Saturday, March 31, 2012

Looking ahead

"Hosanna to the Son of David,"shouts the crowd as the
liturgy of Palm (Passion)Sunday begins. (Credit:
Michael J. Arvizu/St. Bernard Church)
By Father Perry D. Leiker

"Hosanna to the Son of David," shouts the crowd as the liturgy of Palm (Passion) Sunday begins.

"Crucify him!" is shouted just as loudly and brings to a conclusion the readings from the word (the Gospel reading of the Passion according to Mark).

A crowd simply can’t be any more fickle than this. The crowd is a classic example of a mob — easily excited and easily manipulated. The crowd doesn’t think for itself. The crowd doesn’t know what is really happening, but only perceives the feeling welling up within itself. If a convincing voice cries out "murder," then the crowd must provide the one to be murdered. The crowd is so easily used to achieve even horrific ends. This scene is an old scene; it is a present scene, and it is the future. It is, simply, human.

Although history teaches lessons, it doesn’t necessarily teach people how to think or how to live moral lives. This is one reason the church believes in the need for the forming of consciences. This is why the church seeks to think through and attempt to communicate logical, thoughtful and wise ways to live our lives as Christians.

The church is not perfect. The church has made mistakes throughout history. But the church certainly makes an honest and helpful contribution to the human race in attempting to figure out how we can live — not like crowds and mobs, but rather like thoughtful, caring, faith-filled followers of Jesus Christ.

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

To the cross and the empty tomb

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

I’ve had an intense but amazing week. Our archdiocesan Religious Education Congress was a big success.

I celebrated two Masses for a total of 16,000 young people. I took part in an on-line "chat" with young Catholics. I saw many old friends and met many new friends from all across the country. I prayed and learned a lot and I came away inspired.

For me, this Congress shows the vitality of the church in our country. There was such passion and energy! I’m grateful to know so many men and women, young and old, from every nationality — all dedicated to Jesus Christ and the mission of his Catholic Church.

I wonder if we fully appreciate just how important the Catholic Church is in our world today.

The church’s mission is not sectarian. It’s not about promoting Catholicism or even about making more and better Catholics.

Our mission is to save souls and to lift up the hearts of our neighbors to see that their lives have a transcendent meaning. Our mission is to inspire our brothers and sisters to build a world that is worthy of the great dignity of being a human person created in the image of God.

That’s why the church is so important. Because the Church is the last institution in our society that claims to know "ultimate" truths — what is the meaning of life; where we come from and where we’re heading; why we’re here and how we ought to live.

If we think about it, other institutions in our society ignore these questions or assume they can’t be answered. Media, government, even education — all seem to suggest that there are no truths, just many equally valid opinions about what is true and what is the right way to live.

But people are born with a desire to know the mystery of their lives. And the answers of mere pluralism and relativism will never satisfy them.

We have a great responsibility because in the church we know the truth is real. And we know the truth has a name. We know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We know that only he can save us and set us free; only he can show us what our lives are really all about.

The Church’s mission is ever ancient and ever new. Our mission of the new evangelization is part of the great story of salvation that stretches back to the cross and the empty tomb.

So it's fitting that after this experience of the Congress, this Sunday we begin Holy Week. This week we enter into the "hour" of Jesus — the hour in which he is lifted up; the hour of his saving passion, death and resurrection.

The good news of salvation can only be proclaimed by those who have truly experienced it. So in this Holy Week we need to pray for a deeper experience of the liberation that comes to us by the power of his cross and resurrection.

Let’s try this week to really walk with Jesus. To really go up to Jerusalem with him to celebrate the Passover. Let’s try to stay close to him as he makes himself the paschal Lamb who is sacrificed — offering his Body and Blood on the cross and in the gifts of bread and wine.

As I write these lines, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is in the middle of his week-long pilgrimage of hope to Mexico and Cuba.

And I am struck again by the holy father's vision of the church and our personal responsibility to bring our society to a new encounter with God.

