Wednesday, February 29, 2012

It is not so much that we do penance for Lent; the penance is to turn our hearts to God

By Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley

The prophets of the Old Testament were men who sought to call the people and the nation back to the right path --- to God's ways. And so they weren't very popular frequently with the leaders of the country, because they challenged them and challenged their policies and challenged them to seek the way of God.

We have words of the prophet Isaiah speaking, not to the leaders of the people, but to everyone, and especially to those who were in power in one way or another, to look at what they had in their hearts. The complaint is from the people: "We do all these things, we fast and God doesn't seem to respond." The prophet says, the problem is, everything you do is external and it doesn't have any value because it's not accompanied by a heart that is turned to God, turned to the needy, turned to real conversion. So the prophet goes on to explain that along with fasting and penances of various kinds, the people must pay attention to justice, how they treat others, especially the poor and the powerless. There is a list of things they should pay attention to, and they reflect, really, the corporal works of mercy.

So for us as we enter Lent, it's a time to reflect not only on the call of the church to do penance of one kind or another, but the purpose of the penance is to turn our hearts to God and to others so that we do justice, that we remember the needs of others and our responsibility to reach out and to help others. We're called to make this Lent a time to look into our hearts and our attitudes and, with the grace of God, to make changes.

Jesus responded to the complaint that his disciples weren't fasting like the disciples of the Pharisees and so forth; and Jesus responds that they will fast, they will suffer later, but not now.

I read this brief reflection today, it's from the Magnificat: "Fasting is a form of self-deprivation that deepens our appreciation of and longing for the food that we really need. Christ's disciples do not fast because they have given themselves over to Jesus who is their food. We fast in order to seek him day after day and to desire more to know his ways."

We fast so that this Lent Christ will become our all.

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's the little things that reflect our following Jesus

By Father Perry D. Leiker

I don't know if you've ever seen these movie titles of these horror movies or thriller movies. They'll be titled something like: "Don't go in the basement" dot, dot, dot. And then where do they always go? Into the basement. And the whole movie is about people saying, "I heard that sound down there! It's dark and gloomy! There's green fumes coming out! Obviously you don't go down there! You better go check it out!" And then, usually, they go alone. It's crazy.

There's something about being told not to do something that makes us want to do it, even as kids. Moses speaks to the people: "I give you life and death. Do this: walk with the Lord, and you will thrive. Do this: walk away from the Lord, and you will perish. You will surely die."

What was some of that stuff? Well, the most catastrophic things the Jews would do would be they'd lose all their trust in God and turn back to the phony gods, the gods that never brought them any peace. So Moses was always in this tug-of-war between don't do this, don't abandon God, stay faithful to God. That was the constant struggle of the Jewish people.

One could ask if we have that struggle. I guess not. We're all here in church. We're good, faithful Catholics. But I suspect the issue is not so black and white — it's all or nothing, even though Jesus puts it in those terms. If anyone wishes to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. You either lose your life or you save it. You surrender everything or you find everything. So when we have those black and white terms, that all or nothing stuff — which, by the way, in all the 12-Step programs they say don't think like that: all or nothing, don't think black and white, because most of life is not black or white — it's not all or nothing. Most of life is in the middle, in the gray, and there's nuances and there's just shades.

Today we don't have to make a choice to follow Christ 100 percent or throw him out. But it's little things, it's like putting up with little irritations; it's like letting go of I can go on this argument with this one now, I could go after my husband or wife, I could make this the fight of the century, or I can let it go. And when we get deeper and deeper and deeper into the life of the spirit, it becomes so important to check out the gray area, the nuances, to understand how much of life could be so much better lived if we didn't create all the dramas, if we weren't willing to go there and make it all or nothing.

Now, I'm not trying to negate the Gospel, because in the first analysis we have to make some decisions: Do I go with Christ or not? Do I walk with my God or walk away from God? And if we choose a life that is filled with every kind of vice and craziness, we're choosing to walk away from God and we're bound to find problems — Moses is right. But once we make this basic assertion: I want to walk with God, I want to belong to Christ, I want to embrace the Gospel, after we've said that, it's going to be in the nuances — in the gray — that so much happens. Life really isn't all that dramatic. It really isn't. But boy, can we make drama come alive.

Today, for example, how will we live? We've already committed ourselves here again to Christ in this Eucharist. We will eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ, we've listened to his word, we've listened to this black and white, all or nothing talk; but of course, we'll walk out of here saying, "Yes, Christ, I'm even more committed you." And then what happens? It's the little, tiny things all day long that will challenge us. For example, we're walking home or driving in our car and we happen to look right next door to that neighbor that drives us nuts, that we just can't stand! Everything that he or she does is wrong. Well, we can just sit in that negativity. We can roll our eyes, walk in. Or we might do something that is not all that dramatic but it's simple. You know, bless her today. Lord, fill him with your spirit. Love him. Such a little, tiny act in the gray area that brings us peace, probably creates on our face a better look, and maybe they might even look up and be surprised. Such a little thing in the gray area that could make such a difference. And we could multiply those all day long, the little things. When we're zinged by someone at home and we want to make that remark, that instead you say something peaceful or you say nothing at all or say a blessing inside us. It's amazing how those things mount up, how those things collect; and we begin to find that, in those gray areas, there really, there, is the grace and the life of Christ for us.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

We should perform wonderful acts of mercy to the least of our brothers

By Father Perry D. Leiker

In Jesus' amazing teaching about love, compassion, he says once in the scriptures: "If you love those who love you, what good is that? Even the Pagans do as much."

This Chapter 25 of Matthew, in my opinion is for me, anyway, the most challenging and demanding and all-encompassing Gospel passage that I know. Not because of the list of things he asks us to do, those seem reasonable enough: feed the hungry, give something to drink to a person who's thirsty, clothe the naked, visit those ill or in prison. Those are normal enough, wonderful acts of mercy, but they're obvious. But what makes this list so incredible is to whom we are asked to do these things. He says: not to the greatest, not to your friends, not to the people who love you, but to the least of our brothers, the least — to our enemies, to people who hate us. And then, even more remarkably, Jesus identifies with them and says, "When you did it to them" or "When you didn't do it to them," "You did it " or "Didn't do it" to me.

Most of us, I think, of course would always do this for the Lord; but when the Lord identifies with the least in our lives, and then asks us to love him through them, it's indeed quite amazing.

