Christmas invitation: open celebration to all

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In the fullness of time the Word became flesh, full of grace and truth, and the darkness then, now and for nearly two millennia could not overcome Him. On this Christmas night and day and throughout this Christmas season two weeks in duration, may we, like Mary, deepen our ‘yes’ to God and, like Joseph, awake to God’s faithful presence and action in our lives.
Mary and Joseph expended considerable labor to give birth to the Christ child, the light of the world, at peace in their sojourn to Bethlehem but anxious on the road, trusting in their God through the assurance of the angel, but fearful for the wellbeing of their unborn child. We can only imagine that this exceptional refugee family, after the birth of their first-born son, the child of the promise, collapsed from exhaustion in their earthy home away from home, that stable out back maintained warm and temporarily safe by the attending animals. “All you beasts wild and tame, bless the Lord. Praise and exult him forever!” (Daniel 3,81)
The prophecy fulfilled pierced the clouds and returned to earth so that those dwelling in the heavens and on the earth, could be the heralds of the Good News. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9,6). “From heaven, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2,14)
And who hears the message, but of course those who are compelled to work the night shift, the shepherds keeping watch over their vulnerable charges. Pope Francis cites them as the first cluster of those living on the margins of society, the dregs who smell like the animals they safeguard. Like King David who slew Goliath with an accurately slung stone, these hill people could take down a mountain lion, or wolf, or two-legged night crawler in the same manner if need be. These are not the typical folks that any one of us is likely to invite to visit a new born family member. With no disrespect intended, they might be likened to the fringe bikers of Hell’s Angels in our modern society. Yet, they represent the sinners, prostitutes, lepers, outcasts and tax collectors that received so much attention from Jesus in his public ministry. They were evangelized by the angels on that first Christmas night and after their encounter with Jesus Christ in his mother Mary’s arms with Joseph nearby, they became the first evangelizers. “The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2,16-20)
In all our Christmas celebrations, we with the Church throughout the world, also give glory to God through inspiring liturgies with hearts and minds open to God’s loving and saving mercy for our families, parishes, communities, nation and world. And with the angels and shepherds may no physical structures contain our joy and zeal to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, often shaped by darkness and the shadow of death. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, recently concluded, but ever ancient and ever new, is a constant reminder that after receiving God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, we are empowered and sent into our world, as living signs of hope, justice and peace. We recall that King Herod, whom the Magi recognized for what he was, has many faces in our world and the lust for power, wealth and domination still corrupts God’s creation and the Lord’s dreams for human life. The world needs the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ. (2Cor 4,6)
How do we labor to make our God’s dreams for our world a living reality? There is much to be done beyond our shores and in our country. The world needs to experience our faith in the Lord through our merciful, just and loving service to the most vulnerable. “He has told you, O people, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6,8) Charity does begin at home, but the destitute, the oppressed, the victims of abortion, human trafficking, war and terrorism, refugees, the unjustly incarcerated, the abandoned and neglected, immigrants, the unemployed, underinsured, mentally ill and our fragile planet all cry out for justice and mercy. Christmas reminds us that spiritually as the Lord’s disciples, we will never be unemployed or underemployed. Once the gift of the Christ child has been received we do not live by fear and hopelessness, but rather by faith in the Son of God.
May our God of encouragement and endurance (Romans 15,5) strengthen our faith, hope and love to know that fear is useless. (Mark 5,38) What is needed is trust and prayer and the conviction that God has given us his Spirit of power, love and self-control. (2Timothy 1,7) Merry Christmas to all and to all a good life in service to the Light who shines in the darkness.

