Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Eucharist: Comfort Food Prepared Fresh Every Day

By Deacon John De Gano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

I can not watch the movie Moonstruck without thinking about the end of an age. An age where old Italian men stood around their folding tables lining their narrow street, their boom boxes serenading the neighborhood with the lilting tones of Mario or Frank, while their womenfolk, leaning precariously out of upstairs windows, shouted to one another in Italian.

The vanishing neighborhood. Where everybody knew everybody else’s business and kept mutual tabs on the children so they did not get in trouble on their watch.

Sign of the times, some people say.

It has been 25 years since Cheryl and I paid our first visit to that little neighborhood in Boston’s North End. Gentrification has since eroded the closeness that we had initially felt with the people. The brownstone flats have been gutted and turned into pricy lofts. The men and card tables replaced by status Beemers and Benz’s parked along the now empty streets. And occasional Ipod-connected joggers are followed suspiciously by mute, vacant windows.

And yet, while much has changed, a ray of light and hope remains. Much like a flower that grows up between the cracks in a sidewalk, the little Italian bakery stubbornly remains on the same corner of the block and continues to provide the essential Italian comfort food of childhood: the cannoli.

A decadent tube of fried dough, filled with rich and creamy ricotta cheese, fruit or possibly chocolate, and sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar – a magical combination, sure to bring a smile to the sourest of faces.

Comfort food. The kind of thing Mamma used to make… It exists in every culture. PB&J. Pasta noodles. Or simply a warm, buttered tortilla.

A food that braces us for the cold, cruel world.

As Catholics, the Eucharist is our comfort food. Our soul food.

No where but in the Eucharist do we encounter God/Jesus in such a profound way and no where but in the church can we feed the gnawing hunger that longs for love, dignity and respect.

When we are distressed we can come before the Eucharist in adoration or communion and have our spirits and our bellies fed.

That is why Mother Church invites us to the table every day. To equip us for the task God sets before us and to remind us that despite inevitable changes in life’s circumstances, there is really no place like home.

Home: Where everyone becomes a member of our family at baptism; given responsibilities and specific chores to perform in order to build up the family unit; and encouraged to share our giftedness in order to welcome the stranger at our door.

As Roman Catholics we are called to stand out like beacons in the darkness. Like enticing bakeries in neighborhoods of blandness. To practice being neighbor to one another.

If you know someone in need of a good spiritual meal, invite them to join our family and our table. We can always set another plate. And add another cup of water to the soup.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Medical Procedure is a Lesson in Faith and Trust

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities Office

Recently I underwent a medical procedure at the local Kaiser hospital. I am coming to accept that part of the experience of entering middle age is that some medical tests and examinations are now mandated. The worst part of the experience, aside from the fasting and the gallon of artificially lemon flavored liquid I had to drink the day before, was all the waiting. Once in the prep area and after finally being wheeled into the room where the procedure was done, things went pretty quickly and smoothly. It seemed the doctor had just started when a moment later I heard the nurse saying “Wake up Mr. Valenzuela, you’re done.”

During my mother’s last decade of life, I spent a lot of time at that same Kaiser facility and several others too, waiting for her, speaking with doctors, nurses, clerks, techs and other assorted medical personnel. Those conversations, of course, were conducted not as a patient but as the support or advocate for a patient. It was not my body being poked or prodded. I was not the one undressing and putting on the one-size does not fit all hospital gown. As I laid on the gurney waiting to be wheeled into to the procedure room, I found myself praying, talking to God and to Mom, seeking peaceful surrender and apologizing to her for not fully appreciating what she had gone through during all those appointments, ER visits and hospital stays. Now I knew better. I had never really understood the profound sense of vulnerability one feels in such situations. I had done the prep, signed the consent form and now I was in other peoples’ hands. I had literally turned over my body to the care of a group of strangers and trusted that they would take proper care of me while I was under anesthesia. I now wonder if this profound sense of vulnerability was part of the intensity so many of us felt regarding the health care bill debate and still feel when dealing with our current health care system.

