Thursday, December 23, 2010

Keep the peace of Christmas all year long

By Bishop Gerald R. Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

“Peace on earth”

Many greeting cards and signs of the Christmas season offer us this phrase, reflecting the abundance of goodwill and joy that are present at this time of year. We feel peace in our hearts and we hope that our brothers and sisters all over the globe have the same feeling. For our Church this is rooted in the tremendous joy felt when God gifted us with the earthly presence of His son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I share this joy with you and I offer you my prayers and blessings for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I also appeal to you that our prayers and wishes for peace extend beyond the Christmas season. Our world surely needs it on a year-round basis. As I write, there is an absence of peace in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, in Korea and in the drug violence that continues to plague our neighbor, Mexico. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and in the Holy Land are threatened by violence like never before. Please join me in asking God to protect and heal the victims of these conflicts and to change the hearts of those who would make war and violence. And also let us pray for the safety of our men and women in the armed forces.

Many are wishing for peace closer to home. Sometimes there is discord in our homes and families, in our relationships and within ourselves. In this way we can be in solidarity with the many in the world who seek their own kind of peace. Our God hears these cries and ignores not a one. 

It has been noted often – and indeed taught to us by our Lord – that meaningful peace can only be achieved when it occurs first and foremost in our own hearts. The kind of conversion that makes the beautiful phrase “peace on earth” more of a reality happens one heart at a time.

So with 2011 fast approaching how do we keep the peaceful feeling of Christmas with us throughout the year? When we seek to encounter Jesus in our daily lives through prayer, the Eucharist and fellowship with our bothers and sisters in faith; when we seek justice for the poor and vulnerable among us through participation in the civic process; and when we show our gratitude for the many gifts God gives us by sharing our abundance with those in great need.

It is well known that the birth of our Savior did not occur in the most peaceful circumstances. The Holy Family traveled a dangerous road and met with rejection on their way to the stable where the Lord was born. Perhaps God was showing us yet again that from the midst of turmoil and unrest the Light of the World shines. As we pray (and work) for peace this year, let us carry this hopeful message in our hearts.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)

Conserven la paz de la Navidad durante todo el año
Por Obispo Gerald R. Barnes
Diócesis de San Bernardino

“Paz en la tierra”

Muchas tarjetas de Navidad y rótulos de la época navideña nos ofrecen esta frase, reflejando la abundancia de buena voluntad y alegría que se viven en este tiempo del año.  Sentimos paz en nuestros corazones y esperamos que nuestros hermanos y hermanas en todo el mundo sientan lo mismo.  Para nuestra Iglesia esto tiene sus raíces en la inmensa alegría que se sintió cuando Dios nos dio el regalo de la presencia terrenal de su Hijo, nuestro Señor Jesucristo.  Comparto con ustedes esta alegría y les ofrezco mis bendiciones y oraciones por una Feliz navidad y un próspero Año Nuevo. 

Les pido también que nuestras oraciones y deseos de paz se extiendan más allá de la temporada navideña.  Ciertamente, nuestro mundo necesita de esto todo el año.  Mientras escribo estas líneas, hay una falta de paz en el Medio Oriente, en Afganistán, en Sudán, en Corea y en la violencia relacionada con las drogas que azota a nuestro país vecino, México.  Nuestros hermanos y hermanas cristianos en Irak y en Tierra Santa se ven amenazados por la violencia como nunca antes.  Por favor únanse a mí en oración para pedir a Dios que proteja y sane a las víctimas de estos conflictos y que cambie los corazones de quienes practican guerra y violencia.  Oremos también por la seguridad de nuestros hombres y mujeres en las fuerzas armadas. 

Muchos desean la paz más cerca.  A veces hay discordia en nuestros hogares y familias, en nuestras relaciones y dentro de nosotros mismos.  De esta manera podemos estar en solidaridad con los muchos en el mundo que buscan su propio tipo de paz.  Nuestro Dios escucha estos clamores y no ignora alguno. 

Se ha notado a menudo – y de hecho nuestro Señor nos lo enseñó – que la paz significante sólo se puede lograr cuando ésta ocurre antes que nada en nuestros propios corazones.  El tipo de conversión que hace de la hermosa frase “paz en la tierra” una mayor realidad ocurre en un corazón a la vez.   

Así que, con la rápida proximidad del 2011 ¿cómo conservamos ese sentimiento de paz  que trae la Navidad con nosotros durante todo el año?  Cuando tratamos de encontrar a Jesús en nuestras vidas cotidianas por medio de la oración, la Eucaristía y el compartir con nuestros hermanos y hermanas en la fe; cuando procuramos la justicia para los pobres y vulnerables entre nosotros mediante nuestra participación en el proceso cívico; y cuando mostramos nuestra gratitud por los dones que Dios nos ha dado compartiendo nuestra abundancia con los más necesitados. 

Es muy sabido que el nacimiento de nuestro Salvador no ocurrió en las circunstancias más tranquilas.  La Sagrada Familia recorrió un camino peligroso y sufrió rechazo en su camino al pesebre donde nació el Señor.  Tal vez de esta manera Dios nos mostraba una vez más que en la agitación y la zozobra brilla la Luz del Mundo.  Al orar (y luchar) por la paz este año, llevemos este mensaje de esperanza en nuestros corazones. 

