ONLINE

In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

 

 

 

A call to pray
for healing from abuse

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

For the past several years we have suffered through the shock and shame of the clergy sex abuse scandals.

We have tried to respond to this painful situation in a variety of ways: formation of a survivor’s outreach ministry to help survivors of clergy sex abuse in the healing process; apology services, first by Bishop Cummins, and then by myself in each of the parishes where the abuse of a minor took place to ask forgiveness for this great sin against our youth and against the entire community; the development of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Safe Environment programs for clergy, staff members and volunteers.

In addition, you are all aware of the legal actions taken against the diocese by various men and women who claim sexual abuse by a priest, a deacon or a Church worker. These have taken much of our time and our resources.

As the Chief Pastor of the Diocese of Oakland, I would like to invite you to a very important spiritual initiative to address the issues around clergy sexual abuse. I am convinced that only the Lord himself can truly heal those who have been abused and our entire community.

Therapists, support groups, lawyers and the courts may offer some form of healing or resolution of these matters, but the fullest form of healing in the lives of survivors or in our Church depends upon the help of the Lord, whose peace only He can give.

During this Year of the Eucharist, I would like to urge each parish and each parishioner to engage in special times of Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament or at least of focused prayer for healing in this area. I am convinced that if every parish set aside one hour a week for prayer, the fruitfulness of their efforts would be truly miraculous.

I therefore ask you to come together in prayer specifically for the following intentions:
•That the victims of clergy sexual abuse may experience profound healing, a healing that only the Lord himself can accomplish.

•That the priests and deacons who serve us so generously may be renewed in holiness.

•That children and young people will be cherished by clergy and laity alike as great gifts to our Church, and that clergy will not hesitate to have healthy interactions with them.

•That bishops may be given the wisdom and courage to assure that the abuse of children and young people will never happen again, and that we may be truly repentant for past actions that did not protect the most vulnerable.

•That I, as your bishop, and those upon whose counsel I rely will receive light from the Holy Spirit, so that we make wise decisions about legal settlements – settlements that are equitable toward victim-survivors, while ensuring that the resources for the other works of the Christian community continue to be available.

•That priests, deacons and Church workers who have abused children or young people may be truly repentant and seek true reconciliation with the Lord and with those whose lives they shattered.

•That all members of our Church may be renewed in holiness as we take up this cross.

We need to continue to dedicate our efforts to the healing process and the restoration of justice, but our human efforts will be in vain without the power of grace that can come to us as we fall on our knees before the all-powerful Lord, who alone is the great healer.

With confidence in your great faith and my warmest regards, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Bishop of Oakland

Working for peace
is doing God’s work

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Since 1968 the Church has celebrated January 1 as World Day of Peace. At the inauguration of this observance, Pope Paul VI spoke of his desire that “this commemoration be repeated as a hope and a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and outlines the path of human life in time, [so] that peace… may dominate the development of events to come” (First World of Peace Message, n. 1).

The Holy Father seemed to have spoken to all hearts in asking the whole human family to make the first day of each new year a day of prayer for peace to reign in our world through all the days that follow.

My own prayers for peace this New Year’s Day were shaped by a moving experience I had in the days just before Christmas. I was able to join the people of St. Louis Bertrand Parish in Las Posadas.

Led by a young girl dressed as Our Lady and a boy in the person of St. Joseph, we walked through the neighborhood with prayers and songs in order to remind folks that they are called to provide a place for the Christ Child to enter our world.

Father Tony Valdivia, the pastor, explained to me that especially in East Oakland, where violence and the suffering that is its bitter fruit are so common, the Christian people have to go out abroad to witness to the Prince of Peace.

Participating in Las Posadas underscored for me that keeping New Year’s Day as a day to pray for peace is not just a time to lift up to God the great sweep of world events and the stage on which world leaders and diplomats act.
Yes, we ordinary folk move within a circle that is much smaller; however, we, too, must work there with all our might for peace. We must be on the lookout constantly for what we can do to put an end to violence: violence in our homes and in our neighborhoods, in our schools and where we work.

Pope John Paul II’s message for the World Day of Peace this year seems tailor-made for such local efforts to combat violence. Borrowing a verse from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the Holy Father exhorts us: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).

I hear in this admonition a summons for all of us to fight the evil of violence in our community. I also hear the ring of confidence in this summons, a confidence rooted in faith, our faith that in rising from the dead Christ has accomplished the final victory of good over evil. It is with the power of his triumph that we will overcome the evil of violence in our midst.

Faced as we are with so much violence, so much evil, we can be tempted to withdraw, to pull back, to say “it’s hopeless. The gangs can’t be stopped; crime will only increase; there will always be abuse in families.”

No! As the Holy Father says, “Based on the certainty that evil will not prevail, Christians nourish an invincible hope that sustains their efforts to promote justice and peace.
Despite the personal and social sins which mark all human activity, hope constantly gives new impulse to the commitment to justice and peace, as well as firm confidence in the possibility of building a better world” (2005 World Day of Peace Message, n. 11).

And the strength to build that better world is the love of Christ that has been poured into our hearts.

So, please pray for peace and work for peace. Pray for an end to violence and form alliances with others to bring about an end to violence. That is the world God originally designed for us. In working to restore the world to peace we are doing God’s work.


 

Childhood memory of God’s unique gift

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Each year the days leading up to the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 bring me back to one of the most powerful memories of my childhood.

See, that was the time for the annual novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help in my home parish back in Anchorville, Michigan. Our parish — you’ll excuse me for still calling it “ours” even though my home is here with you in the East Bay now, but “roots are roots” – is dedicated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, and somewhere along the way one of our wise pastors decided that this novena would be an excellent way for our little community to prepare for our patronal feast.

If I close my eyes I can see again, indeed almost feel once more, exactly how it was. The memories begin even before the start of the service. I remember my mother getting us through supper very efficiently – not rushed, but no time wasted – because there were no minutes to spare between when my dad came home from work and the time for getting on the road to church.

Part of the conversation at the table was my parents deciding which one would attend the novena. Of course, they couldn’t both go. For most of my time in grade school there were at least three of my siblings who were too young to bring along, and so my folks took up the novena as a team effort: one was delegated to mind the home, the other charged with praying for us all. Early on, I got to go along as well.

The novena began on the last day of November, so heading off to church meant traveling in the dark. That added a touch of the exotic to my experience, since all the rest of the time going to church was something that happened in the morning. I remember the feel of those autumn nights, the cold touch of the car’s upholstery, and not rarely driving through snow flurries.

The priest who led the novena services was always a Redemptorist Father who made the trek up from Detroit. These sons of St. Alphonsus had been very active throughout Southeast Michigan, spreading devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help – so much so, that almost every church in the area has a copy of this icon. I remember the peculiarities of the priests’ habits, the mission crosses at their belts and the white collars sown on the outside of their cassocks.

But most of all I remember their voices — their booming, full, don’t-you-even-think-about-falling-asleep-when-I’m-talking voices: deep and powerful when they preached; sonorous and elegant when they read out the list of favors requested and petitions granted.

I remember the prayers and the hymns – phrases which just to pronounce again stir a deep resonance in my soul: “O Mother of Perpetual Help, with the greatest confidence, we come before thy sacred picture, in order to invoke thine aid.” “Accept me for thy servant and receive me under thy mantle.”

But most of all I remember why we, my dad and mom and me, made the novena. Those first days of winter meant that my dad’s work in excavation and hauling dirt and gravel would soon be stopped for the season. And that meant scrimping to get through the annual lean time until work picked up again in the spring.

We went to the novena to ask Our Lady to keep things from getting too tough. And she always did. There was always enough; we were “economical,” but we never went without.

And so what is most deeply imbedded in my mind and heart from those novenas, and from every other time there was “favor to be requested,” is what my mother always said: Trust Our Blessed Mother.

Each year the days leading up to Dec. 8 bring me back not only to one of the most powerful memories of my childhood but also to one of the most important lessons in faith my parents taught me: that God loves us and that he has given us his holy mother to be our mother, too, so that he can protect us through her care.


Christmas celebrates the truth of who Jesus is

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In trying to compose my Christmas message to all of you, it would seem the most natural thing in the world to borrow words from the scriptural account of Our Lord’s birth – something about his being born in a stable, a remark about the shepherds or the magi.

And yet, the Gospel saying that pops into my head repeatedly as I work on this composition is: “And you, who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15). Jesus’ question seems to be the word from God which he wants me to make the focus of what I write here.

At first it might seem paradoxical to pick one of Christ’s sayings from his public ministry to be the basis for talking about the feast of his birth. But such a move has its own very powerful logic.

In fact, each year at Christmas everyone who celebrates the feast – or, for that matter, declines to celebrate it – has to face the question of who Jesus really is. The way we answer the question determines the nature of our celebration.

If by the grace of faith we, like Simon Peter, know Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” then our Christmas feast is the celebration of the dawning in our world of the ultimate deliverance accomplished for us by God in his love.

For those who do not share Peter’s confession, the “holidays” are, at best, a pleasant respite from winter’s gloom, though inevitably touched with a bit of melancholy that such high hopes were not fulfilled.

So then, this is my Christmas wish for you: In every hour of every day of keeping the feast that you will renew your profession that the baby born in the stable and visited by the shepherds and the magi is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, in the flesh.

I pray that you will find even in the customs and songs and decorations that are not clearly “stamped with the face of Christ” a reminder that it is the coming to us of God-made-man that lies at the root of all that is good in this holiday. And in remembering just whose birthday it is we commemorate, your hearts will, I pray, be filled once again with hope and gratitude.

May you and your loved ones have great joy and peace in celebrating Christmas this year. May these days of the feast of Christ’s birth be a favored time of grace and light.


 

Prayers for the dead assist in their final conversion

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

It’s harvest time. The shortening of the days and the lengthening of the nights are powerful reminders that the year is moving to its close, and so we gather up all that the year has given us.

The time for harvesting nature’s goods is also a fitting moment to consider the harvest for eternity. Our Lord himself compared the last things – death, judgment, heaven and hell – to a harvest:

“‘Let both [the weeds and the wheat] grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Mt. 13:30, see also vv. 36-43).

And so the month of November begins with the Feast of All Saints, followed immediately by All Souls Day — solemn days to remember the gathering of our departed loved ones to God.

So present is the image of the eternal harvest to our imaginations at this time of year that all of November has come to be observed as a month of intense prayer for our beloved dead.

Our communion in the risen flesh and blood of Christ is stronger than death. The Holy Spirit, the Father and Son’s own love, is our bond, and his power makes death’s threat of dissolution and annihilation impotent.

From the days when the Apostles walked among the first disciples until now, this confidence in the Communion of Saints has led Christians to pray for the dead, especially during the Eucharist, the very Sacrifice of loving communion.

Recall that we never ever offer the Mass without praying for the dead. As Judas Maccabeus realized already even in the days before Christ: “To pray for the dead… was a holy and pious thought” (2 Macc 12:44-45).

The practice of praying for the dead leads quite naturally to considering the effect of these prayers. Since the dead for whom we pray have already been judged by God as not deserving of hell and have heaven as their final destination, what do our prayers accomplish?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us the key for our answer: “Every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory” (n. 1472).

There “they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (n. 1031).

Those that must pass through Purgatory in order to prepare for heaven have not fully completed their conversion. Yes, they died in God’s friendship; they died loving God above all else; however, they were not fully in love with God. Purgatory is something like a grade of “Incomplete” in the course on holiness, a place for the final remediation of disordered loves.

Just as our prayers can support and assist Christians in their conversion to ever greater holiness in this life, so we can support them as they complete their conversion process as it extends into eternity.

What I have set forth here in the plain language of Christian doctrine is expressed most eloquently in a passage from Cardinal Newman’s poem “The Dream of Gerontius.” Listen now as the Guardian Angel speaks to the soul in his charge, whom he is escorting to the Throne of Judgment:

“When then – if such thy lot – thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart,
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,
That one so sweet should e’er have placed Himself
At disadvantage such, as to be used
So vilely by a being so vile as thee.
There is a pleading in His pensive eyes
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, though wilt feel that thou hast sinned,
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight
And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen, —
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him, —
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory” (ll. 728-747)

Yes, after death the truest purgation on the way to joining God in heaven is to be “sick with love” (l. 731). It is the experience of longing to be with God, but being denied that joy for a while and the shame that comes from realizing that one still does not love him as he deserves to be loved.

We are not cut off from the dead. By our prayers we can assist them as they undergo that last stripping away of self-love and that final putting aside of any hesitancy to trust him unconditionally.

So let us pray; let us pray for those who were dear to us in this life, our family members, our friends, and those who did us good; let us pray for those at whose passing out of this world we were present; and let us pray for those who are forgotten and have no one here to pray for them.
V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord
R. And let perpetual light shine upon them.
V. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
R. Amen


 

In voting, we need to return to basic moral principles

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

As the national election approaches, we citizens of the United States must once again prepare ourselves to decide who will lead our nation, a question of profound importance for the future well-being and freedom of millions, both in this country and across the globe.

What we have endured at the hands of terrorists has changed many things, but it has not changed the fundamental mission and message that Christ Our Lord has given to us, his disciples, in order to guide our participation in public life.

In times of terror and war, of global insecurity and economic uncertainty, of disrespect for human life and human dignity, we need to return to basic moral principles.

Politics must be about practical moral choices that apply unchanging principles to the changing circumstances of our time – in order to protect human life and dignity, in order to share fairly the blessings and burdens of the challenges we face.

Really, the questions before us are: What kind of nation do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to hand on to the generation after us?

And most importantly, how will we shape the life of our society so that it conforms to our Father’s plan for the way he made us to act and to live?

These are the questions we are really answering as we mark our ballots.

In fulfillment of my duty as the chief pastor of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Oakland, I want to set out here basic principles that must guide us as we decide the future we will choose in casting our votes.

(As the framework for my response I have made liberal use of an important document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] entitled, “Faithful Citizenship.”)

Our starting point is always and at all times to acknowledge and cherish human life as a gift from God, sacred and inviolable. Because every human person is created in the image and likeness of God, we have a duty to defend human life from conception until natural death.

To our shame as a nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become major threats to human life and dignity in our country because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others”. (USCCB, “Living the Gospel of Life,” no. 5)

Please take note that abortion and euthanasia are not just selected issues among many that have been highlighted by us bishops in the U.S.; rather these are issues that attack the cornerstone and foundation of the most basic natural good offered by God — life.

Whenever a politician or political party promotes the acceptance and support of abortion or euthanasia, no matter how morally compelling their stands may seem on other issues, their stand on these crucial life issues must be judged as fundamentally flawed.

Support of abortion and euthanasia, even as a choice for others, weakens the credibility of all other social views built upon such a corrupt foundation.

Because the issue is closely related to abortion, we must be aware that the destruction of human embryos as objects of research is also wrong.

This wrong is compounded when human life is created by cloning or other means only to be destroyed.

The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia is never an act of mercy. It is an unjustifiable assault on human life.

For the same reasons, the intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong.

It is our moral duty to elect politicians who promote laws and social policies that protect human life and promote human dignity to the maximum degree possible.

Any law at any level that legitimizes abortion, assisted suicide, or euthanasia is profoundly unjust and immoral, and it strikes at the very heart of a just civil order.

It is incumbent upon us to support the passage of laws and programs that promote adoption as an alternative to abortion and that assist pregnant women and children. It is our duty especially to try to change the hearts and minds of people who frame our laws in order to protect innocent life at every stage.

The defense of human life and dignity is a way of life and a non-negotiable framework for action.

On behalf of our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life,” (no. 4), has authored a statement on public life maintaining that Catholics in politics must reflect the moral values of our faith with clear and consistent priority for the life and dignity of the human person.

Additionally, this Vatican statement also points out that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit a Catholic politician to vote for a program or law that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.

The Church stands for the protection of the weak and the defense of human life, not a particular party or candidate.

The principles for directing our political decisions that I set forth above are not the invention of any group of human persons. They are unchangeable truths of the moral law. God wrote them on the hearts of every man and woman on the day he created them.

All of us – believers as well as non-believers – are answerable to him for shaping our behavior and our world according to these truths about his design for us.

These truths are not a mere opinion which I am trying to persuade you to accept. For us members of the Church these truths, which can be known without faith, are even more clearly seen by the light of faith. They are the irreversible teaching of our Holy Mother the Church, the sure spokesperson on earth for our Father in heaven.

Implied in our free choice to belong to the Church, which means accepting her as God’s chosen instrument for our enlightenment and salvation, is a full and free embrace of these principles for action.

To make decisions that contradict these moral doctrines about the sacredness of life is to introduce a contradiction into our very profession of faith in Jesus Christ within his Church.

In concert with my brother bishops throughout America, I urge all Catholics to register, vote, and become more involved in public life, to protect human life and dignity, and to advance the common good.

The dual calling of faith and citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States. Faithful citizenship calls us to seek “a place at the table” of life for all God’s children in the elections of 2004 and beyond.

(For the full text of the USCCB document, “Faithful Citizenship,” and additional resources, call 1-800-235-8722 or go to www.usccb.org.)


 

Parish visits: a time to teach, learn, worship together

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

“Rookie year” – that’s the term some of my students at the seminary back in Detroit jokingly used for the first 12 months after I was ordained a bishop. I have been thinking a lot about that term these days, since October 1 was the first anniversary of my succeeding
Bishop Cummins as the chief shepherd of Oakland. That is, I just finished my “rookie year” as the bishop of our diocese.

This important milestone in my life fills me with profound gratitude: gratitude to God for the blessings he has showered upon me in my first days here; gratitude to all of you for the warmth with which you have received me, for the many kindnesses you have shown me, and for the constant support of your prayers.

One of the most exciting initiatives for me as I make this move out of my “rookie” status is beginning the round of my weekend-long parish visitations. By the time this edition of The Voice goes to print, I will have lived through this intense experience of pastoral care at two parishes: St. Joseph’s at Mission San Jose, Fremont, and St. Jarlath’s in Oakland.

The format for these visits is fairly straightforward. The centerpiece is the Sunday celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I offer the Holy Sacrifice at the principal times in the weekend schedule and preach at these as well as all the other Masses. The visitation is also an occasion for me to preside at other sacramental celebrations:
Penance and Reconciliation, Baptism and Anointing of the Sick.

These occasions for teaching and worship are complemented by a series of meetings, times not so much for “doing business” but rather for personal encounters between us who are journeying together on the same path toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

I meet individually for an extended period with each of the priests in the parish. This is an excellent opportunity for me to hear firsthand of their aspirations and their difficulties, their joys and their disappointments in serving the portion of the flock entrusted to their care.

It is also a chance to open my heart to them, to thank them for their part in the ministry we share and to see how I can be a further support to them. Spending this time with my brothers in the priesthood, my chief co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, is a great blessing.

On the schedule there are also visits with the members of the staff – deacons and lay ecclesial ministers who provide such indispensable assistance to our pastors – and times to gather with lay leaders in the parish.

I usually like to begin these dialogues with a question about what makes them proud of their parish and what challenges they face.

These are graced moments for me to hear, and for them to hear from one another, how active the Holy Spirit is in their parish community, inspiring deeply generous responses to Christ’s command that we should love and serve each other.

Not only do these encounters help me get a real feel for what is happening in our parishes, they also provide me with the opportunity to offer words of encouragement and appreciation. Our times and culture bring their own particular difficulties for living the life of grace. It’s important to remember that even in our own day, surrounded as we are with material resources and so many kinds of conveniences, now, as in every generation before us, there are hardships that inevitably come with “being on the mission.”

In Pope John Paul II’s new book, “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way,” reflections on the ministry of bishops, he offers his own personal testimony to the importance of a bishop’s parish visitations because they put him “in direct contact with people” (p. 73).

About such contact he says a little earlier in the book: “A bishop should try to ensure that as many as possible of those who, together with him, make up the local Church can come to know him personally. He for his part will seek to be close to them, to know about their lives – what gives joy to their hearts and what saddens them” (p. 65).

It is with just such an intention that I have begun the round of parish visitations as I start the second year of my ministry as your bishop. It will take some years to complete these, to visit all the parishes, but I believe God in his Providence has provided a good beginning.

And no matter how long these may take to complete, I look forward to the blessings they will be for all of us. I know firsthand the truth of what the Holy Father says. There is already a whole new set of names and faces to be included individually in my prayers for all of you.

As a postscript I want to mention that on the afternoon of Oct. 1, the feast of St. Theresa, I presided at a Holy Hour at St. Theresa Church, Oakland.

November 22, 2004

As The Voice went to press, Bishop Vigneron was at the annual meeting of U.S. bishops in Washington, D.C. His column will resume in the December 13 issue.

November 8, 2004

October 18, 2004

October 4, 2004

September 20, 2004

Pray for Carmelite vocations and Eucharistic devotion

September 6 , 2004

Lay apostolates
are essential to our mission as Church

August 9, 2004

Pilgrimage to Ireland

St. Oliver Plunkett –
reminder of the fidelity that Christ expects

July 5, 2004

We are part of the family
of the Bishop of Rome

June 21, 2004

(Bishop Vigneron was attending
the semi-annual meeting of the
U.S. bishops in Denver. His
column will resume in the July 5 issue.)

June 7, 2004

Penance and renewal:
the work of the Church

May 24, 2004

The prayers of
Pope John Paul –
a great grace

May 10, 2004

Our vocation is to strive
to become saints

April 26, 2004

Contemplatives bring
grace to local church

April 12, 2004

Effective reform involves
conversion and repentance

March 29 , 2004

The resurrection is His
vindication and our joy

March 8, 2004

The gifts of new faith and
consecrated service

Feb. 23, 2004

The Lenten journey –
repentance and renewal

Feb. 9, 2004

Renewed hope in the
midst of great sorrow

Jan. 26 , 2004

Making Christ’s light shine
is God’s mission for me

Jan. 12, 2004

Priestly celibacy –
the Spirit’s gift
for the whole Church

Dec. 15, 2003

Christmas: celebrating
that God is visible to us

Nov. 17, 2003

Be on watch for God to act

 
 

Pray for Carmelite vocations and Eucharistic devotion

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
My remarks this week are about two distinct topics.
First, about an upcoming date: In a few days – Oct. 1 to be exact – I will celebrate the first anniversary of my becoming the Bishop of Oakland. The year has been filed with many wonderful graces, and I have come to think of Oakland as my home and you as the Christian community that I own as mine and that owns me as yours.
I particularly want to express my gratitude to Bishop Cummins for the fraternal support he has unfailingly shown to me through all these months.
To all of you, my brother priests, my beloved deacons, dear Religious women and men, and all the people of God in Oakland, I offer my most heartfelt thanks for accepting me as your father and brother in Christ.
October 1 happens to be the memorial of St. Therese of Lisieux. Last year when I was informed that this day would be the date for Bishop Cummins’ retirement and my succeeding him, I took note of whose feast fell on that day and considered it a happy sign.
As the months have passed along, I have come to read a more profound significance in the date.
I see now that God in his Providence was inviting me to take St. Therese as a sort of partner in my ministry as Oakland’s bishop. I have come to see St. Therese and me as engaged in a kind of team ministry.
The Carmelite vocation
This sense dawned on me from reading in a biography of the Little Flower how seriously she took her Carmelite vocation of supporting priests by her prayers and sacrifices.
In her own lifetime there were some seminarians that she specifically “adopted” as her own brothers in the priesthood and her partners in the Christian life.
That’s the kind of relationship with St. Therese I think God was inviting me to seek by having me become the bishop of our diocese on her feast day.
I am telling you all of this because it leads me to ask you to join with me in petitioning God for a very specific gift in these days leading up to my anniversary: three new novices for the community of Carmelite Sisters in our diocese.
Grace for ministry
While they live, pray and work in relative obscurity in their convent on the hillside in Kensington, the contemplative Carmelite Sisters are a very, very significant part of our diocese. They sustain all of us with their prayers.
Especially for my brother priests and me, their prayers are an irreplaceable source of grace for our pastoral ministry.
They — like St. Therese and all the other members of Carmel, past and present — make the work of interceding for us before God’s throne one of their fundamental services in the Church.
The Sisters in our Carmel are growing older, and I am concerned that there might not be a new generation of nuns to continue the blessing of their presence in our midst.
To speak more personally, I want to be sure that there are lots of prayers ascending from the convent chapel through all of the years God gives me to be your bishop.
So, please join me these days in asking St. Therese to obtain from our Heavenly Father the grace of three new vocations for the Kensington Carmel, three young women who will hear and answer the Lord’s invitation to be his alone in a life consecrated to hidden prayer and humble service.
Be bold: pray for someone from your own family to receive this grace. If you know a woman who seems to have the gifts for such a life, please take the initiative to tell her this and suggest that she prayerfully consider this vocation.
Don’t be shy; telling someone that she has the makings of an “American Little Flower” would be a very high compliment.
Look close at hand for the women to invite — in your family, your parish, the circle of your friends. I know that those called are here. By our prayers and through our support they will be able to hear and answer.
Year of the Eucharist
The second topic I want to address is the “Year of the Eucharist” proclaimed by our Holy Father Pope John Paul II.
Next month Catholics from throughout the world will gather in Guadalajara to celebrate an International Eucharistic Congress.
In October 2005 bishops from throughout the world will gather in Rome to celebrate with the Pope a synod dedicated to reaffirming our faith in the Holy Eucharist and considering how we can strengthen our belief in and devotion to this Most Blessed Sacrament.
The months between these two events, so important for the whole Church universal, form what the Holy Father is calling the “Year of the Eucharist,” a time for all of us to be renewed in our love for the Eucharist, Christ’s own gift of himself to his Church under the appearances of bread and wine.
After consultation with the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, I have decided on the basic elements that will go into our observance of the Year of the Eucharist here in the Diocese of Oakland:
• Strengthen Eucharistic devotion
In the parishes, pastors, along with their parish councils, will be looking for ways to strengthen Eucharistic devotion in their communities. Such opportunities might include a series of extended periods of adoration or a renewed celebration of the traditional Forty Hours.
It will be for each parish to determine what approach will bear the best fruit in that community.
• Diocesan web page
On the diocesan web page there will be special space dedicated to the topic of Eucharistic devotion.
There will be two sorts of items available there: (1) information about the proper way to celebrate ceremonies wherein the Holy Eucharist is worshiped outside of Mass and (2) a place for parishes to post information about how they are observing the Year of the Eucharist, so that others can benefit from their experience.
• Feast of Corpus Christi
Provided we can work out all the practical details, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, May 29 next year, we will have a public Diocesan Eucharistic Procession from a gathering place yet to be determined to the site of our new Cathedral at Grand Avenue and Harrison, where we will conclude with Solemn Benediction.
My goal is to make this Procession an annual event. By the way, one of the most significant events in the life of our Diocese, breaking ground for our new cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Light, will take place during this Year of the Eucharist.
• Regional Penance Service
Next Lent I will preside at a Penance Service in each of the five regions of our diocese. The aim here is to underscore the necessity of this Sacrament of Repentance as a way to participate ever more fruitfully in the Sacrament of Communion.
• Prayers
I am asking all of us to learn (or “re-learn”) two prayers that will, if we pray them wholeheartedly, help reinvigorate the Eucharistic piety of each one of us. They are the “Anima Christi” and “The Morning Offering.”
The first is a traditional prayer for making an act of personal thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Using this prayer will assist us in deeply appropriating the gift that Christ makes of himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.
The Morning Offering is a way to look at all the events of our day from within the perspective of the Holy Eucharist and to join these to the offering Christ makes of himself to God the Father in the Sacrifice of the Mass. The point of this Offering is to make our whole day, indeed our whole life, Eucharistic.
For your convenience I am including versions of these prayers here.
I ask that all of you who have the responsibility of helping children learn to pray, especially parents and catechists, will teach them these two prayers, not only helping them learn the words but also instructing them in their meaning and how to make the thoughts and feelings of the prayers the very sentiments of their own minds and hearts.
Thank you for letting me share with you what’s in my heart these days. God bless and keep you all.

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification.
Body of Christ, be my salvation.
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins.
Water of Christ’s side,
wash out my stains.
Passion of Christ, my comfort be.
O good Jesus, listen to me.
In Thy wounds I fain would hide,
N’er to be parted from Thy side.
Guard me should the foe assail me.
Call me when my life shall fail me.
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love
World without end. Amen.

The Morning Offering

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works,
joys, and sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.
I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart:
the salvation of souls, repara- tion for sin, and the reunion of all Christians.
I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recomended by our Holy Father this month.

Lay apostolates are essential
to our mission as Church

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

On a recent Saturday I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of Hispanic Cursillo groups at St. Elizabeth Parish in Oakland. I very much appreciate the time I spent with them; it was for me a great blessing to be part of this faith-filled assembly.

The particular grace of that time was the encouragement and consolation I was given from seeing the vitality of their faith.

The subject matter of my remarks was the nature of the lay apostolic movements in the Church and the role of apostolic movements in the life of the Oakland Diocese. Because the apostolate of the laity is so important today, I would like to share with all of you some of what I said to the Cursillo gathering. I hope that my thoughts will encourage you to persevere in the often-difficult mission of witnessing to Christ.

The Apostolate
Every Christian vocation is apostolic. Making Christ known to the world is not optional. Yes, the particular ways Christians go about the apostolate differ, but all of us share in this one same mission. That is to say, every Christian is a missionary.

Some few of us have to get a passport and travel hours by plane to our mission field. Most of us have our mission field in our neighborhoods and where we work, and especially in our homes and families.
This apostolic activity is rooted in Baptism and Confirmation. In these sacraments Christ establishes our unity with him by sharing with us his Holy Spirit.

The gift of the Holy Spirit configures us to Christ. Christ is the First Apostle, the Primordial Apostle. In every apostolate it is Christ who is at work. The effectiveness of our apostolates depends upon our unity with him.
Because our apostolates are effective to the extent that we are united with Christ, the Eucharist is the indispensable “fuel” for the apostolate. It is in the Eucharist that, by feeding on the Lord’s Body and Blood, we grow most powerfully in his likeness. We become what we receive. All apostolates must be Eucharistic.

Because our apostolates are effective to the extent that we are united with Christ, all those engaged in the apostolate must be committed to ongoing conversion. Every day we must strive to strip off the old Adam, our sinful selves, and put on Christ.

Because the sacrament of Penance is the specific place for the grace of conversion, going to Confession regularly must be a habit for all committed to the apostolate.

Apostolic movements are especially effective because they are a cooperative effort. In a movement, the members give each other mutual support within the group, and the effort of each member to share Christ with others is reinforced by the efforts of all the members.

Lay apostolic movements have a particular power because the members are deeply immersed in the very fabric of the world to which they seek to bring Christ’s good news. Lay apostles find themselves in the very places where Christ most needs to be made known.

Apostolic movements in the Oakland Diocese
The Church in Oakland is a community made up of people of a vast diversity of languages and cultures. We are very proud of this; and, while it is for us a challenge sometimes, we judge our diversity to be a great gift from God. His beauty and goodness is reflected as in a thousand mirrors.

And in this diversity of reflection his splendor is amplified. Given our diversity it is essential that we have a broad diversity of apostolic movements. And for this I give thanks.

The social context in which the Christian community of the Oakland Diocese lives our life in the Holy Spirit is highly secularized. At all levels there are individuals and groups that hold values and espouse views that are not shaped by Christ’s heart and mind. This fact further underscores the need for the lay apostolate in our diocese.

There is much to do to spread the Gospel; there are many places into which we must carry the Good News. We can use all the help that is at hand, and then even more. It is a particular blessing that so many who are committed to the apostolate bring to this great effort the vitality of faith that is deeply rooted in a Christian culture.

The grace the Holy Spirit gives us for the apostolate is for the individual and for the community – for both at once. There is no opposition between the good of the individual and the good of the community. There is no opposition between one Christian growing in grace and the Church growing in grace.

As St. Paul says: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it this way: “The Holy Spirit distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church…. These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church” (Lumen gentium, 12).

As Pope John Paul II says: We must exchange our gifts. We must enrich one another.

Conclusion
Certainly there are times when we feel that the Church is like the field of dry bones described by the prophet Ezekiel. Like him we are tempted to say “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, and we are cut off completely” (Ez 37:11).

Sometimes we feel this way because the work of the apostolate, the work of making Christ known, is so hard. Sometimes we feel this way because of weaknesses and failings within the Church, the failings of others or my own personal weaknesses.

However, I ask God especially to strengthen your hope and renew your courage. We must not lose confidence
in God’s promise. He said that he would send his Spirit, and he kept his word. Jesus breathed on the Apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday night. The powerful wind came rushing into the Cenacle 50 days later, on Pentecost morning. The bones are not dry and dead, but they are alive, alive with the Holy Spirit, alive with the very life of God.

This gift of the Holy Spirit has never been and never will be withdrawn from the community of disciples gathered around Our Lady and the Apostles. Christ is with us until the consummation of the age. The Risen One continues to breath into us his immortal Spirit. The wind of his living Spirit continues to rush upon us with undiminished power.

Do not be afraid. Do not be intimidated. Do not doubt in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
Christ is risen; and we live in him by the power of his Spirit. And so, please join me in praying: “Come, O Holy Spirit!


Pilgrimage to Ireland

St. Oliver Plunkett –
reminder of the fidelity that Christ expects

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

For my vacation this year I was able to spend two weeks traveling through Ireland – my first time in that beautiful island-nation. I made this visit as both a tourist and a pilgrim, since I took time not only to enjoy the natural beauty of the scenery, but also to pray at some of the important sites associated with the growth of the Church in Ireland, many of which, to be sure, are connected with St. Patrick himself.

In my column this week I want to tell you about my time at a sacred spot that dates from much later in Irish Christian history: the parish church of St. Peter, in the town of Drogheda, County Louth, about 30 miles due north of Dublin. I want to share this experience with you because it was probably the most powerful of my whole trip.

In a chapel on the right side of this beautiful Neo-Gothic church are the relics of St. Oliver Plunkett, who was Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1669 until his execution in London on July 11, 1681 (July 1 according to the old calendar).

“Relics,” “execution,” “saint” — these words give the unmistakable signals that Archbishop Plunkett was a martyr. And it was, I am sure, that fact that I was standing next to the physical remains of a bishop who laid down his life for Christ that left me so deeply moved.

For about 15 years after his ordination in 1654, Oliver Plunkett exercised his priestly ministry in Rome. However, in 1669, God, in his Providence, set his life in a radically new direction. Pope Clement IX named Father Plunkett archbishop of Armagh, the diocese that had been St. Patrick’s own, and sent him back to Ireland to lead in the work of restoring the life of the Church there.

After decades of persecution carried out according to the Penal Laws which forbade the public celebration of the Mass and closed their schools, the Catholic people and their clergy were in dire straits. Once again, as even during Christ’s earthly life, God’s people “were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34); this time in his pity the Lord sent them St. Oliver to be their shepherd in his place.

The historians report that the new archbishop threw himself into his duties with great energy. As I considered this, I could easily imagine that it would not have been easy for St. Oliver to know even where to begin, his diocese had been so long neglected.

The chronicles from the time tell us that he made it his particular care to bring the celebration of the sacraments into all parts of the country, to put new life back into his priests, to restore the schools and to work for reconciliation.

In about the fourth year of St. Oliver’s ministry there was a renewal of the persecution, and the relative freedom he had enjoyed to carry on his ministry came to an end. Instead of obeying the decree that would have banished him and all the other bishops from Ireland, St. Oliver chose to remain with his flock and serve them from hiding.

Eventually he was arrested on Dec. 6, 1679, and after a long period of imprisonment, first in Dublin and then in London, where he was unjustly convicted of treason, he was executed by being “hanged, drawn and quartered.”

How St. Oliver’s head along with some of his bones were preserved from destruction and eventually deposited in the chapel of the Drogheda church makes for interesting reading, but that is not what I want to take time with here. Rather, I want to tell you about the impact praying in the presence of these relics had on me.

Kneeling in front of these remnants of the broken body of St. Oliver, I was powerfully reminded of the sort of fidelity which Christ expects of his bishops and priests, the sort of fidelity which Christ expects of me, weak as I am: that a good shepherd must always be willing “to lay down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11) or else he is just a hireling.

And so, in the chapel of St. Oliver I prayed for courage, the courage of the priestly Heart of Jesus himself, the same courage that sustained St. Oliver through all the trials of his ministry until at last he come to his execution, that darkest hour when this courage shone all the brighter.

I asked God to give this courage not only to me but to all my brother priests in the Diocese of Oakland, for we all know the temptation of softening the Gospel call to perfection, lest we run afoul of the powers of the age. God took me to Ireland so that I could offer a prayer for our ministry in the East Bay.

Now that I am home I continue to offer this same prayer. Having told you about it, I ask that you join me in that very prayer.

We are part of the family of the Bishop of Rome

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

This column is the third and last of my reflections on my visit “ad Limina Apostolorum” in Rome in May. In the first of these, I reported on my private audience with our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and in the second I offered my commentary on the address he gave to the bishops of our group. Today I want to reflect on my experience of praying at the shrines of the apostles in Rome.

The church law which requires a bishop to go on pilgrimage to Rome every five years singles out three distinct elements for this visit: first, meeting with the Pope; second, making an account of his stewardship as the shepherd of his diocese; and third, praying at the tombs of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

This last item is not an after thought, an “add on” offered in the sense of, “Oh, by the way, since you’ll be in Rome don’t miss going to the graves of Peter and Paul.” No, the prayer at the Apostles’ tombs is an integral, I could even say an indispensable, part of the pilgrimage. The aim of the quinquennial journey is to reinforce the bonds of unity between the bishop of a diocese and the Bishop of Rome. That is the unity we mean every time we recite the Creed and say that “we believe in the communion of saints.”

Our unity with the Pope is not the same thing as an alliance or a compact that joins together two parties in a business initiative or a political cause. That sort of bond is the result of purely human initiative. Our unity in the Church is a grace. It is a mystery, a sacred reality accomplished by God Himself within the realm of time and space.

The Holy Father is the “living icon” so to speak of St. Peter. He makes present in our day the leader Christ explicitly chose to head the circle of disciples. To be under the leadership of the Pope is to be part of this circle of Christ’s beloved friends, which extends in an unbroken continuity from his days in Palestine, through our own time, and even to the end of the world.

Our communion with the Pope is a guarantee that we are in the “space” that Christ established for Him and His own true friends to share their life and love on earth; in anticipation of continuing that sharing for all eternity in heaven. This circle stretches back from the first disciples — from Mary Magdalen, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Martha of Bethany — all the way to our own day, to Padre Pio and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

When I joined the other bishops of California and Nevada in offering Mass at the altars built beside the tombs of Peter and Paul, I was professing publicly the faith of all of us who belong to the Church in Oakland: that we know ourselves to be the sons and daughters, the sisters and brothers, of the Holy Apostles because we are part of the family of the Bishop of Rome, who is their representation on earth.

 


Penance and renewal: the work of the Church

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

This week I am writing the second of three reflections from my visit “ad limina apostolorum” in Rome last month. In my last column I wrote about my private audience with our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. In my next I will share my experience of praying at the shrines of the martyrs and saints in Rome. Today, I want to comment on the address the Holy Father gave to us bishops of California and Nevada. (The full text of his remarks is printed on page 8 for your own personal consideration.)

On Friday, May 14, at the end of the morning, after the Holy Father had seen the last of us in private audience, all the members of our group gathered together with him for a final meeting, at which he entrusted to us his message – a reflection on our ministry of sanctification, with particular emphasis on the indispensable place of repentance in a Christian’s growth in holiness. These lines from the Pope’s speech serve well as a statement of the fundamental conviction on which he based his remarks - that Christian living requires “a profound conversion of heart and mind…[that] the Church is always in need of purification and so she must constantly follow the path of penance and renewal” (nn. 1, 3).

Before I highlight some of the elements of the Holy Father’s message, I want to make clear what we Christians mean by “holiness,” because sometimes sanctity conjures up in people’s minds images that are really beside the point. Holiness does not consist in remarkable mystical experiences or dramatic gifts – like the power to perform miracles or read hearts. Holiness, Christ teaches us, simply consists in conforming our will to the will of God our Father. To be a saint is to love God completely with all our minds and hearts, our intellect and will — to say “thy will be done” and then to do it. We are holy to the extent that we make back to God a gift of ourselves in love since He has first made a gift of Himself to us.

Seeing clearly the heart of what it means to be a saint lets us make sense of the Holy Father’s reminder that all progress in holiness happens only by walking the road of repentance. All of us are in recovery from sin. All of us are born with original sin. That is, we have an innate instinct to put our own will ahead of God’s will, to love ourselves more than we love Him. And, as we move on in life, we make choices contrary to God’s commandments, which reinforce that disposition to live as if we were, so to speak, “the gods of our own lives.” We are all sinners, as the Pope reminds us by quoting St. John’s first letter: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 Jn 1:8).

Now, without a sense of God’s loving mercy for us, His sinful children, the fact that “sin is an integral part of the truth about the human person” (n. 3) could crush us with discouragement. But we know that when Christ came, He brought us deliverance from sin. So, instead of hiding my sinfulness from myself or others, I can stand up and say, “Yes, I’m a sinner, but God has shown me mercy, and so I’m glad to have people know how good He has been to me, even though I have not deserved His love.”

One of the necessary implications of this Gospel truth is that every “yes” to Jesus and His message will require a “no” to some part of what we find attractive in our world and in our lives – a “no” to everything that is not in accord with God’s plan. And we can be absolutely sure that in each of our lives and in every group of people, no matter how large or small, there is something to which we must say “no,” something we must cast aside along the road of repentance.

So then, I think you can see why the Holy Father is so concerned that all of us bishops address what he calls “the crisis of the lack of the sense of sin” (n. 3). Unless we recognize that rebellion against the will of God is the root cause of all disorder – in my life and in the life of our communities and society – we cannot begin to reach out for the only real remedy for these ills: the mercy of Christ and that new capacity for love that is His grace.

One very significant way this “lack of the sense of sin” shows up for me is in the view that tries to understand the Church apart from seeing that Christ established her as the means to bring us back into communion with God through deliverance from our sins. Anyone who tries to comprehend the Church without a set of categories in which “sin” and “repentance,” “reconciliation” and “holiness” stand at the top of the list will have a skewed sense of what we are about. Among such distorted views are those that look to the Church first of all as a helpful support for sound values or as a reinforcement of uplifting experiences or as a force for improving the lot of the human family. True, belonging to the Church helps in all those areas, but she exists principally as Christ’s instrument to transform us from sinners into saints. For Christ’s disciples, the first priority all day of every day is repentance and renewal in the Holy Spirit.

One of the most powerful parts of the Holy Father’s address for me is his reminder that my service as a bishop in the Church must be “marked by [my own] personal quest for holiness” (n. 2). That is, I cannot help you pass from sin to holiness unless I am totally committed to making that same journey. In connection with this affirmation, the Pope admonishes us bishops to avoid shaping our ministry according to secular models or thinking about being a bishop as a career. In other words, if repentance is not the highest priority in my life, I will get mixed up about the priorities according to which I should set the direction for our diocese.

I consider this advice particularly timely because today so many voices urge us bishops to live out our ministry according to criteria other than working for the salvation of those entrusted to our care. Some people want us to be managers, who keep the operation moving smoothly by avoiding anything controversial. I see a fair number of commentators who warn us bishops that we must tailor our witness of the Gospel to fit ideas that the majority will find acceptable or else we run the risk of shrinking our membership. However, to be guided by such concerns would be to think that the principal aim of a bishop is to maintain whatever power the Church could preserve within this world’s order. And, as the Holy Father reminds us, his brothers, that can’t be how we lead.

To conclude, I want to underscore here once more Pope John Paul II’s call for us bishops and priests to take the lead in a renewal of the sacrament of penance in the lives of our people (n. 5). Penance and reconciliation is the privileged sacramental moment for living most intensely that commitment to ongoing conversion to which we were consecrated at baptism. I pass along here one piece of very practical advice one of our lay catechists shared with me about how to make a fruitful confession, one that gets to heart of the matter: Embarrass yourself in confession. That is, tell the priest in confession the real truth about your sinfulness, the whole mortifying reality of how you fall short of being faithful to Christ. That sort of humble admission is a first long step forward to becoming the friend of Jesus we all aspire to be.


 

The prayers of Pope John Paul – a great grace

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am writing this column as I make my way home from my week-long ad limina visit in Rome. It was a rich experience, filled with many graces and blessings. Among these was the opportunity to offer Mass both at the tomb of St. Peter and at the tomb of St. Paul, as well as to pray at the shrines of many other saints, and to assist at a solemn canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square.

One of the principal purposes of this pilgrimage every five years is for the bishop of a diocese to renew and deepen the communion of his local church with the Holy Father. Among the high points of this visit for me were the two occasions I had to meet with the Pope — one as part of a group of all the bishops of California and Nevada and the other, my private audience with His Holiness.

At the group audience, the Holy Father addressed us bishops with a powerful call for us to renew our commitment to conversion and to lead our priests and people in the way of penance and reconciliation. I will make my review of the Pope’s discourse the topic of a later column. Here, I want to share with you my experience of my private audience with the Holy Father.

I began by noting that the day of our meeting, May 13, was the anniversary of the attempt to assassinate him and I expressed the profound gratitude we all feel that his life was spared by God’s Providence through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima. The Holy Father said that, indeed, he gives thanks to God for delivering him from the assassin’s bullet.

Next, I described the character of our diocese, cited some basic statistics and made a particular point of underscoring the ethnic diversity with which we are blessed. These formed the substance of our conversation.

Toward the end, the Holy Father asked particularly about religious life, about marriage and the health of family life in our diocese. I outlined for him the strengths God has blessed us with and the challenges we face. After acknowledging the difficulties of these challenges, the Holy Father pledged the support of his prayers. In taking my leave, I assured the Pope of the affection and loyalty of all of us in Oakland and I promised that he would remain in our prayers.

I left my audience deeply consoled that we, the faithful of the Oakland Diocese, are assured of remembrance in the prayers of the Holy Father. In this way there was confirmed our union with Peter, the prince of the apostles whose successor Pope John Paul II is. For us Catholic Christians, the support of the Pope’s prayers is one of the most profound ways we are one.

My experiencing the Holy Father’s solicitude for all of you and for my ministry to you is a great source of strength for me and, I hope, for you. In God’s plan, Pope John Paul II makes present in our time, Peter’s service of being a Rock upon which we can securely stand as Christ’s followers as we seek to fulfill our mission of witnessing to Christ and the power of His resurrection. The Pope’s care for us, confirmed by my visit, is one of the great graces of my pilgrimage.


 

 

Our vocation is to strive to become saints

Dear Sisters and Brothers:
On April 29 our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, met with the second group of U.S. bishops in Rome this year for our quinquennial visit “ad limina Apostolorum” (to the houses of the Apostles). The Pope’s message to those bishops, from the ecclesiastical provinces of Baltimore and Washington, appears on page 10.

His topic was the holiness of the Church and each bishop’s duty to assist her members to grow in holiness.
The Holy Father’s words are an eloquent witness to the belief we profess in the Creed each Sunday: that the Church is holy. She has been made holy by the gracious gift of Jesus, her Spouse and Savior. And because she is holy, we, her children, must strive each day to become saints, to become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

One of the most challenging points to take away from our reading of the Pope’s address comes as a consequence of his affirmation that “the life of every Christian and all the structures of the Church must be clearly ordered to the pursuit of holiness” (n. 2).

Here the Pope underlines the clearest possible benchmark for all the activities of our parishes and other institutions. The measure for all our plans and projects is whether they will help us become saints.

This sort of benchmark is in lots of ways counter-cultural. We are generally, by temperament, fairly pragmatic folk. We like to focus on doable tasks and put all of our collective energies into getting them done. Now, the Pope’s message is not calling into question the worth of having parish or diocesan projects.

However, he is calling us to view these projects within a more profound context and to evaluate them by a higher criterion – the criterion of their effectiveness in helping us become holy.

The point of having parish and diocesan pastoral councils, the point of faith formation programs, of our schools, of building churches, of the YLI and the ICF, the point of offices and staffs and every sort of program – whether in the parish or in the diocese – is to strengthen the holiness of the Church. Striving for that aim is what gives life to all that we do in our faith communities.

At least half of the Holy Father’s remarks are about the need for us bishops to strive for holiness in our own personal lives if we are going to be effective in helping our priests and people grow in holiness: “The pursuit of personal holiness must be central to the life and identity of every Bishop. He is to recognize his own need to be sanctified as he engages in the sanctification of others” (n. 3).

This principle calls to my mind a very powerful sermon of Cardinal Newman: “Men, not Angels, the Priests of the Gospel” (Discourses to Mixed Congregations, n. 3). There Newman, with his usual rhetorical power, helps to explain the significance of the Holy Father’s point:

“The priests of the New Law are men, in order that they may ‘condole with those who are in ignorance and error, because they too are compassed with infirmity’.

“Had Angels been your Priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathised with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you, who have been led on themselves as you are to be led, who know well your difficulties, who have had experience, at least of your temptations, who know the strength of the flesh and the wiles of the devil, even though they have baffled them, who are already disposed to take your part, and be indulgent towards you, and can advise you most practically, and warn you most seasonably and prudently.”

Because the chief and overriding work of priests and bishops is to be guides to holiness in Christ, it is God’s plan that the pastors be engaged in that same great struggle of conversion in which they direct their flock. A recovering sinner is the best guide for the recovery of others.

If I, as a bishop, did not make the deepening of my friendship with Christ the highest practical priority in my day-to-day life, I would not take growth in holiness as the final measure for all the activities to which I and my brother priests give leadership.

The Pope’s message contains some very practical advice about how to become a saint: daily extended periods of personal prayer, especially before our Eucharistic Lord in the tabernacle, daily Mass, frequent confession, daily faithful recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours – and in all our duties making every action an expression of true pastoral charity, the very love of Christ for the flock, of which we have become the sacramental presencing.

The Holy Father gives particular emphasis on the need of us bishops to live lives of evangelical simplicity – a great challenge for us who are surrounded by so many of the good things of this world.

I ask, particularly, that you pray for me on this score: ask the Lord Jesus to give me a new share in His Holy Spirit, so that I may ever more clearly discern how he wants me to imitate His poverty and then, that I will have the will to respond.

Let me draw my remarks to a close by sharing with you one of my “prayerful daydreams.”

About 75 years from now, when I am with the Lord – as I hope that I shall be by his gracious mercy – I will look down to St. Peter’s Square one Sunday and see the ninth Bishop of Oakland. He’s there to join the Pope for the canonization of one of the members of our diocese – a man or woman that I confirmed during my ministry. He’s there to witness the Church’s affirmation that this Oaklander became a saint because of how she or he lived out the Christian vocation in the local Church that I pastored.

And on that day, among all the things for which I will praise God as I stand before His throne, I will thank Him that, unworthy though I was, He permitted me to be some help to this new saint in coming to perfection in Christ.

Contemplatives bring grace to local church

Dear Sisters and Brothers:
The Masses and the Divine Office for the week after Easter Sunday all speak of these days as one continuous day – a day of eight days, the great day of the Lord’s passing from death to new life.

During the Easter week just completed, I had the grace of extending my own observance of the Easter feast by celebrating with two of the contemplative communities that have houses in our Oakland Diocese.

On Easter Wednesday, I offered Mass for the Carmelite Sisters in Kensington and visited with them after my breakfast; on Easter Thursday, I joined the Camaldolese monks of the Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, for Vespers and supper.

Since these visits were such a bright part of my personal Easter rejoicing I want to share them with you.

Let’s start with the Incarnation Monastery and begin with a few points of background. The Incarnation Monastery is located on the north side of the UC-Berkeley campus, in the hills overlooking the Bay. It is an ideal setting for a house of studies for the monks. The Incarnation Monastery is a sister-community to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, which is perched on the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, with a stupendous view of the ocean.

The men of these communities are part of the family that traces its roots back to St. Benedict himself. Their distinctive place in this family comes from the fact that the members follow St. Benedict’s Rule according to the reforming vision which St. Romuold introduced into the Tuscan Monastery of Camaldoli in the eleventh century.

A notable element of their lives is that the monks may live in community or as hermits, passing from one form of monastic life to the other, with each group supporting the other.

There were five monks and myself together for our Easter Thursday celebration: the three monks who ordinarily live at the Incarnation Monastery, a student-monk from Northern Italy, and the prior of the original Grand Camaldoli. After we prayed Vespers, we shared a simple Italian meal.

It was a great occasion to learn more about the spirit and practice of the Camaldolese monks, to hear about the day- to-day life of these monks in Berkeley and to offer my expression of encouragement and gratitude for the graces they bring to our local Church.

The monastery of the cloistered Carmelite Sisters in Kensington is dedicated to Christ the King. It sits high on the side of the hills above El Cerrito, and it, too, has a breathtaking view of the Bay. The Sisters are, for the most part, long-time veterans of the cloister, but there is a new recruit, with the prospect of one or two more on the way.

For many of us, what we know of the Carmelite Sisters comes from our acquaintance with the life of St. Theresa of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.” And, of course, the Sisters’ great model is St. Teresa of Avila.

Theirs is a vocation of total consecration to contemplation, together with penance and intercessory prayer for the Church and the world – especially for priests.

The daily Mass in the Sisters’ chapel begins at 6:45 a.m. On my Easter Wednesday with them there were also seven or eight of the lay faithful present. The Sisters tell me that they treasure both their regular visitors and the many persons, some of other faiths or no faith, who come at various times to share in the peace that emanates from their Eucharistic Lord.

After my breakfast I visited with the Sisters in their grilled parlor. I find it remarkable what a great interest they have in the life of the diocese and in my own ministry. It is a profound comfort to me that we have the support of their prayers as we seek to live out our vocations in the world.

At the beginning of my column I mentioned that I saw in these two visits a very fitting way to prolong my celebration of Easter. To explain that, I want to quote a verse from the Epistle for Easter Sunday: “Your life is hidden now with Christ in God” (St. Paul to the Colossians, 3: 3).

The Camaldose monks and the Carmelite Sisters are powerful signs that through Baptism all of Christ’s disciples have received a share in His own risen existence, and this has become our “really real” life.

Yes, we go about our ordinary affairs, much like our neighbors. There’s home and work and school and leisure, and all the business and undertakings associated with getting through a day.

However, within all of these activities, we are living out the gift of new life – a life invisible to the world — which Christ lives in us and which we, with Christ, give back to His Father, who has first given it to us.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “In the consecrated life, Christ’s faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose… to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come” (n. 916) – the glory of Christ’s risen life “hidden now in God” until it will be manifest at the end of time.

My hope in sharing my experiences with you is that you, too, will find inspiration from the lives of these monks and nuns to live faithfully the new life we were given in Baptism.

I also ask that you pray for these brothers and sisters, and for all the women and men who live out the consecrated life of the Gospel counsels in our diocese. Pray that they be faithful to their calling, which is essential to the life and health of the Church.

Pray that those whom God is inviting from our families and communities to take up this “hidden life” will have ears to hear and hearts generous enough to answer “yes.”

Pray especially that the contemplative communities in the East Bay will flourish because we need them for our local Church to flourish.

 

Effective reform involves conversion and repentance

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Once every five years each bishop of a diocese is required to make a pilgrimage to Rome in order to pray at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, to meet with the Holy Father, and to engage in consultations with the Pope’s closest co-workers who assist him by directing the offices of the his curia. This journey is called “the visit ad limina Apostolorum” – a journey to the thresholds (limina) of the Apostles.

The sense of this term is to point out that the bishop is making a sort of “home visit” to St. Peter and St. Paul – by communicating with them through devout prayer at the sanctuaries where their bodies rest until the final resurrection and by communicating with the man who, as the Bishop of Rome, continues to exercise their ministry in the Church until that Last Day.

This pilgrimage is a moment of special grace for manifesting and strengthening the communion that binds the diocesan bishop and the Church he leads with the Holy Father and the Church Universal.
A very important element of this experience is the Holy Father giving a specially composed message to the bishops as he meets them in a group after their individual audiences.

2004 is the year for the bishops of the United States to make our ad limina visits. We usually do them by geographic region. We bishops of California will be making our visit during the second week of May.
In fact, this set of visits by U.S. bishops has already begun. The bishops of Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida had their pilgrimage in the last days of March and the first days of April.

I have given you this background information because the message which Pope John Paul II gave to the bishops of Georgia, the Carolinas and Florida is the topic of my column this week.

In that talk the Holy Father indicated that he intends his remarks to form a coherent “series of reflections on the exercise of the Episcopal office in the light of the threefold munus [that is, “service”] by which the Bishop, through sacramental ordination, is conformed to Jesus Christ, priest, prophet and king” (Ad limina Address #1, 04.02.2004 sec. 5). His aim is to help us bishops to understand more fully the mystery that is the Church and to discern the pastoral challenges we face.

It is my intention to share each of these ad limina addresses with you by having them published in The Catholic Voice. The first address, from which I quoted just above, can be found on page 12.

Even under ordinary circumstances it would be worthwhile for all Catholics to know what the Pope thinks is of such importance that he needs to call it to the bishops’ attention.

However, as the Holy Father himself recognizes, these are not ordinary circumstances. Rather, he acknowledges that this is “a difficult time in the history of the Church in the United States” – a time “for rebuilding confidence and promoting healing between bishops, priests and the laity” in the wake of the “sexual abuse scandal of the past two years” (Address #1, sec. 1).

Pope John Paul II leaves us in no doubt about the path that will lead to the reconciliation and renewal he is prescribing for what ails the Church in America: “a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church” (Address # 1, sec. 1).

Effective reform can only come from interior renewal, from conversion from sin and turning back to obeying the Lord’s commandments. So, the first of our “marching orders” from our Holy Father the Pope is to recommit ourselves to putting off the ways of the old Adam and living the life of Christ in the Spirit.

In taking to heart the challenge of the Holy Father, I cannot help but think of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which is the very means our Savior gave us to accomplish the goal the Pope says we must work for.

So, I intend to start a series of discussions with the consultative bodies of our diocese about how we can mobilize the resources of our local Church for the continued revitalization of the practice of frequent Confession. Peter, speaking through his Vicar John Paul II, has pointed out to us where we must begin. Now, we need to strategize about how to move forward on the path he has traced out.

I fully acknowledge that the Pope says the renewal of the Church in Oakland must begin with the reform of the Bishop of Oakland, that is, with me. If we are to become holier, I must become holier. It is my practice to see my spiritual father for direction and Confession frequently.

I am resolved to be more careful about being faithful to this commitment and to make the issue of my growth in holiness for the sake of our Diocese a regular theme of my dialogue with my confessor. I will begin again to follow Christ, so that I can lead you to Him.

I want to highlight here another significant point the Holy Father underscores in speaking about the way to that authentic renewal of the Church which will get us through this time of difficulty. The Pope reminds us that reform in the Church “calls for a constant reaffirmation of faith’s assent to God’s revealed word and a return to the sole source of all authentic renewal: the Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition as authoritatively interpreted by the Church’s Magisterium” (Address #1, sec. 3).

In these words of Peter’s Vicar I find clear confirmation of my serious doubts about any group or movement that seeks to build up the Church while withholding assent from the Church’s teachings.

I urge you to read thoughtfully each of the Holy Father’s ad limina addresses to the U.S. bishops as they appear in The Catholic Voice. I know that he speaks in a style that is not always easy to follow, but prayerful consideration of what Christ is saying to us through His Vicar is well-worth the effort.

As I have done here, in my columns that will appear along with the rest of the Pope’s addresses, I will pick out some of the principal themes, and offer initial comments about how to respond to what the Holy Father is saying.
I am resolved to take the Holy Father’s wise counsel to heart in my ministry of shepherding and guiding the Diocese of Oakland. I intend to make his advice an agenda item for every meeting where that is appropriate, especially in my meetings with the consultative bodies of the Diocese.

I would be happy to hear from any of you about ways you think we can respond to the Holy Father’s words to the Church in the United States. Since Pope John Paul II is the principal steward of the inheritance of the Second Vatican Council, by this approach the Church in Oakland will continue to be a faithful offspring of that millennial event in the life of the Church.

And above all, please pray to Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, that she will obtain for us from the Holy Spirit the help we need to be faithful disciples of her Son in this time of challenge.

Let me conclude by calling our attention to the words of praise and encouragement for American Catholics which the Holy Father offered us in his first ad limina address: “I wish to reaffirm my confidence in the Church in America, my appreciation of the deep faith of America’s Catholics and my gratitude for their many contributions to American society and to the life of the Church throughout the world” (sec.4).

Truly this is the expression of our father in the faith. Let us take new heart from it.


 

The resurrection is His vindication and our joy

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

It was on Sunday, the day dedicated to the weekly celebration of Easter, that St. John, the “Seer” of the Book of Revelation, saw “a Lamb standing, a Lamb that had been slain” (Rev. 5:6).
As we come to our yearly celebration of the Lord’s Pasch, I feel that I can do no better to help us get the right focus for this greatest of all feast days than to direct everyone’s attention to that Lamb, once slaughtered, once “slain,” but now alive, now “standing.”

Clearly St. John’s vision is of Christ risen from the dead. In speaking of the Lord in this way, St. John is reaffirming the witness of the apostles and other disciples to Christ’s resurrection.
Whether this testimony was given in their writings in the New Testament or in their preaching which is even older, the message is the same: the historical, flesh-and-blood person they knew, Jesus of Nazareth, truly died, and that same man is no longer dead, but He lives in the flesh. The tomb was empty! There is no corpse! Christ is risen!

I call your attention to St. John’s witness to this good news in the fifth chapter of Revelations, because that testimony has two particular implications which, when we consider them, greatly heighten the joy and gratitude that should mark our Easter Feast.

First, St. John’s vision underscores that fact that Jesus’ resurrection is the climax of His work of atoning for our sins. The one whom John sees “standing” is none other than the “Lamb once slain.”
The risen one is He who was sacrificed to “take away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29, cf. Is. 53:12). He is the one who “was wounded for our transgressions,” whose “chastisement made us whole” Is. 53:5-6).
The resurrection of Christ is His vindication, the proof that His Heavenly Father was pleased with His self-offering on Calvary. Christ’s triumph over sin and death, achieved on that first Easter Sunday, was won by His death on Good Friday.

We cannot afford to become foggy about the unbreakable connection between the cross and the resurrection.
The gift of new life now available to the Lord’s disciples was won by the sacrifice of His passion and death. Eternal life is a gift, a grace for sinners, not an entitlement for “decent folks,” for the self-righteous.
In celebrating and accepting anew our share in the eternal life of the risen Christ, we have to recognize this new existence as a deliverance from sin and the death which sin, my sin, deserves.

We came to life in Him by baptism in the water that flowed from His pierced side as he hung upon the cross (cf. Jn. 19:34).

Christ’s winning eternal life for us came at a price -— a terrible price, but one He willingly paid -– because we are sinners. So, let us lay hold of His gift with deepest gratitude and exultant joy.

Second, St. John’s vision of the standing Lamb that was slain points to another unbreakable connection - the link between Easter and the Eucharist.

To call Jesus the “Lamb” is to give Him a name that encapsulates what He said about Himself at the Last Supper: that His body was to be “given for us,” that His blood is the “blood of the new and everlasting covenant shed for us.”

Christ, the Lamb once slain now standing, is most fully present to His disciples in the Eucharistic sacrifice, in the sacred rite He established on the night before He died for us.

The link between the resurrection and the Eucharist implied in St. John’s vision underscores that the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most fitting way to celebrate Easter.

Our memorial of Christ’s death and rising there reaches its consummation in our accepting His living body and blood as our food and drink. In feeding on the Lamb once slain but now standing, we, too, become immortal.

We grow in His risen life by the Eucharist, for there we drink from the blood that flowed from His pierced side on Calvary (cf. Jn. 19:34). Our flesh becomes one with His body, and in our blood courses His victory over death.

And so, my prayer for all of you is that as you participate in the Holy Mass on Easter Sunday you will receive the Holy Eucharist with hearts on fire with thanksgiving and joy: thanksgiving that Jesus has loved us to the end, so that now we have life in Him; joy because we will live with Him forever.

Happy Easter to you and your loved ones. May the light and peace which Christ won for us by His Passover fill your hearts and your homes.


 

The gifts of new faith and consecrated service

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Here in these first days of Lent I have had two powerful experiences of God’s grace that I want to share with you. The first is the celebration of the Rite of Election and the other is the observance of the 75th anniversary of the Quinhon Sisters of the Holy Cross.

On the First Sunday of Lent and the Saturday before, God gave me the blessing of presiding at the Rite of Election at St. Augustine Church in Pleasanton, and St. Felicitas Church in San Leandro. (This ceremony was repeated last weekend, March 6-7, at Most Holy Rosary Church, Antioch, and St. Cornelius Church, Richmond.)

The Rite of Election, of course, has nothing to do with the citizenry who headed to the polls on March 2; it’s not that sort of “election.” The election we are referring to here is the ratification of the choice, the “election,” that God the Father has made in calling new members into His family, the Church.

The point of the Rite of Election is for the bishop, as the principal pastor of the local Church, to affirm in the name of Christ that the catechumens who have come to faith are now called – “elected” – to be baptized, confirmed and receive their first Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.

Along with this affirmation of the choice of catechumens to become members of the Church, it has become customary in the United States at this ceremony to ratify the decision of those who are already baptized to enter into full communion with us at the Easter Vigil.

So, at the Rite of Election I am blessed to be able to meet the many folks, young and old, who seek to share fully with us in our membership in the Mystical Body of Christ.

I call my being at this Rite a “blessing” because it is profoundly encouraging to me to see how many people, from such diverse backgrounds, want to share with us in the grace of eternal life which Christ gives us through our membership in the Church.

Likewise, the Rite gives me a renewed appreciation for our faith. It’s often the case that we get a new sense of the worth of what we have when a newcomer expresses admiration, even longing, for the good thing that we have possessed for so long that we take it for granted.

As I told the Elect and the Candidates for Full Communion, one of the limits I felt myself bumping up against in presiding at the ceremony is that there is no time to hear their stories, their witness of how God has worked in their lives so that now they want the grace of belonging to Him in the Church.

But, I am sure that in eternity there will be time enough to learn all the details of the marvelous ways the all-good God has directed them.

So for now I invite you to join me in making a start at praising the Lord for the working of His grace in the lives of these soon-to-be fellow Catholics.

On Saturday, Feb. 28, I offered Mass for the Quinhon Sisters of the Holy Cross as part of their 75th anniversary celebration. While this formal name may not be familiar to some, many of you know them as the Vietnamese Sisters who, in their easily remarked white and black habits, are so familiar throughout the diocese.

Here, too, I was filled with gratitude for the marvelous ways of God’s loving Providence. When their founder, a French missionary bishop to Indo-China, began their community, I am sure that he had no idea that one day this community would be an integral part of the life of the Church in the East Bay. However, God knew, and it was to thank Him for this providential gift that we were gathered at the Sisters’ novitiate in Concord.

I invite all of you to join me in praising God for the grace that these Sisters are to our diocese. They bring to their consecrated lives the gifts that they have inherited as daughters of the Church in Viet Nam: a profound capacity for unaffected devotion to the things of God and an adamantine strength to persevere in their commitments once their loyalty has been declared.

They are the offspring of a Church that has given heroic witness to Christ, not only in generations past, but even onto our own day.

Blessed be God’s name for the decades that this community of faith-filled women has served Him, and may He be especially praised for the years the Quinhon Sisters of the Holy Cross have shared their lives with us in Oakland.


 

The Lenten journey – repentance and renewal

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

In a few days we begin Lent. On Ash Wednesday, when we are signed with a cross of ashes, we are once again told to “turn away from sin and [to] be faithful to the Gospel.” This admonition is, St. Mark reports, the heart of the message with which Jesus began his public ministry: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15).

Repent and believe! Believe and repent! This is a distillation into its basic components of what God expects of us.

These two actions – conversion and accepting the message of Christ – are the essence of every Lenten program. This is the basic contour of what each of us does for Lent, whether we are catechumens, second graders in the First Communion class, middle-age cradle Catholics, or even veterans of decades of life in the cloister. For all of us, Lent is 40 days dedicated to beginning again with the fundamentals: repenting and believing.

Therefore, what I’d like to reflect on this week is the connection between conversion and evangelization – the unbreakable link between accepting what Christ teaches and putting off what is contrary to His likeness.

In my effort to understand the connection between believing and repentance I was led to Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical “On the Mercy of God” (“Dives in misericordia.”)

The Holy Father writes that “it is precisely because sin exists in the world, which ‘God so loved… that He gave His only Son’ (Jn 3:16), that God, who ‘is love’ (1 Jn 4:8) cannot reveal Himself otherwise than as mercy.” (n. 13). Here the Pope is reminding us that when God’s love comes into our world, because the world is scarred by sin, His love has the particular quality of mercy.

Yes, God’s love as mercy for sinners is what accounts for the unbreakable link between belief and repentance. When we accept who Jesus is and what He says, when we believe in Him as our Savior from sin, then we cannot not start down the path of repentance.

Those who really know Jesus as the revelation of the Father’s love for sinners will find that they must put aside everything that compromises their relationship with Him. If we have truly discovered God’s tender and patient love for us sinners, the Father’s love for all his “prodigal” daughters and sons, then we must turn away from what holds us back from His embrace.

My point about the link between belief and conversion is not just an idle speculation. It has fundamental implications about how we spend the 40 days of Lent. Here are four:

1) We must get to know again the depth of God’s love for us. We have to let it sink in afresh that Jesus died for you and for me, to deliver us from our sins. This Lent we must return to the cross and see how precious each of us is to God’s heart.

2) We must humbly confess that we have not loved God back in the same measure He has loved us. We are sinners. We have preferred lots of other things to God. In fact, we have preferred our own way over God’s way for us. And if, as I look at my failings, I start to make excuses, then I know that I still haven’t gotten it right.

3) We must change. Once we know what is threatening to lead us to try to divorce ourselves from God, we must stop it. No putting it off. And part of this change is performing acts of love that atone for our past failures to love.

4) We must ask the merciful God for the help of his grace. Without that assistance we cannot believe and we cannot change.

Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is an ordinary part of Lent for us Catholics. In Confession we have the chance to live through all of the four steps I’ve outlined above in this privileged forum consecrated to renewed belief in God’s mercy and return to His love.

My heartfelt prayer for each of you is that your Lenten Confession will be a moment of profound grace so that as you celebrate Christ’s passage from death to risen life on Easter Sunday you may pass over once again with Him into the Father’s glory.

Renewed hope in the midst of great sorrow

In order to meet the deadline for this edition of The Voice, I’m writing this column in the last days of January. As I look back on this month, I admit that it has been marked by great sorrow. As most of you are aware, in mid-January the Diocese of Oakland settled a case of clergy sexual abuse. The details were in the papers and on TV, and so once again our shame was very public.

But in this last week of January, there have been two wonderful experiences that have helped me bring into focus again the great good that God does in His Church. I want to share the joy of these graces with you.

The first blessing was the Seton Award’s ceremony at Holy Names High School. The Seton Award is presented, as the citation says, “by the Department of Catholic Schools and the Diocesan School Board to those who best exemplify the spirit of the Catholic School in its tradition of proclaiming the Word, building community and rendering service.” The award takes its name from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a pioneer in Catholic education in the U.S., and was first awarded in 1981.

This year’s awardees were Mrs. Jeanne Sousa, the school secretary at St. Bede’s in Hayward, and Mrs. Susan Wainwright, a parent-leader at St. Philip Neri School in Alameda.

As Dr. Joseph Connell, the president of the Diocesan School Board, read the account of each woman’s service that led to her nomination, I was deeply moved with gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the powerful way grace has been at work in the lives of these members of our diocese. With great fidelity and that sort of unassuming zeal which are always the marks of a true imitation of Christ, they have for years spent themselves serving our children and strengthening the Church by helping to build up our schools.

In hearing the record of their tireless dedication, I realized once again how powerfully the Lord is present and operative in our midst. Their witness was like a balm to my spirit, and I want you to bask in that with me.

The second grace that I want to share with you was a meeting I had with the leaders of the diocese’s Affordable Housing Initiative. They brought me up to date about all the good that has been accomplished in our parishes and communities since Bishop Cummins launched this project over a year ago. Without much money, but with a lot of love and commitment, a whole cadre of folks at the grass roots level has been empowered – to borrow a phrase hollowed by Catholic Action – “to think, to judge and to act.”

Many, many of the faithful have come together to learn both from experts and from one another about the problems associated with the lack of affordable housing in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. After examining the situation, they have formed coalitions to address these problems, and they have worked very hard to put these plans into place in their local municipalities.

The leaders told me about our successes and about our disappointments. But most importantly they told me of the unbreakable resolve to stay on task, because that’s what Christ expects of His followers. I am pleased that The Voice will be highlighting the work of the coalitions in the Feb. 23 edition.

At this meeting the leaders also outlined some directions along which the Housing Initiative will take us in the near future. Here I was particularly heartened to learn that the Initiative will be looking into more ways to support our parishioners in addressing the needs of the homeless.

To advance our goals we want to work even more closely with other Christians and with people of other faiths. It is my hope that we will, in fact, set up coalitions at two levels. I would like to see the establishment of an ongoing body of religious leaders or clergy from the various faith-communities in the area to meet periodically in order to consider how we can encourage our respective congregations to work together to advance the common good.

The other coalition I look for is an interfaith body of both religious and civic leaders to support the efforts of all persons of faith to build a healthier and more just society in the East Bay.

So, you see why I come to the end of January with renewed hope. Even in the midst of our weakness the Lord, whose real power is His love, is moving His disciples to be His instruments for the building up of the new creation.


 

Making Christ’s light shine
is God’s mission for me

I am grateful to all of you who have expressed appreciation for my commitment to contribute a regular column to The Catholic Voice. I find a lot of satisfaction in using this vehicle as part of my teaching ministry.

I started right in on writing my first couple of offerings before I selected a title to use as a sort of tag line for my regular column. When the time came to pick a title I chose, as you see next to my byline, “In His Light.” I’d like to share with you my reasons for this choice.

First of all, I wanted a phrase that focused on Christ. When I was in the seminary I read a sermon of Father Karl Rahner that had a tremendous influence on my understanding of the priesthood.

Rahner warned against the danger of priests viewing themselves as “ecclesiastical civil servants,” functionaries whose principal reason for being is to keep the operation going.

Yes, priests exist to serve the Church, but we serve the Church as a means to serving Jesus. He is our reason for being. So, while I am a “churchman,” I am before all else “Christ’s man.” He is the center of gravity for my life and ministry. Therefore, I wanted a title for this column that puts the focus on Him – the “His” of “In His Light.”

The idea of including the word “light” in the title comes from a particular circumstance that will irrevocably mark my service as a bishop in Oakland. One of the first and most significant responsibilities that fell to me when I was sent here was to assume from Bishop Cummins the leadership for our building the Cathedral of Christ the Light of the Nations.

I take this as a sign from Divine Providence that working to make Christ’s Light shine out resplendently here in the East Bay is God’s particular mission for me.
The cathedral project is only one means to achieve this goal. Our fundamental and most basic mission is to witness to Christ the Light, to hold up His light before all the women and men of this time and place as the meaning for our lives and the key to achieving our true destiny.

