Sunday, October 26, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker 

“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Is this hyperbole? How could a Jew (Jesus) make such a statement?

For a Jew, the law and the prophets sum up love for God and the hearing of God’s voice in one’s daily life. In Christian terms it might be expressed as: “The whole gospel depends on these two commandments.” Could we say that? We must!

The word of God in today’s scripture readings works together beautifully as usual. The first reading lays out before us what love of neighbor looks like.

“You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors ... you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.”

Love.

Act humanly.

Care for one another.

Do unto others what you would want done unto you.

Do no one harm.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Why? How does God love us?

No conditions.

No limits.

Loved us first.

Loves us always.

Loves for eternity.

Loves us when we don’t love him.

Loves the good and the bad, the bad and the good – equally.

Gives his sun and his Son, and the rain and his reign to all, no questions asked.

Just reflecting a tiny bit ought to lead us to this very simply yet very profound truth.

“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

“The whole gospel depends on these two commandments.”

Are we willing to hear this? Are we willing to open our hearts to this? Are we willing to live this?

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

Actions always have consequences.

So if you eat contaminated food, you get sick. It is just logical.

Jesus makes that point as well in today’s Gospel.

If you use a particular currency, you are subject to the laws and limitations that are a part of that currency. It seems reasonable to presume that since the Pharisee had a Roman coin he was probably using that currency.

Israel was an occupied territory of the Roman Empire. Using Roman currency had its benefits, and it was a strong currency. But it also had its limitations – taxes were imposed. So Jesus applied the logic to the question presented to him: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar?”

If you use Roman currency, you are obligated by your use to pay taxes: “Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” was Jesus’ reply. That’s just logical. That really wouldn’t, nor shouldn’t, be opposed to God’s law. It would appear that the question set to trap Jesus, in fact, trapped the Pharisee.

Jesus took it a step further and answered a question that was implied but was not asked. He said: repay “to God what is God’s.”

What does belong to God? Well ... everything! Are we giving all to God? Daily the Jews recited their Schema: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

Actions always have consequences. To be in relationship with Caesar involves giving him certain things. To be in relationship with God means giving all to him, since all comes from him and belongs to him and shall return to him.

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Heaven is for real and forever

Archbishop José H. Gomez
By Archbishop José H. Gomez 

God’s ways are not our ways, and his will is not always easy for us to understand.

We know that God has a plan of love for every life. But we also know that within his plan, people can find sickness and suffering that seems to have no reason, no justification.

These are some of my reflections as the sad drama of a young California woman has been unfolding this week on cable news and in the social media.

By now, many of you have heard of Brittany Maynard. She is 29 and suffering from brain cancer that cannot be treated. Doctors say it will claim her life within six months.

She and her husband moved to Oregon because it is one of five states in our nation that allow physicians to help patients commit suicide. She has announced that she plans to kill herself with an overdose of pain medication sometime in the next couple of weeks.

In her final days, Brittany is working with a national euthanasia group to advocate that the “right” and “choice” of physician-assisted suicide be granted to every American.  

Her story makes my heart heavy with sadness. And her public confession had led to an outpouring of prayers, commentary and debate.

I’ve read some beautiful testimonies and appeals from persons who are facing their own terminal illnesses with Christian faith and hope — and urging Brittany to seek beauty and meaning in her sufferings.

All of this reminds us — that we are born toward death. Our life is a journey that will come to an end some day. Every one of us knows this.

As Christians, we know that our God is a God of the living and he has shared in our sufferings. Jesus wept with human tears, and his heart was moved with compassion for the sick, the diseased and the dying. He has gone before us, entering into our pain and suffering, so that he can lead us through the valley of death into the land of the living. 

Death is real for us, but death is not the end.

But for our secular society, death still remains a closed door. The one horizon we can never see beyond.

Our science can discover the inner workings of the tiniest cells in our bodies and probe the depths of outer space. But what lies beyond this life — we will never find out for sure until it happens.

We get hints and glimpses along the way. From stories that caregivers tell about the last moments of their loved ones’ lives. From accounts of near-death experiences. From people who have been in comas for years and been awakened. 

A while back I read a book, “Heaven Is for Real” — they made it into a movie last year.

It’s the true story of a 4-year-old boy who almost died while in surgery. When the boy recovered he described how he saw Jesus and Mary in heaven and how he met family members he never knew about — a great-grandfather and an unborn sister who had died in a miscarriage.

