Diocese will publish abuse report

The Diocese of Jackson will join the Catholic dioceses in this province including the Archdiocese of Mobile and the dioceses of Biloxi and Birmingham in publishing the names of clergy and religious who were removed from ministry due to credible accusations of abuse of a minor. The cases go as far back as the 1940s.
It is a time-consuming effort to examine each clergy personnel file from the last eight decades. This effort is underway and will be completed as quickly as possible.
The Diocese of Jackson is committed to protecting children. Sexual misconduct by church personnel violates human dignity and the mission of the Church. The Diocese is committed to ensuring that children being served by the Church are not at risk of sexual abuse by Church personnel. The spiritual well-being of all victims, their families, and others in the community is of particular concern to the church.
Over the past 30 years, the Diocese of Jackson has developed and implemented a safe environment program. The Diocese has publicized standards of conduct for its priests and deacons as well as diocesan employees, volunteers, and any other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people. Beginning in 1986, the Diocese implemented a written policy and procedure regarding reporting and handling of sexual misconduct claims. The policy was updated in 1994 with the addition of a Diocesan Fitness Review Board and again in 2002 so that it would reflect the mandates of the Bishops’ Charter.
The Diocese of Jackson is committed to protecting our children and young people from abuse at the hands of clergy, religious and lay ministers as well as equipping young people with knowledge, confidence and tools to help them recognize and protect themselves from potentially dangerous situations in every aspect of their lives. The Diocese is also committed to transparency and ongoing improvements to our policies.
Anyone who has been a victim of abuse or exploitation by clergy, religious or lay church personnel and has not yet reported it is encouraged to do so. The Diocese of Jackson places no deadline or time limits on reporting. The Victim Assistance Coordinator, Valerie McClellan and Vicar General, Fr. Kevin Slattery are available to assist in making a report. The contact number for the Victim Assistance Coordinator is 601/326-3728. The contact number for the Vicar General is 601/969-2290.
For more information about the Diocesan policies and procedures, you can visit the diocesan website at www.jacksondiocese.org.

Asking for your support for Sister Thea Bowman

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz was traveling this week for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall meeting. He sent the speech he presented at the conference asking for his fellow bishops to support the cause for canonization for Sister Thea Bowman as his column for this week. See related story in this issue. His regular column will resume in the next issue.)