Here is something he said in Cuba: "The church, the living body of Christ, has the mission of prolonging on earth the salvific presence of God, of opening the world to something greater than itself, to the love and the light of God."

It is worth the effort, dear brothers and sisters, to devote your entire life to Christ, to grow in his friendship each day and to feel called to proclaim the beauty and the goodness of his life to every person, to all our brothers and sisters.

I encourage you in this task of sowing the word of God in the world and offering to everyone the true nourishment of the body of Christ. Easter is already approaching; let us determine to follow Jesus without fear or doubts on his journey to the cross.

Let’s make this our prayer as we pray for one another at the entrance of this Passion Week. Let’s entrust our lives, and those of our brothers and sisters in Mexico and Cuba, to the loving help of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.

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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Living stations of the cross; El Shaddai Good Friday Reflection

St. Bernard presents the living
Stations of the Cross at 4 p.m.
April 6, performed by the youths of
our Religious Education program.
St. Bernard presents the living Stations of the Cross at 4 p.m. April 6. The living stations will be performed by the St. Bernard Youth Ministry and will take place in the Pastoral Center parking lot, across the street from the church.

The parish community is invited to attend.

For more information, call the St. Bernard Religious Education office at (323) 256-6242. 

Also, from 6 to 11 p.m. that same day, the St. Bernard chapter of El Shaddai will be presenting its Good Friday Reflection in the parish hall, at 2614 W. Ave. 33.

The reflections will be a reflection on the last words of Jesus Christ at Calvary — "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"; "This day you shall be with me in paradise"; "Woman, behold your son, behold your mother"; "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"; "I thirst"; "It is finished"; "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit."

There will be meditations, speakers, songs and a Lenten message.

All are invited to attend this special service.

For more information, call El Shaddai at (213) 385- 8667.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Passover is around the corner — that means it’s matzah time

... From Catholic News Service

In the last couple of decades Catholic parishes have conducted Christianized “Seder” suppers. These “Seders” are not true Seders, of course, since they usually include Catholic prayers and symbols. However, they serve a couple of great catechetical purposes

Continue reading: "Passover is around the corner — that means it’s matzah time"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hike for the homeless

This year's Hike for the Homless
event will take place on April 28.
Come and hike from 7 a.m. to noon on April 28 in beautiful Griffith Park to raise money and awareness for men, women and children who are experiencing homelessness in the Los Angeles area.

This is the second year of Hike for the Homeless. All proceeds will benefit the Society of St Vincent de Paul’s Cardinal Manning Center; a shelter in the Skid Row area of downtown LA. Your participation will directly help families move out of Skid Row into permanent housing, so come hike with us!

Registration will begin at 7 a.m. There will be an opening ceremony, and the hike will start at 8:30 a.m.

Registration for adults is $30; students and youths, $20; pets, $5. The hike will begin at the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round lot, at 4730 Crystal Springs Drive in Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 224-6280, or visit www.hike4thehomeless.com.

We are called to look for the deeper truth

By Father Perry D. Leiker

When a person is seeking something — a truth, a treasure, anything — sometime they realize that it's not at the surface. The surface won't do it. You dig at the surface and eventually someone says to you, "You're just going to have to go deeper. It's deeper."

We often talk about finding deeper truth. Truth isn't just one thing, there's many, many levels to it. It's true that it's going to be a beautiful day out. But a deeper truth could be that the radiation level might be higher. And the deeper truth is, to protect your eyes, you better wear sunglasses. And if you keep going deeper, even harmful things can be there at this deeper level.

So here, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — now they believed in God. They believed that God would protect them and love them. But if they go deeper, their pursuit of God and his truth meant they were going to go into the flames. So this deeper truth should have led them to say, "Oh, my gosh, I think we're just going to have to forget this God if we want to save our lives." But the deeper truth was, if we forget this truth to save our lives — our physical lives — what do we lose? We lose that deeper life, that faith life, that spirit life. So they stood before the king and said: "No, we're not going to worship your gods, we're going to worship our God; and we believe our God will protect us. But even if he doesn't, we still will believe in him no matter what the cost — even if it costs our lives." Now that is a deep truth: "Even if he doesn't save us, we still believe in him."

