By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – “Do you love God’s people?” Bishop McManus asked priests Tuesday.
He was preaching at the annual Chrism Mass at St. Paul Cathedral. At this Mass the oils used for sacraments are blessed, priests renew their commitment to priestly service and priests celebrating significant anniversaries of priesthood are recognized.
In his homily Bishop McManus said people tend to take for granted what is most important to them, so once a year the Church asks priests to gather around the bishop and reflect prayerfully on the priesthood.
In the Gospel Jesus revealed that he came to preach, heal the sick and proclaim liberty to those who had none, the bishop said. But, he said, only on Calvary did he “bring his prophetic ministry to its culmination, when as a victim and priest he offered himself to the Father for the redemption of the world.” Jesus is the eternal high priest because he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for “you and me.”
“As priests, we are called to continue the work of the Good Shepherd,” Bishop McManus said. He told how Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” when he instructed Peter to feed his sheep. (Jn 21:15-17)
The bishop said priests are called to love God’s people with an undivided heart. He asked the priests how much they love those people. Do they love their people enough to guide them to new life in Christ, because they have fallen in love with Christ and are convinced that he alone has the words of eternal life?
“We live in a terribly restless age, when people are searching for answers,” Bishop McManus said. He asked whether the clergy love them enough to proclaim the power and wisdom of the Gospel, to show them the face of Jesus.
“Do you and I love our people enough to really want them to become saints?” he asked. “As priests we must daily pray for the grace of personal conversion to Christ and growth in holiness. We can’t do that unless we hold on to Jesus, the anchor of our salvation. The people of God know the real thing when they see it.”
The bishop talked about priests’ call to preach God’s word and celebrate the sacraments. He said that Pope Francis says priests are to walk not only ahead of their people, but behind them, to pick up the strays, and among them, to know what they need for salvation.
The Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens and the Holy Chrism, with which the clergy will anoint people throughout the coming year, were brought forward in a solemn procession for blessing or, in the case of the Chrism, consecration. Representatives of parishes and other institutions picked up their oils after Mass.
Bishop McManus also spoke of priests as apostles of the new evangelization. He said one of the great privileges in a priest’s life is to point out to people that God is active in their lives and to let them know Christ embraces their hopes and disappointments.
At Mass the names of priests celebrating significant anniversaries were called, along with the number of years they’ve been priests. They stood and the congregation gave them a lengthy applause.
At the end of Mass, the congregation spontaneously applauded, as Bishop Reilly, then Bishop McManus, followed the priests down the aisle. Bishop Rueger, whose walking is limited, celebrated the Mass with the other bishops, Trappist Abbot Damian Carr of St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, and many diocesan and religious priests.
After Mass Yvette Remillard, one of the lectors, said she has wanted for some time to proclaim God’s word at the Chrism Mass, and she finally got to cross that privilege off her “bucket list.” She said she’s a lector at her parish, Good Shepherd Parish in Linwood.
“This is where my brother was ordained – in 1970,” she said, rejoicing in being at the cathedral. Her brother is Father Andre N. Remillard, a retired priest of the diocese.