Sunday, July 27, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker 

When Jesus speaks about the kingdom of heaven and God (clearly, a favorite topic for him) he uses incredibly simple, yet profound, images and examples to help us understand.

What is the kingdom of God? What is it like?  It doesn’t appear to be a specific place nor an easily defined reality. Rather, he speaks about our longings, our hopes, our deepest desires. He speaks about a willingness within us to sacrifice anything and everything for this kingdom.

God speaks to Solomon in the first reading and asks him: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon asks for “an understanding heart.” God delights in him for not asking for a long life, riches or power over his enemies, but for an understanding heart to help others distinguish what is right and wrong: wisdom!

What do we want from God? What is our answer to: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”? 

Has the kingdom of God planted itself like a seed in our hearts? What is growing? It is good seed or weeds? Is anything rising up within us?

What is the kingdom of God? What is it like?

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, July 24, 2014

‘You gave your children good ground for hope’

Archbishop José H. Gomez
The following is adapted from the archbishop’s homily at the annual Mass in Recognition of Immigrants July 20, after which thousands lined up, inside and outside of Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, to venerate the traveling relic of Santo Toribio Romo. 

By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

Santo Toribio Romo was a good brother and a good son. He was a holy priest and a martyr for Jesus. In heaven now, he is a friend and protector to the immigrant and the poor. 

So he is a beautiful symbol of what this annual celebration is all about.

In this holy Mass, we celebrate the immigrant spirit that gives life to our great country and our great city. We come together to pray and hope, as the theme of our gathering reminds us, from the first reading of today’s Mass: “You gave your children good ground for hope.”

As we all know, this land was built by the blood and sacrifice and the vision of missionaries and immigrants from every race and language and every nation.

So today we give thanks for all those men and women who left the places where they were born — to bring their faith and values, their talents and gifts — to create a new life and a new world here in America.

And we thank God also for the spirit of our new immigrants — those who are joining us every day to be our neighbors and friends and family members.

Yet, as we gather again this year, we also know that there are real troubles in our land. Many things are not right in our city and in our country.

Year after year, more of our fellow citizens seem to be losing faith in the spirit of America, losing their faith in the immigrant spirit that makes this country great.

In America, our hearts and hands have always been open to welcome the stranger and the refugee. But we are not being so welcoming anymore.

All of us today, I know, are thinking about the tens of thousands of children who have been coming across our borders, sent by their parents who are trying to save them from the poverty and violence in their home countries. I can’t imagine how sad and desperate it must be for those mothers and fathers to have to make that kind of decision!

Our Holy Father Pope Francis said this week that we are facing a real “humanitarian emergency” with these unaccompanied children. Pope Francis is right. And in the face of this emergency, our first duty must be to protect these children.

My brothers and sisters, what we are doing for these children as a church — it’s not about politics. We all know that. It’s about who we are as Catholics.

The church in Southern California has always opened its doors to receive the refugee and immigrant.

But we don’t do it because we are “social workers” or “nice people.” We do it because we are being faithful to our identity and duty as Catholics. We do it because Jesus calls us to do it.

In the reading from the Gospel that we just heard in this Holy Mass, Jesus tells us that God’s kingdom is a mystery, something that is small and hidden from our eyes.  He says the kingdom is like a seed that is under the ground. We can’t see it, but we know that it is living and growing.

And the message of this parable today is that God is in charge! 

God is in charge of our world and our lives! Jesus tells us that God is just. God is true to his promises and true to each one of us because God cares for each one of his children.

So we have to stay faithful to God. We have to stay true to his word and his calling in our lives.

No matter what stands in our way, we need to know and believe that his kingdom is coming. His kingdom is growing, little by little and day by day, even though we can’t see it and even though we face opposition and misunderstanding.

Jesus has given each of us a mission, my brothers and sisters. We have a mission to help God’s kingdom grow.

And God’s kingdom grows by every act of love — by every act of tenderness and kindness that we make to someone in need.

There is a beautiful line in that first reading that we heard this afternoon, from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom. I’m sure you noticed. It said:

Those who are just must be kind!