Turning over the care of one’s physical life to another is quite an experience. I could not help but reflect on this act of turning over. One of the most important acts of Christian faith is that we turn over our lives to the care of God who reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ. We say we trust God, have faith and ultimately depend on God as his children and as disciples of his Son. Carrie Underwood’s kitschy popular song “Jesus Take Wheel” says it well, “Jesus take the wheel, take it from my hands. I can’t do this all my self.”

As Catholics we believe this act of turning over first happens at our baptism which may have happened when, at least on a conscious level, God was still a stranger to us. Over the past few weeks since the procedure, I have wondered how persons without an explicit religious faith could handle this very real turning over. I had a sense of peace that ultimately I was in God’s hands, though I must admit the reassuring words and professional manner of the doctor and others during the procedure, along with the anesthesia, sure helped!

As Catholics, we know baptism sets our fundamental orientation toward God. Yet our experience of faith also tells that turning over our lives to God is a daily task. Each morning we awaken and are given a new opportunity to say yes to the God. This is this God who promises to be with us always; who know formed us in our mothers’ wombs, who calls by name and who accompanies with us in and through our daily journey.

For Sharing and Reflection:
Describe a time you had to turn over something (one) important to you to another’s care. How easy or hard was this for you?

How much of your life have you turned over to God? What is still in your control? What are you feeling called to turn over.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

La ley de Arizona acelera la campaña por una reforma

Por Obispo Auxiliar Rutilio del Riego
Diócesis de San Bernardino

“La hora más oscura es justo antes del alba.”

Como católicos reconocemos este dicho popular en los relatos de la muerte y resurrección de nuestro Señor en el Evangelio, cuando el extremo sufrimiento en la cruz fue seguido por su gloriosa resurrección y su don de salvación.

Tal vez estemos viendo esta historia de nuevo con la aprobación de una nueva ley de inmigración en el estado de Arizona. Fue aprobada en nombre de la seguridad pública pero esta ley ciertamente hace que nuestros hermanos y hermanas inmigrantes sientan que se les está empujando más hacia la oscuridad. De hecho, sus posibles impactos van mucho más allá. Cualquier persona que “parezca” extranjero y/o indocumentado puede ahora ser sospechoso de un delito penal, a los ojos de esta nueva ley.

Primero, esta ley es discriminatoria y, en algunos casos, podría estar arraigada en el pecado del racismo. Segundo, la noción de que mejorará la seguridad del público en Arizona está muy lejos de ser cierta. La policía se atiene a la confianza y colaboración de las comunidades que protege y sería acertado asumir que esta nueva ley, con su inevitable enfoque en los hispanos, comprometerá estas importantes relaciones. Además, el que los partidarios de esta ley pongan en ecuación a los inmigrantes indocumentados con la actividad delictiva y el tráfico de drogas es un disimulo y no un hecho prevaleciente. Una vasta mayoría de los inmigrantes en Arizona y en todas partes son personas trabajadoras y observantes de la ley. Son seres humanos que comparten nuestras mismas aspiraciones y valores.

Tristemente, las vidas de nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Arizona serán innecesariamente más difíciles. Mantener unidas a las familias inmigrantes será un desafío adicional. El temor que invade a la comunidad hispana crecerá.

Puede ser difícil ver la mano de Dios en momentos como estos. Hemos albergado muchas esperanzas por un cambio en el quebrantado sistema de inmigración de nuestra nación este pasado año y medio. Hemos alzado nuestras voces pidiendo una reforma; hemos organizado marchas; nos hemos reunido con legisladores para expresar nuestro punto de vista. ¿Y ahora esto?

Existen ya pruebas de que la ley de Arizona tal vez resulte providencial para la causa del inmigrante. La urgencia a nivel federal por una amplia reforma a la ley de inmigración-que nosotros tratamos de fomentar-es mayor ahora. Hay un fuerte indicio de que el Presiente Barack Obama y algunos legisladores están tomando esto como “un llamado de alerta” para promulgar una reforma antes que se aprueben leyes similares en otros estados. No hemos visto este nivel de ímpetu desde que el Presidente George W. Bush guió los esfuerzos para aprobar una reforma en el 2007.

