Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blessings to all in this season of hope

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Christmas, like every year, offers us the chance to once again look at our lives and to accept the blessing of hope which is so important to all of us. No matter what we are going through or what we have gone through, there is a deep hunger lingering in each of us for hope. Hope that things will be better; hope that things can be reconciled; hope that the future is welcoming towards us. I think everybody desires, deep down inside, something better and the best thing in life is the hope that God gives us and that is what we celebrate in this Christmas season – God’s true eternal promise of hope that he gives to us as a gift.

I sincerely believe that deep down in every human person there is a hunger to relate with that that is eternal, the creator, the someone, the something that is greater than us. At the Christmas season, we who are Christians believe that that presence became human in the person of Jesus the Christ.

I want to say to all of the people of the diocese, of San Bernardino and Riverside counties and to all who read this blog that I join you in the hope that you have for a better world; for a stronger and just country and for family relationships that can celebrate the true meaning of family. I join you in hope that our celebration of this Christmas might be a true blessing; that it might be renewal and strength for our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. I extend my prayers and my blessings to all.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Music is more than Just a Marketing Tool

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

The holiday music began early this year on the radio (way before Thanksgiving) and at first I was annoyed. My inner Grinch came through and in a John the Baptist like prophetic speech, I leapt to Advent’s defense. Still, I started to listen to the music on the radio and heard that the local station thought we needed the music a little earlier this year. The downturn, the loss of so many jobs and homes meant many of us would not have the kind of Christmas we had given our families and children and grandchildren in the recent past. My green Grinch-like heart experienced a little metanoia (conversion). I thought the station manager, even though I knew Christmas music brings in great ratings, was right. We as a people, even the faith community, need the hope and vision of Advent and Christmas this year in ways stronger than other years in recent history.

Music, even silly Christmas songs, hold memories, hopes and dreams for the kind of world God envisions. His plan for humanity is one of peace, harmony, fullness of life and completeness, a world where all children have enough to eat, a warm and safe place to live, the elderly are honored for their experience and wisdom and all families can provide for their basic needs including health care and education. The struggles of this past year are not God’s desire for us, they are signs of the humanity’s refusal to join in God’s plans. Unfortunately many of us have and will suffer the cost of the social and personal sins of individuals and institutions that created the current economic downturn. The truth is our choices do matter and hopefully this hard lesson will not be lost on us too soon. In 2010, a good resolution might be to keep up the changes we’ve made due to economic crisis.

In my household, at the writing of this article during the Second Week, there is an Advent wreath on display, a few of the early bird Christmas cards and a wonderful but empty Christmas Cookie Jar. No tree or lights yet. The holiday music is playing though, and the sounds of Broadway-like songs celebrating winter, spiritual carols announcing Christ’s birth and playful jingles about flirting with Santa or rocking around the tree bring a smile to my face on these seasonally appropriate cold mornings.

As I was listening to the various music on the radio, I noted that I have not yet heard this year the one Christmas song that I believe captures well God’s vision for the coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel/God-With-Us that Advent prepares and Christmas celebrates:

Grown-up Christmas List
Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies
Well I'm all grown-up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a childBut my heart still can dream
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need

[Chorus:]No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree
Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul


What is this illusion called
The innocence of youth
Maybe only in our blind belief
Can we ever find the truth


For Sharing and Reflection…

What is on your grown up Christmas list? How will you help bring it about in 2010?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

At the Crossroads: The Meaning of Simbang-Gabi

By Father Ben Alforque
St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Riverside

The Filipino community of our parish is once again sharing with us the faith-expression of their Advent and Christmas celebration, Philippine-style: the Simbang-Gabi. It is thus timely to explain what this Simbang-Gabi is all about, and the way it is celebrated.

Simbang-Gabi literally means “Evening Mass.” It is a nine-day novena in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of God. It prepares the people for the birth of Christ on Christmas day. This novena begins in December 16th, and in the Philippines, is celebrated at 4 AM (Misa de Gallo=Mass when the cock crows), and culminates with a Misa de Aguinaldo (Mass of the Gift) at midnight of the 24th of December. Jesus Christ our Savior is God’s Gift to humanity and to all of creation through Mary!

