New memorial advances devotion to Mary

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Pentecost experience, akin to the Big Bang that burst out into the universe, continues to expand and accelerate in the creative and saving power of the Holy Spirit. At the Last Supper Jesus promised that the Spirit would lead us into all truth, or a deeper knowledge and understanding of the mysteries of our faith from one generation to the next.
Recently, Pope Francis pronounced that from this day forward the Monday after Pentecost is to be celebrated as the Memorial of Mary, the Mother of the Church. Mary, whose Fiat brought about a new world for God’s plan of salvation in the Incarnation of the eternal Logos, reveals to every generation that the Holy Spirit, when alive in the hearts and minds of the faithful, will bring Jesus Christ to life, a light shining in the darkness.
Mary has many titles in the Church to express the singularity of her vocation and this latest one arises from the Pentecost moment nearly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. Mary was assembled with the Apostles and the other disciples, 120 in total, when the Holy Spirit poured forth into their hearts and minds, creating a new day with power from on high. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
So the mother of the Lord Jesus, has always been and now is formally venerated as the mother of the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. Like Mary, our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord as we treasure all these things in our hearts, holding Jesus Christ close in our daily lives.
As in many instances throughout the history of the Church, Pope Francis, as the successor of St. Peter, speaks on behalf of the Church and in this instance has formally decreed a new memorial on behalf of all of the faithful, many of whom express their love for Mary in their daily devotion. The ministry of the Holy Father, the successor of St. Peter, is to recreate and expand Pentecost when the Holy Spirit raised up St. Peter to speak on behalf of the 120 to the incredulous throngs gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast.
All assembled in prayer had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, represented in the hovering tongues of flames and the strong driving wind. From this mutual encounter with their saving God in Jesus Christ, Peter, with that Galilean accent who only days before vehemently denied his Lord, now boldly evangelized about salvation in his Name to all who would listen. Recently, at a pre-synod gathering on young people, the faith and vocational discernment in Rome, a remarkable photo revealed the dynamics of a Pentecost moment. Pope Francis, in his white cassock, was pictured seated in the center of a packed hall of the faithful, representatives from many nations and regions around the world who were partaking in the pre-synod process.
There sat Francis of Rome surrounded by laity, religious and ordained. Open to the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit all were listening to a presentation, one of many that will lead to a post-synodal exhortation from Pope Francis. Like St. Peter, eventually, he will rise up from the midst of his sisters and brothers and speak to the Church and the world. The Holy Spirit has empowered Pope Francis in his Petrine ministry over the past five years in ordinary and extraordinary ways.
The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Guadium, is his landmark Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, the fruit of a world-wide synodal dialogue and discernment. More recently, he gave to the Church Amoris Latitiae, the Joy of Love, a panorama of the challenges of living the gospel in marriage and family in the modern world. This exhortation emerged as the fruit of the Holy Spirit after a two year, grassroots process in the universal Church, offering a path, consolation, hope and light.
Lastly, the Pentecost moment calls us back to our center where we know that we are God’s children, brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus and temples of the Holy Spirit. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit throughout the Diocese of Jackson during the 19 celebrations of Confirmation to date. These are extraordinary moments to be sure, but they can only materialize because of the Holy Spirit’s burning presence in the hearts and minds of families and parish communities from day to day.
For some, the flame may have been as imperceptible as a pilot light waiting to be stirred into something more in God’s good time. Yet, the gift of the Church, the Body of Christ, calls us all back to our Pentecost, our birthday of the Lord, where we can renew our identity and vocation as his disciples. From that first community in Jerusalem to the many communities throughout our diocese, with Mary, Pope Francis and the newly confirmed, we pray together, Come, Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