El movimiento por la reforma migratoria –siempre compuesto por diferentes intereses incluyendo iglesias, grupos comunitarios, laborales y otros – ha sido también unificado por esta terrible ley. Nosotros, también, sentimos una mayor urgencia de pronunciarnos a favor de la inmigración y abogar por un cambio lo antes posible. Nuestra solidaridad es más fuerte que nunca y nuestra esperanza por un cambio sigue viva.

Ahora más que nunca somos llamados a entender las dificultades que enfrentan los inmigrantes. Nuestras comunidades católicas en la diócesis están mostrando esto en su apoyo a una amplia reforma que mantenga unidas a las familias, asegure nuestras fronteras, incluya un programa para trabajadores temporales y proporcione un camino a la residencia legal para los indocumentados en los Estados Unidos. Recientemente recolectamos y enviamos más de 50,000 tarjetas postales procedentes de nuestras iglesias pidiéndoles a los representantes en el Congreso y a nuestras senadoras que aprueben esta reforma.

Así que, en la oscuridad de esta nueva ley en Arizona, continuemos buscando la luz de la justicia de Cristo para los inmigrantes y para todos.
Que Dios les bendiga.

Arizona law accelerates drive for reform

By Auxilary Bishop Rutilio del Riego
Diocese of San Bernardino

“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

As Catholics we recognize this popular saying in the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s death and resurrection, when His extreme suffering on the cross was followed by His glorious rising and His gift of salvation.

Perhaps we are seeing this story again with the passage of a new immigration enforcement law in the state of Arizona. It was passed in the name of public safety but this law surely makes our immigrant brothers and sisters feel that they are being cast further into darkness. In fact, its potential impacts are much wider. Anyone who “looks” foreign and/or undocumented can now be suspected of a criminal offense, in the eyes of this new law.

First, this law is discriminatory and, in some cases, may be rooted in the sin of racism. Second, the notion that it will improve the safety of the public in Arizona is far from certain. Police rely on trust and cooperation with the communities they protect and it is fair to assume that this new law, with its inevitable focus on Hispanics, will compromise these important relationships. Further, the equating of undocumented immigrants with criminal activity and the drug trade by supporters of this law is disingenuous and not a prevailing fact. A vast majority of immigrants in Arizona and everywhere else are hardworking, law abiding people. They are human beings who share the same aspirations and values that we do.

Sadly, the lives of our brothers and sisters in Arizona will unnecessarily become more difficult. Keeping immigrant families together will be further challenged. The fear that pervades the Hispanic community will grow.

It can be difficult to see God’s hand at work in moments like these. We have been so hopeful for change in our nation’s broken immigration system over the past year-and-a-half. We have raised our voices for reform; we have marched; we have met with lawmakers to explain ourselves. And now this?

There is already evidence that the Arizona law may prove providential to the cause of the immigrant. The urgency at the federal level for comprehensive immigration reform – which we tried to foster – is now greater. There is strong indication that President Barack Obama and some legislators are taking this as a “wake up call” to enact reform before similar laws are passed in other states. We have not seen this level of momentum since President George W. Bush led efforts to pass reform in 2007.

The movement for immigration reform – always made up of different interests including churches, community groups, labor and others – has also been bonded closer together by this terrible law. We, too, feel greater urgency to stand up for the immigrant and to advocate for change sooner rather than later. Our solidarity is stronger than ever and our hope for change remains.

Now more than ever we are called to be open to the plight of the immigrant. Our Catholic communities in the diocese are showing this in their support for comprehensive reform that keeps families together, secures our borders, includes a program for temporary workers and provides a path to legal residency for those undocumented in the United States. We recently collected and sent over 50,000 postcards from our churches asking Congressional representatives and our U.S. senators to pass this reform.

So out of the darkness of this new law in Arizona let us continue to seek the light of Christ’s justice for immigrants and for all.

May God bless you.