Holy Hour this week or on Holy Thursday evening, may I strongly recommend you use these promises or the promises made at ordination for your prayer and personal renewal. I, too, find them useful to reflect upon from time to time. Allow me to say how grateful I am for each of you. I know the people of this diocese are grateful for your ministry. They have hopes – high hopes - for each of you and so do I. Sometimes our faithful may be critical, but they also lift us up in prayer because they want the mission of Christ to succeed and grow. Those prayers sustain us in the ups and downs of our daily ministry.

Recently, I discovered this brief but telling reflection about parish priesthood. The author [by Fr David Barnes @PadreBarnes] writes: “You say a ton of Masses, try to preach to the particular needs of the people in front of you, go to the hospital and anoint a dying person, meet with a couple preparing for marriage, stand outside after Mass and listen to tons of people pour out their hearts to you, go to dinner with parishioners, do your best at all the funerals, open the church, lock the church, encourage vocations, encourage the young couples and families, attend to priestly fraternity, hear confessions, try not to fall too far behind in returning emails and phone calls, teach, fundraise, write thank-you [notes], visit your own family, encourage the staff, and squeeze in a little time to think about what are the next steps for a pastoral plan in the parish – [and, of course, remember to pray the Liturgy of the Hours!]. If that sounds like complaining, it absolutely isn’t! That is me telling any young man who is discerning a vocation that diocesan priesthood is gloriously exhausting and awesome! Jesus allows you to be a shepherd to HIS flock. You’ll spend your whole life doing it imperfectly, wishing you were better at it. But, you will also spend your whole life marveling at such a gift and mystery. And your own humanity will become deeper, richer, and more beautiful than you ever thought possible. Parish priesthood – even though often challenging – has a way of daily convincing you of Christ. The people you serve convince you of Christ!”

This beautiful observation aptly describes our priests and more. Indeed, our religious priests among us bring the value-added joy of their charism and community complementing our diocesan priests. Our excellent extern priests, similarly, share the joy of mission by being in a new place, a new culture and way of life, to share the profound richness of their faith experience and rich heritage. Together, we form a bond of fraternal unity, knitted together to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in this local Church of Birmingham in Alabama. It is so necessary if we are to succeed in fulfilling the dream that God implanted in our hearts when each of us contemplated being a priest of Jesus Christ. 

To all the priests, I join parishioners around our diocese who thank you for your witness of Christ in the way that you do. In fulfilling your ministry, I ask you to be serious yet joyful about what you do. We will never be 100% correct in everything we do. We will make our fair share of misjudgments and errors for which we beg our mea culpas. Nevertheless, we grow each and every day in the love of Christ that inspired us to serve Him with our very lives. The prayerful support of the people of God around our diocese encourages all of us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” as we minister to His people, speaking a word that will rouse them and raise them up. Utilizing the oils blessed at Mass today, our ministry should provide us with those key moments when we welcome someone to our faith journey, strengthen others in their Christian journey, or beg for healing and consolation when some in our care are suffering from illness and disease. 

Some of you celebrate anniversaries this year, and, having reached various milestones, I pray you provide many more years of priestly ministry and witness to our faith communities, both large and small, across our diocese which you have come to know and love by your presence among them.

Today, I say our task as priests, and our task as religious, and our mission as the people of God is simple yet challenging: “Be the priests you say you are. … Be the Christians you say you are!” With the help of Almighty God, may we grow in wisdom and grace so that others may experience the exuberant joy and inner peace we have found in Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. May God bless you and keep you all! Amen!