HOMILY: CHRISM MASS 2019
HOLY SPIRIT CATHEDRAL, ACCRA
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome you all to this celebration of this Chrism Mass. I wish to welcome in a special way, my beloved brother priests of the Archdiocese of Accra with whom I share the priesthood of Christ and pastoral responsibility in and for the Archdiocese and all those who have joined us from different Dioceses, Religious Houses, Seminaries, Chaplaincies and establishments such as the Symposium for the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and the National Catholic Secretariat (NCS). My words of welcome to you is also the expression of my gratitude for the pastoral care and presence you give to the people of God in your particular parishes and institutions. May God continue to empower you for His service.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of the Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, Msgr. Pavol Talapka and his staff for your presence with us and service to the Church in Ghana. I also dearly welcome our Rev. Brothers and Sisters for turning out in your numbers to pray for and with your priests. May I also warmly acknowledge the presence and welcome the Papal Knights and Dames for your exceptional service to the Church and the company you give to your priests and Bishops on occasions such as this. I warmly and dearly welcome our lay people who, on a Wednesday morning like this, have obviously left your works and other concerns and engagements to join us to celebrate the Mass of the Oils and priestly communion. I wish to ask you all to unite with our brothers who are unable to join us due to distance or physical weakness or infirmity. We prayerfully unite with Msgr. Jonathan Ankrah and pray for his continuous healing. Let us also unite in prayer with our priests in the diaspora in either pastoral ministry or pursuing further studies and pray for healing for Rev. Fr. Atta-Eshun. We express our love and support for all of them and pray for God’s blessings on their particular projects.
This eucharistic celebration gives us an opportunity to express our priestly communion with one another as we concelebrate with the Bishop. During this Mass, we shall also have the singular opportunity to renew our priestly promises in the commitment we owe to the Church and the people of God we serve. During this liturgy, we shall bless the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens and then consecrate the Oil for Chrism for our priestly ministry.
We shall use the Oil of the Sick to bring strength and healing to people who suffer various forms of disease. Some of our people who worship with us, daily, in our various churches are crying for the grace of God’s healing. Sickness presents a big challenge to the human body and sometimes leads them to forget their faith or bow to the pleas of the many Job comforters who surround them and offer them apparent solutions. Diseases of one kind or other sometimes take them to places they would otherwise not go. As priests in pastoral ministry, we remain close to these people in their fragility to minimize their pain and free them from sickness by praying for/with them and smearing them with the Oil of the Sick. The words of scripture assure us that prayer made in faith can bring the blessing of healing.
We shall use the Oil of Catechumens on candidates preparing for the sacrament of Baptism. This Oil of Catechumens does two things to the candidates: It prepares them to receive the Holy Spirit and strengthens them to stand against the Evil One. In our catechesis, it is our pastoral duty to teach our catechumens to understand that when they receive the Oil of Catechumens, they become conquerors against all forms of principalities and dominion and the powers of darkness. Unfortunately, we are living in an environment where any small pain in the body is attributed to the evil spirit and where people think the easiest way to make money is to proclaim oneself a “man of God” with abilities to cast out the devil. There are fraudsters and charlatans who have entered Religion and are harming the beauty of Christianity. Incomprehensibly, they have followers who go after them and so empower them to continue their quack and unorthodox practices for commercial purposes. My dear brothers in the priesthood, let us expand the catechesis on the oil of Catechumens and teach our people to understand the meaning of these Oils. When we do, they will appreciate the value of this Oil and what it does to them as Christians.
We shall use the Oil of Chrism to anoint the newly baptized and candidates for confirmation. By means of the anointing with the Oil of Chrism, the baptized become sharers in the kingly and prophetic priesthood of Christ. The sacrament of baptism is completed in the sacrament of confirmation when those who receive the Oil of Chrism become “soldiers” of Christ, the “perfect Christian” bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Christ in season and out of season. We use this same Oil for priestly ordination. By the use of the Oil of Chrism, priests are incorporated into Christ the Anointed One and set apart to do holy things, for the services of the Lord. The Old Testament tells us that priests, kings and prophets were anointed to become sacred people (1 Sm 24:7; 26:9). The Oil of Chrism will also be used in the dedication of Altars and Churches, making the Church building not just any building but a dwelling for the Lord and the altar a place set apart to offer sacrifices to God.
