Voting and living as good citizens (7/7)

This November, American Catholics have the opportunity to shape the direction of our nation, our states, and our local communities in the voting booth. Good citizenship is a moral obligation for all Catholics, and voting is an important part of that obligation. In the United States, the responsibility for our government’s direction lies with us, as citizens, and we can’t take that responsibility lightly. We cannot, because of apathy, or discouragement, or perfectionism, abandon our obligation to vote.

Raphael - School of AthensIn the past few months, many Catholics have asked me how to make good choices in the voting booth. Many Catholics have especially expressed to me being uncertain about how to make choices when faced with two presidential candidates they find intolerable or unacceptable. While a bishop should never tell Catholics who they should vote for, I would like to offer four points of guidance, drawn from wisdom of the Church, as we discern our choices as voters.

The first is that government has an important purpose, and our votes help to achieve that purpose.

The Catholic Church teaches that the purpose and obligation of our government is to support the common good. The Second Vatican Council said that the common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” Our common good has three elements: respect for the dignity, rights, obligations, and freedom of the human person; respect for the well-being, development, and flourishing of the entire community; and peace, in the stability and security of a well-ordered community, governed by the rule of law.

When we vote, we do so in order to promote the common good, to express it, advance it, and protect it. There are some issues in which the common good is clear and some issues which require careful discernment and prudent judgment. This discernment can, therefore, lead to different conclusions and ideas among people of good will. In fact, often the best solutions to difficult political issues can come from robust discussion among people with the same goals in mind, and different ideas about the best ways to achieve those goals.

My second point is that on some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn  children.

Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who was canonized a saint earlier this month, said it best in a 1994 letter she wrote to the United States Supreme Court. She said that “Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has shown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts –a child– as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience…. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.”

Abortion is a grave, unconscionable, and intolerable evil, and we cannot support it in the voting booth. 

My third point is that when we vote, we need to carefully consider the specifics of each race. Blind partisanship can be dangerous, and we have to look past political rhetoric and media alarmism to make prudent discernments.

In each race, we need to discern whether there is a candidate who can advance human dignity, the right to life, and the common good. When there is, we should feel free to vote for that candidate—whether they are a member of a major party or not. In extraordinary circumstances, some Catholics may decide, in good conscience, there is not a suitable candidate for some particular office and abstain from voting in that particular race.

We also need to remember that we are not responsible for the votes of other people.  Choosing not to vote for “Candidate A” is not the same as actively voting for “Candidate B.” No Catholic should feel obliged to vote for one candidate just to prevent the election of another.

In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office.

As a matter of conscience, faithful Catholics have to weigh all those pertinent issues, and make the choice that seems most in accord with the common good of our nation: with respect for human dignity, social well-being, and peace. Catholics will make different judgments about those questions, and come to different conclusions—this reflects the fact the Lord has given us free intellects and free wills.

My final point is that we need to remember that being good citizens—building a culture of life and a civilization of love—is a much broader obligation, and opportunity, than the voting booth. Americans today, are, in many ways, disengaged, discouraged, and divided. Much of our political rhetoric is unhelpful. And family, community, and public life are in decline. We need a broader vision of public life, which values and proclaims the dignity of every human life, and which aims for the flourishing of individuals, families, and communities. This broader vision won’t come through an election. It will come through life in Jesus Christ. The most important part of being good citizens is living as faithful and active missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.

In fact, Christ is the broader reason we are called to hope. God calls us to be faithfully engaged in working to build up and proclaim the Kingdom. That includes our vocation to the public square. But our hope is in the eternal mercy of God—the salvation won in the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This month at Notre Dame, Archbishop Charles Chaput said that “Christians are not of the world, but we’re most definitely in it. Augustine would say that our home is the City of God, but we get there by passing through the City of Man.” Our hope is in the Lord. We are his faithful disciples when we work to help others to know the Lord. But the success is according to his plan. We are called to be faithful to his call, as we make thoughtful, prudent, and prayerful choices as citizens. And we are called to trust in the Providence of his plan for the world. Christ is the only real source of our nation’s hope.

Most. Rev. James D. Conley, Bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln

ELECTIONS NOVEMBER 8 – “CATHOLIC YES, BUT THE ISSUE OF IMMIGRATION IS NOT SO IMPORTANT” (6/7)

Flight to Egypt - Jesus, Blessed Mary, and St. JosephHere in Arizona the issue of immigration is always a “hot” topic. Many families have immigrated, in this or in previous generations, from other countries. We must keep in mind that the United States was born largely from the experiences of families that came from afar, facing difficulties and danger of death in search of the dream of freedom or the need of better living conditions, leaving loved ones and everything familiar behind. The issue of illegal immigration affects both newcomers and those who welcome them. On the one hand, every country has the right to defend its borders and is the responsibility of their civil authorities to do so. On the other hand, people also have the right to migrate, looking for a better life or fleeing an unfair or unsafe situation (Let’s keep in mind that our Lord along with the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph were immigrants in a foreign land). The collision between these two rights creates a problem which, in the 21st century, is now truly of global proportions.

I will limit myself here to quoting Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted from his book Catholics and Public Life regarding the position of the Church on the issue of immigration (#32):

The immigration issues facing our country today are extraordinarily complex and do not lend themselves to easy answers and simple solutions. Nonetheless, there are certain principles of Catholic Teaching that are relevant in addressing these matters.

The Church clearly recognizes the right of the state to control its borders. At the same time, as Pope John Paul II stated, “the Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction of the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration.” (Ecclesia in America, 65)

As our country works to address these complex issues, progress will only be possible when pursued through candid and courteous dialogue and respect for the human dignity of all. We do well to remember Pope Benedict’s words to the U.S. Bishops (April 16, 2008), “I want to encourage you and your communities to continue to welcome the immigrants who join your ranks today, to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ (cf. Sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty). These are the people whom America has made her own.”

For a more specific answer, I also encourage you to read the pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops of the United States and Mexico on immigration, entitled Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, which can be found online on the website of the Episcopal Conference of the United States.

So let us ask God, that He would free us of the “Catholics yes, but” and that, in the words of Pope Benedict, the United States be a country that welcomes immigrants, supports them and helps them to flourish in their new home.

November 8 Elections – “Catholic Yes, But The Death Penalty Is Not So Important” (5/7)

As a priest I often meet good people who have a very clear understanding of the position of the Church on issues like abortion or the legal sanction of the union of same-sex couples and yet, when issues like the death penalty or immigration arise, they frown in disapproval, or at least in doubt. I would like to very briefly explain in this article and in the next as well, the doctrine of the Church on these issues:

– DEATH PENALTY

last judgment - michelangelo giudizioRegarding the issue of the death penalty, two different levels must be distinguished: the theoretical one and the practical application of the principles. At the theoretical level, the death penalty, seen as the only possible way to defend the innocent members of a society, must be accepted by a Catholic. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this issue is taken in the context of self-defense: just as a person has the right to defend themselves against an unjust aggressor, society also has the same right which sometimes can even be a duty. The Catechism in #2266 states that penalties must always be “proportionate”, for example, it is never lawful to impose disproportionate sentences for reasons of revenge or hatred; and continuing in #2267, “The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. ‘If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.’” [John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

It is hard to believe that in the United States, which is first among the world powers economically, there are no means to protect citizens without depriving the wrongdoer of his life. In the words of John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, “It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” ‘[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
So when the Church defends human life “from conception to natural death”, the term “natural death” is referring to euthanasia which is always bad, and the death penalty when it is applied improperly. I would like to call to our attention the documents of the bishops of the United States who have unanimously called for the abolition of the death penalty. In Arizona, where the use of the death penalty exists legally, our own Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, along with the other bishops of the state, have reiterated many times in word and deed, their rejection, opposition and condemnation of the death penalty in Arizona. I invite everyone to read their joint statement which can be found on the internet.

Let us ask God, therefore, to free us from the “Catholics yes, but” and to grant us a country which promotes and defends the dignity and value of human life from conception to natural death.

Resources:

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/death-penalty-capital-punishment

http://www.azcatholicconference.org/?s=death+penalty++

Elections November 8 – “Catholic Yes, But I Am Pro-Abortion” (4/7)

impossible cube illusionThe opening statement of this article – “I am a Catholic, but I am pro-abortion” – is as impossible as suggesting the existence of a square triangle. The triangle and the square are essentially exclusive because the triangle is a geometric figure with three angles and while a square has four. It is not possible to be both at the same time: the definition of one necessarily excludes the other. Similarly, the definition of “Catholic” excludes by definition the condition of “pro-abortion” because a Catholic either defends human life from conception or is not a Catholic. The Catholic has only one clear choice: we are never allowed to support policies that promote or define abortion as a right.

Bishop Olmsted wrote: “There are other issues, such as abortion or euthanasia, that are always wrong and do not allow for the correct use of prudential judgment to justify them. It would never be proper for Catholics to be on the opposite side of these issues… We have a serious obligation to protect human life, and especially the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable among us. Whoever fails to do this, when otherwise able to do so, commits serious sins of omission. They jeopardize their own spiritual wellbeing and they are a source of scandal for others. Should they be Catholics, they should not receive Holy Communion.” (Catholics in the Public Square, 4 th edition, #16, #20)

These teachings are in line with the teaching of the Church. Let us listen, for example, to John Paul II, “The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”(Christifideles Laici, # 38)

Catholics can legitimately disagree on particular issues that do not affect the principles of human reason (natural law). However, there are issues that are obligatory for Catholics. These are called non-negotiable principles. Pope Benedict XVI said: “As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:

  • Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;
  • Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
  • The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.” (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Members of the European People’s Party on the Occasion of the Study Days on Europe)

This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it intended to say that other issues are not important. It simply states that in these three areas there cannot be any type of compromise on the part of Catholics: in our role as disciples of Christ who defend the dignity of the human person, we cannot in any way support directly (i.e., with our vote) parties or people who support, maintain and promote any thing contrary to the three points above.

It is not valid to say, “Perhaps this politician is in favor of abortion but he has many other good points.”, just as it would not be valid to say about poisoned food, “This food has a little poison, but it also has other ingredients that are good and very tasty.” Indeed, the “non-negotiable” issues do not permit exceptions. They are the “moral absolutes” that impose a moral obligation on human beings. To act in opposition to them means, morally speaking, “to swallow the poison.”

So let us pray that the Lord may save us from the “Catholics yes, but…” and that He may grant voters the clarity to refuse to support whatever opposes the faith we profess in Christ Jesus.

Elections November 8 – “Catholic Yes, But I Do Not Want To Impose My Beliefs On Anyone” (3/7)

Many times we hear people -especially politicians- using an argument that is presented as a way of respecting the consciences of others in public life. That argument, expressed synthetically, would be: “I am Catholic, but I don’t want to impose my thinking or my beliefs on those who belong to another religion or think differently.” So in the name of tolerance, I allow others to do what they want while keeping my “beliefs” in my private life. For example: “I am against abortion, but who am I to impose my opinion on others? I do not abort, but I cannot forbid others to do so. ”

TruthThis issue is deeply discussed in a document prepared by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (eventually Pope Benedict XVI) and approved by St. John Paul II titled Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life. As stated in the document, this mentality is typical of a relativistic society in which the truth does not want to be dealt with. That relativism seems to be the condition of modern democracy: everyone has “their” truth and therefore, I cannot try to “impose” mine on anyone.

But that is not how things are. The argument quoted above, “I am a Catholic, but I do not want to impose my faith on anybody”, doesn’t hold water. It is a false argument because you do not “impose” anything: in a democracy the people choose, in other words, vote freely, for the candidate who best represents their interests. If, therefore, the Catholic politician is elected democratically, he has the legitimacy to act in accordance with the ideas and principles for which he has been elected. No one is talking about “imposing” the Faith on someone else. There isn’t, for example, an effort to force people to attend Sunday Mass or to receive the sacraments. But there are principles that bind all human beings equally, regardless of beliefs, cultures and historical periods. Respect for dignity and human life is one of them.

It is presumed that Catholic politicians are Catholic because they believe their faith is good and true, and is not just about principles, but concrete actions. When trying to make decisions in the public sphere according to these beliefs, they share with others the good that they have discovered in their own faith. To say it in another way, refusing to support or implement a policy that is in conformity with your principles means not really believing in those principles.

blue true red falseThose who do not want to “impose” their faith on others end up falling into contradiction. They always end up “imposing” other aspects of their faith, which, oddly enough, have greater social approval. The Catholic politician, who doesn’t want to “impose” personal principles on issues such as abortion, doesn’t have any problem “imposing” those same principles later on when it comes to social justice, patriotism, or care for the needy. If they were consistent with their own argument, shouldn’t they refuse to “impose” other values such as justice, love for country, or charity for the poor, in the same way they don’t want to “impose” respect for human life from conception?

Catholic politicians – and citizens – who think this way should remember the words of St. John Paul II: “There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine, which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the lay faithful’s lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the ‘places in time’ where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others. Every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility – as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture – are the occasions ordained by providence for a ‘continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity’.”

I honestly believe that the reasons behind the “I am a Catholic but I cannot impose my beliefs on others” argument are actually based on less noble motives: cowardice, reluctance to stand up for Christ, a commitment to economic power, personal recognition and adulation from the world, the desire to further a political career, the need to “win votes”, and all at the expense of marginalizing their own faith.

I want to conclude with Bishop Olmsted’s words: “Some Catholics and other believers have been frightened into silence and even confused by charges that they are imposing their morality on others. It is contended that a person’s faith should have no impact on his or her public life. This leads to the infamous “I am a Catholic but….” syndrome! Of course, if one’s faith does not impact on one’s whole life, including one’s political and social responsibilities, then it is not authentic faith; it is a sham, a counterfeit.

A democratic society needs the active participation of all its citizens, people of faith included. People of faith engage issues on the basis of what they believe, just as atheists engage issues on the basis of what they hold dear; they fight for what they think is right and oppose what they consider wrong. This is not an imposition on other’s morality. It is acting with integrity. Moreover, people of genuine faith strengthen the whole moral fabric of a country. The active engagement of Catholics in democratic processes is good for society and it is responsible citizenship.”

Let us ask God to save us from the “Catholics yes, but …”. Let us pray that He gives politicians the courage to defend their principles in public life and voters the wisdom to vote according to the faith of the Church.

Elections November 8 – “I am a Catholic, But I’m Not Interested In Politics” (2/7)

person going off cliffThere are “Catholics” who allow themselves to dissent from the doctrine of the Church as if it were not important. When asked to express their views, they may begin to present their views with the following words: “I am a Catholic, but …”. As we will see in the coming weeks, that way of being “Catholic” is actually a way of not being Catholic.

Sometimes you will hear people say, “I’m Catholic, but I am not interested in politics.” The exhaustion from so many words, so many politicians who have promised much and have done little, and the endless discussions and debates on television and radio end up “disconnecting” people from public life. And yet, as Catholics – that is, as disciples of Christ – we are obligated to worry about our country (which is an act of the virtue of justice) and participate in public life because of the importance of the issues that are at stake.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in # 2240 that the responsibility for the common good DEMANDS the exercise of the right to vote. St. John Paul II taught in Christifideles Laici (42) that the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in “public life”. It cannot be otherwise; it is a duty for us to participate in the common good of society. Not voting means leaving the destiny of the nation in the hands of others, renouncing my voice, however small, on the most important issues of social life. The Church would have an enormous transforming power in this country if all Catholics voted in unison according to the doctrine of the Church!

St. Thomas AquinasI want to stress the importance of voting in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel that have been faithfully transmitted by the Church. It is not enough to appeal to right of conscience and say that one can vote for any proposal as long as it is done “in good faith”.

As Bishop Olmsted reminds us, “Before following our conscience, we must form it in accord with the voice of God. Our conscience is not the origin of truth. Truth lies outside us; it exists independent of us and must be discovered through constant effort of mind and heart.” Catholics in the Public Square (15).

“In preparing to vote, Catholics need to understand their faith so that their consciences are properly formed. Subsequent to this formation, it is important to research all of the important issues and candidates that will appear on the ballot. Only after sufficient preparation and prayer, is a Catholic fully ready to discharge his or her responsibilities as a faithful citizen and cast a meaningful vote.” Catholics in the Public Square (13).

I want to remind you of the importance of the elections that are to be held on November 8th and the moral obligation to participate in them by exercising your right to vote. At the same time, I stress the importance of voting in accordance with -and not against- the teaching of the Church. This will require effort on your part to learn the Church’s doctrine and teaching, the humility to be enlightened and a sincere quest for conversion.

May God save us from being “Catholics yes, but…” and help the citizens of this country choose the option most in accordance with His Will.

November 8th Election (1/7)

Your Vote CountsAs you know, this coming November 8th all citizens of this country are called to exercise their right to vote with the purpose of choosing the next President of the United States. This is an event of great importance in the life of any nation, electing the head of its political life.  American Catholics are called to vote in this election, respecting their conscience and the moral standards found in the Gospel and the social doctrine of the Church.
 
I want to remind you, first of all, that legitimate authority comes from God himself: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Rm 13, 1-2.) This is precisely why that, in exercising their responsibilities, public authorities must follow God’s will and respect fundamental human rights. When public authorities separate themselves from obedience to the divine commandments, they abuse the power that has been entrusted to them and lose the right to be obeyed by their citizens. As explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1902, quoting St. Thomas of Aquinas’ teachings, laws that go against God’s will are actually “a form of violence” that a disciple of Christ cannot accept. Sadly, History offers us many tragic examples of this.
 

Catholics in the Public SquareAs pastor of this community, I claim my right to talk about these major issues for the importance they have not only for the good of this nation, but also for the consequences posed for the salvation of the souls entrusted to me.  “I preach the gospel…and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1 Cor 9.16) This is, in reality, a right of the Church itself, which is teacher of faith and has the obligation to proclaim, privately and publicly, the entire message of salvation, which also includes the social dimension of the human being. Exercising the right to vote is also a duty for the Christian, who cannot walk away from the issues that affect the society he lives in. In the next few weeks, I’ll be speaking about some issues that I believe are important to consider before deciding which party -which candidate- to vote for. I want to be clear that I do not intend to address a full range of the issues (it would be impossible in such little time and space), but rather emphasize key elements that a Catholic should consider carefully before going to the polls on November 8th. In these talks I will use certain foundational documents: the Catechism of the Catholic Church and The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, as well the teaching of the Popes and the American bishops, particularly those of our beloved Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
 
I would like to inform everyone that this weekend we will distribute free of charge updated copies of the book, Catholics in the Public Square, written by the Bishop of Phoenix. I encourage everyone to read this brief and clear document slowly over the next few days to learn, in a succinct and concise way, the main elements that should be taken into consideration in order to vote with the mindset of the Church and in fidelity to the Gospel.
 
May God bless you.

Thank you, Rick and Liliana – Welcome on board, Sara

I would like to acknowledge and thank Deacon Rick Nevins and his wife Liliana, for the invaluable service they gave to English Baptism ministry last year. As you know, Deacon Rick took that serious responsibility for an entire year, spending many hours of effort and hard work in a ministry that requires enormous patience, time, and effort. Deacon Rick and Liliana were a team that helped many families in our community to grow more deeply with Christ through the experience of the baptism of their children.

Thank you both for all that you gave us. Saint Anne is your home and we hope it will be so for years to come.

I would like to welcome Sara Rassas to Baptism Ministry. Sara is a familiar face to both the English and Spanish speaking members of our community and has been a parishioner at St. Anne for many years. A native of Nogales, Arizona, Sara taught at Mesa Community College until 2016 and is currently in her first year of retirement. Wishing to serve God in this new stage of her life, she has taken on this ministry with great determination and tremendous enthusiasm. Since July she has been familiarizing herself with the work and is now, happily, a member in the staff of the parish. Sara is bilingual and works with many other apostolates at Saint Anne as a volunteer.

We ask God to richly reward the good work of Deacon Rick and Liliana Nevins and pray for this new stage in Baptism Ministry with Sara Rassas to be full of blessings for her, the families of the children baptized, and the community of Saint Anne.

God bless you,

Fr. Sergio

Goodbye And Thanks, Isabel

Isabel Gonzalez, our current Volunteer Coordinator, has decided to begin a new stage in her life and will be leaving her work here in our parish. I would like to publicly acknowledge Isabel’s important service St. Anne over the past year and a half.

Isabel has combined her responsibilities as coordinator of volunteers in the parish with another full-time job as a primary school teacher at a school in Gilbert. She has carried out this work at Saint Anne with many sacrifices, dedicating time that she did not have to complete this new ministry’s tasks for our community.

