Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

'Do you not perceive it?'

April 24, 2019

The following homily was delivered by the cardinal at the April 16 Chrism Mass.

Someone recently asked me what my favorite celebration during Holy Week was, and I quickly responded, “The Chrism Mass.”

On this occasion, the entire local church comes together in space and time to both express who we are and rekindle all that we aspire to be. Today, the whole church gathers in one space, as priests and other representatives from all the parishes across this archdiocese are in attendance. Today, there is no distance between us; we are in one place as one church.

So, too, by being present at this moment for the blessing of the oils to be used for the sacramental life of the church in the days and weeks throughout this coming year in every parish celebration, we will share in all those future moments and be present when these oils will anoint the baptized, the confirmed, the ordained and the sick. Chrism Mass is the day when the church comes together in space and time to express who we are and rekindle all that we aspire to be.

The Gospel text traditionally chosen for this feast is so appropriate, as it recounts how the community has come together on the day Jesus launched his public ministry. He comes to the synagogue, a word that means a bringing together, an encounter, a meeting of people. The message is clear: The starting point of Jesus’ mission is to bring people together, to unite them. For it is by uniting the people that they will join him in taking up the work of the Father.

These few verses in Luke highlight the importance of tradition in fostering and sustaining the unity needed for a disciple and community to take up the work of the Father. We are told that Jesus came to his hometown “Nazareth, where he had grown up, and (he) went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”

He is a product of a tradition through which he was schooled in the customs and practices of the faith, taught to read and showed where to find the passage in the scroll he recites. Living within a tradition, his entire life is defined by a set of connections with those who have come before him, but also with those who will come after, as he takes responsibility for handing it on, even to the point of seeing it fulfilled in his time.

Throughout his ministry, this Nazarene demonstrates a devotion to tradition, but in a way that is different from traditionalism. The great theologian of the past century Jaroslav Pelikan made this distinction when he observed: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition” (“The Vindication of Tradition,” 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities).

This is Jesus’ approach. Instead of traditionalism, he is devoted to tradition, which allows him to say, to the astonishment of his neighbors, that God is fulfilling the ancient Scripture passage of old in their hearing.

With Renew My Church and the challenges we confront in facing scandalous behavior of the past and in this change of era under Pope Francis, it may seem that we are doing a lot of new things, doing things for the first time, and that the landscape before us is terra incognita. All of this may leave us fearful, feeling somewhat disconnected from our roots, and from each other.

It is worth examining what Jesus learns, as one steeped in an authentic understanding of tradition, that could be helpful in such challenging moments. Yes, through the gift of tradition he is familiar with the passage from Isaiah he cites. Someone read it to him on a certain day, when he heard these words for the first time. On that day Jesus experienced something new about God, what God has said and how God has acted in the past.

But it is also true that as he unrolled the scroll to find this text, he had to pass by an earlier quote from the prophet Isaiah that reads, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:18-19).

Jesus’ conviction that God does something new in the present, particularly as he stood before the people in the synagogue, was rooted in his own experience of the many first times, the many new moments he learned about what God has done, how God acts and especially how God had acted in his life. It is out of his experience of all the new things God had done in history and in his life that he embraced the newness of this moment, attentive to God announcing through him: “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth.”

So, too, our present moment of challenges and changes should be viewed as an invitation to remember all that God has already done in our lives, the fresh beginnings that have come from God’s grace-filled mercy, the new learnings and insights that surprise and ennoble us, the promptings of the spirit to grow, to take on new responsibilities way beyond what we ever imagined we could do. It is a time to look to the future, not with discouragement or fear, but with hope and trust that God once again is doing something new, to the point that we hear the prophet ask us, “Do you not perceive it?”

That is the faith that unites us, draws us together this day. There is a sign of hope in what we do in blessing these oils. Even though we accept that we will never see all the good that will be done by those anointed with them, we trust, as we recall how God has continually done something new in our life, that once again all will be brought to fulfillment.  

This is why the Chrism Mass is my favorite celebration in Holy Week, for the entire local church comes together in space and time to both express who we are and rekindle all that we aspire to be. 

Topics:

  • holy week

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