Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking ahead

Let us be 'different' for a happy 2012

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Happy new year!

Of course, as a faith community, we already began a new year on the First Sunday of Advent. We got a head start and our focus couldn’t have been better — welcoming in the new year by opening our lives more deeply to the Christ, the incarnation, and even focusing more clearly on the day of his return.

With such a tremendous beginning, this new year Jan. 1 should also begin so well. 2012, hope-FULL-y, will bring more peace, more security, more love, more generosity, more caring, more healing, more responsibility, more faith, more forgiveness, more creativity, more life than in 2011.

We just finished a war. Could we be more blessed and grateful? But is that enough? Shouldn’t we be seeking every way possible to be sure we don’t enter into another one? Shouldn’t we, especially as followers of Jesus, be seeking ways to build bridges of understanding? Shouldn’t we recognize and respond to the many poor of our own land as well as those throughout the world? Shouldn’t we be trying in every way possible to fix the structures in our society to prevent the possibility for poverty, sickness and hunger from continuing or even from developing in the first place? Shouldn’t we be seeking to build the kingdom of God by building a world that is more connected, more united, more full of understanding? Shouldn’t we be open to people of different races, cultures, faiths, preferences, values, without being constantly threatened by those who see things differently than we do? Shouldn’t we be fostering understanding and respect even though we might believe in God differently or even not at all?

Happy new year! If 2012 is to be different — better; then, so must we be different and better!

Happy new year! A blessed 2012!

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Urbi et orbi message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

Christ is born for us! Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to the men and women whom he loves. May all people hear an echo of the message of Bethlehem which the Catholic Church repeats in every continent, beyond the confines of every nation, language and culture. The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Saviour of all.

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God”. Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Christ, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love (cf. Psalm 40:2).

This is the meaning of the Child’s name, the name which, by God’s will, Mary and Joseph gave him: he is named Jesus, which means “Saviour” (cf. Matthew 1:21; Luke1:31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Genesis 3:1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: “Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!”

The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10:3ff.). God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance.

Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God’s love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: “Come to save us!” Let us repeat these words in spiritual union with the many people who experience particularly difficult situations; let us speak out for those who have no voice.

Together let us ask God’s help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried.

May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods.

May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood. May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.

May the birth of the Saviour support the prospects of dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar, in the pursuit of shared solutions. May the Nativity of the Redeemer ensure political stability to the countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and assist the people of South Sudan in their commitment to safeguarding the rights of all citizens.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to him; let us receive him into our lives. Once more let us say to him, with joy and confidence: “Veni ad salvandum nos!”

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord: Midnight Mass Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI

God has appeared — as a child. It is in this guise that he
pits himself against all violence and brings a message
that is peace. (Credit:
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The reading from Saint Paul’s letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit,” which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit — “there has appeared.” This is a programmatic word, by which the church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 — Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Titus 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today, too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Isaiah 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace “has no end”. The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Isaiah 9:1, 3-4).

God has appeared — as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the one through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the foot gear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.

Christmas is an epiphany — the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” — above all other feasts — and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centered on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” — this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love — our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half meters high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half meters has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of St. Francis — the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions — the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they — and we — may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Looking ahead

Let us welcome
him — the whole
mystery of who
he is/was
into our lives.
Let us welcome him into our lives

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Merry Christmas! ¡Paz y amor! Rejoice in the birth of Christ our savior!

Incarnation — God taking on human flesh and becoming man — has occurred! We are and never will be the same. The human and divine are now one as never before. This is redemption of our flesh and humanity. If there was ever any question as to the sacredness of the human body, it must never be questioned again.

God has taken on human form, human flesh, the human body, and entering it has sanctified it beyond understanding. Truly, the body has become a temple of God’s presence, and it is holy. We focus on "mangers" and "no room in the inn," but in the deepest sense there is another connection we cannot forget: the difficulties surrounding Jesus’ birth (unforeseen and unexplainable pregnancy; a rather uncomfortable birth site; slaughter of innocents in Bethlehem) are a kind of prophetic look at what is to come.

The cross! The cross! It is clearly a part of who Jesus is and who he is to become — even at his birth. It is not a thing of shame — it is simply the reality of both the incarnation and the redemption — the birth and death of the Lord.

Let us welcome him — the whole mystery of who he is/was into our lives.

Merry CHRIST-mas!

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142.

Christmas and the gift of love

Each of us receives
the power to
become a child
of God as Jesus
was made a child
of Mary.
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Christmas is a gift. I have felt that way since I was a child.

Growing up, my parents always made Christmas a time of wonder and joy for my sisters and I. There was a certain spirit in the air; everything seemed somehow more alive, as if the world was filled with new possibilities.

We prayed with a little more devotion and spent more time together as a family — getting the house ready, decorating the Christmas tree; we always built a family Nativity scene for the baby Jesus.

We celebrated the nine days of Las Posadas, feeling very close to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph as we accompanied them on their journey to Bethlehem. And, of course, there was Christmas Eve and the nochebuena meal and the midnight Mass.

Every Catholic culture and family has its own beautiful Christmas traditions. Those were mine, growing up in my Catholic home.

But we all have rich traditions of piety and devotion. Last week, for instance, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass to begin Simbang Gambi, a beautiful novena of the Filipino people as they await the coming of Jesus Christ.

As I look back over the years, I realize that I don’t remember too many of the Christmas presents I received. But I always remember the presence of God that I felt during the Christmas season.

“For to us, a child is born.” That’s the gift of Christmas — God’s gift of himself, in the child Jesus who is born.

The church fathers used to say that love is an exchange of gifts. And love is born on Christmas. Christmas, in fact, makes love possible. Because of God’s gift of himself on Christmas, we can dare to love him as he loves us. And because of God’s gift, we can share the love he gives us with others.

I pray that this Christmas we will all open ourselves to God’s gift and allow a new spirit of generous love to be born in our hearts.

None of us has anything that we can offer to God that he could possibly need. Yet in his love, Jesus accepts what little we have, our human nature, and taking on our flesh he offers us the gift of his divine nature in exchange.