Now, let's reverse it for a moment, on the other end of the event. I often hear this, people say, "You know, I prayed to God for this healing" — or for this or that — "and he didn't give it to me. And, father, to tell you the truth, I was angry at God."

Well, I always say, "That's alright. He can handle some anger. Even Jesus can. Look at, they put him on a cross. He can handle that. God can handle our anger. Be angry if you have to be angry at God."

"But he didn't save me."

I say, "Well, be angry."

On this end, if we lose faith because we didn't get what we wanted or needed, what a different reaction, then, from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who said, "Even if that happens, it doesn't matter. We believe." So I hear in this scripture a real call to us to examine deep in our spirit. That doesn't mean that people who get angry at God don't believe. Sometimes they just have to emotionally pass through that. They need to be angry, they get over it, and they say, "OK, God, I'm sorry I was angry." Job did it. It's alright to be angry at God, as long as that's not a signal that we're losing our faith: We can't believe because we didn't get what we wanted or needed. The reason is — let's face it — life is tough. Life delivers some awful blows to us — medical blows, financial blows, familial blows. I mean, the parents who tell me, "Father, I poured money and education into my children. I sent them to the best Catholic schools and now they never go to church." That's a familial blow to people. I always tell them, "It's not your fault. They have choices. You know, maybe you need to just invite them. Don't be angry at them. They'll find their way. God's going to love them no matter what." But we don't get the end that we sought, that we expected.

So it brings us back again to this question: Are we like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, people who say, "I believe in this God. He will take care of us. And even if he doesn't hear, it doesn't matter. I still believe."

Now, the king — this is the language of the scriptures, it so beautifully says — "Throw him in the furnace, but before you do, heat it up seven times more." There's that magic number. Seven times. Make it so hot, it's the hottest ever, infinitely hot, if you will; and they danced in the flames and were unhurt. This is a great symbol to us, if we can dance through the flames of life, and not give up our faith.

When Jesus speaks to these Jews, calling them to deeper faith, a faith they couldn't understand — "How can you say you're the son of God. How can you say this? Our only father is Abraham" — and they're stuck at their viewpoint; they're stuck at their theological perspective; they're stuck at seeing things this way, no matter what works this man does. In fact, when he heals people from illnesses and brings back sight to the blind, they even say it comes from Satan. They can't imagine a deeper truth. And again, I often see this in Catholics: "If you move that statue, I'm not coming back to this church!" I've heard those things. "If you take out that communion railing, I'm leaving this church!"; "Father said something that offended me, I'm not going back to Mass!" My goodness! To think I have the power to say something that somebody would never come back to Mass? Oh, my God! I'm stronger than God! No, how ridiculous, not if we know that deeper truth: Nobody would keep me from my faith. Nobody can turn me away from my God. Nobody. Nobody will take the Mass from me. Nobody will stop me from coming to the Eucharist. It's too important.

Because when we know things at that deeper truth, well, Jesus said it most simply, the truth will set you free.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God's important announcement

By Monsignor H. Gerald McSorley

Sometimes, when we are listening to the radio or watching television, we see a notice or hear a notice which says "stand by for an important announcement." Well, God could have made that proclamation 2,000 years ago when he sent the Archangel Gabriel to Mary to make a very important announcement. That announcement we celebrate in the Feast of the Annunciation, normally celebrated on March 25, but the liturgy of the Sunday took precedence over the Feast of the Annunciation, so the church celebrates that feast day on March 26.

(It's also the day in which the pope journeys to Cuba. He will make annoncements and speeches there. We hope that his visit there will bear fruit for the people and for the church in that island.)