We need to remember that, my brothers and sisters. In our work for justice, in our work for human dignity — we need to be kind. We need to be merciful and have charity in our hearts and in our actions. Especially for those who don’t understand us and for those who oppose us.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis says that we need to help people change their hearts and attitudes towards immigrants. He says we need to help them overcome their indifference and fear, so that they will reach out their hands with tenderness and understanding.

So let’s pray for that today in this Eucharist.

Let’s pray for the courage to follow Jesus — just as Santo Toribio did — without counting the cost and with love for God and love for our brothers and sisters.

By our kindness, let us teach our neighbors how to be more kind. By our hospitality, let us teach our neighbors how to have compassion for others.

Let’s keep praying and working for immigration reform now.  Immigration reform is a life issue and it is a family issue. And, it is a question of our souls as Catholics and Americans.

We need immigration reform that keeps families together, that gives rights to workers, and that provides a generous path to citizenship.

Let us pray for one another and for our leaders. Let us pray to rediscover our capacity to care for one another and to be close to others in their sufferings. Let us pray for greater tenderness and understanding for our immigrant families and children, and especially for the young people who have come to our country in recent months.

And may Our Lady of Guadalupe and Santo Toribio help us to keep building God’s Kingdom, to keep working for a better world with more justice, more sharing, more mercy and love because God gave us, his children, good ground for hope.

¡Viva Santo Toribio Romo! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! ¡Viva Cristo Rey! Amen.

 Archbishop José H. Gómez is the fifth 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 www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

Today, Jesus proposes three parables. These teaching stories attempt to describe the kingdom of heaven. Each one is about growth.

In one story, good seed is sown in a field, then weeds are secretly sown by an enemy. The question is: “do you want us to go and pull them (the weeds) up?” Jesus answers “No!” They will and must grow together, and at harvest time will be sorted.

Another story talks about planting the tiny, tiny mustard seed, which grows to become one of the largest trees.

Another is like a woman mixing yeast with dough and the whole batch was leavened (grows).

Seeds have power to become. Yeast makes everything grow and expand. In each of these stories there is an agent — man, a person, a woman — who does something which brings about growth and development.

Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is now. The kingdom of heaven is among us and within us. The kingdom of heaven is affected in our lives by us, me, you and others.

The potential for life and growth, and big expanding things, are the seeds that you and I work with in our lives. We should expect that in everything and everyone there is potential for the kingdom of heaven to be revealed and to bring forth growth and life.

When is that happening? Now!

Who will do it? Each one of 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.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles presents Theology on Tap

Theology on Tap is a program of the Office of Young Adult Ministry that reaches out to young adults who want to explore the role of faith in their daily lives.

Created in 1981, RENEW International’s Theology-on-Tap is a nationally recognized speaker and fellowship program that has been successfully bringing young adults to the church for more than 30 years. 

In this casual atmosphere, you’ll hear straight talk and honest answers to your deepest questions about faith, love, work and other real life experiences.

Theology on Tap provides an opportunity to not only learn about the Catholic faith but also meet like-minded people and make new friends.

Full 2014 Theology on Tap schedule 


Loyola Marymount University

1 LMU Drive; Theology Village, University Hall, Suite 3700; Los Angeles

Sun, Jul 6 -- The Bible, Gospel, and the Blues - Daniel Smith-Christopher, PhD (and a live musical combo)

Sun, Jul 13 -- Learning Spirituality from Pope Francis - Fr. Felix Just, SJ, PhD

Sun, Jul 20 -- God and Your Brain: Working Together for Healthy Relationships - Tammy Ichinotsubo-Ezzi, PhD

Sun, Jul 27 -- Mystics and Saints in America? In the Americas? - Brett C. Hoover

St. Monica, Santa Monica

725 California; Santa Monica, CA  90403

Tue, Jul 8 -- Moving from Charity to Justice - Fr. Paul Spellman

Tue, Jul 15 -- Catholics and Other Religions: Where are we going with Pope Francis? - Fr. Alexi Smith

Tue, Jul 22 -- How to Read the Bible - Sr. Kathleen Burns

Tue, Jul 29 -- The Love Conversation: Preparing yourself for the love of your life and to be that love for another - Paige Marrs, PhD