Because we are celebrating the Motherhood of Mary in view of the Birth of Christ, ergo, our celebration is festive, full of Christmas decors and songs, where the Gloria is sung and the liturgical color of the vestments and of the altar is white.

(On the other hand, the Advent season is our celebration of our expectation of the Lord’s Second Coming in glory. It is penitential in tone. Therefore, the color is purple - except for the Third Sunday of Advent whose theme is joy, where the color rose may be used - and the Gloria is not sung.)

In the Philippines, the streets are lighted up with lanterns (the parol), signifying the star that led the wise men to Jesus. In the villages, streets, homes and chapels are decorated with fresh fruits, like bananas, and passersby may just freely pick them for food. The people are roused from sleep by the tolling of the church bells at 2:00 am, and a band may roam around the village streets to proclaim a new day of joy. Churches and chapels overflow with people, as whole families attend the Simbang-Gabi. The festive mood goes back to the homes after the mass, as people partake of their breakfast delicacies.

Historically, Simbang-Gabi dates back to 1587, when a Fray Diego de Soria asked the Pope for permission to hold Yuletide masses outdoors, because the church could not accommodate the multitude attending the dawn masses. Why dawn masses? So that the fisherfolks coming from the seas, and the farmers leaving for their farms would have a common time to celebrate the Eucharist and the novena together, at daybreak! When Pope Sixtus V decreed through a papal bull that these dawn masses be held annually in the Philippines, the Simbang-Gabi tradition was born. Here, Bishop Barnes has allowed Filipino communities to share this faith-experience to all. Maligayang Pasko!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guadalupe: Magnetismo sin fin

Por Petra Alexander
Directora, Ofecina de Asuntos Hispanos

Muchas personas me han preguntado si en esta diócesis tenemos una Misa con algún programa para reunir a todas las parroquias el 12 de Diciembre, y les respondo que es imposible, porque Guadalupe es una celebración expandida en todas las parroquias donde hay hispanos. Esta manera de celebrar es el fruto de una larga jornada de trabajo pastoral que comenzó con los primeros catequistas y agentes pastorales. La mayoría de ellos fue gente trabajadora que pedió a la Iglesia de USA un lugar para el icono mas representativo de su raza y un reconocimiento para su modo de vivir la fe.
He escuchado sabrosas historias de viejos, como Heriberto Rojas de Victorville, Josefina Olivas de Corona, Rita Izquierdo de Indio… quienes relatan cómo reunían a los hispanos en los campos de siembra, en los lugares de trabajo, en los parques, para darse ánimo en la determinación de pedir la celebración de La Morenita. Poco a poco la imagen de la virgen desde un jardín hacia un pasillo, después un salón, hasta que entro al tempo, tuvo un altar para congregar a sus hijos.

Actualmente, las comunidades están organizadas: Grupos Guadalupanos, grupos parroquiales de música y danza, escenificaciones teatrales, poesías, comida, decoraciones. Todos los elementos de las artes populares se dan cita en las comunidades que componen nuestra Diócesis. Incluso en los lugares más inesperados como en la prisión de mujeres, nos encontramos con la sorpresa de encontrar rosas de papel y la imagen dibujada en una sabana por las prisioneras. En la Base Militar de Yuca Valley, se permitió la entrada de danzantes y mariachis. El 12 de Diciembre se pueden escuchar pirecuas en tarasco en Meca, sones mayas en Riverside, se pueden ver bailes veracruzanos en Rubidux, sones de Jalisco en Fontana, danzantes concheros en Hesperia, Ontario, Chino, carros alegóricos en Redlands, peregrinaciones inter-parroquiales como el camino de San Juan Diego en Riverside y la mas grande de todas: Caminata Guadalupana desde Palms Spring hasta Coachella, solo por mencionar algunos. Hay en esta Diócesis un verdadero patronazgo de Nuestra Sra de Guadalupe, hecho fe, cultura y esperanza.

La comunidad inmigrante de San Bernardino experimenta de diversas maneras que Guadalupe es compañera de camino, es una presencia protectora que está donde están sus hijos. Te invito a que compartas en este Blog las experiencias celebrativas de tu comunidad local.

Guadalupe: Endless Magnetism

By Petra Alexander
Director, Office of Hispanic Affairs

Many people have asked me if in this diocese we have a Mass with some sort of program to gather all the parishes on December 12. I answer them that this is impossible because Guadalupe is a celebration throughout all the parishes that Hispanics attend. This way of celebrating is more the fruit of a long journey of pastoral work that began with the first catechists and pastoral agents. Most of them were working class people who asked the American Church for a place for the most representative icon of their race and an acknowledgement of their way to live faith.

I have heard delicious stories from old folks, like Heriberto Rojas from Victorville, Josefina Olivas from Corona and Rita Izquierdo from Indio, where they tell that they gathered the Hispanics in the sowing fields, in working places and in parks to encourage them to ask for a celebration for their dark-skinned virgin. Little by little the image of the virgin travelled from the garden to a corridor, and then to a room until it entered the temple and then it had an altar to gather her sons and daughters.

At present, communities are organized in Guadalupan groups, parish groups of music and dance, stage plays, poetry, food and decorations. All the elements of the popular arts come together in the communities that make up our diocese. Even in unexpected places like the Women’s prison, we are surprised to find paper roses and her image painted over a bed sheet by the inmates. At the military base of Twentynine Palms they allowed the entrance of folk dancers and the mariachi. On December 12 you can hear Pirecuas in Tarascan at Mecca, Mayan sones in Riverside, Veracruzan dances in Rubidoux, sones from Jalisco in Fontana, Aztec dancers in Hesperia, Ontario and Chino, parade floats in Redlands, inter-parish pilgrimages like the San Juan Diego Road in Riverside, and the largest of all, the Guadalupan Walk from Palm Springs to Coachella, just to mention a few. In this diocese there is a real patronage for Our Lady of Guadalupe built from faith, culture and hope.

The immigrant community of San Bernardino demonstrates in several ways that Guadalupe is their road companion. It is a protecting presence where her sons and daughters are. I invite you to share in this blog the celebrating experiences of your local community.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On faith and grace and dying

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Department of Community Services
This story is sad and sweet, and I am compelled to write it. It is about faith and grace and dying. It is a story of the journey of one woman, whom I will call Ann.

Ann was a good friend of my step mom Ruth and my dad. They met some 14 or so years ago, after Ann moved to Hemet and got sober. At the age of 61, Ann, who had been a practicing alcoholic for her adult life, somehow decided that she was tired of being drunk. With $20 in her purse and a small suitcase, she left her husband, also a drunk, got on a bus and got as far away from home as she could. That was Beaumont. She got off the bus and walked into a police station and asked for help. With their assistance, she wound up in a residential rehab for women in Hemet. She remained clean and sober for the rest of her life. She lived by herself. She helped out with the homeless shelter and the recovery home from time to time.

My dad has not been doing well this year. He had a stroke in December 2008 and requires assistance with daily living. He is clear and lucid and remains a person of strong faith. Because of the time Ruth has spent taking care of him, she had not been in as close contact with Ann as usual.

Recently Dad had to go to the hospital as a day patient. While there, Ruth discovered that her friend Ann was also a patient. Ann had gone to the hospital in an ambulance in the middle of the night. When Ruth found her, she was very close to death from advanced cancer.

Ruth happened to be there when Fr. Joseph Deniger came into her room. Ann had been away from the Church for decades. Father asked her if she would like to receive, Ann said she couldn’t. They reminded her that none of us are worthy. She did receive communion and she was anointed. That was on a Thursday.

Ann was released from the hospital on hospice, but she had no where to go, so Ruth and my dad took her into their home. When she arrived at their home she was still conscious and could talk, but she was actively dying. By the next day she was comatose. She died November 16 at 9:04 a.m.

Our days are full of events that might seem to be coincidences or random chances. Yet these are often the grace of God breaking into our lives, giving us unique opportunities for service or even conversion. Let us give thanks for the “random” acts of grace that impact our lives and our deaths, that bring us closer to each other and thereby, closer to God.