Returning to the annnciation, the important annoucement that was made was the coming birth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. God had prepared the way for a long time for that announcement. And part of his preparation was the sending of the prophets. The first reading gave us a prediciton of Isaiah the prophet that is applied to Mary: "The virgin shall be with child, and she'll name him Emmanuel which means 'God is with us.'" Indeed, God was with us in a very powerful and loving and wonderful way in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus in his ministry said he had come to do the will of his father. We hear in the letter to the Hebrews that God no longer wanted the temple sacrifices and offerings from Jesus his son; he wanted only obedience to his will. Jesus fulfilled the will of his heavenly father, leading to his death on the cross, his resurrection, and to our salvation.

For us, too, we reflect on our calling and what best we can offer to God. That is, to seek to do God's will. During these days of Lent, as we approach ever closer to Holy Week and Easter, we should focus and ask for God's grace to draw closer to God so that we may know his will, through the grace of God to know today what it is that God wants me to do today. What is it, perhaps, that God wants me to let go of today so that I can better prepared for Holy Week and for Easter?

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

'October Baby' tells a story Hollywood wouldn't

First-year college student Hannah
(Rachel Hendrix) goes on a road
trip in search of her birth mother
after she learns she was adopted
following a failed attempt at an
abortion. (Credit:
Lovell/Fairchild Communications)
... From National Public Radio

"October Baby" has been endorsed by conservative groups including Focus on the Family, and it's just the latest addition to a genre of movies with Christian themes that has exploded recently.

In one scene, Hannah tracks down a nurse who worked at the health clinic where her birth mother had sought an abortion — one that failed when Hannah was born prematurely.

Voice trembling, the woman tearfully tells Hannah, "When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it. It was tissue, that's what they told us. It was tissue that couldn't survive. Nonviable tissue."

"October Baby" has been endorsed by conservative groups including Focus on the Family, and it's just the latest addition to a genre of movies with Christian themes that has exploded recently. One film, "Courageous," dealt with fatherhood, and it became the top-selling DVD earlier this year.

Continue reading: "'October Baby' tells a story Hollywood wouldn't" ...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Vatican approves English, Spanish texts for ‘Blessing of a child in the womb’

... From United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

WASHINGTON — The Vatican has approved the publication of the "Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb," which will be printed in English and Spanish in a combined booklet and should be available for parishes by Mother's Day. The U.S. bishops who collaborated on the development of the blessing welcomed the announcement of the recognitio, or approval, by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome.

"I'm impressed with the beauty of this blessing for human life in the womb," said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). "I can think of no better day to announce this news than on the feast of the Annunciation, when we remember Mary's 'yes' to God and the incarnation of that child in her the womb that saved the world."

Continue reading: "Vatican approves English, Spanish texts for ‘Blessing of a child in the womb" ...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Celebration of the last scrutiny

St. Bernard Pastor Emeritus
Mongisnor Gerald McSorley baptizes
Beverly Sanchez during Holy
Saturday services at St. Bernard on
Saturday, April 23, 2011. Sanchez
was one of several young adults to
receive one or more sacraments
of initiation in 2011.
(Michael J. Arvizu/
St. Bernard Church)
RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults): The last scrutiny is celebrated today. Holy Week, then, ushers in the most sacred celebrations of initiation as our one elect is baptized, confirmed and receives the Eucharist for the first time at the Easter Vigil.

The following Sunday, April 15, the remaining candidates who journeyed together in the RCIA will be confirmed and receive the Eucharist for the first time, completing their sacraments of initiation.

After Easter, they have a blessed opportunity to rejoice in the gifts they have received as they celebrate the 50 days until Pentecost. During this period called the mystagogia, they will reflect upon all they has happened to them, all that they have chosen and responded to so that they can more fully live out their faith in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Looking ahead

 By Father Perry D. Leiker

As we prepare to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are confronted with the call and necessity to experience our own death and resurrection interiorly.

The Gospel calls us to complete transformation — the seed must go into the ground and die if it is to produce much fruit. Even the Gospel for Cycle A used for the Masses with the elect (RCIA) this weekend focuses on death and rising from death in the story of Lazarus. Empty tombs seem to be the order of the day. Death will have no more power over us. With Paul we can ask: "Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory?"