“Que la paz de Cristo reine en sus corazones; a ella los ha llamado Dios para formar un solo cuerpo.  Y sean agradecidos”.  (Colosenses 3:15)

Monday, December 20, 2010

What We Catholics Can All Agree About Immigration

By Rick Howick
Principal, St. Catherine of Alexandria School, Riverside

A couple of years ago, a Christian family in Iraq asked to place their child in our school under what’s called the I-20 program.  They were desperate.  The situation for Christians was deteriorating and they feared for his long-term safety.  We met telephonically, and agreed to help them get their child to the sanctuary of our school, only to hit a terminal snag in the immigration process.  I often think of that family as news of worsening conditions for Christians filter out of Iraq and I pray they find safety and peace.

At the same time, it widens for me the immigration debate we face in California.  Immigration is a wonderful example of how politics and religion make a messy mixture – but mix it we must. Most of our attention is turned toward economic immigrants, especially those who have not followed the rules.  Hearing of the plight of this Iraqi family, our heart strings are plucked – but seeing the hordes of economic refugees begging for work outside of the Home Depot I pass every day, something else is often triggered.  So many with no work, no money, no food, desperate to integrate into their new home can be overwhelming.  The call for solutions often morphs into strident shrieks from the political right or left, none of which furthers dialog on what would truly help.

It is hard for the Church to declare any specific bill the morally right solution.  Those who support the Dream Act, for example, point out its help for children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here before any age of consent.  Detractors talk of how “loopholes” cover so many others, or its passage encouraging others to risk coming illegally in the future.  The politics of it as a practical solution is genuinely debatable.  The solution, sadly, will likely be found in compromises and half-measures that politicians strike with political expediency, most of which is unsavory to those of us approaching immigration through the lens of faith – what would I do if Jesus were here?

On this, the Church should be clear.  We are called to help those we find in our midst, as Lazarus was at the door of the rich man.  We are called to welcome the immigrant, to feed the hungry, and to help the poor.  The Final Exam question was given to us in advance (take a look again at the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25; the only questions asked can be summarized as, “when I was in need, what did you do to help me?”).  Our call to help those we find in our community is clear.  Our response to those who are sick, homeless, hungry or strangers should bring hope to our neighbors, and reveals clearly to our maker how completely our hearts have been turned toward him. 

Our broken system was made real to me in the call I received informing me that the Iraqi family could not come.  Yet so many others are here right now who face the real dangers of hunger, poverty and homelessness without real help.  The politicians who genuinely care about immigrants may choose from multiple approaches to help in the future, and Christians of good will can and should debate how best to proceed in fixing the long term problem.  However, Jesus is in our midst and stands in front of home depot.  How will we Christians care for his needs?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At the Crossroads: The Meaning of Simbang-Gabi

By Father Ben Alforque, M.S.C., V.F.
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, 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 remind ourselves of the meaning of Simbang-Gabi, and how 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 birthday of Christ on Christmas day.  This novena begins in December 16th, and in the Philippines, is celebrated at 4:00 in the morning (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:  Jesus is the only true Light of salvation for all of creation.  In the villages, streets, homes and chapels are decorated with fresh fruits, like bananas, and passersby may just freely pick them for food: all of creation participate in the abundant generosity and joyful hospitality of God.  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:  the Kingdom of God is at hand, and Mary, the Dawn of Salvation, has ushered it in.  Churches and chapels overflow with people, as whole families attend the Simbang-Gabi: a new community is gathered around the Eucharist, an eschatological family-community centered on Jesus, Savior and Lord.    The festive mood goes back to the homes after the mass, as people partake of their breakfast delicacies with families, neighbors and friends until sunrise of the new day:  for liturgy is a celebration of life, and a new way of living celebrated in festive meal points to the glorious meal in heaven.

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. Filipino Catholics would always bring this ingrained devotion and cultural faith-expression as one defining mark of their Catholic identity wherever they go, even if their sociological conditions and lifestyles have changed.  Here, in the Diocese of San Bernardino, Bishop Gerald Barnes has allowed Filipino communities to share this faith-life experience to all.  Some parishes in LA, in Chicago and New York are celebrating their Simbang-Gabi masses at 4:30 AM or 5:30 AM.  And they come as families, friends in multi-ethnic or national attires and in droves!

In November 11, 2011 all of us Filipino priests in the US will gather together for a 4-day national convocation and fun (November 8-11, 2011) in Los Angeles, California.  We will have common prayers and celebrations of the Eucharist, breakout study sessions, common meals, barrio fiesta and, of course, songs and a concert for friends and supporters.  This gathering has been spearheaded by Bishop Oscar Solis, first Filipino bishop in the US, to define and celebrate the Filipino priests’ contribution to the life and growth of the US Church.  This First National Assembly of Roman Catholic Filipino Priests in the US has, for its theme:  Paring Pinoy, Celebrating our Gifts!

