Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Twelve Days run counter to the "holiday" season

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Everyone has holiday traditions, even if your “tradition” is to forget about them and act as if they are just another day. Over the past couple of months it has been hard to escape the “Holiday” reality as retailers, media outlets and everyone in between has been getting ready for the “holidays.” And the last few weeks (four to be exact), ra­dio programs changed. Red and green or blue and white decorations have been ev­erywhere. Every night one could watch a holiday themed movie, special or regular television program.

On the evening of the 25th and definitely on the 26th, much of our media oriented world will make the transition back to non­holiday time.

And in a kind of gentle yet profound prophetic gesture, we in the Church have maintained a quiet stand against all the hoopla. Our churches (and some of our homes) have been simply adorned in purple with a large wreath and 4 tall candles lit in weekly progression until this weekend. We had been observing Advent. For us Catho­lics, beginning on December 25, now is the time of the great twelve days (though this year it is 14) of celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ!

In addition to shopping (for some de­spite it), many of us have been preparing for this time with wonderful ethnic foods to share this night and beyond, whether it’s steaming tamales, baking cabbage rolls or pans of lasagna, decorating cookies or creamy fudge or making fruit­filled pane­tone or cake, many of our cupboards and countertops are filled with sweet and sa­vory treats for feasting. There is no fasting with the birth of Savior, all will be fed, all will have their fill.

For many years now, over 25 since I have lived here in the IE, I have made a concert­ed effort to celebrate the 12 days. I try to do some kind of event each day whether it is a visit with out­of­town friends, a movie with colleagues, whatever. One event I do annually is a party on December 26th with a group of church friends in Riverside and Orange County. That event, one of my fa­vorites of the whole season, includes all the usual elements of a traditional Christmas celebration with gift giving, eating and drinking but ends around 10 p.m. (it use to be later but as most of us are beyond 50 now 10 seems reasonable!) with a wonder­ful tradition of faith sharing and prayer. Af­ter each person takes a turn to reveal what has been God’s activity in their lives this past year (some see each other only at this annual event), the group concludes singing the same folk hymn from our college days of fellowship meetings, bible studies and faith community houses.
These things I have spoken unto you
That in me you might have peace.
In the world, you shall have tribulation
But be of good cheer, be of good cheer
For I have overcome the World.
May your celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus bring you peace and good cheer for the 12 days and throughout the New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Message from Bishop Barnes & Bishop del Riego

By Bishop Gerald Barnes & Bishop Rutilio del Riego
Diocese of San Bernardino

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We offer our deepest prayers to you at this most blessed time of year. Let the joy of Christmas fill us all. For today we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ! As we exchange gifts with friends and family and enjoy the many blessings of this time of year, let us remember that we are the “reason for the season” because Jesus came for us so that we might be saved. That God would send His Son to be among us, to be one of us, shows His great love for human kind and His desire to be recon­ciled with us. It is the only gift we truly need and the world is a more holy place when we share it with each other and with those we meet in our days.

Though he was born anonymously and humbly, the birth of our Lord Jesus gave hope to the world. As we enter into Christmas and the New Year may we take a few moments to look at our lives and accept the hope that God continues to offer us in His Son, Jesus. It is there for us today just as it was more than 2,000 years ago when He was born of Our Blessed Mother Mary and became man.

May your holiday season be filled with love and good cheer…
May you experience the peace and joy of Christ’s birth in your heart…
May your family and friends be blessed with good health and safety…
May the presence of the Spirit guide you on your journey in 2012…
And may Almighty God bless you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Joy through our Catholic Schools

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

An excited second grader ran to me across the lunch quad.  In each hand she held treasures just made in our Santa’s Workshop.  She not only wanted to show me her ornament for mom and dad, but she was equally excited at the Christmas card she made.  This little girl had lost her grandfather the year before, and she was excited about making a card for somebody else’s grandpa who didn’t have grandchildren of his own.  This was a new idea this year, to make a project for parents and then a card for an elder shut-in at one of our local retirement centers.  Judging by the grin, the idea was a hit.  I was personally pleased that she was so excited at helping those who needed her and the love a child’s card would bring. 
That Saturday, I brought my mother to St. Catherine’s to show her how our mobile free health clinic worked.  We walked around the huge modified mobile-home, and I introduced her to two of the nurses as she was a retired ER nurse herself.  They smiled and we walked away slowly as one of the doctors came out.  His shift was over, and as he walked past, I thanked him for his service (he drove in each weekend from Orange).  He mentioned that today he saw a diabetic with some significant problems and was glad the man came in.  I thanked him again, and reminded him that he was saving lives – thank you!  He paused to make a joke, we smiled, and he departed.
I walked away with my mother in silent joy.  My school had worked in tandem with the parish in setting up the mobile Lestonnac Free Clinic a few months prior, and I was thrilled that so many people without health insurance were being helped in vital ways.    It was gratifying to know that we had volunteers (though we still need more volunteer doctors) who came together between our parish and our campus to bring hope and real healing to the lives of those in need.  There was no politics in it, no proselytizing, not even real social justice; just freely offered love on Christ’s behalf just as described by our Holy Father (cf. Deus Caritas Est 31).  It echoed our diocesan impact statement filling one soul at a time with hope. 
At the same time, the prior day’s encounter with that little second grade girl filled me with even more joy than that doctor had.  She was only seven, and she got it.  The ministry of Christ is reaching out to make people feel better, even people we don’t know – and that brings joy to ourselves.  Our Catholic schools educate our children academically better than any other system on earth.  But the most important part of our curriculum was best taught this year at St. Catherine’s in a little workshop where children fill lives with the hope of Christmas, and a promise to grow up knowing that helping others is a joyful way to celebrate Advent.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Occupy Movement and Catholic Social Teaching

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

What are we to make of the Occupy Movement that has found its way from Wall Street to many communities here in our diocese? How does our Catholic faith inform our view of it?

Some of us may have already joined the protests or considered it. Others may wonder ‘what’s the point?’ or question the use of civil disobedience as a means of political expression.

Certainly this movement is a reflection of the dissatisfaction and despair felt by so many who face unemployment, foreclosure, poverty, hunger and other ill effects of the Great Recession that has gripped our country for the past three years. Our diocese has felt this pain significantly, reporting unemployment and poverty rates that are among the worst in the United States. It’s no surprise, then, that people in San Bernardino, Riverside, Redlands, Victorville and other cities are taking to the streets to vent their frustration.

One of the great gifts of our nation is our right to freedom of expression, to speak our mind publicly when we disagree with a prevailing policy or wish to bring light to something we believe unjust. Those participating in the Occupy Movement are exercising that right and should be free to do so. At the same time, any destruction of property, violence and other abuses that take place as part of these protests must be condemned. Even such a strong statement of disagreement must carry the flag of civility.  We have the right to disagree with one another.  We do not have the right to be disrespectful of anyone. 

The Occupy Movement is challenging the fairness of our economic system, given that more and more people are being hurt by it than helped by it these days. Our faith is concerned with the economy in its impact on the human dignity that God grants each of us. We may think of the economy in terms of job reports, business transactions, stock markets and growth projections but Catholic teaching holds that the economy must be measured by how well it serves the people. Does it provide opportunities for meaningful work for the individual, a stability of food and shelter so that families can thrive, a distribution of resources that does not disproportionately favor one group over another and, in reflection of our Lord Jesus’ call in Matthew’s Gospel, does it provide for the poor and most vulnerable among us?

Much is made about the opportunity in America to go as far financially as your hard work, intelligence and determination can carry you. This is a great ideal but the workings of the economy must make it true. If the system is conducive to wealth for some at the expense of many others, this great statement of opportunity is not being lived. Those who have joined the Occupy Movement are telling us that such an imbalance may have come to pass.

This dovetails with our Catholic teaching that policies, laws and systems are created to serve the common good. We are not concerned just about individual opportunity but how the economy enhances community life.  Whether or not we choose to become part of the Occupy Movement, we are called as Catholics to exercise Faithful Citizenship, raising our voices when we see moral failure in the public policies and government actions that shape our lives. We do this not to side with a particular political ideology or to follow a cultural trend. We do it for the same reason every time – to protect and promote human dignity. We believe that every life has value – regardless of economic status, race, age, health or any other factor. This is the love to which our Lord Jesus Christ calls us.

Twenty-five years ago, a time that seems prosperous compared to today’s economic climate, the Bishops of the United States issued “Economic Justice for All,” a pastoral letter that applied Catholic Social Teaching to the U.S. Economy. It remains remarkably relevant today. As a reference for Catholic thinking about the Occupy Movement, I highly recommend a revisiting of this letter. It can be found at:

Regardless of your opinion about the Occupy Movement I urge you to continue to pray for those who find themselves in the margins of our society because of these difficult economic times, and to come to their aid in whatever way that you can.   This time of Advent is a time of hope.  It is a time for reflection and action.  We prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s coming.  May he find us waiting in hope; attentive to each other’s need; and sharing with one another the gifts He has given us.

My best wishes to you for a joyous and blessed Advent.