Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Human nature and the image of God

Archbishop José H. Gomez
The following is adapted from a talk Archbishop José H. Gomez delivered at the third annual Napa Institute Conference on Aug. 1.

By Archbishop José H. Gomez

Pope Francis has been urging the Church to renew its attention on people and the dignity of the person. In his inaugural homily, he spoke of the need for us to “protect people” and to show “loving concern for each and every person.”

And unfortunately, this need is urgent in light of continuing developments in our culture. We need to protect people — especially children and the elderly and those in need. But more than that, we need to protect and defend the idea of the human person in our society.

I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that right now our culture is facing a crisis of “anthropology.”

The Supreme Court’s recent decisions on marriage revealed once more that our society is confused about much more than the true meaning of marriage, the family and sexuality. Underlying these confusions there is a more basic confusion. We have no idea anymore in our society of what “human nature” is or what it means to be a human person. And this is rooted in our loss of the sense of God in our society.

As a way to begin talking about some of these issues, I want to recall the American Servant of God Dorothy Day.

My brother bishops and I are promoting her “cause” to be canonized as an American saint. And I found it providential that, earlier this year, our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI chose to talk about Dorothy Day in his final public audience before retiring as Pope. It is fascinating to reflect that he chose this lay woman from 20th-century America as the last example of holiness that he wanted to propose to our Church.

Dorothy Day’s is one of the great conversion stories of modern times. Her life tells a kind of spiritual diary of the 20th century. She was born before the dawn of the century, in 1897, and she died in its twilight, in 1980.

And when we look at her life now, we see that it was Dorothy Day’s destiny to experience firsthand some of the century’s most influential ideologies and movements — feminism, communism and the sexual revolution. What all of these movements have in common is a distorted understanding of the nature of the human person.

If the Church finally finds her to be a saint, Dorothy Day will be the only saint who, prior to her conversion, ever wrote about her own abortion. But her search for truth left Dorothy open to God’s grace and the gift of faith. She came to repentance, confessed her sins and was baptized.

She went on to lead a transfigured life, in the image of Jesus Christ. She became our country’s most radical witness to Christ’s love for the poor and his call for us to be instruments of his peace and justice. She criticized, like a prophet, America’s failures to live up to its high ideals.

One night, Dorothy Day was in Arkansas where she was giving a speech on the rights of farm workers and African Americans.

But when she was done that night, she came back to her room and she felt totally overwhelmed. She felt a terrible sense that what she was doing with her life and ministry didn’t really matter. That she would never see results. She was feeling desperate and she started to pray — and this is what happened. These are her words:

“And suddenly, a most wonderful sense of the glory of being a child of God swept over me. So joyous a sense of my own importance that I have reflected on it since. I would pray that [you] have it, and grow in it. This sense of [our] importance as … sons of God, divinized by his coming. All things are possible to us. We can do all things in him who strengthens.”

These beautiful words give us a place to begin thinking about the foundations of Christian “anthropology,” by which I mean of our vision of the human person.

As Catholics, we believe every man and woman is God’s creation. Made in God’s image. Made to become his divine sons and daughters, his children in Jesus Christ. In our tradition, the human life has a God-given make-up — we are created as unity of body and soul, and who we are is crucially related to our sexuality, to whether we are made male or female.

What’s going on in our culture today is the almost total rejection of this idea of the human person. We can see this most obviously in the debates about homosexual relations and marriage and the controversies over “transgenderism.”

What’s going on is that we are living in a culture of extreme individualism. And people believe they have the ability to “create” and “re-create” themselves, through science and psychology, especially in the areas of their sexuality.

They don’t see their lives as a gift from God, but as a kind of “raw material” which they can modify and re-fashion according to their own desires and their own sense of meaning and purposes.

In the words of philosophers, people today believe they are “self-constituting autonomous subjects, apart from any relationship to God.”

As I see it, the root of the problem is our growing forgetfulness of God. As we’re all aware, American society — along with the other societies in the West — is becoming highly secularized.