Holiness both ordinary, transcendent

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
“That my joy will be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15, 11)
These were the words of Jesus in last Sunday’s Gospel when he was preparing his disciples for his radical separation from them on the Cross. In the same conversation he invites them into divine friendship and instructs them – or maybe pleads with them – to “love one another as I have loved you.” 15,12-14) This passage is the ideal pathway into Pope Francis’ recently published exhortation on holiness, Gaudate et Exultate. The remainder of this column is an overview of this gift of Pope Francis to the Church and to the world.
Pope Francis awakens the Holy Spirit within each believer. “With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, that he also addresses personally to you.” (10) He reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, (Hebrews 12,1) both living and with the Lord in eternity who pray for us and give witness to all that God can accomplish in our lives. “I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people. In those parents who raise their children with immense love., in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness.” (7)
By virtue of our faith and baptism we are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness. “The power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this and holiness in the end is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.” (14) In fact, “every saint is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people.” (21)
“This should excite and encourage us to give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity.” (13) “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1,5) Pope Francis acknowledges that with all of the din and zapping, allurements and distractions of our modern world, holiness can be a difficult road to walk but nothing is impossible with God. “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you and you will be faithful to your deepest self. To depend on God, sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognize our great dignity.” (35)
Pope Francis looks upon the Church and the world with the loving heart and mind of Jesus Christ and exposes the threats to growth in holiness. He speaks of a modern-day Gnosticism whose adherents want everything to be clear and controlled to the point of controlling God’s transcendence. “Gnosticism by its very nature seeks to domesticate the mystery, whether the mystery of God and his grace or the mystery of others’ lives.” (40-41)
On the other hand, there is modern day Pelagianism that attributes everything to human will and work. Traditionally, this has been known to be a “bootstrap theology” by which we can earn or even buy our way into heaven. In opposition to this profound error, Pope Francis speaks of pure gift. “His friendship infinitely transcends us; we cannot buy it with our works; it can only be a gift born of his loving initiative. This invites us to live in joyful gratitude for this completely unmerited gift.” (54) “But thanks be to God who has given the victory over sin and death through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (1Cor 15,57)
Pope Francis then breaks open for us the wisdom of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the”… or “Happy are”…becomes a synonym for holy are. It expresses the fact those faithful to God and his word, by their self-giving, gain true happiness. Over several pages Francis offers God’s wisdom in the light of the Cross and Resurrection which often is persecuted, mocked or ignored. The values of the world in every age are a strong current against the wisdom of God, but blessed are we when we swim against it out of love for God and our brothers and sisters. (65-95)
Pope Francis also sees clearly the signs of holiness in the Church and in the modern world. Consider those who live with perseverance, patience and meekness in the face of the world’s violence, coldness and indifference. Why? Because “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8,31) This conviction is the source of peace and joy of all the saints and holy people. (122)
The face of holiness is also seen in the joy and humor of many. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice”. (Phil 4,4) Living with boldness and passion is yet another feature of holiness in our times, grounded in the promise of the Lord to be with until the end of time. (Mt 28,20) Boldness, enthusiasm, the freedom to speak out, apostolic fervor, are all signs of the Spirit of God at work, a light in the darkness.
How often, Pope Francis says, are we tempted to stay close to the shore, whereas the Lords directs us to set out into the deep? Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. The saints and saintly people know that this is not the path to holiness. “Be not afraid.” The fourth dimension of holiness in our time is to know that we are called to live in community, minimally where two or three are gathered where people cherish the little details of love, whether this is in friendship, family, Church communities or in the workplace.
Saint John of the Cross told one of his followers. “You are living with others to be fashioned and tried.” (104) Relationships can be crucibles where the challenge to love one another becomes real. As the poet says. “Love can crown you and crucify you.” Lastly, there is the call to constant prayer. “I do not believe in holiness without prayer” are the straightforward words of our Holy Father. (147) Unless one sits at the feet of the Lord, as did Mary and “let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire.” (151)
Prayer finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Mass where together the Word of God becomes “a lamp for our steps and a light for our path. (Ps 119) and where the Eucharist, the Bread of Life is communion with the Lord and one another, strength for the journey and the pledge of eternal life.
This is only a taste of this exhortation on holiness which is truly is a light for our path. It is a teaching by which we can raise up our hearts and minds to God and to our neighbor in order to fulfill God’s plan for each of our lives. Thank you, Pope Francis. “Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful.”
The exhortation is available online at the Vatican’s website

