Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blessings Continue to Pour!

By Father Benjamin Alforque, MSC, VF
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside
The months of spring continue to witness the blessings poured down for us from heaven: 3 new priests, a deacon and thousands of our people, most of them young, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, prepared well by the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 
 
I asked them if they looked forward to this event.  They just glowed with a huge smile, and many with tears of joy.  Slowly in this journey, they discovered themselves more deeply, and knew God in their lives more profoundly.  They can relate to Christ now more personally. And by the gift of the Holy Spirit, they are now openly proud and happy to be confirmed fully Catholic and fully Christian!    
 
The Sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church is really one of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1212) says: “The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life… "The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life.” (1285) “Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. By the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed."
 
The multiplication of God’s blessings continues.  How many parents, families, relatives and friends have returned to the Church and to the sacramental life because of the confirmation of their beloved child!  For indeed, we all are blessings to one another, and instruments of the multiplication of God’s blessings for all! 
 
There is the blessing of our new graduates too!  Men and women equipped with secular and scientific skills, they are tasked to impact society and the world with the holiness of God. They are invited by God to use their knowledge and skills to discover more deeply the love of God in the world, and to fill the world with God’s love.
 
Sr. Joan Holland, OSF, 50 years a teacher and educator in parish schools and spiritual guide to our students of St. Catherine of Alexandria School, has been such a blessing to the Church, to our community, to our school and to our children and their families.  This woman who is a guiding light says of her mission:   “God seems to be calling me to places I wouldn't have thought of to heal the wounds of broken relationships among students, faculty, staff and their families. Seeing people making and maintaining productive relationships and solving problems drives my commitment to my ministry: my mission” (OSF Website).  Sr. Joan has retired from our school, but her being a blessing continues. Thank you, Sr. Joan, for blessing us with your blessings!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fast brings us closer to the reality of hunger

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Ministry of Life Dignity and Justice

Saturday, April 30
I opened my email from the Catholic Legislative Network last Friday and there was an invitation to join the First Fridays for Food Security Campaign.  I followed the link, and here is what they are asking.  Would my family (my husband Cliff and myself) be willing to commit to eating on the amount we would get if we were on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps.  I like a challenge, so I said “Why not?”  Then I asked Cliff and he said “What’s the point?”  The point of the fast is to raise awareness about the reality that many of our bothers and sisters face every day, and to experience that reality, ourselves.  If we are going to be faithful citizens, we need to do more than read about food policy and study statistics.  More information about the campaign can be found at on Facebook or at http://www.cacatholic.org/images/stories/pdfs/fasting-resource-intro-may-6.pdf

Monday, May 2
I looked up the amount.  $11.20.  At first I thought that was just for dinner.  Wrong, that is for the whole day.

Wednesday, May 4
I just calculated that we usually spend about $4.00 on breakfast.  We will not be doing that on our fasting Fridays.  Lunch is easy – I can keep that around $1 or $2.  Now for dinner.

Thursday, May 5
I just looked up how much we spend on groceries this year.  $2,052 for 4 months.  $17.10 per day.  That figure does not include what we spend in cash.  We buy most of our vegetables at a farmer’s market, and there are lots of quick trips to the store for one item.  It does not include meals eaten out.

We went to market night and spent about $25 on vegetables.

Friday, May 6
Here is the break out:

Breakfast: 
fresh orange juice, 1/3 bag of oranges..............$1.00
cold cereal with milk.......................................$0.60

Lunch:
hummus.......................................................$2.00
carrots.........................................................$0.50
soy nut mix..................................................$1.00

Dinner:
lettuce salad.................................................$1.00
pasta with kale.............................................$2.50

Total:...........................................................$8.60

What is not included is olive oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs, Parmesan cheese and a few pine nuts (very extravagant at $14 per pound!).  So add another $2.50, which puts us right at the max.

Reflecting on this exercise, I have to say it wasn’t impossible.  It took a lot of planning and depended on a well stocked pantry and 45 years of cooking experience.  We had enough calories and vegetables, but were too low on protein and too high in carbs for long term.  If we were to eat on $336 per month we wouldn’t have on hand large quantities of things like olive oil and Parmesan from the local big box store.

While Cliff and I were able to think hypothetically what it would be like to eat on this kind of a budget, we know it is a daily reality for more people in our diocese than you would think.

In our diocese, alone, 286,000 people are food insecure and they do experience hunger on a daily basis.  Our 61 parish food ministries can also attest to local hunger.

Around the world it is even more dramatic: 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day and 3 billion on less than $2.  Every year 15 million children die of hunger. 