The memory of God has already faded for many people. New generations are growing up without any religion. We are fast becoming a society of “practical atheists.” When we forget our Creator, we forget what creation means. We lose the sense of our own meaning as his creatures. That’s what’s happening in our society. If God is not our Father, then we are not brothers and sisters and we have no responsibility for one another. 

But the loss of God has even more personal implications for our sense of life’s “meaning.” When we lose our sense of God, we lose the “thread” that holds our lives together. We lose the answers to the questions that help us make sense of the world: What kind of person should I be? Why should I be good? What should I believe in? What should I be living for — and why? 

Many of the elites in our culture today would argue that there are no true answers to these questions — just different opinions, beliefs and preferences. 

But we know that’s not true. We know people need those answers. Without those answers we don’t know anymore what makes a human being human. 

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis writes about this in almost poetic language. He writes: 

“Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires … his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants … an aimless passing from one lord to another … a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.”

This is where we’re at in our culture. We have “disintegrated” the idea of the human person and reduced it to whatever we wish it to be. And this cultural situation suggests a mission for the Church and individual Christians. 

I am coming to see that the new evangelization must include a new presentation of Christian anthropology — a new proclamation of our beautiful Catholic vision for the human person. 

God has entrusted us in the Church with the beautiful truth that the human person is sacred. That every man and woman is created in the image and likeness of God. 

There is a beautiful saying from the Church Father, St. Ireneaus: “The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God.” This belief runs deep in Judaism as well as Christianity. There is a beautiful Midrash that says: “A procession of angels pass before a human being wherever he or she goes, proclaiming, Make way for the image of God!” 

The men and women of our times need to hear this good news. They need to know they are the glory of God, created and destined for the vision of God. They need to know that they are God’s image and that everyone they meet is God’s image, too. 

As Christians, we need to be the ones who tell our neighbors that their lives are not trivial. That humans are not just random beings, contingent products of evolution, going through life with no “why” or reason. 

Our task in this moment is to restore this appreciation of the sacred image of the human person. We need to bring this truth into our homes and neighborhoods and churches. 

We need to proclaim to our society what both the Old and New Testaments affirm — that each human person comes from the loving thought of God. That we are all made for holiness. That we are made to live as God’s image in the world. 

So we need to help our neighbors to see that all our lives are not our project but God’s project. We are God’s works of art. Each one of us. By his grace and by his Law, God wants to make each of us more like him, day by day.

In our Christian tradition, our lives have a beautiful teleology, a beautiful and purposeful direction. Jesus Christ shows us “who we are.” He shows us that we are children of God, born of the love of the Father. We are born to love and to be loved. And we do that by loving as Jesus loved. 

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

I’m convinced that this truth about the sacred image and destiny of the human person is a key to the new evangelization. We need to make this truth the substance of our preaching, our religious education, our work for justice.

Let me close with another quote from Dorothy Day that again reflects her profound sense of Christian anthropology. She wrote these words about the birth of her daughter: 

“I was supremely happy. If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt more the exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms. To think that this thing of beauty … had come from my flesh, was my own child. Such a great feeling of happiness and joy filled me that I was hungry for Someone to thank, to love, even to worship for so great a good that had been bestowed upon me! ”

This is the beautiful vision of Christian anthropology. The vision of the human person as the image of God — called to share, through our human bodies, in God’s own divinity and in his work of creation. Let’s look for new ways to share this beautiful vision with our society, which needs it so much today.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

Knocking at the door that no one answers, because no one is at home, is indeed frustrating, but at least we understand why: no one is home.

But what if they are home and no one answers. Why won’t they open? Why are we left out there?

It is a provocative question with a disturbing answer; many will think that it applies to the end of time or after we die. It is, however, much more urgent. It isn’t about later; it is about now.

When God speaks, is there any other real choice than to listen? When we peaking about God. Shouldn’t his voice be first and only? Of course, this depends upon our understanding and appreciating of God in our lives. And does God only speak at certain times, is his voice now and always in this and in that or, simply, in everything at all times?

Who is God to you and me? What, where and how is his voice for you and me?

If we knock, won’t he always open?

The real question is: Will we even knock?

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112, or email pleiker@stbernard-church.com.