(Editor’s note: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html. )

Easter invites reflection on Holy Spirit

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Between Easter and the feast of Pentecost, 50 days, we proclaim the Scriptures that tell the story of the growth of the early Church. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, drove the 120 disciples, gathered around the Apostles and Mary, out into the streets and into the world to bring the Good News of salvation to all the nations.
The Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke’s companion piece to his gospel, is the first installment of the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit to go to the ends of the earth until the end of time, until Jesus Christ comes again. Each time the anointing of the Holy Spirit is celebrated in the Sacrament of Confirmation throughout our Diocese of Jackson and everywhere, the work of Pentecost continues.
Oh, but we have known the action of the Holy Spirit long before Pentecost. As our nation observes Earth Day each year on April 22, to celebrate the gift of the natural world, we, as God’s children, recognize the natural order of things as the gift of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2) Moreover, Job 26:13 says, “by His breath the heavens are cleared” or “made beautiful,” and “the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4) Another instance is Psalm 104:30 which says, “You send forth Your Spirit; they are created, and You renew the face of the ground.”
The Holy Spirit, the Ruach Yahweh, in a much more personal way, is the power and inspiration at work in Israel’s prophets. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to all who are bound;” (Isaiah 61,1)
Of course, this burning expectation for the Messiah is fulfilled with the unceasing work of the Holy Spirit in Mary of Nazareth. “The angel said to her, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1,25ff). From this first moment of the Incarnation and throughout his earthly life, death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit accompanied Jesus of Nazareth. The Spirit hovered over the waters of the baptism of the beloved Son of God, (Mark 1,7-11) and then at once drove Jesus out into the wilderness. (Mark 1,12).
From the desert wilderness Jesus returned home to the synagogue in Nazareth to proclaim from Isaiah that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and that which the prophets and people yearned for was fulfilled in their hearing in him. (Luke 4,18)
During a pivotal moment of his, public Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and praised the greatness of God, his Father. (Luke 10,21)
With his earthly life on the verge of torture and death, Jesus assures his disciples that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, will teach you all things.” (John 14,26) In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul portrays a fundamental belief that the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead. (8,11) As promised, Jesus in one of his resurrection appearances, a Pentecost moment in the Gospel of John, breathed into his apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit and sent them into the world to preach and baptize. (John 20,22)
The adventure of salvation prompted by the Holy Spirit continues during the Easter season 2018 to the ends of the earth, and our celebrations of Confirmation further the work of salvation begun in the New Testament. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bound or free; and have been all made to drink of the one Spirit. (Cor. 12,13)
When I experience the gifts of the Spirit at work in these Confirmation liturgies I recall the profound eloquence of Saint Paul in Corinthians. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. There are varieties of works, but it is the same God who produces all the works in everyone. To each person has been given the ability to manifest the Spirit for the common good. (1Cor 12,1ff).
Our identity is firmly established as God’s children because we are led by God’s Spirit. (Rom 8,14). Through faith and baptism we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, God’s temple (1Corinthians 3, 16-17), and the living signs of our guest are the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5,22-23). As a pilgrim people journeying through time and residing in every inhabitable corner of the earth we further the Lord’s mandate to preach, baptize and teach all that he has commanded us in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Mathew 28).
In Spirit-led faith, his words continue to burn in our hearts, and we continue to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Although we are not of the world, we are in the world, and our Spirit-led faith compels us to recognize that the Kingdom of God is about justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14,17) This is our mandate and template for living with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.