Ancient songs bring new meaning to season

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Roman Catholic Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are also incorporated at the opening Antiphons for the daily Mass from December 17 through December 23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. With joyful hope in the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, they take us to the pinnacle of the Advent season in anticipation of Christmas Eve and the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophesy and promise in the Incarnation.
December 17
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
December 18
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
December 19
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
December 20
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
December 21
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
December 22
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save mankind, whom you formed from the dust!
December 23
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

We are most aware of their inspiration in the beloved Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Often the hymns we sing instruct us in the faith with exactly this level of magnificent theology and biblical imagery.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Verse 1
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Verse 2
O Come O Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily.
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
Verse 3
O Come, O Come Great Lord of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height.
In ancient times once gave the Law in cloud and majesty and awe.
Verse 4
O Come O Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them.
That trust your mighty power to save and give them victory over the grave.
Verse 5
O Come, O Key of David, Come, and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery.
Verse 6
O Come, O Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Verse 7
O Come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind.
O bid our sad divisions cease, and be for us our King of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel.
Through the prayerful proclamation of the “O” Antiphons at Mass, or their recitation during the Evening Prayer of the Church, or their use as a personal prayer, or through the singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel in Church, or at home, or through the quiet humming as we go about our Christmas preparations, know that we are praying with the Church throughout the world.
We are the faithful ones who hold are torches aloft, the wise who still seek him, and the angels who proclaim his birth. Indeed, the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There is much in our contemporary world that obscures the light of faith, or strains mightily to extinguish it, but Emmanuel, God with us, until the end of time is the Lord’s personal promise that prevails. May our spiritual journey and preparation not fade or grow dim as we prepare in the knowledge of faith and hope in the coming Messiah.

