April 20, 2011

Chrism Mass

I attended the Chrism Mass yesterday, and I was very happy that I did. In my three Holy Weeks as a parish priest in the archdiocese of New York I was only able to go once; in the other years I had to stay home to do afternoon wake services for folks sneaking in their funerals before the paschal triduum.

For me the Chrism Mass is one of those moments, especially now that I'm a priest, when I find myself lifted out of the details and dramas of daily life and into the larger picture of God's action and our vocation within it. I mean this both in the sense of the vocation of the universal and local Church within all of revelation and salvation history, but also in my individual story of vocation and salvation.

Praying within such a large assembly of priests (follow the link to to see how impressive the clergy turnout was) I was just struck by where I find myself in this life.

Who was I twenty years ago? A college student, a kid who thought himself clever and bright but without much motivation to make anything of it, a child of privilege in some senses, but ungrateful, an adolescent who related to others and to the world mostly as a source of bemusement or entertainment, self-centered in subtle but defining ways, not religious but not atheist or agnostic either, instead just someone whose frame of mind towards self, others, and the world did not admit of any way in which such ultimate questions could be personally interesting. And I wasn't special in any of this. There were tons of us, and we spent our days drinking and indulging our self-congratulating brightness through our conversations and our music, making amusement out of everything.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself a religious priest, concelebrating the Chrism Mass with the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston. Why me? Why should I have the gift of this mercy, rather than any of other wandering souls with whom I grew up or went to college, of which not an insignificant number are already dead? I don't know. It's just mercy. When you first start off in a religious or priestly vocation, you think it's some kind of special privilege. You never admit this, of course, sometimes not even to yourself, but the idea is in there, lurking among many of the thoughts of the old Adam. But after a while you realize that such ideas are flimsy nonsense and that your vocation is just God expressing his merciful salvation in your particular case.

During the Canon, I prayed for my first priests. At the memento for the living, I remembered Fr. Larry, who dealt with me in the time of my first inquiries and again as a neophyte, always with more carefulness and pastoral sense than I ever knew about at the time. At the memento for the dead, I prayed for Fr. Leo, who was pastor of the parish where I was initiated. On August 30, 1992 he gave me my first Holy Communion. He also heard my first confession on the following Saturday, and many more thereafter until I graduated from college and ran off in foolhardy zeal to my first entrance into religious life.

Thank you, Lord, for the mercy of this vocation. I don't know why you have given it to me and not someone else, and I only pray to always rely only on You alone in my desire for faithfulness.


ben in denver said...

I have never been to the Chrism Mass, although it is something that I have long had a desire to participate in. Maybe when the children are a little older, or when I work someplace where it is a litle easier to get time off, I will be able to make it.

Anonymous said...

Praised be to God who harvested you from the vine of your indulgent youth and pressed you into HIS service as a fine wine. I ponder the irony of how your milesone years mirror my own although we traveled opposite paths. Unlike you, in 1992 I broke free from an oppressive and abusive childhood despite the superficial aura of faith. The Fourth Commandment was routinely summoned as a means of control. Twenty years later what a mockery I've made of my life. Only now am I traveling on the outskirts of faith ... too jaded to enter, and too scarred not to. I stand before the precipice of faith. It is all so overwhelming.

Brother Charles said...

too jaded to enter, and too scarred not to. I stand before the precipice of faith. It is all so overwhelming.

It doesn't go away, but the surrender is safe and the vertigo an illusion of the flesh. Praise God who helped you to do what you needed to do to survive, and some of the last twenty years may have just been the side-effects of all that. Now, when the time is right, the gentle God invites you.