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 January 7, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Our mission in 2008:
Live in hope, labor for peace

Dear Friends in Christ,

So, we’ve begun another year — reckoned as the two thousand and eighth “Year of Grace” since the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As I think about our starting the year, I have several considerations I want to share with you.

First, I’ve been thinking a lot about the wish for a “Happy New Year” which is the usual tag line for the greeting “Merry Christmas.”

We certainly do begin each year hoping that it will be happy, filled with blessings. However, even expressing the wish shows that we recognize that there are alternative scenarios. The future is “chancy.” There is the very real possibility that the year ahead will not only contain blessings but hardships.
Such chances are as real for the followers of Christ as they are for our neighbors. For example, 2008 might not look like such a “happy” year after all, since it could be the one with the news of lay-offs at work or the diagnosis of a serious illness.

However, our stance in the face of life’s uncertainties is particular. It is the stance of hope — a hope for a “Happy 2008” based on our unshakable trust in God’s all-powerful love for us.
We have just celebrated the great event of the birth in our flesh of God the Son. God is with us — and he is never going away, will never leave us. Even death could not take him from us.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, has filled our weak humanity with his own divine life. He fills every hour of time and every space in our world with himself. There is nowhere and no moment from which God is absent (except, of course, my own heart, if I freely choose to exclude him, but even then he’s available on instant notice as soon as I invite him).

So, we are right to affirm at its very beginning that 2008 — most of whose days contains who knows what — is a year of grace. “All times and seasons” belong to the Son of God, who became the Son of Mary. “For those who love God,” St. Paul tells us, “all things work unto good” (Rm. 8: 28).

In fact, in this chapter of the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul speaks eloquently of the hope with which we can confidently look forward to a Happy New Year:

“With God on our side who can be against us…. Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. For I am certain of this: …nothing that exists… can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8: 31, 35, 38-39).
So as I wish you a Happy New Year, I invite you to thank God ahead of time for what we are sure he will do to make it happy for us.
My second reflection concerns the two different ways the Church celebrates New Year’s Day: either as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God or the World Day of Peace.
Admittedly, these seem to call to mind very different ideas, and it might not be clear at first how these two celebrations belong on the same day. But they do. As I said above, it is because God the Son was born into time of the Virgin Mary that he is our invincible Prince of Peace.
And it is because of our confidence in Jesus that we, his disciples, take up the work of being peacemakers. Because God the Son has a human mother, we pray and work for peace with trust.

In every age this is a pressing task. In this moment of God’s time there are many fronts on which we are called to be active. Without slighting or undervaluing any of them, I want to underscore a sphere that is particularly important for us in the East Bay.

In many of our communities we are living with the great scourge of street violence. Even the murder of one of our neighbors is a tragedy, but in the East Bay this tragedy is multiplied week after week. At the beginning of this New Year, all of us must ask how we can be instruments of peace.

First, we must pray. This spirit of violence that seems to have us so powerfully in its grip is one of those demons “that,” as the Lord says, “can only be cast out by prayer” (Mk. 9:29). We need God’s own help to win this struggle.

So, please resolve to pray every day for an end to the killing. Even if one lives in a safe neighborhood, a Christian cannot give into the temptation of thinking that this is not my problem. What happens to one of Christ’s least happens to him.

I invite you especially to pray the rosary for peace in our neighborhoods. Our Lady of Fatima called for just such prayers for peace. In our own time that prayer bore fruit in the liberation of millions of people from the yoke of political tyranny. Once more this prayer can be a force for freedom, for setting us free from violence in our streets.

And to our prayer we must add the resolution to do the deeds of peace which the Holy Spirit inspires in our hearts. There are groups we can join, coalitions we can be part of, efforts we can undertake to face down the demon of violence.

If you want more information about what you can do, a good place to start is by contacting Catholic Charities of the East Bay to ask about their Youth Community Violence Prevention Program (www.cceb.org/programs.php or 510-768-3139.)

Before I move on to my final topic, I want to ask, in particular, that you make a special mention in your prayers of all those who bear the pain that comes from the murder of a loved one. At the top of that list has to be the parents and spouses and children of victims.

Pray, too, for the priests, along with their co-workers in the ministry, who accompany the survivors on the sad path that leads from death to burial, and then on into the days of mourning that follow.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to one of the great graces which we expect 2008 will hold for us: the grace of the dedication of our new Cathedral of Christ the Light. As we’ve announced, the date for the dedication is Sept. 25.

And there will be many events through a whole Year of Jubilee to help us make this an occasion to rededicate ourselves — the family of faith, for whom the Cathedral will be a home — to our service of sharing and spreading the Light of Christ.

The important matters I’ve written about above — our call to live in hope, and our mission as peacemakers — are inseparably connected to our new cathedral. By drawing us together in this temple, the beauty of which witnesses powerfully to the presence of the good God in our midst, we will have, by God’s grace, new energy to fulfill the call we received at Baptism, when the priest or deacon said: “Receive the light of Christ.”

In this, Christ was addressing to us in person the charge that we must let our light shine before all (Mt. 5:14-16). For this, too, I thank God ahead of time: for all the good he will gather together at our cathedral and its campus, for all the fruit that will be brought forth in our diocese and our communities because we have launched out into the deep (Lk. 5:4) in building this new center from which we can advance the New Evangelization of the Third Millennium.

 

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

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