Again, if we flip back to the first reading from Leviticus, it's not just a simple listing of the Ten Commandments (it's not even a complete listing), but this listing goes into some reflection about why we should follow those laws. If you listen to them — even half way — we will recognize in them that it is about compassion for our neighbor. It is about really loving. And then this connector in between — it's kind of like the cartilage between two bone movement — this responsorial psalm we kept repeating: "Your words, Lord, are spirit and life." They are spirit and life. "The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple." It speaks about this law of God that concerns us with passion and love and service; a quality in our caring for one another; a turning away from anger and hatred; an all-encompassing, completely refreshing spirit of the Lord encompassed in the law, so that those who hear the law of God and keep it, who take it not just into their mind and understand it but into their heart and love it, are those who are completely and radically transformed by God who speaks to us so that, when we hear this Gospel after all of that, it really does make sense.

Jesus, I believe, is not asking these things for us to prove to him our love — he knows our love — but Jesus speaks to us about this law given to us by God that is meant to transform us, that is meant to make us new, a different people.

Today as we listen to this word, I would suggest that this would be a word that we might pull out every week of Lent and read it at least one of the days of Lent of that week, to take it in, to listen to it, to ask ourselves: How do I live this? How do I feel with this word? How does this go down with me? Because if this word creeps into our bones and into our soul and actually begins to transform us, I think that we will get the power of Lent, we will get the power of God in this Lent, and actually we will find ourselves dying and rising.

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

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Promise, covenant, cleansing, sign, resurrection, proclamation, Kingdom of God, Gospel. These are the many words that stand out and stand together in a kind of seamless garment of hope and new life.

This is Lent! This is that holy time of year when all kinds of new things can happen. People actually turn away from sin. People actually change their lives. People actually are baptized into new life. People actually discover a world of grace and love.

Our churches, draped in purple, call us into a season of renewal. We are to identify what needs to change within us. We are, like Jesus, to go into the desert alone and undistracted to find our truest self and cut away the things that do not matter. We mark ourselves with ashes to remind ourselves that we will die; there is both the mortal and immortal that must be attended to in our lives.

Welcome to Lent. Welcome to a time of hope and change. Welcome to a journey of faith and life.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dust and destiny

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

We begin each Lent under the humble sign of ashes that symbolize dust: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return!

Lent reminds us that life is brief. We are here on this earth only for a little while. One day our mortal bodies will turn to dust.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI also makes this point in his Lenten message for this year: "The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God."

Our life may be short. But we are called to fill our lives with meaning and beauty through our faithfulness and love of Jesus and our charity and concern for others.

Loving concern for others is the heart of our life together in the church and in the wider society. We have to support one another. We have to think beyond our own needs to anticipate the needs of our brothers and sisters.

Yet our culture seems to be losing this sense of common cause and mutual concern. People seem more isolated, more looking out for themselves.

The problem, I believe, is that our society is losing a sense of the fatherhood of God and a sense of his care and guidance of creation.

Many of our neighbors go about their lives as if God does not exist. They are not hostile to God. It is more like they have forgotten about him. God is just not a factor in what they think about or how they make decisions or what they do during the course of their day.

This indifference, a kind of practical atheism, has deep consequences for our society.

The declining feeling for God naturally leads to a declining feeling for our fellow human beings. If we do not believe God is our Father, we are not likely to believe that our neighbors are our brothers and sisters.

That is one reason we need this annual "reality check" of Lent. To be concerned for others, to be stirred to help them through love and good works, we need to grow in holiness. And for that, we need to know "who we are."

When we hear those words, "Remember that you are dust," we are meant to remember the biblical scene of creation. These words bring us back to that moment when God created the first man from out of the dust of the earth and blew the Spirit of life into him. We are meant to remember that the human person, every man and woman, is created in God’s own image and likeness.

But we are also meant to remember the original sin of our first human parents.

Original sin disfigured and disordered the divine image in the human person and led God to speak those sad words that we hear on Ash Wednesday: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."

But those words point us to the promise of hope — that humanity will rise from dust to achieve the divine destiny that God intended.

Dust is not our destiny and death is not the final destination of our lives. The journey we begin on Ash Wednesday ends on Easter Sunday. The dust of death gives way to the light that streams from Jesus' empty tomb.

That is why Lent is a season of hope. Because God sent his only Son, who is the true image of God in human likeness.

Jesus restored the divine image damaged by sin, through his obedient suffering and death on the cross.

So in Jesus, who lived a perfect human life, we see the beautiful truth of our lives and the true vocation that each of us has. Jesus shows us "who we are." He shows us that we are children of God, born of the love of the Father. We are born to love and to be loved. And we do that by loving as Jesus loved.

The direction and purpose of our lives is to become more and more like Jesus, through the grace of God and our desire for holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts is beautifully: "The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father’s only Son" (CCC, n. 1877).

Let’s pray for one another again this week. Let’s pray that we all use this time of Lent wisely to grow in our imitation of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect image of God and the perfect image of the human person.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to grow in our love and fidelity to her Son, and to serve others as he served, in all charity and good works.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Giving up on giving up

What if I gave away one thing a day for the
40 days of Lent?
... From American Catholic

A year ago, I was facing Lent — again. I was ready to repeat the routine of what I usually do for Lent: no sweets or complaining, extra prayer, and the usual fasting and abstinence. I realized, though, that I wasn’t growing or being challenged. I decided to find a practice that would remind me daily of this penitential season and join me to Jesus’ sacrifice of his life for others.

What if I gave away one thing a day for the 40 days of Lent? I wanted to live a simpler lifestyle both for spiritual reasons — "[Jesus] said to them, 'Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money — not even an extra tunic'" (Luke 9:3) — and also to de-clutter my life.

Continue reading: "Giving up on giving up" ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

10 things to remember for Lent

Bishop David L. Ricken
... From USCCB

Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offers "10 things to remember for Lent" as the church prepares to begin the season with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22.

Continue reading: "10 things to remember for Lent" ...

What works: What are you giving up for Lent?

Make a commitment to abstain from something you have
a problem with. (Credit: Busted Halo)
... From Busted Halo

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is not a question I heard growing up in my atheist home. It’s second nature for most Catholics, though — to give up some favorite thing (like chocolate or ice cream) for Lent. But if you have an addiction to alcohol, a drug or cigarettes, I want you to consider using this Lent as a turning point.

If you don’t have a dependence on a physically addictive substance like those, then broaden the definition a bit: How about something nonessential like caffeine or sleeping pills? (I’m not talking about prescribed medicines that balance you.) Consider seeing if you can live without it of the next 40 days. If you want to broaden the term addiction further in the now-trendy way for things like the internet and pornography, that’s OK too.