We all share in the joy of this moment presenting the Cause for Canonization of Sister Thea Bowman, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, from Canton, Mississippi. With one mind and one heart the faithful within and well beyond the Diocese of Jackson have asked that Sister Thea’s cause be undertaken. I would like to frame my words around her final six years. In 1984 Sister Thea, an only child, suffered the deaths of her beloved parents, Dr. Theon and Mary. In that same year she was diagnosed with cancer. With the press of mortality, and understanding the severity of her disease, she courageously proclaimed that “she would live until she died.” Indeed, she did, traveling, evangelizing, teaching, singing and inspiring to the very end.
Likewise in 1984, this Conference issued a Pastoral Letter on Evangelization: What We Have Seen and Heard, a labor of love from the African American Bishops of the time. This letter was issued five years before Sister Thea’s celebrated presentation to the Conference in June 1989 at Seton Hall University. Her witness in word and song testified to her joy-filled holiness, even as she embraced the Cross of terminal illness. (Pause: How many Bishops present today were on hand in June, 1989?)
The Bishops in What We Have Seen and Heard gave thanks for the early missionaries who planted the seed of the Gospel in the Afro-American families and communities. In her address to the Bishops Sister Thea offered her gratitude to the missionary disciples in her life.
“Catholic Christians came into my community, and they helped us with education, they helped us with health care, they helped us to find our self-respect and to realize our capabilities when the world told us for so long that we were nothing and would amount to nothing. And I wanted to be a part of that effort. That’s radical Christianity, that’s radical Catholicism.”
Throughout her life, the gift she received, she gave as a gift until her final breath.
What We Have Seen and Heard reflected movingly on the gift of reconciliation, rooted in suffering, liberation and justice, that which the African American experience can offer to the Church, to the nation and to the world. The Bishops wrote: “A people must safeguard their own cultural identity and their own cultural values. Likewise, they must respect the cultural values of others. On this foundation can be erected an authentic Christian love, “because we who once were far off have become near by the Blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.’ (Ephesians 2, 13-14)” As an ambassador of Jesus Christ and a minister of reconciliation, Sr Thea tirelessly laid down her life for this Gospel vision, truly the essence of her holiness. With Biblical like eloquence she declared. “We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work, when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
This is the power of the Gospel that is so urgently needed in the Church and in society today.
The Church embraced Sister Thea from her early years, yet there were times she felt deeply like a motherless child. She challenged the Bishops to provide a space at the table for collaboration and leadership for all of God’s children. Today, we are most mindful of the victims of sexual abuse who live in that dark void of homelessness in the Body of Christ, and we pray that Sister Thea’s witness will be a beacon of hope for all victims and their families. There is an urgency for Sister Thea’s sanctity to be a leaven in the bread of our Church and society.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, Guadete et Exultate. In the words of Pope Francis “Christianity spreads through the joy of disciples who know that they are loved and saved.” What We Have Seen and Heard stirringly presented the gift of joy as essential for understanding African American spirituality. “Joy is first of all celebration. Celebration is movement and song, rhythm and feeling, color and sensation, exultation and thanksgiving. We celebrate the presence and the proclamation of the Word made Flesh. Joy is a sign of our faith and especially our hope. It is never an escape from reality.” Sister Thea manifested this radiance throughout her life, and valiantly lived it in her final years. If reconciliation toward a new creation for this world was Sister Thea’s daily passion, surely joy was the charism that nurtured her great soul and holiness. Sister Thea exhorts us. “Children, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, go! There is a song that will never be sung unless you sing it. There is a story that will never be told unless you tell it. There is a joy that will never be shared unless you bear it. Go tell the world. Go preach the Gospel. Go teach the Good News. God is. God is love. God is with us. God is in our lives.”
Toward the end of her presentation to the Conference in 1989, Sister Thea counseled that all in the Church are charged with finding new ways to go forward together. What a moment of Providence to introduce and celebrate her cause at the very time that we are about to vote on “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love—A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” which we pray will provide an added torch for our path as joyful missionary disciples in our fractured and wounded times. With Sister Thea’s smile upon us, and through the witness of her uncompromising spirit and joyful zeal, we do proclaim that our true citizenship is in heaven, and that we are about God’s Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of Justice, Peace and the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for your prayerful support!

Cause for canonization for Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, Ph.D. 1937-1990

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
During the month of November, we bask in the glow of the Feast of All Saints, and the Commemoration of All Souls. The great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12,1), some officially canonized, most not, remind us that our citizenship is in heaven with Jesus Christ, the way and truth, the resurrection and life. From the Feast of All Saints, the vision of Saint John in the book of Revelation affords us a glimpse of eternity in “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb. (Revelations 7, 9-10)
On November 13, at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops annual meeting in Baltimore, I will formally introduce the Cause for Canonization for Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, Servant of God, an African-American, from the town of Canton, in the bosom of the Diocese of Jackson, whom we declare in faith to be a member of the Cloud of Witnesses. Much is already known about her life, but I would like to shine the light on her final six years. In 1984 Sister Thea, an only child, grieved the deaths of her beloved parents, Dr. Theon and Mary, and in the same year she was diagnosed with cancer. With the press of mortality, and understanding the severity of her disease, she courageously proclaimed that she would “live until she died.”
Indeed she did, traveling, evangelizing, teaching, singing and inspiring to the very end. In 1984 on the national scene, the Black Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a Pastoral Letter on Evangelization: “What We Have Seen and Heard.” This letter was released five years after the 1979 publication by the entire Conference of Bishops of “Brothers and Sisters to Us: Pastoral Letter Against Racism.”
In June, 1989, 10 years after the first letter against racism, and five years after the second, Sister Thea was invited to speak to the conference of bishops at Seton Hall University. Her witness, words and song on that occasion embodied so much of what was written in the earlier Pastoral Letters.
“What We Have Seen and Heard” gave thanks for the early missionaries who planted the seed of the Gospel in the African-American families and communities. In her address to the bishops Sister Thea offered her gratitude to the missionary disciples in her life. “Catholic Christians came into my community, and they helped us with education, they helped us with health care, they helped us to find our self-respect and to realize our capabilities when the world told us for so long that we were nothing and would amount to nothing. And I wanted to be a part of that effort. That’s radical Christianity, that’s radical Catholicism… 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”
“What We Have Seen and Heard” reflected movingly on the gift of reconciliation, rooted in suffering, liberation and justice, that which the African-American experience can offer to the Church, to the nation and to the world. “Without justice any meaningful reconciliation is impossible. Justice safeguards the rights and delineates the responsibilities for all. A people must safeguard their own cultural identity and their own cultural values. Likewise, they must respect the cultural values of others. For this reason, sincere reconciliation builds upon mutual recognition and mutual respect. On this foundation can be erected an authentic Christian love. The Scripture testifies: ‘But now you who once were far off have become near by the Blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.’ (Ephesians 2, 13-14)
We seek justice then, because we seek reconciliation, and we seek reconciliation because by the blood of Christ we are made one. The desire of reconciliation for us is a most precious gift, because reconciliation is the fruit of liberation. Our contribution to the building up of the Church is America and in the world is to be an agent of change for both.” Toward the end of her life Sister Thea echoed the words of her brother bishops. “We unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work, when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God’s healing, God’s forgiveness, God’s unconditional love.”
Earlier this year, Pope Francis published the Apostolic Exhortation on holiness, “Guadete et Exultate,” translated, Rejoice and Be Glad, our Lord’s own words from the Beatitudes. It illuminates the Holy Father’s previous exhortations on the Joy of the Gospel, and the Joy of Love.
Sister Thea would have called for an “Amen” or two over these exhortations. “What We Have Seen and Heard” eloquently presented the gift of joy as essential for understanding African-American spirituality, and Sister Thea magnanimously lived it. “Joy is first of all celebration. Celebration is movement and song, rhythm and feeling, color and sensation, exultation and thanksgiving. We celebrate the presence and the proclamation of the Word made Flesh. Joy is a sign of our faith and especially our hope. It is never an escape from reality.” Forever a joyful missionary disciple Sister Thea exhorts us. “Children, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, go! There is a song that will never be sung unless you sing it. There is a story that will never be told unless you tell it. There is a joy that will never be shared unless you bear it. Go tell the world. Go preach the Gospel. Go teach the Good News. God is. God is love. God is with us. God is in our lives.”

