By Christopher Wells
In his homily during the Chrism Mass, Pope Francis noted that the Gospels often show Jesus in the midst of a crowd, beginning with the shepherds, kings, “and elderly dreamers” at the Nativity, to the “Veronicas” of this world, the “Cyreneans, thieves, and centurions” that surrounded Him on the Cross.
The Lord, he continued, “never lost that direct contact with the people”. Although some might hear the word “crowd” and think of a “faceless, nameless throng”, in the Gospel, “we see that when the crowd interacts with Jesus” it is transformed, it is personalized.
Pope Francis reflected on the grace of following Jesus, seen when the crowds looked for Him, and travelled with Him, waiting to hear what he had to say. In contrast, the Pope said the attitude of the Apostles – who wanted to send the people away – sometimes verged on “cruelty”. “Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism” the Pope said.
Jesus’ relationship with the people was also marked by the grace of amazement: the amazement of the people who saw Jesus; and Jesus’ amazement at the faith of the people.
Finally, the Pope said, the people received the grace of discernment, the ability to recognize in Jesus “one who taught with authority”. They recognized in Jesus the ability to touch their hearts, and the power to cast out demons.
Looking deeper into the Gospel view of “the crowd”, Pope Francis points to four large groups, the “preferred beneficiaries” of Jesus’ anointing: the poor, the blind, the oppressed, and the captives.
When priests anoint, “we are anointed anew”
Speaking to the priests gathered for the Mass – which focuses especially on priestly unity – Pope Francis said, “We [priests] must not forget that our evangelical models are those ‘people’, the ‘crowd’, with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives”. “They are an image of our soul, and an image of the Church”, he said. “Each of them incarnates the one heart of our people.”
The Pope “confessed” to the priests that when he anoints people, he is always generous with the oil: “In that generous anointing, we can sense that our own anointing is being renewed”. Priests “are not distributors of bottled oil”, he said. Rather, “We [priests] anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart. When we anoint other, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and affection of our people”.
Pope Francis concluded his homily with the prayer that the Father might “renew deep within us the spirit of holiness”, that He might “grant that we may be one in imploring mercy for the people entrusted to our care, and for all the world”.