Saturday, January 28, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

A scheduling error on my part resulted in no priest being present for the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Jan. 15.

No excuse is being offered because there is no reason for this to happen except as an error. Having a priest available for Sunday liturgy is of utmost importance. However, especially since I am here alone, it is important to realize that an emergency, last minute sickness, or a priest "not showing up" could result in this happening again.

It raises a few important questions for us. Although some have been prepared to celebrate a communion service in the absence of a priest, there may be some reluctance or lack of confidence to do so. Some additional training and preparation is needed. Further, we should all notice that there is an increasing lack of priests in our archdiocese and this may happen more often than any of us would like. Hopefully, we will all give the benefit of the doubt and presume that no malice was intended. Hopefully, we will appreciate when it does occur that to be blessed to hear the word and receive communion is the most important thing and will hopefully always be available.

Finally, this should make us all more aware of the need to encourage vocations and to invite especially our young people to consider a vocation to priesthood, religious life, or deaconate.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How does God call us? Think about it

By Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley

In the Gospel we heard the words, "And he called them."

I was listening to the car radio to a music station recently, and I heard a song with the words, "I called you once, now I've called you twice." It made me think of many ways in which we are called and the people who call us — our parents, our friends, our bosses. All kinds of people call us in different ways. And we're able to devise ways to ignore those calls sometimes.

But do we think does God call us, and how does God call us? Yes, indeed, God calls us. And the theme of being called is a very favorite scripture theme. Throughout the scriptures, God calls people. And God expects them to answer. And the theme of our readings for both last Sunday and this Sunday is this theme of being called, of God calling.

Last Sunday it was the boy Samuel who was called and woke up from his sleep hearing his name. Eli the prophet told him, "That's God calling you. You are to respond when he calls again. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

And in the Gospel it was Andrew and his friend who were invited by Jesus and called said, "Come and see." They were curious, so Jesus said, "Come and see."

Today we have Jonah the prophet in the first reading being called to go to the city of Nineveh to preach repentance so that God could forgive them. (Now, today's passage is brief and it doesn't contain the whole story. As we know, there's more to the story than that.) Jonah was reluctant to answer God's call in this particular instance and so he did everything to avoid going to Nineveh; but God, in this instance anyway, wasn't taking no for an answer. So Jonah eventually ended up and preached to the Ninevites and brought about their conversion, we're told.

It reminds me of the story of the second grade teacher who asked her class to draw some pictures. And one little girl presented her work and the teacher said, "What's that?" And the little girl said, "That's Jonah inside the belly of the whale." And the teacher was a nonbeliever, so she behooved this idea, laughed at it, said, "That's only a story." And the little girl stood her ground and said, "Well, when I get to heaven I am going to ask Jonah if that really happened to him." And then the teacher said, "Well, supposing he's not up there. Supposing he's way down there." The little girl said, "Well, in that case, you can ask him."

Today's Gospel it is four men — two sets of brothers — who are called by Jesus. They're called to be disciples, later to be apostles. They left everything and followed Jesus. Now they had to grow into an understanding of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. At first they didn't understand that. They thought it was some grand adventure. But later they would understand what it meant and the price that they would have to pay in order to be faithful in following Jesus.

Now, when we think of God calling, we think of vocation, from Latin vocare, to call, and is usually used in terms of religious vocation. Yes, indeed, God calls and has called people to religious vocations to serve him in that way. From the time that I was a little boy, I felt that God calling was calling me to be priest. I didn't have any doubt about it that that's what God was calling me to be.

But we also should remember that God's call is to be found in every career, vocation, calling, job. Yesterday I watched a young couple leaving, getting into their limousine after their wedding and heading off into a new life; and I thought to myself, I hope they understand that a vocation to which God has called them and to which they have said yes. You see, when we understand our job, our work, our career in terms of a vocation — of God calling us in that particular way of life to do good, to make an impact in the world, to reach out and to help others — then we bring a totally different attitude to our work, we put our heart into it and, in turn, we get a great deal more satisfaction out of what we do.

So every work or career, anything that involves interacting with people, we need to remember that God is calling us through our work to do good. What did we pray for in the opening prayer? We prayed that we may abound in good works. And I like the word may we abound in good works, not do an occasional good thing here and there, but that that's part of our way of way of life, doing good works.

And we think of teachers, the good that they can do and the difference when a teacher sees his or her work as a calling instead of a job. It makes a great difference in how a teacher does his or her teaching work. For all of us, that's true. By our baptism we are called to be disciples of Jesus — "Come and see. Come follow me." And we're called to follow Jesus throughout our lives.

So we pray that God will help all of us to see that each day God is calling us and that we have many opportunities to do good, to make life better for someone by the way we are willing to reach out and go beyond the call of duty, perhaps, to be of assistance and to help. So let's be aware of each day that lies ahead of us as presenting us with all kinds of opportunities to realize and fulfill God's calling for us.

Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley is St. Bernard pastor emeritus. Reach him at (323) 255-6142.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A time for Catholic action and Catholic voices

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Last Thursday in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a remarkable address to a group of visiting American bishops.

