(This week's column consists of the text of Bishop Bullock's homily from the Mass of Chrism, Tuesday, April 15, 2003, St. Raphael Cathedral.)
Dear friends in Christ, brothers and sisters of the Lord:
It is our great privilege tonight to celebrate this Mass of Chrism, a special moment each year for the local Church as we bless the oil of Catechumens, the oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism: they are the oils of forgiveness and healing, of gladness and consecration.
It is especially here, in the mother church of our Diocese, that we answer God's call to worship. Here we pray that he will draw us closer together in the sacred bond of unity and love which the Spirit gives: one diocese, one presbyterate, one priestly people of faith. Thank you all for coming!
Tonight we celebrate the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church's life. Here all members of the Body of Christ bring their joys and sufferings to the altar of sacrifice and to the Lord's table.
In the Eucharist we are strongly motivated to live as true followers of Christ. His sacrifice imparts to us his generous love; this banquet nourishes us with the Body and Blood of the divine Lamb. May we open ourselves fully to communion with the universal Church as we celebrate the Eucharist, where the joy and hope, the anguish and suffering of all people converge in sacrifice and in sharing a sacred meal.
In our day it appears that joy and hope are seldom seen, and that anguish and suffering are often felt. Many challenges in today's world call out for a response on the part of all of us who are believers who are strengthened by Christ for our mission in the world. Let me name a few.
Terrorism, war in Iraq
"September 11, 2001" is now a watchword for a new age of fear and terror. Acts of violence and terrorism that have plagued the world and our own country continue to grow bolder and more global. But not only planes and skyscrapers were wrecked that day, but human lives, families, trust, and the health of our economy. Lives were lost or ruined, jobs destroyed, families broken, hopes for the future trampled in the wreckage.
What began at the twin towers continued in Afghanistan, moved to a war in Iraq, where even now soldiers have entered Baghdad not only to free the Iraqis from tyranny and violence but also to help build a new government of peace, based on human rights and equal opportunity.
How will the evil of terrorism continue to make our world less friendly, our growing global village more a prison? How will war affect our world today and tomorrow? How will we as Catholics respond to the challenges of terrorism, war, violence, and hatred?
Sexual abuse scandal
Just a little over a year ago as allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests committed decades ago made the headlines, the Church in the United States became embroiled in a scandal that will take lots of healing. The implementation of the U.S. Bishops' Charter to protect young people and children, and Norms for dealing with such sexual abuse continues.
This is not just the Bishop's challenge, it is a challenge for all of us - we are not two presbyterates, we are one, not two Churches, we are one.
Together, like Jesus, we gather our children, protect them, teach them, keep them safe and whole. As Bishops we have openly acknowledged our mistakes and now move on to promote forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. The Church is wounded, yet well. In Christ we faithfully, yet painfully, take a step at a time.
Respect for life
News about respect for human life and the human person is mixed. It has troubling developments. Abortions are said to be fewer, but new ways to perform them now include partial-birth abortion and new, abortifacient contraceptive technology. The world of medicine destroys innocent human life and subverts the dignity and beauty of human sexuality often for motives of convenience that hearken to the selfish and sinful in human lives.
Talk of weapons of mass destruction that can kill or maim millions in one blow is common today. Capital punishment, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide continue to be promoted as viable and responsible "solutions," but do not respect human dignity and human rights. We are a consistent ethic of life Church. We are like a skein of yarn - but are one, and all our truths hold together in Christ who is our way, truth, and life.
Tied to our consistent teaching is the interconnectedness of increased poverty, racial hatred, and religious intolerance. For they contribute to a growing view of human beings as commodity rather than as person. Stem-cell research, which destroys living human embryos for the sake of knowledge, is promoted, defended, and excused, not to mention human cloning.
As Catholics we must respond to the degradation of respect for the dignity of the human person, respect for human life, respect for human rights in all its phases and stages. These are not new items but these challenges are brought in their deepest offering to the altar and table of the Lord at the Eucharist.
Shortage of priests
We have seen a steady reduction in the number of active priests available to serve our 135 parishes. As the priest shortage continues, we link, cluster, and merge parishes. In this process some parishes are without a resident pastor. Many of our priests have taken on extra responsibilities or several parishes. There is danger they will be spread too thin. A continuing challenge is also how we can reduce the number of Masses.
As you can readily see, our priests are loving, hard-working, dedicated, faithful servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the High Priest. They take most seriously their three-fold ordained ministry in the image and person of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. They strive faithfully to live out the daily demands of the Gospel in order to praise God and serve God's people. I am proud of our priests in the Diocese of Madison.
