By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Lord Jesus, who is always near, will be gathering the Catholic Church universal to hear his summons to “reform our lives and believe in the Gospel” in order that we may overcome the poison of sin and the sting of death. Our Ash Wednesday observance is an invitation to renew the promises made at Baptism through faithful prayer, meaningful fasting, and generous almsgiving.
In harmony with the most welcome spring rebirth, we hear the words of Saint Paul to become a new creation in Christ, his ambassadors in the work of repentance and reconciliation in our hearts and homes, and justice and peace in our communities, nation and world.
Our citizenship is in heaven, our ultimate destiny, and the eternal journey has already begun in our daily walk with the Lord. At this time, I am in the Holy Land on pilgrimage with the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher. Of course, you may already know this through the Diocese of Jackson’s social media platforms. I will be using the hashtag #BishopJKHolyLand for the trip.
It will be highly unusual not to be in the diocese at our Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In my mind and heart, the only acceptable reason for this absence is a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where the story of our salvation unfolded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only other time I had traveled to the Holy Land was way back in 1981, on a biblical study tour that encompassed Jerusalem and Rome for three weeks. It was memorable for many reasons, and in particular, we were not able to have an audience with Saint John Paul II because of the attempted assassination on his life earlier that year. How the world has changed!
Social media, when used civilly in a spirit of solidarity, can be an amazing tool for building up and not tearing down.
I look forward to sharing the events of each day as a unique way to enliven the Lord’s call during Lent. Let us recall that in our diocesan envisioning process the first stated Pastoral Priority is to be inviting and reconciling communities of faith, in our parishes, schools, and in all of our supporting ministries. This goes far deeper than being friendly and welcoming environments, although this is a crucial first step.
This is the work of the Gospel, ever ancient and ever new, to repent, turn our lives around where need be, and to address the realities of division in our families, church communities, and in society.
The wounds of sin and division can be deep and long standing, and if healing is to occur, our response to the Lord’s call to conversion must be intentional and faithful.
And we do want healing to occur because Jesus wants to give us life in abundance, his peace that the world cannot give, his joy that raises us to new life, and the path to freedom.
We have all received the Holy Spirit of love, power and discipline, and Lent is a time to pray for and encourage one another to open these doors of grace and hope.
Forty days comprise a sacred time for God’s life and our lives to intersect once again so that we can see more clearly that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. May our resolve not wane during this season of grace. Let us pray also for our catechumens and candidates as the Lord’s call deepens in their lives, and I look forward to being with many of them at the Rite of Election on the first Sunday in Lent at the Cathedral.
Peace be with you!
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz