Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Small Tire Reveals We are Still a Little Off Kilter

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Right after the start of Lent last month, I was driving home from the Pastoral Center and found myself stopped behind a beautifully maintained older large sedan in the left lane, the kind our grandfathers loved.  The car had clearly been well kept, very clean and the tan paint job, while not new, was waxed to glossy shine both on the body and the chrome appendages.  As I was admiring all the wonderful qualities of this older, well-preserved road boat, the light changed and it drove on ahead. I then noticed it was moving a little off kilter.  When we got to the next light, my curiosity got the best of me so I changed lanes and slowly drove up next to the old beauty in the right lane.  As I passed up the passenger side of the vehicle I saw why the car was off-kilter – the passenger back tire was smaller than the other three on the car.  It was not a “donut” spare but was a regular tire, with the same wire wheel cover as the other tires. Unfortunately, it was a size or two too small!  I guessed that this small tire was the best the owners could afford in our current economy.

Over the past couple of weeks I have thought about that car and the contrast of its well maintained exterior with its uneven wheels.  It occurred to me that for many of us this off-kilter drive describes our experience of ourselves this Lent. I imagine a lot us entered Lent with some well-intentioned plans to make this year count for us.  We would give up, add on and even sacrifice to have some benefit like losing weight and getting healthy.   As with that big tan sedan, we would use Lent to clean up our act, letting go of something that can harm or hurt us so we could look and feel good again. Yet if we or someone takes a moment to look a little closely, they would probably notice our journey is a little off-kilter. We still move with one tire too small.

One 20-something I know gives up drinking and smoking each Lent.  For him Lent is a kind of spiritual and physical detox though when I suggested he might keep the practice going beyond the Good Friday, he balked and said he already has plans for a very wet birthday celebration around Easter and I thought, “not including Vigil baptisms!”  I laughed thinking somehow we must have missed teaching him something important about the purpose of Lenten sacrifices when he was a kid.  Still an annual detox must be good for his soul in addition to his body.

All this got me thinking that God probably looks at us kind of like I looked at that car.  Admiring the good qualities, the gifts and talents He gave us and reveling in the shiny acts of sacrifice, service and kindness we do this time of year when we let the Spirit inspire us. Yet at the same time I am sure God sees what most us hope (pretend?) He and others won’t notice, that even though we are all “shined up” we are still a little off-kilter. All of us need more work to become who we are meant to be. On the fourth Sunday of Lent we hear from Ephesians just such a truth:

“You were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

So whether we use Lent to detox, lose weight or live a more prayerful, simple and generous life,  all of theses actions are still some “kind of goodness” and help us to be a bit more shiny, to walk (or drive) in the light.

For Reflection:

How have your Lenten practices affected you so far?  What still needs some adjustment so you can “walk in the light?”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

God is our spiritual GPS

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Ministry of Life, Dignity and Justice

A couple of weeks ago I flew to northern California for a meeting.  One of my colleagues picked me up at the airport for the drive to the retreat center where the meeting was going to take place.  I had been there before and he had a GPS in his car which dictated every turn.  But we were talking, and being attentive to each other.  So even though the GPS voice was telling him to get off the freeway and my inner sense of direction should have been doing the same, we missed the exit.

But the GPS lady recalculated, and now aware of our error, we listened closely and arrived at the destination in time for lunch.

I think this is the way it is with God.  God is constantly sending us signals, either through our own memory or intuition or through voices around us.  But when we are preoccupied, we miss the signals.  So many times in the last few months I have acted on an impulse or an intuition and it has “saved” me.  For example, last December my husband and I took our Christmas break in Peru, visiting our daughter and her family.  About three weeks before I began to gather all of the important things we would need for the trip.  And I don’t just mean toys for Zach.  I mean things like print outs of our airline tickets and passports. 

Now I knew where the passports were – safely tucked into a locking file cabinet.  But the electronic tickets were buried somewhere in an email from 6 months before.  So I knew it would take a bit of digging to fine them.  While my husband was searching his inbox, I was looking for something in my closet and a purse I rarely use fell off the hook.  I picked it up.  It was heavy – not a good sign.  Guess what was in it?  Right – the passports!  Thank you, God.

What happens when we miss the signals from God?  Well, my experience is that God is every bit as faithful as the GPS lady.  If we miss one message or messenger, God will send another, attempting time and again to overcome our blindness, deafness and stubbornness.