Pope John Paul II put it very well in his Apostolic Letter “At the Beginning of the Third Christian Millennium” (Novo millennio ineunte): Our neighbors do not so much ask us to speak about Jesus as, “in a certain sense ‘to show’ Him to them” (cf. Jn 12:21).

They won’t be satisfied with descriptions about the light; they want to see the light. And so our Holy Father asks us, “Is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?” (n. 1).

The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!” The whole Church says “Amen” to that because “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is, St. Paul tells us, “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

From what I’ve shared with you I hope it is clear that the title I’ve chosen for my column is a way to set a goal for myself and to make a pledge to you.
My goal in this, as in all my teaching, is to share the Light that has been entrusted to me through my consecration in the Apostolic ministry. Here I aim to offer the Christ-Light in the sure conviction that He will light up your path through life and lead you to the life that we all really long for, for which we were made – eternal communion with the Holy Trinity.

My pledge is to treat my service of the Light as a trust. I am not the Light; like the Baptist I only bear witness to the Light (cf. Jn 1:15). I am only His steward.
I dare not substitute other “lights” for His. That would be to engage in fraud. No, what I owe you is the Gospel truth, the faith of the Church, “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and [which] darkness has not [and never will] overcome” (Jn 1:5).

It’s only when I report how things stand “In His Light” that I am fulfilling my duty to you.


 

Priestly celibacy – the Spirit’s gift for the whole Church

Last month the leadership of Call To Action of Northern California sent to all the priests of the Oakland Diocese a survey whose principal question is “Do you favor open discussion of the mandatory celibacy rule for diocesan priests?” The survey’s sponsors indicate that they plan a press release for the results of their effort.

As I write this column I have not yet seen those results, so I cannot comment on them explicitly. However, I expect that they will receive a good bit of publicity, especially since the sponsors link their efforts to a similar and much publicized initiative in Milwaukee. So, in an effort to give pastoral guidance on this matter, I want to share with you my thinking on this topic.

An important place to begin is to make a distinction about what the phrase “open discussion” means. If it signifies that this survey is an effort to foster a deeper understanding of the meaning of priestly celibacy, that’s to the good. In fact, one of my goals in this first year of my service as Bishop of Oakland is to write a letter to our priests on celibate chastity.

I received confirmation last spring of how important this is. I had just given a conference to the priests of Crookston, Minn., on this topic, and a priest who was ordained for over 30 years told me that this was the first time anyone had ever offered to him a positive vision of the meaning of his celibacy. Given the foundational role of celibacy in the existence of priests, that is very, very sad.

I believe that one of the best services I can offer my brother priests is to confirm for them that the gift of their lives lived in celibate chastity is a great grace, rooted in the values of the New Covenant, and a share in the priestliness of Christ himself.

Of course, the request for an “open dialogue” could also be aimed at initiating a process of deliberation, an examination that would put into play the question of whether or not the Church would retain our current practice. On this score I need to point out that I am opposed to such an examination. In what follows I will briefly explain why.

Our discipline in the Western Church of admitting only celibates to the priesthood is a practice that has its roots in the first generation of the Church and has been reaffirmed by popes and bishops for centuries.

Within the living memory of many of us the current discipline received its most definitive reaffirmation at the Second Vatican Council. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church praises celibacy as “an incentive to charity” and “a particular source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world” (n. 42).

Building on this affirmation, the Council’s Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests goes on to explain celibacy’s “many-faceted suitability for the priesthood”:
“Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt. 19:12), priests are consecrated to Christ on a new and eminent basis.

“They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart (cf. 1Co 7:32-34), they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men. They more readily serve his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are suited to accept fatherhood in Christ more fully.

“They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives (cf. Lk 20:35-36).

“For these reasons, based on the mystery of Christ and his mission, celibacy was first recommended to priests. Then in the Latin Church it was imposed upon all who were to be promoted to sacred orders. This legislation, in so far as it concerns those who are destined for the priesthood, this Holy Synod again approves and confirms.

“It fully trusts that this gift of the Spirit, so fitting for the priesthood of the New Testament, will be given in abundant measure by the Father, provided that those who participate in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of Orders, as well as the whole Church, humbly and fervently pray for it (n. 16, italics added).

For four decades now the People of God have with remarkable dedication worked most generously to implement the Council’s vision and to respond to its challenge to renew the Church so that she can more effectively fulfill her mission of evangelizing our age.

In the light of what the Council said about priestly celibacy, attempts to change the discipline seem to me to be a move to pull back from that commitment. The Council spoke of a “full trust” that this gift of the Spirit “will be given in abundant measure by the Father.”

I believe with all my heart what the Council teaches about priestly celibacy, and I share its trust about how abundantly the Father will bestow this grace, provided we ask for it.

I ask, please, that in the months ahead you pray to the Holy Spirit for me, so that in the letter I am composing I will be able to offer an exposition of the Council’s understanding of priestly celibacy that builds up not only the presbyterate but the whole Church in Oakland – one that leads all of you to share with me the confidence I share with the Council about the future.


 

Christmas: celebrating that God is visible to us

One of the blessings I received during the years I worked in the Vatican was the opportunity to visit the town of Greccio in Central Italy. There, for Christmas of 1223, St. Francis of Assisi began the tradition of setting up a manger scene as part of celebration that feast.

At Christmas we remember a great mystery: that the Only-begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became a man like us without ceasing to be God. St. Francis understood that seeing the figures of the Child Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the ox and the ass serves as a sort of anchor to keep us firm in our conviction that the birth of God the Son from the Maiden of Nazareth really happened. The invisible God has become visible. The Word did become flesh. God is with us.

It was not only St. Francis’s contemporaries who were tempted to treat the good news of Christ’s coming as if it were a mere “idea,” an abstraction. Our age, too, is inclined to forget that the birth of the God-Man really happened. God really did enter into human history.

Our particular temptation is to forget that God’s becoming one of us in history means that we can live God’s own life in our time. Our temptation is to forget that God’s taking on of our human nature brings His healing grace to our existence. As human beings we can live as the children of God we were created to be.

The way this sort of forgetting shows up for many of us in the United States is in our hesitancy to build up our society according to God’s laws. We too easily go along with commonly accepted notions about how we should live and act, how we should find happiness and fulfillment.

However, when God came into the world, He opened up for us new possibilities, a new and even better way of living – the way that fits the plan He established for us “from the beginning,” before the fall of our first parents.

In this new way of living, what we naturally know to be right is clear to us and within our power. Here the powerful must not exploit the weak but help them, so that all can work together in mutual respect for their common good.

In this new way of life, the relationships between men and women are governed, not by lust – even mutually agreed upon lust – but by chastity, by purity of heart.

Here the family is founded on the irrevocable covenant of one man and woman giving themselves totally to each other in a love that that is always open to generating new life. Here the right to life from conception to the moment of death is inviolable.

In this new way of life, some things are always right and some things are always wrong; and the true dignity of the human person is the measure of good and bad.

Some months ago, in the name of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, one of his cardinals in Rome published a document reminding us that our political choices must be consistent with what the Lord teaches (“Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, 13 January 2003).

This occasioned a lot of criticism. In great part that criticism came from the sort of forgetting I have been warning about.

Since the living God came into our world, we must shape our world according to His commandments about how we live our lives. If we do not, we are really just turning the Christmas story into a charming folk-tale.

But, since God did take on our flesh, we must “en-flesh” His will, His commandments, in our society. All Christians in the Catholic Church must shape their choices – choices in private matters and in public-political matters – according to the doctrines she has received from Him. Otherwise, what we do contradicts what we say we believe about Jesus being the Son of God.

One of my greatest joys this time of year is to see parents talking to their children about the Christmas crib. What could be better than to teach the next generation the names of the characters and figures in the crèche and to explain the meaning of this scene?

This Christmas I pray that we will all be more like those children. We should learn again that with the birth of Jesus the world changed for the better. And God expects us to be instruments of His world-changing grace. He expects us to be, as St. Francis said, “channels of peace” by building a society that rests securely on His laws and His plan, His heart and His mind about who we are and where we are headed.


 

Be on watch for God to act

With this reflection on Advent, which begins this year on Nov. 30, Bishop Allen Vigneron offers the first of his regular columns in The Catholic Voice.

“Watch!” Jesus makes this admonition many times in the Gospels. And the Apostles, as His faithful spokesmen, repeat it in their preaching and letters (cf. 1 Pet 5:8).

Even the simple strategy of a “word count” shows that being on watch is one of those attitudes – like loving one another or bearing the cross – that belongs to the essence of being a follower of Christ.

Advent is the part of the Church Year when we focus once again on watching. These four weeks before Christmas are, so to speak, a kind of “training camp” for watching, a time devoted to perfecting our skills at being attentive. The need for Christians to be experts in watching follows necessarily from who God is.

God is the one who acts, the one who breaks into our history to carry us forward to the place where we will find Him. This in-breaking by God inevitably takes us by surprise. We highlight that fact by calling His actions “grace.”

Because God acts to save us so freely, so surprisingly, we need to be on watch. Expecting the unexpected must become second-nature, almost a reflex response, for us.

The days before Christmas are the right time to shape up our watching skills, because the appearance of God the Son in our flesh was the biggest surprise God had every worked. Even after we had turned our backs on him time and again, He kept His promise to bring us back, and – marvel of all marvels – He did it by sending His own Son to atone for our sins. There were lots of folks who, to speak frankly, “didn’t see that coming.”

There was, however, one faithful daughter of Israel, who was ready when the time came for God to act: the Virgin Mary of Nazareth. After her initial start, she was, like her father Abraham, ready to respond. She said “yes” to God’s plan.

Our Lady is the model for all of us. At the times we least expect it, God will break into our lives to draw us more deeply into His friendship, invite us to share His life. If we are watchful, “on the look out,” expecting Him to draw near to us, we, like Mary, will be ready to respond.

The real benchmark for measuring how accomplished we are in watching is our capacity to see God at work even in moments of trial and tragedy. In times of sickness and even in the hour of death, my own or that of a loved one, Christ’s disciple will be ready for His Father to draw good even from that evil.

In moments of challenge, when the good cause seems destined to go down to defeat, when our own resources are clearly not enough to protect what we rightly treasure, we must watch, we must wait for God to win the day for us. He will not leave us disappointed, because the Almighty loves us and He will come to our aid.

I can testify to how important the virtue of being on watch is in my own life. As a pastor I preach a Gospel that often clashes with the values and views of our culture, for example, about the right to life or sexuality or the very nature and end of the human person.

When I consider the magnitude of the challenge and my own resources, I could become disheartened. But I am not discouraged, because I am on watch for God to act in order to accomplish what He wants to happen.

So, this Advent, please “tone up” your ability to be on watch for God to break into your lives, into your homes, into your work-places, into any place He knows He will find you.

The key exercise in this sort of training is prayer. Take time to accustom the ear of your heart to recognize the sound of God’s word and the look of His action. And like Our Lady, always practice saying “yes” when God draws near, because He only ever comes in order to take us where we really want to be, where He made us to be, in love with Him. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

 

Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.