Christian sites benefit from visits, local collection

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
For pilgrims who visit the Holy Land, at whatever point on the compass the pilgrimage begins, the goal and culminating experience are the arrival in Jerusalem. This is precisely the path of salvation that the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John describe in their narratives of the Lord Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. His public ministry unfolded in Galilee and flowed southward like the Jordan River in the direction of Jerusalem.
We followed this Gospel corridor on the recent pilgrimage sponsored by the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher. At first, we settled in at the Sea of Tiberius in northern Israel, the location of Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana, the Sermon on the Mount and the Transfiguration, before turning southward toward Jerusalem. Although the region is wracked by hatred, violence and periodic outbreaks of deadly hostilities, a consistent reality is that pilgrims are always welcome. Obviously, this is the pragmatic thing to do, but this is also a sign of the abiding respect and good will that many in Israel and Palestine, Jews and Muslims alike, have for the ancient Christian Churches.
Without a doubt, for the Christians who tragically are diminishing in number across the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the mother Church of all Christianity encompassing Israel, Palestine and Jordan, the presence of the pilgrims is critical for their survival. “The pilgrimages are a form of sustenance for the survival of thousands of families.” (Leonardo Cardinal Sandri: Congregation of the Oriental Churches: Good Friday Appeal Letter) I do not know the total annual financial impact of the pilgrims who come from across the globe, but it is substantial. However, we can quantify the money that is collected each year from the Good Friday Holy Land collection.
Last year Catholics throughout the United States, including the Diocese of Jackson that raised ore than $32,000, contributed more than $20,000,000 to the mission and ministries of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. From this largesse the faithful of the Holy Land were able to renovate and restore the Churches of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Recently, a conflict erupted when the Jewish Jerusalem Municipality, with an impending vote in the Knesset, was about to encode in law oppressive taxation upon the Christian Churches with the possibility of foreclosure and seizure of properties if assessments were not paid. The Christian traditions who oversee the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Orthodox, Armenian, Catholic, responded with the temporary closure of this holiest of sites of the Lord’s crucifixion and burial. (Their statementis posted on www.mississippicatholic.com with this column.)
This sparked an international response and the Knesset canceled the vote, at least for now. Naturally, Christians would not and should not embark on a Crusade in the classic sense, but spiritual and economic muscle do matter. The generosity, prayers and attention of many Catholics and other Christians on Good Friday and throughout the year make a difference. Why should we be concerned? “The Christian faith had the first impulse from the mother Church in Jerusalem which has a special vocation to live the faith in a multi-religious, political, social and cultural context, nothing less than keeping the memory of our Redemption alive.” (Cardinal Sandri)
Of course, it is not only a matter of preserving the ancient sites, but also of fostering the universal mission of our crucified and risen Lord through the modern day ministries of the Churches fighting to survive and thrive. Cardinal Sandri writes: “Notwithstanding the challenges and insecurities, the parishes continue their pastoral services with a preferential attention for the poor. We hope against hope, that the schools serve as a place of encounter between the Christians and the Muslims, where they prepare a future of mutual respect and collaboration, the hospitals and clinics, the hospices and meeting centers continue to welcome the suffering and those in need, refugees and displaced, persons of all ages and religions, struck by the horror of war. A great number of them schooling-age, who appeal to our generosity to resume their scholastic life and dream of a better future.” In his letter Cardinal Sandri elaborates upon the plight of many Christians throughout the region. “Our attention goes to the small Christian community in the Middle East, which continues to sustain the faith among the displaced persons from Iraq and Syria and among the refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The Pope’s World Day of Peace was directed to the refugee crisis. ‘In a spirit of compassion let us embrace all those fleeing from war and from hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homeland.’ Most Iraqi Christians and Syrians want to return to their own land where their houses were destroyed, with schools, hospitals and churches devastated. Let us not leave them alone.”
We know that the Lenten journey is not a solitary act, but an itinerary of solidarity by which each one of us is called to pause, and like the Good Samaritan, accompany our brethren who for many reasons find it difficult to stand up and continue their journey. This is clearly the reality in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East and we pray that the Good Friday collection will raise up our Christian sisters and brothers.
We are blessed to be able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, once in a lifetime perhaps, but once a year during Holy Week we can make a spiritual pilgrimage through prayer and generosity to be in solidarity with many undergoing persecution and hardship. Please be generous.