Our Holy Father praised America’s founders for their commitment to religious liberty and their belief that Judeo-Christian moral teachings are essential to shaping citizens and democratic institutions.

The pope warned that our heritage of religious freedom faces “grave threats” from the “radical secularism” of political and cultural opinion leaders who are “increasingly hostile to Christianity.”

Last Friday, the day after the pope’s address, our federal government issued a ruling that confirmed his worst fears about our country’s anti-religious and anti-Christian drift.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a final decision to mandate that every U.S. employer must provide health insurance coverage that makes birth control, sterilization, and even abortion-causing drugs available to its employees free of charge.

The government rejected the U.S. bishops’ efforts to negotiate an exemption for faith-based employers — including Catholic hospitals, charities and colleges — that are morally opposed to abortion and contraception.

Instead, the government is giving us until August 2013 to obey or suffer the consequences — fines so large they could drive some Catholic employers out of business.

It is hard not to see this new mandate as a direct attack on Catholic consciences and the freedom of our Catholic institutions.

The mandate does not promote any civil liberties and it does not advance any significant public health goals.

The government justifies the mandate by arguing that employers who do not provide these services are discriminating against women. But access to free contraception has never been a basic human right. And there is no evidence that birth control has any effect on women’s health; pregnancy is not a disease for which “preventive medicine” is required.

The Health Department justifies denying exemptions to Catholic charities, hospitals and colleges because it says they are not really “religious” institutions.

This may be the most troubling part of this new mandate.

Because in effect, the government is presuming it has the competence and authority to define what religious faith is and how believers should express their faith commitments and relationship to God in society. These are powers our government has never before assumed itself to have.

In this case, the government is imposing a narrow, radically individualistic idea of religion — defining religion as only worship and moral teaching. As many have noted, under this definition, much of what Jesus Christ did would not qualify as a “religious” ministry.

The fact is that everything the church does is “religious.” All our ministries and institutions are motivated by our love for God and our mission to the spread the Gospel. We don’t do these things because we are social workers or philanthropists. We do them because we are disciples.

The Catholic Church is the only visible religious group in American public life that holds consistent beliefs regarding the morality of life issues, including abortion and contraception. And Catholic institutions make a major contribution to our social fabric — healing, educating and caring for the needs of millions of our fellow citizens, especially the poor.

So it is hard to escape the conclusion that the government is singling out the Church with this new mandate.

But the issues here go far beyond contraception and far beyond the liberties of the Catholic Church. They go to the heart of our national identity and our historic understanding of our democratic form of government.

There will be much more to say about this in the weeks ahead. But this is clear:

Now is a time for Catholic action and for Catholic voices. We need lay leaders to step up to their responsibilities for the Church’s mission. Not only to defend our faith and our rights as Catholics, but to be leaders for moral and civic renewal, leaders in helping to shape the values and moral foundations of America’s future.

In his address last Thursday, Pope Benedict gave us some prophetic advice for these troubling times.

Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.

We need to pray for one another this week and we need to pray for our leaders.

I entrust us to the intercession of the Mary Immaculate, Patroness of America, and the Mother of Hope.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach him via Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

If one thing is certain in life it is probably this.

We all make mistakes. We all make choices that are wrong for us. We all have a need to repent and change our ways. The scriptures are full of the call to repent and to believe. But the other thing that is even more important is that God is always full of mercy and forgiveness. Furthermore, when we receive God’s mercy and engage his kindness and love, healing and new life always come to us.

It is no surprise that the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth after he is baptized in the Jordan are: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." In these words the healing and new life are even included and are very evident.

Repenting and believing will bring about awareness and participation in this time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God will bring fulfillment NOW!

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Defending the truth about life

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

This Saturday evening, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m., I will celebrate a Requiem Mass for the Unborn at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

I will be joined at the altar by my brother bishops and priests. And I hope that many of you will also be able to join us to remember the lives lost to abortion and to pray for greater respect for life in our day.

The Mass is being held on the vigil of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that created a legal right to abortion in our country.

For nearly 40 years since then, abortion has been the law of our land. The "right to choose" abortion has become an expectation of freedom, something men and women presume — like their right to freedom of speech or freedom of worship.

And often I hear the questions: Why does the church still bother trying to change people’s hearts and minds on abortion? Wouldn’t our time and resources be better spent on pressing issues such as poverty, social justice and peace?

These are good and sincere questions. For me, the answer is a matter of truth and first principles.

The truth is true whether our society acknowledges it or not. And we always want to make sure we are living in the truth and not living a lie or a delusion.

Slavery was evil even when a majority in this country held that it was good. It was wrong even when the Supreme Court said that it was right. In the 1950s and 1960s, segregation was evil even though Southern lawmakers and governors said it was necessary to prevent greater evils. The lesser evil is still evil.

It took far too long, and too many generations and innocent lives were lost, before this nation finally saw the truth about the full humanity and dignity of African Americans. It took a century to abolish slavery and another century after that to put an end to the Jim Crow laws that reduced African-Americans to second-class citizens. And we still have more work to do.