We are called to embrace the process of dying within so that new life may emerge. This, of course, goes far beyond Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We are a paschal people who embrace this not on just a couple of days, but as a way of life. Further, we are to model it so that others may discover the power of the cross, the death and the resurrection in their daily living.

Liturgically and spiritually, as church, we come to these holiest of days to find the fullness of life. Come to these sacred and powerful liturgies. Make us of the sacraments these days, especially reconciliation — confession. Let healing, renewal, emptying of our inner tombs, be the order of our day.

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Religious education for the new evangelization

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

This is a big week for our local church.

Beginning this Thursday, March 22, we will be hosting our 45th annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the Anaheim Convention Center. This amazing four-day event will attract more than 40,000 catechists, religious educators and teachers from across the country.

This is the biggest gathering of its kind in America and probably in the world. There are about 280 workshops and talks this year — on topics ranging from spirituality and music to biblical studies and catechesis.

The REC is a great service that our archdiocese offers to the church in our country. I’m grateful to Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC, director of our Religious Education Office. She and her fine staff have dedicated themselves to this event for nearly 25 years.

To me this Congress is important because catechesis is at the heart of the Church’s mission.

Jesus commissioned his church to make disciples in all nations and to teach all men and women to live by what he commanded. So from the start, religious education has included everything that we do in the church to make disciples, to strengthen the living bonds of communion and community that we have in the church, and to help us to live our faith in the world.

Some of the earliest statements we have about what religious education means are found in the writings of the apostle St. John. In fact, biblical scholars think that his Gospel was written in part to offer a catechesis on the meaning of the sacraments. They think the same thing was true about the letters of St. Peter.

Near the end of his Gospel, St. John tells us it was "written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name."

Again, at the start of his first letter, he writes: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us ... with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete."

At the heart of religious education is always this encounter with Jesus Christ.

That’s what makes our Christian faith unique. Christianity is not a philosophy of life or a collection of ethical principles. Christianity is a relationship of love with a divine Person, Jesus.

That means that religious education can never only be about learning "facts." It is about growing in our love for Jesus and our belief that he shows us God's loving design — for our lives and for our world.

Catechesis is "mystagogical." That means it tries to take us to a deeper knowledge of the mysteries we celebrate in the sacraments. It tries to help us truly live the divine life of grace that we receive in the sacraments.

To do this kind of work, takes a special person. It takes a "servant's heart." It requires a spirituality that is rooted in a simple, unselfish desire to do God’s will and to serve his purposes.

Catechists need to be engaging and imaginative in proclaiming the faith in this culture. But they don’t bring any teaching of their own. They are here to teach Jesus Christ.

When we are teaching in the church, we can never substitute our own "version" of Jesus or offer watered-down or partial versions of his teachings. Because only the truth — and the whole truth — about Jesus can save us and set us free.

Jesus himself said that he only taught what he had learned from his Father. He said: "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me." And his words should be impressed on the hearts of every true catechist.

In our day, there are many competing "gospels" and contrary messages. And our secular culture seems more set against religious viewpoints than ever before.

In this culture, our religious education more and more must include a new "apologetics." We need to make a new "case" for Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church. We need to communicate the joy of knowing Jesus and the power and beauty of our Catholic way of life. We need to be able to show our neighbors how the Gospel provides real answers to the problems we face in our lives and in our society.

Let’s pray for one another this week and let’s pray for the renewal of religious education in our times.

And let’s ask the patroness of our great archdiocese, Our Lady of the Angels, to help us to live the truths we teach more deeply and to be better witnesses to the joy, hope and truth of our Catholic faith.

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, March 22, 2012

Pope's trip to Mexico: Five things you didn't know about the trip

... From Rome Reports

The pope will soon arrive to Mexico. Even though the visit will be short, it will be full of highlights. As a preview, here's a list of five key points.