As St. Paul said, “Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” On Christmas we see this in a beautiful way — Jesus, though he is God, empties himself and humbles himself to receive our humanity, so that he can give us the gift of his divinity.

“To all who received him,” St. John said, “he gave power to become children of God.”

So this is the gift of Christmas. Each of us receives the power to become a child of God as Jesus was made a child of Mary.

But everything in our lives and in our world depends on what we do with this gift. To be a child of God, to really receive Jesus, means we have to open our lives to the gift of his love. And it means we have to offer our lives back to God as a gift of our love.

Jesus left us an example to follow. So we need to always be learning from his life in the Gospels. From the crib of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary, he gave his life completely as a gift of love.

That is how we should live. By loving others as Jesus has loved us. With the gift of our whole self.

I pray that this Christmas we will all open ourselves to God’s gift and allow a new spirit of generous love to be born in our hearts.

Jesus told us to give our love in a special way to those who have nothing they can offer us in return. So in this new year, let us try to have a more compassionate love for the poor, the unborn, the prisoner, the immigrant, and the sick.

We can offer one another gifts of love in little ways.

Because our time is so precious, it is a beautiful gift. So let us try to be more generous with our time, more “present” to others, less distracted. One thing that would help: Let’s try to turn off our phones and computers more often so we can really pay attention to the people we love.

Jesus is the greatest gift that God could ever give us. So let’s remember also that Jesus is the greatest gift that we can give to others. In the coming year, let’s try with new intensity to share the gift of our Catholic faith with our neighbors and in our public life.

Pray for me during this holy season and I will pray for you and your families.

I ask the prayers of Mary, the Mother of God’s gift of love, that we might all rejoice in a holy Christmas and a blessed new year.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. Follow Archbishop Gomez at

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

Only those whose
"fit" is perfect
will get it.
Transcript of homily recorded on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 (Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

We all know the story: The pretty, young girl who lived with her stepmother and two ugly stepsisters — that's just what the story says — but the stepmother preferred the two ugly daughters and mistreated poor, little Cinderella. So through all the magic, she goes in this beautiful pumpkin and goes to this ball and dances with the prince; he chooses her. As the bell begins to strike 12, she runs away and she steps out and loses her one glass slipper, and then the prince goes around everywhere looking for this foot that fits perfectly into this glass slipper. When he gets to the ugly stepsisters, he tries it on and almost breaks their feet trying to cram them into the shoe. It doesn't work. But then it slips beautifully into the foot of Cinderella, and well, you know the rest of the story.

We have a Cinderella story this morning in these scriptures. God proclaims who he is and it's observable by looking at all of creation the wonders he has done. He asks in so many ways, "Is there anyone who can do this? Is there anyone who has done this? Is there anyone or anything that can create what I've done? Look, open your eyes and see." It's a "perfect fit," if you look; you can't come to any other conclusion, but this is the God who speaks and proclaims his wonders.

But then we come to the Gospel, and Jesus similarly just points to the wonders that are happening, because everyone who knew the scriptures, everyone who knew the proclamation of old, knew that when the messiah would come that this messianic time would create these wonders — mostly healing and justice and peace would spring forth, and lepers would be cleansed and the blind would see and the paralytics would walk and the deaf would hear and the mute would speak. And it's beginning to happen. And when they ask him, "Are you the one who's to come?" He said, "Look. Open your eyes and see." You see the fit. It fits perfectly. But that last line, interesting: "And how blessed is the one who takes no offense at me." Or to put it in other words: "Only those who have the eyes to see will see. Only those who have the ears to hear will hear." Only those whose "fit" is perfect will get it. And, interestingly, the most religious among them, the most outwardly religious who did all the right gesturings; who wore all the right apparel; who sat in the first rows with the longest tassels; who did it all right and whom everyone — everyone — would say, "Oh, those are the religious leaders"; they're the ones who were not blessed, who did not get it. The shoe didn't fit.

So the Cinderella story is a wonderful little story, but it really speaks in a very wise way of the reality of life. You know, when we don't have that fit, when it doesn't fit, when we don't make the connections, we can miss some of the most simple and some of the deepest truths around us. And I think what is required is not so much knowing everything, it's really knowing that we don't know. It's really having the humility to be searchers, not knowers. I mean of course, we want to know as much as we can, but in the end, how much we don't know — I mean, does anyone know how God did all of his wonders? When we look at his creations, when we went through that wind storm  a week ago, can anybody imagine here in Los Angeles that we would have hurricane-force winds? Poor Pasadena's still limping. Poor, rich, San Marino was out the longest, I think. The "perfect fit" is to stand before these scriptures today and to drop our jaws in awe and just say, "Whoa! You're right, God. You're right, God."

And how blessed are we if we have eyes to see and ears to hear and mouths to proclaim and, instead of pretending that we know all, to recognize how little we know but how blessed we are to have one revealing so much truth to us.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Looking ahead

Join us in celebrating
the great feast of the
patroness of the Americas.
'Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths. Open up the highway to the Lord.'

This week provides some wonderful opportunities to prepare for Christmas and the new year:


Joy is one of the sure signs of the presence of God. Come listen to some music-making to lift our spirits and open our hearts to God’s presence in our lives.


Join us in celebrating the great feast of the patroness of the Americas. After our novena — nine days of prayerful preparation — we celebrate, in joy and love, the mother of our Lord.


Tuesday evening at 7, priests from neighboring parishes will join us to celebrate forgiveness and reconciliation with confessions. This is a time to heal, renew, refresh, and to experience forgiveness and new life. What better way to prepare for Christmas then to clean house — the interior space in our souls?

Preparation happens when we take advantage of the opportunities that surround us. Let our parish community and parish events help us to make this Christmas a profound and joyful spiritual event in our lives.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

You know, faith is
a very serious thing.
Transcript of homily recorded on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 (Saturday of the Second Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

How many of you ever saw the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark"?

Can anyone tell me what happens at the very end, the very last scenes?

I'll try and recall it; I believe this is correct: The Nazis have come to this island and they have found the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant. And the Jews believe they have the tablets in there. This was where they believe God was, in this ark. They carried it like we carry the picture, or if we were to carry the tabernacle somewhere, with the greatest respect, no one would touch it but the priests. It was sacred. They believed that somehow God was present there, just like we believe Jesus is present in the tabernacle and the Eucharist.