But I believe that one day Americans will also come to see the truth about the humanity of the unborn child and the human embryo. It is only a matter of time. May it be years and not decades. But the time will come. Because this is the truth.

And it is not a "religious" truth, and abortion is not just a "Catholic" issue.

Modern biology shows us that human life begins at conception. The embryo does not "become human" somewhere down the line. Within a few weeks in the womb, the embryo has a tiny face and a beating heart. This is a unique, personal human life — distinct from that of the father and mother.

Again, this is the truth of biology, not theology; a truth of science, not religion.

Our country was founded on a great moral truth — that all men and women are created equal and are born with God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Roe v. Wade turned this beautiful truth inside out. The Supreme Court, in effect, said that our rights do not come from God but instead are bestowed by government — by courts and legislatures.

But that’s not the truth. And if our rights are not endowed by God, then they are subject to the random whims of those who hold political power. The strong get to decide what is right and wrong, who has rights and who does not, who gets to live and who does not.

So that is why the Church will always remain at the center of this great struggle for the right to life in our time.

The right to life is the foundation of every other right and liberty in our society. Of course, we are always working for justice and peace. But we can never "disconnect" this vital work from our defense of innocent life and human dignity.

As Catholics we worship the God of the living. He is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus has given his church a mission and each of us a duty to proclaim his Gospel of life.

We are called to be a voice for those who have no voice. We are called to help our society see that every human life — from conception to natural death — is sacred and precious to God.

So I hope you can join me on Saturday to pray for life.

Let’s keep one another in prayer this week. And let’s pray in a special way for our country.

And let’s ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the living, to help us as we seek to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of our society.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

The star evoked different responses in people. For the Magi it revealed someone of great importance who was to come. It provoked them to seek out the writings of the sages to find and come to understand what the heavens were saying about this person.

According to Matthew, they found him and offered their gifts. The star, to Herod, lit up his jealousy and fear. It provoked him to have murderous feelings and actions and to not only desire but to set out to kill this child — this promised one. He consulted learned men also, but for very different reasons. We all get the same information about the Christ. We all know the same stories about the star and who did what, to whom, when and where. But what does it provoke in us? What does it teach us and call forth from us?

Faith is indeed very provocative. It is not nor should it be business as usual. Faith ought to get down into the deepest fears, jealousies, loves, hopes, desires, dreams, and into the core of our imagination. Faith is not a surface thing; rather, it is a total thing. Faith is like the air we breathe that comes into our nostrils, into our lungs, into our blood, filling every cell and reaching out to our skin through our blood vessels and returning the water so that our entire system has been filtered, cleansed, healed, renewed — nothing escapes that breath, that gift of life. It really is ruah — God’s breath and life that fills us.

People who leave faith perhaps never really tasted it, or were never really provoked. It isn’t a little thing of little significance --- it is everything and of the most significance. It is no surprise that some people die for their faith because they realize to live without it would mean nothing.

What does the star provoke in us?

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The new evangelization begins with us

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

In this new year, say a prayer for the renewal of our Catholic Church.

The world today needs to hear the Gospel message in a new way. And the world today is looking to the church — to each one of us — for the word of life and hope, for the truth that sets us free.

Jesus is the answer to every question in every human heart. And only his church can show people the way to live and the path to true happiness.

But as St. Paul asked a long time ago: How can people believe in Jesus if they’ve never heard about him? And how will they hear about him unless someone tells them?

We are the ones — every one of us in his church — who have to tell the world about Jesus and about the joy of believing in him.

That’s what the year 2012 should be all about for us.

Of course, 2012 is going to be a big year for us in America. It’s an election year, and that means we have big issues to face and big decisions to make — in our cities, in our state, and in our country.

But in the life of our church, 2012 also promises to be a year of grace and renewal.

Here in Los Angeles, later this year we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our beautiful mother church, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Also, sometime this spring, my brother bishops and I will join the rest of the California bishops in traveling to Rome for our ad limina meetings with Pope Benedict XVI.

Our Holy Father has set this entire year of 2012 in the context of the renewal of our faith and the new evangelization.

In October, bishops from around the world will gather in Rome for the Synod for Bishops called by the pope to examine “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

And on Oct. 11, we will begin the “Year of Faith” that our Holy Father has declared to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council.

In this Year of Faith, the Pope wants us all to have a new conversion, to go deeper in our spiritual lives and in our commitment to the Gospel.

Pope Benedict believes that the love of God has grown cold in the hearts of many. He talks about a “profound crisis of faith.”

This crisis of faith is a challenge and a responsibility for each of us. That’s what the new evangelization is all about.

Because underlying the many troubles we face in our society, including the problems in our economy, there is a basic insecurity and confusion about the meaning of life — about what we should be living for and why.

But the people we need to evangelize first are ourselves. The new evangelization begins in your hearts and in mine. That’s what I mean by renewal in the church.

