Thursday, April 26, 2012

Easter is truly a Season of Love

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Late last month I attended the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress held at the Anaheim Convention Center. After attending this annual event for over 30 years, I still find this Catholic gathering amazing. This year there were over 40,000 people, 16,000 for the Youth Day on Thursday and over 24,000 people of various languages, cultures and ministries participating in three conference days following. We all spent this “triduum” learning, praying, browsing and celebrating our shared faith with friends, colleagues and fellow parish ministers. We were told at the opening ritual that people from nearly every state in the union and many countries from around the world were in attendance including Australia, Pakistan, the Philippines, England, Korea and several nations in Africa. On Saturday night I joined some of my small faith community friends for two evening programs designed for both reflection and entertainment. 

The second program was a concert of Broadway show tunes performed by a wonderful ensemble of church musicians and singers. One of the last numbers staged was the popular song “Seasons of Love” from the 90s hit musical RENT.  For the un-initiated, RENT tells the story of a year in the life of a group (three couples really) of young adult friends who face life together in the artist colony of New York City’s lower Manhattan. As a group they deal with some of  humanity’s most profound experiences including finding and losing love, accepting the death of a friend from AIDS, seeking meaningful work, figuring out one’s sexuality and of course the need for money just to pay the “rent” as the opening title number showcased.

The refrain of the song “Seasons of Love” centers around the number of minutes that are in a year of time, reflecting on the everyday activities and experiences that can happen during those days, weeks and months, and what they say about the people who lived them. This song got me thinking about how I have spent the last 525,600 minutes (a year of minutes) as a church worker, a friend and just as a human being. Each minute of our lives, the song implies could be filled with encounters and events that shape the kind of persons we become.  I wondered, “How have I lived this year of minutes?”  Have I loved and cared and learned and grown?  Have I reached out to those nearby and far away? Having just completed Lent and now in the “Easter Season” I thought “what a great description of the Eastertime” as the season of love. Our sacrificial practices and observances of the previous 40 days now give way to 50 days of the new life. In short, we were shaped by the season of sacrifice so we could now live in the season of love.  Isn’t this how the whole journey of faith is supposed to be?

Easter is truly a “season of love.”  Each minute, hour and day we are alive is truly a gift of love from our God who not only resurrected Jesus his Son but calls us forth, too,  from the tombs of broken lives.  Easter is the season of love because that is what it means to be a follower of the Risen One. It means to love the other, both God and humanity, fully and not just  in the abstract but truly minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day. Gee, that reminds me of another good song from another Broadway show … perhaps for another reflection. 

Happy Season of Love, Happy Easter!

For Reflection and Sharing…
What season in life are you in right now?  How can Easter be a special season or time for you to love others as God has loved you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Giving Thanks for Weeds and Things

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

Easter Monday, 2012

It seemed like such a luxury to go out to the back yard this morning and attack the weeds that had sprung up after the rain and were flourishing in the warm sun. It felt good to have the warmer weather, to be able to wear flip flops and shorts and take my time, resting to smell the citrus blossoms and listen to the birds. I was so grateful for this opportunity. God is so good to bless us with these experiences.

This is an important aspect of the Easter season for those Christians in the Northern hemisphere. We have been reminded of the central stories of our faith: the last supper, the passion and death of Jesus and the resurrection at our worship services. On days like this, we are reminded of the renewal of nature and the wonderful season of Spring. After months of cold – well, not really cold except by Southern California standards – the warm days are finally back and new life is everywhere! Some of the new life is in the form of back yard weeds, and I am grateful for them because they give me the excuse I need to waste time out in the sun.

A few weeks ago I bought lambs quarters (it is a vegetable) at market night. I thought it was broccoli rabe. It turns out to be just as delicious and similar in taste. What this has to do with the above is that today, I found this stuff growing in my yard. In years past I had just pulled it up – but today, I noted it as another blessing, and it will be on my table tonight. Thank you God for weeds and other things.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Gift of Resurrection is to be shared

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Today we receive God’s greatest gift to us – new life in the Resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We feel the warmth of God’s love and the hope that He seeks to kindle in us perhaps stronger than on any other day of the year. I join you in this joyful exaltation. Alleluia! He is risen!

I also pose this question. What do we now do with the Good News that we have received?
Hopefully, our journey through Lent has allowed us to examine truths about our life and faith that have drawn us closer to God. Our faith is stronger “being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire...” (1 Peter 1:7).

The purification that we experience during Lent is not an end unto itself, however. As our diocesan vision states, “we are a community of believers… called to impact family, neighborhood and society…” This speaks to the importance of mission. The hope that we have received in the Resurrection is meant to be shared with all, for the good of all, through strong Christian witness in all of the circles we travel.