What can we do about all of this?  We can do activities at home or in the parish, such as participating in the First Fridays for Food Security to raise awareness and follow up with discussion.  We can take pastoral action by supporting the parish ministry to the poor.  And – very important – we can follow the weekly email from the Catholic Legislative Network and take actions that address hunger here and around the world.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Public Display of Affection Affirms Our Need for Gratitude

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

On a recent Sunday afternoon the drier in my household went out.  I was next in line to do laundry in preparation for the week and was feeling a little anxious. I had put on my last clean pair of everything that morning for Church and could not wait one more day!  Just as it was getting dark, I finished the last load, then packing up my damp but now clean private and public wardrobe; I headed out to the local laundry mat to dry.  The parking lot was full and as I peered through the large plate glass windows, I saw a lot people in various stages of washing and drying. My heart sank a little. This dreary task was going to take longer than I had hoped. At least I had brought the book I was reading. I realized it being Sunday many individuals and families without their own appliances were getting ready for coming week and today I had the privilege of joining them in this regular ritual.  I actually found a working drier, loaded my clothes, put in a hand full of quarters and then sat with my book to wait. 

While trying to read under the too-bright florescent lighting, amidst the noisy conversations and the loud humming of both commercial washers and driers, I was distracted from my book by a young attractive Spanish speaking couple who came in carrying bags of laundry and one of the cutest babies I had ever seen. Dad went about “setting up camp” on one of the folding counters, making sure their Gerber-baby was secure in his carrier and could observe all, especially the busy parents.  The young mom started to separate laundry into a row of washers.  Once their laundry was all washing, they turned their focus to each other and to their off-spring.  The affection between the couple and for their child was palatable. They smiled, laughed, joked and even danced in front of the baby to some music that was playing from either a phone or mp3 player. I could not tell. 

I had been trying unsuccessfully to finish a book on spirituality called “The Grateful Heart” by Wilke Au and Noreen Cannon Au. In it the authors, a married couple who are a professor of theology and a Jungian therapist respectfully, promote the importance of developing an attitude of gratitude as central to deepening both our emotional and spiritual health.   In witnessing this young family’s wonderful public display of affection, I could not help recognizing that this was exactly what the book was describing.  Being grateful for our lives today, for the gifts we experience here and now is not simply a mental exercise.  Rather it is a rich spiritual approach to everyday life that leads to joy and happiness and can help one find God in everything as St. Ignatius of Loyola taught. As the book noted, gratefulness can help us see God’s love even while doing a dreary task like washing (or just drying) clothes at a laundry mat. At that moment, I felt so grateful for this couple, their beautiful baby and for the great gifts of romantic love and family they so freely shared.  Who knew a trip to the local fluff and fold could be such a moment of grace? I felt blessed to have witnessed their loved exposed.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, we read “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes it and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph, 5:28). I do not know if the young couple I saw at the laundry mat was officially married, either civilly or sacramentally, but it was clear they cherished each other and the child who had come forth from their romance.  Their obvious care for one another was a clear sign of God’s love in the world and the love Christ has for each of us.  Even now, in remembering how the young couple danced to the delight of their baby, I imagine God smiling as he tapped his divine toe to the same rhythm.

For Reflection and Sharing:
1.      Describe a marriage you know that reflects well the love God has for his people, us.
2.      How do you feel in this couple’s presence?  What effect does their love have on you?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother’s Day: a long and varied history