To renew our church, we need bishops who are seeking “to draw ever closer to God ... to be able to love him more and more,” as our Holy Father said last week. We need bishops who have what the pope calls the “courage of humility ... able to go ahead and mark out the path ... in the footsteps of him who went ahead of us all because he is the true Shepherd.”

To renew our church, we also need priests who celebrate the sacred mysteries with reverence. Men who are ministers of reconciliation and apostolic souls who want to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ.

We need deacons who are men of prayer and service. And we need religious and consecrated men and women who witness to the ageless value of a life dedicated to Jesus Christ.

Finally, renewal means we need lay faithful who know what they believe and why they believe it, and who are not afraid to defend their beliefs in the public square — no matter what obstacles are posed by our secularized society.

We need men and women in all walks of life who, by their simple witness to their Catholic faith, can open the hearts of others to God’s love and open their minds to the beauty and truth of the Christian message.

So in this new year that Jesus Christ opens up for us, let us all strive to be the Catholics we are called to be!

Let’s pray for one another and let’s pray for the renewal of his church — beginning with the renewal of our own hearts.

And let’s us ask our Mary our Blessed Mother to accompany us in this year of renewal and to help us grow in our faith in Jesus and our desire to tell others about him.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. Reach him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Honoring the discovery of God

By Father Paul Henson, O.Carm.

This week, the church celebrates Epiphany Sunday. So as I said at the beginning of Mass, it's "Discovery Sunday," it's a new way of looking at the world; it's a new vision. It's perhaps even a new search. And I think all of us, especially those of us with a lot more wisdom, can agree to this comment that I think we spend, as human beings, we spend so much of our time searching. Searching for the perfect answer. We spend so much time searching for the perfect response and how am I supposed to respond, and the ultimate wisdom, the ultimate knowledge, the ultimate love in our life, the ultimate source of absolute knowledge. We spend so much of our time looking and looking and looking for the right person who's going to give me all the answers. And I think, in a way, what we celebrate today in terms of the Magi and Epiphany Sunday, is this honoring this search of ours as human beings. And so it is epitomized or represented today in the three Magi, the three kings.

And so we have Casper, Melchior and Balthasar. These three people were astronomers, so they were looking for the ultimate answer to the questions of life. They looked to the stars, because the stars had a rhythm, they had something that was constructive; they could see the movement of the stars. It was something that they could look to and say, "Oh, there's an answer." In fact — which was something very interesting about these three Magi and astronomers during that time — is that they believed this: The reason for their search and their study of the skies is that every single star represented a person. That star, in a sense, created a destiny or had some kind of plan for this person. So they saw this star that was bright. There's something special about that star. It's bright. Not only that, but it's moving (it could have been a comet, maybe). Someone is destined to be huge, to be the light, to give us some source of wisdom or knowledge is to be the one that we need to look to.

And so they searched. And we don't know how long they searched. How long does it take for us to find out answers? A lifetime. So they searched and they searched, and they even went to King Herod. At a particular time they went to King Herod and said, look, we know this star is up there. It's the brightest thing we've seen in a long time. This is supposed to be a king, supposed to be someone huge, supposed to be someone with a lot of influence in the world. Where is the newborn king of the Jews supposed to be? And of course, the Jews at that time — Israel, King Herod — were looking for (well, King Herod thought there was going to be this huge king with his army to come to destroy) someone to come and keep them and remove them from the destruction that they were going through, all the the pains and distraught, and all that they were going through; to just lift them up and take them to a special place and say this is your homeland. So in a sense it was kind of not right. It was a little disorienting. But these kings knew there was something special about this king. And so they found the baby Jesus. They found this little baby. Remember the audacity of our God to want to become human —  not powerful, not authoritative, not judging, not judgmental, not a God who just enjoys that people suffer, but a God who's a baby. A God who wants us to care and love each other the way we care and love for a baby.

So the idea here is for us — and I've said this before, so it's nothing new that you're going to hear — that each of us, we were born on the day we were born to be here, No. 1, but to do something special, something unique. And not because a star tells us to do so, but because we believe in a God who sees nothing but potential in us. Nothing but the best possible things that could happen to you. A God who sees us with so much intelligence (but we got to study along the way, right? We just can't sit back and think it's all going to come do us). A God who sees so much capacity to forgive, to love, to work things out, even in the midst of dramatic marriage difficulties, even in the most difficult times of when we lose a son or daughter, God sees us and says, You have faith; don't give up. We can maximize ourselves in our human person, and that's the only way we can maximize ourselves is through the human experience. So God honors it. And that's why we honor today the discovery of God in human person; in wisdom; in understanding; in caring; in fighting for justice, fighting for those things that are unjust, you know, getting rid of the injustice, the mistreatment of people. You know, when there are obstacles to people's growth and movement forward, to remove those things, that's what we're called to do.

And we have an individual call. Each of us was born on the day we were born to be here. And so I want you just to think about that for just a few seconds. What is your destiny? Why are you alive? What has God given to you that you can help manifest his name, his praise, his ability to love people, his ability to forgive people? What is it in you that you manifest, the commitment of God in human persons? What is your gift to the world? What is your star, and how bright is your star?

