“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’” (John 16:12)
May 26, 2013
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
This past Holy Thursday in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica, newly-elected Pope Francis stood before hundreds of richly-robed hierarchs and challenged them to exchange splendor for simplicity and power for poverty. Further, Pope Francis exhorted the clergy to be “shepherds who have the smell of their sheep.”
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I can imagine a shiver of anxiety sweeping through that mitered-multitude, leaving some even quaking in their seats. A further thought occurred: Oh, my God, isn’t this just what Jesus told his disciples to do? Isn’t this the same challenge Jesus put before the Jewish leadership of his day? Isn’t this what led to charges of blasphemy being leveled against Jesus? And here we are one day before Good Friday! Does this new guy on Peter’s throne know what he’s doing?
In the gospel passage we hear on this Trinity Sunday, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’” (John 16:12) Indeed, while the scriptures contain what we hold most sacred, they are not the entirety of divine revelation. In the last verse of John’s gospel, the evangelist himself testifies, “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)
So it is that God continues to speak to us, putting before us challenges ancient but ever new as he deems we’re ready to receive them. It is in such a context that Pope Francis spoke to the world’s priests on Holy Thursday, referencing the anointing with the oil of Sacred Chrism a priest receives at ordination. I offer excerpts from his homily:
“The anointing that [you] received is meant, in turn, to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants [you] are; [you] are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed. The Lord will say this clearly: [your] anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us [priests] fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid and the heart bitter.
“A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. When [they] are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people [want] to hear the Gospel preached with ‘unction,’ when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the ‘outskirts’ where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord.
“We need to ‘go out,’ then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the ‘outskirts’ where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all. [We must be] shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep,’ shepherds in the midst of their flock.”
A week after Easter, while in casual conversation about this new Pope with Mary, a long-time Catholic hospital chaplain with whom I presently serve, I brought up this very homily Pope Francis delivered on Holy Thursday. Touching on its highlights, Mary had the proverbial last word when she said, “You know, Bob, we’re all priests by Baptism. The crowns of our heads were anointed with the oil of Sacred Chrism at Baptism; our foreheads were likewise anointed with the same oil at Confirmation. You priests just get an extra dose on your hands when you are ordained.”
Of course, Mary was right. All who would be disciples of Jesus are anointed for service to others, first through Baptism, then through Confirmation—and some through ordination. That Sacred Chrism once placed upon us empowers us to bless others—not with holy oil but with something even more precious: compassion.
It now obvious that Mary had read carefully the Pope’s homily before I even mentioned it, she then continued, “I think the clincher for me is when the Pope said, ‘[We must be] shepherds living with the smell of the sheep, shepherds in the midst of their flock.’”
“It seems to me, Bob, that this is what we do every day here,” Mary said. “I mean, think of it—the hospital smells that we’ve grown so used to that we don’t even notice them anymore. The tragic situations we now stride into with God-given confidence, situations that we ran from in earlier days. Once difficult sheep given to our care now become dearly embraceable. Think of it, Bob!”
Indeed, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’” (John 16:12) It seems the time has arrived for those “many things,” ancient but ever new, to be given clearer voice—Jesus speaking prophetically through Pope Francis and Mary, my chaplain colleague.