Churches in Jerusalem close the Holy Sepulcher in protest

https://ofm.org/blog/churches-jerusalem-close-holy-sepulcher-protest/

 

Church, world in need of reconciliation

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As part of our Lenten journey, we welcomed to the Diocese of Jackson the relics of Saint Padre Pio as they travel on their inaugural pilgrimage through the United States thanks to the Foundation for Saint Padre Pio. I was uncertain about his standing among the Communion of Saints here in Mississippi and throughout the South, but the response was inspiring in the number of people who came to the Cathedral for the two Masses on Thursday, March 1, and throughout the day.
In the Northeast of the United States there are many who have a devotion to him, asking his intercession to face the suffering and struggles of life. He has led many to Jesus Christ, especially since his canonization by Pope Saint John Paul II on May 2, 1999, as the third millennium dawned.
Speaking to the pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square on the day after his canonization, Saint John Paul II extolled the signature holiness of Saint Padre Pio. “Dear brothers and sisters, Padre Pio’s witness is a powerful call to the supernatural dimension, not to be confused with exaggerated concern for miracles, a deviation which he always and resolutely shunned. Priests and consecrated persons in particular should look to him. He teaches priests to become the docile and generous instruments of Divine grace, which heals people at the root of their ills, restoring peace of heart to them. The altar and the confessional were the two focal points of his life. The charismatic intensity with which he celebrated the divine mysteries is a very salutary witness, to shake priests from the temptation of habit and help them rediscover, day by day, the inexhaustible treasure of spiritual, moral and social renewal which is placed in their hands.”
For many years Padre Pio spent more than half of his day in the confessional, a herculean witness to the mercy of God that was pure gift. Even the most zealous of priests would be overwhelmed by this relentless commitment. He followed in the footsteps of Saint John Vianney who was also a stellar instrument of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, and was a contemporary of Saint Sister Faustina, an instrument of Divine Mercy.
The Eucharist, the table of Word and Sacrament, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation remain the royal roads for repentance and reconciliation in the Church in the modern world. Recall, that one of our pastoral priorities is to be “welcoming and reconciling communities,” with repentance as an ever pressing demand of the Lord in order to accomplish his will in our lives and in our world. If we are honest, sometimes the Churches falls short and the cry for repentance and reconciliation must be proclaimed and heard in the world. One striking example is rumbling around our country at this time.
After the most recent mass shooting and carnage in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the horrors of gun violence. Students are harnessing and focusing their deeply felt grief and anger against the indifference and intransigence that pervades American society regarding an honest reappraisal of the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Reflecting back on last Sunday’s scripture from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus revealed God’s righteous anger over the the scandalous activity in the Temple in Jerusalem, might prompt us to hear the cry of the righteous anger of our young people and their supporters over the outrage of mowed down friends and students in their school.
God’s house of prayer, the point of union between heaven and earth, had become a market place, and business as usual prevailed. So too our young people are overturning the canned rhetoric of our politicians and the gun lobby with the hope of bringing about genuine dialogue that can lead the nation to sanity and greater security.
On the other hand, here is an example where the Church is failing miserably. The “Sanctuary Church” in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, invited their members to bring their AR-15 rifles to a church service for a celebration of the “rod of iron.” Here is the news clip. Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland, NEWFOUNDLAND, Pa. — A Pennsylvania school district will cancel classes at an elementary school on Wednesday because a church down the street is hosting a ceremony featuring AR-15 rifles. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and it is encouraging couples to bring the weapons to a commitment ceremony.”
You can search the story online to see the extent of this lunacy. In this instance the Spirit of God is evident in the world and not in the Church. Our nation needs a greater commitment to the common good, a rational stance regarding rights, responsibilities and limitations. In the aftermath of Parkland, Florida perhaps it may be our young people who guide us to our senses. At the deepest level this is all about repentance, reconciliation and bridge-building among opposing factions in our nation. This is the foolishness of the Cross, the wisdom of God, that has the potential to flower in our nation in the face of tragic loss.
The Ash Wednesday mandate of the Lord is our compass during these forty days of Lent, and I encourage the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the time leading to Holy Week. I exhort especially our parish communities and schools to see themselves as ambassadors for Christ and ministers of reconciliation for the renewal of our diocese and as a leaven for our communities, state and nation. As the Baptism Ritual proclaims. “This is our faith, this is the faith of the Church; we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Saint Padre Pio would shout out his approval from his place in heaven.