Every Sunday we come to Mass (and I think we just kind of think it's just something else to do). But there's something spectacular that happens here, bigger than the brightest star that you could ever imagine, bigger than the treasures that people gave Jesus, bigger than any treasures we may possess — our faith, our person-hood, who we are. With the words of the priest and the Holy Spirit, we change our lives into the body and blood of Christ. We become icons of Christ in this world. We become shinning lights. But you got to believe it. If you don't believe that we can change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, then you go to look at your faith.  We become the shinning light of Christ to each other.

So that's your challenge this week. Go out and be a light of Christ. Go out and just destroy darkness. Bring people from doubt into belief in their marriage, in their commitment to each other, and in their commitment to faith. So come forward once again. Receive the body and blood of Christ and go out and be that sun, be that star for those people that need us today.

Father Paul Henson, O.Carm., is principal of Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino. Reach him at (818) 345-1672, or e-mail phenson@crespi.org.

Monday, January 9, 2012

San Fernando Mission's wine cellar reopens to the public

Monsignor Francis J. Weber makes
his way down the stairs and into
the wine cellar at the San Fernando
Mission Thursday, Jan. 5, 2011.
The wine cellar is now open to the
public after being closed for over
20 years. Improved lighting,
handrails and wall reinforcement
were added to make it safe.
(Credit: Andy Holzman/
Daily News Staff Photographer)
... From Los Angeles Daily News

Decades before the first wineries opened in Sonoma and Napa, they were making wine at the San Fernando Mission.

Now, for the first time in almost 20 years, visitors to the Mission Hills historic site can see the monastic wine cellar almost exactly as it looked nearly two centuries ago.

Continue reading: "San Fernando Mission's wine cellar reopens to the public" ...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

By Archbishop Jose H. Gomez

January 4, 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I have some sad and difficult information to share with you. Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region, informed me in early December that he is the father of two minor teenage children, who live with their mother in another state.

Bishop Zavala also told me that he submitted his resignation to the Holy Father in Rome, which was accepted. Since that time, he has not been in ministry and will be living privately.

The archdiocese has reached out to the mother and children to provide spiritual care as well as funding to assist the children with college costs. The family’s identity is not known to the public, and I wish to respect their right to privacy.

Let us pray for all those impacted by this situation and for each other as we reflect on this letter.

May the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, grant you peace.

— Most Reverend José H. Gomez,
archbishop of Los Angeles

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A new year and the time of our lives

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Happy New Year, my friends! I hope this Christmas was a season of joy and blessings for you and your families.

This was my first Christmas as the new archbishop, so for me it was a time of special grace.

It was beautiful to see such great numbers of people coming to church for Christmas Mass. I witnessed this in our celebrations at the cathedral. And we saw the same thing in parishes all over the archdiocese. I’ve heard from my brother bishops that across the country Christmas Masses were very well attended.

So many people coming to worship God for the gift of his Son! What a sign of the spiritual strength of our Catholic faith!

It is a sign that in the face of the troubles we see in our world, and despite the pressures of secularization and materialism, the Christmas star is still shining and still guiding the hearts of many.

This is good for us to remember as we begin a new year, with all the opportunities and challenges that lie before us in 2012.

The Christmas promise is that God is with us, that he has come into our world to stay, that he will be with us until the end of time. We can see the “proof” of that promise all around us, if we have eyes to see.

We can see Jesus changing lives and saving lives every day through the ministry of his Catholic Church — through the Church’s preaching and sacraments, and through her works of charity and service.

And we can see that the Catholic faith — alive and active in the hearts of ordinary believers — is the source for so much that is right and just and beautiful in our world today.

As disciples, we face the same challenge every new year — how keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts all year round. How do we live our faith with the spirit that seems to come so naturally at Christmas — with the same simple joy and quiet devotion; the same desire to be close to our families; the same readiness to forgive, to make sacrifices and to give gifts of love?

In thinking about this, I was struck by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on New Year’s Eve:

Another year is drawing to a close, as we await the start of a new one: with some trepidation, with our perennial desires and expectations. Reflecting on our life experience, we are continually astonished by how ultimately short and ephemeral life is.

So we often find ourselves asking: what meaning can we give to our days? … There is an answer: it is written on the face of a Child who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.…

The everlasting God has entered our history and he remains present in a unique way in the person of Jesus.… So there is no more room for anxiety in the face of time that passes, never to return; now there is room for unlimited trust in God, by whom we know we are loved, for whom we live, and to whom our life is directed as we await his definitive return.…

With hearts full of thanksgiving, let us prepare to cross the threshold of 2012, remembering that the Lord is watching over us and guarding us.


This is the spirit that we need to carry us into 2012 — a spirit of total confidence that God loves us as his beloved sons and daughters.

Our lives are a gift of time that we receive from God. At the start of this new year, we have to examine ourselves: What are we doing with this precious gift, this time of our lives?

We need to make time for God. Not just certain hours of the day when we pray or think about him. St. Paul once said, we have to redeem the time. We have to make it all for God.