So this Lent I am listening for the voice of God asking me to recalculate.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Honor of the Most Reverend Bishop Gerald Barnes

By Father Benjamin Alforque, M.S.C., V.F.
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Our very own Most Reverend Bishop Gerald Barnes was ordained a Bishop on March 18, 1992.  Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of our local church, the Diocese of San Bernardino on December 28, 1995.  “On March 12, 1996, before a crowd of over 2,500 people, he was installed as the second Bishop” of our diocese (Diocese of San Bernardino Website).  But who is our bishop as a human person? 

Our beloved bishop was born Gerald Richard Barnes in Phoenix, Arizona to George and Aurora.  He comes from a large family of five brothers and one sister.  He grew up in East Los Angeles, helping his family tend to their grocery store.  He knew work and play and study early in his life. He went to public schools and got his religious education from the Victory Noll Sisters at San Basilio Center on
Fetterly Avenue
.  He finished high school at Roosevelt High, obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from California State University, Los Angeles and attended seminary formation in St. Louis, Missouri, Dayton, Ohio and the Assumption-St. John Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.  In 1975, he became a priest for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas.  

His life was graced early on.  He was blessed with a large family that exposed him to the value of family life and loving sibling relationships.  From early childhood, he learned the value of work, stuffing the grocery store with goods and cleaning it too.  Probably it was from there that he was introduced to reading, writing and arithmetic.  He probably developed a feel for life, for struggle and love for the poor playing with the kids from around the block.  His parents’ religiosity and his religion classes taught him early of the sense of the sacred, even as he ventured more deeply and scientifically into the real world in his high school and studies in political science.  The real struggle for him was in his deep desire to obey God’s call.  Oh, how he was tested by seminary rectors in the pursuit of his vocation.  A life of struggle, study and prayer:  these prepared him well to be our great spiritual and pastoral leader and companion in our time.

Our very own Bishop Gerald Barnes is well-respected by his peers, who are inheritors of the apostolic succession.  The U.S. Bishops recognized his political acumen and love for the poor.  They chose him to chair the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Refugees and Migrants.  They deeply respect his administrative skills.  They made him member of the USCCB Administrative Committee and the Communications Committee.  His sense of internationality and scholarly intelligence is reflected in his membership in the Board of the Mexican American Cultural Center, of the Assumption Seminary, and of the Inland Empire Hispanic Scholarship Fund.  He is a member of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for the Church in Africa. 

We are so blessed to have been gifted by God with a holy bishop who is so human and so understanding, a man of high intellectual caliber, compassionate administrative skills and profound sense of direction in the service of the Church, for the Event of God’s Reign.  Let us thank God by supporting our very own Bishop Gerald Barnes!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: An opportunity to be generous

By Deacon Michael Jelley,
Vice Chancellor of Ecclesial Services

As a teenager in boarding school in the 1950’s I did not attend any particular church.  However I did enjoy singing in the school chapel choir on Sundays.  It was from some of the other boys in the choir that I learned that Lent was a time of regret and self-imposed punishment for sins.  We were to give up something so we could join our suffering to Christ’s suffering.  Some gave up candy, others tried to give up using bad language or teasing younger boys.  I’m not sure if I was ever able to make it through all 40 days of Lent no matter what I chose to deny myself.

Today my viewpoint has changed and I have come to see Lent as a time to pray for those in need, to reflect on the ways I may serve them, and to thank God for the opportunities I have to share from the many gifts I have time, my talent and my treasure and especially the awesome news that God gives us life and, through Jesus, the gift of eternal life.   What does scripture have to say about giving?

No one shall appear before the LORD empty-handed, but each of you with as much as he can give, in proportion to the blessings which the LORD, your God, has bestowed on you. Deut 16:16b,17

My (child), give me your heart, and let your eyes keep to my ways. Prov. 23:26

‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”’ Mark 10:21

‘Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.’ Luke 6:38

‘In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' Acts 20:35

‘What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him.’  Rom 8:31-32

I’m going to give up giving up for Lent!  Instead I am going to pray for a more understanding and generous heart, and I will ask God to help me put my prayers into action. In the words of St. Thomas More: “O Lord, give us a mind that is humble, quiet, peaceable, patient and charitable, and a taste of your Holy Spirit in all our thoughts, words and deeds.  Give us good Lord, the grace to work for the things we pray for.”  We cannot out give God in generosity…this Lent are you wiling to try?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Honor of the Rising Peoples

By Father Benjamin Alforque, M.S.C., V.F.
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

When a composite team of military and intelligence security agents of Martial Law under the Philippine dictator Marcos brought me to the detention cell of the intelligence agents for tactical interrogation, they inventoried my possessions, and told me, “now that you are in our hands, you don’t own anything, not even yourself”.  Without due process and without a lawyer, they told me:  I was found guilty, and my task was to prove myself innocent. For the first three days and three nights, I was not allowed to sleep.  I was not allowed to talk with anyone.  Good thing they did not take away from me my watch.  It told me of the day and the time.