USC Caruso Center

844 W. 32nd Street; Los Angeles, CA 90007

Thu, Jul 10 -- No Sourpusses Needed!  Exploring Pope Francis's Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" - Douglas Leal

Thu, Jul 17 -- We Remain Faith-Full! - Joe Melendrez

Thu, Jul 24 -- Is that Really You God? How Our Understanding of God Determines Everything - Sr. Su Fern Khoo, VDFM

Thu, Jul 31 -- Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media - Delis Alejandro & Christine Gerety

Sacred Heart, Ventura

10800 Henderson Road; Ventura, CA 93004

Doors open at 7pm; program starts at 7:30

Tue, Jul 1 -- Vitamin G: Getting Your Daily Dose of God in Prayer - Deacon Dave Smith

Tue, Jul 8 -- Living Under the Influence - Deacon Bill & Sue Spies

Tue, Jul 15 -- Revelation: A Catholic View of End Times - Mary Beth Lee

Tue, Jul 22 -- The Life of St. Francis & Pope Francis's Call to Nonviolence: A Performance and Discussion - David & Sharon Hoover​

St. Finbar, Burbank

2010 West Olive Avenue; Burbank, CA 91506-2642

Tue, Jul 8 -- It's Not an Accident: Becoming an Intentional Disciple of Jesus - Bishop Gerald Wilkerson

Tue, Jul 15 -- No Sourpusses Needed! Exploring Pope Francis's Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" - Fr. Vaughn Winters

Tue, Jul 22 -- Can I Have a Witness? Discipleship, Godparents, and Sponsors - Rosanne Belpedio, CSJ

Tue, Jul 29 -- The Living of Life is Prayer - Margaret Matijasevic

St. Louise de Marillac, Covina

1720 Covina Blvd; Covina, CA 91724

Doors open at 6:30; program starts at 7pm

Sun, Jul 13 -- Several Ways to Encounter God - Fr. Norm Supancheck

Sun, Jul 20 -- Pope Francis Shows the Way: Social Justice and the Ministry of Presence - Katie Tassinari

Sun, Jul 27 -- The Bible: Definitely Better than the Movie - Fr. Chris Bazyouros

Sun, Aug 3 -- Learning Spirituality from Pope Francis - Fr. Felix Just, SJ, PhD

St. Andrew, Pasadena

42 Chestnut Street; Pasadena, CA 91103-3896

Doors open at 7pm; program starts at 7:30

Wed, Jul 9 -- Love is More Than a Four-Letter Word - Michael DiPaolo, PhD

Wed, Jul 16 -- Catholics and Other Religions: Where are we going with Pope Francis? - Fr. Alexi Smith

Wed, Jul 23 -- Jesus - Getting to know the man - Fr. David Loftus

Wed, Jul 30 -- Living Under the Influence - Deacon Bill & Sue Spies

St. Denis, Diamond Bar

2151 S Diamond Bar Blvd; Diamond Bar, CA  91765

Doors open at 7pm; program starts at 7:30

Mon, Jul 7 -- Decisions, Decisions! God Help Me, What Do I Do? - Sr. Edith Prendergast

Mon, Jul 14 -- A Journey with the Cross: Depression and True Joy - Jacob Israel

Mon, Jul 21 -- Calming the Chaos - Vikki Shepp

Mon, Jul 28 -- "Teach Us to Pray!" Prayer for Beginners and Beyond - Douglas Leal

St. Mary of the Assumption, Whittier​

7215 Newlin Ave.; Whittier, CA  90604

Fri, Jul 11 -- What Matters Most: When NO is better than YES - Dean Diomedes

Fri, Jul 18 -- Can I Have a Witness? Discipleship, Godparents, and Sponsors - Rosanne Belpedio, CSJ

Fri, Jul 25 -- Who wants $20? - Vanessa Gallardo

Fri, Aug 1 -- The Bible: Definitely Better than the Movie - Fr. Chris Bazyouros

St. Philomena, Carson

21900 South Main Street; Carson, CA 90745-2998

Thu, Jul 10 -- Decisions, Decisions! God Help Me, What Do I Do? - Sr. Edith Prendergast

Thu, Jul 17 -- How to radiate the love of Christ to others! - Katie Tassinari​

Thu, Jul 24 -- God and Your Brain: Working Together for Healthy Relationships - Tammy Ichinotsubo-Ezzi, PhD

Thu, Jul 31 -- Mystics and Saints in America? In the Americas? - Brett C. Hoover​

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do we have hearts that are ready for the Gospel?

