Election Day is Tuesday, November 8 and every Catholic must exercise their civic and religious duty to vote. We vote because we are responsible citizens. But we vote conscientiously because we are people of faith. Our consciences are formed through studying the Scripture and embracing the teachings of the Church to which we belong. We also are called to prayerfully reflect on all the issues confronting our country. While there are many moral issues at hand, every issue is not equal. As Catholics we need to have the highest regard for issues that directly affect human life – abortion and euthanasia are sins of the highest degree and the gravest injustice. The taking of innocent life – especially the unborn who have no voice of their own – is in direct opposition to Catholic teaching. The defense of the sanctity of human life is of paramount importance and foundational for any decisions we make as we enter the ballot box. As St. Pope John Paul II said, “the measure of a nation’s greatness is in how well that nation cares and protects the least vulnerable of its citizens.” We cannot be a Catholic and support abortion in anyway; it is a great evil and sin that requires our conscientious efforts to overcome. Our religious liberty is guaranteed to us by the Constitution and yet people of faith have to fight to retain this basic right. In recent days even those in the highest level of politics have belittled and ridiculed Catholics and what we believe. This is not acceptable in any form. We have seen our government leaders work to redefine marriage but faith teaches us that the marriage of a man and woman is part of God’s natural law and the foundation for family and society. The growing disparity between rich and poor is an ethical responsibility that demands that poor and vulnerable are cared for with compassion and justice. These are foundational values for every Catholic to consider as they make their choice of candidates in these upcoming elections. As our national election draws near each of us needs to vote and to vote conscientiously. Let us pray as well that God will guide our nation and its people into the way of truth and justice and that each of us will exercise well our call to faithful citizenship.
Tragically it seems, the recent violence in Dallas and in other parts of our country has become part of the fabric of our society. But as citizens of this great country of the United States of America, we must be appalled by the senseless murder of five law enforcement officials in Dallas simply because they were white and police officers, targeted for death as a way of “getting even.” The perpetrator was said to have “thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed that he was going to make law enforcement and target law enforcement, make us pay for what he sees as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color.” This act, of course, followed upon the shootings of civilians by police officers in other cities of our nation, including Baton Rouge and Minnesota, shootings that some have said are unjust and criminal.
And so we have an escalating sense of distrust for those in law enforcement, making it even more difficult for police officers to protect and to defend the safety of ordinary citizens. We have a growing divide among racial lines in our country, an escalation of racial and prejudicial hatreds. The world in which we live seems to think its acceptable to use violence to right an injustice, to take innocent human life to “even the score,” to discard human life without a thought to advance a political or personal agenda. This is truly a time for tears, for weeping and for sadness that so many people in our country have such a disregard for the sanctity and dignity of human life.
We can argue among ourselves about about the political sensibilities of gun control and the criminal justice system – each side using their argument to advance a political point of view. But none of this addresses what is the root of the problem. Catholic – and all Christian – teaching judges what is taking place as abhorrent and inconsistent with the teachings of the Gospel. Those who follow Jesus Christ must see every human life as sacred – EVERY LIFE MATTERS! Each and every person has been created by God in his image and likeness. We are united in faith as brothers and sisters and we have a sacred and noble responsibility to love our neighbor – it is at the heart of the new law given to us by Jesus himself. Violence is never acceptable for any reason; revenge for injustices can never be acceptable for a Christian. “The ends never justify the means.”
How can some in our country celebrate the senseless and inhumane killing of police officers as a “righting of wrongs?” What kind of Just and good society puts individual interests above that of the common good? We have lost our moral compass, the sense of right and wrong. We have allowed our government to take away the place of religion in the public square; we have pushed aside our shared Judeo-Christian values as a nation in favor of political correctness and not offending anyone. We have allowed our public schools to stop teaching any shared values and responsibility for civic duty. We have promoted a society that allows each person to seek his or her own good to the detriment of what is right and just for all. What a different vision of the world it is for those who are authentically Christian. We see each person as created in the image and likeness of God; we believe that every life matters; we denounce violence, prejudice, hatred, and bigotry of any kind; we see every person as a brother and sister in Christ, deserving of our compassion, understanding and love.
Until we are willing and able to address the root problem, then we will continue to see the tragedies of Dallas unfold in our midst.