By Father Gregory Elder
Parochial Vicar, St. Martha, Murrieta

I was standing in a ruined Egyptian temple, in the far south of Egypt, beyond Karnak and not far from Aswan. In the ruins of the temple, there was a wall painting, which had survived thousands of years. The image above the altar was of the mother goddess Isis, enthroned on a chair, with her divine holy son Horus on her lap. Before the mother and child, the pharaoh knelt, offering gifts to them in worship. Our Muslim tour guide grinned at us.
“Does this look familiar to any of you?” he asked us. I was with a bunch of English tourists, and much as I love the British, they are a very secular lot these days. No one had a clue.
“It looks like a Christmas card” I replied. “Mary and Jesus seated on a throne, while the wise men, kings from the east bring gifts.” He nodded with great glee as if he had exposed some deep mystery to us all. And then he pointed to the wall to the left of the old painting. There, cut into the older temple, was a niche with a little cross above it. “And that” I said, “Is a credence. It’s the place where Mass vessels are put before the priest puts them on an altar. This pagan shrine was used as a church.” The early Christians were quick to use older cults as an evangelistic took to draw peopleto their new faith. From paganism to Christianity, it’s an old story, which I shall say more on in a moment.
Welcome, this week, gentle readers to one of the oldest holy days in the entire world of religion, the cult of Mother’s Day, which we Americans will celebrate next Sunday. Mother Day, in its various forms runs very deep in the human consciousness and goes back to the very earliest times when primitive men and women painted pregnant animals on the walls of their face in ice age France, down to the veneration of Isis in Egypt, Marduk and his mother in Mesopotamia, Rhea, Gaia, and Cybelle in the Greek world. The Romans honored Juno, the goddess of marriage and motherhood, gave her a month sacred for weddings, and June brides honor her without knowing it down to the present day. Pagan Romans prayed for fertility for their women on Matronalia. Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary replaced many of these with the spread of Christianity. To this very day, the English “Mother’s Day” is “Mothering Sunday” the Sunday following March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, nine months exactly before Christmas Day.
 Across the world many religions and cultures have days which give honor to mothers. In Nigeria and Ireland it is the Fourth Sunday in Lent, in Hungary, Lithuania, Spain and Portugal it is the first Sunday in May, in Libya, Oman, Syria and the Sudan it is March 21, the Vernal Equinox. in Argentina it is the third Sunday in October, in Russia it is the Last Sunday in November and in Panama it is December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In the United States, Mother’s Day was the creation of a woman named Anna Marie Jarvis, who was born in 1864 in West Virginia, and whose beloved mother died in 1905. Anna turned her grief for her mother into a personal project and lobbied for a creation of a national day honoring mothers. There had been a number of earlier attempts at the same project, some tied to the Temperance Movement and others to women’s rights, but none had captured the public opinion. Jarvis’ own mother had been something of a radical, and had founded a body known as the Mother’s Work Day Clubs, which gave medical aid to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, and encouraged women to give a day to aid the fallen on both sides of that bloody conflict. Jarvis founded the Mother’s Day International Association to lobby for the new holiday. Spending her inheritance on the project, Jarvis approached politicians and clergy and in 1914 persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to declare a national day in honor of mothers, which continues to this present day. Many subsequent presidents have issued Presidential Proclamations on the day.
While Mother’s Day became very popular it turned in directions Jarvis never expected. In her mind, a day dedicated to Mothers and motherhood should reflect respect for women and improvements in care for the elderly. When Mother’s Day become increasingly commercialized and came to focus on sales of jewelry, cards and candy, she publicly turned against the festival she had created. She remarked, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” Anna Marie Jarvis never married and had no children. She died angry in 1948.
Next Sunday, I know that my church will be full of families with friendly looking matrons, many wearing flowers seated with sons and daughters who have that look on their face which says, ”I have no idea how long this service is going to take and I do not know what the minister will do next.” Many have not darkened the door since last Mother’s Day. This is not the same bunch as the Christmas/Easter only crowd. They know that they are officially religious, but just cannot bother to come more often. The Mother’s Day crowd is often clueless about religion, but Mom wants them there and so they will be. The American Restaurant Association has declared that this is also one of their busiest days of the year, which I can attest to as being a former “porcelain maintenance engineer”or dishwasher. Candy and jewelry associations will make similar claims.
You can bet I will be at my evangelistic best to preach to the dearest heathen offspring in my pews in need of a bit of conversion. That’s why Mom brings them to me. The ancient pagan holidays became Christian holidays while the temples of the mother goddesses became churches dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary. In my trade, we have been busy using this motherhood festival thing to turn pagans into Christians for a very longtime.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Day of Contrasts

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

At our school assembly Monday morning, we had so much to discuss and very few ways to keep them clear for children.  Osama Bin Laden was dead, John Paul II had been declared blessed, and of course, we had May crowning.  As I began to speak, I realized just how important the contrast was between the two events the day before, and that was what I told my students. 

John Paul II was declared to have lived a life blessed by God.  He was one who preached about mercy, a man who could visit the prison cell of his would-be assassin, hold the hand that held the gun, and forgive him.  He was declared blessed on Mercy Sunday, a day dedicated to the mercy of Christ, that all who approach our Lord are promised that no matter how awful the sin, God’s mercy will blot it out.  That celebration of mercy on the streets of Rome was contrasted in the evening news with the death of Osama Bin Laden.  He organized Al Qaeda and masterminded the bombing of the African embassies, the USS Cole, and the September 11th attacks.  Confronted with arrest, Bin Laden resisted and was killed.  The streets of Washington and New York erupted in jubilation. 

John Paul was appalled by the events of 9-11 and was grieved at the war which followed.  It was fitting that Pope Benedict XVI chose Mercy Sunday to celebrate his declaration that John Paul is among the blessed.  It seems also fitting that the news of the evening was such a jarring contrast with the events of the morning.  The practical application is that we are always confronted with evil.  Do we choose mercy?  In John Paul’s life, that choice was consistent and clear, and underscored against the backdrop of events in Pakistan.

For my students, I reminded them that the death of any person is a sad thing, and it is a shame that Bin Laden did not choose a path of mercy.  It emphasizes the importance of John Paul’s motto, totus tuus, that our lives dedicated to our Lord through his mother can only lead to mercy.  That is the path we are asked to follow in life, one dedicated to the mercy of God in all that we do, which may, in little ways, change the world for good.