Creando una cultura de vocaciones

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
El trabajo de imaginación y planificación pastoral está a punto de llegar a un momento trascendental en el largo proceso de casi un año durante el 2016, es decir, la presentación de las declaraciones de misión y visión, las tres prioridades pastorales y sus objetivos específicos para los próximos dos años.
Ha sido un estimulante proyecto popular y de imaginación de equipo el cual se reunió por séptima vez a comienzos de esta semana para perfeccionar, bajo la guía del Espíritu Santo, lo que será nuestra dirección como diócesis durante los años venideros. Por supuesto, la etapa siguiente es a menudo la más difícil ya que debemos dedicar nuestros esfuerzos a su aplicación en el nuevo año.
Bajo la guía de una de nuestras prioridades pastorales: formar discípulos intencionales a lo largo de toda la vida es la promoción de una cultura de vocaciones. ¿Qué significa esto? Esta edición de Mississippi Catholic está dedicada a las vocaciones e inmediatamente esto puede provocarle a los católicos la línea tradicional de comprensión, es decir, los ordenados y consagrados.
Pero mientras el Espíritu Santo nos guía hacia el segundo milenio del cristianismo estamos mucho más conscientes de que el Señor Jesús llama a todos los que han sido bautizados a seguirlo a lo largo de sus vidas como sus discípulos. Esta llamada universal a la santidad, bajo el impulso del Espíritu Santo, con la mente y el corazón de Jesucristo, para la gloria de Dios Padre, y en la vida de la iglesia, es el fundamento de una cultura de vocaciones. Vocaciones religiosas y nuevos ordenados surgirán de este campo fértil.
La semilla de la fe iniciada en el bautismo, la vida de Dios, la promesa de la vida eterna, es para ser alimentada y no descuidada en cada etapa de nuestras vidas. Los primeros años, por supuesto, son como una piedra angular y a menudo proporcionan la luz orientadora de la fe en el seno de la familia y luego es nutrida en las parroquias, escuelas y en diversos ministerios.
En esta etapa un muchacho o una muchacha son introducidos a la oración y la Biblia, devociones tradicionales católicas, especialmente la Eucaristía, la santa Misa. Como esponjas, los niños y adolescentes pueden ver la fe y la bondad trabajando en las vidas de las generaciones mayores en sus vidas, y estos testigos vivos fortalecerán su experiencia de la presencia viva de Dios en nuestro mundo. Este es el campo fértil de la semilla de la fe cayendo en tierra buena. Pero los obstáculos revelados en la parábola del Señor del sembrador y la semilla es tan relevante en nuestro mundo moderno como lo fue cuando se los dijo desde un barco de pescador en el mar de Galilea en el mundo antiguo.
La semilla de la fe puede caer en el camino y fácilmente puede ser pisoteada por el ajetreo de la vida. La semilla también puede caer en las rocas y sin la posibilidad de echar raíces, es quemada por el calor del día, que es el sufrimiento inevitable en este mundo, así como la frecuente persecución y la hostilidad dirigida contra los discípulos del Señor.
Además, la semilla puede caer entre las espinas y las ansiedades y temores diarios, junto con el señuelo de la riqueza y del bienestar material, pueden también ahogar la palabra viva. Pero incluso en el clima más duro la vida puede perdurar y creemos que nada es imposible para Dios porque donde hay vida hay esperanza.
El Señor nos llama a perseverar y a crear esos jardines y culturas de fe en nuestras familias, parroquias, escuelas y ministerios, a fin de que podamos ser discípulos a lo largo de toda la vida donde las vocaciones puedan florecer.
Exige que las comunidades de discípulos recen y fomenten las vocaciones en todas las edades. Las vocaciones a la vida consagrada y ordenada permanecen como una importante, viable y crítica forma de servir al Señor Jesús en nuestro tiempo. Durante más de un siglo, a partir de la década de los años 1850, grandes familias de inmigrantes produjeron muchas vocaciones para el sacerdocio y la vida religiosa.
Con el advenimiento del mundo moderno y durante el último medio siglo han habido levantamientos sísmicos en los ámbitos seculares y religiosos que pondrían en tela de juicio todos los valores tradicionales.
De hecho, ahora más que nunca necesitamos discípulos del Señor que decidan ser célibes por el bien del reino de Dios. Cuando viven plenamente y fielmente los ordenados y religiosos son testigos vivientes de la vida eterna. De seguro, Jesús vino a darnos vida abundante ahora, pero siempre con miras hacia la eternidad. El sello del estado célibe es el amor a Jesucristo y el espacio dejado por Dios para ser consagrado exclusivamente en este mundo.
Nunca va a ser una vía de escape de este mundo, o un estado de ánimo que mira el amor conyugal y los niños como una casta inferior. Más bien es una forma de vida que le permite a uno la libertad de equilibrar la contemplación y la acción en el amoroso servicio al Señor en la Iglesia y en el mundo en una vida de dedicación, reflejando el amor de Jesucristo, que no se sí hoy y no mañana. Su amor es fiel y permanente. Este es un valor que el mundo moderno lucha por entender cuando todo es relativo y temporal. La vida de dedicación de los ordenados y religiosos es un ancla el mundo moderno que es fácilmente arrojado en los vientos de cambio.
Una vocación al servicio de Dios según el plan de Dios para nuestras vidas es nuestra diaria paz y propósito, y la promesa de la vida eterna. Sólo la semana pasada, después de 108 años los Cubs de Chicago ganaron la Serie Mundial. En medio de todo estaba el Padre Burke Masters, un sacerdote católico de la Diócesis de Jolliet que había jugado béisbol en la Universidad Estatal de Mississippi (Mississippi State University) con una prometedora carrera profesional de béisbol.
Un gran momento para él y la franquicia de los Cubs, seguro, pero él está trabajando en un campo de sueños diarios sirviendo en la viña del Señor en la parroquia, en el trabajo vocacional, y en el parque de béisbol, una bendición más allá de este mundo de éxitos.
Para mí, por la gracia de Dios y las oraciones de muchos, acojo mi vocación como un trabajo de amor sobre un campo de sueños. Abundan las bendiciones. “Amaos los unos a los otros como yo os he amado, y mi alegría será suya y su alegría será completa” es la paz que el mundo no puede dar. Oren por las vocaciones al sacerdocio y a la vida religiosa, promuévanlas en sus familias y caminen fielmente con el Señor en la tierra de los vivientes.