In his parable of the Ten Gold Coins (Lk. 19: 11-27), the Lord teaches us that those who take God’s gift of faith and multiply it find favor with Him, while those who burry it in fear do not. We can apply this to our sharing of the Good News this Easter season. It’s no accident that the Gospel is referred to as the Good News. News is information to be shared! Of course, this is a different kind of news than what we read in the paper or on-line or watch on television. It is our own story about how encountering Jesus has transformed us, and how that conversion is there for everyone to experience.

What does this calling mean to us in our everyday lives? Perhaps it means asking God through prayer and reflection how we can use the gifts and talents He has given us to bring the Good News to others. Perhaps it means recognizing that in our daily interactions with our brothers and sisters in Christ, in how we act and in what we say; we have the opportunity to share the Good News. Perhaps it means, for some of us, a realization that God is calling us to serve His Holy Church in religious life. Perhaps it is something as simple as resolving to worship and pray more faithfully with our parish community.

The Easter Season is a time of mystagogia, a deeper examination of the mysteries of our faith. We are called in a special way to accompany those who have received the sacraments of baptism, first Eucharist and confirmation at the Easter Vigil. They certainly must feel that their faith journey is just beginning. In the light of the Resurrection, you might say that is true for all of us.

I offer you my prayers for a joyous Easter Season. May God bless you.

Nuestro regalo de la Resurrección es algo para compartir

Por Obispo Gerald Barnes
Diócesis de San Bernardino

Hoy recibimos el regalo más grande que Dios nos da – vida nueva en la Resurrección de su Hijo, nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Sentimos el calor del amor de Dios y la esperanza que Él procura infundir en nosotros tal vez más fuerte en este día que en cualquier otro día del año. Me uno a ustedes en esta exaltación jubilosa. ¡Ha resucitado!

Hago también esta pregunta. ¿Qué hacemos ahora con la Buena Noticia que hemos recibido?

Esperemos que nuestra jornada de Cuaresma nos haya permitido analizar verdades sobre nuestra vida y fe que nos han acercado a Dios. Nuestra fe es más fuerte “más valiosa que el oro, el cual es perecedero a pesar de haber sido purificado en el fuego…” (1 Pedro 1:7).

La purificación que vivimos durante la Cuaresma no termina en sí misma, sin embargo. Como lo expresa nuestra visión diocesana, “somos una comunidad de creyentes…llamados a impactar a la familia, el vecindario y la sociedad…” Esto habla de la importancia de la misión. Debemos compartir con otros la esperanza que hemos recibido en la Resurrección, por el bien de todos, por medio de un fuerte testimonio cristiano en todos los círculos que recorremos.

En su parábola de las Diez Monedas de Oro (Lc 19:11-27), el Señor nos enseña que quienes toman el regalo de la fe que Dios nos da y lo multiplican son de su agrado, mientras que quienes lo entierran por temor no le agradan. Podemos aplicar esto a nuestro compartir de la Buena Noticia en este Tiempo de Pascua. No es por accidente que al Evangelio se le llama la Buena Noticia. ¡Las noticias son información para compartir! Por supuesto, este es un tipo de noticias diferente a las que leemos en el periódico o en el Internet o que vemos en la televisión. Es nuestra propia historia sobre cómo el encontrar a Jesús nos ha transformado, y cómo esa conversión está ahí para que todos la vivan.

¿Qué significa para nosotros este llamado en nuestras vidas cotidianas? Tal vez significa preguntarle a Dios por medio de la oración y reflexión cómo podemos utilizar los dones y talentos que Él nos ha dado para llevar la Buena Noticia a otros. Tal vez significa reconocer que en nuestro trato diario con nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, en nuestra forma de actuar y en lo que decimos, tenemos la oportunidad de compartir la Buena Noticia. Tal vez significa para algunos de nosotros, reconocer que Dios nos está llamando a servir a su Santa Iglesia en la vida religiosa. Podría ser algo tan simple como tomar la decisión de alabar a Dios y orar junto con nuestra comunidad parroquial con una mayor fe.

El Tiempo de Pascua es un tiempo de mistagogia, un análisis más profundo de los misterios de nuestra fe. Somos llamados de una manera especial a acompañar a quienes han recibido los sacramentos del bautismo, primera comunión y confirmación en la Vigilia Pascual. Ciertamente, ellos deben sentir que su jornada de fe apenas comienza. En la luz de la Resurrección, ustedes podrían decir que esto resulta cierto para todos nosotros.