Bishop to tour Holy Land as Lent begins

Bishop Kopacz

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!

Still learning from founders of Catholic education

Bishop Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Catholic Schools Week is celebrated this year from January 28 to February 3 wherever a diocese throughout the United States is blessed to have a Catholic School system. This year’s theme is: Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed. Our legacy of schools in the Diocese of Jackson dates back to 1847 in Natchez before spreading upstream to Vicksburg and Greenville and then gradually fanning out eastward across the State of Mississippi. Because our diocese was the 13th Catholic diocese established in the nation, our Catholic School tradition began not too long after the first Catholic Schools were launched in the United States.
The founding mother and father of Catholic Education were St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1784-1821) was an Episcopalian believer through half of her life, and a wife and mother of six who always found the time for charitable works and outreach. She became a Catholic after the death of her husband and within a short time founded the Daughters of Charity based upon the rule of Saint Vincent de Paul and his religious community in France. Her mission became faith-based education, stepping out into deep and unchartered waters. She founded the first Catholic School in the United States in 1812, and by 1818 the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today, six groups of sisters can trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation. The following are excerpts from the writings and wisdom of this great matriarch.
“I share your struggles as educators today, and I am with you in that struggle. The signs of the times beg you to be spiritually mature to foster a climate of missionary renaissance faithful to (my) legacy of Catholic Education. Are you convinced of the need of a strategic vision in the name of the Gospel? Are you willing to risk carrying out new ideas that respond to absolute human need?
“What unmet needs exist in your school, parish or community that you can realistically address? How do you interface with public, private and home school networks? What new programs or courses would benefit your students or attract new ones? What timely services do you currently offer which can be extended to others? Are there ways you can combine efforts and resources for new ones? What improvements can be made by adopting new techniques? I invite you to discuss whether your definition of education really meets society’s changing needs.
“In your role as educators, focus on the whole person – teach the lesson and touch the heart. Above all, my friends, teach your pupils about God’s love for them. Oh! Set your gaze on the future and always strive to fit your students for the world in which they are destined to live.
“Good home-school relations were important to me and I often corresponded with parents about their children’s progress-or lack of it. I will tell you, I know American parents to be most difficult in hearing the faults of their children.
“I tried several methods of discipline but always with gentle firmness. I discovered the loss of recreation, deprivation of fruit, or payment of a a penny for good works often worked well. Kneeling down was also the only form of physical punishment I allowed.
“I shunned every form of prejudice or discrimination. Inclusiveness was my goal. My school was founded on the enduring values of respect and equality. I pray that you keep in mind that authentic Christian compassion is expressed universally rather than selectively. This is to be extended to mountain children who are poor, to the Pennsylvania Dutch children, and to the African American children of slaves and free parents whom I myself taught.”
Her Daughters of Charity came to Natchez in 1847 and remained until 2003. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was beautified in 1963 and canonized in 1976.
The patriarch of Catholic School education is Saint John Neumann who was born in 1811 in Bohemia in the modern day Czech Republic. After traveling to America he was ordained and entered the Redemptorist Order and faithfully served the poor in Buffalo, New York. Father John Neumann was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852 and was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system. As a founder of Catholic Schools in this country, he increased the number of schools in his diocese from two to 100 in eight years and wrote catechisms and other pamphlets to teach the faith, while working to bring good teachers into the diocese. His life’s work was to spread the faith.
Bishop John Neumann never lost his love and concern for the people. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon’s contents, John joked, “Have you ever seen such an entorage for a bishop!”
The ability to learn languages that had brought him to America led him to learn Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch so he could hear confessions in at least six languages. When Irish immigration started, he learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, “Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!”
Once on a visit to Germany, he came back to the house he was staying in soaked by rain. When his host suggested he change his shoes, John remarked, “The only way I could change my shoes is by putting the left one on the right foot and the right one on the left foot. This is the only pair I own.”
The words of the Lord Jesus to “go and teach and make disciples of all the nations” were emblazoned in the hearts and minds of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Saint John Neumann. May these patrons of Catholic School education continue to intercede for us as we strive to be faithful to our vision to “inspire disciples, to embrace diversity and to serve others” in our Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Jackson.