Continue reading: "What works: What are you giving up for Lent ...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I don't care if you like me, but I do care that you love me

By Father Perry D. Leiker

The good news today comes really quickly in the first reading: God forgets all our sins. Well, he doesn't really forget; God can't forget anything, but forgetting in God's terms is forgiving. It's kind of like when we forgive or forget a debt. Someone comes to us and they've been owing us $20 for months and months, and they come up again with another excuse: "Listen, I'll have it for you next week. I'm really sorry, but I'll have it." And you're so tired of it, you just say, "You know, forget it. Forget it." And you wipe the debt away because it's too much energy to keep doing it. Forget the debt.

God remembers everything, but he forgets our debts; he wipes them away. But he doesn't do it because we're repentant or because we do the right thing or the right formula. He says it in the word: "It is I, I who wipe out for my own sake your offenses. For my my sake I do it." Why for his sake? It's the very core identity of God. He is all merciful, and so he always wipes away our offense. Whether or not we know that ... they say Jews and Catholics love guilt. I've been a priest 35 years, I've heard a lot of guilt in our church, people who don't believe that God could forgive their big sins. But he does; he wipes them away.

Well, this theme, such a rich theme, gets taken up by Jesus in a very interesting way. Personally, this is one of the Gospels — if I were making a movie, I'd think I'd like to start with this one — it's just extraordinary. First of all, it is so dramatic. This man is brought there, a paralytic, to this house where Jesus is gathered. The whole town's all gathered in the house. They can't get near him, so this paralytic apparently insists, "Take me up on the roof. Put me down through the roof." What a scene is this! So they do. They climb up on the roof. They unthatch the thatchness and then they drop the man right down in front of him.

Here's the moment: Jesus looks at him and says, "Child, your sins are forgiven." Now, in this moment to come, he unparalyzes one man and then paralyzes some others. Well, actually, the others are already paralyzed, but he just aggravates their paralysis. They're paralyzed with jealousy, anger, hatred: Jesus couldn't possibly do one thing right or say one thing right. Everything he does is wrong, and every miracle that he does, it's on the sabbath, so they ride him off. Today he's a blasphemer.

So, he says in this story, which is easier to say: "You sins are forgiven" or "Pick up your mat and walk"? Well, I think it's easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven." What evidence could you show that they were or were not? Who sees inside a person's soul? That's easy to say. But if you say, "Pick up your mat and walk" and the man doesn't move, oops, I blew it. You failed. So he says — and in saying this — he kind of proclaims that he's not blaspheming, that he does perhaps have an identity bigger than they're willing to say. He says, "But to show you that I have the power to forgive sins I tell you pick up your mat and walk." And he does. And everyone is astounded. Except, I think, the Pharisees. And they become, of course, more paralyzed, more convinced of their hatred for Jesus. It's strong enough that they'll eventually put him on the cross.

This is an important Gospel, I think, for all of us, but I know it's important for me. Even from early in my life I knew I was a grudge holder. I knew I was very self-righteous. I did everything at home, and my brothers did nothing. I was a big judger, I think, of everyone. This is my big confession in front of all of you. If somebody hurt me, I could really sit back in my misery and not talk for three days. I didn't talk to a friend for three years in the seminary, because I was deeply offended. I don't even remember over what. So if anybody wants to talk to me about grudges, here's the master. I can tell you about grudge-holding, and I can tell you when I'm hurt what it does to me.

I eventually learned that Jesus gave a key to release that, to free me, years ago. When I was very young I had the key and I didn't know it. It's the only prayer that he really taught us — the Our Father. And toward the end of it, not buried there, but close to the end, we say these words to Jesus: "Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I hate the prayer! I hate it! To lay this condition on God: "God, you forgive me as I forgive those who hurt me." What a condition! Thank God he doesn't hear me. Forgive me, Lord, as much as I forgive them, because I often didn't. But it was something that began to work on me when I discovered that there was a deep secret hidden there. And I began to learn, with work, to forgive those who offend me.

I think it was in 2006, something happened in our country that was just an extraordinary event that was marked on my soul. It took place in Nickel Mines, Pa. And I am going to read portions of an article from Joseph Shapiro. The article is titled, "Amish forgive school shooter, struggle with grief." He says: "It's been a week for quiet reflection in the Amish communities around Nickle Mines, Pa., which one year ago experienced tragedy." And the tragedy was this: This milk man who delivered milk into this Amish community came there with a gun, walked into a small, tiny school house (I think there were boys and girls, and I think the boys were ushered out, and the girls remained there). And unbelievably, a 14-year-old girl walked up and went between the gunman and the girls and said to the gunman, "Shoot me if you must, but let them go." A 14-year-old had this courage. Well he did shoot her. He shot 10. Five were killed, and the others lived but were shot, and then he turned the gun on himself.

But what happened in the Amish community was astounding. The article says: "Last month it was announced that the Amish community had donated money to the killer's widow and her three young children." It goes on to say what happened after this shooting. He says, "I think the most powerful demonstration of the depth of Amish forgiveness was when the members of the Amish community went to the killer's burial service at the cemetery. Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters only the day before, were in attendance and they hugged the widow and hugged other members of the killer's family."

I can't even imagine me doing that. And apparently, this is something very deep in the Amish community. It is the need to forgive. But I understand that there are changes, that we have these images of the Amish don't ever drive vehicles or have any electricity, and I understand that this is changing in the communities. And they also didn't used to go to counseling very often. They were very private about these things. They went through their grief absolutely privately, often not sharing much with each other. But this was such an extraordinary event, that some were moved to get counseling services. It helped them through their grief.

But the thing that happened within them, those who were able to forgive, is they discovered the freedom and peace that flows from forgiveness. I know that people can forgive anything, really. People have forgiven the Holocaust, people who lost every single member of their family. And some have described it, "I just got tired of hating. I couldn't hate anymore. I had to forgive the source of all of my hate." And so, I look at the stuff of my life — it's little in comparison to the Amish people. But I'll tell you the little stuff sometimes messes us up most.

This Sunday, these readings give me an opportunity that I get a few times in a year when we have readings like this. I realize, I've been a priest 35 years in several parishes, and I've offended a lot of people. I can honestly say, I don't think I try to, ever. I mean, I don't like confrontation. I'd much rather go away from people and brood inside and be miserable with myself. But to get in their face — I talk big: "I'm going to tell 'em!" but I don't do it, usually. And when I offend people, I do it for lots of reasons. Sometimes I just make stupid mistakes. Sometimes I choose a road that was dumb and has bad consequences. Sometimes I'm just careless and don't see a consequence coming up, and sometimes even after the fact I don't see it. But very  often, after I've made mistakes or after I've offended people, I discover that there are a lot of people who don't like me. And I don't mind that. I mean, I like to be liked, but really, on a deeper level, it's not important. What's important is that we know how to be professional with one another. It's just tolerance.

