Christmas Week 2014

It is still a busy Christmas season in our Cathedral. I would like to share with you a few thoughts in my Christmas homily and published in the Catholic Voice as well.  Be the peace you want to see in the world. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you!

My Christmas Homily [in Firefox, ctrl-click]

Catholic Voice — January 5, 2015  — With all the evil going on in the world this season, one can be tempted to despair: beheadings in the Middle East, kidnapping of college kids and their execution in Mexico, the murder of two New York police officers in cold blood as they sat in their patrol car, the wanton destruction and vandalism of stores and businesses in our own city of Oakland. Even our cathedral was not spared.

Yet Isaiah prophesied: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” For those who love and follow Christ, the way is bright, joyful, and peaceful.

On Christmas this year, 2014, we celebrate one of the finest examples of the in-breaking of Christ’s light: “The Great Christmas Truce of 1914”. German and British soldiers were dug-in for miles in trenches. Snipers and poison gas took their toll. Yet on Christmas day, soldiers on opposing sides put up signs reading “Merry Christmas” on them. Then men from each side got up, unarmed, and walked toward each other in no man’s land. They shook hands, traded gifts, sang carols, ate and prayed together. They even played soccer with improvised balls. The truce spread for hundreds of miles and lasted up to New Year’s Day. When Pope Benedict XV heard about it, he asked England and Germany to extend the truce indefinitely. It took the threats of senior officers to force the men back into the trenches to resume the war.   But look what common love and regard for Christ’s birth accomplished. It is still possible.

In our liturgical calendar the Feast of the Holy Family follows on the Sunday after Christmas. I am one who believes that before there can be peace “in the world” there has to be peace “inside me” and then “inside my family”.   Yes you say, “But my sister did something really awful to me some years ago that really hurt.” Or, “My brother does not help support our aging parents, I have to do it all by myself.” Hurt is real. Pain is real. Yet so is Christ’s power to heal. When Christ went through his passion and death, he absorbed all the pain caused by our sins. Often when I go to the hospital to anoint a dying grandmother, I find the family – usually grown adult children – around the bed. Mother is usually unconscious. I ask the family to join hands and pray with me. I invite them, in their hearts, to forgive their mother for any sins she may have committed against them . . . and ask them to forgive any sins or hurts they may have inflicted on their mother. Many a family have been reconciled on their mother’s deathbed.

Christ’s overpowering love and sacrifice enable us to do the same.

I was impressed by how many parishes in our diocese held Reconciliation Services before Christmas – and how many people took advantage of them. I heard confessions at one of these Services in Pleasanton. But I knew I could not be a sign of reconciliation to others without going to confession myself first.

“His name will be called Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 6)

Be the peace you want to see in the world. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you!

The Fourth Week in Advent

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Last Thursday I was invited by Fr. Paul Minnihan, Pastor of Catholic Community of Pleasanton, to join in helping hear confessions for his parish Advent Penance Service.  There were about 20 priests who assisted, and we were treated to a generous dinner beforehand in the Rectory.  I was able to go to Confession myself.  There is no better way to prepare for the coming of the Lord than to clean one’s house – in this case the house of our souls.  Confession brings us to an intimate encounter with Jesus and  His overwhelming mercy.

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On Friday I hosted the annual luncheon for our chancery staff.  What a treat it was this year to be entertained by the St. Mary’s College High School Jazz Band, complete with a chanteuse!  I told the young people they played and sang so well, they could perform at the Fairmont Hotel or the Top of the Mark.  They were that good.  In addition the third and fourth grade violin class from St. Martin de Porres School came and performed some Christmas songs for us. I could not believe children so young could play such a difficult instrument as a violin.  They were amazing, and their talent brought smiles to all our faces.  It made me feel proud of these students, and grateful to them for sharing their talents with us.  It reminded me of the good work being done by our Catholic School teachers throughout the diocese.  I am also grateful for our staff at the chancery who support our pastors and school principals working out “on the front lines.”

St. Marys jazz ensemble Bill Ford and violinists

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Later the same evening I was happy to welcome our priests for our annual “Christmas Party with the Bishop.”  It gave us a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company, and to anticipate the celebration of the birth of our Savior.  As I looked around the room, I could see that there is no one “type” of priest: we are all different, yet all called to serve the one Lord in His one Church.  Like you, I am grateful for the service and dedication of our priests, who take care of you, our beloved parishioners, 24/7.  For their Christmas gift this year, I sent each priest a copy of one of my favorite books: “Saints Behaving Badly” (no, I wasn’t implying anything . . . ).  Stay tuned. You should hear some excerpts in homilies in the coming months.

Photos:  Rev. Gus Acob

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Then on Saturday, I was invited to celebrate an anticipated “Christmas Mass” for the inmates at the West County Jail in Richmond.  We were not able to come on Christmas Eve, as they did not have the staff available that day to accommodate us.