Archbishop José H. Gomez
Archbishop Gomez is on vacation this week. The following is adapted from his homily last Sunday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. His column will return next week.

By Archbishop José H. Gomez

The passage from the Gospel that we heard this morning is the “parable of the sower,” a parable that we know well.

As we know, the “sower” is a farmer who is going out to plant seeds. And as we heard, some of his seeds fell on the pathway that he is walking on. Some of it fell on ground that was filled with rocks and some more of it got tangled up in thorns. And finally, some of the seed fell on good soil and was able to grow.

What Jesus is saying is that this is how it is with the Word of God. With the Gospel, Sacred Scripture.

Jesus is telling us that God’s Word is like a seed that he is planting in the earth. He is not planting his Word in the soil or in the ground. He’s planting his Word in the human heart. In your heart and in my heart.

Jesus wants the word of his Gospel to take root and grow in our heart.

He’s telling us we have to receive God’s Word and we have to let it grow and bloom — just as a plant or a flower grows and blooms when it is planted in the ground. Jesus wants his Word to grow in us, so that we will bear “good fruits” that will help to make God’s Kingdom grow on earth.

So the question that Jesus wants us to think about today is this: What kind of “ground” do we have in our hearts? Do we have a heart that is ready for the Gospel? Are we really open to what God wants for our lives?

The reality is that sometimes our hearts can be like that hard path in the parable.

Because maybe we are not paying enough attention to our spiritual lives. So we hear the Word of God, we hear the commandment to love one another, but we don’t really let it “sink in.” We don’t let it penetrate us and change us. So we have to ask ourselves whether our heart is like that.

Sometimes, maybe the soil of our hearts can be like the rocky ground that Jesus talks about.

That happens when we are excited and enthusiastic about following Jesus, but then we do not put enough effort into our relationship with God. We don’t pray every day, we don’t make enough effort to try to love and serve God. We have to watch out for this, because it means that the Gospel is not really taking root in our heart.

The other “condition” that Jesus talks about is the thorny ground.

That’s when we get too caught up in the cares of the world. This can happen to all of us. We get too busy, we are worried about many things. We can get too concerned about trying to be comfortable or having more things.

When this happens, it is like the words of Jesus are not really that important anymore. And this really blocks the love of God inside us. So we have to be careful with that too.

So let us today especially ask for that grace— to be always prepared in the best possible way to receive God’s Word in our hearts.

We want to become people who “bear good fruit” for Jesus. We want to be people who are concerned about others, who are concerned about sharing the love of God with others.

One practical suggestion for preparing our hearts to bear good fruit — we should try to be more positive in our lives. We should try harder to have a good attitude and a smile for others.

This seems like just a little thing and it’s something we are already probably doing. But we have to do more of it. And, as we know, it’s not always easy.

We really need to understand that we are children of God. If we remember this, it should make us happy and hopeful.

So this week, let’s try to offer up a small sacrifice — just smiling at some person every day! Saying a kind word to somebody who is going through a difficult situation. Just trying to make life a little better for somebody.

In these little ways, we can make it easier for the Word of God to enter into our hearts and grow.

So let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us with that. So that like her, we can listen to God’s Word and really let it grow in inside of us, in our hearts. So that we can bear good fruits. Fruits of love and mercy for one another. 

Archbishop José H. Gómez is the fifth 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 www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.   

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker 

What is the opposite of blessed eyes and blessed ears?

Is it cursed eyes and cursed ears?

Blessed eyes see the things of God and the realities he invites us to share in – they are eyes that see and live the kingdom of God in all things.

Blessed ears hear the things of God – they hear God’s voice in everything, opening one to a sharing in his life in his kingdom.

