By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The power of God’s Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is once again at the center of the Church’s public prayer as we celebrate the Ascension on this weekend, with the exalted feast of Pentecost to follow.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love… and we shall renew the face of the earth.” During the past month the Holy Spirit has kept me active with the celebration of 16 Confirmations to date around the diocese, confirming God’s presence in the lives of our young disciples. In a noteworthy manner our Sacred Mission and Vision come alive through Confirmation as we embrace the diversity of gifts, ministries and works of the Holy Spirit, serve others in many creative ways, and, of course, inspire disciples in the knowledge and understanding that Jesus is Lord, and God is our Father. The fullness of Christian Initiation is accomplished with the mark of holy Chrism, and the promises made at Baptism by parents and godparents have been realized. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s blessings is evident in the love of family, godparents, friends and the parish community. There are no visible tongues of fire upon the heads of the newly confirmed, but the slow and steady fire of faith has been burning and the love of the risen Lord is evident.
In the midst of the Confirmation campaign we honored our beloved religious, Sister Paula Merrill, SCN and Sister Margaret Held, SSSF, who were murdered last fall. Faithful friends and family gathered with prayer and the blessing and unveiling of their monument in Liberty Park in downtown Durant. It was a spirited gathering, comprised of people from the local community, from St. Thomas parish in Lexington, from their religious communities based in Kentucky and Wisconsin, and from the faithful from around the diocese of Jackson.
The Holy Spirit, the pledge of eternal life, was our consolation, hope and peace. As we began the the prayer service the heavens opened, and accompanying the presence of the Holy Spirit, was also an outpouring, or better said, down pouring of torrential rains, Mississippi’s abundance. This drenching had the whole package with sights and sounds, lightening and thunder. This display of God’s creations often overwhelmed the words of prayer, but it did not dampen our spirits and resolve to give fitting tribute to the sisters’ lives and deaths in service to the Lord and to the poor. In some profound way, it was like a dialogue between heaven and earth.
Nature spoke and we could only pause and wait, and then we responded with prayer that pierced the clouds. In the end we blessed the monument, and their lives and deaths will stand as a testimony to loving service over the course of a lifetime in this stressed area of our state.
We recall that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, minds, and souls is a foretaste of the promise of eternal life, and the feast of heaven. This is true for all believers who are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and further strengthened in the Sacrament of Confirmation. As a visible sign of this interior reality the vowed lives of the religious and ordained among us point to our goal to be with the Lord forever. They remind us that our citizenship is in heaven, and that we have no lasting city here. The violent deaths of Sisters Paula and Margaret only serve to deepen the conviction in the wisdom of the sacred scriptures that “blessed are they who die in the Lord, let them rest from their labors for their good deeds go with them.” They remain with us as witnesses to the truth, that whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
The blessings of the Holy Spirit dwell within us and surround us in countless ways. Over the next week we can all enrich our journey to Pentecost by praying the Novena to the Holy Spirit. Most often we pray in the power of the Spirit through the name of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. During these days we can pray more intentionally to the Holy Spirit to inspire us, to free us from sin, to empower us to live the gospel, and to lovingly serve as disciples of the Lord.
Come, Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz