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Catholic Voice
  March 9, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO.5   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Thanks to consecrated religious for caring of the people of Oakland


Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

Twenty-five years ago when I was doing graduate studies in Rome and living at the Jesuit Gregorian University I was in charge of arranging a retreat for five of my young priest-classmates and myself.

We put together a little trip to Switzerland to go to Einsiedeln Abbey. We took the overnight train from Rome and woke up in the middle of the Swiss Alps. We got off the train in the heart of Switzerland and walked through this beautiful village and to this spectacular abbey that once had an abbot who was a prince-bishop. The monks warmly welcomed us and showed us to our rooms. The rooms all had fabulous oil paintings. The abbey was built 600 years before St. Ignatius Loyola was born.

It was an awesome place of pilgrimage. We ate with the 100 monks in a grand refectory, with fine food. The monks had reading at table. The walls and ceiling of the refectory were painted with beautiful frescos. The monks even served us homemade beer with the meal.

As we went to our rooms, the monks had a schedule posted in Latin. And my friend, Rev. Paul Shaughnessy (who before he entered the Jesuits played football for Holy Cross and was still more comfortable on the football field than the sacristy) said, "Michael, what does the schedule say, what's for tomorrow?"

So I said, "Paul, it says, first office, Vigils, 5 a.m. to 6:15 a.m., 15-minute break; 6:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.: office of Lauds, sung in Gregorian chant; break for 15 minutes; then one hour and 15 minutes for solemn high Mass. (Paul was breaking out in a sweat, as we Jesuits are famous for saying all our prayers by ourselves, as simply as possible.)

"And it also says here, Paul, 'Guests are required to attend all services.' So you better set your clock to 4:30 a.m. so we'll be on time for the 5 a.m. vigils."

Looking at me in horror, Paul replied, "Michael, we're Jesuits! We're not called to that!"

It's true there are many charisms in the church: many different religious orders and congregations.

There is a long history of ministry of consecrated religious in our Diocese of Oakland. The first Mass offered in our diocese was in 1772 right on the other side of Lake Merritt from the cathedral. And if you walk around the lake you'll see a plaque near the wall of Our Lady of Lourdes Church that says the first Mass was celebrated by Father Juan Crespi of the Franciscan order. So the Franciscans were here first — and they're still here — and they're still flourishing.

Pope Francis has declared this year, 2015, "The Year of Consecrated Life" for the whole church.

Why did he pick this year? Because it's been 50 years since the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen gentium." Chapter Six of "Lumen gentium" speaks of religious life.

Pope Francis has three goals for our year of consecrated life.

The first is look to the past with gratitude. All of us, myself included, are heirs of a rich history from our founders and foundresses. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

The second goal of the Year of Consecrated Life is to live the present with passion; to rekindle the fire which first led us to leave our father, our mother, our brothers and sisters, and follow Christ on the day we entered the novitiate. I remember that day; it was a happy day, my mom cried, but I was happy.

We're called to rekindle the fire of love we experienced on the day we took our vows when we made our profession.
The third goal in the Year of Consecrated Life is to embrace the future with hope. There are many difficulties and challenges our religious orders and congregations are currently facing. The Pope refers to declining numbers of vocations and aging members.

This is true in the Western world, but vocations are growing in Africa and India.

In spite of our difficulties, we're called to practice the virtue of hope. Hope not in ourselves, or our own strength. But hope in the Lord of history, who continues to tell us "Be not afraid for I am with you." This is really important.

As we begin this Year of Consecrated Life, I'd like to say, "Thank you," consecrated religious, dedicated women and men, ministering in the Diocese of Oakland. Thank you for taking care of our people. Thank you for all the different ministries and mercies you provide to the people of our diocese: contemplative prayer, teaching, nursing, social work, administration, hospital and prison chaplaincy, parish work, catechesis, multicultural support, and serving the poor. Thank you for being people through whom our parishioners can encounter Jesus, even through your smile, as they pass you on the street."

St. John writes: "for God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that all who believe in him might have eternal life." God so loved the people of Oakland, that he sent us you.

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