Most Rev. John Vlazny Archbishop Emeritus of Portland
By the time this column is published Lent will be more than half way spent. We soon will celebrate the Mass of Blessing of the Holy Oils on March 20 and then Holy Week and Easter in parishes all over the world. Finally, two days after Easter, April 2, at the Chiles Center in Portland, we shall install our new Archbishop, Most Rev. Alexander K. Sample.
March 20 and April 2 will be somewhat like bookends for some beautiful days. On March 20 I shall have my final opportunity to preside at an archdiocesan celebration when we bless the holy oils for use in sacramental celebrations during the coming year. Then on April 2 Archbishop Sample will begin his episcopal ministry as our 11th archbishop. On both occasions the priests of the archdiocese will be concelebrating with us bishops. Together we shall renew our commitment and enthusiasm for servant ministry in the Catholic community of western Oregon. Archbishop Sample’s eagerness to embark upon the work of the New Evangelization will hopefully spur us on to even more effective and zealous ministry among you. You deserve the best.
There will also be another special celebration around this time as well, but as I write I don’t know when it will happen. I am talking, of course, about the election and installation of the new Bishop of Rome, our Holy Father, the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic world. The eyes of the world will be upon Rome as our new Pope embarks upon his apostolic ministry. Like all bishops, he is to be an agent of the communion and evangelizing mission of our Catholic family. He too, like our new archbishop, will need the prayers and support of the faithful. Ever since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI took effect on Feb. 28, we have been praying for the guidance of the Spirit in this time of transition for our church. The day of the papal installation is no time to stop those prayers.
During the annual Mass of the Blessing of Holy Oils the priests all renew their commitment to give God’s people a shepherd’s care in union with their bishop and their brother priests. What a joy it is to be a priest! It is our privilege to proclaim truly good news, the message of God’s great love and mercy for all of us. The joy in every priest’s heart ultimately comes from the love that he has for what he does and those whom he serves. When priests love the people they serve, they are indeed happy campers. Certainly not every day in the life of a priest is joyful. Every priest has a need for serenity, a gift of Jesus, to which a priest must cling in hard times.
All of the beautiful liturgies in Rome, at the cathedral and in our parishes in the coming weeks provide us as a church an opportunity to do what we do best, namely, to pray. When we gather for the worship of our loving God, we are healed of our hurts, our spirits are lifted, hope fills our hearts, we are united with all the saints, we are comforted in sadness, we are stretched to be our very best selves and we are connected with the whole world. In our gathering for the Eucharist on Sundays we climb the Lord’s mountain and we are enthralled with the majesty of our loving God, as was Moses on Mount Sinai while the Jews were on their way to the Promised Land. When we are dismissed at the end of Mass, the priest’s greeting is intended to connect what we have done at worship with the rest of our lives. As people of faith we have celebrated the sacred mysteries and we are sent out to live that mystery in all we say and do.
Three oils are blessed at the Mass of the Blessing of Holy Oils: the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens and holy chrism. Only a bishop can bless the chrism. The chrism, our Christ oil, is used to anoint us at Baptism and Confirmation, reminding us all of our shared call to holiness. The renowned author, Matthew Kelly, likes to describe our call to holiness as God’s call to be the very best version we can be of ourselves. Some folks shy away from looking upon themselves as holy. But no one should be taken aback by the challenge of trying to become the best version of himself or herself that he or she can possibly be. Left to our own resources, the challenge might be overwhelming. But the chrism is a reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who accompanies us and guides us in our efforts to be Christ for others, to be the best version of ourselves, to be holy. The oil of the catechumens is used in the baptismal ceremony before the pouring of the water. This anointing represents our plea to God for the strength and courage we need to do what we must, even when those around us are doing what they must not. Certainly the early Christian martyrs needed strength and courage when they faced tremendous suffering at the hands of those who were intolerant of their witness of faith. We live in an age when such physical suffering is not inflicted upon us in the USA for giving witness to our faith, but we do suffer from the disdain, the ridicule, the dismissal of those who are hostile to religion in general and to Catholicism in particular. True disciples do not simply treasure their loving relationship with God. They are eager to have their friends and neighbors become acquainted with their Brother and Savior, Jesus, no matter the bias or prejudice that such sharing of faith may provoke.
The very first oil to be blessed at the annual Mass of the Blessing of Oils is the oil of the sick. This oil is used specifically in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The anointing is accompanied by prayers for healing, not only physical healing from illness but spiritual and psychological healing from all that afflicts us. Jesus was a healer par excellence. People flocked to him with those who were ill, those who were possessed, those who were disturbed in so many ways. When we use the oil of the sick we invoke the healing power of Jesus upon others and ourselves. Those of us who enjoy good health probably never realize what a joy this really is until we experience bad health. The good health of both soul and body is a grace worth seeking and celebrating. Places like Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe and many others are sanctuaries of God’s healing work among his people of all ages.
Yes, the days ahead will be celebration time for Catholics all over the world, but nowhere more intensely than here in our own archdiocese. I am grateful for the privilege of celebrating the Chrism Mass one more time before Archbishop Sample takes over. I shall be honored once again to preside at the Holy Week and Easter liturgies in our cathedral. But on April 2 I shall turn over the torch of faith, which it has been my privilege to carry these past 15 years, to our new chief shepherd. The celebration of Archbishop Sample’s installation Mass begins at 2 p.m. in the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. Come one. Come all! All are welcome.