Friday, October 30, 2009

Conversion is like a kitchen remodel

By Deacon John DeGano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Not so long ago, my wife, Cheryl, decided it was time to remodel the kitchen pantry. We had discussed it to death, but neither one of us in our hectic schedule had set a date for when it would begin.

We start tomorrow, she said. And you have until the Thursday after next to finish.

What? I asked, a bit incredulous. My mind raced through the calendar, hoping to see some miracle date when the planets would align and all would come together. I found none.

Why Thursday? I asked.

And, in that practical, matter-of-fact voice that can sometimes make one nuts, she said, “I’ve made arrangements for a maid service to come in and clean up after you. All the can goods, etc., need to be back in place before they arrive.”

I chuckled. Sounded logical to me, only we had never sat down and drawn up plans for what we wanted the new pantry to look like. I beamed up the internet and proceeded to educate myself on all things pantry.

It took a couple of days to finalize a tentative design, which changed and was tweaked as the work progressed until finally, a couple of days before the invasion, Cheryl looked at the progress I had made and cut me some slack.

“I’ll postpone the house cleaners,” she said. “I don’t want to put a lot of undue pressure on you…”

With an inner sigh, I nodded. We had about half of the job completed. Pretty good progress considering we had been working in the evenings and a couple of hours over the weekend.

At long last sanity ruled and thinking of our neighbors’ eardrums (and the police helicopter) when we fired up the circular saw in our backyard at 10 p.m., I had to agree with her prognosis and diagnosis.

In the light of day, it is better to do the job right and be happy with it than to rush and make mistakes.

I wistfully thought of how much I love Cheryl and felt solidarity for the family friends who are in the same kitchen remodeling mode. They’ve already been three or four weeks in can good and kitchen appliance disarray.

I thought I was getting off pretty easy. Only, the conversation did not end there. The next morning as we got in the car to go to work, the words every husband (and some wives) dreads came out of her mouth.

“Besides, I notice that the 1) carpet is getting old, 2) the kitchen flooring needs replacement – wood or tile? I can’t make up my mind, 3) the cabinets need something… Refacing? I don’t think I want to paint them. What do you think?”

I zoned out.

And then I thought… (conversion works a lot like home improvement projects).

You think you’ll replace a knob on a kitchen drawer and the next thing you know Jesus has you in diaconate formation!

Well, okay. Maybe that’s a stretch.

Conversion is a life-long project. It happens slowly, one project at a time (sort of like building the Winchester Mystery House). Never-ending.

But oh, what an adventure that relationship with God can be… The places you will go, the staircases you will climb! And if you are fortunate, the people you will meet and the lifelong friendships you will make.

Conversion only seems scary before you start. Once you begin by allowing God into your heart, you’ll soon come to realize, it is just a natural part of life.

A blessed life in Jesus Christ.

I hope your remodeling goes smoothly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Choosing a World of Global Solidarity

By Verne Schweiger
Director, Diocesan Office of Social Concerns

“Imagine,” the speaker asked those gathered, “a parent entering the family house. One of the children is sitting alone, crying inconsolably. Across the room another child is playing, apparently unconcerned. What does the concerned parent ask the suffering child?” After a moment, one listener responded, “What is wrong?” “Yes,” the speaker continued, “and then, what might the parent ask the other child?” Another answered, “What have you done?”

The speaker, Peter Kimeu of Catholic Relief Services- East Africa Region, then encouraged those gathered to imagine the parent as God and the children as members of His one human family. Some are crying. “Can we hear them?” he asked. Most people in Peter’s home country of Kenya exist on less than $2 a day, and 1.6 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The East African region has suffered many years of drought, as a consequence of which, nearly 30 million people are currently unable to grow or afford sufficient food for their daily needs. The crying voices of God’s children are heard from countries in Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas as well. The challenges suggested to those gathered were clear. What is wrong? What have we done? What can we do?

Peter Kimeu, along with Joe Hastings, the Education Organizer for CRS, West Coast Region, visited the Diocese earlier this month to promote global solidarity as part of the social mission of our parishes and our diocese. On October 7 Peter visited Aquinas High School. The next day he met with Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego and leaders from around the diocese. And on Oct. 10 Peter and Joe facilitated a discussion of the theme “Choosing a World of Global Solidarity: How Our Parishes Can make a Difference?” at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

One story told by Peter recounted a moment while with a CRS team distributing milk to a long line of desperately hungry people. A fellow relief worker had just given a cup of milk to a little boy who was with his mother. After drinking the milk, the boy began to cry. The man, looking down at the little boy and then back along the long line of people waiting for some milk, expressed some irritation, “What does the boy want?” he asked. “Now,” replied the boy’s mother, “my child has a little strength to cry as a normal child again.” Peter, after reflecting on the one baptism with which we are all baptized and through which we are all children in the one family of our one God, asked, “Must we leave them to be crushed out there?”

Such shared stories of human suffering from across the world are often sad, even horrific. They call out to our hearts for compassion. They plead with us for our prayerful understanding. And they have moved millions of Catholics to faithful action.

Peter’s question again: “What can we do?” We share our resources. Ninety three percent of all funds contributed to Catholic Relief Services go directly to programs of emergency relief, health and food security, human and community development, peacemaking. We make decisions as consumers, voters and advocates based upon the teachings of our Church – decisions that make a difference. Recently, when Catholics in the U.S. acted as faithful citizens in advocating that Congress fully fund relief programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), they were filling lives with hope in places like Kenya, our brother Peter’s home.

