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Month: May 2020

Statement by Archbishop Gomez

Statement by Archbishop Gomez

Please continue to pray for our nation in these difficult days.  May the Holy Spirit inspire all of us to live as brothers and sisters.

Today, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement on George Floyd and the protests in American cities that have taken place over the last several days:

The killing of George Floyd was senseless and brutal, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice. How is it possible that in America, a black man’s life can be taken from him while calls for help are not answered, and his killing is recorded as it happens?

I am praying for George Floyd and his loved ones, and on behalf of my brother bishops, I share the outrage of the black community and those who stand with them in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and across the country. The cruelty and violence he suffered does not reflect on the majority of good men and women in law enforcement, who carry out their duties with honor. We know that. And we trust that civil authorities will investigate his killing carefully and make sure those responsible are held accountable.

We should all understand that the protests we are seeing in our cities reflect the justified frustration and anger of millions of our brothers and sisters who even today experience humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity only because of their race or the color of their skin. It should not be this way in America. Racism has been tolerated for far too long in our way of life.

It is true what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, that riots are the language of the unheard. We should be doing a lot of listening right now. This time, we should not fail to hear what people are saying through their pain. We need to finally root out the racial injustice that still infects too many areas of American society.

But the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Let us keep our eyes on the prize of true and lasting change.

Legitimate protests should not be exploited by persons who have different values and agendas. Burning and looting communities, ruining the livelihoods of our neighbors, does not advance the cause of racial equality and human dignity.

We should not let it be said that George Floyd died for no reason. We should honor the sacrifice of his life by removing racism and hate from our hearts and renewing our commitment to fulfill our nation’s sacred promise — to be a beloved community of life, liberty, and equality for all.

Pentecost Prayer for Healing

Pentecost Prayer for Healing

On May 29, 2020, seven U.S. bishop chairmen of committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following statement in the wake of the death of Mr. George Floyd and the protests which have broken out in Minneapolis and in other cities in the United States:

We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.

Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference. We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life. We serve a God of love, mercy, and justice.

While it is expected that we will plead for peaceful non-violent protests, and we certainly do, we also stand in passionate support of communities that are understandably outraged. Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life.

As we said eighteen months ago in our most recent pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, for people of color some interactions with police can be fraught with fear and even danger. People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when citizens are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. “As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue.”

We join Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis in praying for the repose of the soul of Mr. George Floyd and all others who have lost their lives in a similar manner. We plead for an end to the violence in the wake of this tragedy and for the victims of the rioting. We pray for comfort for grieving families and friends. We pray for peace across the United States, particularly in Minnesota, while the legal process moves forward. We also anticipate a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and actual justice.

We join our brother bishops to challenge everyone to come together, particularly with those who are from different cultural backgrounds. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst God’s people. So many people who historically have been disenfranchised continue to experience sadness and pain, yet they endeavor to persevere and remain people of great faith. We encourage our pastors to encounter and more authentically accompany them, listen to their stories, and learn from them, finding substantive ways to enact systemic change. Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States. Hopefully, then there will be many voices speaking out and seeking healing against the evil of racism in our land.

As we anticipate the Solemnity of Pentecost this weekend, we call upon all Catholics to pray and work toward a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for a supernatural desire to rid ourselves of the harm that bias and prejudice cause. We call upon Catholics to pray to the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of Truth to touch the hearts of all in the United States and to come down upon our criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Finally, let each and every Catholic, regardless of their ethnicity, beg God to heal our deeply broken view of each other, as well as our deeply broken society.

This statement was issued by:  Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, chairman of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Bishop David G. O’Connell, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Bishop Joseph N. Perry, chairman of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

Living Stones

Living Stones

“Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”  (1 Pet. 2:4)

In 1992, I spent six weeks in the Holy Land and visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  I was amazed by the size of the stones at the base of the temple. The largest stone in the foundation is 12’ high, 14’ wide and 45’ long. When the Romans breached the wall in 70 A.D., they tried to break that stone, but were unable to move it.  That huge stone is what Peter had in mind when he said, “Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” 

His love for us is rock solid. If we are built on Jesus, the Living Stone, then no tragedy, no pandemic can shake us. He is the cornerstone of the Father’s house. If you are anxious or fearful, then remember that Christ is beneath your feet.

Think of a little child sitting between his or her mom and dad. The child is totally secure with them. Having parents who love you is like having two stones at your side. Their strong love makes us feel safe and precious. They will always be there, no matter what. With Christ beneath our feet, we are ten thousand times more secure.