John Paul II visited Mexico fives times, but this will be the first visit for Benedict XVI. Once he arrives to the airport of Guanajuanto, in the city of Leon, he'll be received with military honors and of course with upbeat Mariachi music in the background.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rise in tech use by congregations mirrors that in society, survey shows

A teenager uses his mobile phone
during a break from vacation
Bible school.
(Credit: CNS/
Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)
... From Catholic News Service

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service


WASHINGTON (CNS) — The rise in congregations' use of technology over the past decade mirrors its use in the wider society, according to the results of a survey released March 14.

Email usage by congregations, gauged at 22 percent in 1998, had soared to 90 percent by 2010, according to the study, "Virtually Religious: Technology and Internet Use in American Congregations."

In 2010, only 7 percent of congregations surveyed used neither email nor the World Wide Web, but two-thirds used both, the study said.

"If you put all the technology that we asked about together, you'd find that a quarter (of all congregations) are major uses of technology, one-third are modest users, and 42 percent are marginal users," said the study's author, Scott Thumma, during a March 13 teleconference tied to the study's release.

Continue reading: "Rise in tech use by congregations mirrors that in society, survey shows" ...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

The princes, priests, people "added infidelity to infidelity" and even desecrated the temple. John tells us that those who live in sin hate the light and love and are attracted to darkness.

But just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert (those who looked at it were saved from their sin), so must the Son of Man be lifted up. We must truly look to him, look at him, and discover his look of love at and for us. This is the good news of the word today.

The letter to the Ephesians today says it most succinctly: "God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved."

It is expressed eloquently in the A Cycle Gospel provided for our elect in the RCIA. The man born blind when asked by Jesus: "Do you believe in the Son of Man?” answered him: "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus answered: "You have seen him." The blind man now had sight: both physical and deeply spiritual. He could truly see! No more blindness. No more lack of recognition. No more darkness. Only sight!

Where are we in our journey of faith? Do we see — really? Do we recognize — really? Do we look for the light or darkness — really? Jesus’ word today as always — saves!

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

'Work is a sacred thing'

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Our brother César Chávez would have turned 85 this month.

Time fades and memories dim and younger generations can feel far away from the concerns of those who have gone before us. But we should not let that happen with him.

César was one of our nation’s great civil rights pioneers. He was a courageous fighter for the dignity of our Hispanic people — especially the poor and those who labored in the “factories in the fields.”

He was a man whose public convictions were rooted in prayer and shaped by his deep Catholic faith.

He once said, “I don’t think that I could base my will to struggle on cold economics or on some political doctrine. I don’t think there would be enough to sustain me. For me, the base must be faith!”

Like two other great moral leaders of his generation, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, César’s faith led him to struggle against injustice using the nonviolent spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, self-sacrifice and works of love.

Through the influence of his faith and the efforts of some heroic priests and laypeople, his United Farm Workers was founded on the principles of Catholic social doctrine.

César understood a truth that is still not widely known — that the Catholic Church is the first institution in human history to respect the dignity of work.

In one of his first public statements, during the Delano Grape strike in 1966, he quoted these strong words from Pope Leo XIII: “Every one’s first duty is to protect the workers from the greed of speculators who use human beings as instruments to provide themselves with money. It is neither just nor human to oppress men with excessive work to the point where their minds become enfeebled and their bodies worn out.”

A child of migrant workers who came to California in the 1930s and 1940s, César spent many days himself in the fields under the hot sun. He always said he was working for a system that would treat farm workers as important human beings.

“God knows that we are not beasts of burden, we are not agricultural implements or rented slaves, we are men,” he would say.

César still has a message for us today about human dignity and the sanctity of human labor.

We have a crisis of work in our society today. Not only are millions out of work. Millions more are also confused about what work means and what work is for.

Our society has reduced work to a materialistic and “functionalistic” idea. Whether it is white collar or blue collar, industrial or service, manual or intellectual — we see work as nothing more than a means to a material end. A means to make money. A means to get things done. That’s why, among those fortunate enough to have jobs, we see some who are “workaholics” while others are just working for the weekend.

None of this is what God intended for human labor.

César got it right when he said: “Work is a sacred thing ... Every individual is endowed with dignity.”

Our current economic crisis demands that all of us — workers, business owners and political leaders — pledge ourselves to work together for the common good.

