Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

"Quality of life" is a phrase that connotes a way of living as opposed to simply living. Today's readings talk about our dedication to God, a husband's dedication to his wife, a wife's dedication to her husband, a child's dedication to their parents, and each person's dedication to the whole community.

This quality consists in living "as God's chosen ones" with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience — bearing with one another and forgiving one another. This goes way beyond just living to living a very high quality of life.

But then, the Gospel shows a fission or break in this quality life: "Our son is lost"! What parents wouldn't — in an instant — feel terror and horror at the thought that they might never see their son again? There is no doubt that this horrific intrusion into the lives of Mary and Joseph suddenly interrupted their quality of life. But part of what makes this family a holy family is the way in which they responded. Immediately Joseph and Mary communicated with one another and prioritized their response by going together to seek out their son. When they found him, they gently chided him: "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety."

The questions and answers were direct, honest, heart-felt and meaningful. But underneath each question and answer was respect, obedience, a sense of following a deeper call and urging of the Spirit, a careful retaining of these matters and memories in the heart, and a willingness to grow in wisdom.

This experience of the "lost son" and the resulting encounter presents a family who spoke and listened deeply to one another. Isn't this evidence of wholeness, holiness, and a healthy quality of life? Isn't this what all families should strive to live?

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in the Year of Faith

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

Every Christmas is the chance for a new beginning. The journey of Advent leads us to the manger in Bethlehem and encounter with the child who makes all things new.

In this wonderful season, in the midst of all the festivities and sharing with our families and loved ones, each of us must make time to reflect, in a deeply personal way, on what Christmas means to us.

Each of us needs to ask: Who is this child we find sleeping in his mother’s arms? What difference does his coming make in my life?

These are the essential questions of the Year of Faith proclaimed by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. Because Jesus comes at Christmas to be born anew in every human heart. Faith in him is what gives us new birth.

So the Year of Faith poses a personal question to each of us: Is Jesus being born in our hearts or not?

“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God,” St. John tells us at start of his Gospel.

The child we seek in the manger at Bethlehem is a mirror in which we find our own reflection. Who this Child is, we are meant to be. This is the one lesson I hope we can all “take away” from this Year of Faith.

God in his love came down to us at Christmas to show us a new path for our life. The path of faith. The path we can walk as sons and daughters, led by the hand of our Father.

The Gospels tell us that in his human nature the child Jesus grew in wisdom and grace.

And we need to grow also as children of God. In his writings on the spiritual life, St. Paul often talked about our need to grow in our knowledge of the Son of God until we reach “mature adulthood” in our faith.

In other words, our faith journey is meant to make us grown-up children of God.

We grow as children of God by following the pattern of life that Jesus showed us. That’s why it’s so important for us to have a deep personal knowledge of the Gospels. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough. It is time for all Catholics to make the words of Jesus and the characters and stories of the Gospels a deep, integral part of our lives.

The Gospels tell us that Mary “kept” the words and events of her Son’s life and “pondered” them in her heart. She engaged the divine Word with prayer and questions. She asked the angel Gabriel: “How can this be?” She asked Jesus, “Why have you treated us so?”

Jesus said that Mary was blessed because she heard the word and followed it. She told others to do the same. At Cana, she told the wedding servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We need to engage Jesus Christ and his Gospel in the same way. With reverence and prayer. With reason and faith. We need to question the word, always asking: What is this word saying to me? What does Jesus require of my life?

The church assigns a Gospel reading for every day of the year. Even if we can’t make it to daily Mass to hear that Gospel proclaimed, we can find time every day to read this passage and reflect on it.

When we make this a daily habit we find that we are walking with Jesus in our daily life. His words become the language of our heart. His teachings and attitude start to guide our approach to things. We start to see the world through his eyes.

Reading the Gospels daily, we begin to live as Jesus did — aware we are always in the presence of our loving Father; talking to him all day long in prayer; listening for his word in our hearts, striving to live by his commandments. As Jesus did, we offer ourselves in the service of God’s plan, serving him in the people around us, especially the poor and the lowly.

In this way, we really begin to live as children of God. This is the goal of our lives. And this is the “reason for the season.”

So in this Christmas in the Year of Faith, let’s pray for one another. That we might all make a new beginning. That in this coming year, we will all strive with his grace to become the sons and daughters of God we are meant to be.

I wish your families a most holy Christmas!

Let us entrust our journey to Bethlehem to the loving intercession of Mary, our mother. May she help us to welcome the child who comes to make us children of God.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker 

"Rootedness" can be defined in several ways: having roots, being well established, unable to move, having strong ties. The readings on this final week of Advent show a rootedness that is best described as having strong ties.

Micah speaks of rootedness from of old, from ancient times. From this rootedness will come the long awaited ruler who will rule by the strength of the Lord and in the majestic name of the Lord. This rootedness in God is so great this ruler will be peace.

The letter to the Hebrews affirms similar words of Isaiah noting that God does not want holocausts and offerings but a rootedness or deep connection with God described as doing his will. The deep spiritual rootedness surrounding the pregnancy and birth of Jesus reaches a moving climax in Luke's Gospel in the visit that takes place between Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth – and in a more hidden way between two second cousins: Jesus and John the Baptist).

Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary is blessed. John leaps for joy. Jesus is recognized as the savior. This is a blessed moment of such rootedness that even the babies within the wombs of their respective mothers recognize God's grace and the holiness of the moment.

Luke, of course, is speaking deep and wonderful theological words for us, the readers, so that we can understand what is happening and who is being introduced to us.

We are finally fully prepared in this Advent season to welcome the Christ into our hearts and lives so that we can birth him to others. This is, indeed, the real meaning of Christmas.

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

"Guadete en Domino semper" begins the opening prayer in Latin of the third Sunday of Advent – "Rejoice in the Lord always"!

This Sunday, the rose-colored vestments are worn, and the rose-colored Advent candle is lit. Rejoicing is proclaimed in both the first and second readings and the responsorial psalm. The readings shout out joy and great expectation. There is no equivocation here: Rejoicing is the feeling and attitude of heart that is right and proper. Be glad! The Lord is near!

But having said all of that, there is need for something more than just good feelings or even wild and joyful expectation. Something should be done. Something must be done. Lives are changed when hearts are changed. Proof of that change is when people begin to live differently, better.

The crowds asked John the Baptist: "What should we DO?" John gives a simple and direct response: "Share your cloaks, share your food, tax collectors stop cheating people, soldiers stop extorting people, don’t accuse people falsely, be satisfied with your wages."

Change of heart always shows itself as authentic and real when lives also change. "Rejoicing in the Lord always" is a way of living that allows the Spirit of God to fill us and to burst forth from us in actions that are God-like. Rose-colored vestments and candles are a sign of something that has hopefully happened to us during our Advent.

Hopefully we have heard the good news of God's mercy and love. Hopefully we have discovered our ability to be in touch with God both within self and with others. If we have indeed been alert, awake, hoping, waiting, seeking, there is no doubt whether God is coming among his people. Indeed, he is already near!

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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

"This is my prayer ... that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ." This is more than sentiment. This is a prayer of readiness and preparedness on a cosmic scale. May you and all of creation be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again!

These readings speak of glory, power, dominion, joy, and the fulfillment of all the peoples of all nations and generations. But the Gospel speaks of a different preparation. It is not preparation for the birth of Jesus, but the first public encounter at the waters of the Jordan. There, John the Baptist announces a great visitation for which preparation and readiness were absolutely a requirement.

In order to be ready, there needs to be repentance for our sins and a thorough opening of our spirit. The image of mountains being leveled and valleys being filled up gives us an idea of just how big this task really is. There is no superficiality here. This is not a one-day, lighthearted encounter. This is "God coming among us," bringing redemption and new life and an outpouring of his spirit and grace upon us.

John has the unique purpose and responsibility for announcing the coming of the Lord. As a faith community we are invited and challenged to look at these multiple encounters: the birth of Jesus; his entrance into public ministry at the Jordan; and his coming again, when all of creation will be handed over to the Father in heaven.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Angel Tree Project

Angel Tree helps connect parents
in prison with their children through
the delivery of Christmas gifts.
Angel Tree is a national program connecting parents in prison with their children through the delivery of Christmas gifts. When the gifts are given to the children, a Gospel presentation is shared.

Please join us in the collective purchasing of gifts for children who have one or more parents currently in prison. After all Masses this weekend, there will be a table set up for this project. You may pick up an "Angel Tag" to purchase gifts.

Also, volunteers are needed to help wrap and distribute the gifts and present Gospel to these children.

For more information on the project or how you can help, call St. Bernard Angel Tree Project coordinator Mary Trujillo at (323) 255-6142.

For more information on the Angel Tree Project, visit www.prisonfellowship.org.

A season of Mary

By Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Advent is always a season of Mary.

