|Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are gathered by the Lord on this feast of his presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem to ask Christ to ordain as bishop, Fr. George Rassas of this Archdiocese. I know that you—his family and friends, his brother priests of the Archdiocese--have supported him with your prayers since his appointment was announced. We continue our prayers today with the hope that the Lord will hear them as echoes of the prayers offered by Joseph and Mary so many years ago, as they, faithful to the law of Moses, presented the infant Jesus in the Temple. We pray that the Lord will hear us as he heard Simeon and Anna. They were devout, obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises; they recognized the infant Jesus as a revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people, Israel. Our prayers in this Cathedral now are made in the Holy Name of that same Jesus, who grew up to declare that his own body was the Temple of God and that those who followed him became members of his body and therefore sons and daughters of his heavenly Father and theirs.
Much happened in the life of Jesus between his presentation in the Temple and his resurrection from the dead. He became the sign of contradiction foretold by Simeon. He taught and healed, was rejected and crucified. His mother Mary experienced that reversal of nature that carries in it a pain unlike any other, that of a mother who buries her child. Inevitably, a light casts shadows; and, in bringing truth to light, Jesus throws all who come in contact with him into a crisis of decision.
The prophet Malachi, whose words we heard in the first reading, forced a crisis of decision upon the Judeans of his time. They were living disobedient lives and had begun to doubt the existence of the covenant that the Lord had made with his people. The covenant, the initiative of God’s love, had become a distant memory from the past. For God himself, Malachi declared, the Covenant remains, and he will use Israel as his instrument in bringing all peoples to acknowledge his universal reign over the earth. His people will be purified by God himself, who will come as a refining flame. That fearful coming of God we recognize in Jesus, a merciful high priest who sacrifices himself for us and re-establishes the covenant. That same Jesus, his work accomplished, left behind a new community, a new people. In this gathering, this Church, God continues to be encountered in the proclamation of his word in the Gospel, in the performance of Christ’s actions in the sacraments, in the experience of Christ’s loving guidance in apostolic governance—until he returns in glory.
The Covenants between God and his people are expressions of God’s love and are the context of the people’s love for God and one another. In his first encyclical, just published, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI speaks to the world about love. Love is always a giving of one’s self, a sacrifice of self, so total that the self is given new shape by the beloved who returns one’s love. The Pope explores that self-giving dynamic of all love in the love between husband and wife, between Christ and his Church, between God and his people. To receive love is something we all say we want and need; but we resist love often because love is not just a wonderful experience, limited to a certain time or place. Rather, love brings the lover permanently into our lives to change them, and that we fear. God’s love is resisted, because God will convert us to his ways. The love of a man or a woman is not truly accepted, because one is afraid to commit to another person. Love for the Church is abandoned because the Church comes to us on Christ’s terms, not our own. In all kinds of ways, love is resisted because it draws us into a sometimes fearful unity.
This ordination is about God’s love for his Church and the Church’s love for God in Christ Jesus, our high priest, who gave himself for our salvation. Christ is God’s anointed, and we are an anointed people. At baptism, our breasts are anointed with holy chrism, for the Holy Spirit enters our souls and makes ours bodies members of Christ’s body. At confirmation, our foreheads are anointed, for the Holy Spirit seals our baptism and gives us courage to profess our faith and live it in the world we face day after day. A priest’s hands are anointed at his ordination, for these are the hands of Christ, blessing, offering sacrifice, forgiving sins. At his ordination, a bishop’s head is anointed, for he must stand at the head of Christ’s people, making the now invisible Good Shepherd, the pastor, the High Priest visible and active. Bishops and priests are ordained to govern the Church; they are given authority by Christ to love the people as he himself loves them and to keep them together in unity around Christ as members of his body. To govern in Jesus’ name is to become a sign of contradiction, and there is much controversy about bishops and the Episcopal and priestly office today. Some of this controversy is good and purifying and refining; and some of it is not. All of it makes necessary the prayer for George Rassas which is this Ordination Mass. He is called to give himself totally again to the Church, the people of God, here in Chicago and throughout the whole of Catholic communion. He is called to sacrifice his very self out of love for Christ’s people.
I thank Father Rassas for accepting this appointment by Pope Benedict to serve as an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. It demands courage on his part, a courage that comes from the virtue of fortitude that is necessary to govern well. I count on his help as, together, both of us and the other bishops of Chicago count on your prayers. I would ask him now to come forward to be examined before all of you.