When God speaks, is there any other real choice than to listen? Shouldn’t his voice be first and only?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

Jesus declares: “I have come to set the earth on fire.” Not only that, he further says that he has come, not to establish peace, but division. Bluntly he interprets his own words with a specific application: “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.”

What has happened to our man of peace? The “fire” he speaks of is of biblical making — it stands for God, his Spirit, his power and his presence that transforms and ignites and purifies making all things new. The division comes as a result of poor priorities.

God first! Then, everything else! This is how he declares it must be. What idolatry for anything, including family relationships, to come before God. But isn’t that just too much? Do I have to choose between family and God? The truth is we choose many things over family all of the time: giving more time to friends than family; we communicate best at work, not home; our money, or desire for it, often comes before our family’s priorities; and some families are forever divided or destroyed over issues of money or inheritances.

So although Jesus calls for total dedication and commitment and discipleship to him and to his word, it isn’t such a bad deal. In fact, true discipleship should lead us to the peace that really is his gift to us.

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112, or email pleiker@stbernard-church.com.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker 

"Be ready!"

Readiness is one of the attitudes or attributes or spiritual postures that is most needed if one is to discover God’s presence and his kingdom now. Any minute that we are not ready or prepared we have already missed another moment of God’s presence or kingdom in our midst.

Jesus didn’t seemed to be interested in tomorrow or even later today. He spoke about the now and the in-your-midst. He is the ancient voice and version of the modern message of our present day psychologists: "'Stay in the present moment."

Can we really ever go back to the past? We can only reflect in the past to attempt to understand what happened. Can we really live in the future? We can only imagine into the future to attempt to grasp what might be.

Jesus says: “Stay put.” It is now that he surprises us. It is now that he gives us life. It is now that he comes into our midst, into our hearts, into our lives. We need to be ready.

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112, or email pleiker@stbernard-church.com.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

St. Bede the Venerable Church Associate Pastor Father Kevin Kester passes away at 63

Father Kevin Kester.
Our thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the family and fellow clergy of St. Bede the Venerable Church Associate Pastor Father Kevin. Father Kester passed away early Tuesday morning after a long illness, the church announced on Wednesday. He was 63.

A native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, Father Kester began his pastoral assignment at St. Bede in 2003. An Air Force brat, Father Kester entered St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo after working for The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo. He was ordained a priest in 1981.

In 2011, Father Kester was one of several local clergy recognized by the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada.

“I feel blessed to have shared his last day with him and want you to know he truly appreciated this parish and especially all the prayers, love and support you have him over the years,” said St. Bede Pastor Monsignor Antonio Cacciapuoti, in a statement posted on the church’s website. “During our time together, he asked me to tell you not to be sad, but be happy for him and to let the Lord’s peace into your hearts.”

A vigil service will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday. The funeral Mass will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday. A reception will follow the funeral Mass. All services will take place at St. Bede the Venerable Church, at 215 Foothill Blvd. in La Cañada.

The graveside service will take place at Holy Cross Cemetery, at 5835 W. Slauson Ave. in Culver City, beginning at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Condolence cards may be sent to The Family of Father Kevin Kester, c/o St. Vede the Venerable Catholic Church, 215 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011-3754.

Monday, August 5, 2013

St. James the Less Church Pastor Emeritus Monsignor Thomas Doyle has died

Monsignor Thomas Doyle
Our thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the family and fellow clergy of St. James the Less Church Pastor Emeritus Monsignor Thomas Doyle. Monsignor Doyle passed away this morning with family at his side. He was 83.

Monsignor Doyle was a retired priest serving at St. James the Less in La Crescenta and Holy Redeemer churches in Montrose.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

But God said to him: "You fool!"

What an unforgettable quote! If it were said to me, I would want it to be forgotten by all.

This quote was directed to one seeking what is vain. The parable ends with the lesson: "Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God."

What really does matter in life? What is so lasting that it requires of us constant worry and constant preoccupation? The Bible would say very little deserves that kind of attention — in fact, it is vain!

