Thursday, February 28, 2013

Loving the church

Archbishop José H. Gómez
By Archbishop José H. Gómez 

We are living through a historic moment in the life of the Catholic Church.

For the first time in centuries, the “seat” of St. Peter is vacant because the pope has resigned office. As I write, Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down and arrangements are being made for a conclave of the College of Cardinals who have the sacred duty to select a new pope.

This is a beautiful spiritual moment for all of us in the church, a time for prayer, sacrifice and worship. Sadly, this spiritual moment has become also a time of scandal. Groups that want to manipulate the cardinals’ decisions are stirring up most of the controversy.

As the Vatican said last week: “Over the course of the centuries, cardinals have had to face many forms of pressures ... that sought to influence their decisions, following a political or worldly logic. Today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion ... It is deplorable that ... there is a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or even completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

All this controversy should remind us that the church has enemies — just as Jesus promised us we would.

But we can never forget that Jesus is always with his church. He promised he would love us until the end.

We need to intensify our prayers. We need to seek the grace to resist these pressures to define the church by the logic of politics and the spirit of this world.

As we await a new pope, we should use this time to pray for a deeper appreciation for the great mystery of the church.

The church is not like any other institution in the world — or in history. Because the church is not only a human institution. The church is also divine. Just as there are two natures in Jesus Christ — who is “true God and true man.”

We all know the church is human. The church is made up of men and women like you and me — and none of us is perfect. We have limitations and weaknesses we are trying to overcome. God gives us the gift of freedom. And we can use that freedom to serve him or not to.

But the church is also divine — filled with the Holy Spirit. Our church is God’s church!

Because the church comes from God, the church is holy. And because the church is holy, we can be holy too. We can know friendship with Jesus. We can share in his strength, walk in his footsteps, and carry out the mission he entrusts to each one of us.

We should love the church. Just like Jesus loves the church.

We should work every day to build up the church. We should work every day to help purify the church. To make the church more holy, more faithful to Jesus Christ.

And that begins with us. We need to have faith before we can lead others to faith. We need to be striving for holiness before we can lead others to holiness.

So that means we should intensify our participation in the divine life that comes to us through the sacraments. We need to come to the Eucharist as often as we can. We need to examine our hearts and seek forgiveness often in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Now is the time for us to feel a deeper responsibility for the church’s mission — of leading others to the happiness and salvation that God intends for us.

Jesus founded his church on the apostolic witness of St. Peter, the first pope. And he promised that his Spirit would guide his church in all truth, and that the gates of hell could never prevail against her.

So in this spiritual moment, let’s pray hard for one another and pray hard for his church.

But remember: we should pray with confidence. God is with us. His Spirit still leads us. Jesus is still walking with his church.

In the conclave that is about to begin, the Holy Spirit is the guide and the cardinals are the instruments. Together they will study the “signs of the times” — both in the church and in the world. And together they will choose the pope that God wants for his church.

One of the saints used to pray all the time: “All with Peter to Jesus through Mary!”

Let’s make that our prayer during the conclave, as we ask for the light of the Spirit to accompany Cardinal Roger Mahony and other cardinal electors.

And let us ask Mary, who is the Mother of the Church, to increase our love for Jesus and his church.

Archbishop José H.
Gómez 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 at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook at

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Mystical experiences are rather common in the Bible.

Today, Abraham has an experience of God. He even "falls into a trance" and, through a dark and mysterious vision, God makes his covenant with Abraham.

One of the most famous and familiar mystical experiences happens for three of the apostles in the Transfiguration. Three things happen in this experience. As Jesus is praying, his face changes in appearance and his clothes dazzle. Then, suddenly, two men — Moses and Elijah — appear in glory and began speaking with Jesus. Last of all, a cloud comes over them, casts a shadow, and a voice — God — speaks from the cloud.

In this mystical moment they heard the voice of God and experienced his glory. But the moment passed. They returned from this mystical moment to the daily routine and looking up to see the Jesus with whom they had gone up on the mountain. What is/was the relationship of this mystical moment to their ordinary routine? A very normal human moment became, for just a moment, a divine experience. God’s glory touched these three apostles in a way that drew them into a new knowledge of Jesus. This experience would never be equaled – at least until the Resurrection.

Do we have such mystical experiences that transform us? Should we expect them? Very ordinary experiences can sometimes be infused with a touch of the divine that is hard to define or explain. We see or know something differently because deep in our spirit, something happens that reveals something new to us. We feel God’s peace. We sense great joy. We suddenly are drawn into love.

This Lent, perhaps, will open the mystical to us as we journey in spirit toward Jerusalem with Jesus to once again commemorate and celebrate his death and Resurrection.

Hopefully, we will know that God has spoken to us and we will hear him say: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adding up our parish and school child protection efforts

It has been 11 years since the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The charter contains practical and pastoral steps that address allegations of sexual abuse, prevent future abuse, and help abuse victims through the healing process.

Over the past decade, more than 200,000 adults and more than 1 million children have undergone abuse awareness and prevention sessions in archdiocesan parishes and schools. More than 5,000 Virtus sessions have been conducted, making access to this important training easily available.

Additionally, the archdiocese continues to be one of the largest private organizations in California to fingerprint employees and volunteers 121,000 to date who work with our children.

For more information on our parish's Safeguard the Children program, June Ballada at (213) 236-4829; or Remy Baluyut at (323) 478-0001.

For more information on archdiocesan programs, visit the Protecting Our Children page.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil." It might seem a bit strange that the Spirit of God would lead Jesus out to be tempted. But, on the other hand, what a beautiful truth to be considered that God's Spirit would lead us to where we inevitably need to go anyway.

To be tempted by life is an integral part of life. We will never escape it. We will never avoid it. Nor should we try. Rather, facing our temptations with the guidance and care of God’s Spirit is the best way to deal with them. When comforted by food and company and wealth, we can avoid feeling or even recognizing the presence of temptation. Or we can misidentify it, blinded by comforts.

But Jesus faced them after forty days of fasting. When he was hungry – very much alone and without the comforts of life – it was then that he experienced his temptations. It was then that he faced himself. But he was not alone. He was not unprotected. He was not without guidance or care. It was the Spirit who led him there that continued to guide and protect and inspire from within so that facing temptation was in itself a God-centered experience and one of triumph.

We pray that the same Spirit takes us into our Lenten desert to face ourselves, our temptations, our blindness. May we also find protection, guidance and the care of God.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Teacher of the faith

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

I was surprised, as I’m sure you all were, by the pope’s announcement that he would be stepping down from his office at the end of this month.

Pope Benedict XVI has truly been a holy father to the family of God, his Catholic Church. His decision to resign is a beautiful, Christ-like act of humility and love for the church.

This is the act of a saint.

This is the act of one who thinks not about himself but only about the will of God and the good of God’s people. May we all be given the grace to be so humble and so selfless in our ministries and daily responsibilities.

I received my archbishop’s pallium twice from Pope Benedict — first as archbishop of San Antonio and then as archbishop of Los Angeles. I will always be grateful that he appointed me to be your archbishop.

Personally, I have always had great affection for this pope. He is a beautiful man. I had the honor to spend time with him for more than a month this past October during the Synod of Bishops. I was amazed, as I always am, by his joyfulness, his sense of prayer, and his intelligence.

In my opinion, Pope Benedict is one of the wisest persons in our world today. I try to learn every day from his words and example. Just witnessing his ministry, reading his writings, is a beautiful lesson for all of us in how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We see from his speeches, homilies and writings, that this pope understands the world in a deep way — from economics, politics and world affairs to the spiritual and moral issues that face every individual.

Pope Benedict will be remembered as one of the church’s great teachers of the faith.

During his eight short years as pope he has written "Jesus of Nazareth", an important three-volume work on how to read the Gospels to find the true face of Christ. This may be one of the most important works of biblical theology in our time.

He has written encyclical letters on the virtues of love and hope and important works on the Word of God and the Eucharist. In his weekly public audience talks, the pope has delivered a series of catecheses on the apostles and the teachings of St. Paul; on the fathers and doctors of the church; on the theologians and religious founders and reformers of the medieval church; and on the teaching and witness of prayer found in the Old and New testaments.

We can reflect upon and celebrate this pope’s legacy as we prepare for our annual Religious Education Congress, which will be held next week, Feb. 21 to 24, at the Anaheim Convention Center (visit

Education in the faith is my top pastoral priority for the archdiocese. In order to truly live our faith, we need to know what we believe and why we believe it.

I am concerned about a kind of “cultural Catholicism.” I’m concerned about people going to church on Sundays without really understanding why they are going or what they are doing. I’m concerned about people not really understanding the relationship between what we believe and how we should live.

Our faith is beautiful! There is richness to our Catholic faith that embraces all of life — from our private conversations with God in prayer to our participation in society.

For me, education in the faith does not mean knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

Education in the faith means knowing Jesus Christ who comes, as the Gospel tells us, “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1: 77-78).

Our faith should make all the difference in our lives. And that should be the aim of all our religious education and catechesis — to change people’s lives by bringing them into contact with the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Gospel.

Our religious education and catechesis should inspire a more intense practice of the faith. It should inspire people to want to know their faith better so that they can live it more fully — with greater love and devotion.

So let us ask God’s blessing on our Religious Education Congress — and all those who are teachers of the faith. And let us pray for one another this week — and for our universal Church.

Let us thank God today for the love and witness of Pope Benedict XVI. Let us entrust him to our Blessed Mother Mary and pray that he will continue to have joy and peace and many more years for prayer and reflection.

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 at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook at

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI announces his resignation at end of month

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said he plans on resigning the papal office on February 28th. Below please find his announcement.

Full text of Pope's declaration:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.

However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.

With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker 

Today's story is about a miraculous catch of fish. But, in reality, it is so much more.

Jesus' encounters with people were always about drawing more faith out of them. They were always about helping them see differently and to know with their hearts. Today’s Gospel is no different. Jesus, a carpenter, tells a professional fisherman how to fish. After a full night of wasted toil the fisherman were cleaning their nets -- a tiresome task, especially in light of having been so ineffective in their all-night efforts. So the carpenter says: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” When Peter and his companions catch too many fish for even "two" boats that they are ready to sink, Peter becomes aware of Jesus' knowledge and insight.

Peter sees Jesus as someone who is amazing and who amazes. Peter also becomes aware that in relationship to this man – Jesus – that he – Peter – is unworthy and a sinner. He utters striking words: "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man." The great miracle was not about fish, but about love. Jesus accepted Peter as he was and as he would reveal himself to be again and again. Peter, who would deny even knowing Jesus in his moment of need, was the one Jesus would select to lead this ragged band of apostles. He even elevated his fishing skills to become a fisherman of men, women, people, and souls.

Peter would become a sharer in Jesus' divine ministry of faith, hope and love. In Peter’s sinfulness, he found grace.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A time for holiness

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

There have been challenging days for our local church here in Los Angeles.

I have been talking and reflecting with Cardinal Roger Mahony and Bishop Thomas Curry, along with our other auxiliary bishops about the events of last week. We are committed to moving forward in our ministries with hope and confidence in God’s grace.

We need to keep praying for those who are hurting. We need to ask again for forgiveness for the sins of the past and for our own failings. And we need to match our prayers for grace with concrete actions of healing and renewal.

And recent events should inform our prayer, penance and charity in this season of Lent, which begins next week with Ash Wednesday.

All of us need the grace of a new conversion. This is what Lent is for.

We need to be transformed once more by the person of Jesus Christ and the power of his Gospel. We need to live our faith with new sincerity, new zeal, new purpose and new purity. We need a new desire to be his disciples.

I cannot say it enough: We all need to rediscover the essential message of the Gospel — that we are children of a God who loves us and who calls us to be one family in his church and to make this world his kingdom, a city of love and truth.

The challenge we face — now and always, as individuals and as a church — is to resist the temptation to only follow Jesus “half way.” We should never settle for mediocrity or minimum standards in our life of faith. There are no “good enough” Christians, only Christians who are not doing enough good.

God wants us to be great! We are called to the holiness of God, to a share in his own holiness. Jesus said this in his Sermon on the Mount: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Holiness does not mean separating ourselves from the world. Just the opposite. Holiness means loving God and loving our neighbor in the middle of the world. In our families, in our work, in our play, in everything we do.

The pathways of holiness are different for every one of us. How we love, how we seek the face of God, depends on the circumstances of our lives. And we will never be finished in this work of holiness.

But that’s the fun, the beauty and the joy of our faith.

The way forward for our church is for each one of us to rediscover this universal call to holiness. This is the meaning of our Christian lives. We are children of God called to be holy as our Father is holy. And we seek that holiness by working with his gifts of grace to love as Jesus loved.

During these challenging times for our church, we have to resist the desire to turn inward or to withdraw from our involvement with our culture and society.

We still have a mission as a church — to continue the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to redeem us from our sins and to show us the way to a new life of holiness. We need to carry his message of salvation, conversion and forgiveness to every person. We need to find new ways to evangelize our society — new approaches rooted in humility and the search for holiness, beauty and truth.

We can only change this world if we allow God to change us first. The lives we lead will always be the most credible witness we can give to the Gospel we believe in. People should be able to see “the Catholic difference” — the difference that our Catholic faith makes in our lives.

Our world today needs saints. Not “other-worldly” saints — but saints in our cities, our families, our parishes and schools, our media, our businesses, legislatures and courts.

We can’t wait for others. We need to become those saints ourselves. We need to inspire others around us to want to be saints.

So this week, let’s pray for one another and for our church. Let’s keep praying for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the church. And let’s continue the process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.

We can make this Lent a time for renewal and holiness. We can do this by trying to lead holier and simpler lives. Let’s live our faith with joy and compassion — and a daily desire to become more like Jesus Christ.

And let’s ask Our Lady of the Angels to help us to draw closer as one family 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 at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook at

Monday, February 4, 2013

‘What am I doing in this world of yours?’

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

The following is adapted from Archbishop Gomez’s keynote address to the annual Multi-Faith Prayer Breakfast hosted by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s Executive Clergy Council at Temple Beth El in West Hollywood on Jan. 17.

My friends, I am honored to be with you this morning as we ask God for his help in all our efforts to serve the people of this great city.
As I was thinking about being here today in this beautiful temple, I thought it would be good to start our reflection with the words of one of the Hasidic masters, Rabbi Israel of Ruzhyn. The great rabbi once prayed:

Dear God, I did not ask you to explain to me
why the world was created,
or why the good suffer and the evil prosper.
Only please tell me:
What am I doing in this world of yours?

Isn’t that the biggest question, my friends? What am I doing in this world? It’s what everyone seeks to know.

We are gathered this morning as religious believers. We don’t all believe the same things. We are following our own spiritual traditions, our own different paths. What we share is the conviction that our faith matters — and that what we believe should guide our lives and our work in this world that God has created.

All the great religions of the world seek to answer what we call “ultimate questions”: Where did we come from and where are we heading? What happens when we die and why do bad things happen? What is the path that we should follow to find happiness?

Ultimately my friends, as we know, these questions require a personal answer from each one of us. And I was thinking this morning that this is why we pray. Because we need to know that God is with us. We pray because we need answers that only he can provide.

As you know, I come from the Christian tradition. And in our tradition, we have our own answer to that question of what am I doing in this world. We believe that God creates everyone out of love — for a reason. We believe that God calls each of us by name — as a father calls his sons and daughters in love.

For me, this is an amazing truth to contemplate. That the God who created the sun and the moon, the stars and all the earth — that this God wanted you and he wanted me to be born. That this God knows my name and he knows your name and he has a plan for each one of our lives and for our world. A plan of love.

Of course, as we know, this beautiful truth was taught first by the prophets of Israel.

And the founders of this great country of ours shared this basic belief — that God is our creator and that our lives are a gift that he gives us for a reason.

Our laws and institutions are based on this belief. That all men and women are created equal, and endowed by God with certain rights — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Rights that come, not from the generosity of government but from the hand of God. And what God has given, no one — no court, no legislature, no government agency — can take away.

That’s why freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are so essential to the American idea of democracy.

As America’s founders conceived it, this freedom has three dimensions.

First, we need to be free to seek God in our own way. Free to listen for his call in our lives — and free to follow that calling with all our hearts and all our strength.

This includes the freedom to establish institutions based on our beliefs and to run them without input or interference from the government. Ministries and houses of worship, yes. But also schools, hospitals, charities, media outlets and other institutions.

Second, freedom of religion means we are free not to believe what others believe — especially what the majority of our neighbors believe or what the government might want us to believe. This also means we can never be forced to do things that violate our conscience.

Finally, according to the founders, freedom of conscience means people have the freedom not to believe in any religion at all.

Our founders’ commitment to religious liberty has served America well.

As we all can see every day, living in this remarkable city, this commitment has given our city and our nation a beautiful diversity of religions, cultures and ways of life.

Religious believers have inspired the great movements for renewal and social justice in our society — the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements; the civil rights struggle; and the struggles today to end abortion and the death penalty and to find a just solution to the issue of immigration.

