It’s official. I’ve now been to one more Chrism Mass in Asia than I have been in the United States. When I was studying liturgy in graduate school, I had an assignment to give a presentation on the Chrism Mass based on my reading, but never had the ability to be at one. In any given year, there are only 3,050 opportunities to see a Chrism Mass around the world, or one for every diocese in the world. The specific instruction for a Chrism Mass is that all the priests of a diocese, gather around the bishop of the diocese, to celebrate the mission of the ordained clergy to serve the people, which is expressed through gift of, and blessing upon, the sacred oils of the Church. The oils are then used by the priests of the diocese throughout the year, in the distribution of Sacraments. It is a beautiful, symbolic act, to see the priests gathered around the bishop, and to know that the oils used in the Church throughout the year are not just picked out willy nilly from the grocery store, but are part of a larger community’s celebration, the local church, experienced as a diocese.
The Mass was held in the Goa Cathedral, named Se Cathedral and/or St. Catherine’s. The Cathedral is steeped in the architectural style, and art, of Portugal, which colonized this area of India. It is really, almost like being in Portugal, except the people are speaking Hindi, and everyone has much darker skin. Actually it isn’t fair for me to say that it is like Portugal. I’ve never been in Portugal. Ask me in another month.
I didn’t understand more than the ten words that were spoken in English during the entire Mass, but that didn’t matter. I understood the importance of what was going on. I have often had to speak about the symbol of oil in the Church. I often stress that it is the anointing with oil that makes us Christian, not that we follow Jesus. Ghandi read, studied, and even followed the teachings of Jesus, but he wasn’t Christian. The reason the oil makes us Christian is because the word “Christ” literally means “Anointed.” In ancient times, only important people were anointed, but the tradition of the Church was to anoint all of its members. The Church proclaimed that every life was important. Today, oil is used for Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick. The oils were all blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass, and are all used to proclaim how important are the people who receive the oil.
Years ago, I was anointed by my, then bishop, Daniel Ryan. I felt really important on that day. My sister stood up to be my sponsor, and everyone in the community came to wish me well. I always saw the Sacrament of Confirmation as something that gave testimony to the importance of an individual, but more than the importance having a special day, with a special party. The event launched a mission, to go forth, and in a unique way, express the love of God. That is why the bishop went through the trouble coming all the way out to the parish, brought oil mixed with expensive perfume, after the Confirmandi had prepared for months and months. Confirmation celebrates your name in front of the entire community. The Church didn’t go through all of that, just to have you stay put, and think of yourselves for the rest of your lives. The Church desires for all of us to go forth, and do something.
There was a man, named Francis, and he did.
Francis was born about 500 years ago. Francis had the privilege of knowing another man named Ignacio, from the Basque region of Spain. Ignacio was a bit of a lady’s man, a solider, and a “late bloomer,” but when God was ready, Ignacio took a pilgrimage, and during the pilgrimage, wrote one of the most influential spiritual works of the Enlightenment. He advanced the Christian directive, through the Western philosophical concepts, which were beginning to describe truth in terms of the subject and the object. His work has empowered millions of people to live holy lives, surrendered to the will of God.
Ignacio, or Ignatius, was the founder of the Jesuits, and Francis Xavier, was one of the founding members in the community with Ignatius. There must have been a bit of envy between the two, because Francis did what Ignatius wanted to do. When the community was very young, there was a spirit of mission, a spirit to go out to the entire world and proclaim to all the lands the good news about a relationship with God. Ignatius was named the superior of the order, and as a superior, had to stay in the center, in Rome, caring for the needs of the community, while Francis Xavier was able to leave, and travel farther than was then imaginable for any missionary of his time, into the depths of Asia.
When Francis first landed in Asia, it was here in Goa. It was a brief stop, because Francis wanted to go further. He ended up past India, past Hong Kong, Past Vietnam, into Japan and China, where he was eventually martyred.
His body was brought many places after his death, but eventually it ended up here in Goa, at the church of Bom Jesus. I have been to many shrines and parishes the last three months, but I have never been as nervous to enter a holy place, as I was entering Bom Jesus.
For the past several weeks, I have been traveling, in reverse, the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier. I have seen the cultures that almost 500 years ago, he first saw, and tired with all his ability, to call to conversion through the ministry of Christ.
It has been a hot day. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Church of Bom Jesus all afternoon. I knew it was my final destination, but as I approached the grounds of the church, I fell to dead silence. Was I worthy to go in? Could I follow in the footsteps of such a man? There are plenty of tourists running by, but do they feel the weight of sweat dripping down their brow as if it were their very sin? Do they know where they are walking? I do. Is this just another stop on the tour for them, or are they ready to walk the same walk that Francis did? Am I?
I stood at the doorstep to the church for a good 10 minutes, debating whether or not I was even qualified to walk in. This was the tomb of the namesake of my grandfather. Francis Xavier has always been somewhat of a hero to me. I have seen the lands that, that for him, were the greatest adventure of his life, and somehow I felt that if I walked the final couple steps, I would somehow be committing my life, if not to the same steps, at least to the same kind of adventure that he lived.
Adventuring is great! But his adventure cost him his life! Where do my adventures lead me? I didn’t know if I could do what he did, or that I’m called to anything similar. I still don’t. I touched the cold reddish stone of the church. I thought about just leaving. I could just take some pictures from here, and no one would ever know that I didn’t have the courage to face a hero. I waited for something to break. I looked around.
I walked in.
After 10 minutes of debating, I walked in, not because I wanted to. I can tell you that I didn’t. I wasn’t forced in, but the choice wasn’t mine. I could have walked back, and done my own thing, but I wasn’t the one who called myself here, I wasn’t the one who chose this mission. I didn’t really choose to go in, as much as I chose to trust that God is leading me, and that God will take care of me. What I felt at that doorway, for better or for worse, I can only describe as temptation. It was the temptation to turn back, to say, “I’m not going to follow anymore, I don’t know where it leads. I don’t trust anymore. I could end up like this guy, dead.” Turning around was the safe choice, but I would have to live with that choice for the rest of my life, knowing that I didn’t have the courage to say “yes” to something that was beyond me.
St. Francis Xavier is one of my patrons, but so is St. John Neumann. I ran into a quote of John Neumann’s yesterday that I can’t get out of my head. It goes like this. “Life is short. Death is certain. Eternity is long.”
Regardless of what I do with my life, I’m not going to avoid death. In the mean time, I do have the power to make my life worth something. With that in mind, I walked into the Church, slowly, praying with every step, and asking for the simple intercession of a man by the name of Francis. A man who lived on the edge of adventure, to do what he felt was most important. I hope that his prayers for me, will engender in me half of his courage.
To see the pictorial I made of Bom Jesus, click here.