Moving forward through listening, addressing concerns

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
A few weeks ago, I participated in four listening/dialogue sessions around the Diocese of Jackson in response to the current crisis in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick scandal. These sessions occurred over four consecutive days, October 4-7, in Tupelo, Cleveland, Madison and Natchez with a combined total of nearly 200 concerned Catholic parishioners in attendance. Sister Dorothy Heiderscheit, who served in the Diocese of Jackson on two different occasions spanning three decades, facilitated the four sessions. She is now the Director of the Southdown Institute outside of Toronto, Canada. All in attendance were given the opportunity to respond to the following three questions.
1. What feelings, emotions, concerns surface for you at this time?
2. How do you sustain yourself as a faith filled person during this time?
3. What will help you continue to move forward?
Following the model of the 17 Envisioning Listening Sessions from two and a half years ago all participants were able to reflect quietly at table, engage in conversation, and then share the fruit of their table discussions with all in attendance. I believe that the participants, although not as numerous as the 1,100 who attended the Envisioning Listening Sessions, well represented the Diocese of Jackson as a whole. The questions gave everyone the opportunity to air in a heartfelt and respectful way the depth of their emotions, share their faith, their love for the Church, and to ask pointed questions about our diocesan structures, our polices and protocols, our support and compassion for victims of sexual abuse, our response to allegations of abuse today, our relationship with civil authorities, the voice of women and their consequential roles at all levels of diocesan life, the authentic independence of our diocesan lay boards and of those who investigate allegations, the selection of candidates for the seminary, as well as seminary formation, transparency and accountability, the current state of safe environments in our parishes, schools and ministries, and how the bishops will respond at their November meeting in Baltimore, especially regarding transparent protocols for their own accountability.
The sessions lasted between one-and-a-half and two hours, and Sister Dorothy observed, “many in attendance expressed their gratitude for having an opportunity to share concerns and frustrations and ideas with the bishop, and to have their questions answered with honesty and openness.”
I shared with the attendees that their emotions and their voices that cry out for repentance, justice and reconciliation from the center of the Catholic Church to the margins, arise from the heart of God. We all have a deep sense that abuse by an ordained cleric far surpasses the sexual abuse of a teacher, coach, trainer, neighbor or an extended family member, etc., In these instances, as brutal as it is, a victim often can find comfort, support and hope in their families. Clergy sexual abuse is more on par with the abuse by a parent because in both instances the safety and security of home, in this case one’s spiritual home, the Church, is destroyed. It’s an outrage because it can shatter one’s relationship with Jesus Christ and his saving love. Indeed, the participants expressed their visceral emotions of anger at the abusers, especially predators, and the mis-management and cover up of some in the hierarchy. Other feelings were shame, profound sorrow, confusion and uncertainty about the future of the Church, fear, overwhelming sadness, embarrassment about being Catholic, worry, compassion for the victims and families, and for all faithful clergy.
Many of the participants were midlife and older. There was a shared sentiment that this is a heavy burden for cradle Catholics whose trust in the Church and her leadership has been the foundation for their lives. Why a preponderance of attendees from the second half of life? On the one hand, many young people are not stakeholders in the Church and this is not a priority. Another observed, on a positive note, that younger families who are involved in the Church have experienced first-hand since 2002 that our ministries and programs maintain a high level of safety for their children and young people, fostering confidence in the Church’s commitment to protect within safe environments. It was reinforced for me during these four sessions that it is not inconsequential to discuss appropriately the Church’s efforts since 2002, not in a smug or matter-of-fact way, but in the context of transparency and accountability. Older Catholic who have not directly experienced safe environment protocols in recent decades were appreciative to know the positive effects of our safe environment standards, the active relationship with the District Attorney in each county, the independent and timely manner of investigating and processing allegations when they come to light, and most of all, our outreach and active concern for all victims of sexual abuse in the Church.
The deeper levels of repentance, conversion, healing and hope are always a work in progress and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord Jesus is speaking at this time through many prophets in the Church and society, most of whom are not ordained. Because the Church is a 2,000-year-old world-wide organization, change can be painfully slow. Paradoxically, because the Church is a world-wide body, at times change can happen at an accelerated pace. What evidence is there for this? In the 16-and-a-half years since the Dallas Charter our commitment to effective protocols for safe environments have transformed the landscape and culture of the Catholic Church in the United States. The entire Body of Christ, laity and ordained, has been turning the wheel of transparency and accountability since 2002.
It occurred to me last Sunday at Southaven Christ the King during the celebration of Confirmation that the vast majority of the 74 Confimandi who celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit were born in 2002 or later. They have known the blessings of effective safe environment standards in the Church’s ministries and programs. I share this reflection as an example of what can happen when laity and ordained work together for the good of the entire Body of Christ, the Church, especially on behalf of our children and young people. I have hope and confidence, not naively, that wherever the rot of clericalism, and the resistance to conversion festers in the Church, the light of Jesus Christ will shine in this darkness, transforming the Body of Christ. All who love the Lord Jesus and the Church are called to pray and work together to this end.