On Dec. 8, we celebrate the holy day of her Immaculate Conception and then, four days later, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As many of you know, the apparitions of Our Lady to St. Juan Diego actually began on Dec. 9, 1531. In those days, that was the day when the Spanish Church celebrated the Immaculate Conception.

In my mind, there is a deep connection between these two feast days.

In God’s plan of salvation, Mary was conceived without original sin to announce the world’s “new creation” in the coming of Jesus. Many centuries later, in the apparition at Tepeyac, God was sending Mary to announce the coming of Jesus to the “new world” of the Americas.

In each case, Mary is the “sign” our Father sends to bring us his Son.

In this Year of Faith, we are starting a new tradition at our Cathedral. We are going to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with the traditional las mañanitas. This is an evening festival of songs and worship leading up to a midnight Mass that I will offer on the feast day of Dec. 12.

This big celebration in Advent is appropriate for us now because our new chapel to Our Lady contains the precious relic from St. Juan Diego’s original tilma that bears Our Lady’s miraculous image. It’s the only relic outside of Mexico City, where the tilma resides in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

There is more information on my Facebook page. But I hope many of you can make this celebration a part of your devotions in this holy season.

And in this “season of Mary,” during this Advent in the Year of Faith — I hope we will all turn to Mary in a new way.

St. Thomas Aquinas used to say that besides God our Father, Mary is the only other one who could rightly call Jesus, “Son.” Because she is the mother of Jesus, no one can help us more than Mary to grow in our awareness that we are children of God.

In fact, by his last words on the cross, Jesus told us, “Behold, your mother.”

He spoke those words to St. John. And “from that hour the disciple took her into his own home,” the Gospel tells us (John 19:27).

Each one of us has to do the same thing. We have to take Mary into our homes. Into our lives. We need to love her and learn from her as our mother. She was a perfect daughter of God, so we can learn from her how to act as God’s sons and daughters.

One thing we notice about her life is that it is filled with silence and hiddenness. All the events in her life that we read about — the Annunciation, the Visitation and the rest — they are all “off the radar.” They were silent. Hidden. Nobody was there to see them or record them.

This is a lesson for us. Almost all of us lead quiet lives. The good that we do will only be seen and known by the small circles of those closest to us — in our families and neighborhoods; in the places where we work.

Like Mary, we can live as children of God — filling our days with quiet acts of faithfulness. Carrying out our daily duties with love and care for others. Sharing our joy and love for Jesus in simple and natural ways.

This is how a child of God lives. And this is the most basic expression of the “new evangelization.” It means sharing Jesus Christ person-to-person, one heart speaking to another heart in love.

The goal of our life is to become more and more like Jesus. So just as Jesus did, we have to learn from our mother Mary what it means to be a child of God. That means we have to relate to her more and more as a mother.

One practical thing we can do: Try to spend time every day thinking about the Blessed Virgin Mary — maybe by looking at a picture of her. Talk to her as her child. Tell her everything that’s on your mind. Ask her to help you grow as a child of God.

Let’s keep one another in prayer this week. And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to be truly devoted to her — so that we can learn to love our Father as Jesus loved him, as true children of God.

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

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."

Today marks the beginning of Advent, which is the season in which we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some might mistake this to be an announcement about the birth of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since the last few weeks we have been listening to apocalyptic readings that speak about the end times, we can readily see that today's Gospel actually gives us more of the same.

Why do we focus on Jesus' second coming during the season of Advent (Latin for adventus or "coming")? Actually, we do both. We prepare for the coming of Jesus in his birth (Christmas) and the coming of Jesus at the end of time (the second coming).

The readings clearly focus on the end times, but as the season progresses and we come closer to the solemnity of the birth of Jesus, we focus first on Mary and then finally on the actual story of the birth of the Lord. It is a great season in two parts, or rather, back to back we celebrate the preparation for the birth (Advent) and the actual birth (Christmas).

The bottom line is this: We need to be ready. We need to be alert. What a tragedy it would be if Jesus came and we missed it or didn’t really recognize his coming. Is that possible? Could we be too busy or too distracted or too spiritually unfocused to miss it?

The church spends four weeks of preparation to help us stay focused and alert. The stores spend much more time. They began the day after Thanksgiving to focus all of our attention on buying and spending and getting ready for party after party. Christmas lights are already up. Christmas music is in every elevator and everywhere! It’s all good, and it’s all consuming.

Spiritually, we need to make time to prepare, to stay awake, alert and ready because the Lord is coming, and we certainly do not want to miss it!

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