Called to holiness: Creating a Culture of Vocations

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The work of envisioning and pastoral planning is about to reach a significant juncture in the nearly year long process of 2016, that is, the unveiling of the Mission and Vision statements, the three Pastoral Priorities and their specific Goals for the next two years.
It has been an inspiring grassroots project and the Envisioning Team will have met for the seventh day-long session earlier this week to further refine, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what will be our direction as a diocese for the years ahead. Of course, the next stage is often the most difficult as we dedicate our efforts to implementation in the new year.
Under the umbrella of one of our pastoral priorities: to form life long intentional disciples, is the promotion of a culture of vocations. What does this mean? This issue of Mississippi Catholic is dedicated to vocations and immediately this can elicit for Catholics the traditional line of understanding, i.e. the ordained and consecrated life. But as the Holy Spirit leads us to the plateau of the second millennium of Christianity we are so much more aware that the Lord Jesus calls all who are baptized in life giving waters to follow him throughout their lives as his disciples.
This universal call to holiness under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father and in the life of the Church, is the foundation for a culture of vocations. Ordained and religious vocations will emerge from this fertile field.
The seed of faith begun in Baptism, God’s life, the promise of eternal life, is to be nurtured and not neglected, at each stage of our lives. The early years, of course, are like a cornerstone and often provide the guiding light of faith within the family and then further nurtured in parishes, schools and in various ministries. At this stage a young boy or girl is introduced to prayer and the Bible, traditional Catholic devotions and especially the Eucharist, the Mass.
Like sponges a child and teenager can see the faith and goodness at work in the lives of older generations in their lives and these living witnesses will strengthen their experience of the living presence of God in our world. This is the fertile field of the seed of faith falling on good soil. But the obstacles revealed in the Lord’s parable of the Sower and the Seed is just as relevant in our post modern world as it was when he told it from a fisherman’s boat on the sea of Galilee in the ancient world.
The seed of faith can land on the path and can easily be trampled by the busyness of life. The seed can land also on rocks and without the possibility of laying down roots, it is burned up by the heat of the day, which is the inevitable suffering in this world, as well as the not infrequent persecution and hostility directed against the Lord’s disciples.
Furthermore, the seed can fall among thorns and daily anxieties and fears, along with the lure of riches and material well being, can also choke the living Word. But even in the harshest climate life can endure and we believe that nothing is impossible for God because where there is life there is hope.
The Lord calls us to persevere and create those gardens and cultures of faith in our families, parishes, schools and ministries, so that we can be life-long intentional disciples where vocations can flourish.
It requires communities of disciples to pray for and encourage vocations in every age. Vocations to the ordained and consecrated life remain a viable and critically important way to serve the Lord Jesus in our time. For more than a century, beginning in the 1850s, larger immigrant families produced many vocations for the priesthood and religious life. With the dawn of the modern world and for the past half century there have been seismic upheavals in the secular and religious realms calling into question all traditional values.
In fact, now more than ever we need disciples of the Lord who choose to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom of God. When lived fully and faithfully the ordained and religious are living witnesses to eternal life. For sure, Jesus came to give us abundant life now, but always with a view toward eternity.
The hallmark of the celibate state is love for Jesus Christ and the space allowed for God to be embodied uniquely in this world. Never is it to be an escape from this world, or a state of mind that looks upon married love and children as a lower caste. Rather, it is a way of life that allows one the freedom to balance contemplation and action in loving service to the Lord in the Church and in the world in a life long commitment, mirroring the love of Jesus Christ who is not yes today and no tomorrow.
His love is faithful and permanent. This is a value that the modern world struggles to grasp when everything is relative and temporary. The life long commitment of the ordained and religious is an anchor the modern world which is easily tossed about in the winds of change.
A vocation in the Lord’s service according to God’s plan for our lives is our daily peace and purpose and the promise of eternal life. Just last week after 108 years the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. In the middle of it all stood Father Burke Masters, a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Jolliet and a former baseball standout at Mississippi State with a promising professional baseball career.
A great moment in time for him and the Cubs franchise, for sure, but he is working in a daily field of dreams as he serves in the Lord’s vineyard in the parish, in vocation work and at the ballpark, a blessing far beyond this world’s successes.
For me, by God’s grace and the prayers of many, I embrace my vocation as a labor of love on a field of dreams. Blessings abound. “Love one another as I have loved you and my joy will be yours and your joy will be complete” is the peace that the world cannot give.
Pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, encourage them in your families and walk faithfully with the Lord in the land of the living.