Following is Bishop Murphy’s homily from the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass, March 28, 2013
Luke presents Jesus as the messiah from His birth through His baptism and the temptation in the desert. But what kind of a Messiah will he be? The answer comes at that dramatic moment in the Nazareth synagogue when He takes the scroll and makes His own the prophecy of Isaiah. He will be a prophetic Messiah! Despite the rejection by His own and no matter what the expectations of the various factions — political, religious, revolutionary — His anointed messianic role is as a Prophet who seeks to fulfill His mission by fidelity to the will of God. He reveals God’s plan, God’s will, God’s salvation for all humankind. He reveals who God is!
This evening here at St. Agnes, and in all the other parishes of our Diocese, we will celebrate the Supper of the Lord when Jesus opened His heart to His disciples, washed their feet, instituted the Eucharist and commissioned the apostles and their successors to care for the Church, born from His side on the cross. Now,.. here,.. as the whole Church of RVC, we gather that I might fulfill one of my responsibilities: to provide this local Church with oil to anoint the sick, oil to sign the catechumens and sacred chrism by which the baptized are anointed, confirmation is given, priests are ordained and, even perhaps, a new bishop might be consecrated.
These are all prophetic signs of God’s love given to us as a royal, priestly and prophetic people. These oils are consigned to priests as the ministers of these sacraments. This then is the context in which I will invite my brother priests to renew their promises, promises that they willingly made the day of their ordination, promises that portray a priesthood which is prophetic in its origin and prophetic in its exercise. Why is that so? It is so because we are ordained into the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. That priesthood is founded on the greatest act of love ever known: Death on a cross.
Blessed John Newman reflected with deep beauty on “The Cross of Christ, the measure of the world.” He reminds us that the measure of the cross is not the measure the world expects. “The cross disengages the world from its assumptions.” It gives us a new standard that challenges the world for the sake of the world. For us, disciples, the cross is the true measure and revelation of what God calls us to be and how we are called to live.
We priests live conscious of the cross of Christ as the place where Jesus reveals His priesthood as the ultimate sacrifice of love to redeem us all. This is priestly service brought to its utmost. Christ is not only the model for our priestly lives. He is the measure by which we can test ourselves to see if we truly are who we have committed ourselves to be: priests who love God and His peoples as Jesus did; priests who know that the sacrifice of Christ is the measure that makes our personal sacrifices meaningful and our priestly lives complete. Good priests, as Pope Francis said this morning, who can be recognized by how his people are anointed, priests who go out to the outskirts, wherever the people are, the suffering, the marginalzied, and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving whatever little we have to those who have nothing.
Today I want to proclaim how beautiful and blessed it is that we priests are chaste celibates. Celibacy lived in imitation of Jesus who chose to live his life in virginal celibacy is one of the most potent and one of the most needed signs of God’s presence in our midst that one can ever find! But it runs counter to what most people look for in life. And it is has been challenged this past decade especially by reference to the sad tragedy of sex abuse that has so scarred our Church. All of us, bishops, priests, lay faithful, together have confronted this heinous crime and now can rightly have confidence that our house is in order, a house that will be ever vigilant.
Still many in our society will use that sad tragedy to score their own points against us, our traditions and our Church. One which we hear voiced within and without the Church, is a questioning of the value of chaste celibate life. Unfortunately the only answer they can offer is not a call to holiness, not a request for renewal. They want to jettison celibacy by a call for us “to be like everyone else.” It is a call to ordinariness as a norm for fulfillment. But it is a response that is superficial, even banal and pedestrian. It belongs to a reductionist mentality of this world. It is not a response that sees the cross as the tree of life and makes the cross the true measure of the world.
Instead we proclaim chaste celibacy as a great sign of our love for Christ, an expression of our desire to model our lives on His and a commitment to a faithful living out of that love as a virginal love for all men and women. Our reason is simple but profound: this is what Christ did. Jesus chose to live a life of chaste virginal love. He chose to express divine love through a human love that never disdained married love. He blesses marriage as a sacrament. Indeed, he presents himself as the spouse of his bride the Church. In so doing he “disengages” the world from its everyday ordinary assumptions and invites us to discover the true meaning of life and love given to us on a cross. The cross, an instrument of death, is for us Christians the tree of life. Hail O Cross, our Only Hope. Hail O Cross, tree of life!
My friends, has the world ever seen a greater love than the love that flowed from the heart of Christ on the cross? We priests are called from you, holy people, to bring that love to you and to bring you to his love. We freely embrace the extraordinary: a life of virginal chaste celibacy. And it is for us a source of joy as it should be for you a reason to embrace us with your prayer and your loving support. We want to be as much like Christ as we can. We are convinced that the closer we come to him as chaste celibates, the more we will be able to show HIM to you and be instruments of HIS LOVE that knew no bounds, observed no limits, and became the salvation of us all, the redeemer of all humankind.
The virginal life and love of Christ is both an historical fact and a mystery. We priests, with all our weaknesses and limitations, wish to live out our own histories in that mystery by being Jesus for you, as much as our poor humble selves can be. We honor marriage and love family life. We do so as chaste celibates whose virginal love embraces all that God has blessed and all that God has given to us. For your lives and our lives, for us all, the true measure is the measure of the boundless love of the cross. The source for this joy-filled life of ours is the one who hung upon it: Jesus, the Son of God who became man and used his humanity to change and elevate our human lives into a share in his divine life.
Dear brothers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart: because you are priests whose model is Jesus. Thank you: because you embraced his example of chaste virginal love and live it in your promise of faithful celibacy. Thank you: because the whole Church of Rockville Centre depends on your service, your fidelity, your witness.
Jesus proclaimed that his would be a prophetic role as Messiah. Through your chaste celibacy yours is a prophetic life as priests who have been anointed to anoint with God’s love all whom you serve.
Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness! Grace and peace to you, faithful priests; grace and peace to us all because the one who has loved us has freed us by his blood! To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen