Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prayer in awe

By John Andrews
Director of the diocesan Department of Communications

I made a short trip to Washington D.C. this week to join a group of faith leaders in lobbying federal legislators to reform our immigration laws. Our aim was to show the power of the faith community, united in its call for reform.

But I experienced the power of faith in a different way on this trip, as well. Staying at the Theological College I was just across Michigan Avenue from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The credentials of this place, which I admit I was not fully aware of before I arrived, are incredible. It is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America. It has the largest collection of contemporary Christian art in the United States. It contains over 60 chapels and oratories. And there I was, staying right across the street. Talk about dumb luck.

My first morning in town I ventured over for Mass, held in the Crypt Church in the lower floor of the Shrine. On my way to the church, I wandered through the “Hall of Memories,” thousands of names etched on walls and columns, and gazed at statues of some of the patron saints of parishes in our diocese – Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Frances Xavier Cabrini.

The National Shrine is one of our pre-eminent Marian shrines. The different personifications of the Blessed Mother were beautiful and varied, from the somber Our Mother of Sorrows chapel to the ornate and vibrant Chapel of Our Lady of La Vang, the patroness of Vietnam.

Tuesday morning I decided to check out the main church. It was breathtaking and, initially, a bit intimidating. This is truly God’s “house,” a place for properly reverent prayer and reflection. As I walked through and looked at the Marian chapels, and at the huge face of Christ above the altar, I began to realize that I was in prayer. I knelt for formal prayer several times but the entire time in this building was to receive God and to commune with Him.

Not surprisingly, I lost track of time and nearly missed my plane. I don’t have to tell you that it would have been worth it for my time in this glorious house of God.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Loss Reminds Us of God's Gift of Life

By Marifer Cortes
Diocesan Office of Small Faith Communities

Since the death of my grandmother three years ago, my immediate family and I had not lived through the loss of a family member. It wasn’t until the beginning of June of this year that we experienced the tragic loss of another close member of our family, my father’s older sister. She was diagnosed with cancer and in three weeks time the Lord called her to be by his side.

The news of my aunt’s illness made me realize that life is too short and that I need to enjoy it as much as I can with the people that I love. It is truly amazing how we can let the small things lead us away from the true meaning of life. With the loss of my aunt, all of us in the family reflected on our lives and it created a bond between us that I had not felt in a very long time. Once again I realized how merciful God is and how in the midst of sadness and pain he can also give you blessings. I believe that losing a loved one is difficult for anyone and most often we drown ourselves in sadness and pain. But if we allow ourselves to open our hearts we can also see the blessings that are offered to us. Blessings that go beyond materialistic things, ones that fill our spiritual life and that give us reasons to keep living and become better human beings. Yes, the loss of my aunt was unexpected, but then again so were the blessings and it has reminded me of the importance of family and how we must always give love to those close to us.

I often wonder why we as human beings don’t realize all that we have until it’s gone.

Nuestras perdidas nos recuerdan el regalo de la Vida que Dios nos da

Por Marifer Cortes
Oficina de Pequeñas Comunidades de Fe

Desde la muerte de mi abuela hace tres años, mi familia inmediata no había vivido la perdida de un ser querido, no fue hasta principios de junio de este año, que vivimos la perdida de otro ser querido y de alguien muy cercana a mi familia; fue la muerte repentina de la hermana mayor de mi padre. Fue diagnosticada con cáncer y más o menos en tres semanas el Señor la había llamado con él.

Desde el diagnostico fue para mí, como una sacudida que la vida es corta y necesito gozarla, vivirla y compartirla con mis seres queridos. Es realmente impresionante como por pequeñeces nos podemos desviar y perderle sentido a la vida. La partida de mi tía nos sacudió a todos en mi familia, pero sin embargo la familia se unió más y constate una vez más que tan misericordioso es Dios y como rodeada de dolor y tristeza te llena de bendiciones. Creo que para nadie es fácil perder un ser querido y a menudo nos hundimos en nuestra tristeza y dolor pero si logramos abrir nuestro corazón hay muchas bendiciones que son para nosotros, bendiciones que van más allá de lo material, que llenan la vida espiritual y nos dan razones para seguir viviendo y ser mejores seres humanos. Sí, la partida de mi tía fue inesperada, pero así han sido las bendiciones, me ha recordado la importancia de la familia y vivir en cordialidad con los nuestros.

A menudo me pregunto, por que como seres humanos a veces no nos damos cuenta de lo mucho que tenemos hasta que lo vemos perdido.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Gift of the Priesthood

By Rev. Mark Lander
Pastor
Holy Innocents, Victorville

Over a decade ago, before I was ordained, I spent a summer walking in the footsteps of Jesus. I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, journeyed down to Egypt, enjoyed the Sea of Galilee from the shore and by boat, and made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I was in the seminary at the time and this was a splendid opportunity for both retreat and experience of study. Who is this Jesus in whose footsteps I am walking? Who is this Christ who has called me to follow in them?