The Church comes now to the final days of the liturgical year and prepares for the Feast of Christ the King and a new beginning with Advent. The Gospel parable fittingly talks about the wise use the goods God has entrusted to us. Whether we have been given five, two or one talents – the expectation God has for their use remains the same. This is a story of faithful stewardship. What we have come to possess through faith in Jesus Christ and our life in his Body, the Church, is immense. We have inherited an abundance of riches from God. But they are given with the expectation that we will use them for the right purposes.
So often we are caught up in the pursuit of our own self interests. Materialism and secularism have convinced us that we need to accumulate as much as possible for our own well-being and happiness. We neglect our responsibilities to God, his Church and to others, our brothers and sisters in Christ. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading: “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people are saying, peace and security, then sudden disaster comes upon them.” We do not know the hour or time of the Lord’s return but faith gives us the confident hope that he will indeed come again to take everything to himself. We must live not in fear or anxiety for these final things, but always in joyful expectation of what awaits those who live in faith and in love.
Yes our sins and failings get the best of us at times; we are imperfect human beings in constant need of God’s grace. But the Scriptures remind us today, “Blessed are you who fear the Lord and walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.”
We have been given such an abundance of blessings from our God: our life and faith; our material goods and riches; our health, intelligence, family situation and our talents and skills. Faith requires that we use them not for our own gain, but for the glory and praise of Almighty God, to serve him in love, to care for those in need, to help carry on the work of the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel. What kind of stewards have we been? Have we used our time, talent and treasure for God and the Church or for our own selfish pursuits? St. Augustine told the early Christians that no one can outdo the generosity of God. The more one gives, the more one receives in faith. This is what Jesus means in the Gospel today when he says, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich.” When we work to use our gift and blessings for the glory of God and his holy Church, when we work to help our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, we will gain even more of the richness of grace and be led by the hand of God to the delights of heaven.
Our prayers and thoughts are with the Franklin Regional High School community – the administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents and families – and most especially the victims of the tragic stabbing incident that hurt 20 people and we remember the perpetrator and his family in our prayers as well. Our hearts are broken to see how easily violence, hatred and evil can break into the world in which we live. We all feel violated. Sending our children off to school each day is something that we do without much thought. Schools are supposed to be safe, loving places where our children are given the opportunity to develop their fullest potential. But the incident at Franklin Regional reminds us just how fragile our lives are. These things can happen anywhere, anytime. How important that we take time each day to connect with our children, to do all we can to make sure we know what is happening in their lives. We need to talk and learn their struggles, their pains and sorrows and their worries. They need to know they are loved and treasured, certainly by their parents but also by their God. Faith gives a foundation and purpose to life. Every family needs to be grounded in a belief that connects them to God, to something that reminds that they are guided and blessed by the hand of God in good times and in bad. May God bring peace, healing, comfort, consolation and strength to those whose lives are now forever changed.
THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT are a time of preparation for the great feast of Easter. These forty days call to mind for us the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert, praying and fasting. This is a season of penance, prayer, fasting and works of mercy as the means for interior conversion and growing in holiness and faith. The Gospel on Ash Wednesday speaks of the three disciplines of the Lenten season that are important ways in which we can prepare ourselves well in this season of grace: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Lent calls us to deepen our commitment to PRAYER. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that we should pray “more often than we draw breath.” Lent is a good time to increase our prayer life. Come to Mass more frequently, make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament once a week or daily, pray the rosary with your family every night at home, read the Bible and meditate on what you read, even for five minutes each day. Lent also asks that we join ourselves more closely to the Cross and the sufferings Christ endured for our salvation. FASTING allows us to be detached more from the pleasures of this world so that we can fill it with spiritual realities. This is why Lent is a time for us “to give something up,” something that we really like and are attracted to so that in its absence we can give ourselves more completely to Christ and our faith. Abstaining from meat and eating only one full meal on Fridays in Lent are ways to keep the practice of fasting. But Lent calls us as well to ALMSGIVING or in other words to works of mercy and charity. We need to use our time, talent and treasure not selfishly but so that we can help others and work to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. Lent invites us to engage if acts of kindness for others, to be more charitable, to use our financial resources to help the Church and its outreach to those in need. Each of us needs to make and to keep Lenten resolutions that involve all three disciplines that the Church sets forth for us.