How many people work next to somebody at work that you just don't like? You don't like the way they smell, you don't like the way they chew their food, they talk too loud, you don't like their music, they dress poorly. There's nothing likable about them, but they don't know you feel that way because you have to work with them. Let's get the job done. That's just professional.

But we're supposed to go beyond that as Catholic Christians. We're supposed to do more than tolerate. I don't care if you like me, but I do care that you love me. I ask you to love me, because that's what I do for you. And in the Christian spirit of loving, we care about one another and how people are and what they do with their life. I want you to criticize me, I really do; but respectfully and politely. Pardon the language, but I hate when someone comes up to criticize me and they vomit all over me. Hello? Can't you say it politely? But when you critique me, when you critique what I do and don't do, it helps me grow, and I want it. I try to speak Spanish, and even in Mass, if people correct me right there, I prefer it. I don't want to keep making the mistake for 20 years. Teach me. But when people don't, and they prick me, and it hurts, I go right back to that place. I want to go inside and feel all that self-righteousness against them. And so I say that prayer that I don't like, but I know I need it because it leads me to the truth.

I know that first reading is true, that God wipes out my offenses, forgets my offenses, my sins, not because of me, but because of who he is. But for that reality to penetrate into my soul, I have to be open to it. And when I choose not to forgive, to judge anyone else, or even if they don't like me and I don't like them back, I go right to that place of the Pharisees, and it strangles and paralyzes my soul. And I know it.

I know it's not magic, but it's deeply spiritual, this prayer — "Father, forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me." When people trespass against me — and they do — I need to go to that place where I finally find my freedom and my peace, and I discover that God, indeed, can wipe out every  offense.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Looking ahead

Alert! God's memory is failing!

Either we have to believe that God's memory is a little weak if not failing completely or ... he just doesn’t have a big need to remember our sins.

He admits it himself with the words from the prophet Isaiah: "It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more." It is for his own sake. It is because he is who he is. It is because he could not know anything other than to love and forgive — "God is love."

To not recall our sins is one thing; to not remember them is quite an other thing. To forget — to wipe away from memory, to not go back and use them to guilt us again and again — this is our God. This is the one who loves us into all we can be. God’s love, further, goes deep into the paralysis of our lives where we have no more movement, no more ability to function. There, he forgives. There, he heals. There, he forgets. There, he gives life!

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Never grow weary of doing good

By Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley

Jesus heals a leper. The leper approaches him, which was very daring for the leper to do so; he was forbidden to approach anyone who did not have leprosy. But this man approaches Jesus and says, "If you want to, I know if you want to, you can heal me." The response of Jesus is, "Of course I do. I do will it. Be made clean."

Throughout the Gospels we read of people being touched by the love and the compassion and the healing power of Jesus. People came to him. The Gospel tells us they came to him from everywhere. People were brought to him so that they might have their hope fulfilled of having a healing, a miracle.

So often Jesus did respond with a miracle so that the people had their health restored, their sight restored, their lives restored. Hope within them burned brightly once again because of the presence, the love, and the compassion of Jesus.

And so Jesus could say the kingdom could say "the kingdom of God is among you." One of the evangelists writes about Jesus, "He went about doing good." What a great statement about anyone — "He went about doing good."

St. Paul advises us, "Never grow weary of doing good." St. Paul also reminds us whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. That's our motive in doing good --- not for self honor, or anything we get out of it for ourselves, but for the glory of God we are called to do good.

St. Paul also says, "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ." So we are called to continue the work of Christ, to continue the work of the kingdom of God in our midst today. We all have the capacity through God's grace to do good, to bring hope into people's lives. We have the opportunities to bring the compassion, the love, and the healing power of Christ into the lives of others.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Our journey into the desert of Lent

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Our Christian life is a pilgrimage of faith.

It is all about following Jesus Christ through the desert of this world to the promised land of the kingdom of heaven. It is all about going wherever our Father calls us and wherever his Spirit leads us. Even to places where we might not want to go. Even to places where we never expected to find ourselves.

Lent reminds us that we need to always be growing in virtue and holiness so we have the strength we need to continue along our pilgrim way.

That is why we begin every Lent by reliving Jesus' own journey into the desert. It is important to remember that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert immediately after he was baptized in the Jordan River. This should tell us something about the pattern of our own lives — about our own spiritual journey as children of God.

Remember that at Jesus' baptism, the Spirit descended and the Father’s voice declared: "This is my beloved Son."

This is what happens in every baptism. We are anointed with the Spirit and made sons and daughters of God. After that, we are sent into the wilderness of our world as Jesus was — to serve our Father; to be his holy children; to tell others that God is alive and that his love is real.

The beautiful message of Lent is that we are never alone in the desert of our faith journey. Everything we face in our lives — Jesus has faced before us.

The Gospels reveal this to us in so many little scenes. We learn that Jesus has shared all our human joys and satisfactions. The joys of family life and friendship. The joys of prayer and worship and relationship with God. The satisfactions of hard work well done.

Lent reminds us that Jesus has also known our hard times and all the harshness of the human condition. In the desert, Jesus shared our temptation and trials. He was tempted to doubt God’s promises. He was tempted to lose trust that God is in charge of creation and that he has a plan for our lives and our world.

The traditional disciplines of Lent — fasting, almsgiving and prayer — are meant to unite us more tightly to Jesus.

In our liturgy for Lent we pray: “Father ... you will that our self-denial should give you thanks, humble our sinful pride, contribute to the feeding of the poor, and so help us to imitate you in your kindness.”

Children learn by imitating their parents. And in our Christian lives, we learn to imitate our Father by imitating his only begotten Son. Jesus shows us the face of our Father and Jesus shows us the way to live as God’s holy sons and daughters.

As we all know, so often we can become our own worst enemies. We can be selfish and self-centered. We can talk too much and eat and drink too much. We can spend too much time seeking comfort and entertainment. We can get too attached to things. Sometimes, we can even become captives to our own desires.

Through fasting, almsgiving and prayer we find a way to break free from all the prisons we make for ourselves. By his grace, we learn to deny ourselves and our needs. And we find that we are able to open our hearts to God and open our hands to give to our neighbors in need.

