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.