Friends, this is our proud heritage as believers who seek to build a better society. And as we know, religious believers and their institutions are still the heart and soul of this city, and every city in this country — practicing charity and defending the weakest and most vulnerable.

Who can imagine Los Angeles without all the charities and ministries; all the hospitals, clinics and schools, that are being run by people of faith? Who can imagine our institutions without devoted public servants who are motivated by their religious faith and their love for their neighbor?

But America is changing. Our city and our state are changing.

We are living in times when the awareness of God and the sense of the sacred are fading in wide sectors of our society. All the polls tell us that our fastest growing religion is no religion.

Our society is growing more secularized. Believers today face strong pressures to keep our faith to ourselves and to live as if our beliefs don’t matter to how we work or carry out our duties as citizens.

Our religious institutions face new pressures to compromise and abandon our beliefs. Some of us are being asked to render unto Caesar what Caesar has no right to demand.

So my prayer today is that as believers in God we will stand fast and stand together.

It is true: We do not all share the same beliefs. But we do share that conviction that our faith matters more than anything else. We need to support one another. And we need to defend one another’s freedom — to hold our beliefs and to live according to those beliefs.

Because the truth is — our city and our society need religion.

We don’t want to live in a society where religion is privatized and religious institutions are marginalized. Our society needs to be inspired by people of faith. We need religion to break down the idols of our pride and self-satisfaction. To be our conscience. We need people of faith to show us that every life has value, no matter how little and how weak in the eyes of the world. We need religion to teach us compassion.

So I hope that in this new year and in the years ahead, we can find new ways to work together — to fight poverty and homelessness; to address the causes of violence in our streets and in our homes; to keep our kids in school. I hope we can work together to strengthen the institutions of marriage and family that are the foundations of a strong society.

I also hope we can work together to give justice to those forced to live now in the shadows of our society. It is time. It is time to make this a city, and a country, where no one is a stranger and where everyone is welcomed as a brother or a sister — no matter what papers they have or don’t have.

This is why God puts us in this world of his, my friends. This is the answer to the Rabbi’s question. We are here to serve God and to serve our neighbors in love and kindness. We are here to walk humbly with our God.

So let’s ask our Good God to be with us and to guide us — as together we seek to build a city of truth and love.

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 at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook at

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Looking ahead

By Father Perry D. Leiker

"Amen I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place." Truth can be brutal. Telling it "like it is" can leave people feeling insecure, even a bit defensive. Jesus did speak such direct truth he did tell it "like it was." The crowd's vacillations were proof of their lack of conviction. But Jesus did not only tell it, he also showed the consequences of such lack of faith and understanding. He showed the consequences both to them and to himself.

In striking contrast we hear the inevitable and wonderful consequences of faith, trust and love. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you," says the Lord. "You are my rock and my fortress," says the psalmist. And Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians: love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

In the liturgy there is an interesting gesture that takes place at the beginning, at the end, and in the middle of the Eucharistic celebration. The celebrant kisses the altar twice, and he kisses the Gospel book after he proclaims the Gospel. He kisses them.

In our faith we, of course, need to hear and understand God's word. We ought to even study the word so that we can apply it more significantly in our lives of faith. But best of all is the thought and hope that we could love the word. Love it! Take the word into our hearts and allow it to reshape and reform who we are and what we do. If we indeed had such love, perhaps we would find that prophets are indeed accepted not only in their own native place but in every place.

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

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Together in Mission 2013: A Time for Reflection

Together in Mission 2013 poster.
As the week comes to a close, you are asked to read and reflect upon the Together in Mission materials that you received last 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 "Love Never Fails" (1 Corinthians 13:8). 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 this weekend. Also, we will conduct our annual Together in Mission in-pew pledge process at all Masses this weekend and the following weekend (Feb. 9 and 10). As always, what you give should be given in gratitude and thanksgiving for what God has given to you.

Thank you for your prayerful consideration and generous response.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2013

Pope Benedict XVI
By Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The celebration of Lent, in the context of the Year of Faith, offers us a valuable opportunity to meditate on the relationship between faith and charity: between believing in God – the God of Jesus Christ – and love, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of devotion to God and others.

