Sunday, October 25, 2009

As Christ was Anointed ...

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jeremiah 31.7-9 Psalm 126 Hebrews 5.1-6 Mark 10.46-52

When you look at the new baptismal font in our church, there are two symbols that stand out right away – the water that fills the font and flows between the upper and lower fonts; and the cross, the shape of the font itself. But there is another symbol that is an important part of design of the font: oil. Oil is an ancient symbol of strength and has been used for thousands of years to anoint people who are set apart for a special purpose or task. Our new font includes a permanent place to keep the three Holy Oils that are used in the sacraments – the Sacred Chrism, the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Infirm. This case for the oils is called an Ambry and stands here the church as a reminder of what these oils are used for and what they symbolize. And the most important of these three oils is the Sacred Chrism.

The Chrism oil is a special mixture of olive oil and perfumes blessed each year during Holy Week by the bishop of each diocese. When a baby or child is baptized, the priest or deacon takes oil – the Sacred Chrism – and puts that oil on the crown of the child’s head. As the oil is placed on the child’s head in baptism, a prayer is said asking that the person just baptized grow to become more like Christ, to share in the ministry of Christ who is priest, prophet and king. Even though the oil goes away, there is a seal – a sacramental, spiritual mark – that is left on a person’s soul at baptism. Once you are baptized, you are always baptized, and you always have the potential to share in the priesthood, prophecy, and kingship of Christ. Several years later in life, when people baptized as infants or children receive the sacrament of Confirmation, or when an adult is baptized or received into the Church, the same Chrism oil is used once again. This time, the oil is placed on the forehead as the bishop or priest says: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Once again, even when the oil goes away, the seal stays – a person who has been confirmed always has the Holy Spirit living in them, forever. This same Sacred Chrism is also used in the sacrament of Holy Orders. When a priest is ordained, his hands are anointed with the Chrism. And when a bishop is ordained, the Chrism is poured over his head. In about six weeks, our own former pastor Fr. Paul Etienne will have his head anointed with Chrism as he is ordained a bishop and begins his ministry in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In each of these sacraments – baptism, confirmation, and holy orders – each time the Sacred Chrism is used, something monumental happens – the person receiving the sacrament is never the same again. The oil itself is just a symbol – something you can see and touch and smell – but it is a symbol of a greater reality. In baptism, you become a child of God – always and forever. In confirmation, you receive the Holy Spirit – always and forever. And when he is ordained a priest or a bishop, a man becomes a priest forever, like Melchizedek, one of the great priest-kings of the Old Testament. We’re all still human – we sin, we make mistakes, we can even choose to turn completely away from God and ignore his presence in our lives – but the seal remains, our very nature as human beings has been marked and claimed by God, whether we are baptized Christians, confirmed Catholics, or ordained priests or bishops. The oil is a symbol of a seal that we receive from God that can never be taken away from us. And now, in a visible way, whenever we look at our new baptismal font and see the water running and the oils illuminated behind the water, it should remind us of who we are – baptized Christians, anointed to be like Jesus Christ and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. And there is nothing that can take that sacramental seal away from us.

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