We don’t really know what to make of all these kinds of stories.

But as Christians, we know that heaven is for real and forever. And the hope for heaven gives a new horizon to all our tomorrows here on earth. 

Our challenge as a church is to share this hope with our neighbors. It is another aspect of the new evangelization of our society, which is losing its sense of God and its sense of heaven.

The sufferings of others in our society must be a summons to us.

We need to accompany our brothers and sisters with love and compassion. Through our work to comfort them and ease their pain, we can help them to know — that God draws near to them in their sufferings.

Through our kindness and care, we can help those who suffer believe in heaven. We can show them — that when they breathe their last breath, God will be there, too. To take their hand tenderly and lead them along the last steps of their journey. Through the door, to the love that never ends.

So this week, let us pray for that young woman and for all those who are bearing heavy burdens of illness and pain.

In their time of trial and suffering, may they find tenderness and beauty in the care of their loved ones. May they know that to God their lives are precious and worth living even in their weakness and vulnerability. 

And in this month of the rosary, let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help all of us to live with new confidence — that in the hour of our death, all our sorrow will be turned to joy.

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, October 12, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

Perhaps, only once in a year, the familiar question might go something like this: “Are you going to the party on Friday night?”

The equally rare and stunning response follows: “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it! This is the social event of the year!”

What kind of event would qualify for that response? A presidential ball? The consecration or funeral of a pope? The grand opening of a world class opera house? The unveiling of a newly found Picasso? The last game of a World Series or the World Cup?

In today’s Gospel, it is the wedding of a king’s son. This is an event that, if invited to attend, one would never want to reject. Not only would it truly be the social event of the year, this would be a personal invitation from the king himself.

Or to put it in other words: cancel everything. Rearrange everything. Put everything on hold. Everything takes a back burner to this one!

To reject the event for whatever reason would also be to reject the king himself.

Unthinkable!

This is Jesus’ way of presenting, once again, the kingdom of God.

Here it is among you. It has arrived. It is now. It is forever. It is the single most important event, invitation, reality that you could ever and will ever know.

To reject the invitation of the kingdom is to reject God himself.

Unthinkable!

This is the third week in a row that the liturgy presents this reality to us. The kingdom of God is offered and there are those who will not receive it, who cannot recognize it, who reject the offer.

Jesus says: the offer will be taken away from you and given to someone else. These are startling words. This is truly unthinkable.

The only response that makes real sense is simply: “I wouldn’t miss it. This is the event of a lifetime. This is the event that brings eternal life. Thank you for the invitation. I accept! I accept!! I accept!”

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, October 5, 2014

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker
By Father Perry D. Leiker

God is in it for the long haul.

We estimate 3,700 years of “salvation history,” beginning with the time of Abraham to the present.

The Earth is estimated to be about 4.6 billion years old.

The Milky Way galaxy that contains the solar system was probably formed around 13.6 billion years ago.

The universe is calculated to be about 13.7 billion years old.

The beginning of civilization, dated from 160,000 to 130,000 years ago, was the beginning of the African/Oceanic Ice Age Civilization, as modern humans displaced the Neanderthals in Africa and oceanic areas.

Looking at these dates alone, one must conclude that God is in it for the long haul.

In today's readings, Isaiah speaks of a fertile vineyard producing wild grapes. God proclaims that he would “take away its hedge, give it to grazing, let it be trampled, make it a ruin, (neither let it be) pruned or hoed, (let it) be overgrown with thorns and briers, not send rain upon it.”

Israel and Judah are respectively referred to as the vineyard and the cherished plant. God would take from them the fruitfulness he had promised because they produced nothing as they lived for “bloodshed” and refused to seek “justice.”

In the Gospel, we hear another vineyard story in the parable of the vineyard and the evil tenants who leased the vineyard.

Instead of producing a yield of good grapes, they beat the servants and even killed the son, the heir of the owner of that vineyard. Even the Pharisees were able to answer Jesus’ question: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered correctly: “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

What they didn’t understand was that he was referring to them.

“Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

God does not destroy. God does not punish this act or that. God does not kill. God is in it for the long run. If indeed humans have existed on this planet for 160,000 years, God definitely has hung around with us, put up with a lot, loved us in spite of ourselves, and continues to grace us and gift us without conditions and without limits.

As always, the subjective variable is expressed in this question: “Are we open to and willing to produce good fruit?”

God is in it for the long run.

Are we?

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