In solidarity with our Filipino priests in the US, the Filipino Ministry-Diocese of San Bernardino, in its Simbang-Gabi 2010 celebrations, has this for its theme:  Celebrate our Filipino Giftedness to the Local Roman Catholic Church of San Bernardino!

Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guadalupe, fiesta estimada y celebrada

Por Petra Alexander
Directora, Ofecina de Asuntos Hispanos

Este año los celebramos Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe en domingo. Se puede pensar que hay contradicción entre el llamado a la conversión y al cambio propio del tiempo de Adviento y el entusiasmo celebrativo que Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe despierta en todos los ambientes Latinos de California. Pero para el católico hispano, las dos celebraciones se hacen una, porque el Adviento es un tiempo mariano y porque celebramos ante todo a Cristo, venido a nosotros en el seno virginal de María, que aceptó ser madre de la Iglesia y protectora del pueblo hispano. Celebramos esta unión indisoluble, esta relación única de Madre e Hijo, Madre y Comunidad, Madre e Historia.

Este 12 de Diciembre la Iglesia nos invita a celebrar la cooperación más perfecta y entrañable para la obra de la salvación en la imagen de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. El evangelio relata que María, después de recibir el anuncio del ángel, acude a ayudar a su parienta de edad más avanzada. La Iglesia ha interpretado la visitación como el encuentro de dos maternidades, como el saludo de dos bendiciones y como la solidaridad y el compromiso de dos mujeres tocadas por la gracia. Algo semejante ha aplicado el pueblo del continente americano en sus situaciones de opresión y dificultad, que María baja presurosa a la colina del Tepeyac, al cerrito de Rouvidoux, a las arenas de los desiertos o al asfalto de las ciudades...  y muestra al pueblo sufriente su ternura y amor.

Su aparición es instrumento de bendición y con asombrosa rapidez, a través de ella,  Cristo es conocido y amado por el pueblo.  El Papa Juan Pablo II aseguró en su Ecclesia en América, que ella es la primera redimida y la más fiel seguidora de Cristo, modelo por excelencia de la forma como hemos de seguir a Cristo. El pueblo inmigrante en USA continúa la experiencia del indio Juan Diego al saber y sentir que María de Guadalupe está acompañando su camino plagado de dificultades, como ella misma dijo: "para mostrar y dar todo mi amor, compasión, auxilio y defensa, pues yo soy su piadosa Madre".

De manera especial este 12 de Diciembre delante de ella estarán las situaciones que quisiéramos fueran distintas: la falta de empleos, la anhelada Reforma Migratoria que no llega, el sueño de los jóvenes latinos que no tienen papeles, las familias separadas que quieren reunirse... tantas cosas que deben cambiar para enderezar el camino del Señor. Todo latino sabe que Santa María de Guadalupe es experta en ayudarnos a preparar los caminos para recibir a su Hijo. Este "saber" es transmitido con el lenguaje religioso más rico que se conozca: imagen, anuncio, predicación, canto, color, danza, peregrinación, música, comida especial... En una palabra, Guadalupe es para los Latinos la certeza de: Dios con nosotros.

Guadalupe: an appreciated and celebrated festival

By Petra Alexander
Director, Office of Hispanic Affairs

This year we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe on a Sunday. People may think that there’s a contradiction between the call to conversion and Advent, and the celebratory enthusiasm which Our Lady of Guadalupe awakens in all the Latin American environments of California. But for the Catholic with Hispanic roots the two celebrations are one. Advent is a time when we celebrate Mary and Christ above all, who came to us in the virginal womb of Mary, who, herself, agreed to be the mother of the Church and protector of the Hispanic people. We welcome this indissoluble union; this unique relationship of Mother and Son, Mother and Community, Mother and History.

This Dec. 12 the Church invites us to celebrate the most perfect and intimate cooperation for salvation, in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel relates that Mary, after receiving the announcement of the angel comes to help her older kinswoman. The Church has interpreted the visitation as the meeting of two maternity wards, two blessings filled with greetings of solidarity and commitment from two women touched by grace. The message behind this gospel shows us that Maria will always hurry down the hill of Tepeyac, the hill of Rouvidoux, to the sands of the desert or the asphalt of the cities ... and show the suffering people tenderness and love.

Her appearance is an instrument of blessings and with astonishing speed, through her, Christ is known and loved by the people. Pope John Paul II stated in his Ecclesia in America, that she is the first redeemed and the most faithful follower of Christ, the ultimate model of how we should follow Christ. The immigrant people in the U.S. continue to experience what the Indian Juan Diego went through by knowing and feeling that Maria of Guadalupe is accompanying his path filled with difficulties. As she herself said, “I am here to show and give all my love, compassion, help and protection, because I'm his pious mother.”

This Dec. 12 in front of her will lay the situations that we wish were different: the lack of jobs, the long awaited immigration reform that does not come, the dreams of young Latinos who are undocumented, separated families wanting to be reunited…. many things must change to straighten the path of the Lord. All America knows that Santa Maria de Guadalupe is an expert in helping prepare us to meet and receive her son. This 'knowing' is transmitted with the richest religious language that is known; by her image, preaching, song, color, dance, journey, music, special food... In three words, for the Latinos, Guadalupe certifies: God with us.