Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What does being Catholic mean?

By Sister Mary Garascia
Pastoral Coordinator, Holy Name of Jesus, Riverside

A parishioner emailed the other day, suggesting that I put a presidential bumper sticker on my car because there was a Catholic on the ticket. I reminded him that there is also a Catholic on the other ticket — both Ryan and Biden are Catholics. But what does “Catholic” really mean?

“Catholicity, its Challenge for the Church” is an article in the New Theology Review (Nov 2011.) It is challenging reading, but I think it has some helpful things to say about “Catholic” as we consider our “Catholic” vote in the coming election.

Richard Lennan, the author, reminds us that we hear the word “Catholic” through biased ears. We hear it as opposed to “Protestant” even though there was a Catholic Church for 1600 years before Luther. So for sure Catholic does not mean “not Protestant”! We hear “Catholic” as associated with the Pope; but when we think about the four marks of the Church--One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic--it would really be “Apostolic” that connects us with Peter the apostle and his successors.

We hear “Catholic” as describing a certain ethical agenda — like being anti abortion--and that might be OK except that our polarized political realm has narrowed this agenda to just a few items. Speaking of polarization, Lennan has a great definition, borrowed from another author (Lash): polarization is the dramatized simplification of disagreement to the point where there appear to be two and only two approaches possible…locked in mutual incomprehension and distaste.

So, if “Catholic” does not mean not Protestant, and it does not mean a follower of the Pope, and it does not mean a narrow ethical agenda — what does “Catholic” really mean?

This word became part of the Creed in 381, after the Council of Constantinople. In its deepest meaning, Lennon says, it is related to the idea of the Trinity. What is expressed in our belief in the Trinity is that God has both unity and distinctions — Father, Son, Spirit. Jesus Christ also expresses the unity of one divine person who is also fully human. The one revelation of Jesus Christ is offered not just to the Jews but to the multitude of peoples of the world. The Holy Spirit pulled together all the peoples of the known world by speaking to each in his/her own language in the event of Pentecost. So at the most fundamental level, Catholic means unity in diversity.

Lennon continues drawing out the meaning of “Catholic.” Catholic means being a Church that celebrates differences but draws them into a unity of spirit.

Catholic means being a Church that is not confined to one way of being because it is always embracing what is new and good in changing culture. Catholic means being in dialogue with different religions, different cultures, different philosophies — in order to learn from these differences and to speak of the love of Jesus Christ in ways that can be heard despite the differences. Diversity in the Church, Lennon says, is a sign of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Unity of heart and mind comes when people who are different, and think differently, truly listen and speak with one another.

Regarding that bumper sticker, it seems to me that both parties are “locked in mutual incomprehension and distaste” as they demonize one another in the battle of negative commercials. I feel offended when they go after “the Catholic vote” by exaggerating one aspect or the other of our ethics. I would love it if they would appeal to the really “Catholic” values of concern for the common good (unity), respect for diversity, and the full social justice agenda of the Catholic Church. Only then would I want to put that bumper sticker on my car!

Friday, September 14, 2012

An Experience of God

By Ted Furlow,
Director, Department of Pastoral Planning

In the summer of 1955, I was planning to spend my free time as I had always done. After breakfast and chores, I was off on my bike, the only rule being that I headed home when the street lights came on. Lunches were catch as catch can, usually depending on how many empty soda pop bottles I could liberate off of back porches, cash in for the deposit, and buy something to eat.

But that summer, two members of the bicycle pack that I ran with had an aunt who offered her screened-in patio as a club house of sorts for us to use. It was perfect, tons of magazines, comic books, games, comfortable furniture, and an endless supply of iced tea. In retrospect, I suppose that the parents had gotten together and planned a safer place for us to be than the empty lots where we usually played. It was great for three days, but on the fourth day we became the 10 year olds that we were, rough housed the place, and got bounced out of it by the not so happy aunt.

In the almost sixty years that have passed, I never forgot that screened-in patio and the comfortable feeling of someplace special. As I grew into adult hood, I often sought out places like that, looking for the feeling of safety and comfort that they offered. I was fortunate to find many spots that filled that need, and as I grew older those “spots” become places which played a role in the “who” which I was becoming.