So the Nazis, they didn't even believe in God, but they said, but everyone else believes in this ark so we're going to get this ark and open it and have God on our side and we're going to control the world. So they're all gathered on this island, and Harrison Ford is there and this girl. And remember they're tied to a stake with their hands behind their back, and they're looking at all these Nazis. They're about to open up the ark. (This is all Hollywood, by the way; not true.) But they open up the ark, and Harrison Ford says to the girl, "No matter what, don't look at it! Don't look at it!" Do you remember why or do you know why he said that?

Well, the Jews believed this: If you ever looked at God's face you would die. Not because he's mean or bad, because he's too great. It's like if there's a 220-volt plug, should you wet your finger and put your finger in it? No. Why? You'll die! It's too strong, the electricity. So they always said, never look at God's face; you'll die.

Now, some parents, when they get upset with their kids, if their kids look up at them, "Don't look at my face! Look down at the ground!" Why? They say for respect.

My dad said the opposite: "Look at my face when I'm talking to you!" Because if I looked down, he said, "Look at me!" He wanted me to see that face that scared me.

So the Jews said, never look at God's face; you'll die. And in the movie, they open up the ark and it's beautiful, and they even say, "Oh, it's beautiful!" and then they all die, except for Harrison Ford and the girl because they didn't open their eyes.

What did we just pray during the responsorial psalm? "Lord, let us see your face." What?! "Lord, let us see your face and we shall be saved." We shall be saved. The psalm tells us, look at God's face, look at God's face, and he will save us.

You know, faith is a very serious thing. Boys and girls, you're studying for these two years. And you might think, "Two years?! Two years?! Why?" Because this is a very serious thing you're doing. You're gonna take the body and blood of Jesus Christ into your mouth and eat and drink. When you eat that host — the bread of life — and drink from the chalice, you're eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, that Jesus Christ would be present in you. This is something we don't to lightly or not even aware of. This is serious.

Has anyone here ever run the [Los Angeles] marathon, the 26-mile marathon? I would never run it. Do you know if it's in March, do you know when they start practicing? Last October, November. I met somebody recently, and they said, "I'm going to run the marathon." In fact, it was at our Walkathon. And this young man, he ran for hours. He was skinny as a twig, but he kept running, and I said, "Are you crazy?" He says, "No, I'm going to run the marathon. I'm practicing now." I would never do that; it's so serious! You don't just show up that day, and you haven't practiced, and you think, "I'll run 26 miles." You'll drop dead. You practice for months because it's so serious.

And in a way, that's an example of two years of [communion] preparation, learning prayers and talking about God and understanding the Eucharist and why would Jesus be present to us in food; and what does food do, and it strengthens our bodies and understanding it, thinking about it, sharing about it, praying about it, listening to teachers, talking to each other, opening our minds. This is like a spiritual marathon. For two years preparing so that when we receive for the first time, we know what we're doing. It's a serious thing.

In these scriptures today, they talk about Elijah coming. Again we have language about God coming and changing everything because, when we open ourselves to God, when we look in that Ark of the Covenant, when we look in God's face, we're doing something very serious: we're dealing with God, we're opening to God.

I do appreciate weeks ago when we had a picture here, maybe it was on Wednesday evening with the other children, snd I said, "Would it be OK to smash this picture?"

They said, "No!"


"It's sacred; it's holy."

"Could you take the cross off your neck and throw it on the ground and step on it?"

"No! It's holy; it's sacred."

Well, this is what these readings talk about. When God gets involved with us — and he always is — but when we become aware that God is involved with us, we begin to understand something really serious is happening. We don't take it lightly. We don't just run the marathon. We open and practice and get prepared.

Today these readings tell us in the middle of Advent, almost really toward the end, that we are preparing to meet Christ at Christmas, and one day, at the end of time — serious thing, serious thing — to open ourselves to the presence of our God.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

This word of God
is asking us to have
a different attitude
to, well, close it,
zip it, and to listen
not just with our ears.
Transcript of homily recorded on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 (Friday of the Second Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

I had a couple come to me in my last parish. They had been married civilly for seven years and they wanted to get married by the church; they didn't have any children. I sent them on the customary retreat, the one-day retreat. They were both very intelligent people. She was a head nurse, so she supervised people; and he was a manager in a power company, and he also supervised people. They both were trained in doing conflict resolution and all those things that would help to sort out problems in a company and make them better.

But in their marriage, they argued constantly. So they go on this retreat, and when they came I always do what I call my "debrief" and I sat them down and I said, "Well, what did you get out of the retreat? Can you name one thing — anything — that really touched you, that benefited you as a couple or you as an individual?" And so they looked at me, they both looked at each other, a little smile came over their face, and she looked back and she said, "Well, father, we learned how to listen to each other."

So I said to her, "Well, I understand what those words mean, but how do you mean it? How did you learn to listen to each other?"

So she said, "Well, first of all, I think we both agreed that we both do this equally, so I'm not saying he's worse than I am or anything, but we interrupt each other all the time. One goes to speak, the other one enters a comment or a commentary and there's always these detours."

This is how she described it: "Let's say I call my husband. I want to tell him something here that I come to understand, so I say, 'Honey, today I was talking to my boss' and he interrupts — 'That idiot! Why would you talk to him?! Blah blah blah blah blah!'"

And there's a little argument. So she finally calms him down, says, "Wait a minute. So I called my sister. 'Not Olivia! She is a such a jerk!'" — he's attacking her family now.

It was like that the whole conversation — interruption, interruption, interruption; argument, argument, argument.

So she said, "We learned a new technique called 'time out.'"

I said, "Tell me more.

And she said, "OK. So I say, 'Honey, I was talking to my boss today-' 'That idiot how can you-" — 'time out!'" And the rule was, now he had to zip it and just listen, couldn't interrupt — time out.