As the living stone, Jesus said, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” (Jn. 14:1-2) He promised us that we have a room in the Father’s house, not only after we die, but right now. Having a room in the Father’s house is another way for Jesus to describe God’s faithful unconditional love.

We can never earn a room in the Father’s house.  Rather, it is always a gift. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son thought that he could earn his room by working hard every day. Jesus shocked the Pharisees who had this mindset, by describing the merciful Father who runs with open arms to welcome his lost son. His house is a house of mercy and forgiveness.

Pope Francis said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open . . . Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community . . . Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47)

The Church is called to be the house of the Father.  Saint Peter said it this way, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” (1 Pet. 2:5)  By the grace of Baptism, we became living stones, built upon Christ the Living Stone of God. We are ‘living’ stones because we received the Life of the Risen Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells in us.  We are empowered with his faithful love. God is our strength.

Yet, we are not merely ‘independent’ stones. As Catholics, we emphasize the communion of saints.  No single person can be built into a spiritual house.  We can only do that all together. Saint Peter addressed all the people when he wrote, “Like living stones, let yourselves built into a spiritual house.”

Sometimes personal independence manifests itself in an unhealthy way in our Church. This week the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre spoke about the infighting in the American Catholic Church. He said, “A Church divided against itself will crumble.”  A Church with bickering and infighting attracts no one. People are attracted by joy, and by unity in charity.

We can only be a vibrant Church if we are united through humble patient love. To be living stones means to be united to Christ the cornerstone and united to the other stones in our spiritual house. It means to realize that I am one small stone of the house of the Father. The early Christians were often described as being united in mind and heart (Acts 4:32).

Unity makes our house stronger. I am thinking especially of the wisdom and strength of the elderly. They have endured hardships in faith.  Just by their presence, they strengthen our spiritual house.

I recently heard the story of a man raised on a farm in western Nebraska. In the 1940’s he had worked hard to plant wheat that had flourished and was close to harvest. But a hailstorm destroyed the crop. He was lamenting the huge loss together with his mother who came to the field with him to view the aftermath. After some time in silence she said, “Gather some of these hailstones, and we’ll make ice cream for the neighbors.”  The son always remembered her resilience and capacity to look beyond the storm.

These days sometimes people express almost an indifferent resignation that COVID-19 will take the elderly, and we just need to accept it. Behind that resignation seems to be a lack of appreciation for their wisdom and strength. What would our spiritual house be like without their wisdom and perseverance? Someone said, if COVID-19 were killing the youth at the rate that it kills the elderly, then the elderly would be fighting tooth and nail for them.

Our strength as a Church depends on the weakest members. They enrich us with spiritual depth and inspire us in trials. That is why solidarity is essential.  A church built of living stones is selfless like Christ. It offers spiritual sacrifices to God and for the good of others.

In the pandemic, we are stressed and tired. We are being asked to adapt and do things that are uncomfortable, like wearing masks for the good of all when we are in close proximity to others.  I am more aware of people with immunity issues, even young people. Often they are reluctant to talk about their medical issues, so you may not realize what they are feeling. However, COVID-19 has caused them to be anxious and constantly on the alert, so they greatly appreciate our willingness to take extra precautions.

Personally I don’t feel like I need a mask, but medical doctors are saying it will protect the most vulnerable. That protection may happen in an extended way. For example, the priests minister to the elderly and sick, so if everyone at Mass uses extra precautions, then the priest will be less likely to transmit the virus to others outside of Mass. Or a young priest may have a spiritual director who is an older priest. Or a retired priest might substitute for weekend Masses, so we need to anticipate their needs. Likewise, Catholic healthcare workers need to be careful to stay COVID-free. So taking precautions while they are at Mass is a way to help them serve the sick.

I struggle with the extra precautions too, but I need to set aside my personal preferences. I have been getting better about wearing a mask when I go to the store. It is a simple and selfless act of love for the common good of all. When public Masses begin, I will wear a Mass during the entrance procession, while distributing Communion and as I leave Mass. We are asking all the priests to do the same. However, while the priest is in the sanctuary, because there is sufficient distance from the people, he will not wear a mask.

Today, recall the gift of Jesus the Living Stone, the rock beneath your feet. He is the cornerstone of the Father’s house where there is a place for everyone. As the Latinos say, my house is your house. Give thanks to the Lord for the Father’s gracious hospitality.

Next think of how our spiritual house is enriched by the weak, the elderly and every single believer. Ask for the grace to be a living stone selflessly united to others in faith. How well are you being a living stone in the Father’s house? What more can you do to strengthen the unity of our spiritual house?

Pray for solidarity with all who belong to the One Body of Christ. “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”

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