Through these Lenten disciplines we learn to live by the truths that Jesus taught us. We ask our Father for bread, confident that he will give it to us. We knock on heaven’s door with our prayers, knowing he will open it for us. We give to the least of our brothers and sisters, knowing that the love we show to them we show Jesus.

The Gospels tell us that when Jesus was in the desert, the Word of God was his bread and the angels came and ministered to him. These are beautiful images that remind us of our life in his Catholic Church.

As we make our pilgrim way through the desert of this world, Jesus is with us always in his Church. He gives us our daily bread — in the word that comes from the mouth of God; in the bread of the angels that we receive in the holy Eucharist. He forgives us our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation.

So as we begin our journey through the desert of Lent on Ash Wednesday, let us pray for one another.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to make this for all of us a beautiful season of penance, purification and conversion, as we seek to imitate her Son.

Archbishop José H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. His weekly column is provided by The Tidings, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Reach Archbishop Gomez on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What is at stake in the mandate debate

Archbishop Josè H. Gomez
By Archbishop Josè H. Gomez

The federal government’s new mandate — requiring Catholic charities, schools, universities and hospitals to supply employees with health insurance that covers birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs — has become maybe the most controversial issue of our day.

I’ve been inspired by the unified reaction from our Catholic community. The bishops of almost every diocese in the country have spoken out. So have our largest Catholic institutions. Many individual Catholics — of every political opinion — have united in opposition.

Other religious groups and many other Americans have also joined the protest — because this new mandate, of course, affects every employer in America.

As this debate continues, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church did not choose this conflict.

The church wants to be a partner with our neighbors and our government in building a more just and peaceful society — a society more worthy of the dignity of the human person who is the image of God. The church's mission in our society is to teach, heal and to care for others; to pray and to lead our neighbors to God.

Our freedom to carry out our mission is totally threatened by this new mandate. But we are not just protecting our own parochial interests. As I have said, the issues at stake go far beyond the morality of contraception. This government mandate threatens the basic character of our society and puts every American’s freedom at risk.

America was founded to be a diverse society with many layers of institutions and affiliations.

America’s founders understood that human life is more than politics or economics. They created structures of government and an economic system intended to promote individual liberty. They also created a space of freedom in which a rich "civil society" could grow — all sorts of independent churches and religions, neighborhood groups, clubs, volunteer organizations, trade unions, leagues, charities, foundations and more.

In the founders' vision of civil society, churches and religious agencies held a special place. They believed religion was essential for democracy to flourish because religion instills the values and virtues people need for self-government.

That’s why the First Amendment protects churches and individuals from the government meddling in what they believe, or in how they express and live out those beliefs. That’s also why the government has always felt comfortable providing funding for Church charities and ministries that serve the common good of all Americans.

What’s been happening in recent decades is that government at all levels has been exerting greater influence in almost every area of American life.

In the process, non-governmental institutions are being crowded out of our public life. Civil society is shrinking and the influence of civic associations in our lives is getting weaker. The rights and freedoms of churches are increasingly restricted by court orders and government policies. Religious freedom is now reduced to the freedom to pray and to go to church.

And more and more, Church agencies are now treated as if they are arms of the government. Increasingly, these agencies are expected to serve and submit to the government’s agendas and priorities.

None of this is good for our democracy or our individual liberties.

America’s founders knew that a strong civil society and flourishing faith communities are our last best protection against tyranny — against the government becoming too big and all-powerful and all-controlling in our lives.

That is why I think this new mandate has struck such a nerve — not only with Catholics and other believers, but also with millions of our fellow citizens.

People are realizing that if the government denies our fundamental freedom to hold religious beliefs and to order our lives according to these beliefs, then there is no real freedom for anyone.

This new mandate moves us closer to what Pope Benedict XVI warned against in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"): "The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself ... a state which regulates and controls everything."

When I first wrote about this new mandate two weeks ago, I said this is a time for Catholic action and Catholic voices. This is still the time.

We need to defend our rights as Catholics. Not only to pray and worship. But also to be able to express our faith through our Catholic institutions and to make our own contribution to the decisions that affect the common good and future of our society.

We also need to help our political leaders understand what is at stake in this debate. My brother bishops and I in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops are supporting legislation that would rescind this unjust policy. For more information and to take action, visit the U.S. bishops' website: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/index.cfm

Let’s pray for one another this week. And let’s ask Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States, to pray for our country.

Archbishop Josè H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles. Reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

NEWS FLASH: Jesus touches a leper and cleanses him! He is completely healed!

This indeed would be newsworthy even to the enemies of Jesus; and it was. Some news travels fast. Some news pricks everyone’s curiosity and even admiration. This news caused people to come from everywhere to seek healing and to personally experience the power of Jesus.

Is that power available to us? Does Jesus continue to heal and strengthen and renew us? Is Jesus touching us often or every day?

We are coming soon to the season of Lent when we, as a community of faith, will collectively, but also individually, seek healing, renewal, love and the strengthening of our faith. When Ash Wednesday arrives this year, let us listen to God speak through his word. Let us pray together and seek together for his power to reach into our lives to heal, love and strengthen our faith.

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

Friday, February 10, 2012

We are called to cure, we are called to heal

By Father Paul Henson, O.Carm.

The great St. Paul is the apostle to the Greeks. We hear that he became everything; he became all so that all — or at least the people that he would touch — would become Christians, this idea about becoming all, about going out to people and bringing them to good news.

St. Paul used the image of the body of Christ. This is how he described it: He described it as the human body. The body of Christ is the human body. He went on to say that when one of the portions of the human body hurts, the whole body hurts. Think about it. If you've broken your arm and you're in a sling, the whole body hurts because you feel incapacitated. You can't use both your arms. Your body suffers. When you have a rock in your shoe and you're walking, and you don't have time to take it out and your big toe is stepping on that little rock, the whole body hurts. When you have arthritis on your joints, the whole body hurts. So this idea about hurting and curing and this idea about being relieved in the Lord, Job, in the first reading, understood completely what suffering meant, what it meant to hurt.

Remember the story of Job? Job was the faithful servant. For whatever reason, the Lord said, I want to see how trustworthy Job is of me. So a lot of tragedies happened to Job — he lost his family, he lost his wealth, he lost a bunch of things that made him very happy. In the readings, he's saying, "Lord, why are you doing this to me? Why are you making me suffer? Why are you making my body hurt? Why are you making me unhappy and hurtful? Why, Lord?" And he just says, "Lord, what more is there worth living?" This idea of the body hurting, we all know what that feels like when one part of the body hurts, everyone hurts.

