Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Chrism, Friendship, and Martyrs

There's a Latin aphorism that says, "Lex orandi, lex credendi," which basically means, "The law of praying is the law of believing." In other words, if you want to understand what we as Catholics believe, one way to do that is to look at the way we pray. The Liturgy instructs us about what we believe.

Even though I entered seminary thirty years ago, I still find myself surprised by the Liturgy of the Church. Every so often, a word, a phrase, a symbol, or part of the liturgical calendar causes me to pause. I love these moments because they are a clear indication that the liturgy does not require innovation on our part or the insertion of novelties in order to teach us something new. I had one such moment at the Chrism Mass this Holy Week.

Each year at the Chrism Mass, the bishop gathers with his priests and members of the local church and he consecrates the Holy Oils that will be used throughout the diocese for the coming year. This year, as my bishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley was saying the prayer for the consecration of the Chrism, I noticed something that I've never taken note of before. We are all accustomed to hearing the words, "priests, prophets, and kings" linked together. We know that in Baptism we are anointed to share in Christs priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices. We also know that in the Old Testament priests, prophets, and kings would be anointed. What struck me though was this: 

"To you, therefore, O Lord, we pray, that by your blessing you may graciously sanctify the rich substance of this oil that you have created, and permeate it with the strength of the Holy Spirit by means, too, of the power at work in your Christ, from whose holy name is named the Chrism, with which you have anointed your priests and kings, prophets and martyrs." 

 Added to the usual list of "priest, prophet, and king" is the phrase "and martyrs." I was really struck by this. This prayer instructs us that all who have been anointed with Chrism have been anointed for martyrdom. We have been anointed to be witnesses. "Martyr" means, "witness." Inherent with every anointing with the Sacred Chrism is a new configuration to Christ. This interior configuration, however, is given not simply for our own benefit. It is bestowed so that we can witness to Christ. It is given so that our life can bear witness to the truth that St. Paul proclaims: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). 

Whether in Baptism, Confirmation, or Holy Orders, the person anointed is strengthened to bear witness to Christ. This witness--this martyrdom--requires and assists us in dying to ourselves. We witness to Christ by dying with Him. We sometimes think of "witnessing to Christ" as an add on to being a Christian, but the prayer makes clear that we are anointed as martyrs, as witnesses. This anointing to martyrdom is not a punishment. It is a privilege. It is also a relief. Why a relief? If we were simply "called" to bear witness to Christ, that might leave us feeling overwhelmed by a task beyond our capacity. Or, such a call could feel a bit like being summoned for jury duty, an unwelcome interruption to our life.

No, we haven't merely been summoned to some unpleasant duty. We've been anointed for a privileged vocation. We've been chosen and anointed to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the Savior. Witnessing to Christ--making Him known by our way of life, by our words, by our love, this is a sacred mission entrusted to us who have been anointed by our Savior.

In an age when the light of Christ is increasingly obscured by the growing shadows of secularism and by ideologies antithetical to Christian anthropology, the world and Christians themselves require martyrs, witnesses. I see this clearly in my work on a college campus. When the predominant culture dismisses, mocks, and is antagonistic toward the Christian Faith, it can be extraordinarily difficult for young people (or any person) to remain faithful. And yet, a witness changes everything. A witness introduces hope into the bleak horizon that the absence of God inevitably brings. The martyr--the anointed witness--awakens in the other a remembrance that beauty, goodness, and truth do exist. The witness enters into the darkness of others and pierces their soul with the warm light of Christ. The witness saves others from the lie that life is empty and lacks meaning. The witness awakens within us a recognition that we have an eternal destiny.

When I see the men and women at our Catholic Center living their life together, I see that they are saving one another. By witnessing to one another, they save each other from the grasp of the darkness that surrounds them. This is true also for parish communities. When we live life together in Christian friendship, we witness to one another and to others that Christ is true. When we are surrounded by friends who are witnesses, we experience the freedom that only Christ can give.

What saves me every day is living life among witnesses. They are witnesses because they have been anointed. They have been anointed with the Chrism that makes martyrs. Thank God for Chrism and thank God for His witnesses, men and women, young and old, who daily allow Christ to live in them and to use them as instruments to save us.

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