Be reconciled to God and one another

Bishop Baker’s homily from the Chrism Mass, April 10

In our Holy Father’s Holy Thursday Letter to Priests this year, he expresses his gratitude for all that our priests have done during the Jubilee Year to ensure that the people entrusted to their care might experience more intensely the loving presence of the Risen Lord. I join our Holy Father in thanking our priests, our deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay women and men in helping us celebrate the first full year of my ministry as your bishop through our Jubilee Year of Prayer and Monthly Prayer Intentions. What a great help you were to me, to the diocese, and to the universal church through your prayers for these special needs.

I have invited you to join me this year in a special Year of Reconciliation in the Diocese of Charleston, as we as a diocesan church look for avenues where the Holy Spirit may more effectively build bridges among ourselves as a Catholic community, knowing that we have little to share with others outside our faith in the way of evangelization unless we have been first reconciled by God within our church.

The great friend of the poor and spiritual writer Catherine de Hueck Doherty suggested that in Holy Week we join hands in deep forgiveness of one another, that we reconcile ourselves to whomever we are not reconciled, that we in this week enlarge the circle of love in our heart so that it can encompass the humanity that flows near us. Mercy, she says, flows from the love of God. “Forgiveness is part of it. Humility sings a song to it. This truly is a week that is holy!” Catherine Doherty says.

Indeed, my friends, this week we celebrate in a powerful and dramatic way the reconciliation Jesus won for each of us by his suffering, death, and reconciliation.

St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (1:20) reminds us that it pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in Jesus and, by means of him, “to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross.”

Jesus is the author and principal agent of every act of reconciliation.

We have recourse to him to enable us to be ambassadors of the reconciliation he has won for us at great price and fostered in us in all our relationships with one another.

Jesus “is the priest through whom we have been reconciled, the sacrifice by which we have been reconciled, the temple in which we have been reconciled, the God with whom we have been reconciled” (from a Treatise on Faith by St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop).

This week all of us will be celebrating the great drama of reconciliation and mercy in our Holy Week and Easter liturgies.

In his Holy Thursday letter to priests our Holy Father describes mercy as “the absolutely free initiative by which God has chosen us.” It is “his deigning to call us to act as his representatives, though he knows that we are sinners!” “Mercy is the forgiveness which he never refuses us, as he did not refuse it to Peter after his betrayal. The avowal that ‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous person who need no repentance’ (Luke 15:7) “holds true for us,” our Holy Father says.

Pope John Paul II invites us to rediscover our vocation as a “mystery of mercy,” and I may take the liberty to add  “a mystery and ministry of reconciliation.”

The Holy Father goes on in his letter to encourage us to “rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a fundamental means of sanctification. Approaching a brother priest in order to ask for the absolution that we so often give to the faithful enables us to have the great and consoling truth that, before being ministers, we are all members of the same people, a ‘saved’ people ….

“On this holy day,” the pope says, let us therefore “ask Christ to help us to rediscover, for ourselves, the full bounty of this Sacrament …” Let us, dear priests, he says “make regular use of this Sacrament, that the Lord may constantly purify our hearts and make us less unworthy of the mysteries which we celebrate …. The priest who fully experiences the joy of sacramental reconciliation will find it altogether normal to repeat to his brothers and sisters the words of Paul:

‘So we are ambassadors of Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20).”

Only if we have first been reconciled to God and to one another, we who are in leadership in ministry in the Diocese of Charleston, can we beseech others on behalf of Christ to “Be reconciled to God.”

Only when we have first been reconciled to God and to one another are we properly disposed for the celebration of the sacrament of Christian unity, the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.

Only if we are reconciled to God and to one another are we proper bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Lord called us to unity at the Last Supper. Jesus prayed precisely that we would be one with him and his Father, that the world may believe that the Father had sent him. He realized that the credibility of our witness to him would depend on the unity within the body of the faithful.

Without that unity we would have a hard time bearing witness to the message Jesus came to bring to the world  a message of reconciliation.

You and I bear the message of unity and reconciliation principally through the example of our lives.

Could we perhaps take the time to seek forgiveness from a brother or sister we have wronged, a family member or friend, a fellow priest or religious sister or brother?

Could we perhaps take the time to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us? What a great symbol of the meaning of the events we celebrate in our liturgies this Holy Week and Easter!

I thank all of you who have responded to our summons for reconciliation within the Catholic community in the Diocese of Charleston in this Year of Reconciliation.

And I invite you to pray more fervently and work more diligently for this special cause  that people, seeing how Christians love one another, will be led to the person and message of Jesus Christ.