First Mass Homily: Anointed to Mend, to Reach Out, to Rebuild

Author: Fr. Mark DeMott, C.S.C.

Rev Mark DeMott, CSC

Fr. Mark DeMott, C.S.C., was ordained a priest on April 6, 2013, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Here is the homily from his First Mass, celebrated at the Basilica on Sunday, April 7.

Imagine yourself locked in that room with the disciples. This Jesus – this teacher, this healer, this inspiring preacher of the Kingdom of God in whom we have believed – has been put to death. Our life as we have known it seems to be fading away. Some of us have even denied that we know Him. We are locked in hiding, fearful that those who killed him may soon be coming for us.

But just now the conversation in the room has turned more hopeful. It’s about a rumor of Good News. Mary Magdalene claims that Jesus has risen from the dead!

And suddenly we witness Jesus himself, standing in our midst.

What rooms are we locked in? What uncomfortable realities are we hiding from?  In what ways does our life seem to be fading away? We know all too well the reality of broken relationships and failures to love. Many of us have experienced the pain of the sickness or death of a family member or friend.

In a society that glorifies an unrealistic image of physical attractiveness and designer fashion, we have struggled to believe that we are beautiful. In a culture wrought by a toxic fascination with competition, we find it hard to believe that we are enough.

Fr Mark DeMott, CSC celebrating his first Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Perhaps, as students, we’re anxious that our grades aren’t good enough or we’re unsure of what direction our life is headed. Perhaps, as graduates, we wonder if our career is prestigious enough. We fear that we are loved for what we do, rather than for who we are. We find it hard to believe in God’s promise of unconditional love. And, when we look beyond ourselves, we find a world where the poor are pushed out of our sight and the aging are forgotten, where the immigrant is turned away and the prisoner put to death. Even our Church has been rocked by scandal.

And yet, the conversation again turns hopeful. And, this time we know that it’s more than a rumor. New Christians, baptized just last week at the Easter Vigil, stand before us – their white garments an outward sign of new life in Jesus the Christ. We are sprinkled anew with the waters of our baptism. Loved ones sit next to us, and our community gathers around us. Many of you have traveled from far away to celebrate my first Mass with me – and the Church is filled to overflowing!

Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the many signs and wonders that were done among the people at the hands of the apostles: The sick are cured even by their passing shadow! We call to mind the healing that we have experienced in our lives. The Book of Revelation reminds us that our God holds the keys to death and netherworld, that light triumphs over darkness, that we have been set free. 

And suddenly we witness Jesus himself, standing in our midst.

Jesus reveals to us His woundedness – His hands that have been pierced by crudely fashioned nails and His side that was torn open by a soldier’s lance. The resurrection doesn’t merely blot out the reality of the Cross and return Jesus to the earthly life that He had been living. Instead, Jesus’ wounds are still visible – and these glorified wounds become life-giving in a new and transformative way. When our human suffering is joined to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, it is in that moment that we realize our salvation. The Cross – an instrument of torture and execution for prisoners – is transformed into the Tree of Life. With Thomas, the wounds of death have become the source of our believing in the promise of eternal life.

We often pray merely that our suffering would disappear. We must pray too that our wounds be anointed by the wounds of Jesus, that God will make something beautiful out of our brokenness. When our human suffering is joined to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross – our wounds too become glorified.  When we put our fingers into the nail marks and our hand into His side, our wounds – like the wounds of our God – become life-giving for everyone whom we meet. My Lord and my God! We are called to leave our locked room, and to go forth and to anoint the world.

We, who have been baptized into Jesus’s death, rise with Him to new life. By His wounds, we are healed.  Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit! 

As a deacon and now as a priest, I minister with the Holy Cross community at the University of Portland in Portland, Oregon. Several weeks ago, some of my colleagues in Residence Life asked me what I might like as an ordination gift. I suggested a new pope.

In these few short weeks, Pope Francis has been an inspiration to all of us. His humility, his humanness, and his care and concern for the poor and marginalized are prophetic. His homily from the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday reminded ordained priests – and all the baptized – that our anointing is meant for the poor, for prisoners, and for the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. This truth can never be forgotten. It is at the core of what it is to be a Christian. We belong to one another. Our salvation is bound up together.

Baptismal Font at the University of Portland

Last week, at our celebration of the Easter Vigil at the University of Portland’s Chapel of Christ the Teacher, I watched our first catechumen walk down the steps into the baptismal font. As he was plunged underwater, the water began to rise and came pouring over the sides of the font. Water was everywhere! 

After the initial moment of being startled, we saw the symbolism. Our baptism is not merely for ourselves – but is to overflow into the world. Priestly ordination – which many of you joined with me in celebrating yesterday – is the same. As we are cleansed and healed in baptism, as we come to believe in God’s Divine Mercy, our wounds are anointed by the glorified wounds of Jesus. Our baptism anoints us to mend broken relationships, to reach out in compassion to the sick and the suffering, to forgive those who have wronged us, to rebuild our Church, to reach out to our sisters and brothers and say: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe!” And suddenly, we witness Jesus himself, standing in our midst!

Behold the Lamb! Behold our wounded God. Behold Him who takes away our suffering and brokenness and the sins of the world. Blessed are we, for we are called to the table of Jesus!


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