An important part of her work and effort was aimed at the Safe Environment program, a very important program that seeks to create a safe community for everyone, especially our children and youth. The work for this program was arduous. The problems and challenges are very large. I can say to her credit that Isabel leaves us with extraordinary results.  Her work also impressed Melanie Takinen, who until a month ago was the Director of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Phoenix and is currently in charge of that same responsibility at the national level for the United States Conference of Bishops. Last June, Melanie wrote saying,  “Saint Anne Parish has done a great job at creating and maintaining a safe environment since the initial visit in 2013 AND IS NOW A ROLE MODEL within the Diocese of a strong safe environment program. “

The main protagonist of this feat was Isabel. The data supports these claims: the number of volunteers who are in compliance with the Called to Protect program is now 96%. When she arrived it was less than 70%. Isabel has met with a huge number of volunteers: the diocese requires  2 – 5 % of volunteers to be interviewed annually. Isabel, in one year, raised our percentage from 5% to 17%.

For all of this and much more that you have given, Isabel, we thank you. We will always remember your joy, your commitment, enthusiasm, and good work. We will miss you. Pray for us and for the next person who will occupy your place. You can feel very proud: you will leave them a ministry that, thanks to your work, is efficient and exemplary.

God bless you always!

Goodbye And Thanks, Claudia – Welcome On Board, John

As some of you may know, our youth minister, Claudia Lopez, will be leaving youth ministry this September. Claudia, I wish to publicly thank you for your efforts over the past two years and recognize your work here at Saint Anne.

When Claudia came to our parish, we were in a particularly difficult situation – we had been without a youth minister for over a year. Youth Ministry can be very challenging, but Claudia embraced it with dedication and joy. She also completed studies in theology at the Kino Institute in order to be more qualified for the mission that our Lord entrusted to her in our community.

Thank you very much, Claudia, for all of your great work in service to our children and youth. May God, who rewards all we do for love of Him, reward you abundantly for your contribution to the apostolic work of the parish. We trust that we will see you at Saint Anne as a volunteer and parishioner. This will always be your home.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome our new Youth Minister, John Caballero. John is launching this project of evangelization with the passion and enthusiasm that characterizes him. He is leaving a profession that he likes very much, but is happy to do so for Christ. John is a Knight of Columbus, a member of Catholics in Action and one of the pilgrims who accompanied me on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in June 2014. He has also collaborated in many other parish ministries including door-to-door evangelization.

I am confident that all of his good qualities in service to the highest ideal – the salvation of souls – will bear much fruit at Saint Anne. His initiative and spirit, his love for Christ and the Church, his desire to be generous with God and his apostolic zeal make him ideal for the responsibility that he is about to assume.

John, thank you very much for trusting God and putting yourself in his hands in this new phase of your life. May your fidelity to prayer, without which we can do nothing, allow your humble obedience and your determination to make fruitful this ministry that you are about to begin. God bless you.

¡¡GRACIAS, HERMANA ELISA!!

Although I know I’m late, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary work that Sister Elisa Monroy has done for our parish. She was here at Saint Anne for 10 years, predominantly working with Spanish speaking families in Baptism Ministry, but it would be impossible to enumerate all of Sister’s contributions to our parish in these few lines.

Sister Elisa will always remain in my memory as an example of evangelical simplicity in her serene and quiet work, as well as in her sacrificial love for our Hispanic families. Her advanced age and her delicate physical health add even more value and worth to her service to our community.

I wish her well in this new phase of her life and I want to thank her for her effort and sacrifice. May God bless Sister Elisa and may she be rewarded with even more love than she has lavished Saint Anne over her many years of service to our parish.

Tridentine Mass At Saint Anne

On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an apostolic letter, whose title in Latin is Summorum Pontificum, (in English, Of the Supreme Pontiffs) which promoted the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the liturgy promulgated by Popes St. Pius VI and St John XXIII. This liturgy is often popularly called the Tridentine Mass and was the usual way to celebrate Mass before the Second Vatican Council. It is an “Extraordinary Form” since currently the “Ordinary Form” in the Latin Church is the Mass revised by Blessed Pope Paul VI and is celebrated every Sunday in our parish.

Both in our community and in the Diocese of Phoenix there are a significant number of the faithful who continue to be attached with much love and affection to the Tridentine Mass. On several occasions, they have asked me, as their pastor, to tend to their legitimate requests of spiritual nourishment through the Mass being celebrated in this way.

After much prayer, discernment and the advice of a good number of parishioners (specifically represented in the Pastoral Council of St. Anne), I have decided, as Pope Benedict XVI asks, to willingly accede to these requests and offer, during the next pastoral year which begins in September, the Holy Mass according to the Rite of the Roman Missal revised in 1962 (Tridentine Mass). This Mass will be held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:15 am.  Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the same time, we will be celebrating the mass of Paul VI in Latin, to show the unity of both forms which express the same “lex orandi” (“law of prayer”) of the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite.

I hope that the celebration of the Tridentine Mass will be a source of grace for all of us, even those who do not partake in it. I invite all of you who are a part of this community of Faith to welcome with immense joy this richness of participating in Holy Mass, here, at the parish, in three different languages: English, Spanish and Latin, and according to two different forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary.

In the future, I will clarify some possible doubts or misunderstandings that may arise in regards to this Extraordinary Form of celebrating Holy Mass and of the use of Latin language during liturgy.

May Holy Mary bless these efforts, for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.

 

Meditations On The Pieta – Motherhood

In our previous meditation, we reflected on Mary as our Mother and recalled that it was at the cross that she received from Jesus her vocation as mother to all men. We saw in the most profound sense, that through the agony of the Passion, the labor pains that Jesus and Mary endured gave us birth into the new life of grace. The Pieta portrays the moment of delivery that opened the gates of heaven.

There is so much suffering in the hearts of mothers! As a priest, I have had the privilege on many occasions to see the love of mothers for their children. Some suffer the early death of their child, victims of violence, disease or drugs. Others mourn the spiritual distance of their children from the Faith. Others feel a deep sorrow for the distance that separates them physically (“Where is my child?” “How is my child?”). Others experience sorrow because they feel that their children no longer love them and don’t take care of them. Many would like to gather their children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but the divisions between siblings within families cuts deep into their hearts.

To all these mothers, I ask you to look carefully at the Pieta. You will see your pain reflected in the pain of Mary. You will realize you are not alone in your suffering, that Mary has endured the same cross that plagues your heart. She will alleviate your suffering. Contemplating her will give you serenity. Mary will comfort you in that contemplative silence. You will learn from her to put the lives of your children into the hands of God. She will teach you to have hope against hope and to see light beyond the darkness.

In particular, I appeal to mothers who have lost their children through miscarriage or to those who have resorted to abortion. In both situations, you have felt life grow in your womb. In both situations, there is great desolation after the loss of your child. I invite you to put your child into Mary’s hands. Holding her own lifeless Son in her arms, she feels the pain of all mothers who suffer for their children. She contemplates the lost children of all mothers in the world, especially the children who have died because of injustice, selfishness or lack of love. She understands because that is just how Jesus died. You can trust your children to Mary, knowing that she will care for them until she can return them to you in eternity. It is worth living in friendship and the grace of God if, at the end of our pilgrimage through this world, God will reward you by returning to you the children that you once lost.

If you have committed an abortion, open yourself up to the mercy of God. Look to Mary and through her love you will find a way to communicate with your children who live in the Lord, apologize to them and begin a new life.