St. Paul also used that imagery to describe disunity, how among ourselves, perhaps, we ignore each other, we ignore the pain of society, we ignore the pain within our own families where we can say I'm sorry, where we cannot reconcile, where we just ignore one another. That breaks down the body. I mean, it really does.

Here's the good news when we hear about Jesus — Jesus isn't only about curing. For example, when you go to the doctor, you get a broken arm, you're in a sling, you're in it for six weeks; and in six weeks your arm is cured. You can throw a ball, you can hold whatever. You're arm is cured. With this idea about Jesus, Jesus not only cures — we hear in the story today. Jesus cured many people with diseases, that's what scriptures say. He had the power to cure people. And he did it; he used it.

But it's not enough to cure, to be cured. It's not enough when you have cancer, for example, and it's in remission or maybe it seems like it's cured. It's not enough, because you also need to be healed. This is what Jesus does. He heals the person. And what is that thing about healing? Somehow you feel complete. Somehow, when Jesus was healing people, when he was curing people, he also embraced them. He also gave them a sense of purpose, a sense of dignity. He said, "Go, your diseases have been cured, your faith has healed you." You've become whole. You go out and proclaim, like many of the blind people, or many of the crippled people, would jump up and they would go and proclaim Jesus Christ.

We have that power to cure. We have that power to heal. Because we've been baptized with Christ, because Jesus lives in us, we receive him every Sunday, we have that power to cure and to heal. I remember once when I was in Peru I visited someone very much like Simon's mother-in-law. It was a small adobe house. I went with one of the agents, pastoral agents that were with me. We went into this small, little house. And this lady was sick. She was literally sick, all covered up. So we prayed for her; and the craziest thing happened. The woman threw her blankets off, she got up, and she made us coffee, she made us tea. I mean, that's the thing. We all have that capacity. But we got to believe it. We got to proclaim it. We got to use it. That's what St. Paul says. I believe, but if I don't use my belief it's worthless — I'm nobody, I'm empty, I'm dead if I don't use my faith to heal and to cure people.

So that's our challenge today and this week. Who's hurting in your family? Who's hurting in the parish community? Who's hurting in our society. And not only to think about it, it's worthless if you just think about it. It's worthless. Do something about it. Go and reach somebody who's crying, who's in need. All the people within our parish who are hurting. You got to go and you got to heal. You have to go and you got to heal. You have to go and you got to cure. But you got to believe it. When someone at school is hurting, you have an obligation as a Christian, as a Catholic, someone who receives the body and blood of Christ, to heal that broken heart. You have an obligation to defend those who that are being persecuted. We all have that obligation because we receive the body and blood of Christ. We can cure; we can heal.

So that's your obligation, that's our challenge this week. Go out and cure somebody. Go out and heal somebody. But do it in the name of Christ. Don't just let it sit. Go out and do it. We receive the body and blood of Christ to remind us once again that the Holy Spirit lives in us. We have the power to make the world a better place, to right the world, to cure and heal. So as you come forward you say, "Amen. I believe, Lord. I believe I can cure. I believe I can heal" and go out and heal those who are brokenhearted.

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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

World Youth Day officials in Brazil unveil winning logo for 2013

This is the Portuguese-language
version of the winning logo for
World Youth Day to be held in
Rio de Janeiro July 23 to 28, 2013.
Gustavo Huguenin, 25, a Brazilian
from Rio de Janeiro, designed it.
(Credit: CNS/
World Youth Day)
From Catholic News Service ...

RIO DE JANEIRO — Officials of World Youth Day 2013 unveiled the winning logo for the event at a ceremony attended by more than 100 Brazilian bishops, government officials and local organizers.

Gustavo Huguenin, 25, creator of the winning logo, is a Brazilian from the interior of Rio de Janeiro state. The contest was opened to anyone, and the logo was chosen by a Vatican council from more than 200 entries from around the world.

 ... Continue reading: World Youth Day officials in Brazil unveil winning logo for 2013

Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2012

This year's papal Lenten message,
released Feb. 7, calls for Christians
to be concerned for the well-being
of others. (Credit:
Michael J. Arvizu/
St. Bernard Church)
By Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.

This year I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a brief biblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.” These words are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God. Embracing Christ bears fruit in a life structured by the three theological virtues: it means approaching the Lord “sincere in heart and filled with faith” (v. 22), keeping firm “in the hope we profess” (v. 23) and ever mindful of living a life of “love and good works” (v. 24) together with our brothers and sisters. The author states that to sustain this life shaped by the Gospel it is important to participate in the liturgy and community prayer, mindful of the eschatological goal of full communion in God (v. 25). Here I would like to reflect on Verse 24, which offers a succinct, valuable and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness. 

“Let us be concerned for each other”: responsibility towards our brothers and sisters

This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”: the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospel when Jesus invites the disciples to “think of” the ravens that, without striving, are at the centre of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf. Luke 12:24), and to “observe” the plank in our own eye before looking at the splinter in that of our brother (cf. Luke 6:41). In another verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to “turn your minds to Jesus” (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for “privacy.” Today, too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be “guardians” of our brothers and sisters (Genesis 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts. The Servant of God Pope Paul VI stated that the world today is suffering above all from a lack of brotherhood: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations” (Populorum Progressio, 66).

Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail, because God is “generous and acts generously” (Psalm 119:68). The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands. Concern for others means being aware of their needs. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others. The Evangelist Luke relates two of Jesus’ parables by way of example. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite “pass by,” indifferent to the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf. Luke 10:30-32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Luke 16:19). Both parables show examples of the opposite of “being concerned,” of looking upon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. “The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it” (Proverbs 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of “those who mourn” (Matthew 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness. 

“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Matthew 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction - elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Ephesians 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way” (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even “the upright falls seven times” (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 John 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Luke 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.

“Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity

This “custody” of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek “the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another” (Rom 14:19) for our neighbour’s good, “so that we support one another” (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather “the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community. 

The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says: “Each part should be equally concerned for all the others” (1 Corinthians 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging. Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good that the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that Almighty God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children. When Christians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoice and give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Matthew 5:16).  

“To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together in holiness

These words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever more sublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, “like the light of dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day” (Proverbs 4:18), makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.

Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others (cf. Matthew 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Luke 12:21b; 1 Timothy 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizing and proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is also meant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to “anticipate one another in showing honour” (Romans 12:10).