Abused cry out to heaven for justice

+Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

+Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Throughout the Catholic Church in the United States many are agonizing over the revelations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s crimes against minors, flagrant abuse of power, and unrestrained sexual behavior with seminarians and others. Hurt, anger and shame are casting a widespread pall over the faithful as old wounds are ripped open. There are many unanswered questions but as ugly as the truth will be, the truth will set the victims and their families, and the Church on the path to healing, justice and new life.
The disclosure of the sinful behavior of a high-ranking prelate in the Church does not undermine all the good work that the Catholic Church has done to protect children and young people since 2002, but it is an awful setback in the efforts to restore trust. The vast majority of Catholic dioceses in the United States have worked hard during the past 16 years to be faithful to the Promise to Protect and the Pledge to Heal, the document we know as the Dallas Charter. The fostering of safe environments in our ministries is now the norm, and the steadfast support for victims of sexual abuse who struggle for healing and hope in their lives, has been an unflagging commitment.
The results are commendable because Church safe environment programs and protocols have reduced significantly the abuse of minors by Church personnel. However, we also know that it takes 20 to 30 years on average for a victim to muster the resolve to come forward with their tragic story. This was the case with Cardinal McCarrick’s victims. Many never reveal their woundedness because it is just too painful to do so.
This is the reason why we repeatedly disseminate the statement that encourages all victims of sexual abuse by Church personnel to come forward no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Suffering has no statute of limitations. Sexual abuse is an evil and a crime that wreaks havoc, destruction and despair, and the enemy, the Evil One, loves it, because it is shrouded in darkness, lies and shame. It unleashes the power of hell upon victims and their families and it often spreads from one generation to the next unless the cycle is broken by the light of truth, healing and reconciliation.
Earlier in my priesthood, I had the opportunity to teach Human Development during a 15-year span to early adolescents in three of our elementary schools in the Diocese of Scranton. The gift of sexuality is flowering at this age and to know that there are those in the Church who would prey upon these young teens, and upon minors at each stage of their development, is an unconscionable assault against human dignity. In the Diocese of Jackson we are committed to foster safe environments in our Catholic Schools, in our Religious Education Programs and in our Youth Ministries so that the children and young people entrusted to us can reach their God-given potential in every aspect of their lives.
Moreover, I served as a Formation Director for 14 years at our College Seminary in Scranton, Pennsylvania and to hear of the exploitation of young men who are discerning a vocation by those in authority who should be nurturing them, also cries out to heaven for justice. Transparency and the cultivation of a culture of trust, respect and accountability are the standards at the seminaries where our Jackson seminarians are in formation: Saint Ben’s (St. Joseph Seminary College) in Covington, Louisiana, Notre Dame in New Orleans, and Sacred Heart in Hales Corner, Wisconsin.
For the past two years as a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have been serving on The Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. This places me at the center of the Church’s ongoing resolve to protect and to heal as set forth in the Dallas Charter, and to apply these efforts and best practices to our own network of safe environments in our Diocese. The Charter directs action in all the following matters:
• Creating a safe environment for children and young people;
• Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors;
• Making prompt and effective response to allegations;
• Cooperating with civil authorities;
• Disciplining offenders;
• Providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board.
May the Lord Jesus who welcomed the children and embraced them in his love, bring about the truth that will set us free, the justice that will restore right relationships with God and with one another, and the healing and reconciliation that are the standards of all Christian communities, his Body, the Church.