I was subjected to psychological and physical torture.  Because I was then a seminarian, at first the military and intelligence agents hesitated to physically harm me. Instead, they wanted to break me by letting me see and hear the horrors of torture of my co-political detainees.  They did not succeed in this, so they tried another trick:  putting me in a cell without light for two weeks, telling me I was going to die by musketry and that I could tell them my last request.  I asked for my parents and brother and sisters, especially my mother, to see me.  After two weeks, on the day that was supposed to be my last, I was led to the first of two iron doors of the cell.  I only saw my father.  We couldn’t even hug each other because of the iron grills that separated us.  The visit lasted for 30 seconds.

Physical torture ironically happened during the military’s so-called formal investigation:  still without a lawyer, I was grilled for five days.  They could not extract anything from me, so a special investigator was assigned to me.  He knew how and where to deliver the blows into my body that didn’t leave any evident mark.  But then, they would let me hear the reprimand from another officer disapproving the use of physical torture, but who seemingly sided with me as long as I cooperated.  This is called the soft-and-hard tactic of torture.  This torturer learned his techniques from a world infamous school of torture.

For the first two months of my detention, I stopped believing in God.  For if there was a God, how can He allow this to happen to me, when all I wanted was to be a good boy: to help the poor and serve my neighbor.  Then, one evening I couldn’t sleep.  I roused from my cot at 2 am, got hold of the last book which I had refused to read.  I happened to open it on John 15,13-ff:  “Greater love no one has than he who lays down his life for his friends…and if they should torture you and bring you to court, remember that they have done it to me first, and worse!”  I felt so small and so ashamed of myself.  So in the stillness of the night, I promised Jesus:  Ok, I will believe in you again.  I will continue to love and serve you among the poor whom you specially love and care for.  Then I knew I was free.  No one could harm me anymore, not wealth or even death itself!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lent is an occasion to stand for Life & Dignity

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

I have stated before my dismay at the lack of civility in politics today, and I know I am not alone.

The hostile tone of speeches and debates, the thinly-veiled use of violent imagery in media and advertising; the callous and inhumane way some of our brothers and sisters are scapegoated for the sake of scoring political points. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and say ‘I don’t care’ or ‘Why bother?’ If you read the latest public opinion surveys more and more Americans are feeling this kind of frustration and apathy with the political process.

As Catholics we are called to a different response. There is simply too much at stake for us to sit silently when policies and laws are made that impact our families, neighborhoods and society. If those last six words sound familiar it is because they are found in the impact statement of the Diocese of San Bernardino. We set forth, in that vision, to fill lives with hope through the impact of the Gospel. It is in this commitment that we also commit ourselves to proclaiming the teachings of Jesus in public – even in the political arena.

Our Lord calls us to stand up for the dignity of every human person, without exception. So when we see laws debated that impact the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant, the poor, the sick and the imprisoned, or when we hear of policies concerning our God-given right to education, health care or employment, we speak the Gospel truths to those in government.

This month, on March 13, our diocese will celebrate this call to public participation with “Life and Dignity Sunday.” Our parishes will offer those at Mass an opportunity to join the Catholic Legislative Network (CLN), an on-line resource for Catholics to receive regular information about public policy issues that impact Church teaching. The CLN helps us connect the teachings of our faith with the political events and issues of the day. Updates arrive via e-mail once a week. If you feel called to contact your local legislator on one of the issues you read about, the CLN gives you the roadmap to do so.

I strongly urge you join the Catholic Legislative Network. If we are to be a voice for life and dignity we must be aware of the many ways it is threatened, or supported, by our public policies.

Life and Dignity Sunday falls on the first Sunday of Lent this year. Some may wonder why we have chosen the beginning of this holy season, which is characterized by reflection and sacrifice, to promote participation in government. I assert that it is wholly appropriate.