My brothers and sisters, OT tradition tells us that not every oil is good enough for this sacred duty. OT tradition gave special instructions on how to produce such oil: Yahweh told Moses: take the finest spices, five hundred shekels of fresh myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, two hundred and fifty shekels of scented reed, five hundred shekels of cassia and about two gallons of olive oil. You will make this into a holy anointing oil. With this oil, you shall anoint the Tent of Meeting, the altar of incense and offering, the tables, vessels and everything you use for the services of the Lord, consecrate them so that they will be especially holy and whatever touches them will become holy. You will also anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them to be priests in my service” (Ex 30:22-33).
Our liturgical readings call our attention to one thing: anointing. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks of the anointing of the suffering servant. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 61:1). The Psalm of David says, “I have found David my servant, with my holy oil I have anointed him that my hand will always be with him to make him strong” (Ps 89:21). The Gospel passage from Luke narrates how Jesus went to the synagogue as was his custom and read from the scroll that was handed to him, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18).
In all three passages, the anointing they receive (the Suffering Servant, David and Jesus) was to enable them serve the people of God.
- They are anointed so that they be a blessing to the people of God.
- They are anointed so that they can proclaim God’s words to the poor and abandoned and to heal those who are broken-hearted on account of life’s daily worries and experiences;
- They are anointed to bring solace and healing to those who suffer from physical ailments and to proclaim freedom and release to those who have imprisoned themselves in superstitious beliefs and practices.
- They are anointed to bring God’s message of consolation to the rejected, the marginalized, the forgotten, the excluded in our society and to give to those who mourn “the oil of gladness”.
This is indeed priestly ministry; we are anointed in order to make effective the anointing in others. This is our pastoral duty; the duty of the leader of the Christian community; the duty of the shepherd; the duty of you and me.
My brothers and sisters; priests and lay. I wish to reiterate what I have already said in this very Cathedral and elsewhere as I go on pastoral visits. All of us in the Church, with leadership responsibilities; parish priests, parochial vicars, leaders of societies and fraternities, youth leaders, catechists, PPC members, etc., we all share in the shepherding role entrusted to me your chief shepherd. I encourage you all to be shepherds who care for the flock entrusted to you; shepherds who remain close to your flock to feel their heartbeat. Shepherd them with compassion. Go after them and go in search of those who have gone astray. Like the sheep that was lost, when you find the one who is gone astray, put him/her on your shoulders and bring them back to the fold amidst rejoicing. Know your flock, walk with those who are weak, bandage the wounds of those who get injured on the rocky paths of life. Offer solace to the broken hearted.
Two weeks after my consecration as Bishop of Sekondi-Takoradi in 2014, I had the singular privilege to join my brother Bishops of the Bishops’ Conference on their ad limina visit to Rome and to meet the Holy Father. Pope Francis said something to us which has become indelible on my mind. Probably you have heard me talk about it or heard it before, but permit me to repeat it even if you have heard of it. He said, as shepherds with the flock entrusted to you:
- You will from time to time need to be in front of them of the flock to lead and show them the way to go; when to move on and when to stop; when to turn left and when to turn right; when to run and when to slow down. At the front position, you act like a compass to indicate where to go.
- Other times, you will need to be in the midst of your flock, to feed them, give them water, dress their wounds, pay close attention to those who are weak, those who suffer some sickness and need more attention. At the centre, you will carry the weak close to your breast/heart; you will be the centre that unites the different sheep of different temperament around you.