Giving thanks for those who serve

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The celebration of the Lord’s birth, the Incarnation, literally, the “Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us,” (John 1, 14) is a dramatic proclamation of faith that God is in our midst and relentlessly pursues us in the wonderful story of salvation.
The literal translation of the tent in our midst is so apt because at any moment the Lord Jesus can pull up stakes and walk with us, or pursue us wherever we may go. This is the mystery that Pope Francis is pointing us towards in the Evangelii Guadium, the Joy of the Gospel, when he invites us to wrestle with the statement, “time is more important that space.”
When we encounter our living and loving incarnate Lord, or better said, when he grasps us (Phil 3, 14) we can joyfully shout, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth” (Luke 2, 14), because even if we remained silent the very stones would shout out. (Luke 19,40) The Infancy Narratives in their simplicity and in their sophistication intermingle darkness and light. Herod’s violence and hate, reeking havoc in our own time, pursues the Christ in order to destroy him and all associated with him. Yet, he could not silence the voices of the angels and shepherds, nor menace the Magi’s search for truth.
This holds true for us in our time because the voices of hate and violence against the Lord’s disciples, the Church, often only strengthens our resolve, especially in the blood of the martyrs. The Incarnation of the Lord must not be severed from his crucifixion and resurrection, and when we play it forward we can see a similar account in the story of Saint Paul.
For a time, he was Herod in disguise relentlessly hunting down the disciples of the Lord in order to destroy the nascent community of believers.
Joseph Holzner in his book Paul of Tarsus offers an inspired account of the beginning of Saul’s conversion in which we see the divine purpose of the Incarnation in action.
“He, Saint Paul, was the hunter driven by an insatiable thirst for the prey. However, in those days on the road to Damascus, another, the Master of those disciples he is hunting, is also on the trail. Paul thought that he was the hunter, but indeed, he was the quarry.
Christ is the Divine Hunter, the Hound of Heaven, and here on the road to Damascus he is running down a most precious quarry who will not be able to escape.”
God’s divine desire to embrace the heart and mind of every human being in Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, is at work in the Church at every moment throughout the world. Each of us and all people are most precious to Jesus Christ who inspires our hopes and dreams in his holy season. This work is evident throughout the Diocese of Jackson in season and out of season. (2Timothy 4, 2)
When we pause to reflect and treasure all these things in our hearts, as did Mary in the aftermath of the shepherds’ visit, we can see and hear the Gospel alive in ordinary and extraordinary ways, every day in the 65 counties of our diocese. In comparison to much larger Christian denominations, we may be small in number, but we are “proclaiming the Lord Jesus by living the Gospel so that all may experience the crucified and living Lord.” (Mission Statement)
I am grateful for so many coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord who serve in numerous ministries and admirable ways to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people of our time. Some of you have been serving for a long time. Some have pitched their tents among us just recently. In particular, on behalf of the entire Diocese of Jackson and many in Holmes County, I want to welcome Sister Mary Walz, DC, Sister Madeline Kavenaugh, DC, and Sister Sheila Conley, SC, who arrived last month to build back up the hope of the Gospel in the aftermath of Sister Paula and Sister Margaret’s murders a years and half ago.
With their own unique gifts forged in the fires of pastoral ministry over many years they will take up the torch of loving service in the name of the Lord Jesus. (See related story on page 4)
During the closing days of Advent may we pray that the way of the Lord in our lives is wide open to celebrate his birth into our lives through faith.
Merry Christmas.

