Bishop Caggiano’s Homily for Holy Thursday Chrism Mass

The following is Bishop Caggiano’s homily for Holy Thursday Chrism Mass.

My dear friends in Christ,

A few days ago, while I was taping my podcast with my comrade in arms, Steve Lee, Steve asked me a question on behalf of one of the listeners of the podcast. And the answer I gave initially, I thought was smart. The question was this, what is the most important passage in all of sacred scripture? And of course, my initial response was, they’re all important. Case closed. But something has been, if I may put it, burning in my heart for a very long time. In fact, since we have begun this great spiritual odyssey together, which I affectionately call the One, but really, it is the invitation for all of us to be renewed in spirit and to renew our church for its mission in the world. So I coopted the question, and I said, Perhaps we could phrase it differently. It’s not what is the most important verse in scripture, but what is the most poignant, what is the most provocative? And that, my friends, has a very different answer. For all the years that I’ve had the privilege to be with you, I’ve asked that question in many a talk, and I’ve always answered it the same way.

You may recall the answer I have given in the past. It was the words that came out of the mouth of Pontius Pilate when he’s looking into the face of Jesus, thinking that he had the power of life and death over the Lord. And he asked the question, what is the truth? Of course, the answer was staring him in the face. But now, my dear friends, I have a different answer to that question. And that answer, I believe, perhaps gives us the context about what we’re about to begin to celebrate as Christians. It is the parable of the struggle of discipleship. It’s the reason, I believe, why these oils that we will bless are so important in the life of the church and why the ministerial priesthood born this day is essential to the life that Christ has given to all of us. My brothers, it gives us an understanding of one aspect of our Priestley ministry that we must never forget. You may be wondering, what are those words? For those of us who go to Daily Mass, we heard them a few days ago. We will hear them again tomorrow on Good Friday.

They are the words that St. John puts into his gospel immediately after Judas betrays the Lord. And as he takes the morsel, says, Is it I, Lord? It is you who say it. And then there are four words, John says, And it was night. And it was night.

For you see, my dear friends, in those four words, perhaps in its own sense of parable, we are reminded of the great struggle that lies for those of us, all of us, who wish to follow in the footsteps of the Master and the Savior. For there is in the word night all that is implied within it. It is the struggles that you and I face in our lives to peel away the darkness of sin and deception salvation, the lies that oftentimes try to seduce us, to expose the temptations of the evil one. It is all that takes us away from the light, which is what we are about to celebrate as dusk leads to night, tonight. The great mystery, the unfolding of our salvation, is He who we will proclaim in the Easter Vigil as Christ, our light, came into the very midst of the darkness that this world could muster.

And by His free gift of His life and His everlasting love, love that does not demand that those to be loved should be worth that love or earn that love or actually in some way prove they are lovable. In that great drama, the Lord Jesus allows the light to be victorious, to shine not just in the tomb, but in every moment of His grace, in every moment of the ages to come until the light is alone what exists. And the darkness, and he who creates it is cast into the abyss forever.

You see, my dear friends, that is why we are here today. We are here because these oils and the sacruments that celebrate them are the vessels of the light of grace for those preparing to be baptized so that all their sins of their life could be forgiven, all of us have had that great privilege in this church. All of us have been set free. For those who are sick, those who may be dying, the oil of the sick comes as a bomb, perhaps not to heal them physically, but to invite them to be healed spiritually so that they may enter into the mystery of death prepared to look upon the light that has no shadow.

Then and, of course, in the oils of chrism, baptism, the confirming of baptism and sacred orders, priesthood and Episcopacy. They consecrate us so that we might be what? The vessels of light in a world that, unfortunately, my friends, you know better than I, is in great turmoil, where the clouds continue to grow thicker and the darkness threatens too many of God’s children, ourselves included. So the ministerial priesthood, my friends, my brothers, you and I that share this great gift, today we must remember that we are called to be the heralds of light. To dare, by word and example, by our ministries and by our preaching, to give God’s people, you and I and our own selves, the path by which we might bring the light of Christ where there is no light or where the darkness threatens that light.

You see, my dear friends, you and I who gather here, please God, none of us in this church is guilty of a colossal failure before the light. That was Judas’s fate that he chose. But perhaps the struggle you and I face in discipleship is more the struggle of twilight, that mixture of light and darkness.

The times when you and I struggle with our own temptations, our own faults, our own failures, or at times when you and I are swayed by the opinions of those around us, or simply wanting to be accepted, or simply lacking the courage to speak what needs to be spoken. So many different ways, you and I in ordinary life, we struggle with that mystery of twilight. And so we come here to be strengthened so that we could peel away that portion of the twilight which threatens us, our integrity, our effectiveness, and quite frankly, our fidelity. I do it every day. I struggle with it every day. And I don’t believe I’m the only one in this church who struggles with that every day. But how blessed are we? My gosh, how blessed are we that Christ offers us His merciful love, His forgiveness for the asking that He never abandons us. And we who are as priests, you brothers know as much as I, the challenges you and I face, and they are many, and they are not getting easier. And yet you and I know the light has never and never will abandon us, even in the moments of our greatest struggle and doubt, even when our temptations raise their faces to try to tempt us to do what we know we should never do.

And yet Christ is there with the light beckoning us to be his herald. And even when we have failed, myself included, He comes to bless us, forgive us, and send us out again in mission. My dear friends, the world needs the light of Christ. The world needs heralds of good news. The world needs a clear, effective, unambiguous, zealous, courageous, reckless proclamation of the light. And that’s true for all of us in this church of every vocation, But as you and I, brothers, celebrating the day when the birth of our vocation was given to us, let us, you and I, together, brothers in Christ, make the pledge as we renew the promises of Priestley life that we will stand shoulder to shoulder as one brotherhood to help one another to peel away the twilight, wherever it threatens you and me to be able to live in the light. If we do that, we know that you and I may not see the effects of all that we do, but Christ us, and the world will, and those who come after us may inherit a world that is willing to cry out, Christ, our light. What’s interesting, my friends, is that in the natural course of 24 hours, twilight happens twice.

At the dawn, and at dusk. We are now on the threshold of the great mystery of all mysteries, the great mystery of salvation that tells us that the twilight light is destined for dawn, not for dusk. Perhaps you and This day may be resolved, rejoicing of the great gifts God has given us, but most especially, if I may be so bold, is to rejoice in the great mystery and gift of the priesthood and the men who serve and give their life over, all of them here and those who are not here, my brothers in the priesthood who give their life so generously so that the light may triumph in small and powerful ways. Let us leave this church ready to go into these days so that those of us who will proclaim it and those of us who will respond will be able to say to the whole world, We believe that Christ is our light.