Bishops declare Sister Thea ‘Servant of God’

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
Earlier this month the Catholic Bishops of the United States gathered for the annual spring meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to address a range of pastoral realities that currently affect the Church and society to one degree or another. The bishops approved the revisions for The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, originally promulgated in 2002, reaffirming once again the Church’s commitment to protect our children and youth, and to provide healing and reconciliation for any in our midst who have experienced the scourge of sexual abuse. (See page 19 for related story.)
There was also a hearty and, at times, heated discussion among the bishops over the Faithful Citizenship Document that has been a teaching tool in the formation of conscience in our struggle to be faithful Catholic disciples of the Lord Jesus, as well as citizens committed to the common good of our communities and nation. What are the necessary changes in the text to stay abreast of the current onslaughts against the dignity of the human person, such as poverty, the environment, immigration and racism? This evoked a number of passionate responses.
An expansion in the Health Care Directives that guide current and future mergers for Catholic Health Systems received the approval of the bishops, as well as well liturgical developments in the Roman Missal.
A document in the works for a few years, Encountering Christ in Harmony, addressing the rapidly growing population in the United States of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics, was also given near unanimous approval. Lastly, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma Thibodaux, Louisiana, gave an update regarding the pastoral letter on racism on which the bishops will vote later this year in Baltimore.
Against the backdrop of these two documents the dawn is breaking for the Diocese of Jackson as we prepare to formalize the Cause for Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, in November of this year at the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Our diocesan team has been working assiduously in the background to follow the process that gives us a slot on the agenda for November’s meeting that will request the approval of the bishops for Sister Thea’s Cause for Canonization. We expect that she will receive wholehearted endorsement from the body of bishops and this is an exciting prospect for the Diocese of Jackson and for the Church in the United States.

Sister Thea is now officially recognized as Servant of God, the first step on the journey to formal canonization. Her prophetic voice, her spirit, her heart and mind and her heritage are sorely needed in our contemporary world, at home and abroad as we struggle to overcome all that divides us. She was passionate about her African American heritage as well as the growing cultural diversity in our society. The rotten fruit of racism, one ethnic or racial group against another, are tearing at the seams of our society. Without a doubt, the pastoral letter on racism that the bishops will promulgate in November is incarnated in Sister’s Thea’s cause as her life and witness – Continued from page 3 –
are raised up for many within the Church and far beyond.
From an article by the Redemptorist priest, Father Maurice Nutt, the Vice Postulator for her cause, we enter into her amazing story. Meet Sister Thea Bowman, granddaughter of a slave on the road to Canonization. “She was born on December 29, 1937, in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Her grandfather was born a slave and she was raised into the Methodist faith. After her family moved to Canton, Mississippi, Bowman was enrolled in Holy Child Jesus School. While there she was drawn to the Catholic faith and asked her parents if she could convert at age nine. When she turned 15 Bowman moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin, and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA), the Religious Sisters who inspired her at Holy Child of Jesus school. She became the first African American Sister of that order.”
Her witness will be a fount of new life for many as her story gains new traction with the formalization of the Cause for Canonization. I leave you with her own words that portray her spirit and vision. “What does it mean to be black and Catholic?…It means that I bring myself, my black self. All that I am. All that I have. All that I hope to become. I bring my whole story, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gift to the church … I think the difference between me and some people is that I am content to do my little bit. Sometimes people think that they have to do big things in order to make change. But if each one would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light.”
After struggling with breast cancer Sister Thea died on March 30, 1990. Her Cause for Canonization was officially opened on February 9, 2018.