As a student at Loyola High School, I served Mass in the mornings for the priests in residence, and standing next to the priest in an alcove altar space, become one of those “spots”. Being three feet away, watching and hearing as the priest breathed the Latin words of consecration over the host and the wine, had a profound effect in shaping my sense of faith and love of the Eucharist.

As an adult, I was asked to participate in a food program for the homeless. One of my “spots” became literally in the streets at 6 am in the morning, feeding 300 homeless men, women, and children. Leading the grace before meals standing a concrete curb, surrounded by bushes is an unusual place to share faith, but the reward of seeing men and women of all stripes in the morning cold, with their heads bowed in a prayer of hope and thanksgiving, was priceless.

As a married man I was asked to participate in Marriage Preparation Classes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, discovering a “spot” which I could share with my wife. In facilitating life with young people, making the same choice that we made to become a Domestic Church, the building block of the Universal Church, I found a way to give back some of the blessings and graces that my “spots” have given to me over the years.

My pursuit of “spots’ was not linear, and in the midst of my peripatetic seeking I knew that there was always someplace else to go. So, some years ago I found myself, in a “spot” not of my choosing, on a hillside in New Mexico inside of sacred circle that I had drawn with a walking stick. I had spent the day alone in prayer with no particular purpose in mind but to listen. I had passed the early hours of the day swatting flies, squirming in the hot sun, and resisting a mounting thirst.

I was looking at a horizon marked with red stone buttes, a cerulean sky, and topped with white thunder clouds. I don’t know how long I watched, but somewhere in that time, the heat, the thirst and flies became unimportant. I remember thinking how absurd it was for me, a seeker, full of anxieties, fears, passions, and stubbornness to be called to a remote corner of northern New Mexico, to sit on a hillside in the wonder of nature and listen for God. But then, most unexpectedly, I heard that soft voice in the stillness and felt that presence.

It has been years, and I still cannot fully explain what happened that day. But my need to listen was resolved, as were the questions which I had carried as life baggage. In an experience of God, I had stepped over a threshold. As I looked back at a life lived that finally made sense, I knew that I could only go forward. There would be other “spots” in my life, but this “spot” on that hillside was the one which I had always been seeking.

I was shaken from my reverie by the sound of someone laughing aloud; I was surprised to find that it was me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Election gives us a chance to support a culture of life

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In recent weeks and months we have seen reports of terrible acts of violence against innocent people. In a Colorado movie theater; at a temple of peacefully worshipping Sikhs; in Syria, where so many blameless children and families are caught in the crossfire of the political uprising, and in our own city of San Bernardino, where 30 people have already been murdered in 2012 as of this writing.

God created each human person with loving care and with great intention. Each of us is so very precious in His eyes. For he fashioned all things that they might have being (Wis. 1:14).

Yet, our propensity to commit violence against one another seems to have been deeply ingrained in us from the beginning. This is sin at its most raw and forceful. We see it again and again throughout human history and, indeed, it is a recurring theme in the Holy Scriptures, from the story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis to the passion of our Lord as told in the Gospels.

Violence stirs many emotions in us. We feel fear for our safety, or sadness at the injury caused by violence, or we may be angered at its injustice and desire retribution.

As Roman Catholics we believe in the dignity of every human person and that every life has value. Acts of violence disrespect that dignity. We are especially pained when we see acts of violence that are sanctioned by law. Abortion is a prime example of this. The use of the death penalty is another.

The parishes in our diocese were very active earlier this year in promoting proposed state ballot measures that reflect the Catholic belief in human dignity and our opposition to both abortion and the death penalty. Despite the efforts of our diocese and the other 11 in California, the abortion-related measure did not obtain enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The SAFE California Act, which would replace the death penalty in California with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, did qualify for the state ballot. So we will have an opportunity on November 6 to, in a significant way, promote the culture of life by voting in favor of this measure, Proposition 34.

