Sunday, February 28, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the week: “No one was created to be a slave or a beggar.” — Dom Helder Camara.

(Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults Masses: In these Masses, Cycle A readings are proclaimed and the Scrutinies are celebrated. The woman at the well discovers there is water to be had that comes from within and which will provide eternal life. Drinking from this water means we will never be thirsty.)

The Cycle C readings link us back to the Exodus story with Moses atop the mountain looking upon and remarking about a remarkable vision: “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.”

There, at the bush, Moses experiences God who calls and sends him to free his people whose cries for mercy and release from affliction have been heard.

God’s response brings freedom of spirit and wholeness of life. God attends to the inner life of his people and every person. It is surely why Jesus, in today’s Gospel, attends to fruitfulness and fertility.

The fig tree (which is a special biblical sign of Israel and her faith) sits in ground that has been fertilized and cared for and should become fruitful. But bareness results from Israel’s lack of acknowledgement of sinfulness and refusal to live faithfully.

This is no different for the Christian who is also called to acknowledgement of individual and corporate sinfulness and a true spirit of repentance. This is what Lent is all about: confessing our sinfulness.

We all get our Moses chance each day to stand before our burning bush — God — who remarkably gives light, life, power and grace to us.

We are given the chance to become resplendent and fruitful fig trees that produce much fruit, because the ground in which we have been planted is fertilized, loved, graced and tilled by our Father’s care.

Are we open? Are we willing? Will we respond? Do we desire?

Is life — God’s life — to be at the center of our own?

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112; email perry.leiker@gmail.com. Follow Father Perry on Twitter: @MrDeano76.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor

Quote of the Week: “Never pray in a room without windows.” — Julian of Norwich.

Images of transformation abound in the liturgy of the word today: spoken promises; dramatic covenants experienced in trances and deep, terrifying darkness; smoking pots and flaming torches; going up to the mountain to pray; changing appearances; appearances of dead people conversing with the living; being overcome by sleep then fully awake; visions of glory; entering clouds and shadows; a voice in the darkness.

These are familiar yet fantastic biblical experiences. They always mean something and accompany important events.

Today, much is revealed to Abraham and to Peter, John and James. Each experiences the divine. All come to know God and Jesus in a new way. These experiences changed each one in ways that they could never be the same.

Struck silent, they experienced awe! Faith began for the Israelite people through the covenantal experience of Abraham with God.

The passing between animals dead and split in two gave a very clear indication of what should and would happen to anyone who broke “The Covenant.”

The three disciples were dumbstruck by a transforming experience, the likes of which there was no comparison. They “heard the voice of God” speak in the cloud, in the darkness, telling them to “listen” to my Son, listen to HIM! “After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.”

How strange! How clear! How difficult to understand or explain — silence was the only response.

It is Lent. We are asked to reflect on the covenant of love that God has given to us by entering into our humanity by through the gift of his Son.

Has this covenant of love changed us? Do we comprehend how intimate and total is the love of God for his people — for us? Do we get it?

We, too, have been invited to the mountaintop. We, too, know of the transformation of Jesus through his death and resurrection. We, too, have been forever changed by the promise to share the same, to experience new and eternal life through a sharing in that same death and resurrection.

This is the basis of our faith in Jesus. This is the radical understanding that can only come about through faith. The gift of Lent calls us to the mountaintop to experience a deeper relationship with God and a deeper understanding of our faith.

The penances — the extra things we do or the things we give up — are meant to jar us out of our ordinary rhythms of life so we can look anew and see more the mystery of God in our life.

Are we willing to go into our own darkness? Can we listen and hear the voice of God in new ways, perhaps through others and their experiences of faith? Does God wish to give us more and give it perhaps in new ways? Are we willing to go there, be there, listen and see there?

Peter, John and James were gifted to share the mountaintop experience together. Though silent at first, they had an experience to share forever and one to understand more deeply through the awful days to come.

Perhaps we, the disciples of this day and this place, could share how we experience Jesus, how we hear his call, how we know his presence, how we are transformed.

Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112; email perry.leiker@gmail.com. Follow Father Perry on Twitter @MrDeano76.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the Week: “Our true life lies at a great depth within us” — Tagore.

The language of numbers in the Bible is a language of significances.

The number 40 was used to signify a very long time. For Jews to wander in the desert was one thing, but to wander for 40 years was quite another.

For Jesus to go out into the desert without food or water for three days would have been a real test, but for 40 days and nights it was clearly significant.

With great effort, 40 was a reachable number, but not for all.

For someone in the days of Jesus to live for 40 years was quite an accomplishment. It would probably be equivalent to living for 90 years today.

But add to that, Jesus was without food and water, and weak, alone, uncomforted and without support for 40 days — a long time!

It was at this precise moment that he was tempted. It was also at this precise moment that he needed to depend on grace, spirit, faith and trust to get him through it.

When things are easy and we believe, that is not so significant. When things are a mess, and we are pressured in every way, it is then that being faithful and believing means a lot. For this reason we, the church, go on this journey together.

We are not alone. We join all of our brothers and sisters in faith. We can count on over a billion people on this planet, having been marked by a cross of ashes on our forehead, to walk together as we do something different during these 40 days to let God in, to let him love us, call us, heal us, redirect us, renew us.

If I were forced to pick one expression that best summed up the spirit of Lent it would be: “Renew us, Lord!”

This is a time of grace and love. This is a time not of being alone in the desert. Quite the contrary, this is a time of allowing God to be so present — so totally present — that our lives will be made new through his love.

This is God’s time. This is a time of grace.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016

Seeking the face of God in the scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gómez
By Archbishop José H. Gómez

Prayer is seeking the face of God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”

This is what prayer is — the loving dialogue, the back and forth, the give and take of the child of God in conversation with the Father.