In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service and good works (cf. Hebrews 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of the Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PopeBenedict16.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Response to Proposition 8 ruling

Bishop Gerald
Wilkerson
In response to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Feb. 7, 2012, which ruled California's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional, Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference issued the following statement:

We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union.  However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Marriage between one man and one woman has been — and always will be — the most basic building block of the family and of our society.

In the end, through sound legal reasoning, we believe the court will see this as well and uphold the will of the voters as expressed in Proposition 8.  We continue to pray for that positive outcome.

Bishop Gerald Wilkerson is bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles San Fernando Pastoral Region.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Together in Mission 2012: A Time for Reflection

Together in Mission 2012.
This week, you are asked to read and reflect upon the Together in Mission materials that you received this weekend. Together in Mission provides substantial financial support to 35 parishes and 52 schools in our archdiocese. These parishes and schools provide education, ministry and a Catholic presence for tens of thousands of our sisters and brothers.

Sometimes it is difficult to envision how your pledge can help so many people. But it does. To see how, please review the materials and read the statements of those whose parishes and schools receive support. The theme of the campaign is "Be Imitators of ... Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:11). Together in Mission provides an opportunity to show our concern for those served by the parishes and schools that need your financial support. If you received your pledge form in the mail, please complete it and mail it back or bring it to Mass next weekend.

Also, we will conduct our annual Together in Mission in-pew pledge process at all Masses next weekend and the following weekend.

For more information on Together in Mission, visit www.la-archdiocese.org/org/development/Pages./tim.aspx.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Looking ahead

Together in Mission 2012.
"Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted."

This phrase from our responsorial psalm could probably fall from our lips at least once a week as we struggle with health, finances, family issues, work struggles, school headaches. Yet some people need to say it every day just to hang on to hope. They never resolve these ongoing struggles but every day seek God’s healing and supporting love to get them through the day.

We just finished off our Together in Mission 2011 and begin our new campaign for 2012. "More help. Didn’t we just do this?" The answer is "yes," and we do it because we can. There are schools and churches and communities of faith who hang on every day and couldn’t make it without our help. This is a "keep the doors open" campaign. This is a "reach out and lift up" campaign. This is what we do as Catholics. It is what we have always done as Catholics. This is us at our best — loving, supporting, helping, strengthening, giving, sharing our faith. We are not asked to do more than we can. We are asked to be generous, extending a pledge over five months so that we can give a little more than we might in a single collection. This is a pledge of love to help our brothers and sisters of our faith.

Please come next week ready to make a pledge, if you have not yet done so. Gratefully and joyfully we join together in the mission of Jesus Christ.

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

Saturday, February 4, 2012

'Listening' has more to do than listening with the ears

By Father Perry D. Leiker

You had to admire the Jews. They had no problem speaking up to God, telling him exactly what they thought: "We don't like hearing your voice anymore! Don't lead us with fire!" They were scared to death where that fire would lead them. They believed — it's written especially through the Exodus — if you ever saw God's face, you would die; he's too great. In fact, you recall when Moses coming down from the mountain after getting the tablets he had apparently on the mountain spoken to God face to face. And so when he came down, the scriptures say his face was glowing but from the inside. People were afraid to look at the face that looked at the face. That's how awesome God was to them. So today they tell him, "Don't speak to us anymore!" They had their nerve talking to God like that. But their problem wasn't speaking up to God; their problem was listening. So we hear and sang that response that's very common in our liturgy, especially during Lent: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

Now, I don't know the original Semitic languages, and I'm sure that in this text that it's important — and probably with commentaries you get differing opinions — but "If today you hear his voice" does that mean if by chance you should hear it, or does it mean "If today you hear his voice" because today he's speaking? But in any case, whatever that means, if today you hear his voice, the psalmist doesn't say "Listen with your ears," he says, "Harden not your hearts." So it's not even an implication; it is straight out there. Listening has more to do than listening with the ears.

I remember in my first assignment as a priest. I was just 26 years old, there just for a few months, and this man would come to see me a few times, younger than me. And this one time he came in, he was visibly very nervous and upset.

He came in and sat down. I said, "Paul? What's going on? How are you?"

He says, "I'm fine, father." But he had these nervous twitches, just real obvious. Just nervous as could be.

I said, "Well, how are you, Paul?"

"Oh, I'm fine, father." Twitching.

I said, "Really? What's going on in your life?"

"Oh, you know, the same."

I said, "Paul, what the matter with you? Look at you, you're shaking." And then he opened up and shared his big problem. If I hadn't listened with my eyes (and I know I'm mixing metaphors here), but I had to listen with my eyes, see that this man was disturbed. And if I hadn't seen and heard with my eyes, I'd have never asked him and perchance he would have never opened up.

Isn't this a big complaint in marriage? How many women say, "He never listens to me! He doesn't know what I'm really saying!"

And how often men say, "She never listens. I keep telling her we can't afford it, she buys it anyway! She doesn't listen!"

Well, the truth is we can listen we can listen with our ears and hear the words. But that doesn't mean we "hear." And this is where people want to be heard. They want to hear the other person, and be heard by the other person, in their hears. But the truth is, just listening with our ears is difficult. I heard it said by a preacher once, and I've taken this on in my own life: I will take responsibility for every word I say. I will take responsibility for every word that comes out of my mouth. I take less responsibility for what you hear. And I take almost no responsibility for what you think you heard. Because by the time we get to that — "Well, I think he said this." Oh, my God. Nothing like that. But it's true that people can actually hear the words and think you meant something else and didn't get the meaning.

Two weeks ago I wasn't here at the 9:30 [a.m.] Mass. I'm so sorry. Some people thought I had an accident or died. I simply put it in my own personal calendar wrong, and I had the dates mixed up. So as often happens in our church these days, there are so many churches in the diocese that don't have a priest for Mass. I was called and asked to take a Mass. I had scheduled it and I just scheduled it wrong in my book. Now people saw and heard there was no priest. Thank you. They took over and did a celebration. And I appreciate the fact that you were able to receive communion and hear the word because that's really most important. But if we listen to what happened with our hearts, then we begin to understand how much more fervently we need to pray that prayer for vocations.

Now, I don't know when our church is going to wake up, either to ordain women — which I'm in favor of — or to permit married clergy. We already have them, actually. We welcome in Anglican priests and we re-ordain them and now we have married clergy, but not originating from our church. Or people will begin to say, "Oh, my God. The mission is calling." The mission of the church is calling. We need sisters, we need priests, we need brothers, we need deacons. Are you hearing me? Let the church say amen! That's what we should have heard when there was an absence of a priest. Not, "We've been undone! This is an injustice! Where was our priest?!" And I understand that, but there's something even deeper to listen to: We are in crisis. We need priests like we've never needed them before. We had many more priests 20 years ago and fewer Catholics. The church is bursting at the seams with Catholics, and we don't have the priests to serve them. So when do we wake up and hear the mission, the call, deep within our heart? And how many say, "Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will. Here I am"? Listening with the heart is another experience.