Is it possible that God speaks and we don’t hear? What is it that he says? What is it that he offers to us that only blessed eyes can see and blessed ears can hear?

Fundamentally, it is the Gospel, the way of Jesus. In the Gospel, we have invitations and callings that often completely counter what the world sees. The values of the world are often centered around getting more at any cost. That often leads to the destruction of others, or even of self.

The truth of the Gospel tells us that many times it is in loosing, letting go, not having that we discover more and become more.

The curse is missing the gift and not receiving the life that God wants and intends for us.

Blessed? Cursed? The choice is ours.

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A time for tenderness and hospitality

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

The immigration “issue” is not going away because immigration is more than a political issue. Every day we hear new stories of personal tragedy and families who are suffering because of our broken immigration system.

In recent months, tens of thousands of children have crossed our borders, sent by desperate parents to escape poverty and violence in their home countries.

The situation has caused chaos and conflict in our border communities and led to a humanitarian challenge to our conscience, as our government tries to decide what to do with these young people. 

Here in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, we have several hundred undocumented teenagers at the naval base in Port Hueneme. They come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, mostly.

Port Hueneme is one of several sites the government has established as temporary shelters for these children while their cases can be reviewed by our immigration courts.

Our church has been trying to respond to this situation in a spirit of cooperation and generosity. So far, it has been frustrating trying to find ways to work with the authorities to provide pastoral care for these children. But we are continuing to try.

These are times in our Church and in our nation that call for all of us to set aside our political differences to serve our brothers and sisters in need.

No matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we can’t forget that these are children of God who are also just kids. No different than our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and cousins.

We need to protect these children at our borders and keep them from falling into the hands of human traffickers. We need to give them guidance and warmth and a sense of welcome. No matter what, we need to remember these are innocent children who are lonely and frightened and far from home, caught up in circumstances they did not create and they cannot control.

The Church is trying to lead by example, here in California and in Texas and elsewhere.

At the national level, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged our leaders in the White House and Congress to be courageous and generous in responding to this challenge.

We all need to work together — government agencies and faith communities — for the good of these children. We cannot turn our heads and look the other way.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis this week wrote a strong letter that recalled his visit last year to Lampedusa, the tiny island off Italy that has become a sort of “border crossing” for Africans seeking refuge in Europe.

As we recall, our Holy Father chose to make Lampedusa the first place he visited outside of Italy as pope. He did this to dramatize the situation of refugees and immigrants all over the world.

In his letter this week, the pope said these problems are getting worse. He prayed for immigrants and urged Catholics especially to open our hearts to their sufferings.

“I encourage the Christian communities and all people of good will to continue to reach out and lend a helping hand to all those who are in need, without counting the cost, without fear, with tenderness and understanding,” the pope said.

We must meet the challenge of immigration, he said, “not with the logic of indifference but with the logic of hospitality and sharing in order to protect and promote the dignity and centrality of every human being.”

This week, as we pray for one another, let’s pray that we all might find the courage to care. To reach out, as our Holy Father asks us, to our brothers and sisters who are suffering, especially the most innocent among us.

This week, we are blessed to have the relics of Santo Toribio on pilgrimage in our Archdiocese. Santo Toribio was a holy priest, a friend to the poor, and a man who loved Jesus so much that he was ready to die for him. And he has become the patron saint of those who are seeking refuge in our country.

The pilgrimage of his relics will conclude with our annual Mass in Recognition of Immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Sunday, July 20, 3:30 p.m.

Let us pray that Santo Toribio and Our Lady of Guadalupe will help us all to have greater tenderness and understanding for our immigrant families and children, and especially for the undocumented young people have come to our country in recent months.

Archbishop José H. Gómez is the fifth 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 www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.   

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker 

On one occasion in the Gospel (Mark 5:35), when a little girl had died, Jesus said to the distraught family, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”

Another translation reads: “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.”

This weekend we have just celebrated Independence Day for the United States of America, commemorating our independence from Great Britain. Imagine the trust required of a people far away from their mainland, standing up against a mighty world power, in a new and strange land with so much to be done, so much to be explored, so much to be experienced.

