Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hunger Games and Holy Week

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

I don’t plan to see Hunger Games. I’m not boycotting the movie, per se, but I don’t want to watch children and teens kill each other (it’s not an image I want in my head). I know several families have gone to see it and nobody seems scarred, and I see value in the theme of fighting against human cruelty and government tyranny.

One thing brought out by a critic was that religion is totally absent from the movie – not being used by the government as a tool of oppression, and not by the victims as hope in God. It was pointed out by another commentator that the theme of human sacrifice, from the age of Roman gladiators, through the Aztecs, has been a constantly returning theme in human history – at least, in non-Christian times.

We Christians, of course, already have that sacrifice in Jesus Christ, an innocent who died for the rest of us. That reality has quelled the need for scapegoats where our relationship to that sacrifice is taken to heart. The popularity of a book series and film on sacrificing innocents in our current culture raises a sad question about our society as it moves further away from Christian faith.

We Catholics have already seen the result of evil, and the price has been paid. As we look at the cross on Good Friday, we should not forget that He was sacrificed in an age that was often callous, merciless, and cruel, the result of institutionalized selfishness and sin. As our culture inches its way further from the values of Christ – life, love, selfless giving – give thanks that our families are steeped in His love and care.

May God richly bless our reflection on the sacrifice of Christ that Holy Week brings, and may He fill our lives with the joy in knowing that we are part of His Resurrection.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Each generation needs to learn "how to" Lent

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Office of Small Faith Communities

Right before the start of Lent I began a furlough day, those unpaid but welcome respites from work many of us have now, with one of my pop culture customs: a café Americano and Facebook time at a Starbucks. When I arrived the shop was packed with an especially eclectic blend of customers including a gaggle of adolescent girls (a team or something, I surmised) talking, giggling obviously on their way somewhere, some workers in various kinds of business attire or uniforms on a morning coffee break or on their way to work, and an “alternative” looking couple covered in tattoos. At one table was a set of 20-somethings (2 women and 1 guy) who were just hanging out, joking, laughing and relaxing. Since the 40-day retreat was upon us again, I wondered if these three might be Catholic. There was a chance I thought since two of three looked Latino but in today’s world especially, looks can and usually are deceiving. Recent information I’ve read notes that the fastest growing religion in Mexico is Mormonism and in the U.S., well, its “no religion.” Were these Millennials having a last latte before giving them up in kind of a post-modern pop-Fast? I figured probably not, but it got me thinking about how each generation needs to figure out how to LENT. In our fast paced, techno-cacophonous society, how do all of us, Boomers, Xers, Millennials, teens and tweens make sense of the annual call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving that our ancient and ever new Faith invites to observe each spring?

The tradition hands us a set of beliefs and practices which, if my religious educator friends are correct, are being given to an increasingly secularized and extremely busy (read no time for church stuff) set of teens, families, and young adults. The census tells us these under-30 year olds are mostly single and plan to stay that way for a while, if not always in light of our economy! Having been preparing a group of these 20-somethings for Confirmation this year, I can attest to their basic goodness, youthful energy and playfulness. While many are unfamiliar with the basic tenets of our faith, several were definitely open to growing and a few have even seemed more than ready to make faith central in their lives. Hopefully by next month, most will be ready to embrace the Spirit at this point in their existence and receive the gifts promised by the prayer and smearing of holy oil on their foreheads by our Bishop.

So how do we Lent in this second decade of the Third Millennium? Given the growing secularization of Western societies, I would like to suggest we accept seriously the call of our recent Popes (John Paul and Benedict) and our own Bishop to embrace a “new” evangelization as both individuals and as church communities. Now at first we may be tempted to channel on our inner Franciscan, preaching the Gospel always by our actions as the little Brother from Assisi said, but rarely using words! Instead I challenge all of us to embrace the new evangelization as Pope John Paul wrote about in “Ecclesia in America”

“…everyone should keep in mind that the vital core of the new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, that is, the preaching of his name, his teaching, his life, his promises and the Kingdom which he has gained for us by his Paschal Mystery.”
-Ecclesia in America #66

While I am not suggesting we fill corners at the River in Rancho Mirage, Victoria Gardens in Cucamonga or the Crossings in Corona with modern Catholic mendicant preachers, we could make sharing our faith a spiritual practice we take on this Lent. It could be in a form of prayer, as we lift up our family members, friends or colleagues who are “ex or former” Catholics to find faith in Christ again. It could be a form of fasting, as we give up a little personal time (lunch at work) to visit with someone we know does not practice any faith, sharing honestly and naturally how our faith in Christ impacts our lives. Finally it could be a form of almsgiving, making an extra donation of time, talent or treasure to a charity that serves the poor directly as Jesus did. Wouldn’t it be great if we become the generation where Lent came to mean we Catholics prepare for Easter by making a concerted effort to share our faith with those who have none or who have left its practice and help those who just can’t make ends meet in this or any economy? Just saying…

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Encounter with Jesus is the heart of faith

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Jesus invites us in Matthew’s Gospel to take refuge in him when we are weary and troubled. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened…,” He calls to us.

This scripture is familiar to many and perhaps it has brought us comfort in difficult times. As we continue with our Lenten reflection and prayer, however, it may be worth examining how we respond to this invitation from the Lord. For it is not given for us to take or leave. His invitation and how we accept and act upon it is the oxygen of our faith. It lives in our hearts and brings us to renewal each day.
We are challenged by the ever-increasing busyness that permeates our lives to make the time and space necessary to nurture this relationship of the heart with our Lord. We can put time on our calendar for Mass or ministry work, we can put prayer on our “to do list,” but are we really connecting with Jesus Christ on a regular basis?