As she went through her whole list — he had all the thoughts: "Your sister, oh, that-"; "Your mother, oh, you should marry her"; he was thinking it, but he didn't interrupt so there was no argument, there was no detour, there's no interruption, there's no commentary that insulted or hurt and she was able to finish her whole thought without any interruption from him. And she said, the results were always the same now. Usually it was, wow, I understand what you're saying. You know how I feel about all these people, but what you said is logical and I agree with you; or basically I agree with you, but this one comment of your mother, oh, too much but, no, it still makes sense. Or, honey, I disagree with you completely, and it's not because my feelings about these people, you know those, but he said this, I don't agree; she said this, I don't think that makes sense; she said this, but look at the facts.

And then she said this, and this was the most astounding thing, she said, "Father Perry, I can't believe it. Ninety-five percent of our arguing is gone now. We really hear each other. And it's amazing."

And then she said, "But you know what's so sad? How much we fought for seven years because we couldn't listen to each other."

It's that simple. It really is. Any two people — and I include me — I think I'm always right. Of course I am. I know everything. Of course I do. Even things I know nothing about, I put my opinion in like it's intelligent and oftentimes it's not very intelligent. People just want to win. But when we listen, we really listen — and not just to a word or to people's logical statements — but to their feelings about it. If we really heard someone say this: "You know, when you say that, it really hurts, and I wish you wouldn't." People hear that. I think most people are sensitive enough to say, "Wow, I didn't mean to hurt you. I'll stop saying it."

The word of God today says it in another way: "I, the Lord your God, teach you what is good for you and lead you on the way you should go. If you would harken to my commandments" — or in other words — "If you would listen to me" — in other words, if you could hear my voice — "Your prosperity would be like a river and your vindication like the waves of the sea."

Or the psalm said: "Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life. Bless the man (or the woman) who follows not the counsel of the wicked" — who doesn't listen to them — "who doesn't walk in the way of sinners or sit in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord." Or, in other words, listens to the law of the Lord. Or, in other words, listens to the law of the Lord. Or, in other words, hears your voice, oh, Lord, and meditates on this law day and night. "Like a tree planted near running water, gives fruit into season, leaves never fade."

Or, in the Gospel: "To what shall I compare this generation? Like children in the marketplace who call to one another. We played the flute, but you didn't dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn." We did all these things and you didn't do what we wanted. And then he says, it's like people who see they see John, he's fasting, and they say, "He's possessed by a demon!" Jesus doesn't fast, they say he's a drunk and a glutton. In other words, we see it our way, only our way, and you're not fitting into our pattern. But once again, Jesus is saying, "Wisdom is vindicated by our works. Listen, look, see the truth. Take it in."

Communication is difficult, it really is. And I think — at least what I hear in my own life and in the confessional and the office and in my inner dealings with people — in a very, very materialistic and high-powered and noisy society, we don't get too many chances. Most of us, I think, we have an opinion, we want what we want, we want if fast. This word of God is asking us to have a different attitude to, well, close it, zip it, and to listen not just with our ears or our mind, but with our hearts and try to make a different connection — first of all, with ourselves, just to be connected. Second of all — and it really isn't second — with our God. I mean, he gives us the command, "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength"; "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

It seems to me that in this season like this where we have four weeks to prepare for Christmas, it is so that we don't go from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25 — oh, it's Christmas — but we've had four weeks of listening; four weeks of absorbing; four weeks of being quiet; four weeks of waiting; four weeks of anticipating; four weeks of opening, opening, opening, so that when it comes, we can hear and see everything, we can get it, we can find the power, find the life, find the truth.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

People think it's
worthwhile making
that long, hard trek
into the wilderness.
Transcript of homily recorded on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 (Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent)

By Father Gilbert Cruz

In the parish that I come from, which is Sacred Heart in Altadena, always on Wednesdays, it's my turn to say the Spanish Mass. And whenever I have the Spanish Mass, the sermon is about a minute long. So I decided that wasn't going to work out here. So I am going to share with you the introduction that I wrote from last Sunday's Mass, but it is based on the Gospel that we just heard.

The Gospel tells us that they came in droves — wave upon wave of people streaming into the desert wasteland. But my question is simply this: What has to happen first in their lives that makes them even want to come and to seek out someone like the thorny baptist?

The answer is rather simple: There first has to be profound dissatisfaction with their personal life. Maybe they thought, for example, if I could just land this job or this relationship; if I could only own this or that; smoke a little bit of this; try a little bit of that, well, then, I would be ecstatically happy. But unfortunately, instead of fulfillment, what they found was only discontent, disillusionment, a feeling that something vital is missing. And so they experience in their lives this great disconnect.

Or maybe for others in that group, it was a feeling that there's no more purpose in what they're doing anymore. The passion, the pleasure, and the joy it once brought, isn't there any longer. It's like that old song that used to say, "The thrill is gone." And now in its place there is only that feeling that they're drying up and dying on the vine. They find that all that they are really doing, day in and day out, is going through the motions. For them it is the same old crap. The only thing different is the day, but nothing else has changed. And so they are jumping through the same hoops, but nothing's working in their lives anymore. In other words, they are doing everything right, but deep down inside, they know that something is terribly wrong.

You see, before you and I will ever even remotely consider going out to a holy man like John, there has to be so much restleness, pain, frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction with our circumstances, that we come to a point where we finally say, "I am sick and tired of living this way. Life has become so intolerable, I cannot go on any longer. Something has to give, otherwise, I want out completely."

You and I well know if we have been there before, that that is an absolutely horrible feeling. And yet, the good news is that, from a spiritual standpoint, it is a great place to be because maybe now something different and better can happen, something can give way and make room for something else: a new beginning, a change, a chance at a second start, a second shot at living which we so desperately need and for which we long — and hopefully sooner rather than later. That's why people think that it's all worthwhile making that long, hard trek into the wilderness.

Father Gilbert Cruz is associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Altadena. Reach him at (626) 794-2046, Ext. 340.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

Break the news to
everyone we know,
let them know what
our God has done
for us.
Transcript of homily recorded on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011 (Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

There's an old saying (well, they said it after the [Second Vatican] Council, so that's pretty old): "When Jesus was here on earth, he used to play with the children and teach the adults. Now the church plays with the adults and teaches the children."

If you look at where we put our money, if you look at where we put our time, everything is into the formation of children; and we forget the adults. The truth is, we let go of the children by 16, 17. Half of them leave them church and don't come back for a long time. They "graduated," they say. They maybe come back at marriage — maybe. I'm talking about big numbers. They have at the very best an adolescent education of their faith, a 15-, 16-year-old education. None of them have really experienced life. Some maybe have gone through difficulties with parents, divorces and things, maybe abuse. There's lots of things, but they don't understand it. They're kids; they're teenagers. So what do we do for you adults, 25 and up, and really challenge you to grow in your faith? We have very little. Very few adults go for any adult education, probably less than one or half of one percent. So we basically have an adult church that doesn't have an adult educated faith. They're adults in their heart, for sure, but adult educated.

Now, this is not a criticism, this is just a reality. So how do you teach adults? How do you get their attention? Well, I think you have to tell them God is powerful and strong; and if you sin, beware! Just like we teach kids. How do you keep a 4-year-old in bed, when the lights go out?

"OK, get out of bed, but the bogeyman comes around anyone who walks on the floor after the lights are out." Is it a good way of teaching — it's horrible, but it works, for most of them. They get scared of the bogeyman.

The adults have our bogeyman, too. We have a God who is powerful. But it isn't enough for us, it isn't. I sit in the confessional — you know, compare children and adults. I know children who get really mad at each other, throw a rock at the other one, call them awful names. In an hour they're over it. They want to play. Does anyone here know children, say age 4 to 10, who stop talking to another child for two years? I've never heard of it. Ever. They can't hang onto it that long. Adults can. Not talk to their sister for five years, because "She said something at that party so offensive I can never forgive her unless she comes and begs my forgiveness!" And then I don't talk to my sister for five years (not my sister, she's good). Five years. We adults are thick! Thick! We need major surgery on these heads and hearts sometimes. So we have a God who rouses his power, his might, his strength — "Fear the Lord, for he will come!" — and that doesn't even get through.

So I ask the people in confession who haven't talked to somebody for five years: "Do you like how that feels?"

"No, father." But they don't know what to do with it.

So I have a solution today. Listen to this. Listen to the description of God: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins." She's paid the price.

Do we need to do penance and pay the price? Yeah. Because God wants it? No. Because we're thick. We don't get it. Most of us — I should say me, probably not you — I have to fall on my face. I have to have it hit me right between the eyes sometimes before I open my eyes. Why? Because pride is strong. Pride gets in deep. And as adults, we're intelligent people. We can justify anything. We can explain any reason why I'm right and you are all wrong. I'll tell you why I do it this way, because "I've been doing this for 20 years. I'm sure of it." I think we're proud. But we have this God, oh, indeed, he comes with power. And then he cares for us.

Does anybody know the instrument that's called "the king of the instruments"? It's the pipe organ. It's the loudest instrument because they can build it to have 10 ranks, 20 ranks, 150 ranks, 300 ranks. And then they have pipes that are 64 feet long. They're so long, they wrap them. It's like a monster down there. You know it's there. There's power, but it's soft. It's extraordinary. And that's God. God is powerful; he created everything.

But has anybody here ever experienced God slapping you in the face, knocking you down and stepping on you? Not me. And I'm a sinner, not like you people; I'm a sinner, and he's never done that to me. Never. And why? Because when I've been in sin and when I'm most proud and when I'm most stubborn and when I think I'm right, Jesus says this: "What's your opinion? If a man has a 100 sheep one goes astray, will he not leave the 99? Will he not leave all of you and search out me, the sinner?" It's just this way with the heavenly father. He says: "If one of you goes astray and the other 99 are OK, he'll leave you 99 and he'll go after this one astray. And when he finds me — he will search me out and find me — and then he will go back to the 99 and rejoice, 'Come on, look! I've found the one who went astray!'" He will not be lost. He will not let me be lost, because he seeks me out. He seeks you out. He searches us. He wants us. He loves us.

You know, we're celebrating Advent, preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ. This is his message; this is his Gospel. He reveals to us a father whose love for us is without any boundaries or any limits. In fact, when we are sinful, he doesn't love us more, but somehow he searches more or wants that message to be known that we can never be lost. All we need to do is just be willing to say, "God, I need you." And if this truly is a God of power — we kept saying it: the Lord our God comes with power — then why wouldn't we say when we are in trouble, the people who come into confession, I say, "Do you like not talking to someone for five years?"

"No, father. I hate it."

The question I don't ask is, "Well, then why have you stayed there? Why didn't you do anything about it?"

Pride. It affects us all. So I say, "Would you like some help?"

"Yes, father."

"I'll suggest a couple things you might try. If they don't work, come back again, OK?"


And one of the things I say, "Why don't you just write a letter to them? Why don't you send a Christmas card? 'You know, it's been a long time since I communicated with you or you with me. I don't like our distance. Merry Christmas.'"

It couldn't take more than two minutes — even 44 cents; I'll pay for the stamp, whatever. Just maybe a little crack in the door will open. Maybe. Maybe the other person is just as proud.

But we keep saying, "Our God comes with power," then let's open up to that power: "God, help me.God, show me the way. God, tell me who to speak to. If it's not Father Perry, let me look up Monsignor McSorley. Let me call the pope. Whatever, whoever. Let me find a way. Help me. Direct me."

Today, we hear about a God of power, but a God more than that — a God of complete love and care and comfort. Let us open ourselves, and if we indeed find this God, break the news to everyone we know, let them know what our God has done for us.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

How could we be,
perhaps, an invitation
to an evolution of
faith rather a
Transcript of homily recorded on Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Monday, Dec. 5, 2011 (Monday of the Second Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

This set of readings certainly speaks about the messianic times and the fulfillment of them in Jesus. It's very similar to what we hear, except that there is a detail that strikes me very poignantly this day, especially the first reading, but it's in all of them.

The sense of the messianic age changing everything — truth and justice and peace shall kiss, the lion will lie down with the lamb, the child shall play in the adder's lair — there's this sense that this complete change will come, something radical will happen, and a new age will be ushered in. That's certainly is the spirit that we hear in all of this Advent season. However, that's what I would call a revolutionary experience; a revolution would happen in all of nature, in all people, in people of faith — a radical revolutionary change would come. However, today introduces not just a revolutionary spirit but, I think, an evolutionary spirit; that something would slowly evolve, it would take its steps, its course naturally, it would enlarge and grow and deepen and become more.

The reading from Isaiah captures this evolutionary spirit very beautifully: "The desert and parch land will exult. The step will rejoice and it will bloom." Even blooming is a process that happens; it doesn't just "poof" — it opens, slowly, but surely. Then it goes on: "They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble. ..." Anybody that has arthritis or anything where we have weakness and painfulness in our joints, to find strenght happening, it doesn't usually happen revolutionary, but evolutionary. We feel the strenght coming back.

"Make firm the knees that are weak." Any of us with weak hips, weak knees, we know the blessing when we just begin to find our strength and the pain lessening.

"Say to those whose ... who are frightened: Be strong, fear not! ... Here is your God, he comes with vindication ... he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened. ..." After we've heard news that he will come and strengthen us, be not afraid, and we begin to find the strengthening of our spirit and opening to that joy of the Lord, a realization that God is coming, he will come, he will give us what we need, then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears will be cleared, the lame will leap like a stag, the tongue of the mute will sing, then streams will burst, etc.

This happening, this evolution, this growing, this deepening, this strengthening, this is what we come to share during this Advent. I suppose this is the reason why the church, with a wonderful spirit, always celebrates not just for a day. Every great feast — Easter, Christmas — we celebrate for at least eight days, an octave. We celebrate the octave. We have to unpack it for days. We have right now the novenario, the nine days in preparation for [the feast day of Our Lady of] Guadalupe, because we don't just jump into the feast, we unpack it for days, preparing, opening it up, readying ourselves, getting the earth all tilled and fertilized so it will be planted on the feast day, and vavoom, now the revolution will take place because the evolution came before it.

This is what this is about. I just was starting to write my notes for the bulletin, and I thought, just to focus on this evolutionary sense: We have Immaculate Conception on Thursday; we have [the feast day of Our Lady of] Guadalupe on Monday; we have a chance for renewal through reconciliation with the sacrament of penance on Tuesday; we have many, many priests here so that people can take this time seriously in an evoilutionary sense, come to a sense of forgiveness, come to a sense of healing, and come to a sense of readiness for the coming of Christ at Christmas.

All of this season speaks to us about evolving into a more open place with our God, and it reaches a huge, beautiful climax in the Gospel passage today. Jesus is at this house preaching and it's packed with people. From somewhere distant, a paralyzed man is carried there on a mat. This is certainly evolutionary. He didn't come from another town and — poof! — appear. They walked him, and carried him, and lugged him along. And then they got there only to face disappointment — we can't even get in there. It's too crowded. Nobody will let us in. Typical selfish crowd: "I want to hear him! Stay out there! Push him out!"

So they drag him up on the roof and they take off the tiles of the roof and lower him in front of Jesus. Can the drama get much richer than this? My God! And then you notice this roof coming off and people lowering a paralyzed man right in front of Jesus as he's preaching. And so he just says these words: "Your sins are forgiven." And then the chisme and all the commentary begins: "Only God can do that! Who is he?! He blasphemes!" And so Jesus, in a very evolutionary way — because he's trying to get them to see and understand, not just heal someone, heal their hearts, heal their vision, heal their understanding — asks this wonderful question. So I'll ask you: What's easier, in your opinion? Just say, "Your sins are forgiven" or to say, "Rise, get up and walk" to a paralyzed man? Because what evidence would you have of this — "Your sins are forgiven"? That's easy to say. But he said, because they doubted him and to make his point — and I think probably, in a very planned and deliberate way, to bring them along to help evolve their hearts and their minds, because we can be stubborn people — he said, but I will show you. Rise, get up and walk. He does. And he just goes home glorifying God. Just goes home glorifying God. And Luke's presentation says: "They were stuck with awe and they did the same." They were brought from this incredulity to a place of glorification of their God because they saw the wonders of God.

So what about you and me? How does this grace and love of God evolve within us? How does it evolve in our kids? What about our kids who aren't coming to church and haven't for a couple of years, and it distresses us off the chart? How could we be, perhaps, an invitation to an evolution of their faith rather a revolution?

"You go to go to church at least for Christmas!" That's a happy Christmas morning. "At least for Christmas! Aren't you going to go?!"

"OK. Allright, mom. I'll go." Oh, geez. That's a very beautiful revolution of spirit

But what if you began now? You know?

"Honey, we've never been to Our Lady of Guadalupe feast. Why don't we try it? Let's go to the one at 5 a.m. How fun!"

"You know, I don't about you, but I haven't been feeling good. I really would like to go to the sacrament of reconciliation today. Anybody want to go in this house. There's a bunch of priests. Nobody will even know who you are. Why don't we just go, get ready for Christmas?" And even if they don't go, at least an invitation has gone out, something might be evolving.

So why don't we commit to the scripture today? Why don't we say in our family we're going to be evolutionists? We're going gonna help that spirit to evolve. We're gonna invite. We're gonna welcome. We're gonna announce the good news. We're gonna let them know what's happening in the calendar. There's all kinds of things possible. Why don't we go to Christmas Day as a family this year? It's two or three weeks away. Why don't we? Why don't we do it five o'clock, the children's Mass, then we'll be ready for Christmas Eve and ready for everything. Why don't we begin to evolve, to evolve within our family, and to invite a evolution in their spirit and, perhaps, it will be the way that we best prepare for the coming of the Lord?

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Looking ahead

Advent — the coming
of the Lord — is the reason
for the season. It is why and
how and what Advent is about.
Advent — Prepare, prepare, prepare!

By Father Perry D. Leiker

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord. Make straight his paths. Open up the highway to the Lord.”

All the imagery and language is about the most direct route to God. Level down the mountains; fill up the potholes and valleys; get rid of the switchbacks and windy roads. Get the governor’s program functional — let the federal government do its part. We need to get there fast, safe, without delay. Fix those roads (actually, the spiritual ones)!

Does it seem urgent? Do we sense that something great is happening here? Jesus is coming now: in the word, in Eucharist, in Christmas, in our prayer, in our being together as one, at the end of time.

John pointed to him and announced his coming. What is — is! What is coming — is coming! Our part is to prepare! “Prepare Ye! Prepare the Way of the Lord!” There is nothing, deep within the spirit, that is more important than this. In fact, everything we do, including washing the dishes, is yet another way to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

There is absolutely nothing in which the Lord is not present. We need to open and receive. Advent — the coming of the Lord — is the reason for the season. It is why and how and what Advent is about.

Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Sunday Homilies: Sunday, December 4, 2011 (Second Sunday of Advent)

We're invited during
Advent to go into
darkness and to get a
little bit of light.
Transcript of homily recorded on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011

By Father Perry D. Leiker

How many liked this last week? Quite a week, huh? Anybody like it?

Was anyone grateful for the darkness?

Well, I was grateful. I didn't like it, but I was grateful, because it thrust me into Advent in a way like I've never recall happening in all my years of living. We were thrust into darkness. We had no choice; and we were longing for the light for a long, long time. Our refrigerators were longing for electricity, and well, we lost a lot of food.

And this is what Advent is. This is why we have this wreath; we get a little more light each Sunday. And when do we have this wreath? As I said last Sunday, "in the middle of the darkest time of the year, the longest nights."

I repeat: We do not believe that Jesus was born on Dec. 25. That when we celebrate it. We have no idea when Jesus was born; there's nothing in the scriptures that tells us. But the reason we celebrate it on the 25th of December is because it's at the height of the winter solstice — the longest nights. And the pagans would celebrate this feast time, called the Feast of Lights. They would bring light into the darkest time; it gave them hope. So the Christians came along and said, "Ah, how brilliant. So we will give you Christ the light, born on the longest night of the year." And that's why we celebrate Dec. 25.

And so we're invited during Advent to go into darkness and to get a little bit of light, a little bit of light until we celebrate the explosion of the Feast of Lights, the feast of Christ who is the light of the world. And most of us go kicking and screaming in the darkness. You see, darkness is more than not having lights (and that was miserable enough for us). But there's all kinds of darkness — rejection, suffering, getting old, dying, losing friends, losing loves, having things taken away from us, going into financial ruin, going to jail, stuck in an addiction. There's all kinds of darkness that fill our lives as individuals and as communities. And we struggle.

So much of the community here is from the Philippines and from Latin America. There still are a significant number of Anglo people and people who were here long ago, and I'm one of those, not from this community, but an Anglo person from this country. And quite frankly, I think I grew up in a very pampered and very materialistic society, very unlike the Philippines and the Latin American countries. Not knocking it, but we're pampered. We have so much. When our lights go out, we go cuckoo over it. In those other parts of the world, they say, "Lights out again? Well, it happens all the time." Am I right? Everyday some electricity is gone, and they just say, "What the heck. That's the way it is here." And my experience, when I've gone down to Latin America and experienced the poor, this is what they always tell me, even the ones who live here, say, "Father, life if hard. La vida es muy duro. It's hard." Because in their poverty they've struggled for basic things and find life very difficult. And when tragedy and things hit their lives, they often don't have somewhere to turn, so where do they go? To their faith. And my experience is — I know this is a gross generalization — people who are poor have to depend upon God because very often they have nothing else. And so their lives, they go into darkness, and they discover God present there.

I grew up in an ordinary family here in the country, but we didn't have money. I had two brothers who lived down in the garage, that was where their bed was. I slept with two of my brothers — three in one bed.  It wasn't two peas in a pod, it was three peas in a pod, and for years never thought a thing of it. Then I get ordained and I was sent to San Marino, the poor community of San Marino, where every child had their own bedroom — I couldn't believe it! And then I'd hear things like, "Mom! Can't we paint my room stripped?! Mom!"

"OK, baby. We'll do it."

And I tried to imagine my saying that to my dad. "Dad! Can I pain the room?"

"Yeah, in five years, if we have some leftover paint."

We just didn't have it. And yet, I had enough pampering around me in this society that I just came to expect it. But Advent calls us into darkness, not to avoid it, but to greet that darkness, to welcome the darkness, to embrace the darkness.

Now, I'm going to tell you a story about Mother Teresa. This is my rendition, because this is as I recall it. Some of you probably have great devotion to her already and are going to tell me I'm wrong on my details, so you can tell me after Mass, but do it gently; I've had a hard week. But this is how I recall it: Mother Teresa, she's a Hungarian sister in a community, say, for 30 years. She happened to be in Calcutta with her sisters, one of the poorest places in the world. There she was in a very nice convent and a school with a huge wall wrapped around it for the wealthy children of the community. Very pampered. Now, sisters live a simple life, but they have all the things that are necessary: they eat each day, they have a warm convent, usually, and it's comfortable. And so she had a comfortable life. Prayed every day to Jesus. I'm sure she prayed three, four times a day and had Mass and her life was dedicated to the Lord. But one day, she was going to the doctor's, and on the way back — as I heard the story — she comes across a man lying in the gutter, filthy, covered with maggots, dying, totally alone, just dying there, people walking over him and around him. And she was so moved, she asked some people to help her and she carried this man back to her convent where she washed him completely, gave him a new cloth, held his hand and prayed with him until he died so he didn't die alone in filth. And her life was completely changed. She was yanked out of the comfort of her circle, her religious life, in this community of 30-some years. And this so changed her, that she began a community whose purpose was going to be to serve the poorest of the poor.

We have some of them down in Lynwood, they got the convent there, and I understand one of the first things they do is say to the pastor, "Could you remove all the beds; we prefer to sleep on a mat on the floor." They try to embrace the simplest of life so that they can serve the poorest of the poor. Now I will say that some very young, idealistic women go into this community longing to do all these poor things and suffer. And I remember growing up in a faith where we were told to suffer. Everyday we should suffer and sacrifice. If you go to a poor country, you don't have to look for sacrifices, they're there all the time. But if you live a pampered life, I guess you have to manufacture them, unless you're realistic and realize all the other kinds of darkness that are in life. You see, when you're poor, when you're ill, when you are physically handicapped, you can't hide. It's right there. But if you have a pretty normal life and pretty good surroundings, you can pretend everything is wonderful. And we go to great lengths to keep the illusion alive, that everything is beautiful. But every one of us suffers darkness — every one of us. Evey parent here has heartache with their children; and if you don't, you will, you will. I'm not a daddy, I'm a father, but not a daddy, but I see it and hear it constantly. It's not easy. And every one of us, probably, will struggle with illness, and all of us — in case you don't know this — are going to die. All of us. It's just part of life. And we've never been through such an economic turn like this unless some of those who remember the Great Depression, if any are alive here. But this has been a rough, rough year or two. Real rough time. I know a friend who just last week lost her home. Really tough. Darkness is there.

But I wonder how many people, that day that Mother Teresa found this man, came upon the same man but with a different reaction. You see, the deepest things in life really happen way down at the level of spirit. This is one of the beauties of all those changes in the liturgy, many of which don't turn me on all that much. But the one that I do like is the one frequently used in the liturgy: The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. And with your spirit. "And also with you" is nice, but it really doesn't really communicate where God really happens to us. It's not out here on the emotions. Our liturgies are beautiful; this music is so wonderful; this beautiful image of the Virgin; our candles and the decorations, the Altar Society did a splendid job. And it touches our emotions. And that's good. The faith comes in through those, too, but if it doesn't get down to the level of spirit, that's where we're changed. You see, a lot of people passed that day. Intellectually, they saw; physically, they saw; emotionally, they saw. In fact, they didn't like what they saw, they turned their head and walked around it, because on that outer level where they experienced it, it wasn't enough. But for whatever reason, after 30 years of being in a convent, praying every single day to Jesus, celebrating the Eucharist, eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ, every day growing in her faith, she walked by this and she was mortally wounded. It seeped in all the way down into her spirit, the Gospel hit her, and she was changed. And having experienced God at that level of spirit — The Lord be with you. And with your spirit — she was changed. This is Advent. This is Advent, that we would embrace the darkness, not a wreath — this is a symbol — but that we would be willing to go into the darkness of this season; the darkness of our lives; the darkness of our struggles; the darkness of our wants and our yearnings; the darkness of our hopes; the darkness of that which we do not have that we wish we had; the darkness of embracing what is; and in that darkness, that we would open our spirit.

Why? The scriptures says it today: "The mountains, tear them down. The valleys, fill them up and make a highway to the Lord and rush to the Lord." And the promise is — we heard it in that second reading — the Lord will come; he'll come to us in darkness. In fact, that's where most of us are changed the most, in our darkness. There's a little hint of why this is so in the first line of the second reading, it said: "A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day." What on earth is the scriptures saying? "A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day." That's faith again. It's a language of ... it's trange. Things are topsy-turvy, upside-down, inside-out. We see one thing and experience another. We see ugliness and pain and sorrow, and we're filled with hope and faith and love, because that can happen in faith.

"A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day." And we're changed forever by a simple experience, not because our emotions or our mind or our social consciousness saw something, yes, but because it seeped all the way down to the center of our spirit. And in darkness and struggle, but in spirit, we found our God.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration

What would it be
like  to build our
inner house on sand?
Transcript of homily recorded on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

Daily Advent Inspiration for Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 (Thursday of the First Week of Advent)

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Well, I'm on retreat this week, and I am just coming back from morning Masses. I got gently scolded by the retreat master last night, but that's alright.

There's trees down everywhere. Lights are out everywhere. I went to bed at 7, I think, last night, practically, because the lights were out. Signals [are] out. It's done a lot of devastation. In fact, in Pasadena, Arcadia, schools are closed. It's a mess. And here we are in a very modern city, with concrete and, you name it; and yet this is mild compared to the east coast and the Philippines when the hurricanes come, and even tornadoes. We are gently hit whenever we're hit. This is a good one.

And Jesus uses this example of a storm against people's buildings, buildings that were either properly built or not properly built — built on a strong foundation of rock or on sand. The example is obvious. This is what happens to buildings that are not built well when the storms come. But, of course, Jesus is not concerned about buildings at all.

It's an interesting aside, years ago, I remember, they built a bomb in our country. You could drop it on cities and it wouldn't destroy the buildings, just kill everybody. Now isn't that the height of technology? We can kill everybody, but not ruin the buildings. That's kind of like the Gospel in reverse.

But what Jesus is after is hidden in that example, too. Imagine that we would come up with the technology to kill people and leave the buildings alone. Where are the values? What is it all about? And that's what Jesus is always after, what's it's all about. And he goes down deep into our spirit to say, like building a house on sand, what would it be like to build our inner house on sand? To have the kind of values that put things before people? To have the kind of values that would always seek revenge, that would always seek to be No. 1? To have the kind of values that the only one that matters is me — it's everyone living in my world? And Jesus says that, eventually, that structure will fall and be completely ruined.

The great story of this time of year is Scrooge, the man who tried to build everything for himself and ended up completely alone, completely isolated, having not a single friend. People tried to get in, and he wouldn't let them in. And in the end — well, thanks be to God — he finally got through the message. And you saw the difference, the transformation between and a man totally isolated and alone who finally allowed love to enter, and his world burst open. He was completely transformed.

And so Jesus gives us this example today because I think, not because he wants perfect people out there, but because he wants happy people, because he wants people to find life who even in distress and struggle — even in dying — can be filled with hope and with peace and even, perhaps, joy.

Now the good thing about this little storm that hit is, the city's a mess. But what really shows a testament to a city is when it gets up on its feet, cleans up and puts it back in order — and perhaps even makes some improvements. And the really beautiful test is when people check on their neighbors and see that everyone's OK. And the best of all is when everyone checks on the crab that lives on the block, the crabby, old cranky that nobody likes, but they say we better go check on her or him, see how they're doing. Because that shows a city that's built on rock, when the values, hopes and the strengths and the spirit are really of God, and bring us close to God.