By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
(Editor’s note: In lieu of a column this week, Bishop Kopacz offers his homily from the chrism Mass.)
From the opening paragraph in the Post-Synodal Exhortation to young people and to the entire people of God, entitled Christus Vivit, we read the joyful words of Pope Francis which further the work of the Lord in our modern world and are in harmony with the Gospel just proclaimed at our annual Chrism Mass. Pope Francis writes: “Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youthfulness to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian (and to the entire people of God) are these. Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!” The very first words that Jesus chose to speak in his public ministry as recorded by Saint Luke proclaim divine freshness and hope. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set captives free, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”
We know that this is God’s intention for all people in the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ, through his countless actions and words during his public ministry. We recall the words of Jesus from Chapter 10 in John’s Gospel in the Good Shepherd narrative:
“I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”
In the fullness of time the action and words of the Lord Jesus reached their fulfillment in his life-giving passion and death on the Cross so mightily proclaimed from Luke’s Gospel on Palm Sunday two days ago. The countless anointings with the oils which will follow throughout the diocese after their blessing and consecration in our liturgy have their origin and purpose in the blood, water, and words that flowed from the heart of Jesus on the Cross: forgiveness to the Roman torturers, the Jewish conspirators, and to the jeering mob: hope to the repentant thief, and ultimately faith and acceptance of God’s will.
Although the Church and our own diocese are shaken by the sexual abuse crisis that unsettles, and for some, destroys the precious gift of faith in the Lord Jesus and in the Body of Believers that he founded, there remain many channels of God’s grace that can converge to generate a Year of Favor from the Lord. First and foremost, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to produce good news for those living with the burden of sexual abuse, victims and families, liberty to victims enslaved by such assaults against their dignity; justice, healing and restored sight to those blinded by such crimes against innocence. Among all the pressing good works of the Church, this task is ever before us in our time.
Within the last week Emeritus Pope Benedict released a statement addressing, “The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse.” In the introduction he states: Since I myself had served as Shepherd of the Church at the time of the public outbreak of the crisis, I had to ask myself, as emeritus, what I could contribute to a new beginning.” In the middle of his 6000-word reflection Benedict teaches: “Only obedience and love for the Lord Jesus Christ can point the way, and he asks, so what does the Lord want?”
“The Lord has initiated a narrative of love with us and wants to subsume all creation in it. The counterforce of evil, which threatens us and the whole world, can ultimately only consist in our entering into this love. It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God. The one who entrusts him or herself to the love of God is redeemed…”
“Everything becomes different if one presents God, not leaving God in the background, but recognizing God as the center of our thoughts, words and actions. In Jesus Christ, God speaks with us, lives with us, suffers with us, and died for us. If this is only a matter of words, we run the risk of becoming masters of faith, instead of being renewed and mastered by faith.”
When we love the Lord, we embrace his Mission to be the Good News, to be a people of the bread and wine, his body and blood, of the Word and the sacraments, of the oils of gladness, catechumens, the sick, chrism, and to be a people of the towel and water regarding loving service. Our Catholic vision of life is sacramental and hope-filled for all people and the priest uniquely stands and serves in the center of the Lord’s crucified and resurrected life. But as Benedict eloquently states, not only are we called to be masters of our tradition of faith; the Lord demands that we are being renewed and mastered by faith. Shortly, all the priests gathered today will renew their vows in union with one another, the bishop, and the people of God to recommit themselves to a Year of Favor as instruments and channels of God’s presence and promises, to be mastered by faith.
Through the sacrament of ordination, the living God has set them apart for the work of salvation, to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors for his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, making the Lord present sacramentally and in faithful loving service. In other words, the priesthood is a great gift in the Church and in the world. Everyone here thanks you for your commitment to the Lord and for your work in the Church for the salvation of all. (Applause)
Before the renewal of priestly vows, I also want to thank all other leadership in the Body of Christ throughout the Diocese of Jackson, present and here in spirit. You are actively engaged in the Good News of Jesus Christ in our Chancery, in our parishes, at Catholic Charities, in our schools, in health care and in a variety of other ministries. I want to commend your ministries with the words of Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God, whose life and cause for canonization are the narrative of love in the words of Benedict, the incredible dedication from one generation to the next in our diocese. Sister Thea:
“I was drawn to examine and accept the Catholic faith because of the day-to-day lived witness of Catholic Christians who first loved me, then shared with me their story, their values, their beliefs; who first loved me, then invited me to share with them in community, prayer and mission. As a child I did not recognize evangelization at work in my life. I did recognize love, service, community, prayer and faith.”
Thank you for your service in the work of salvation, as servants of God. Thea’s journey on the road to canonization reflects the evangelization and service that are the salt and light of our generation. Today and especially at Easter we rejoice with Pope Francis: Christus Vivit. Indeed, raised from the dead, Jesus Christ does live, and he appears to many in every generation when we, his disciples, receive and live the Good News.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz