Cardinal calls priests to gratitude, empathy at Chrism Mass

BOSTON -- As he addressed the priests of the archdiocese, gathered for the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on April 4, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley emphasized two qualities that every priest must have: gratitude and empathy.

The Chrism Mass takes place each year on the Tuesday of Holy Week. There, the archbishop blesses the sacred oils that will be used for sacraments over the next year: the oil of catechumens, which is used in baptisms; the oil of the infirm, which is used for the anointing of the sick; and the sacred chrism, which is used for baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and the dedication of churches and altars. The oils are then distributed to the leaders of the archdiocese's parishes and religious communities.

In addition to the blessing of the holy oils, the Chrism Mass is also seen as an occasion to celebrate priestly fraternity. During the Mass, the priests renew their ordination promises, and the priests who have died over the past year are remembered and prayed for.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley began by sharing a very personal story from his childhood. When he was 12, his father survived a plane crash and helped many trapped passengers escape before the plane was consumed by fire. A week later, one of the passengers, Mr. Cohen, came to their house with his wife and son to thank Mr. O'Malley for saving his life. The Cohens were the first Jewish family that young Cardinal O'Malley could recall meeting, and Mr. Cohen was the only person Mr. O'Malley had saved that came back to thank him. After meeting them, Mrs. O'Malley commented that Mr. Cohen was like the Samaritan leper who came back to thank Jesus after he healed the 10 lepers.

Cardinal O'Malley reflected at length on the two famous Samaritans in the Gospels: the grateful leper, and the compassionate titular character in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said that the priests "have much to learn" from them.

"They represent two very important qualities that need to be found in our priestly hearts, namely gratitude and empathy. These qualities are essential if we're going to live our priestly vocation well," the cardinal said.

He said that while the Samaritan leper returned to thank Jesus, the other nine probably felt "entitled" since they were part of God's chosen people.

"We are truly grateful only when we recognize that what we receive from God is a gratuitous gift. The truth is, to be a saint is to recognize that everything that we are and everything that we have is a gift. Gratitude is the basis of holiness," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He pointed out that the Eucharistic Prayer "reflects the centrality of thanksgiving." The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word for "thanksgiving."

"As priests we are called to be Eucharistic men, and the Eucharist is thanksgiving. Jesus chose the Passover celebration as the context for the great gift of the Eucharist. The Passover is a celebration of thanksgiving for liberation," Cardinal O'Malley said.

On the theme of empathy, he pointed out that the phrase "moved to compassion" is only used to describe two people in the Gospels: the Good Samaritan coming upon the man who was robbed and beaten, and Jesus.

"As priests, we must cultivate that shepherd's heart, filled with compassion and empathy," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He went on, "It's the capacity for empathy that produces great priests after the heart of Christ. Today, as we renew our promises of ordination, let us ask God to make us truly Eucharistic men with grateful hearts."

Following the homily, and before leading the priests in the renewal of their vows, the cardinal recognized two priests who were incardinated to the Archdiocese of Boston during the past year: Father Peter Shen, originally from the Diocese of Jixian in China; and Father Joseph Boafo, originally of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, also called the Spiritans. This means they are now priests of the Archdiocese of Boston and accountable to the cardinal.

Father Boafo, who is from Ghana, has served as the parochial vicar for the parishes of Quincy since 2018. He said the cardinal's homily was about the same topics he wrote his thesis on, empathy and gratefulness.

"We all need to be thankful each day to people in our lives, and above all to Jesus, who has given us all!" he said in a message to The Pilot.

Father Shen has been in the archdiocese since 2007 and is currently the parochial vicar of Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Medford. Speaking to The Pilot after the Mass, he said he felt "very honored, very privileged, to now be a member of the presbytery in the Archdiocese of Boston."

He said he has always loved the Chrism Mass, because it is a sign of the priests' unity under the archbishop.

"It reminds us that we are one family under the leadership of the archbishop, Cardinal Sean, and so with him we work together for the diocese," Father Shen said.