- At other times, you will need to go to the rear, to take the back position and with a stick/staff in your hand, like the crosier in the hand of the Bishop, bring those sheep who are going stray back to the sheepfold. At the back position, you can see the stubborn ones and those who are obedient. You can easily appraise the performance of each sheep, see how each one is behaving, which ones are staggering, identify the weak ones and those that need help.
As shepherds and pastors, be aware that there are people who go around and also appear on television screens and at radio stations disturbing and dislodging the faith of our people by means of ideologies in the name of modernity and cheap teachings with empty promises. As Shepherds, let us give special attention to our youth and prepare them to carry the church of tomorrow. Our Catholic youth need to hear a clear voice of teaching among the many voices they hear daily. The many voices confuse them and lead them to sometimes make strange and mistaken choices. If we forget the youth, the Church will pay the price for it in the future. If we neglect our teaching ministry, we are neglecting a key pastoral responsibility and, surely, we shall abandon the flock and they will consequently scatter “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36, cf. Is 53:6).
During this celebration, we shall also renew our commitment to serve the people of God as Christ did.
- We shall renew our resolve to conform/pattern our lives on that of Christ Jesus;
- We shall renew our resolve to be faithful stewards of the mysteries we celebrate;
- We shall renew our resolve to discharge faithfully the office of teaching.
Aware of our inadequacies as we do the things of God, touch holy things and say holy things, I, as Bishop, shall plead in this Mass with the people of God to keep praying for their priests (keep praying for us) so that we shall be faithful ministers of Christ the High Priest. I shall also plead with you to pray for me – your Bishop – so that “I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me in my lowliness” and that I would become “a perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and the Servant of all”. These are powerful prayer intentions we, priests with their Bishop, entrust to you, our lay faithful to do for us. It is more than giving us gold and silver.
It is precisely on account of our common priesthood, the priesthood of the baptized, the priesthood we share with you and you with us, that ministerial priesthood, the priesthood of the ordained, has meaning. We are ordained priests to serve you. In order to serve you well, we must be truly vested in the things of Christ. We must be simply Christian, because a good priest is essentially a good Christian.
Who then is the good Christian? He is the one who lives the commandment of love as Jesus instructed us using himself as an example and at the same time making himself the criterion, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). The Christian is the one who loves to the end (Jn 13:1) in the service of God and of neighbour. Surely there will be hurdles and obstacles in the journey of life, but they mean nothing to him. The First letter of John puts it beautifully, “this is the proof of love, that he laid down his life for us, and so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1Jn 3:16). Christian existence, therefore, is out-going; it goes beyond itself; it searches for the other; it lives for the other; it carries the burden of the other. Christian existence is not selfish; it is not egocentric. Christ did not teach us to be selfish. He taught us to “renounce ourselves” and “lose our lives” for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, because it is precisely in so doing that, we find life to the full, our peace and happiness (Mk 8:34-37). Christian life is, therefore, agape – a celebration of sacrificial love. It is in this that ordained ministry is rooted and finds expression.
May this celebration remind each one of his or her responsibility towards building God’s Church where ever we are. I wish to ask our lay people to see that they share in this responsibility. I wish to see you take and express interest in national issues that concern and affect the church. I get sad when issues come up and our lay and competent faithful keep quiet as if they do not matter to them. I get sad when lay people point their figure at the Bishop and the Bishops’ Conference on matters that are clearly in the domain of the Catholic laity. Yes, you cannot officially speak for the Church but can help your Bishops give voice to your Church. The Church is not just the priests and religious. The Church is priests and lay together – all the baptized.
As Church, let us be the watchman for our country as the Prophet Ezekiel was appointed a watchman for the house of Israel (Ez 33:1ff). Let us guard our nation on the right path by doing the right thing as we pray for our leaders in the discharge of their onerous duty to mother Ghana and pray for the citizens to have respect for one another and be God-fearing.
My dear brothers in the priesthood of Christ, let us pray for one another for the strengthening of our faith so that we too can strengthen the faith of those we serve. AMEN
Most Rev. John Bonaventure KWOFIE, CSSp
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra.
17th April, 2019.