I also wish to speak to mothers who suffer by watching their children become lost and turn away from God. In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul writes: “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you.” Many mothers suffer at seeing that Christ is not present in the lives of their children. Understand that, offered to God, your sufferings and prayers have infinite value in His eyes. Do not give in to discouragement. Understand that being a mother is not only to give birth to your children, but to accompany them as Mary did, every step of the way until the end. In our Mother you will find a source of grace for you and your children. Just as she believed that her dead Son would rise again three days later, you must believe that your children, dead in sin, can revive, resurrecting to a new life through the intercession of Mary.

God willing, may the Pieta bring comfort and peace to all suffering mothers in our community. She is a Mother who suffers, too. She will be your consolation, perhaps the only consolation, in your sorrow.

 

FORMED at Saint Anne

As you know, since I came to the parish we have tried to encourage communication and develop catechetical tools that our faithful could use to deepen their knowledge of the Faith in simple and accessible ways. I am aware that there is still a long road ahead and that there will always be more to accomplish, but I feel that it is necessary, at the same time, to acknowledge with humility and gratitude the progress we have made with the help of so many people. Let’s recall a few of them together.

St. Anne WebsiteToday, Saint Anne has one of the best parish websites in the world, both for its design, as well as its content and technical aspects. Our website is so good that other parishes and non-Catholic communities have reached out to us for advice.

In addition, we have an application (app) for mobile devices (phones and tablets), which is offered for immediate communication with our parishioners. The app is a source for daily readings, saint of the day and podcasts that aid us in prayer and help us to acquire knowledge of our faith and lead us to union with Christ. The app also has a trivia game created by some of our of parishioners who devoted considerable time and effort to make sure this tool would help all of us to better understand our faith in an entertaining and fun way.

We are also still working to make Footprints, a documentary about The Way of St. James, El Camino de Santiago, available for viewing by people all over the world. As you know; many of the young men in the documentary are members of our parish.  If God so wills it, release of this documentary will be an apostolic milestone of such dimensions that it is difficult to comprehend and foresee its positive implications to our parish.

FORMEDToday I would like to bring to your consideration another new tool that is available to all of our parishioners – FORMED. For a couple of months now, we have had the FORMED platform, through which all of us, in the comfort of our homes, have access to hours and hours of Catholic formation and spirituality in both English and Spanish. Through FORMED we can watch movies, documentaries, formation series, catechism courses, audios and meditations. Being a parishioner at Saint Anne gives you access to extraordinary materials that helps you grow in your faith and deepen your personal relationship with Christ. Many of you have expressed to me your gratitude for bringing FORMED to the parish and have shared with me ways in which it can be used in parish catechesis, in families and in personal prayer. I encourage everyone to make use of this tool in your homes and in your spare time. I want to thank everyone who made it possible to have FORMED here at Saint Anne. May God bless their efforts by helping many of us grow closer to God.

In the past, maybe you could say that we did not have enough ways and means to deepen in the Faith. Now, and I am using an American expression, the ball is in your court! No one at St. Anne can say to God that we didn’t have enough ways to know and love Jesus and develop the fruits of holiness in our Christian lives!

May God bless all that we do, for His glory and the salvation of souls.

 

Meditations About The Pieta – Maternity (I)

In the month of May, when the Church and the whole world sing of the joy of motherhood, let us spend some time in contemplation of our Pieta from this beautiful perspective.

I remember hearing a priest in Spain say that a mother is something so beautiful that even God wanted to have one. It is a deep and beautiful thought: God, who had everything, who was infinitely happy, didn’t have a Mother! And He wanted to give Himself one in Mary. She begot, according to the flesh, the Son of God; but it is equally true that God prepared for Himself the mother that He wanted, that the Son “conceived” his mother by shaping her according to His will.

Pieta - MaryFrom this perspective, we must look at the Pieta in amazement, realizing that the scene Michelangelo has sculpted in this image is the labor of Mary and Jesus. On the cross, from the open side of Christ, the Church is born. Mary’s countenance as she cradles the dead body of Jesus in her arms reminds us of the expression found in the exhausted face of a mother who has just given birth. She has suffered labor pains and the new birth brings her calmness and joy. The face of Christ, peaceful, quiet, restful, serene in its own way, is however, one of a dead man. He has died to give us life and yet He rests, knowing that death is not the end, that when He is resurrected, His sacrifice will reveal its ultimate meaning by delivering the new life of the Spirit to all who receive Him by faith.

But the Pieta also portrays the labor of Mary. Christian tradition has always linked the sufferings of the Sorrowful Mother with the birth pangs of Jesus, who, by the cross, gives birth to the new humanity. St. Alphonsus Liguori writes in The Glories of Mary: “We know that by the merit of her pains Mary contributed to our birth into the life of grace, therefore, we are children of her pain (…). And if there was some relief in that sea of bitterness the Heart of Mary felt, it was knowing that through her pains she was birthing us for eternal salvation.”

From the cross, Jesus gave us all to Mary through his words to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” We must understand these words in their deepest sense: it is not only that the Lord was simply offering us His mother or that He entrusted her to John so that Mary would not be forsaken. Christ was showing to Mary and to us the deeper meaning of his suffering on the cross. It is as if He were saying, “Look at your mother, who is NOW begetting you for the supernatural life. And you, Mother, understand that this suffering is the pain of labor through which you are begetting all men. My passion is your passion. Here, alongside the cross, you are discovering your vocation as the New Eve, as the mother of all the living. Be a mother to them as you have been for me.” In this way, Jesus encourages Mary, helping her to understand that her suffering is not in vain, that it has a purpose: she suffers to give life to humanity.

In the Pieta, mothers have a beautiful model for true motherhood. They are able see Mary through a mother’s eyes and understand some of the pain she endured. They understand that children often cause suffering; not only in childbirth, but throughout life and that the crosses of their children are also their crosses, endured because of the love of a mother for her child. From Mary they must also learn that their children are firstly the children of God and that they must place them in the Lord’s hands, allowing them to embrace His divine will, even if for them it means a kind of death. So many mothers suffer because of their children for so many reasons! The contemplation of the Pieta gives them comfort because they know that Mary understands and that if she did not despair in her pain, they, too, can look to the future with hope.

Let us give thanks to Mary for her generosity, for her acceptance of great suffering to give us the life of grace. Let us imitate her in her complete surrender to the will of God, and as the beloved disciple did, let us embrace her as our Mother, loving her gently and intensely.

Meditations On The Pieta – The Meaning Of Suffering

We are reflecting on the Pieta here at the school of Mary, with the intention of learning how to be faithful to our Christian vocation. In the previous reflections, we meditated on the Sorrowful Mother as a source of inspiration for all women, especially those mothers who are suffering. Today we contemplate Mary to understand the most important lesson of our lives: the ultimate meaning of suffering.

PietaIn the Pieta Jesus and Mary reveal in their faces and in their bodies, the suffering they endured for our redemption. In Jesus, that pain is over. In Mary, the suffering remains in her most pure heart just as the aged Simeon had predicted: “ a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35).  Long gone are those happy days of Jesus’ childhood! The young Son full of life and strength that she had held in her arms now lies lifeless and helpless on her lap in the cold grip of death.