But faced with the challenges ahead, these words of scripture certainly rang true: “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.”

In the face of change we often become acutely aware of fear and uncertainty. So also does a whole myriad of feelings of discomfort. Again, the words of Jesus speak even more directly to us: “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.”

When we find ourselves in the grip of change, it very much becomes a time of a matter of faith. God loves his church and his people and he never leaves them alone. The scriptures of this Sunday abound with words that ought to open our hearts to faith: “Rejoice heartily, see, your king shall come to you”; and “the Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.”

But perhaps most of all we are challenged to simply see and trust that God will always keep us in his care. Jesus proclaims: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”

The call of Jesus is to be like little children trusting their daddies and mommies, opening their hearts, minds, feelings and futures with complete confidence in God.

God will never abandon us. When we accomplish this we, too, can confidently say: “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.”

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

Friday, July 4, 2014

After the Hobby Lobby case

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez

The U.S. Supreme Court made a good decision this week in recognizing that Hobby Lobby’s owners can follow their religious beliefs and conscience in running their family business.

The court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., was narrow and specific to smaller, family-held businesses.

The justices did not resolve the broader issues raised by our government’s demand that most U.S. employers provide birth control, abortion and sterilization coverage in their health care plans.

The government’s mandate has always been about more than birth control and abortion.

In fact, Hobby Lobby has long offered contraception coverage to its employees and it will continue to offer this coverage, although these facts are not being reported in many media outlets.

But the bigger questions raised by the mandate involve the government’s power and the role of religion and faith-based institutions in American life.

Some of these questions are:
  • Is religion just something personal that we “do” at home or in churches, temples and mosques? Or is religion a way of living that guides and directs everything we think and do?
  • Can the government demand that we abandon our religious convictions as the “price” we must pay for participating in America’s economic and political life?
  • Do religious institutions have to give up their religious identity in order to carry out their mission in society?
These are questions that have great implications for America’s future, for our freedom as citizens and believers, and for the church’s mission in American society. And they are questions that every one of us — as believers and as citizens — need to reflect on. 

Our country has always been distinguished by its commitment to religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

This has led to a society that is incredibly diverse and that allows people of many different lifestyles and viewpoints to live together in peace.

The public witness and good works of religious people and religious institutions has shaped our social fabric — in areas ranging from education and health care to charity and the defense of civil rights and social justice.

And American society has always respected the role that religious institutions play in providing vital services in our society — to the poor, the homeless and the immigrant. 

There has always been a good partnership between the government and religious institutions. Our ability to cooperate for the common good has always depended on religious institutions having the freedom to be who we are.

But in recent years, we have been finding that the government is trying to pressure religious institutions into offering programs and services that are contrary to their religious mission and moral teachings.

Many Catholic institutions, including charities, hospitals, universities and independent Catholic organizations have challenged the government’s contraception mandate as a violation of their religious liberties.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court did not take up those objections, which are being addressed in separate cases pending in lower courts. 

But the court did find that the government’s mandate violates a long-held American tradition that protects individuals from being forced to do things that violate their conscience.

The court noted that we have policies that protect people who do not want to perform abortions or to assist in suicides or participate in capital punishment.

But with the contraceptive mandate, the government is now saying that its programs and policies should take priority over religious convictions, no matter how deeply held.

And this is a dangerous development in our democracy.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed to recognize this in his opinion for the Supreme Court majority. He said that the government’s logic would require companies to pay for assisted suicides and third-trimester abortions in states where these practices are legal.

For now, the Supreme Court has rejected this logic as an intrusion on the fundamental religious liberty of small businesses such as Hobby Lobby.

But as we celebrate our nation’s founding this week, we need to pray for our neighbors and for our nation’s future.

On this Fourth of July, we need to thank God for the blessings of liberty. We need to commit ourselves to restoring and renewing American culture and civil society. We need to work for an America that respects the place of religion and protects the fundamental right of all men and women to seek the truth and to live according to their beliefs.

So let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to bring about a new birth of religious freedom in our land, so that we might live as one family and share the blessings of our freedom with others, working together to build a society of truth and justice.

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 www.facebook.com/archbishopgomez.