Last week I talked about how important it is for you to speak to God naturally and honestly, as your friend and father, talking from your heart to his heart.

This week I want to recommend one of the most ancient forms of Christian prayer — lectio divina, the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture as a dialogue with God.

If prayer is conversation, then we need to listen to God as much as we talk to him. “When you read the Bible, God speaks to you,” St. Augustine said. “When you pray you speak to God.”

Lectio divina turns our reading of the Scriptures into a private audience with the living God, who comes to us lovingly and speaks with us in the pages of the sacred texts.

There are different approaches to lectio divina. I follow a kind of classical method, which involves five “movements” — reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation and action.

You can use this approach with any biblical text. But I recommend that, for your daily practice of lectio divina, you pray united to the Church’s liturgy, using the Gospel reading for each day.

Reading the daily Gospel with prayer, our lives become a journey we are making with Jesus, a pilgrimage of the heart. Day in and day out, we are walking with him — listening to his teaching, learning from how he handles situations and deals with people.

To begin your lectio divina, you need to find a place that’s quiet, where you won’t be interrupted. Turn off all your “screens” — computer, cellphone, TV. Try to give 15 minutes to be alone with the Lord.

Begin by placing yourself in God’s presence. Realize that he is everywhere and that he loves you. Ask his Holy Spirit to open your heart. Ask our Blessed Mother to help you ponder the mysteries of Christ in your heart, as she did.

Then begin to slowly read the Gospel text for the day. Read it once and then again and then again.

As you read, look for details. What’s going on? Who are the characters? Linger over words or phrases that stand out to you. Pay special attention to what Jesus is saying and doing.

But remember, you are not reading a storybook. This is a meeting with the living God. Jesus lives in the sacred texts. God is speaking to you, personally.

So your reading will turn naturally to meditation. Here you ask God what is he trying to tell you in this passage of Scripture. Is there a promise here for you? A command? A caution? How does this text apply to your life situation right now?

Let the word of God challenge you. If you are having trouble understanding what you are reading, ask the Spirit for help.

Jesus told us: If we ask, we will receive and if we knock, closed doors will open. So ask God especially to help you understand scenes and teachings that don’t fit your assumptions, your  and expectations, your prejudices.

Prayer is what we say to God in response to the word he speaks to us. It may be a prayer of thanksgiving or praise. Your prayer may be a petition — asking God to give you strength to follow or some special grace or virtue.

Our lectio divina ends in contemplation. Here we try simple to be still and know God. In contemplation, we are children seeking to know the mind and will of the Father who loves us. Our minds quiet, we rest in the presence of his gaze. “I look at him and he looks at me.”

From our contemplation, lectio divina leads us to make resolutions and commitments for action.

True prayer leads us to a deeper sense of responsibility for the mission of Christ, the mission of the church. The prayer of every disciple in every moment is: “What shall I do, Lord?

The more we pray with the Gospels, the more we have “the mind of Christ” — his thoughts and feelings; seeing reality through his eyes. The more we pray, the more we feel Christ’s call to change the world — to shape society and history according to God’s loving plan.

Let’s pray for each other this week! And let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary to bring us a new desire to seek God’s face in the prayerful reading of the scriptures.

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, Twitter, and Instagram.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Looking Ahead

Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor
By Father Perry D. Leiker, pastor 

Quote of the Week: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, there will be true peace” — Sufi Wisdom.

The “call” to follow Jesus is a mysterious and holy thing.

Although we would probably discover many common things about the call, it is completely personal, intimate, and individual — the call comes to me, and I answer the call.

The call to vocation is another and more specific call of faith. It is in this calling that one chooses a specific way of life as a priest, deacon, or religious.

As a parish, it is important that we strongly support and encourage a “listening to the call” among members of our community. Vocations come from families and communities of faith.

The uniqueness and mystery of the call is shared in today’s scriptures.

Isaiah describes his calling in classic form. There is a theophany, or some kind of appearance of God, that is “earth shaking” and involves the “elements.”

He sees, not clearly, but something of God’s throne and cries out: “Woe is me, I am doomed!”

This — because human has encountered the divine — is too much to experience without death itself following; however, the experience cleanses and purifies Isaiah. Through it all, he somehow “hears” God calling him and he answers without hesitation: “Here I am, send me!”

In the Gospel, Peter has just experienced Jesus’ healing of his mother-in-law a few verses before. He, with his own eyes, has seen the power of Jesus and knows there is more to Jesus than meets the eye.

Then, at the shore of the lake after a night of fishing with no results, Peter and the others were washing their nets and Jesus tells him to go out a short distance from the shore and lower the nets yet again. Peter makes sure that Jesus knows that he, a fisherman, has been at it all night without success and that he, a fisherman, knows when to quit.

The catch, however, is astounding.

Why did Peter “listen” to Jesus? He had already seen a bit of Jesus’ power with his mother-in-law. There was something unique, power-full, grace filled, God-like about this Jesus.

Through it all, Peter experienced a grace-filled moment in his weak and doubting nature and uttered: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

But Jesus did not depart nor did he see anything less in Peter. It is here, in this moment, in weakness and doubt, that Peter experiences the “call.”

Jesus casts out fear. Jesus reaches into the vulnerable and unguarded soul of Peter. Jesus deepens his relationship with Peter.

It is here, too, that we can expect to hear God’s call again and again. It is probably here, too, that men and women of this parish, in this moment of time, in these circumstances, in doubt and fear, that some — perhaps many — will hear the “call” of Jesus Christ to follow as priests, deacons, and religious.

We encourage, support and pray for the call to be heeded!

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