We don’t have the luxury to just take care of our own needs or pursue the interests of just our “group.” Too many people are suffering. Too many people need our help.

So another lesson we can learn from César Chávez is to seek guidance from the Church’s social doctrine. In our day, Pope Benedict XVI has shown us a “new way” for the future in his social encyclical, “Charity in Truth.”

The Pope says that in our global economy poverty often results from a “violation of the dignity of human work.” He calls us to promote an economy where work truly serves our brothers and sisters and helps us grow closer to our families and to God.

César Chávez had the same perspective. He said: “Human beings are unique because they are creative. When we stifle that creativity, we destroy the individual’s spirit. ... We need work that improves the quality of life, for this type of work is the cornerstone of human dignity. And because people are important, working for people — even sacrificing a little bit for them — brings much meaning to people’s life. There is so much meaningful work to be done!”

Let’s keep praying for one another as we enter the final weeks of our Lenten journey.

And let’s ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help those who work in our fields. Let’s ask her for more love, concern and solidarity in our society — beginning in our own hearts.

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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Living Lent

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

We are almost at the halfway point along the road in our Lenten journey.

Time moves fast! I hope you are making good progress on the resolutions you set for yourself this Lent.

Lent is not meant to be about temporary fixes or short-term self-denials. We are not giving up sugar in our coffee just so we can look forward to how good it’s going to taste when Lent is over. We don’t give up eating dessert just so we can lose a little weight.

All the little denials and sacrifices we make are meant to help us grow and get stronger in our spiritual lives. We need to look at our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a kind of training of the body, mind and spirit. These works are meant to help us form good habits. They should help us develop virtues, practices and actions that will continue as a part of our daily life.

So it is important for us to try to live Lent well — to use this time to grow in our understanding of our faith. We want our Lenten habits to stay with us so that we lead better lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

Our Lenten journey is meant to be a symbol for us, a reminder that our lives are a journey to God. A journey that we are making by following Jesus Christ.

The question is always how do we "follow" Jesus — 2,000 years after he walked on this earth?

Sometimes we can look at the world of Jesus and think that the Gospels can’t possibly relate to our modern reality. The world he came into was so radically different than the world we are living in. No freeways. No global economy and finance system. No electricity or running water. No technologies, advertising or media.

And it is true: our world is very different. We live in a complex society and we all lead complicated lives, with many demands and obligations.

Yet still we are called to follow Jesus. So how?

Our faith is not an agreement with a set of principles or theological ideas. Our faith is faith in this person, Jesus Christ.

We meet this person — we come to know him, love him and trust him — in his Catholic Church. And that’s the key to understanding how we should follow him.

Jesus promised that he would remain with us in his church. No matter how complex the world becomes and no matter how long the world may last, his promise is true.

That means we are never following Jesus alone. We follow him always in the company of others, as his brothers and sisters in God’s family, his church. No matter where we are in our journey, we have Jesus — in the words of sacred Scripture and in the sacraments of his church.

That’s why it’s so important for us to have an active participation in the life of the church. Through our continuing education in the faith, through our service to others, through partaking in the sacraments, we grow in our awareness of Jesus’ presence in our lives.

Our following of Jesus must always stay rooted in our prayerful reflection on his words and example in the pages of the Gospels. To really make progress in our spiritual lives, we need to nourish ourselves every day with the Word of God.

I think it would be a beautiful habit for you to get into — to pray and read a passage from the Gospels every day.

We have to read the Gospels with prayer and as followers of Jesus. We should always read as if we are "on the ground" with Jesus and his first disciples — hearing his words and witnessing his miracles; talking to Jesus, asking him questions; praying with him.

When we get into this habit of prayerful reading, we discover that we are uniting our lives to Jesus' life. Our journey becomes a part of his journey. He is walking with us and we are following in his footsteps in our own lives. Our lives become a continual conversation with him. Our thoughts, actions and prayers become a fruit of his thoughts, his actions and his prayers.