Though many have come to practice almsgiving by sharing their resources with the needy, the call to give alms during Lent is more traditionally equated with “seeking justice for our neighbor.” I can think of few better ways to do that than to stay informed on issues of importance to our faith and speaking out when necessary to those who make the laws.

And think of it this way, if you’re looking to give up something for Lent, join the Catholic Legislative Network and give up 10 or 15 minutes a week to look at public policy issues from the Catholic perspective.

I offer my prayers and blessings to all for the coming Lenten season. May we grow ever closer to the loving presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

La Cuaresma es una ocasión para pronunciarnos a favor de la Vida y Dignidad

Por Obispo Gerald Barnes
Diócesis de San Bernardino

Anteriormente he manifestado en estas páginas mi consternación ante la falta de urbanidad que vemos actualmente en la política, y sé que no soy el único. 

El tono hostil de los discursos y debates, el uso ligeramente disimulado de imágenes violentas en los medios de difusión y publicidad; la manera insensible e inhumana en que nuestros hermanos y hermanas son usados como chivos expiatorios con el fin de ganar puntos en la política.  Es suficiente para hacer que te des por vencido y digas ‘no me importa’ o “¿Qué caso tiene?’  Si leen las encuestas más recientes sobre la opinión pública más y más americanos están sintiendo este tipo de frustración y apatía con el proceso político.

Como católicos somos llamados a responder de manera diferente.  Simplemente, hay demasiado en juego para que nosotros nos quedemos callados cuando se están haciendo leyes y políticas que afectan a nuestras familias, vecindarios y sociedad.  Si esas últimas seis palabras les suenan conocidas es porque se encuentran en la declaración de impacto de la Diócesis de San Bernardino.  Expusimos, en esa visión, nuestra misión de llenar vidas de esperanza con el impacto del Evangelio.  Es en este compromiso que también nos comprometimos a proclamar las enseñanzas de Jesús en público – aun en el ámbito político.   

Nuestro Señor nos llama a defender la dignidad de todo ser humano, sin excepción.  Así que cuando vemos el debate sobre leyes que afectan a los no nacidos, a las personas de la tercera edad, a los inmigrantes, los pobres, los enfermos y los encarcelados, o cuando escuchamos sobre políticas concernientes al derecho que nos da Dios a la educación, atención médica o empleo, expresamos las verdades del Evangelio a los funcionarios gubernamentales. 

Este mes, el 13 de marzo, nuestra diócesis celebrará este llamado a la participación pública con el Domingo de la Vida y Dignidad”.  Nuestras parroquias ofrecerán a los asistentes a la Misa una oportunidad para que formen parte de la Red Legislativa Católica (CLN), un recurso vía Internet para que los católicos reciban información periódica sobre cuestiones de política pública que tienen un impacto en la doctrina de la Iglesia.  La CLN nos ayuda a vincular las enseñanzas de nuestra fe con los sucesos y cuestiones políticas del día.  La información llega por correo electrónico una vez por semana.  Si se sienten llamados a comunicarse con su legislador local sobre una cuestión que se les comunique, la CLN les da las rutas para hacerlo. 

Los exhorto enfáticamente a que se unan a la Red Legislativa Católica.  Si vamos a ser una voz a favor de la vida y dignidad debemos estar concientes de las muchas maneras en que nuestras políticas públicas la amenazan, o apoyan.

El Domingo de la Vida y Dignidad cae el primer Domingo de Cuaresma este año.  Algunos se preguntarán por qué hemos elegido el comienzo de este tiempo sagrado, que se caracteriza por la reflexión y el sacrificio, para promover la participación en cuestiones gubernamentales.  Les aseguro que es totalmente adecuado.   

Aunque muchos practican las obras de caridad al compartir sus recursos con los necesitados, el llamado a las obras de caridad durante la Cuaresma se iguala tradicionalmente con “procurar la justicia para nuestro prójimo”.  Considero que una de las mejores maneras de hacerlo es manteniéndonos informados sobre cuestiones de importancia para nuestra fe y expresando nuestra posición, cuando sea necesario, a quienes hacen las leyes. 

Y véanlo de esta manera, si están buscando algo de que privarse durante la Cuaresma, únanse a la Red Legislativa Católica y dediquen 10 o 15 minutos a la semana para ver las cuestiones de política pública desde la perspectiva católica. 

Ofrezco mis oraciones y bendiciones a todos para el tiempo de Cuaresma que se avecina.  Ruego y espero que nos acerquemos cada día más a la presencia amorosa de nuestro Señor Jesucristo.