Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chrism Mass

James 5:13-16 / Mark 6:7-13

A tale is told of a cobbler and a rich man. The cobbler was happy, and in his happiness, he sang every day while he worked. None knew the cause of his happiness. After all, he had to work every day simply to keep the roof over his head and put a few meager scraps on his table for his wife and children. Some days he made a little more, but often he made nothing at all. Even so, every day he sang, happy with his trade, his family, his life. So joyful was his song that all who heard it were comforted: the weary had rest, the lonely and sorrowing made glad, and the children filled with delight.

Across the street was a wealthy merchant who, unlike his cobbler neighbor, had more than he needed, in food, in clothing, in richness of life, save for one thing. What the merchant lacked was sleep. Day and night he worried over his treasures, and whenever he thought he would find a moment of solace, his mind returned to his many things, and anxiety overtook his soul. Why, he wondered, can my neighbor who is so poor be happy and sing with such joy while I, who have so much, can never find rest?

So, the rich man visited the cobbler. Discovering the cobbler's poverty, he offered him a rich sum of gold. At first, the cobbler was overjoyed. No longer did he fear the lean days when no one bought his shoes. No longer did he fear whether he would be able to feed his wife and children, to support her when he could no longer work or leave an inheritance for them all when he had died. However, he also found that he could no longer sing, nor in the days that passed, to sleep. Like the merchant, he found his heart drawn ever to thoughts of the money he had been gifted. Every footfall of a cat his mind thought to be the steps of a burglar. Every visitor he imagined, or dreaded, might be coming to ask for a handout. Every day he imagined that his secret cache of gold might be found out, and he would be left again penniless.

So, the cobbler, returned to the merchant with the gold. Receive back your gold, he said, and give me back my songs. The merchant replied, How odd this is, indeed! For the last few days, I find I neither missed your music nor missed a minute of sleep, and for the first time in ever so long, I have been happy.

The life in Christ, the life of a Christian, which is to say, the life of one anointed with the oil of gladness, the sacred anointing of prophet, priest and king, is a life of joy. It is a life of abundance, of sweet-smelling unguents coming from the very depths of ourselves. Our life in bound up in oils. Oils which seal in the waters and life within us and keep us firm, young, and supple. Oils which soothe the burns, the aches and pains of our life. Oils suffused with medicines that heal our ills. Oils that burn brightly, cleanly, sweetly to light the darkness with their warm glow and give healthy fragrance to the air. Oils that adorn and perfume, directing others by sight and smell to notice the beauty and dignity that is ours by new birth in Christ.

This is the rightly unctuous life of faith. The world about us, like the merchant, so rich in blessing and all the same unable to enjoy them, puzzles over our joy, and offers us a share in its own paltry but enticing wealth. Our songs it neither recognizes nor finds refreshing or delightful, even if it grudgingly admits the pleasure and release it grants to those who hear with faith. So it sets before us gold, a place at the tables of power and influence, a place where we need not fear the vagaries of the days to come. Perhaps even a world free from the scandals and darkness of our past that threaten, if not for Christ's promise, to raze the whole edifice of the Church to its foundations. The world suggests to us a trade — abandon your priests and the priesthood, be with us fellow men of good will and do all the works of justice you desire. Sing no more your songs, but have security instead.

How very different the advice of James: Is any of you sad? Let him pray. Is he cheerful in mind? Let him sing. Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

But perhaps we find it had to pray. Perhaps we find it difficult of late to sing. Perhaps we are even less inclined to turn to the priests of the Church in our afflictions. If so, it may be time to return the merchant's gold. It may be time to cross the street and hand back whatever in our life has taken the rightful place of the oil of gladness which alone can make us happy and give us peace. It may be time for us to return to the song that gives us joy, the song that alone can make us glad.

O Redemptor, sume carmen temet concinentium.
O Redeemer, accept this song that we all sing to You.

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