Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
During the final week of March, Bishop Barry C. Knestout experienced his first Holy Week as bishop of the Diocese of Richmond. He celebrated Palm Sunday Mass, Chrism Mass, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and the Easter Vigil, and presided at the Good Friday liturgy all at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
Christ is accessible to all
During his March 25 Palm Sunday homily, he noted how today’s government leaders, because of security concerns, were kept at a distance from people, and when leaders traveled during Jesus’ time, they were surrounded by guards. The bishop contrasted this to the accessibility one has to Jesus.
“The accessibility of Christ to his people, like the accessibility of the pope to the universal Church, encourages everyone to see themselves as being able to approach the one who leads or rules,” Bishop Knestout said, adding that “Jesus wants to emphasize and make clear to us his approachability, that he is very close to each one of us.”
The bishop said one should not see God as uninterested in his people.
“God does not want us to see him as distant and unapproachable, so that we retreat and succumb to our sins,” he said. “He does not want us to die in sin, but to live in his love as adopted sons and daughters, receivers of his inheritance as a family member. He does not want opportunities for mercy and life to be missed.”
Bishop Knestout said that through the joy people experience because Jesus “conquered sin and death for us,” they draw close to him, immersing themselves in his Passion.
“So, let us approach the king of kings and the Lord of Lords, not with fear and trembling, because he seems to be distant and unapproachable in his divine majesty,” the bishop said. “But, because he draws close to us, we can confidently draw close to him and know the mercy and life he offers.”
Priests called to be faithful stewards
The next night, March 26, the bishop addressed his Chrism Mass homily to the priests, asking, “Is the priesthood we share a job? In other words, is it something we do and put aside when we are finished? Or, is it something we are?”
Referencing the evening’s Scripture readings — Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9 and Luke 4:16-21— the bishop said, “What (Jesus) does and who he is are identical.”
Bishop Knestout said in being anointed in the sacrament of Holy Orders, priests are entrusted with proclaiming the Gospel and with healing remedies to sin and death that are found in the sacraments.
“We are called to coordinate the works of charity for those bound or overwhelmed by poverty, physical limits or weakness,” he said, adding emphatically, “But this is all more than something we do.”
Bishop Knestout said it is necessary for priests to renew vows, commitments and promises in order to live out “our call faithfully, that our character as disciples and holy priests is manifested and strengthened.”
The bishop said that in reaffirming their commitment to follow Jesus, priests “enter anew” their service to the Church.
“Today we are called to be faithful stewards of the office of teaching and the celebration of the sacraments. We renew our resolve to teach and preach with effectiveness and joy,” Bishop Knestout said. “We renew our resolve to offer the Mass and celebrate all the sacraments with devotion for the good of our people and our own sanctification.”
Following the homily, the priests stood and renewed their commitment to priestly service.
Why God offers a covenant
On Holy Thursday, March 29, with more than 400 people in attendance, Bishop Knestout spoke about meals, sacrifice, Passover, Eucharist and covenant.
He said God calls people into “an intimate personal communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit” with him so they “might know the fullness of life.” It’s a communion they are unable to establish themselves.
“When we seek life and love in (possessions, power, pleasure and position), we are grasping for finite things not eternal things. We seek to satisfy our present needs over our future good,” the bishop said. “We seek the temporary over the lasting, earthly over heavenly. So, instead of life and love we find suffering and death.”
Bishop Knestout said God doesn’t need people’s sacrifices. Instead, God offers a “mutual self-gift” — a covenant.
“God seeks us out and offers us friendship with him. This covenant or agreement is not an exchange of goods or services, but rather is a relationship of persons,” he said.
The bishop noted that the “meal and a sacrifice” being celebrated established “the new and eternal covenant of God’s love,” adding, “We are united to that sacrifice through our offering of faith.”
Reiterating his point about sacrifice and meal, Bishop Knestout said, “Because the power of his sacrifice is immersed in a sacred meal, all from the least to the greatest can join in the sacrifice and all from the least to the greatest can experience communion with God in life and love.”
Cross, Resurrection demonstrate God’s love
Before more than 500 participants at the Good Friday liturgy, March 30, Bishop Knestout spoke about brutal depictions of Christ’s crucifixion. Referencing artist Mattias Grunwald’s “Isenheim Altarpiece,” he noted it is a “most spiritually powerful and brutally realistic depictions of the crucifixion in Western art,” even though it is graphically gruesome — so graphic that some people turn away from it.
“Why does the Church do such a thing? Honor an instrument of torture. Consider gruesome depictions of crucifixion as art and place such images in honored places in our churches?” he asked. “What transforms our understanding of the meaning of the Cross?”
The bishop continued, “It is the Resurrection. Cross and Resurrection make evident the profound love God has for us and the lengths he will go to ensure we can have eternal life in him.”
Bishop Knestout said the day’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (52:13-53:12) explains why the faithful honor and adore such images.
“The image of the crucifixion should shake us to our foundations, that we, who by sin, regularly reject and scourge our Lord, need to be shaken by these images and reminded of the extent of God’s love,” the bishop said.
This image, he noted, should keep the faithful from turning away in fear, shame or embarrassment.
“This immersion in recalling the Passion of our Lord can and should inspire within us a deep longing, a profound desire, to repent of sin, to turn to God our merciful Father, and in gratitude, seek the new life he offers to us,” Bishop Knestout said.
See brilliance of faith
At the Easter Vigil, March 31, using the example of how colors on the color spectrum can clash and contrast, Bishop Knestout said that while that can be unpleasant, it can be helpful as it gets people’s attention, and can be an opportunity for people to grow and prosper — not unlike what is proclaimed in that night’s Gospel.
“The contrast we hear and see in the stories of salvation history shared in the Easter Vigil and in the Gospel proclaimed are there to awaken us from the sleep of darkness and death and into the beauty and joy of eternal life in the life of the Blessed Trinity,” he said.
The bishop noted that if people are patient, they will begin to understand.
“… the light always conquers the dark and we start seeing not so much the clashes, but the complementarity and brilliance of each aspect of faith in all its beauty,” Bishop Knestout said. “We see the mysteries of faith: God is three and God is one, the Son of God is fully human, the Son of God is fully divine, we gain life by losing it.”
While those paradoxes might appear to be contradictory, the bishop said, they get people’s attention and allow them to “see each truth in a fuller, more vivid and complete way.”
“The whole Paschal Mystery, the contrasts in Christ’s suffering death and resurrection, experienced in the events of this week, are meant to awaken in us the awareness not only of the suffering, malevolence and darkness that are part of the sinful world around us, but also the ‘way’ though that darkness to life,” Bishop Knestout said.
Editor’s note: Bishop Knestout’s homilies from each of the four Masses and the Good Friday service can be viewed at www.richmonddiocese.org.