Bishop Kemme looks past the pandemic to diocese’s future

Bishop Carl A.Kemme breathes into the Holy Chrism during the Chrism Mass March 30 in St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wichita. (Advance photo)

What is a Chrism Mass?

The Chrism Mass manifests the unity of the priests with their bishop. During the liturgy, the bishop blesses three oils — the Oil of catechumens (Oleum Sanctorum), the Oil of the Infirm (Oleum Infirmorum) and the Holy Chrism (Sacrum Chrisma) — which are used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the diocese for the year.

Bishop calls upon the faithful to discipleship and courage in this post-Christian, Apostolic era

Bishop Carl A. Kemme during his Chrism Mass homily on March 30 talked about the gratitude he felt seeing so many of the faithful loosely packed in the large nave of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wichita.

“Last year was quite strange – to bless the oils for the administration of the sacraments with only a handful of people allowed to gather in our Cathedral,” he said standing in front of the church’s magnificent high altar. “Though we are not yet back at full strength, it is good to see so many of our priests and representatives from almost all of our parishes, religious houses, and institutions to pray with me and to receive the blessing of these oils.”

Priests fill north transept

With nearly all of the priests of the diocese sitting and concelebrating from the church’s north transept, Bishop Kemme then shared thoughts he has pondered from three books he has read during the pandemic that he believes will nurture the implementation of the diocesan pastoral plan: Fully Alive as Missionary Disciples.
The book The Way of the Disciple, by biblical scholar Erasmo Merikakis, brought to light several Gospel scenes, he said.

“He uncovers in each of the texts he writes about the essential and principal action of Jesus, which is to invite people into a relationship with him, first as disciples or followers but then, if they so choose, as beloved friends, to have a friendship that is life-changing.”

The idea of “being among the Lord’s friends “brings a new dynamic and energy to his relationship with Christ, Bishop Kemme said. “I think it is what we want to facilitate in all our pastoral strategies moving forward in this diocese.”

The second book, one which he gave to all of the priests and seminarians for Christmas, is From Christendom to Apostolic Mission by Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismark, North Dakota.

Bishop Carl A. Kemme greets Fr. Ivan Eck after the Chrism Mass Tuesday, March 30, at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wichita. Fr. Eck is celebrating his 70th jubilee as a priest this year. With them is Fr. Stuart Smeltzer who is celebrating his 25th jubilee. (Advance photo)

We’re in a new period in history

Msgr. Shea writes about how the church has entered a new period in history, Bishop Kemme said. “He develops the thesis that we have already entered…a new Apostolic era and that all we do and are about must reflect this new period of the church’s history.”

The thesis originated with the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen who in 1974 said: “We are at the end of Christendom. Now, what is meant by Christendom? Christendom is economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles. That is ending – we’ve seen it die.”

It is not a gloomy picture, Ven. Sheen says. “It is a picture of the church in the midst of increasing opposition from the world. And therefore, live your lives in full consciousness of this hour of testing and rally close to the heart of Christ.”

Bishop Kemme said it is a wonderful time to be alive because we have no other time in which to serve the Lord.

Rally to Jesus

“I invite all in our diocese to rally close to the heart of Christ as we adapt to the changes that are ahead of us. I invite us all to apostolic courage, which will give us the ability to focus less on institutional survival and more on institutional transformation with the goal of calling more and more to dynamic missionary discipleship in this time and place.”

Bishop Kemme also recommended Pope Francis’ Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future in which the pope discusses service to and support of the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the sick and the downtrodden, human fraternity, and integral ecology.

The pope asks three things of the church, Bishop Kemme said, three things he is also asking of the faithful.

“The first is to see. To open our eyes to the reality in which we live. Some, perhaps many, would wish to pull the cover of themselves or bury their heads in the sand and refuse to see the crisis that has gripped our world on so many levels.”

Pope: open your eyes to the poor

Pope Francis wants us to open our eyes to the critical nature of our times, the bishop said, to see in a personal way the urgency of the faith of the church in a post-Christian, materialistic, relativistic, and in so many ways atheistic culture.

The second request of the pope is to discern and to choose, he said. “There is much that is good around us and much that isn’t. The Christian in the apostolic period wrestles with this situation more than those who live in an age of Christendom. Perhaps the pandemic has been a grace for us to discern in our lives and in our parishes what really matters and what doesn’t.”

The final request Pope Francis makes is that the faithful do something, however tentative or hesitant or uncertain, to help the world around us to become a better place and to move beyond the destructive forces that are having devastating effects: narcissism, discouragement, and pessimism.

“Jesus saw the world around him and the needs of his times,” Bishop Kemme said. “He discerned his mission to bring about a jubilee of grace in which the poor will receive good news, captives and the oppressed will be set free, and the blind will gain their sight. And then he acted. He set out, leaving the safe and comfortable home of Nazareth and going forth to wherever the Father and his feet would take him, to begin his salvific ministry and all the while calling others to share in it as disciples.”

Twenty-one centuries later we answer that same call to missionary discipleship, Bishop Kemme said, “carrying on his mission, seeing, discerning, and acting as he did, under the powerful force we know as the Holy Spirit.”

He prayed that the same Holy Spirit would flood the Chrism Mass oils and those who are anointed with them.

Pray for our priests

In closing Bishop Kemme asked all to pray for the priests of the diocese who have had a difficult year. “Now more than ever perhaps, the church needs courageous and dedicated priests, full of holiness and zeal to lead our people through this time, not just an age of change but truly a change of the ages.”

He also mentioned the recent identification of the remains of Fr. Emil Kapaun, a priest of the diocese who died a hero in 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.

“There is a reason that this is all happening now. I am certain that these relics will be a powerhouse of grace for us in this diocese, as we take these steps forward in this time of apostolic mission, for it has been said that the age of casual Catholicism is over and the age of heroic Catholicism has begun. Who better exemplifies that heroic and Christ-like spirit than our beloved Kansan priest, Father Kapaun?”