Today, in that first reading, we hear the tension. The people said they didn't want to listen to God speak, so God said, "OK, I'll stop speaking to you directly, but then I'll send prophets." And so "I will call a prophet. Name them prophet, and they will speak in my name. And if you don't listen to them, I'll take care of you. And if they don't say what I tell them, I'll kill them." You still want to be a prophet? And the prophets didn't want to be prophets. We hear in Joel, God says, "Before you were born, I knew you in the womb. And I called you to be a prophet to the nations." And his response? "No, Lord. I'm too young. Don't call me; call my neighbor." They didn't want the responsibility to bear the word and pronounce the word of God, I mean, after he says what he says in Deuteronomy.

In that second reading, what was proclaimed was, Paul who's going to make a further point, he's making this case: Jesus Christ is coming any day, we better be ready. So he says, if you're not married, don't get married; you can devote yourself to the Lord. If you're married you have to be responsible. But if you're not, don't get married because the Lord is coming any day. That's listening with the heart — I need to focus only on the Lord.

But the Gospel makes the point, kind of indirectly but most profoundly: Jesus went about preaching, and there's no question people heard him (well, not everybody). The ones who heard him best were the sinners, the outcasts, the people that were no longer in the community because they had sinned or whatever. The inner circle didn't see them as fit. They had broken the laws. And so they were outcasts. So Jesus spoke and they heard him, and their comment was, "He speaks with authority." Not like the scribes and Pharisees. The scribed and Pharisees say things but they're hypocrites; they don't live what they say. The black community has this phrase, I learned it when I was in South Central: "Baby, he walks the talk." He doesn't just talk it, he actually walks it, he lives it. And that was Jesus. He told us, forgive everyone no matter what; and on the cross he says, "Father, forgive them all, the know not what they do." That's walking the talk. And so when they heard Jesus speak, they said, "He's different. He's the author of his words. They are him, and that's what comes out of his mouth." So they listened. And even — and this is the most profound thing about this Gospel — an unclean spirit, an evil spirit was in this man; and even the unclean spirits recognized Jesus. "What are you doing here?! You came to destroy me! I know who you are! You're the Son of God." And then he was cast out. Even the evil spirits got it, but not the Pharisees and the scribes. He would heal people right in front of their eyes. The reports from the people were, "He raised a man from the dead." And they didn't listen, they didn't see, and they put him to death.

"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." If today we heard all of the scriptures intellectually, we might be able to explain them perfectly: This is what it means, this is what he said, this is what we should do. And it ain't enough. We got to go deeper. Because hearing with the ears and hearing with the brain, although it can bring us understanding, it's hearing with the heart that actually changes and transforms our lives.

So today, we sang it — several times. But I would propose to you and to myself that the most important sentence, perhaps, in the scripture today is that simple line: "If today you hear his voice" — if you do, if, if — "harden not your hearts." And it's here, in the hearing of the heart, that our lives would be made anew.

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A truly alternative lifestyle

Nuns pray during the 125th
anniversary Mass Jan. 25 for St.
Vincent Church in Los Angeles.
(Credit:
Sister Nancy Munro, CSJ/
The Tidings)
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Over the past two weekends, I’ve been privileged to celebrate Masses in honor of our great archdiocese’s religious brothers and sisters.

These consecrated men and women inspire me by their fidelity to Jesus Christ and his church. I am humbled by their witness — their ministries of prayer, education and charity; their closeness to the poor and sick. I met one saintly sister who has been a religious for 80 years!

And earlier this week, on Feb. 2, on the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, we joined the universal church in celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life.

We need to pray that more men and women will hear this special call of Jesus Christ — to leave their families and occupations to follow him in a life of total dedication to prayer and apostolic service.

Consecrated men and women are a treasure that our church offers to our world today. They are a sign of the radical pathways to new life that are opened by Jesus.

As we know, many people today find it difficult to make commitments. We see this disturbing tendency growing especially in young people.

The problem is that people’s lives are made inconsistent and fragmentary by the relativism and excess individualism of our culture. Our culture in many ways tells people that they should live for their own self-interest and that there is no true path to follow in life.

So people have grown uncertain about how to live and what life means. This causes them to be afraid to commit themselves in relationships — especially in relationships that are permanent and last a lifetime.

We see this in marriage trends in our society — people waiting longer to get married or not getting married at all. We see similar patterns in vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

The church’s consecrated men and women are a light in a world that is too often darkened by selfishness and the decline of religious values. They are a “sign of contradiction” to many of the priorities we see in our secular culture.

They witness to the courage it takes to give one’s life completely to someone else — to say, “I belong to you, forever.” And they witness to the joy that results from making this commitment to Jesus Christ.

By choosing poverty, obedience and chastity, consecrated men and women show us a truly alternative lifestyle — one not guided by motives of money, possessions or power. They show us instead the beautiful possibilities of a life spent pursuing holiness, communion with God and service to our neighbors.

Our Catholic tradition of the consecrated life is rooted in the example of Jesus. With deep passion and desire for God, these men and women give up everything to follow in his footsteps. They live as he did — for God alone and for his kingdom.

Their lives touch me because I see in them the radical freedom that comes from living in the truth.

I am reminded of St. Augustine’s beautiful words: “Love and do what you will.” Consecrated men and women show us that when we love Jesus, when we give ourselves to him in all simplicity and love, then we are truly free — living in friendship with the God who is love.

And in their witness of love, consecrated women and men remind all of us that we have a vocation to imitate Jesus Christ and live by the values of his Gospel.

As Catholics, we are one family of God. As brothers and sisters in God’s family, each of us has a duty to support and encourage vocations to the consecrated life.

We need to pray for these vocations every day. We need to join our prayers to actions and attitudes that help foster a Catholic culture in which vocations will thrive. We need to renew our own sense of what it means to have a calling from Christ.

So as we pray for one another this week, let’s give thanks to God for all those religious men and women in Los Angeles and everywhere in our country and world.

Let’s pray that their witness will inspire others to follow them in dedicating their lives to God.

And let us ask our Blessed Mother, Queen of Apostles, to help all of us to live our vocations — to follow Jesus more closely — with greater love, greater trust, and with more sacrifices and more devotion.

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