One of the best and most embarrassing stories remains: "The Emperor's New Clothes." Because of his vanity he was tricked into believing that invisible clothes were being woven for him. The invisible clothes would be the envy of everyone. All would want their own pair of such clothes. He would be famous. He would be looked at. His story would be told again and again. All that was true. His invisible clothes were, in reality, no clothes. He was naked. He was a laughing stock. His vanity made a mockery out of him.

What are the things of God? What should we be seeking and attempting to find in our lives? These are the questions offered to us by a God who is not vain, but rather, filled with meaning and ultimate significance that gives life.

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112, or email pleiker@stbernard-church.com.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

New Saints for a New World of Faith

Archbishop José H. Goméz
The following is adapted from an address Archbishop Gomez delivered to the annual Prayer Breakfast sponsored by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on July 26.

By Archbishop José H. Gómez

I have three basic points that I want to talk with you about. The first is this: America was founded by saints, missionaries and mystics.

We need to remember that our history didn’t begin in politics or war. In the beginning, America was a spiritual project. In the 16th century, America was the most important mission of the church. The church believed that this land — from the top of what’s now Canada to the tip of what’s now Argentina — was the Mundus Novus. The “New World” that Jesus Christ promised.

We forget now, but in the beginning there was so much Utopian expectation about America! Shakespeare called it “the brave new world.” From mystics and popes to ordinary Catholics — people were reading about the missionaries and praying for more! Even “famous” names like St. Teresa of Ávila were praying for missionaries.

There’s another great Spanish nun I want to mention: Venerable María de Ágreda. Sor María has a really amazing story that very few Americans seem to know. Though she never left her little village in Spain, she has a deep spiritual connection with the first evangelization of Texas.

She reported being transported in the spirit more than 500 times to New Mexico, Arizona and West Texas. Natives in those regions later testified to missionaries that they’d been visited by a “lady in blue” who taught them about Jesus. They said she spoke in Spanish but they understood in their native tongue.

Sor María’s story and her writings inspired a generation of missionaries.

The great Apostle of Texas, Venerable Antonío Margíl de Jesús, said he became a missionary because of Sor María. Blessed Junípero Serra, the Apostle of California, said the same thing. In fact, Padre Serra carried only two books when he came to America — the Bible and Venerable Maria’s book, The Mystical City of God.

We have to remember — even in this secular, scientific time — that God has a plan for history just as he has a plan for every one of our lives. Blessed Pope John Paul II — soon to be Saint John Paul — wrote in his last book: “The history of all nations is called to take its place in the history of salvation.”

In the history of nations, America has a spiritual beginning. And the saints and missionaries and mystics are the true founders of America.

People like Antonío Margíl and Junípero Serra. People like Padre Damian Manzanet, who founded San Antonio, and Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, who evangelized Arizona.

These were the first giants of the American spirit. They introduced agriculture, industry, education and government. They changed the culture, teaching the Christian faith through the arts — music, dance, drama, painting. They defended human rights based on the teachings of the Gospel. And they did all this long before the American Revolution.

American history, at every moment, can be told through the lives of the American saints. Our saints have been missionary, immigrant saints — saints who came from somewhere else to spread the Gospel in this country. Our newest American saint, St. Marianne Cope came from Germany. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini came from Italy. St. Théodore Guérin came from France. So did St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.

Of course, there are exceptions — St. Kateri Tekakwitha, our first Native American saint and St. Katharine Drexel and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who were born here. But that’s my point. America has always been a land of missionaries and saints.

My second point is this: America as it was founded to be — America as we know it — is changing. And it’s changing fast.

I think we all realize that with last month’s Supreme Court rulings on marriage, we are entering into a kind of uncharted territory.

America is becoming a different country in many ways. It has been for a long time. These recent court decisions are part of a long, cultural pattern of secularization and spiritual decline. We are losing our American “story,” losing our roots in the Gospel.

The men who wrote our Declaration of Independence and Constitution weren’t saints, missionaries or mystics. They weren’t even orthodox Christians, most of them. They were men of the Enlightenment, proud to rely more on reason than on faith.

But they carried inside themselves a basic Christian worldview. The same basic vision as the missionaries before them. Our nation’s founding documents reflect that worldview.