Last evening I had the privilege and joy of speaking at the first Theology on Tap event for the greater Oakland area. We gathered at Hough’s Taproom and Brewpub in Greenfield, who welcomed us warmly and with open arms. The young adults on the Steering Committee from Saint Paul Cathedral Parish and Saint Regis Parish did an awesome job in organizing and hosting the event. More than 100 young adults came and the place was filled up completely. It was exciting to see so many young adults interested in their faith. The passion, energy and enthusiasm of that group brought joy to everyone in attendance. I spoke about the gift of our Catholic faith that invites each of us into a personal, living encounter with Jesus Christ and his Church. In sharing Pope Francis’ teaching in the “The Joy of the Gospel,” I challenged the young adults to be people who manifest the joy of their faith so that they can lead others to know and to love Jesus Christ. It is big deal to be Catholic; sharing the Good News is not for the faint of heart. But we are given the grace and strength from God to accomplish all that he desires when we remain close to him in the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance, in our personal prayer and our communion with our Blessed Lady and the saints. I was encouraged and strengthened in my own faith last evening by the love and joy evident in the hearts of so many young people who want to live out their faith and help to bring the Church Alive.
Join us for the next Theology of Tap, on Monday, March 3 at Hough’s in Greenfield. Mike Aquilina will speak on the Church Fathers: The super-heroes of our faith.” The event begins at 7 PM.
The young adults from Saint Paul Cathedral Parish and Saint Regis Parish are working in collaboration to reach out to all young adults in the greater Oakland area. Young adults are those in their 20s and 30s who are either single or married. Theology on Tap invites young adults to gather once a month at a local bar/restaurant for some free appetizers, and any drinks and food that an individual might want to purchase for the evening. The Oakland Young Adult Ministry is excited to launch its Theology on Tap program which will be held on the first Monday of each month at Hough’s Sports Bar in Greenfield (563 Greenfield Avenue). Our first gathering is scheduled for Monday, February 3rd from 7-9 pm. As the pastor and rector of the Cathedral, I was overjoyed to be asked to be the first speaker and talk about “Being Catholic – So What?” We invited all young adults to participate. We encourage all our young adults to spread the news that we are launching our efforts to engage the young adult community so that they can be actively participating in the life of our parish communities in Oakland.
Mark your calendars for Monday, March 3rd with noted author and speaker, Mike Aquilina and Monday, April 7th with Bob Rice, professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Come and join us and invite other young adults to comeministry along. This is an opportunity to get to know other young adults in the greater Oakland area and to learn more about your Catholic faith.
Today we mark in a solemn and joyous way the Birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Church confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear: “He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother.” (CCC 469). St. John Chrysostom spoke eloquently on this mystery: “O only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal being, you who deigned for our salvation to become incarnate of the holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, you who without change became man and were crucified, O Christ our God, you who by your death have crushed death, you who are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.” Let us not forget in our celebration of Christmas that our gaze should rest on the Christ-child, born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, consubstantial with the Father. What joy we feel this day as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the one described so beautifully by the prophet Isaiah in our Christmas reading. “And they name him, Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace!”
I extend a very special word of welcome to all who join us for the celebration of Christmas this year. To all our faithful parishioners and to your family members who join us in these days; to our college students and to those in graduate studies; to all those who are visiting us and come from far and near. Welcome to Saint Paul Cathedral. We are delighted that you are here and worshiping with us on this Christmas Day. Together with our parochial vicars, Father Michael Roche and Father Steven Palsa, along with the parish staff, and our priests in residence: Father Vallecorsa, Father Freedy and Father Ward, we extend to each and every one of you our best wishes for a blessed and joyous Christmas celebration. In a very special way, we will be remembering you in our Masses on Christmas Day and in the octave of Christmas, and promise you our prayers in this holy season. It is a privilege and a joy to serve the faithful at Saint Paul Cathedral parish where the Church is alive in so many ways, especially in the hearts of our faithful, loving parishioners. May this Christmas be a time of joy and peace for you, your families and all your loved ones. Merry Christmas one and all!