Michelangelo’s sculpture reminds us that suffering is part of our lives. When we are young, pain – especially physical pain – is a foreign concept, something we have been told about, but that has nothing to do with us, a strange country we will never explore. Adults, on the other hand, know what it means to slowly decline, to feel energy decrease while infirmities increase. Death, rather than being something that happens once at the end of our journey on earth, is experienced as a process of weakening and continuous wear. We don’t die, but rather we are dying, slowly, every day.

The fundamental issue for the human person is to find meaning in his suffering. It is not suffering itself that is the worst thing, not understanding why we are suffering is far worse. I recall the insights of Viktor Frankl, a Austrian Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist, a Nazi Holocaust survivor and the founder of logotherapy. Dr. Frankl states that the fundamental task of man on earth is to find sense and meaning to life as a whole, but especially when we suffer trials and any form of pain. In his most famous work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he reports his discovery in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II:

“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.’

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’”

In the Pieta, Mary gazes on her Beloved, whom she loves with all her heart, and knows that their salvation is in love. She knows that the love of her Son will conquer death, and that her suffering gives meaning to her pain. Only the love of God surpasses and overcomes any difficulty. The Pieta reflects the struggle being waged in the soul of Mary between the excruciating pain of the loss of her Son Jesus and the expectation that  God will dispel the darkness and return the joy that she seems to have lost forever. The face of Mary in the Pieta is not the face of one who has been defeated by despair and pain, but of one who knows in Whom she puts her trust.

Mary teaches us to give our love to the One who never fails. She teaches us to suffer with hope and not be discouraged by the setbacks in life. She reminds us our need to have our suffering make sense so that we can find peace and joy. She teaches us to unite our sufferings to the suffering of Jesus so that Christ Himself will one day transfigure us in a joy that will have no end.

Mother, teach us to suffer like you. Teach us to love while we are suffering. Teach us to offer our crosses for the salvation of the world. Help us to be like you.

Summer Schedule Change

After speaking with the Pastoral Council and parish staff, I have decided to make some changes to the sacramental schedule during the summer months of June, July and August.

Summer Schedule 2016

I am aware that change always requires us to sacrifice. It forces us to change our routines, and that is not always easy or pleasant to do.  However, all in all, I believe that a summer schedule is necessary for several reasons.

  • A summer schedule offers our priests an opportunity to rest. From September to May, St. Anne offers the most number of daily and weekend masses and confession hours of any parish in the entire Diocese of Phoenix.
  • A summer schedule allows our priests to be away from the parish either for personal vacation time or for parish or ministry activities that require the presence of a priest.  A good example would be the upcoming World Youth Day in Poland in which our parish will be participating with a group of approximately 70 young people and one of our priests. Please keep in mind that the current mass and confession schedule requires the presence of 3 priests in the parish. It is simply not possible to maintain the same schedule when one of the priests will be absent for an extended period of time.
  • A summer schedule permits the priests to participate in various ministry and educational activities that they are unable to join in during the rest of the year due to the demanding sacramental schedule at St. Anne.
  • A summer schedule also offers the priests, parish staff and lay volunteers a good opportunity to prepare for the next pastoral year, allowing more time for collaborative work and preparation of activities.

I apologize that summertime schedule changes can be difficult for some of our parishioners, but allow me share a story with you. Every year I receive a series of letters written by the same person with complaints about the summer schedule changes. In these letters I am told that there is no “summer schedule” in American parishes. Included with the letters are other parish bulletins so that I may see what is done in other communities. The letters express complaints that during the summer “his/her” mass has been removed from the summer schedule. I must say that this criticism seems unfair for two reasons.

Firstly, as previously mentioned, other parishes maintain the same schedule year round because for the entire yearly schedule they have fewer masses and confessions than we do at St. Anne. In most parishes, for example, there is a single daily mass. We have 3 daily masses- sometimes 5 if we have a wedding or a funeral – on the same day. If other parishes were to reduce their schedule during the summer, it would mean taking away the only daily mass they have!

The same is true for confessions. We offer 30 hours of confession every week – and more during Advent and Lent. In many parishes the confession schedule is a couple of hours a week. How would it be possible to reduce their confession schedule in the summer? In reality it would mean canceling confessions altogether.

Secondly, our summer schedule is busier than most of the other parishes’ schedules throughout the year. Our summer schedule continues to offer more hours of confessions and at least as many masses as other parishes offer on a regular basis. As I see it, instead of complaining about the changes in the summer schedule – which are necessary although they may be unpleasant- we should express our gratitude to Fr. David and Fr. Dan for giving us, for so many months of the year, their generous availability in hearing so many confessions and celebrating so many masses.

I know that the vast majority of you understand and support the reasons I have shared with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your understanding and cooperation.

May God bless you all.

Long live Christ the King!

Mediations On The Pieta – Mary, Model For Women

Pieta - MaryMary is for everyone, the model of Christian life. She was Jesus’ best disciple. Mary, who accompanied her Son all the way to Calvary and who, with her attitude of internal recollection and humble listening, always knew how to allow herself to be led by God as a pilgrim of faith.

The image of the Pieta invites all who gaze at it to ponder the serene and beautiful face of Mary. This is a sculpture that speaks in silence. The most obvious characteristic and, maybe for that reason the most forgotten one when thinking of Mary, is her womanhood.

Genesis - MichelangeloWithin the first pages of the Sacred Scripture, Eve, mother of all the living, took the forbidden fruit from the tree. In doing so, she closed the door for herself and all her descendants to the place God had created for the happiness of all his children.  Michelangelo’s sculpture seems to have as a backdrop those first pages of the Bible. Mary at the foot of the cross is the New Eve who picks a better fruit from a better tree. Jesus, on Mary’s lap, is the fruit that does not bring death to those who receive it, but life without end. The actions of Eve and Mary are contrary to one another: the first wanted to “be like God” through disobedience, taking the fruit almost by stealing it.  Mary, on the other hand, didn’t take, but instead receives her dead Son and does so as “handmaid of the Lord”, trusting in her God until the end. She understood that the road to true Life does not allow shortcuts.

Michelangelo - Pieta I firmly believe that Michelangelo’s Pieta speaks in a special way to women and their unique sensibility. As St. John Paul II has written, “a woman cannot find herself if it is not in giving love to others”. The Pieta reminds women that their strength always lies within a love that is capable of suffering, of giving without limits, of resisting until the end. From the Pieta emerges a model of  womanhood: serene, strong, beautiful, pure, loyal and wholly feminine.

Throughout the Gospel we see in Mary profoundly feminine traits. We could say that standing at the foot of the cross, she is more woman than ever: she is, in fact, the new woman who, like Eve, is born from the open side of man. May she teach all women to nourish their feminine genius, to guard it with delicacy in their hearts, and to use it to enlighten society, our communities and families, and the entire world.

