The Most. Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades preached the following homily at the celebration of the annual Chrism Mass for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
For me, one of the highlights of the liturgical year is celebrating the Chrism Masses each year in South Bend and in Fort Wayne. I find it always uplifting to have this beautiful concelebration of Mass with so many priests during this week when Our Lord instituted the priesthood, with the presence and participation of so many of our deacons, religious sisters and brothers, seminarians, and, of course, so many lay faithful who gather especially to pray for our priests as they renew their priestly promises.
The Second Vatican Council said the following about the Chrism Mass: “The Chrism Mass, which the bishop concelebrates with his presbyterium, and at which the Holy Chrism is consecrated and the oils blessed, manifests the communion of the priests with their bishop in the same priesthood and ministry of Christ” (PO 7). I decided to focus my homily this year on this theme of “communion,” not only the communion of the priests with their bishop, but also the communion of the whole Church with Christ and with one another in His Body, the Church.
As you know, there are four marks of the Church, four properties that are inseparable from the very nature of the Church and not found in any other institution: unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity. In the Creed, we profess our belief in these four marks when we say: “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” These four marks of the Church are all interconnected. I will focus in this homily on the first mark of the Church: unity.
The Church is one
Unity is of the essence of the Church. The Church is one. The Second Vatican Council taught how this is so. First, because of her source – the unity of the Blessed Trinity, one God who is three Divine Persons. Second, because of her founder: Jesus, the Word made flesh, who reconciled all people to God by His cross. Third, because of her soul: the Holy Spirit who brings about our communion with Christ and one another.
Saint Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Fathers of the Church, said the following about the Church’s unity: “What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her ‘Church.'”
There is a wonderful richness of diversity within the one Church of Christ. We see this diversity throughout our diocese and here at this Chrism Mass. Within our unity, there are a diversity of races, cultures and languages, and even within our presbyterate. There are a diversity of gifts and charisms among the people in our parishes and also within our presbyterate. Amid this beautiful diversity, there is a fundamental unity: our unity in the faith received from the apostles; our unity in the common celebration of the sacraments; and our unity through the governance established by Christ, the apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Wounds, dissension, schism
Thanking God for the gift of the unity of His Church, we also lament and ask pardon for the wounds to the unity of Christ’s Body through the centuries. As we all know, serious dissensions have sometimes led to schisms. The Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to the restoration of Christian unity, to the task of ecumenism. The Church must always pray and work to recover the unity of all Christians because it is the will of Our Lord. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples in these words: “I pray for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” The Second Vatican Council and all the popes since the Council have noted that the Church’s mission of evangelization in the world is hindered by disunity.
Throughout history, the Church has faced threats to her unity. And we face such a threat today. Two years ago, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, said the following in his annual Good Friday homily: “Fraternity among Catholics is wounded! Divisions between Churches have torn Christ’s tunic to shreds, and worse still, each shredded strip has been cut up into even smaller snippets. I speak, of course, of the human element of it, because no one will ever be able to tear the true tunic of Christ, his mystical body animated by the Holy Spirit. In God’s eyes, the Church is ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic,’ and will remain so until the end of the world. This, however, does not excuse our divisions, but makes them more guilty and must push us more forcefully to heal them.”
The devil hates our unity
Cardinal Cantalamessa spoke about bitter and polarizing divisions among Catholics, especially those that “stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandonment of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.” He said that “fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ (the devil), that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable.”
The devil hates our unity with God and with one another in His Body, the Church. He tries to separate and divide. Pope Francis has said that “divisions are a handy weapon that the devil uses to destroy the Church from within.” The Holy Father once said to a group of bishops: “Please, fight against division, because it is one of the weapons that the devil uses to destroy the local Church and the universal Church.”
Polarization inside our own communities
Every day in the news we are reminded of the division and polarization in our country. Jesus “lived at a time of strong political polarization. Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other. The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it” (Cardinal Cantalamessa Good Friday homily 2021).
