Holy Week invites us to embrace mercy

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
(Editor’s note: This week’s column is the homily Bishop Kopacz delivered at the Mass of Chrism on Tuesday of Holy Week.)
At the outset of this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy we have observed the ancient tradition of the opening of the Holy Door and have entered upon a pilgrimage with the Church throughout the world into the heart of God’s mercy that we, in turn, may become merciful like the Father.  This is the abundant life promised by the Lord, announced by the prophets, Isaiah this evening, realized in His death and resurrection, celebrated passionately during these holy days, and intended to be lived every-day.
From Rome anticipating the Jubilee of Mercy Pope Francis offered these words. “With these sentiments of gratitude for everything the church has received, and with a sense of responsibility for the task that lies ahead, we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us.”
At the center of the Jubilee Prayer of Mercy are the words spoken to the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel. “If you only knew the gift of God!” What a powerful and life changing encounter that was between her and the Lord, and our gathering today at the Mass of Chrism proclaims that Jesus Christ encounters us in many ways through God’s life giving mercy.
At one of the 17 listening sessions that were held throughout the diocese, at which more than a thousand people participated, one person fervently spoke out that we need to do a better job living and teaching the wonder and awe of our Catholic faith, the gift of God handed down for nearly 2,000 years. Perhaps another way of saying that if we only knew the gift of God handed on to us.
The Mass of Chrism is an inspiring Eucharist that brings us together as faithful disciples of the Lord from across the diocese to celebrate the gift of God in manifold ways  In particular, we who are priests, gather to renew our life in Jesus Christ, the High Priest in a way that celebrates our communion with one another that flows from the Blessed Trinity, and our unity through faith and baptism with all of God’s people who have a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ through faith and baptism as proclaimed earlier from the Book of Revelations.
We are so grateful for your prayers, good will, and collaboration with us throughout the year, and through the years. For many of us who were able to be here in the cathedral for Bishop Houck’s funeral liturgies, and for all of us who were here in spirit, we had a prelude to the Mass of Chrism in the celebration of his life as a priest and bishop, and the priesthood of the faithful throughout the Diocese of Jackson. He was with us 37 years as a bishop, auxiliary, ordinary and emeritus. What a gift!
At the listening sessions around the diocese, the gift of the priesthood through the cultivation of vocations, was a dominant theme. This consensus from the people of God revealed their love for the priesthood, and a desire to participate in the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day, as the cornerstone and the source and summit of our faith, our prayer, our service and our unity.
Many people throughout our diocese know the gift of God given to the church in the life-giving death and resurrection of the Lord, and many expressed their gratitude to be able to participate in the Mass on a daily or a regular basis.
Moreover, out of a deep hunger and thirst for knowledge of God through the Mass, people often expressed their desire that they want the Word of God proclaimed with zeal, and followed by homilies that inspire and guide their daily lives. The Eucharist, the gift of God, a fountain of life flowing from Word and sacrament.  As priests, this is our privilege and responsibility.
Uniquely, at this Mass of Chrism, the presence of the holy oils is a transcendent sign of the gift of God. Today they are blessed through the invocation of the Holy Spirit. As we know, the oils of catechumens, chrism, and the sick will be used in Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination to Priesthood, and for the Consecration of new altars and churches. In each and every celebration of the sacraments we pass through the holy door of God’s mercy to encounter the crucified and risen Lord, to be forgiven and to be strengthened to live as his Body in this world.
During my recent pastoral visit to Saltillo Bishop Raul, Don Raul, and I celebrated the consecration of the newly constructed church, Divina Misericordia, built upon the largesse of the people from the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi. As I was incensing and anointing the walls of the Church, Don Raul, was consecrating the altar lavishly with chrism. The scent and sight of the altar’s bathing in the oil of Chrism is permanently impressed in my memory. I thought that the altar might flow right out of the sanctuary.
The Mass went nearly three hours, and Don Raul spoke for nearly 50 minutes. I am confident that we can come in under those parameters today. Regardless, we know that, our sacramental life in the church, the gift of God, is the door to the sacred, and the call to faithfully serve the Lord as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Pope Francis wrote in his Bull of Indiction: “Mercy is the very foundation of the church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The church “has an endless desire to show mercy” With a different set of symbols, words and gestures, the sacrament of reconciliation remains the most personal path to mercy for all of us.
“I will never tire of insisting that confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy. We do not become good confessors automatically. We become good confessors when, above all, we allow ourselves to be penitents in search of his mercy. Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves.
We, as priests, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this. None of us wields power over this sacrament; rather, we are faithful servants of God’s mercy through it.” It’s not a matter of water and oil, bread and wine, but words of contrition, words of compassion and mercy, gestures of repentance and blessing, coming from the face of God’s mercy, Jesus Christ.
On this day then and every-day, may we as priests know the mercy of God in our lives and in our encounter with the Lord, the Gift of God we have received in our priesthood.
At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper as preserved in John’s Gospel, the institution of the priesthood, we have the Mandatum of the Lord to be a people of the towel and the water, as he has done, so we must do. The gift of God’s mercy which we receive and celebrate in each Eucharist is to be given as a gift in manifold ways in our daily lives.
Worship and service can never be separated. We heard that his evening at the outset of the Lord’s public ministry in Luke’s Gospel when the Lord announced a Year of Favor, a time to set captives free, to give sight to the blind, and release to those in dungeons of unspeakable injustice.
The Lord is discovered at the altar, and likewise in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, in the quest for greater justice and peace, and in bearing the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Pope Francis is teaching us that “mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life, and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” The oils of gladness are intended to flow into the lives of all people.
I believe that together this evening at this Mass of Chrism, we know the gift of God, we do recognize and know our saving Lord, and with full and active participation, we are celebrating our identity as His Body, the church. We are co-workers in the mission called to announce the gospel to all the nations, and to work in the Church for the salvation of all.
With this sacramental vision of life, we are truly Catholic, because we recognize that our faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is a Holy Door to the sacred, the way to restore a fallen world, so that every year is a Year of Favor from the Lord.
With this sacramental vision before us, I invite my fellow priests to stand for the renewal of their vocation as ordained ministers in the Church.