The above questions have continued to guide me in my understanding of the priesthood and the gift that it is not only for myself but also for those with whom I come in contact. God became man, and people today long for a chance to encounter God, just as they did when he walked upon the earth. When our Lord ascended to heaven, he gave his apostles the very authority and power that he had in his ministry. This is an awesome gift to consider, one which demands not only gratitude but heartfelt humility.

And while I am thankful for the vocation and gift which I enjoy, I cannot let a sense of false humility blind me to the reality that the priesthood remains a gift to all of God’s People. When I bless a couple when they voice their vows of marriage, or I tell a child the words of the Father, “you are my beloved son” when I baptize him; when I bless a house placing it under God’s care when the owners fear other spiritual forces, or when I assure a despairing youth that she is indeed Forgiven; when I visit a dying grandmother in her home surrounded by her family, or anoint a young adult, confident of the Lord’s healing; when I preach God’s Justice tempered with Mercy, and when I say the words of our Savior, “This is my Body…This is the cup of my Blood,” then I am reminded that it is not I who act, but rather the Lord Jesus. I can think of no greater gift that God has given the world; he has given himself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Papal encyclical calls us to global awareness

By Verne Schweiger
Director of the Diocesan Office of Social Concerns


This week marked the publication of the first papal social encyclical of the 21st century; Pope Benedict XVI’s long awaited Caritas in Veritate. And I am moved to ask, with reverence and with all seriousness, “Why should this matter?”

I here offer two responses for consideration. First, this matters precisely because it is a letter from the Pope; and it is addressed to us. It is addressed to all of us, we who live and work, buy, invest, sell, debate, organize, vote, worship; and in doing so, we make decisions. Second, because those decisions matter. Decisions about family and career, business and finance, policy and law, decisions that affect the young, the old, the poor, the displaced, the environment matter. They matter to the life of each individual, and to the good of the life we share in common. Such decisions need to be based upon something other than the shifting sands of preference and opinion. The Holy Father writes to help us reflect upon developing our lives upon the solid foundation of “charity,” which he defines as “love received and given.” And love, he writes, can “be authentically lived” only in “truth.”

Perhaps a third response is also in order. Not only did Caritas in Veritate arrive as a letter to us this week. Along with it arrived a “teachable moment.” “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine,” writes the Holy Father in the Introduction, and this social doctrine “illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging.” In the midst of our current global economic crisis, we have received the gift of this illuminating reflection, in which, as one commentator summarized, “Benedict makes essential connections between charity and truth, between the protection of life and the pursuit of justice, between rich and poor, between business and ethics, between care for the earth and care for the “least of these.”
The entire encyclical is available at http://www.usccb.org/caritasinveritate/. I am also informed that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to equip diocesan, parish, and other ministry leaders with resources to help us explore and promote the message of the Holy Father. By next week an individual reflection guide, a small group study guide and other educational materials should be available at www.usccb.org/jphd/caritasinveritate/.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A visit from “the Queens”

By Bishop Gerald Barnes

As the Bishop of a large diocese I am confronted with many weighty matters that take a great deal of my strength (and God’s) to address. So it is the small and sometimes unexpected moments of grace that are so important and sustaining. Such a moment came this week when I was paid a visit by a group of five royally dressed young ladies, whose ages range from 8 to 19 years old, from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Mecca. Many of us know the story of Mecca, a very poor but extremely faithful community made up primarily of farm workers and immigrants. Some of us also know that more than two years ago the roof of the church collapsed and left the people to worship in a tent until last October when their new church was finally opened.

The parish is renovating the original church to serve as a parish center. In March they called on the young ladies, who were introduced to me as the “Queens of the Grape Harvest,” to help raise money for the project. The “Queens” presided over food sales, car washes, a raffle and other fundraisers. By the time they were finished, they had raised $72,000. That is more than many families in their community will earn in two or three years.

Much is written and said these days about the changes in our youth culture and the challenge of maintaining a living Catholic faith in our young people. As I looked at the “Queens” in their regal dresses and crowns and listened to them talk about why they put forth so much effort to help repair their church building, I couldn’t help but think that the Holy Spirit is at work in this generation, too. “The top of the church was all broken. I was helping it to be beautiful,” said one. Another was moved to tears as she spoke about receiving a blessing from her grandmother before she was selected as one of the queens.

At the end of their visit to the Diocesan Pastoral Center, I offered a blessing to the “Queens.” As I reflect on their story, I give thanks to God for blessing us with such faith-filled young people.