So let us pray for one another as we enter this next stretch of our Lenten journey. Let us strive together for an adult faith that is more generous, more prayerful, and marked more by a spirit of simplicity, penance and sincere love for our brothers and sisters.

And let us ask Mary, our Blessed Mother, to help us in this time of Lent to hear again her son’s call to conversion from our selfishness, our pride and our injustice.

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, March 11, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Question: "Why do I have to do this?"

Answer: "Because I said so!"

Once again, a command or rule becomes more important that the reason for having it. Every command or rule, however, should have a clear reason or value that makes good sense, has important value, and makes life better for the person following it. God speaks and calls us to follow for reasons that make good sense, have important value, and make life better for us. It is the reason we are urged in the scriptures not only to observe God’s commands but to love them.

Any organization, church or temple can become riddled with rules and structures and practices to get around them — they are called loopholes. Religion is supposed to bind us together in faith and to faith; not take the place of it. Faith, not religion, is the goal. Religion is the means to discover and live out our faith. The temple and the money changers and the sacrificial offerings and the rules of offering and the many, many, many things we observe are all meant to lead us to God, to faith, and to living commands and rules that make good sense, have value, and make life better for us.

Every once in a while it becomes necessary to turn over the tables, to turn things upside down. We have councils and changes and new translations and changes of leadership — all unravel us and reconnect us and ask of us to open to the new, or to renew.

And really, at the heart of it all, Jesus is the one turning over the tables and turning things upside down!

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

Monday, March 5, 2012

Holy water. Where is it? Why isn’t it in the fonts at the doors? When is it coming back?

These questions were asked by many over this past weekend. St. Bernard Church (like many other parishes) is taking Lent seriously, even in little matters.

At the Easter vigil service, the new baptism water is solemnly blessed and welcomes our catechumen into the church. In order to appreciate the newly blessed water, many churches empty their fonts throughout the season of Lent. In this way, accompanying Jesus into the arid desert, we miss and, therefore, long for the waters of life – the waters of baptism.

The church is an expert in symbols and meaning. We celebrate when we don’t have something. We celebrate when we get it back! The call is for each of us, and all of us as church, to long for and await the life giving waters, newly blessed at Easter.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Abraham promised everything — even the sacrificing of his own son!

God gave everything — even his own son handed over to the cross!

In a mystical and divine moment, Jesus was transfigured before the eyes of a few select disciples. For a moment they saw him in his glory. Then came a voice: "'This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.' Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them."

Perhaps we have had our Abraham moments: offering everything we are and have to God. Perhaps we have stopped to appreciate the total gift of Jesus Christ to us and can say that we know we are loved. Perhaps we have even been blessed with mystical and divine moments of grace that have transformed us. Eventually, we return to the moment like the disciples: "looking around we no longer see anyone but Jesus," the Jesus who silently and gently lives within us.

Lent is about accepting this Jesus every day in very ordinary ways as we simply, slowly and continually walk our journey of faith. Most of our faith life is coming down the mountain and doing the ordinary things of life in extraordinary ways, because we have, indeed, known the glory of the Lord.

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

David Bowie and our time in the desert

When we think of Lent, David Bowie is
probably not the first person that comes
to mind.
 ... From Busted Halo

When we think of Lent, David Bowie is probably not the first person that comes to mind. But in 1977 he released a song called “Heroes.” Granted there was no duet with Bing Crosby involved, but there was a bold proclamation: “We could be heroes! Just for one day!” At first glance, this sentiment may not seem to have a lot to do with Jesus. After all, we think of Jesus as all of these different things: Messiah, Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity … but we often don’t take the time to consider him to be a hero.

Why not? After all, a hero is defined (according to Wikipedia) as “someone who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self sacrifice for some greater good of all humanity.” That sounds like Jesus to me. But maybe we don’t think of Jesus as a hero because no one is simply born a hero … you become a hero by making some grand gesture at expense to oneself for the betterment of the whole. Jesus may have been born the Son of God, he still had to become a hero.

Continue reading: "David Bowie and our time in the desert"