So let’s pray for one another this week.

At the start of this new year, let’s pray for the grace to make our friendship with Jesus Christ the purpose and passion of our lives. Let’s ask for courage to carry out the mission he entrusts to us, the mission of the new evangelization, with joy and love.

I entrust this new year to the loving heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother and Star of the Evangelization of the Americas, and to the prayers of the saints and blesseds of all the Americas.

Through their intercession, may they help us to grow in holiness and love as we follow Jesus, who shared our life so that we could share his; who became a child of Mary at Christmas so that we could become children of God for all eternity.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. Reach him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez .

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

We are named to go out into the world and proclaim God's word

By Father Paul Henson, O.Carm.

There's a small town called Tallassee in Alabama. Alabama, by the way, is in the southern part of the United States. This small town, Tallassee,  has an immigration problem. And they're frustrated about this immigration problem. Very much like the rest of the United States, we have this issue that everyone wants to talk about. It's so sensitive, but we don't like to talk about it, yet we like to just charge bombs and our rhetoric and all that.

So this small town of Tallassee, Alabama, has an immigration problem; and they're frustrated about it. They're so frustrated they don't know what to do. And this is the frustration that they're experiencing: Alabama recently passed the strictest immigration law possible in the United States. This is what the law says: If a police officer in Alabama suspects — simply suspects — someone being illegal then they have the right to pull them over and report them to the federal government. That's the strictest law that exists on immigration in the United States. So, in this small town of Tallasse, Alabama, this is their frustration (they all voted for the law, of course), that in the small Southern Baptist Church in Tallasse, Alabama, they have 30 illegal Mexicans that are praying with them. They're eating with them. They spend time together. They don't know what each other is saying, of course, but they smile, they nod, they eat together, they shake each other's hand.

You know, the Latinos have their Spanish-speaking minister, and then the English-speaking folks have their English-speaking minister. But they spend time together. In fact, they know each other's names. That's what's so frustrating. They passed this strict law and they can't implement it. They're sad to implement it because they know their names and they know they're good people; and they know they're contributing to society, because they know their names.

My brothers and sisters, that is exactly what Christmas is all about. God comes to earth becomes human, and is named — God gives us his name. God's name transcends all laws. In fact, the Jewish people understood that their savior was going to be this mighty army coming and destroying the Romans. And here God comes as a man, as a person, names himself Jesus (because Jesus means "God saves"); and he says in the Old Testament, "Allow the people to call me by my name." In the Jewish tradition, a name was never to be spoken, because it meant that you had possession over this thing, over this person. You named this slave and he was yours. He was your possession. So a name means, in the Old Testament, that you possess something, you possess this thing. And that's why God's name was never spoken, for the Israelites, because God could not be possessed. God transcends the laws. God transcends any kind of understanding and comprehensibility. They dare not say God's name. And what did we say here in the first reading: "When people invoke my name I will bless them. Call me by my name."

So then we get to Mary. In the Gospel reading today, Mary a faithful Jew, afraid to call God "God" because they never did, they dare not say God's name. And here Mary names her child Jesus, to be accessible to everyone, not just those who believe, but the shepherds and the Magi, and all these people who will be ushering to welcome this baby Jesus — God saves. That's why Mary is praised. She said yes to God. Yes, I will name my child Jesus. Yes, I will make our God accessible to everyone.

Now, what about us today? And what about the church? Every single Sunday that we come to church, we receive the body and blood of Christ, which means we are named. Every time the Lord invites us to this table, his names us. He names us the body and blood of Christ. At our baptism, we were given a name. We have this name, which was chosen by God to help save people. So when we receive the body and blood of Christ, it's not just for our own personal use. We got to go out there and we got to save people. Jesus' name means "God saves." Mary's name means "God saves. I make God accessible to the world." And our reception of the body and blood of Christ makes us as a body to change the world, to make God accessible to every person we meet.

So this is our new year's challenge:  Learn people's names. That's it. Learn people's names, then you give then an opportunity, and you give their potential an opportunity to grow. When you know someone's name, you don't judge, in most cases. You shake hands, you give an embrace, God bless you.

We're named the body and blood of Christ, so come receive Jesus once again and go out and save the world by learning people's names

Father Paul Henson, O.Carm., is principal of Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino. Reach him at (818) 345-1672, or e-mail phenson@crespi.org.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of World Day of Peace

Educating young people in justice, peace

By Pope Benedict XVI

The beginning of a new year, God’s gift to humanity, prompts me to extend to all, with great confidence and affection, my heartfelt good wishes that this time now before us may be marked concretely by justice and peace.

With what attitude should we look to the New Year? We find a very beautiful image in Psalm 130. The Psalmist says that people of faith wait for the Lord “more than those who watch for the morning” (v. 6); they wait for him with firm hope because they know that he will bring light, mercy, salvation. This waiting was born of the experience of the Chosen People, who realized that God taught them to look at the world in its truth and not to be overwhelmed by tribulation. I invite you to look to 2012 with this attitude of confident trust. It is true that the year now ending has been marked by a rising sense of frustration at the crisis looming over society, the world of labor and the economy, a crisis whose roots are primarily cultural and anthropological. It seems as if a shadow has fallen over our time, preventing us from clearly seeing the light of day.

In this shadow, however, human hearts continue to wait for the dawn of which the Psalmist speaks. Because this expectation is particularly powerful and evident in young people, my thoughts turn to them and to the contribution which they can and must make to society. I would like therefore to devote this message for the XLV World Day of Peace to the theme of education: “Educating Young People in Justice and Peace,” in the conviction that the young, with their enthusiasm and idealism, can offer new hope to the world.

My message is also addressed to parents, families and all those involved in the area of education and formation, as well as to leaders in the various spheres of religious, social, political, economic and cultural life and in the media. Attentiveness to young people and their concerns, the ability to listen to them and appreciate them, is not merely something expedient; it represents a primary duty for society as a whole, for the sake of building a future of justice and peace.

It is a matter of communicating to young people an appreciation for the positive value of life and of awakening in them a desire to spend their lives in the service of the Good. This is a task which engages each of us personally.

The concerns expressed in recent times by many young people around the world demonstrate that they desire to look to the future with solid hope. At the present time, they are experiencing apprehension about many things: they want to receive an education which prepares them more fully to deal with the real world, they see how difficult it is to form a family and to find stable employment; they wonder if they can really contribute to political, cultural and economic life in order to build a society with a more human and fraternal face.

It is important that this unease and its underlying idealism receive due attention at every level of society. The church looks to young people with hope and confidence; she encourages them to seek truth, to defend the common good, to be open to the world around them and willing to see “new things” (Isaiah 42:9; 48:6).

Educators

Education is the most interesting and difficult adventure in life. Educating — from the Latin educere — means leading young people to move beyond themselves and introducing them to reality, towards a fullness that leads to growth. This process is fostered by the encounter of two freedoms, that of adults and that of the young. It calls for responsibility on the part of the learners, who must be open to being led to the knowledge of reality, and on the part of educators, who must be ready to give of themselves. For this reason, today more than ever we need authentic witnesses, and not simply people who parcel out rules and facts; we need witnesses capable of seeing farther than others because their life is so much broader. A witness is someone who first lives the life that he proposes to others.

Where does true education in peace and justice take place? First of all, in the family, since parents are the first educators. The family is the primary cell of society; “it is in the family that children learn the human and Christian values which enable them to have a constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that they learn solidarity between the generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and how to welcome others.”(1) The family is the first school in which we are trained in justice and peace.

We are living in a world where families, and life itself, are constantly threatened and not infrequently fragmented. Working conditions which are often incompatible with family responsibilities, worries about the future, the frenetic pace of life, the need to move frequently to ensure an adequate livelihood, to say nothing of mere survival — all this makes it hard to ensure that children receive one of the most precious of treasures: the presence of their parents. This presence makes it possible to share more deeply in the journey of life and thus to pass on experiences and convictions gained with the passing of the years, experiences and convictions which can only be communicated by spending time together. I would urge parents not to grow disheartened! May they encourage children by the example of their lives to put their hope before all else in God, the one source of authentic justice and peace.

I would also like to address a word to those in charge of educational institutions: with a great sense of responsibility may they ensure that the dignity of each person is always respected and appreciated. Let them be concerned that every young person be able to discover his or her own vocation and helped to develop his or her God-given gifts. May they reassure families that their children can receive an education that does not conflict with their consciences and their religious principles.

Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others; a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society.

I ask political leaders to offer concrete assistance to families and educational institutions in the exercise of their right and duty to educate. Adequate support should never be lacking to parents in their task. Let them ensure that no one is ever denied access to education and that families are able freely to choose the educational structures they consider most suitable for their children. Let them be committed to reuniting families separated by the need to earn a living. Let them give young people a transparent image of politics as a genuine service to the good of all.

I cannot fail also to appeal to the world of the media to offer its own contribution to education. In today’s society the mass media have a particular role: they not only inform but also form the minds of their audiences, and so they can make a significant contribution to the education of young people. It is important never to forget that the connection between education and communication is extremely close: education takes place through communication, which influences, for better or worse, the formation of the person.

Young people too need to have the courage to live by the same high standards that they set for others. Theirs is a great responsibility: may they find the strength to make good and wise use of their freedom. They too are responsible for their education, including their education in justice and peace!

Educating in truth and freedom

St. Augustine once asked: “Quid enim fortius desiderat anima quam veritatem? — What does man desire more deeply than truth?”(2) The human face of a society depends very much on the contribution of education to keep this irrepressible question alive. Education, indeed, is concerned with the integral formation of the person, including the moral and spiritual dimension, focused upon man’s final end and the good of the society to which he belongs. Therefore, in order to educate in truth, it is necessary first and foremost to know who the human person is, to know human nature. Contemplating the world around him, the psalmist reflects: “When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4-5). This is the fundamental question that must be asked: who is man? Man is a being who bears within his heart a thirst for the infinite, a thirst for truth — a truth which is not partial but capable of explaining life’s meaning — since he was created in the image and likeness of God. The grateful recognition that life is an inestimable gift, then, leads to the discovery of one’s own profound dignity and the inviolability of every single person. Hence the first step in education is learning to recognize the Creator’s image in man, and consequently learning to have a profound respect for every human being and helping others to live a life consonant with this supreme dignity. We must never forget that “authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension”(3), including the transcendent dimension, and that the person cannot be sacrificed for the sake of attaining a particular good, whether this be economic or social, individual or collective.

Only in relation to God does man come to understand also the meaning of human freedom. It is the task of education to form people in authentic freedom. This is not the absence of constraint or the supremacy of free will, it is not the absolutism of the self. When man believes himself to be absolute, to depend on nothing and no one, to be able to do anything he wants, he ends up contradicting the truth of his own being and forfeiting his freedom. On the contrary, man is a relational being, who lives in relationship with others and especially with God. Authentic freedom can never be attained independently of God.

Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused. “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own self. With such a relativistic horizon, therefore, real education is not possible without the light of the truth; sooner or later, every person is in fact condemned to doubting the goodness of his or her own life and the relationships of which it consists, the validity of his or her commitment to build with others something in common”(4).

In order to exercise his freedom, then, man must move beyond the relativistic horizon and come to know the truth about himself and the truth about good and evil. Deep within his conscience, man discovers a law that he did not lay upon himself, but which he must obey. Its voice calls him to love and to do what is good, to avoid evil and to take responsibility for the good he does and the evil he commits(5). Thus, the exercise of freedom is intimately linked to the natural moral law, which is universal in character, expresses the dignity of every person and forms the basis of fundamental human rights and duties: consequently, in the final analysis, it forms the basis for just and peaceful coexistence.

The right use of freedom, then, is central to the promotion of justice and peace, which require respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one’s own. This attitude engenders the elements without which peace and justice remain merely words without content: mutual trust, the capacity to hold constructive dialogue, the possibility of forgiveness, which one constantly wishes to receive but finds hard to bestow, mutual charity, compassion towards the weakest, as well as readiness to make sacrifices.

Educating in justice

In this world of ours, in which, despite the profession of good intentions, the value of the person, of human dignity and human rights is seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions, it is important not to detach the concept of justice from its transcendent roots. Justice, indeed, is not simply a human convention, since what is just is ultimately determined not by positive law, but by the profound identity of the human being. It is the integral vision of man that saves us from falling into a contractual conception of justice and enables us to locate justice within the horizon of solidarity and love(6).

We cannot ignore the fact that some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity: “The ‘earthly city’ is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world”(7).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). They shall be satisfied because they hunger and thirst for right relations with God, with themselves, with their brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.

Educating in peace

“Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity.”(8) We Christians believe that Christ is our true peace: in him, by his Cross, God has reconciled the world to himself and has broken down the walls of division that separated us from one another (cf. Ephesians 2:14-18); in him, there is but one family, reconciled in love.

Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:9).

Peace for all is the fruit of justice for all, and no one can shirk this essential task of promoting justice, according to one’s particular areas of competence and responsibility. To the young, who have such a strong attachment to ideals, I extend a particular invitation to be patient and persevering in seeking justice and peace, in cultivating the taste for what is just and true, even when it involves sacrifice and swimming against the tide.

Raising one’s eyes to God

Before the difficult challenge of walking the paths of justice and peace, we may be tempted to ask, in the words of the Psalmist: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where shall come my help?” (Psalm 121:1).

To all, and to young people in particular, I wish to say emphatically: “It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true ... an unconditional return to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?”(9) Love takes delight in truth, it is the force that enables us to make a commitment to truth, to justice, to peace, because it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

Dear young people, you are a precious gift for society. Do not yield to discouragement in the face of difficulties and do not abandon yourselves to false solutions which often seem the easiest way to overcome problems. Do not be afraid to make a commitment, to face hard work and sacrifice, to choose the paths that demand fidelity and constancy, humility and dedication. Be confident in your youth and its profound desires for happiness, truth, beauty and genuine love! Live fully this time in your life so rich and so full of enthusiasm.

Realize that you yourselves are an example and an inspiration to adults, even more so to the extent that you seek to overcome injustice and corruption and strive to build a better future. Be aware of your potential; never become self-centered but work for a brighter future for all. You are never alone. The church has confidence in you, follows you, encourages you and wishes to offer you the most precious gift she has: the opportunity to raise your eyes to God, to encounter Jesus Christ, who is himself justice and peace.

All you men and women throughout the world, who take to heart the cause of peace: peace is not a blessing already attained, but rather a goal to which each and all of us must aspire. Let us look with greater hope to the future; let us encourage one another on our journey; let us work together to give our world a more humane and fraternal face; and let us feel a common responsibility towards present and future generations, especially in the task of training them to be people of peace and builders of peace. With these thoughts I offer my reflections and I appeal to everyone: let us pool our spiritual, moral and material resources for the great goal of “educating young people in justice and peace.”