Global solidarity is about sharing resources, but it is also about sharing stories, building relationships, becoming co-responsible in advancing the good news of lives lived in justice and in peace. In this regard, Pope Benedict, in his recent encyclical Caritas in veritate, writes, “Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.”

For more information and to learn of opportunities to promote global solidarity, please call the Diocesan Office of Social Concerns, 909.475-5465, and please visit http://www.crs.org/.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Convocation, Year for Priests are food for the journey

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Exhausted in the desert and ready to expire the prophet Elijah was visited by an angel who gave him food and drink so that he could continue his journey to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:4-8).

Like Elijah we all need nourishment to continue on our sometimes difficult journeys. Priests are no different.

The annual priest convocation held recently provided such an opportunity for re-energizing and refocusing on our vocation and its meaning to us. Over the course of the four-day gathering we talked about the challenges we face in our varied ministries, our successes and failures and the stress that comes with the responsibility being the primary spiritual leader in the Church.

The convocation was more than a group therapy session, of course. There was much good will and light-heartedness in the air as we took advantage of the opportunity to get reacquainted with or perhaps introduced to priests ministering at opposite corners of our vast diocese. Through our shared experience and our bonding time we were able to celebrate the resiliency of the priesthood and look to our vision beyond daily challenges – the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

Despite this past year of recession and continued high growth, I found the spirit among our clergy to be at its highest point in years. In fact, an independent survey conducted in advance of the convocation found the spiritual health of our priests to be better than most.

We exalt our priests, and rightly so, but we should also not forget that they are human beings. They have the same need for fellowship, affirmation and human connection that we do. Some of our faithful are reluctant to see their priest in that light, maybe because of the priest’s position of authority, their personality or even their culture. While priest and parishioner do occupy different roles in the living of our faith, it is important to remember that we are on the same journey in faith. We are traveling together in Elijah’s footsteps toward the mountain of God.

The Holy Father gave us cause to reflect on this when he proclaimed in June this ministerial year as the Year For Priests. For clergy, the Year For Priests offers a chance for spiritual renewal in their personal relationships with God, with their brother priests and with their people.

For the people, it is a year to revisit and strengthen your relationship with the priest or priests in your parish. I ask you to get to know them, accompany them in their ministry, engage with them as people – and, of course, pray for them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Statement of Bishop Barnes on Asia-Pacific disasters

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I ask you to please join me in prayer for all of those affected by the natural disasters that have occurred recently in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. We ask God to bless and strengthen our brothers and sisters in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Samoa and Tonga as they endure the loss and continued threat of these disasters. We also extend, in a special way, our prayer and support to the Asian-Pacific Islander communities in our diocese who are more directly impacted by these events. Through our diocesan Mission Office, I am encouraging our parishes to take a second collection in the coming weeks so that we can also help bear the cost of relief and recovery efforts that are being coordinated by Catholic Relief Services.


In Christ,
Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Seeing through our blind spots

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director of Community Services

Last week, during a visit to my ophthalmologist, I had my annual visual field test. I have glaucoma and this is standard procedure. For this test, basically I put my head in a box with one eye covered, stare straight ahead and press a clicker each time I see a dot of light flash. They tested my right eye first, and, as usual I was able to see almost all of the lights. Then they tested the left eye, which has much more damage. I know that I didn’t see as many lights or see them as frequently.

I hate to admit that there are things I can’t see, things I don’t get. I hate it when I do poorly on tests. I am a product of a culture that rewards being right and punishes being wrong. Denial is usually my first response.

In other areas of my life, there are things I can do to be able to see better. The first step for me is to admit that I have limitations and that I don’t see everything.

In his exegesis of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Pope John Paul II identified the sin of the rich man as not having seen Lazarus when he lay at his gates. Sometimes I am too busy to see things. Sometimes I am too distracted. Sometimes I don’t want to see things because they are too painful or because if I see them, they will challenge my world view.

After I realize that I don’t see – after I have put aside my denial – then I begin to inventory the skills I have to see better.

I can examine my assumptions. For example, my parents raised me to assume that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for me. For the longest time, I assumed this as a hard and fast rule, and the fact that I often got really sick after eating fresh tomatoes or melons, well, that couldn’t be anything but random events. Finally, I discovered that I am actually allergic to those things.

I have other assumptions that I carry. When I hear an opinion about public policy, it is all too easy for me to just assume that it is either a lie or the truth. It is important for me to know that I have just made an assumption.

When I realize that I see things differently, I can ask clarifying questions. I can look for different perspectives than my own. I can engage in dialogue with people who express a different opinion. I can stop and review the situation. I can pray. I can be patient with myself (not easy.) I can let go of the goal of winning and chose the goal of understanding.

We live in a complex world where we all are, in fact, interconnected. What might produce a short term benefit for one group might damage another. How can the common good best be served?

Each day we hear different opinions about health care reform, immigration, the environment, war, poverty – and the list continues. Most of the time the idea of dialogue is not even considered and civility is abandoned. We see as much polarization among Catholics as we do in the House of Representatives. Our faith offers us values that go deeper than this and challenges us to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

What things do you have trouble seeing? Do you know what your assumptions are? What do you do when you find that you cannot see? How can your faith help you?