Bishop adds holiday calls to communication lineup

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Bishop Joseph Kopacz made a few phone calls Thanksgiving week, a few thousand phone calls. For the first time, the bishop tried out an automated call system to send a Thanksgiving greeting to parishioners. Anyone who had a home number on file with their parish received a call. Bishop Kopacz recorded the messages earlier in the month.
The response was overwhelming. The chancery offices were inundated with calls to ask about the program and thank the bishop for the message. “I felt like this was a good way to greet people on a special holiday as we entered the season of Advent,” said the bishop. “I love traveling to the parishes and meeting people – this was a good way to keep in touch, so to speak,” he added.
“We initiated this program to bring people together and stay connected,” said Rebecca Harris, Director of Stewardship and Development for the Diocese of Jackson. She coordinated the program. “During the holidays when we gather with family and friends, we often give thanks. We wanted people to know we are thankful for them, for their faith and for all they do in our parishes, schools and missions,” added Harris. The parishes and the chancery work together to track membership through an online database program called ParishSoft. Both the office of Stewardship and Development and Mississippi Catholic use that database to get addresses and contact information for people in the parishes.
A second call will go out with a Christmas message on December 22. Those who wish to be on the call list should make sure their home land line phone numbers are on file with their parishes. Or you can email your cell phone number and expressed permission to Rebecca.harris@jacksondiocese.org. Those who do not wish to receive a call please email Rebecca Harris.

Listen for the echoes in Advent

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The first Sunday of Advent marked the beginning of a new Church year and a focused time of preparation for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Spiritually, Advent suffuses every Eucharist at which Catholics gather.
During the communion rite following the Our Father at each Mass the celebrant offers an intercessory prayer on behalf of all in preparation for Holy Communion with the Lord. “Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We pray in joyful hope that the Lord will come again, and real soon.
As the season progresses we naturally turn our hearts and minds toward his first coming in the Incarnation. Typically, four weeks in duration, this year we are on the fast track in Advent because the season is only three weeks and four hours long. The fourth Sunday of Advent is celebrated in the morning and Christmas Eve begins later in the afternoon.
(The obligation for Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent can be satisfied on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. The Christmas Mass obligation can be fulfilled on Sunday afternoon, Christmas Eve, or on Monday, Christmas Day. There is no dispensation for a two-for-one.)
Like a small craft going down stream on the Mississippi River, Advent is propelled headlong in the Christmas current, so the Yule Tide, so to speak. In this sense, Advent reminds us how challenging it is to find time and space to be in the presence of the living God in order to cultivate and reap the blessings of God’s promises. The Blessed Mother is a lamp for our feet as we walk through Advent; she is the gold standard for us as we yearn to bring Christ to light in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.
She was at the center of the Anawim, the poor ones in Israel who remained faithful to God in all circumstances, the ones whom God preserved. To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through faith, prayer is to give flesh to the body of Jesus Christ. She teaches us the depth of piety that is possible during Advent, how to treasure all these things in our hearts, how to hope in God, how to turn the other in loving service, and how to offer hospitality to those searching for her Son and the Gospel way of life.
What is the awe and wonder of this season that raise our hopes and dreams to another level for ourselves, loved ones, and for the entire world? May it be the echo of the Gospel in our hearts and minds, our faith-filled vision for the world that all are God’s children, and that our lives are a gift because we are made in the image and likeness of God.
It is true as Saint Paul says, that all creation is indeed in agony, and we ourselves groan even though we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. Groaning or not, the Holy Spirit leads us away from fear and slavery to sin, to freedom as the children of God.
The following quote is from Bishop Donal Murray in his recent book, In a Landscape Redrawn, and it presents an Advent commitment to our world. “Everything that exists is a gift of the Creator. This is the core of the most profound answer, who are we? Christians do not see the gift as irrelevant to those who do not have faith. Each person is the result of the same creative and loving gift. Christians express their belief, not with any sense of superiority, but rather in the hope that this high vision of human dignity may find an echo in the hearts of all human beings. The Church knows that the Gospel of Life which she has received from her Lord has a profound echo in the heart of every person, believers and non believers alike, because it marvelously fulfills all the hearts expectations while infinitely surpassing them.”
As we hear the echo of the Lord’s call in our own lives during this season of Grace, may our hopes and dreams for this world, rooted in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, be in harmony with God’s vision for a world of justice and peace until the Lord comes again. Maranatha!