It is difficult for some to see the abolition of the death penalty as part of the consistent ethic of life in our Church, especially those who may have lost a loved one to an act of violence. Carrying the weight of such loss inevitably makes it more difficult to view the death penalty this way. If you have experienced this kind of loss please know that I hold you in my prayers and ask God to bring you peace and reconciliation. Several years ago I created the Office of Restorative Justice to minister to all those affected by crime and this past year they have begun retreats for families of murder victims and also trainings for ministers to accompany those who have lost a loved one to murder. I ask the faithful of the diocese to be aware of these victims and to reach out to them in prayer and pastoral support.

Our Church’s long history is not without the stain of violence, and even support for capital punishment. This must be acknowledged. At the same time, Church leadership from Rome to Washington D.C. to Sacramento has expressed with increasing volume the belief that the death penalty is a violation of human dignity. This began at the end of the last century under the leadership of Blessed John Paul II and brings us to the present stance of the U.S. Bishops that the death penalty should be abolished in our country and, specifically, the California Bishops’ support of Prop 34.

This change, as with all good things, is rooted in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ who God sent to “shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace (Luke 1:79).” Blessed John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life offers many important reflections that speak to the present position of our Church on the death penalty. In it, he revisits God’s protective marking of Cain and his subsequent exiling of Cain as a commentary on how we might treat those who commit murder. “God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide,” wrote Blessed John Paul II.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church allows that punishment by death is permissible if it is the only means to protect the public. As first noted by Blessed John Paul II and often by my brother Bishops since, our society has developed sufficient methods for protecting the public from violent criminals that the Catholic criteria for using the death penalty can no longer be met. Whoever commits murder must surely be held responsible for that sinful act, and a life of imprisonment, as stipulated in Prop 34, surely represents a high price.

But at the heart of this very difficult issue is God’s call to us that we recognize the sanctity of all human life and the dignity of every person, even of the one who commits a grave act of violence. Jesus’ promise of unrestricted forgiveness is offered even to the worst of sinners. That gift to our humanity comes with no qualifications or stipulations.

And just as we cannot qualify our belief in the dignity of all life, we must also recognize the peril of sending our children and young people mixed messages about violence. We teach them not to bully, not to fight, not to kill, and yet we show them through state-sponsored execution that violence can be an acceptable solution. This, in no small part, perpetuates the culture of violence that has flared in the tragedies of recent months.

Signs that we, as a nation, are waking up to this double standard have emerged with the decisions over the past three years of New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut to abolish the death penalty. Six more states, including our own, have put use of the death penalty on hold because of unresolved procedural or ethical concerns. With Prop 34, we will have an opportunity to be part of this conversion of heart on Nov. 6.

The Lord Jesus calls us to turn away from violence and to be sowers of peace (Luke 8:4-8). When we are ready to call for the death of a grievous sinner, He reminds us that our own sinfulness makes us unfit for such judgment (John 8:1-11). He came so that we might have life.

I pray that in this election season, as we are bombarded with information and partisan opinion, that you find time for prayer, reflection and examination of your conscience with respect to the many important matters that will be before us on Nov. 6. May the light of faith be your guide. And may God bless you.

Las elecciones nos dan una oportunidad para apoyar una cultura de vida
Por Obispo Gerald Barnes
Diócesis de San Bernardino

Mis Hermanos y Hermanas en Cristo,

En semanas y meses recientes hemos visto reportajes sobre actos terribles de violencia en contra de personas inocentes. En un cinema en Colorado; en un templo de sijes que rendían culto pacíficamente; en Siria, donde tantos niños y familias inocentes están atrapados en el fuego reciproco de la revuelta política, y en nuestra propia ciudad de San Bernardino, donde 30 personas han sido ya asesinadas en 2012 hasta el momento de este escrito.

Dios creó a cada ser humano con atención amorosa y con una gran intención. Cada uno de nosotros es valioso en sus ojos. Él lo creó todo para que subsistiera (Sab. 1:14).