American institutions assume that God is our Creator and Judge and that there is a “natural law.” They assume that all men and women are created equal and that God gives us all “unalienable” rights. Our Constitution recognizes that organized religion is important to society — so important that government has no business telling people what to believe or interfering with how they live out their beliefs.

This idea that America is “one nation under God” is what we are losing. We’re living now in a highly secularized society. We’re living in an America where millions of people — including many of our political, economic and cultural leaders — don’t see any need for God, don’t see any need for the church or religious values.

We don’t know what this country will look like without belief in God. It’s never been tried before. And this is the challenge we face — as individual believers and as a church. Already it’s getting harder for the church to carry out her mission. Already we see the government making demands and pressuring us to compromise our beliefs.

So we have a big job to change this culture. It’s going to take grace and courage and real formation and commitment from the Catholic laity.

But the American story isn’t over. God is still involved in our lives. And we have to believe that God is still engaged in the history of our nation. But what happens in the next chapters depends a lot on us.

That brings me to my third and last point: The soul of America will only be renewed by a new generation of saints, missionaries and mystics.

America is once again a mission territory. A place that needs to hear the good news of God, the good news of Jesus Christ. We need new missionaries, new saints, new mystics to make this a Mundus Novus. A new world of faith.

We are called to be those new missionaries. That’s what the new evangelization is all about.

We know America needs conversion. We know America needs renewal. That doesn’t happen by winning court cases or elections. First we need to change the culture in this country — heart by heart. Soul by soul. Starting with us.

Our country is only going to come back to God — by way of witnesses. The new evangelization is not about “instruction” or “indoctrination.” It’s about witness.

We all know the best teachers are those who practice what they preach. We’ve all heard that line about St. Francis of Assisi — “He preached the Gospel, sometimes using words.” That’s the way we need to live. And we do that by living our faith in Jesus with optimism and happiness.

Sometimes when we talk about the need for saints, people think that it’s not for them. But that’s not true! Every Christian is called to be a saint! That’s the basic teaching of the New Testament. We are all called to holiness, to be saints. That’s why God made us.

So, at the very beginning of our country there were saints. And throughout the centuries, God has continued to send saints to us and to raise them up from American soil. Now, in the 20th century, we need a new generation of saints and missionaries. And we need saints who are “mystics.” By that I don’t mean people who experience raptures or are transported in the spirit like Venerable María de Ágreda.

Mystics are those who are aware that at all times we are in the Presence of God. That at every moment we have the chance to serve him.

That’s your mission in the Church. To be saints and mystics. That’s what God is expecting of you. A unity of life. The faith you profess in church on Sundays has to be lived out in the world during the rest of the week. You have to “sanctify” your work. That means you have to see everything you do as a service of love — to God and to your neighbors.

We need to remember: most of the saints who founded America are unknown to us. Their names are long forgotten. But God will not forget them.

It will be the same with the new evangelization. All of us should be trying to be “unknown saints” of the new evangelization. Saints and missionaries who change America one person at a time, one day at a time. Saints and missionaries whose names may be known only to God and to the people around us. The people in our families. At work. In our neighborhoods and communities. All the people who will find love and compassion and God through our witness to the Gospel.

The great Apostle of Texas, Venerable Antonío Margíl de Jesús, used to sign every letter he wrote: La misma nada. That means, “Nothingness itself.” That’s a beautiful sign of his humility. It should be an inspiration and example to us.

The challenges we face are great. But God is greater. We are called to be faithful, to follow Jesus and to love as he loved. Success and increase are in God’s hands. So let us persevere in our calling to be holy. To be saints and missionaries and mystics of the new evangelization.

Let me leave you with a few words from the great Apostle of Texas. This is a prayer he wrote in August 1723. I think it still has meaning for our mission today:

May Jesus and his most sorrowful Mother live in our hearts.
And may they preserve us, Father, 
for our consolation, light and example.
So that we may be active as true apostles, 
Apostles of this day 
in bringing Jesus Christ to this New World.
Amen.


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 Gómez at (213) 637-7000, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.