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 August 6, 2007 • VOL. 45, NO. 14 • Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

A reflection on vocation, hospitality and the grace of diversity

On Friday, July 27, I returned to Oakland after two weeks of vacation, two weeks I spent in Michigan with my parents, my brothers and sister, my family and friends. It was a wonderful experience, especially since I had not been able to be home in the last 12 months. My broken arms and the aftermath meant that I was not able to get home all through the year.

I am very grateful to God that my parents continue to function well. My father is 88 and my mother is 82; they have some of the typical health complaints that come with old age, but they are able to live in their own home and keep up the house and the grounds. I am particularly edified at the tender care they show for one another.

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to them--it never is--but my next day here in the diocese was filled with wonderful experiences that helped me appreciate again my blessings at having my new home in Oakland.

Profession of vows
I began my Saturday program in the middle of the morning by presiding at the Eucharistic Sacrifice where five young women made their profession in the community of Vietnamese Sisters that is such a blessing to our diocese – the QuiNhon Missionary Sisters of the Holy Cross. Sisters Mary Concepta Huong T. Nguyen, Maria Goretti Tri An Nguyen, Theresa Lan Do and Mary Margaret Phan made their perpetual vows; and Sister Mary Magdalene Trang T. Nguyen made her first profession as she concluded her novitiate.

It was a wonderful celebration. The Church of Santa Maria in Orinda was packed with family and friends, a whole multitude of Vietnamese priests that serve here in the Bay Area and people from throughout the region who are supporters of the Sisters.

An occasion like this is a great opportunity to consider again the nature of the life of religious men and women in the Church. It is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the grace that is at work in his sons and daughters as they make the promises of chastity, poverty and obedience.
Even on a natural level, any thoughtful consideration of the act of making a promise leads us to appreciate what a marvelous capacity we have to make vows and promises.

Standing at one particular point in time, we gather the indefinite, unknown future into our own hands and we shape it. We stand at a moment in time and place all of our integrity on the line in saying,“I choose to make every day from this day forward have a particular character.”

These young women said that from Saturday on their lives will be lived in virginal chastity, poverty in imitation of the Lord, and obedience according to his example.

This, of course, is a grace, being able to make these sacred promises, these vows. It is a grace that is reflective of and points to the very nature of the Church.

The Church is the bride of Christ. Christ first loves his Church; he is the bridegroom who has given himself totally to the Church and who invites the Church to reciprocate, to give her heartfelt love back to him in equal measure.

Those who live in consecrated life are paradigms of that relationship. They are for all of us an example of what it means to belong totally to Christ. The liturgy makes clear that the pronouncing of these vows is something that is only possible because those who promise have first come to know Jesus Christ. They have been wooed by him, courted by him, and they agree to let him possess them so that they might possess him fully.

And this love between Christ and the Church, between the nun and Jesus is an expression of the love that exists between the Father and the Son within the Holy Trinity from all eternity. The love between Christ and his spouse, the Sister in religious life, is total and unconditional because there is no other way for Jesus to love. This is how the Father has loved him and this is how he has always loved the Father in return.

The total gift of Christ
The high point of the Liturgy of Religious Profession is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The vows pronounced are the marriage vows between Christ and the Sister, and the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the marriage feast. There at the altar table, Christ fulfills his promise and gives himself totally in his flesh and blood, soul and divinity to his beloved, and Sister, as she receives Holy Communion, makes a like gift in return.

Seeing this is for all of us in the Christian Community a reminder of the meaning of our every act of receiving Holy Communion. We, too, accept the total gift of Christ to us and pledge to make the gift in like measure to him in response. All of us are in our lives espoused to Christ. We are his and he is ours.

I left Orinda with two prayers in my heart: first, a prayer of thanksgiving that God has given us sons and daughters of the heroic Vietnamese Catholic family to be part of our local Church. To be faithful to Christ and his Church, Catholics of Vietnam have willingly endured great suffering, many even to shedding their blood.

The religious profession of those five daughters of the Vietnamese Catholic people is only the latest expression of this noble heritage of courageous faith.

My second prayer was a petition to God; I asked him to give all the young people of our diocese an abundant outpowering of the grace that has worked so powerfully in the five newly professed Sisters.

They accepted wholeheartedly from the Holy Spirit his gift so that they could hear him when in the depth of their hearts he told them for what destiny they were created and called. They accepted the grace of loving boldly so that without counting the cost they could answer their calls.

Those are the gifts I want from God for all my younger brothers and sisters. These gifts have led the five new QuiNhon Missionary Sisters to find great joy. I pray that all our young people will know that same burning joy, which comes from recognizing God’s will and then saying “yes.”

Reaching out to Chinese scholars
The second event on Saturday was a celebration for the 20th anniversary of the Inter Friendship House Association on Addison Street, not far from St. Joseph the Worker Church, in Berkeley. For 20 years, this organization has provided hospitality for scholars who are visiting UC Berkeley from China.

The Inter Friendship House Association seeks to serve these Chinese scholars and students who are here studying and doing research. The scope of the service is to give advice about study and daily life, to provide help and housing, shopping, occasional transportation to the airport when that is needed, organizing sightseeing trips and picnics, and offering courses in English conversation.

In all of this, the aim is to show friendship to these visitors from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In this way they will know that, here in the East Bay, there is a group of Christians who receive them not as strangers but as friends who want to support them and their important work of scholarship.

Bishop John Cummins was one of the founders of the association 20 years ago, and this is an important occasion to acknowledge his contribution and to say thanks to him and to all of those who began the Association.

When I left Friendship House, the prayer in my heart was for China--that great people so dear to Christ’s heart. I pray that they, with all the riches of their history and culture and art and wisdom, will find that consummation which God wills to give them through knowing and loving Christ.

Catholics of the Ge’ez Rite
After my visit to Friendship House, I walked along the road to St. Joseph the Worker Church where there was a meeting of the Eritrean Catholics of Ge’ez Rite in North America. This was the 10th Congress of this group of Catholic Christians who are scattered in various parts of the United States.

The delegates of this Congress chose to meet here in our diocese because at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, under the pastoral leadership of Father Ghebriel Woldai, there is a very vibrant community of Eritrean Ge’ez Catholics living out their Christian life according to the very ancient traditions. These go back all the way to the Apostolic Church in Alexandria in Egypt.

The Ge’ez Catholics throughout the United States hold these meetings in order to gain mutual strength in discussing the challenges they face and considering how to meet them. It was wonderful to be with them and in the name of all of us in the Diocese of Oakland, I expressed our solidarity and communion.

As I left this gathering the prayer in my heart was one of thanks: Thanks to God that living and worshipping with us here in the East Bay are these sons and daughters of the Church which St. Mark the Evangelist founded.

It was a fairly long day, a day in which I gathered with people from the Vietnamese community, the Chinese community and the Eritrean community living, working, praying, and serving God in our diocese.

It was a very rewarding day, a day that brought back to my mind once again how blessed we are with the wide diversity of communities and peoples here in the East Bay. God has given us many gifts to share, and I pray that we will always receive them with open hearts and be generous in giving our gifts to those who are our neighbors.

 

Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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