Les ofrezco mis oraciones por un Tiempo de Pascua lleno de gozo. Que Dios les bendiga.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good Friday and Jewish Passover make for a busy day

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

As fortune or fate would have it, Friday April 6, 2012 marks the holy days of two great religions, it being the Christian fast day of Good Friday, and in the evening at Sunset, it will be the Jewish festival of Passover. Clearly, there is a direct historical and theological tie between the two, although they have very different significances.

Good Friday is the date on which Christians celebrate the execution of Jesus Christ at the hands of the Romans. The name “Good Friday” sounds odd to the ear, given that it is called “good” and commemorates, argue some, judicial murder. Scholars do not agree on the origin of the name. It may simply be a version of “God’s Friday.” Alternatively, it may have a theological meaning, in the medieval sense of the word “good,” meaning “paid off.” A good debt was one which was paid off by the debtor, while a bad debt was one which was never paid. In the religious arena, if mankind’s debt to sin was paid by Christ’s atoning death on this day, then the debt is a “good” one in the sense that it is now paid.

Good Friday is celebrated as the Friday before Easter, and as such is part of the Triduum, or the three holy days of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter, which marks the larger experience of the death and resurrection of Christ. Since Easter follows a lunar calendar and is now the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Equinox, the date varies on the Gregorian calendar. For centuries, historians have tried to calculate the actual date on which Jesus was killed by going back to the Jewish calendar. Jesus was killed either on the Passover, or the day before the Passover, depending on how one reads the Gospels. Some scholars have calculated, therefore, that it must have been April 3 in the year 33 AD. This is, at best, conjecture. The only certain dates we can place for the event is that if it was the rule of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, his administration was from 26-36 AD before he was relieved of command by Tiberius Caesar for charges of treason and cruelty.

The first Christians certainly commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus around the time of the Jewish Passover, and given that many of the first Christians were Jews this must have seemed appropriate to them. But as gentile became increasingly dominant in the Church, it left its Jewish heritage, to some degree, in the past, which included its liturgical calendar. It was around 200 AD that the Bishop Hippolytus in Rome produced a complex method of calculating the date of Easter, which is officially still used today.

A description of early Christian worship on Good Friday is recorded for us by a woman Egeria, who lived in the twilight of the Roman Empire. Egeria made a pilgrimage to the holy land sometime around 381-384, and recorded her adventures in a document called Itinerarium Egeriae. Her manuscript was probably written in Italy, doubtless when she got home from her pilgrimage. In the text she makes a point of describing the worship services in Jerusalem in Holy Week. Egeria tells us about not only Good Friday, but also Palm Sunday and Easter, and she also tells us the date of Christmas was kept on December 25. Such information tells us that these holy days were not only practiced in Jerusalem, but Egeria also assumes that her readers knew what she was writing about, strongly suggesting that the holy dates were almost universal by the fourth century AD.

Today, Good Friday is observed by Christians in a variety of ways. Preaching services, sometimes on the last seven words of Christ are common in the Protestant community. In the Catholic tradition there is a ritual veneration of the cross, usually with solemn prayers for the nations of the world and kissing a wooden crucifix in honor of Christ’s suffering. It is the only day of the year in the Catholic world when no Mass is said, although holy communion is given from the reserved sacrament. In the Eastern Orthodox world all of the holy week festivals are kept according to the Julian calendar, which means that their solemn rites will be done this year on Friday, April 13. For the Orthodox, it also called Great Friday and Holy Friday, and in some places it is commemorated by the ritual reading of the twelve passages from the Gospels and solemn hymns and prayers. In some parishes, Orthodox priests will remove icons of Christ from the church and wrap them in linen cloths to represent the burial of Jesus. It is from Eastern Christianity that we derive the customs about decorated Easter Eggs, which remain very popular in the East as a symbol of the resurrection.

This Good Friday will find me venerating the Cross with the kind Carmelite Fathers, who give me hospitality and share their altar with me most weekdays. But this Good Friday night at sunset will also find me as usual, with the Jewish community celebrating Passover once again this year, it being the 15th day of Nisan, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The night is observed with a meal eaten with bitter herbs to recall the bitterness of slavery, horseradish, applesauce and matzo bread to recall the buildings and mortar commanded by Pharaoh’s harsh taskmasters. And there are songs, prayers and good cheer. There are the ritual four cups of wine to mark out the different parts of the Seder meal, and a prize for the child who can find the Afikoman, that crafty bit of matzo bread which gets lost and must be found before the meal can end. It’s not exactly a traditional Catholic Lenten meal. But what would Jesus do?