Bishop Thompson, my brother priests, my dear friends in Christ, thank you for joining us for this Chrism Mass. Your presence is an affirmation of your commitment to helping the Church share the Sacraments of our Church. The oils we bless today enable us to bring Christ’s presence through those saving sacramental signs that will be used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Anointing of the Sick.
Your presence today is also an affirmation of the priesthood, the priesthood of Jesus Christ the Great Priest, and the priesthood of those here who are priests and those who minister as priests to us and to people throughout the world.
The priesthood, as we know, has fallen on hard times. And we have all, whether priests or not, shared the burden of the scandals that have arisen in our midst. A sense of anger, betrayal, frustration, fear, confusion, and doubt have flooded into our spirits and dampened our energies, but also there has risen a desire to right whatever wrongs exist in the Church that we all love so much.
Archbishop John Foley, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, recently suggested that the best defense against the charges that have been raised is virtue, and in the absence of virtue, candor. I concur with him.
The archbishop spoke recently at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and said that “The real tragedy of the present crisis, apart from the undermining of confidence in the Church and her clergy from such terrible actions and such revelations, is not embarrassment for the Church. It is the fact of a grave offense against God and a grave offense against God’s children.”
And he added: “We truly need holy priests, priests who are pure in thought, word and deed; priests who are men of prayer; priests who are generous in service; priests who are self-giving, self-sacrificing; priests who are dedicated to making known the saving knowledge and love of Jesus.”
In a special way you and I are called to promote and practice what in our society has become the lost virtue — the virtue of chastity. Without the virtue of chastity, I tell our young people being confirmed, there is no charity. We need not just promote this virtue. We need to practice it ourselves.
Father Henri Nouwen used to remind us priests before his death, that without poverty there is no chastity.
Perhaps this time of great tragedy for the Church of the United States and turmoil for us priests is also an opportunity for grace, conversion, and spiritual renewal.
We unite ourselves this Holy Week with the Christ of Calvary and allow our own Calvaries to be his.
I also invite the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Charleston to pray with and for us priests during these days ending on Holy Thursday, the day in which we celebrate the institution of the priesthood.
In his general audience on Ash Wednesday, our Holy Father said that “the Church reminds every human being of his condition as sinner and the need for repentance and conversion.” You and I as priests must lead the way in this process of repentance and conversion leading to holiness of life. We need to be the ones setting the tone for moral values in our society. If we carry on our role well, other segments of society will not be forced to take on a moral leadership role in our place.
My brother priests, on a positive note, I just want to mention that many people — your own parishioners — do see you as leading the way toward holiness of life and great pastoral leadership.
Let me read from a few letters that came to me just recently unsolicited from parishioners — in the wake of the recent criticisms we have all faced.
(Three letters read with names omitted.)
May these tributes remind us that the good we do is recognized and acknowledged by the people who have witnessed generous pastoral care firsthand.
We must interpret all justified criticisms that come to us in this context and not lose our zeal, our joy, our faithfulness, or our hope in serving the Lord and his Church.
Four priests observing their jubilees of ordination to the priesthood were honored at the Chrism Mass by Bishop Baker.
Msgr. Thomas X. Hofmann was recognized on the 25th anniversary of his ordination. Father Martin T. Laughlin, Father John J. Sorce, and Jesuit Father Thomas M. Gillin were honored for 50 years of service in the priesthood.