Sin embargo, nuestra tendencia a cometer actos de violencia, los unos en contra de los otros, parece estar profundamente arraigada en nosotros desde el principio. Este es el pecado en su forma más cruda y enérgica. Lo vemos una y otra vez en la historia de la humanidad y, de hecho, es un tema constante en las Sagradas Escrituras, de la historia de Caín y Abel en el Libro del Génesis a la pasión de nuestro Señor como la relatan los Evangelios.

La violencia suscita en nosotros muchas emociones. Temor por nuestra seguridad, o tristeza ante el daño causado por la violencia, o tal vez nos enfurece su injusticia y deseamos represalia.

Como católicos romanos, nosotros creemos en la dignidad de todo ser humano y que toda vida es valiosa. Los actos de violencia ofenden esa dignidad. Los actos de violencia que son aprobados por la ley nos causan un dolor especial. El aborto es un ejemplo excelente de esto. El uso de la pena de muerte es otro.

Las parroquias en nuestra diócesis estuvieron muy activas a principios de este año promoviendo las medidas que se propusieron para la boleta electoral estatal; medidas que reflejan la creencia católica en la dignidad humana y nuestra oposición tanto al aborto como a la pena de muerte. A pesar de los esfuerzos de nuestra diócesis y de las otras 11 en California, la medida en relación al aborto no obtuvo suficientes firmas para ser incluida en la boleta. La medida SAFE California Act, la cual reemplazaría la pena de muerte en California con una condena de cadena perpetua sin la posibilidad de libertad preparatoria, sí recibió el apoyo necesario para ser incluida en la boleta estatal. Así que, el 6 de noviembre, tendremos la oportunidad de promover, de manera significativa, la cultura de vida al votar a favor de esta medida, la Propuesta 34.

Es difícil para algunos ver la abolición de la pena de muerte como parte de la ética consistente de vida en nuestra Iglesia, especialmente quienes tal vez hayan perdido a un ser querido a causa de un acto de violencia. El peso de esa pérdida inevitablemente hace más difícil ver la pena de muerte de esta manera. Si ustedes han sufrido este tipo de pérdida, sepan por favor que los recuerdo en mis oraciones y que pido a Dios que les dé paz y reconciliación. Hace varios años establecí la Oficina de Justicia Restitutiva para asistir a todos los afectados por la delincuencia y el año pasado el equipo pastoral de esta oficina comenzó a ofrecer retiros para las familias de las víctimas de asesinato y también capacitación para ministros que acompañan a quienes han perdido a un ser querido a causa del asesinato. Pido a los fieles de la diócesis que estén concientes del dolor de estas víctimas y les ofrezcan sus oraciones y su apoyo pastoral.

La larga historia de nuestra Iglesia no está limpia de la mancha de la violencia, y hasta el apoyo a la pena capital. Esto se debe reconocer. A la vez, los líderes eclesiásticos desde Roma a Washington D.C., a Sacramento han expresado con creciente insistencia la creencia de que la pena de muerte es un quebranto a la dignidad humana. Esto comenzó a finales del siglo pasado bajo el liderazgo del Beato Juan Pablo II y nos lleva a la presente postura de los Obispos de los Estados Unidos de que la pena de muerte se debe abolir en nuestro país y, específicamente, el apoyo de los Obispos de California a la Propuesta 34.

Este cambio, como todas las cosas buenas, está arraigado en la persona de nuestro Señor Jesucristo a quien Dios envió “para iluminar a los que están en tinieblas y en sombra de muerte, y para dirigir nuestros pasos hacia el camino de la paz”. La encíclica del Beato Juan Pablo II en 1995, El Evangelio de la Vida, ofrece muchas reflexiones importantes que hablan de la presente postura de nuestra Iglesia en torno a la pena de muerte. En ella, él hace referencia a la señal de protección que Dios puso en Caín y su subsiguiente exilio que impuso en Caín como comentario sobre cómo debemos tratar a quienes comenten asesinato. “Dios no quiso castigar al homicida con el homicidio, ya que quiere el arrepentimiento del pecador y no su muerte”, escribió el Beato Juan Pablo II.

El Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica consiente que el castigo con la muerte es permisible si éste es el único medio para proteger al público. Como recalcó primeramente el Beato Juan Pablo II y, posteriormente, a menudo recalcan mis hermanos Obispos, nuestra sociedad ha desarrollado suficientes métodos para proteger al público de delincuentes violentos de manera que ya no se puede satisfacer el criterio católico para utilizar la pena de muerte. A cualquiera que cometa asesinato se le debe responsabilizar sin duda por ese acto pecaminoso, y una vida de encarcelamiento, como se estipula en la Propuesta 34, seguramente representa un alto precio.

Pero en la médula de este tema tan difícil está el llamado que Dios nos hace a reconocer la santidad de toda vida humana y la dignidad de todo ser humano, aun de quien comete un grave acto de violencia. El perdón ilimitado que Jesús prometió se les ofrece hasta a los peores pecadores. Ese regalo que se le dio a nuestra humanidad viene sin reservas o condiciones.

Y así como no podemos matizar nuestra creencia en la dignidad de toda vida, debemos también reconocer el peligro de enviar a nuestros niños y jóvenes mensajes contradictorios sobre la violencia. Les enseñamos a no acosar, a no pelear, a no matar, y sin embargo, por medio de la ejecución respaldada por el estado, les mostramos que la violencia puede ser una solución aceptable. Esto, en gran parte, perpetúa la cultura de violencia que ha estallado en las tragedias de los meses recientes.

Señales de que nosotros, como nación, estamos despertando a este doble criterio han surgido con las decisiones, en los últimos tres años, de Nuevo México, Illinois y Connecticut de abolir la pena de muerte. Seis estados más, incluyendo el nuestro, han suspendido, por el momento, el uso de la pena de muerte debido a consideraciones procesales o éticas no resueltas. Con la Propuesta 34, el 6 de noviembre nosotros tendremos la oportunidad de ser parte de esta conversión de corazón.

El Señor Jesús nos llama a dar la espalda a la violencia y a ser sembradores de paz (Lucas 8:4-8). Cuando estamos preparados para pedir la muerte de un pecador terrible, él nos recuerda que nuestra propia pecaminosidad nos hace indignos de juzgar (Juan 8:1-11). Él vino para que tuviéramos vida.

Ruego al Señor para que en este tiempo de elecciones, en que nos vemos bombardeados con información y opiniones partidistas, ustedes hagan un tiempo para orar, reflexionar y examinar su conciencia con respecto a las muchas e importantes cuestiones que tendremos que decidir el 6 de noviembre. Que la luz de la fe sea su guía. Y que el Señor les bendiga.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Updating Ourselves: The New Evangelization (part 2)

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

Pope Benedict XVI, following the footsteps of his blessed predecessor, has declared the year from October 11, 2012, “the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council,” up to “the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the 24th of November 2013,.. the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” as the YEAR OF FAITH, with the theme: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.

The theme of the New Evangelization was again in Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for the 2012 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, in his Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family and his Address to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting The New Evangelization.

It is important for us to take to heart the words of the Holy Fathers, Blessed Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, especially in light of the situation of the U.S. Catholic Church.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, faithful to the Holy Father, through its website, says: “The Church in the United States can be likened to the mustard seed. The Church has been present in the Americas since the first missionaries arrived in the 15th Century. Over the past five centuries, the Church's foundation has sprung up and taken root in the U.S., spreading her branches and offering shade to the weary. This can be seen simply by looking at the work of Catholic Charities on behalf of the poor, the network of Catholic schools offering education to millions, and the commitment of U.S. Catholics to the Church's social justice teachings. However, there is still work to do.

The 2008 Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) study "Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among U.S. Catholics. . . ," provides a glimpse into the beliefs, practices and attitudes of U.S. Catholics. According to the study, only 23% of U.S. Catholics regularly attend Mass once a week, while 77% self-identify as proud to be Catholic. These statistics point to the need for the New Evangelization.

The seed of the Church is present, but the message of Jesus Christ needs to be re-sown and watered for those who have already heard Christ's call, but who have not been fully evangelized or catechized. Truly, the seed of Christ's message has taken root and yielded much fruit in past seasons.”

Thus: “The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize. In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on 're-proposing' the Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. (It) invites each Catholic to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.”