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I am grateful to the County Sheriff, David O. Livingston, for giving us permission and support in offering the Holy Sacrifice to the inmates.  Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Francis offered Christmas Mass to the incarcerated, as they were able.  It was very gratifying to me personally to see how much the men appreciated the Mass, and how much they wanted to be there with Christ in the Eucharist.  Some rose and offered testimonies of faith and thanksgiving to God for the gift of Christ, and how He was active in their lives

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After Mass we had some extra time before the men had to go back to their cells for the afternoon count.  When I asked if there were any questions, some came up to me and asked me to pray over them and bless them.  Those who need Him most, appreciate Him most.

Photos: Michele Jurich/The Catholic Voice

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When it comes to volunteering, one of my favorites is the Sunday morning breakfast served to the homeless by Catholic Worker of Berkeley.  For 17 years, Mr. J.C. Orton has gotten up early and cooked a hot breakfast which he loads into his period VW van.  Breakfast is served at 7:15 at People’s Park to those who have spent the night sleeping in the park and the surrounding streets.  He then packs it all up and takes it about a mile to King Park, near the Berkeley civic center, and sets it all up again.

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As always, this past Sunday I met kind and interesting people who have risen early to help out.  J.C. (above, second from left) always begins the serving by inviting everyone present to join in prayer. He then announces where meals will be served later in the day, which shelters will be open in case of rain, and where he will next be giving out free sleeping bags.  It feels good to feed people who are hungry in their body, as a sign of Christ’s mercy filling their souls with his love and goodness.  Then I return to the Cathedral or one of our parishes, to feed people with Jesus’ very own Body and Blood.

IMG_2288I think if someone in our diocese is a Eucharistic Minister, you should also help feed people at a soup kitchen, food pantry, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, or Catholic Worker.  Spiritual and Corporal works of mercy go together.  J.C. Orton is one of my heroes in the Diocese for providing this mission of mercy for so many years – rain or shine.  If you would like to donate, you can contact him at: Night on the Streets – Catholic Worker, PO Box 13468, Berkeley CA 94712-4468, Phone: 510-684-1892, Email: noscw@sbcglobal.net.  Or just show up at 7:15 a.m. at People’s Park in Berkeley.

Sacrifice and Light

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting John and Wendy Hallett at a fundraising reception for the Archdiocese of the Military Services in San Francisco. We were raising money to fund seminarians who are preparing to become chaplains in the military.

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The Halletts’ son, Captain John Hallett III, died in Afghanistan, the victim of a roadside bomb. They told me how their son was able to receive Holy Communion from an Army chaplain just days before his death. The Halletts are members of Our Lady of Mercy parish in Point Richmond. Let’s remember their son John in our prayers and Masses, and the heroic sacrifice he made. At Christmas we miss our departed loved ones all the more.

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Photo: Sheila-Anne Flores

Last Wednesday we had the opening Mass for the Simbang Gabi Novena in preparation for Christmas. It is a longstanding Filipino Catholic tradition in which Catholics rise early before dawn and go to Mass in their parish church.  Simbang Gabi means “Dawn Mass.” Families carry brightly decorated lamps in the shape of stars, called parols.  We had a wonderful procession of parols at the start of Mass, which lined the walls of our Cathedral.  They are most appropriate for our Cathedral named “Christ the Light” as the Epiphany Star of Bethlehem is the symbol of our Cathedral and Diocese. I am so pleased with the faith, devotion and service of our Filipino Catholic community in the Diocese of Oakland.

Photo: Tess Morales

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Pilgrimage

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Last Saturday, December 6, we had the annual Diocesan Pilgrimage and Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (held in advance of the actual Feast of Dec .12). I was thrilled with the turnout, as thousands of parishioners from all over our diocese converged on the parish of St. Louis Bertrand for the start of the march. I blessed all the parish floats, musicians, choirs, and folk dancing groups. We walked straight down International Boulevard all the way to the Cathedral of Christ the Light. It took five hours!

OLG procession

The cathedral was filled to overflowing for Mass in honor of Our Lady, with the plaza outside and the downstairs conference center also full of participants. In these days when there are protests and violence and destruction, it was beautiful to have a pilgrimage walk in honor of the Queen of Peace. I am proud of our strong Latino community in the Diocese of Oakland. May the Blessed Virgin, who appeared to St. Juan Diego at Tepeyac, intercede for all of us.

Thank you to Raúl Ayrala/The Catholic Voice for the photos and video clip.

Link to Homily (Spanish) [in Firefox, ctrl-click]

 

Call to Veterans

Archbishop Broglio

with Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA

I’ve written before on this blog and in the Catholic Voice about military service and the role I continue to fill as a Navy chaplain.  There are fewer and fewer Catholics in the Military Chaplain Corps these days. The need has never been greater to attract seminarians to this military ministry to provide pastoral care.

I would like to invite all, particularly Veterans in the Diocese of Oakland, to join me and Archbishop Timothy Broglio at a benefit reception next week to raise interest and support for this ministry.   The reception is on Tuesday, December 9 at 6PM at Marine’s Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco.  For more information click here.  If you would like to attend please RSVP here or to simply make a donation click here