When we make an examination of conscience, we priests and bishops should ask ourselves: are we shepherds of the whole flock or only part of the flock? Are we associating with and serving everyone or just those who share our views? Are we leading people to Christ or to ourselves and our own preferences and opinions? How do we treat those who feel alienated from the Church or are struggling to live the teachings of the Church? Do we ignore them or condemn them or do we reach out with mercy and accompany them? I don’t mean a superficial accompaniment which leads them nowhere, that compromises on the truth of the Gospel. I’m talking about loving accompaniment that has a purpose, an end: eternal salvation.
Concern for the Synodal Path in Germany
Pope Francis and many of us bishops are deeply concerned about the Church in Germany and the resolutions of Church leaders there that manifest disunity with the universal Church. Pope Francis had warned them against an “anti-evangelical worldly spirit.” He counseled them regarding their Synodal Path not to focus on organizational matters or on changes of Church structures and teachings. He urged them to focus on the Gospel and evangelization. The Holy Father told them that in their decision-making it is necessary to live and feel “with and in the Church”, and he stressed the importance of being in communion with the universal Church.
The whole Church has been engaged in the journey of the Synod on Synodality. The background and heart of synodality, according to Pope Francis, is evangelization and the “sensus ecclesiae,” which means “the mind of the Church.” As the Synodal Path in Germany strayed more and more from his counsel, the Holy Father further expressed his concerns, bluntly telling the president of the German Episcopal Conference: “In Germany, there is a very good Protestant Church. We don’t need two.” The Pope said: “The problem arises when the synodal path comes from the intellectual, theological elites, and is much influenced by external pressures.” “Here the danger is that something very, very ideological trickles in. When ideology gets involved in church processes, the Holy Spirit goes home, because ideology overcomes the Holy Spirit.”
Spirit of Truth, Spirit of Unity
My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity and the Spirit of Truth. The devil is the divider and the father of lies. Some claim to be following the Holy Spirit when they are actually accommodating to the spirit of this world. It is not of the Holy Spirit if it is in contradiction to Christ and His teachings, if it is contrary to the Word of God transmitted through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The real Holy Spirit safeguards our bond with the apostolic faith; He doesn’t sever it. He is the inspirer of the biblical authors and is the guardian of Sacred Tradition, and He is the source of sacramental life and holiness.
My brother priests, the Holy Spirit is the giver of the divine, spiritual, and pastoral strength we priests receive through ordination. It is He who helps and guides us to serve the Church and its unity. This begins, of course, with our fidelity to the Word of God that we are privileged to proclaim and preach. We took the oath of fidelity before we were ordained deacons and again before we were ordained priests. Most of us took it again when we were installed as pastors or in other offices in which we would be acting in the name of the Church. In that sacred oath, we promised to hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety and to avoid any teachings contrary to it. We not only promised respect and obedience to the bishop at both our diaconate and priesthood ordinations, we also, in the oath of fidelity, promised to carry out our apostolic activity in communion with the bishop and the Church.
Fundamental to our priestly identity and ministry is our communion with Christ and His Church. We are to be men of communion, servants of the Church as communion, who strive to build up the unity of the communities we serve. We grieve the Spirit and hurt the Church if we are ever agents of division. The Catholic priesthood calls for profound communion with the Pope, the bishops, and with brother priests. We have a sacred responsibility to promote the unity of faith, worship, and charity in our parishes, schools, and other communities entrusted to our pastoral care.
The Eucharist, source of unity
The Holy Eucharist is the source of our ecclesial unity. The Eucharist is the most perfect expression of our unity and it’s our task as priests to ensure that it is really so. During this National Eucharistic Revival, it is good to remind ourselves and our people that the Eucharist effects the unity of the Mystical Body. In fact, Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the unity of the Church is the ultimate effect, the “res,”, of the Eucharist. Awareness of this communion in the Body of Christ should encourage all of us to a life of charity and effective solidarity, especially with the poor and suffering members of Christ’s Body.
My brother priests, I thank you for your faithful service of the Church and her unity, through your fidelity to the teaching of the Gospel in union with the Church’s Magisterium, through your fidelity to the celebration of the sacraments according to the directives of the Church, and through your humble and loving service of the people entrusted to your pastoral care. For our sacred mission, we have received the special anointing of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, Unity, and Charity. May His grace sustain us, especially through difficult times. And may He bless our lives and ministry with joy and peace!
Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades is bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and chairman of the Board of Directors of Our Sunday Visitor.