Yesterday morning and today, as part of the parish mission I'm giving in Affton, Missouri, I went around to the grade school classrooms to talk about baptism. Most of the students had no memory of their own baptism, but in a few cases there were students who had been baptized as children, and in some other cases they had been present at the baptisms of their siblings. They remembered that the ceremony included water, oil, a candle, and a white garment.
We then talked about the oil, the sacred chrism. I asked them: "Besides baptism, what other three times is sacred chrism used?" The easiest of the three other times was the sacrament of confirmation. With a little prompting they were able to figure out the third time--at the ordination of a new priest. But they had trouble with the fourth time. An eighth grader was the only one to answer: "At the blessing of a new church."
Sacred chrism is very special. It is used to anoint the walls of a new church, setting that space aside for a holy purpose. It's used to anoint the altar of the new church, setting it aside for a holy purpose. It's used to anoint the hands of a newly ordained priest, setting them aside for God's service, the holy purpose of offering the sacraments. And it's used to anoint the heads of the baptized and the confirmed, setting these Christians aside for a holy purpose, consecrating them for God's service. One of the ways that we serve God and fulfill the holy purpose that we've been given in baptism and confirmation is to pray.
At this point in our little baptismal lesson I asked the children if they ever prayed for other people and they went through a survey of the people for whom they pray. Then I showed them how at every Mass we pray for the local bishop and for the pope. This is a general kind of prayer and I asked them: "If the pope asked you to pray for something would you?" The answer I get is usually a pretty spontaneous and enthusiastic "yes!" And then I told them about the very specific monthly prayer requests of the pope. In some cases I was able to show the students the Apostleship of Prayer web site and how to get to the "Kids' Page" or the "Teenagers' Page." And I left every teacher with a leaflet that has the pope's intentions for the year and with the encouragement to remind their students about those intentions at the beginning of each month.