Visitation perfect complement to ordinations

Bishop Joseph Kopacz

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz offers his homily from the Mass of Ordination for Father Aaron Williams and Father Nick Adam as his column this week. The ordinations were on Thursday, May 31, the Feast of the Visitation.)
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
“My sons you are now to be advanced to the order of the Presbyterate. You must apply your energies to the duty of teaching in the name of Christ, the chief teacher. Meditate on the law of God: believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach. Let the doctrine you teach be pure nourishment for the people of God. In the same way you must carry out your mission of sanctifying in the power of Christ. In the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, make every effort to die to sin and to walk in the new life of Christ. When you baptize you will bring men and women into the People of God. In the sacrament of penance you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. With holy oil you will relieve and console the sick. You will offer praise and thanks to God throughout the day, praying not only for the people of God but for the whole world. Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve and to seek out and to rescue those who were lost.”
– From the Rite of Ordination
Let us accompany Mary and Elizabeth as they encounter one another in one of the most joyful moments in all of Scripture. Generations are bridged as an older woman blesses the younger.
To say that they are enthusiastic falls way short of the reality. They are two women whom the Holy Spirit has embraced and they are on fire for God. They have accepted God’s plan in their lives and they are set free. Mary stands with all who are called too young and Elizabeth with all so called past their prime. They sing today for all of the great unsung women who have turned eternity to time.
In this divine drama of salvation, we turn to Deacon Aaron and Nick who have accepted the Lord Jesus’ invitation to be disciples, friends and priests of Jesus Christ, priests of the new Covenant for the Diocese of Jackson in our day. Like Mary, their Yes to the Lord’s call was molded in their families over many years, in many ordinary ways.
We are grateful to your families for building strong foundations on which to build. Like Mary and Elizabeth, they have aligned their lives with God’s plan for them and placing a little nervousness aside, they proclaim the greatness of God and rejoice in God their savior. Called by name we have affirmed their resounding yes to be here. They are zealous to serve in the Church for the salvation of all. Their desire to spring into action is like the horse, Justify, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and soon will surge out of the gate at the Belmont. Enthusiasm, energy and zeal are the signs of an authentic vocation, making one’s life ‘something beautiful for God,’ as Mother Teresa was fond of saying.
But as we know, it’s not always 75 degrees and low humidity. Sometimes the heat index is well over 100 and we feel the burden of our responsibilities. Our first reading is one of many in the Scriptures that tells the story of the Old Testament without illusion. Moses had it to the brim with the Israelites wandering around in unbearable desert heat feeling the enormous burden of his responsibilities. “Did I conceive these people you gave me or give birth to them? They are too heavy for me to carry.”
An honest prayer which resounds in the heart of any one of our lives at times. In a profound way, Moses anticipates the Cross and the power of God at work. For God intends, through the Cross and Resurrection of his Son, that the blessings are to surpass the burdens and that the burdens can even be stepping stones to greater life, that we take our burdens and joys to prayer and for us as bishops and priests, that we live the prototype of Moses and the seventy Elders in collaboration and communion with one another and with God, sharing one another’s joys and burdens.
The second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans portrays the Gospel rhythms for a disciple, including the ordained, infused with God’s grace: sincere love — hatred of evil — holding on to the good — readiness to serve — zealous, not slackers, fervent — joyful — enduring — persevering — generous — exercising hospitality — blessing one another with the example of Mary and Elizabeth – accompanying people in joy and sorrow — humble — and wise with gospel wisdom. These virtues enable the ordained to attend to the things of Christ, to have his mind and heart. Their cultivation will empower us in our vocations to serve the Lord with gladness, even in the heat of the day.
We know that each of the mysteries of the rosary: joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous overflow with divine life. In the Visitation encounter with Elizabeth, Mary of Nazareth, Our Lady of Promptness, signifies the Church who is prompt to go where needed, to serve and to accompany God’s people in our families and with neighbor and stranger alike.
Mary and Elizabeth dancing together over their unborn children, exemplify the Church who reverences life and the dignity of the human person at all stages, evident in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and in our commitment to Social Justice.
Proclaiming the Greatness of the Lord and rejoicing in God their Savior represents the Church who joyfully celebrates the Sacred Mysteries, especially in the Eucharist, the life-giving death and resurrection of the Lord, this sacred sacrificial meal at which we celebrate God’s mercy and receive strength for the journey in Word and Sacrament.
With hearts overflowing with God’s love we joyfully accompany Deacon Aaron and Deacon Nick as they lay down their lives in the Rite of Ordination to embrace the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

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.