 

There Are Many Good People At St. Anne – Parish Debt

I remember the first time I arrived at St Anne. It was the year 2011 and, along with Fr. Schlarb and the Vicar for Priests, Fr. David Sanfilippo, we were slowly reviewing the most important aspects of the parish life. When the time came to talk about the parish debt, my heart almost stopped in shock. Casually, Fr. Greg happened to mention that there was still about two million dollars in debt to pay for the campus and installations. Two million dollars!

debtFreeIt is incredible to think that, finally, this March, after many years and great sacrifice, we will be able to make the last payment! When I say that there are many good people at St. Anne, I say it truly convinced of the generosity of our parishioners – those who are reading this now and who fill the pews every Sunday. Paying off the parish debt is a miracle that has been made possible thanks to your love and fidelity to St. Anne. This parish is not only the place where you come to pray once a week; you have made it yours with your commitment, your consistency, your caring and dedication.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to give a huge thank you to all the people – so many people- who have collaborated in the realization of this miracle: pastors, members of the Finance Council, staff members, as well as each and everyone of the donors, most of you anonymous, who have proved in such an admirable way, your love for God and for this community of faith. So much generosity! I ask you, Lord, to reward with your abundant blessings, all of those who at any time helped to reduce the parish debt.

As your pastor, I know what St Anne means to you. Here you have baptized your children and bid farewell to your loved ones. Here you have come to lay your worries and fears before the Blessed Sacrament, and left your sins behind and experienced the mercy of God. Recognizing all that St Anne has been for you, you have come to her aid with your financial support.

Paying off the parish debt is possibly one of the most transcendental events in the 70 years of history of our community. I deeply thank you all and want to encourage you to face the new challenges and projects that Providence will surely place before us.  Let us ask for the boldness  of our predecessors to confront the future with our trust placed only in God.

 

Meditations About The Pieta – Christmas

I write these lines sitting in silence, contemplating the image of our Pieta. Only a short distance from me, Michelangelo’s sculpture quietly transports me to another world, to  another time. It is a strange feeling: I am here, in our beloved parish, but gazing on sorrowful Mary takes me to a different place…takes me to the beginning of this story of admirable love, the cave in Bethlehem, where her son Jesus was born to save us.

Pieta-400x425It is hard not to see in this sculpture a veiled reference to the mystery of Christmas. The position of Jesus and Mary without a doubt evokes that of a mother holding her newborn baby in her arms.

During the time of Advent or Christmas, I would like to invite you to imagine the following scene: instead of the lifeless body of Christ in the original sculpture, make an effort to substitute Baby Jesus in your imagination. Suddenly, everything seems to make more sense: the youthfulness of our Lady, the position of her body, her facial expression – it all seems to fit in better into the scene of the Nativity than at the Crucifixion. Not only Mary’s expression is maternal, but  her entire demeanor is that of a woman who has just given birth. We can see her sitting, rocking her baby, singing a lullaby to soothe him, or even feeding him from her own breast.

Sometimes I’ve asked myself if Michelangelo may have been really thinking more about Bethlehem than Calvary when he sculpted his magnificent piece. And I ask myself: could it be that the artist deliberately intended to evoke the Nativity scene in the sculpture of the Pieta? To me it makes sense to think that the sculptor genius tried to imply- by the way he placed the bodies of the lifeless Christ and sorrowful Mary- an intrinsic, theological relationship, between the scenes of the manger and of the cross.

Actually, Christmas and Passion are, somehow, the same event with identical players, though lived or split into two distinct moments: in fact, the recumbent body of Christ is the same that was embraced by Mary in the grotto of Bethlehem. The man resting serenely, in the arms of the Virgin, is the same man who in the Nativity scene slept  peacefully to the lullabies of the Mother of God.

Between these two events, the life of the Son of God on Earth took place. According to the Prologue of the Gospel of John, “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” (Jn 1, 11) and this is applied with the same forcefulness in both the mystery of Christmas and the Passion of Christ.

Each event highlights the other. The saints have always seen in Bethlehem the beginning of the suffering of Jesus and Mary for our salvation. They have seen the offering of Jesus for the redemption of the world. They have seen the love of God the Father in the salvation of fallen humanity. St. Alphonsus Liguori, for example, expresses himself this way: “This is how He presented Himself before the Father, when He came to this world, from the beginning of this life; He presented Himself as the prisoner and debtor of all our sins, and as such He was condemned and cursed and turned unto death on a cross. Oh God, if the Eternal Father could have had pain, what sorrow would He have experienced from watching His beloved son, His innocent son, worthy of all His love, forced to be treated as a criminal, as the most evil criminal in the world. ‘Behold the man’, said Pilate when he showed Him to the Jews, scourged, so they would have compassion, as he saw this innocent man mistreated. ‘Behold the man’, it seems the Eternal Father is saying to us while showing us His Son in the cave of Bethlehem. Know that this poor babe you see here, oh, men!, placed in a manger of animals and laying on hay, is my dear Son who has come to take away your sins and your pain; love Him, then, for He is very worthy of your love”.

As we contemplate the Baby and His Mother in Bethlehem, let us reflect on the love behind this scene, thanking them for all they have endured for our salvation. Let us make up our minds to answer generously to God with love for all the love He has given us.

Meditations About The Pieta – “At the School of Mary”

The Pieta
The Pieta

In our preceding meditations, we have reflected on somewhat superficial considerations: we have paid more attention to the technical or historical aspects of the Pieta rather than to the contemplation of the message that the image brings to us. From now on, we want to observe the Pieta with a simple, contemplative, humble gaze, and let it speak to us and teach us.

We have not wanted to bring this sculpture to St. Anne, to Gilbert, Arizona, simply because of its artistic value or its external beauty. As a priest, my main intention has been to honor Mary and to offer to our community an opportunity to learn of Jesus “at the school of Mary”, as Pope John Paul II beautifully describes it.

I am convinced that the Pieta is an authentic “school” at which we can learn some of the most important lessons of our Christian life. When I pray in our church, I stop and look at the Pieta and I am surprised at how frequently its contemplation suggests new ideas, new lessons, new shades of meaning that were previously unnoticed.

Perhaps to have the image of the Pieta at Saint Anne teaches to us to be contemplative. In order to learn to contemplate it is necessary to know how to slow down, to observe without haste, to be silent, to reflect slowly.

I believe that Michelangelo has been able to sculpt Mary in such a way that she appears before our eyes as an authentic teacher: her calm face, her body seated – a common position from which a teacher, from his chair, taught his disciples. Her open arms express meaning; her serene glance encourages us to approach her to learn. Everything she has to “teach” lies in her motherly lap: she watches, loves and offers her Son, Jesus to us.

To have the Pieta in our parish would remind us that Mary is the Teacher of our Christian life. We will not ever be able to reach sanctity if we do not go to the School of our Mother. She continues to watch her Son – whether it be in Cana or at Calvary- and inviting us to do what He tells us.

My experience as priest assures me that the soul that loves Mary always lives near Jesus. Saint Bernard said of Mary, numquam satis, never enough. It is also said that the servant of Mary will never perish (servus Mariae numquam peribit).

God willing, Michelangelo’s masterpiece will awaken in all of us love for our Mother.  May she give all of us the opportunity to gaze slowly. May she soften our hearts if they have become hardened. May she melt us if our souls are frozen. May she show us the path that leads us to her Son, Jesus. If the Pieta achieves even some of this, all the hard work to bring her to Saint Anne will have been worth the effort.