Faith as a response to the love of God

In my first Encyclical, I offered some thoughts on the close relationship between the theological virtues of faith and charity. Setting out from Saint John’s fundamental assertion: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), I observed that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction … Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (Deus Caritas Est, 1). Faith is this personal adherence – which involves all our faculties – to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and “passionate” love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The encounter with God who is Love engages not only the heart but also the intellect: “Acknowledgement of the living God is one path towards love, and the ‘yes’ of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never ‘finished’ and complete” (ibid., 17). Hence, for all Christians, and especially for “charity workers”, there is a need for faith, for “that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love” (ibid., 31a). Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love – “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14) – they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways (cf. ibid., 33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God’s love.

“Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! … Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working” (ibid., 39). All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely “love grounded in and shaped by faith” (ibid., 7).

Charity as life in faith

The entire Christian life is a response to God’s love. The first response is precisely faith as the acceptance, filled with wonder and gratitude, of the unprecedented divine initiative that precedes us and summons us. And the “yes” of faith marks the beginning of a radiant story of friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives full meaning to our whole life. But it is not enough for God that we simply accept his gratuitous love. Not only does he love us, but he wants to draw us to himself, to transform us in such a profound way as to bring us to say with Saint Paul: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (cf. Galatians 2:20).

When we make room for the love of God, then we become like him, sharing in his own charity. If we open ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly “active through love” (Galatians 5:6); only then does he abide in us (cf. 1 John 4:12).

Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4); charity is “walking” in the truth (cf. Ephesians 4:15). Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. John 15:14ff). Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice (cf. John 13:13-17). In faith we are begotten as children of God (cf. John 1:12ff); charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22). Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

The indissoluble interrelation of faith and charity

In light of the above, it is clear that we can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity. These two theological virtues are intimately linked, and it is misleading to posit a contrast or “dialectic” between them. On the one hand, it would be too one-sided to place a strong emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague humanitarianism. On the other hand, though, it is equally unhelpful to overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if works could take the place of faith. For a healthy spiritual life, it is necessary to avoid both fideism and moral activism.

The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4). In the Church, contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Luke 10:38-42). The relationship with God must always be the priority, and any true sharing of goods, in the spirit of the Gospel, must be rooted in faith (cf. General Audience, 25 April 2012). Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial – and therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person. As the Servant of God Pope Paul VI wrote in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, the proclamation of Christ is the first and principal contributor to development (cf. n. 16). It is the primordial truth of the love of God for us, lived and proclaimed, that opens our lives to receive this love and makes possible the integral development of humanity and of every man (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 8).

Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.

Concerning the relationship between faith and works of charity, there is a passage in the Letter to the Ephesians which provides perhaps the best account of the link between the two: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God; not because of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:8-10). It can be seen here that the entire redemptive initiative comes from God, from his grace, from his forgiveness received in faith; but this initiative, far from limiting our freedom and our responsibility, is actually what makes them authentic and directs them towards works of charity. These are not primarily the result of human effort, in which to take pride, but they are born of faith and they flow from the grace that God gives in abundance. Faith without works is like a tree without fruit: the two virtues imply one another. Lent invites us, through the traditional practices of the Christian life, to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbour, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving.

Priority of faith, primacy of charity

Like any gift of God, faith and charity have their origin in the action of one and the same Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 13), the Spirit within us that cries out “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6), and makes us say: “Jesus is Lord!” (1 Corinthians 12:3) and “Maranatha!” (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelations 22:20).

Faith, as gift and response, causes us to know the truth of Christ as Love incarnate and crucified, as full and perfect obedience to the Father’s will and infinite divine mercy towards neighbour; faith implants in hearts and minds the firm conviction that only this Love is able to conquer evil and death. Faith invites us to look towards the future with the virtue of hope, in the confident expectation that the victory of Christ’s love will come to its fullness. For its part, charity ushers us into the love of God manifested in Christ and joins us in a personal and existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus to the Father and to his brothers and sisters. By filling our hearts with his love, the Holy Spirit makes us sharers in Jesus’ filial devotion to God and fraternal devotion to every man (cf. Romans 5:5).

The relationship between these two virtues resembles that between the two fundamental sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism (sacramentum fidei) precedes the Eucharist (sacramentum caritatis), but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith (“knowing that one is loved by God”), but has to arrive at the truth of charity (“knowing how to love God and neighbour”), which remains for ever, as the fulfilment of all the virtues (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13).

Dear brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the event of the Cross and Resurrection – in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its light upon history – I express my wish that all of you may spend this precious time rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives. For this intention, I raise my prayer to God, and I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon each individual and upon every community!

From the Vatican, Oct. 15, 2012.