When we are unable to do this we suffer, our family suffers and our Church suffers. A heart devoid of Christ is given to bitterness, despair and selfishness. And no amount of experience in ministry, theology or even religious vocation makes us immune to this.

The major challenges that face us as a Church – moral confusion, burnout, loss of faith, disconnection from family, the intrusion of secular culture – they all, in some way, can be linked to our struggle to take rest in Jesus. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI recognizes this fundamental concern and he is calling on all of us to seek renewal in our relationship with Christ and to reaffirm our identity as Roman Catholics. To help us do this together as a Church he has declared a “Year of Faith” that will begin in October, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. “We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope,” Pope Benedict proclaimed in his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, announcing the Year of Faith.

It will be a time for us to look with new eyes at the building blocks of our faith – prayer, liturgy, the sacraments, the Catechism, public witness and others – and to receive all that they have to offer us. Out of our own sense of renewal, it is hoped that the Year will engender a new sense of shared mission to extend God’s word and redeeming power to others; to turn back the tide of secularism that is rising especially high in Western Europe and the United States. This is what Church leaders are calling “The New Evangelization.” It is my hope and prayer that we will come to know and embrace this call in our diocese during the Year of Faith.

But please do not wait for the Year of Faith to strengthen your relationship with the Lord. As with any relationship, we need to nurture our bond with Jesus by faithfully giving him our time. We can do this through regular prayer, reflection on His words and teachings in the holy gospels and, of course, encountering Him in the celebration of the Eucharist.

I offer my prayers that the remainder of your Lenten journey will lead you to the peace, joy and salvation that come when we give ourselves anew to the Lord Jesus.

El encuentro con Jesús es el espíritu de la fe

Por Obispo Gerald Barnes
Diócesis de San Bernardino

En el Evangelio de Mateo Jesús nos invita a refugiarnos en él cuando estamos agobiados y afligidos. “Vengan a mí todos los que están cansados y afligidos…” nos dice.

Muchos conocen este pasaje y tal vez nos haya traído consuelo en momentos difíciles. Al continuar con nuestra reflexión y oración de Cuaresma, sin embargo, tal vez sea pertinente analizar la manera en que respondemos a esta invitación del Señor. Pues no se nos da para tomarla o dejarla. Su invitación y la forma en que la aceptamos y vivimos es el oxigeno de nuestra fe. Vive en nuestros corazones y nos renueva cada día.

La creciente actividad que impregna nuestras vidas es para nosotros un reto para hacer el tiempo y espacio necesarios para alimentar esta relación del corazón con nuestro Señor. Podemos reservar tiempo en nuestro calendario para la Misa o la tarea del ministerio, podemos incluir la oración en nuestra ‘lista de cosas por hacer’ pero, ¿estamos haciendo esa conexión con Jesucristo de manera constante?

Cuando no podemos hacerlo sufrimos nosotros, sufre nuestra familia y sufre nuestra Iglesia. Un corazón falto de Cristo cae presa de la amargura, la desesperanza y el egoísmo. Y ninguna cantidad de experiencia en ministerio, teología o hasta la vocación religiosa nos hace inmunes a esto.

Los mayores retos que enfrentamos como Iglesia – confusión moral, agotamiento, pérdida de fe, alejamiento de la familia, la intrusión de la cultura secular – todos ellos, de alguna manera, pueden estar vinculados a nuestra lucha por encontrar descanso en Jesús. El Santo Padre, el Papa Benedicto XVI, reconoce esta preocupación fundamental y nos llama a todos a buscar una renovación en nuestra relación con Cristo y a reafirmar nuestra identidad como católicos romanos. Para ayudarnos a hacerlo juntos como Iglesia, él ha declarado un Año de la Fe” que comenzará en octubre, coincidiendo con el cincuentenario del Concilio Vaticano Segundo. “Deseamos que este Año suscite en todo creyente la aspiración a confesar la fe con plenitud y renovada convicción, con confianza y esperanza”, proclamó el Papa Benedicto en su Carta Apostólica, Porta Fidei, que anuncia el Año de la Fe.

Será un momento para que nosotros miremos con nuevos ojos los bloques que integran nuestra fe – oración, liturgia, los sacramentos, el Catecismo, testimonio público y otros – y recibir todo lo que estos tienen que ofrecernos. Inspirado por nuestro propio sentido de renovación, se espera que el Año engendrará un nuevo sentido de compartir la misión de extender la palabra de Dios y su poder redentor a otros; revertir la corriente del secularismo que se alza especialmente en el Occidente de Europa y los Estados Unidos. Esto es lo que los líderes eclesiásticos están llamando “La Nueva Evangelización”. Tengo la esperanza y ofrezco mis oraciones para que en nuestra diócesis lleguemos a conocer y responder a este llamado durante el Año de la Fe.

Pero por favor no esperen el Año de la Fe para fortalecer su relación con el Señor. Al igual que con cualquier otra relación, necesitamos alimentar nuestro vínculo con Jesús dándole fielmente nuestro tiempo. Podemos hacerlo por medio de la oración periódica, la reflexión sobre sus palabras y enseñanzas en los santos evangelios y, por supuesto, encontrándolo en la celebración de la Sagrada Eucaristía.

Ruego en mis oraciones para que el resto de su jornada de Cuaresma los lleve a la paz, alegría y salvación que vienen cuando nos entregamos de nuevo al Señor.