The result can be high stress and low morale, as workloads grow greater. Opportunities to rest and retool become more difficult, demands on time and energy increase. Yet Christ calls us to be faithful.
As Catholics, respond to the crisis of the priest shortage by promoting vocations, by providing time to pray for vocations, and by fostering positive and healthy images of the life of a priest.
I have given you the challenges. They are easier to set forth than are the answers. I never pretend to have answers to these complex challenges and others which face our Diocese, our Church, and our world, and yet we know they are answerable. Catholics can and will answer the challenges and struggles of our age, responding to the conditions of the world in which we live. The answer is found in becoming more like Jesus.
The place and the moment where he answers them is the Eucharist, where challenge and answer meet, where problem and solution intersect. It is at the time of Eucharist that the altar of sacrifice and meal meet. We lay down our lives and Christ strengthens us by feeding us His Body and Blood.
It is my deepest conviction as a Catholic, as a priest of over 50 years and a bishop of nearly a quarter century that, by sharing in the Eucharist, we are moved by grace and strengthened in love to a deeper commitment. We not only preserve the mission of Christ but we bite the bullet to commit ourselves to do it Christ's way.
Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, which we celebrate in the Eucharist, leads us to surrender our lives in loving sacrifice and obedience and to be strengthened with the Body and Blood of the divine Lamb.
In Christ we are energized in the Holy Spirit to obey the will of the Father - and to take on a world of war, terrorism, violence, injustice, abuse, and disrespect for human life and convert it into a world filled with peace, love, and joy, filled with justice, respect, and dignity. In our act of the Mass we promote, we establish the Kingdom here and now - that is we make it more present.
This is how we give a new depth of meaning to the phrase, "the Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life." We will not get it done, as Father Robert Barron reminded us priests at our recent Clergy Day of Sanctification: "Life is not about you, it is about Christ. Life for Christ was not about him but the Father, the Father's will for him."
At Mass, the offerings of the whole world converge to transform us in Christ. Every day and especially at the Eucharist, we realize more and more that life is not about us, it is about Jesus in whose name we are redeemed. He is Savior. He is Lord.
He associates our sacrifices with his own on the Cross. He gathers us in his Holy Spirit; he strengthens our belief and commitment; he listens to our petitions; he unites saints, the holy people of every age, race, and culture, as we wait together for full communion in his Kingdom.
Values of kingdom
Respect for the human person and human rights, freedom and justice, rejection of violence and war are values we see in the Eucharist.
1) Respect the human person, human rights
We see respect for the human person and human rights in the Eucharist, for we who are created in the image and likeness of God were redeemed at the cost of the Son of God, who became man, who died on the Cross.
If we want to deepen our realization that our life is not about us, but about Christ, we need only turn to the Cross. Jesus took to himself all our sins and won forever, by his obedience unto death, a new life of resurrection.
Isaiah's words tell us what Christ does, and Christ reading them in the synagogue thus tells us what we must do: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
"Today," Jesus says, "this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Today, respect for human dignity and human rights, especially for the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized, is a key part of our Christian mission.
2) Work for freedom and justice
When terrorists and nations eliminate freedom, constrict justice, and hamper the development of people, we who are baptized must respond. When unjust, unfair economic imbalances impoverish families and crush the poor, we who receive the Body and Blood of Christ must answer.
When sin is publicly applauded and the woundedness of the culture is defended or promoted as progress, we who belong to Christ must act. The Eucharist, summit and source, calls us to do what Jesus did, take on our own sins and the sins of the world and be willing to die for them.
3) Reject violence and war
Wars and violence and terrorism, abuse of every kind, hatred, racism, discrimination - are products of a world bent on serving itself and not serving the dignity and rights of all human persons. Is it possible that we have become a people enslaved, not free; sick, not well; spiritually crippled, not whole? Living the Mass is our way back - our way out of the world.
Tonight in our hearing Christ calls us to meet the challenges of our day whatever they be, whatever their cost. The Mass must not be just that joyful song-filled time to feel good about ourselves but a time to lay down our lives in sacrifice, a time of total giving. Remember - it is called "ongoing conversion," for life is not about us - it's about God.
For we as followers of Christ must realize this at the Eucharist. Here Christ calls us to a radical love of God and service to our neighbor that is impossible without God's grace.
May the Eucharist really be the source and summit of our Christian lives. May the oils of this Mass of Chrism anoint us all for the mission Christ has given to his Church.