Reflections on the Pieta – Immortality

pieta-faceOfChristIf we look closely, Michelangelo’s Pieta seems to awaken in us an awareness of immortality: a desire, which is always felt, always longed for, to live beyond these heavens and this passing earth. Certainly love is the experience that brings us closest to this thirst for eternity.  It has been said that loving another person means saying to them: “to me, you will not die”.  Love asks for eternity, otherwise it is not true love.

Art has also been a sublime way in which man has sought immortality. Mankind has always been very aware that this life passes “like a breath” as we read in Psalm 144. From that realization comes the overwhelming desire to create works that will remain here once we are gone. Ars longa, vita brevis: art endures, but life is brief.

Clearly the artist seeks this type of recognition that lives on after the days of his own existence. It isn’t bad -on the contrary! To desire the palm of victory, when it is sought within the service of an ideal, is worth spending one’s life on. That desire is a kind of echo that opens us up to an eternity prepared by God for those who love Him.

In the case of Michelangelo, his goal was not so much to seek human glory as to seek the divine; not the crown that fades, but the one that never fades. The proof of this is in the fact that for 17 years he worked untiringly on the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica without accepting any reward, offering everything -as he used to say- “for God and for the salvation of my soul”.

PietaIn the very image of the Pieta, the evocation of immortality is reflected in the youth of Mary and Jesus. On their faces we see no traces of the passage of time. The mark of the years hasn’t touched Mother Mary’s fresh face or the face of our Savior lying lifeless on her lap.

As a matter of fact, the Virgin is surprisingly young. She almost looks younger than her own son! Contemplating the Pieta may evoke in us, if we are older, a time in our life that has already passed….but at the same time, points to the future of a life, beyond the confines of this temporary world, in which we will be, just as Mary and Jesus, glorious in heaven already – and whose youth in the Pieta points to the brilliance of the Resurrection- eternally young and immortal.

It seems that the image itself shows us the way to that immortality: to gain the “eternal youth” of heaven, there is no other way than the redeeming cross, the passion alongside Christ who dies for us, in the arms of Mary.

May She help us be closer to her Son now, so that we may someday obtain that place where there will no longer be tears, or grief, or death or pain. It is worth living for that.

Reflections on the Pieta – Beauty

Michelangelo's PietaIn our last reflection about Michelangelo’s Pieta, we were meditating about beauty as a goal in Christian life. It is significant that in biblical Greek the word to describe goodness, just as St. John uses it in Chapter 10 of his Gospel when he speaks of “The Good Shepherd” who gives his life for his sheep, is the word kalos which means beautiful. In the preceding example, where we usually translate “good shepherd”, we could very well say “beautiful shepherd”. Certainly there is no greater beauty than holiness as a reflection of God’s own goodness.

Beauty in art has always been an inescapable way to approach the contemplation of the mystery of God. This is what used to be called in Latin via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty. In a world where so many people are disoriented and lost, longing to bring beauty into their gray and desolate lives, art is a way of bringing them closer, without their realization, to the Lord from whom the beauty of all creation comes.

I am aware that when it comes to art there is an open and interesting discussion between the most practical and those whom we could call  “lovers of good taste”. Art has never been cheap.  We are endeavoring to keep in our parish one of the few replicas of Michelangelo’s Pieta. This effort could be seen as a squandering or a waste of money. Do we really need to find money for a statue? Isn’t it even sinful to spend such a large amount of money on an image when that money could be used for other more pressing needs?

I would like offer here the words of St John Paul II, wherein he presents a point of view that we can’t lose perspective on when it comes to the decoration of the spaces where the Holy Sacrifice of Mass is celebrated. It is worth taking the time to read it carefully:

“Reading the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels, we are struck by the simplicity and the “solemnity” with which Jesus, on the evening of the Last Supper, instituted this great sacrament. There is an episode that in some way serves as its prelude: the anointing at Bethany. A woman, whom John identifies as Mary the sister of Lazarus, pours a flask of costly ointment over Jesus’ head, which provokes from the disciples – and from Judas in particular (cf. Mt 26:8; Mk 14:4;Jn 12:4) – an indignant response, as if this act, in light of the needs of the poor, represented an intolerable “waste”. But Jesus’ own reaction is completely different. While in no way detracting from the duty of charity towards the needy, for whom the disciples must always show special care – “the poor you will always have with you” (Mt 26, 11; Mk 14:7; cf. Jn 12:8) – he looks towards his imminent death and burial, and sees this act of anointing as an anticipation of the honor which his body will continue to merit even after his death, indissolubly bound as it is to the mystery of his person.

Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no “extravagance”, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the “large upper room”, she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery.

With this heightened sense of mystery, we understand how the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression not only in the demand for an interior disposition of devotion, but also in outward forms meant to evoke and emphasize the grandeur of the event being celebrated.

Similarly, can we overlook the enormous quantity of artistic production, ranging from fine craftsmanship to authentic works of art, in the area of Church furnishings and vestments used for the celebration of the Eucharist?

It can be said that the Eucharist, while shaping the Church and her spirituality, has also powerfully affected “culture”, and the arts in particular.

Within this context of an art aimed at expressing, in all its elements, the meaning of the Eucharist in accordance with the Church’s teaching, attention needs to be given to the norms regulating the construction and decor of sacred buildings. As history shows and as I emphasized in my Letter to Artists, the Church has always left ample room for the creativity of artists. But sacred art must be outstanding for its ability to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church’s faith and in accordance with the pastoral guidelines appropriately laid down by competent Authority. This holds true both for the figurative arts and for sacred music.”   

-Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Chapter 5

I think it is worth the effort we are making to keep the Pieta in our beloved parish of St. Anne. If we are able to do so, one day its beauty will attract your children and future generations to come, to discover, to sense, the Mystery, our God, who is found in the grandeur, the beauty and the goodness of creation.

There Are Many Good People at St. Anne – New Diaconate Candidates

DeaconsIn our Parish, things happen. They happen because, on one hand, there are people who allow themselves to be guided by God. And, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of so many that they open up, just like morning flowers, unto the grace of the Lord.

This year, five men from our community have begun the process of discernment and formation for the permanent diaconate of the Diocese of Phoenix: Bill Clements, Rob Estes, Ernie Jemente, Oscar Lopez and Ivan Rojas are about
to begin an exciting journey. I would like to thank them and their families for the generosity they have shown. I would like to tell them that they give hope to all of us; that it is such a luxury to have five candidates for the diaconate and that we pray for you! May your time of discernment be fulfilling and if God is calling you, may you reach your goal to be ordained. You will not lack the grace of God. Do not fail Him.

These five men are also sending a message, loud and clear, to other men who may now be considering the diaconate as a possibility for themselves. Sometimes, we have to risk it all; leap into the abyss, with the assurance that Christ will never abandon us.

If the Holy Spirit continues to act in our parish, if we allow ourselves to be taken by Him, wonderful things can happen. I would also like to invite men to consider priesthood as a possible calling. I cannot promise you an easy life, or a future with financial security, or big houses or worldwide recognition. If, however, what you are looking for is glory, light, heaven, adventure and love, priesthood should be an open avenue for you. “The most divine vocation amongst the divine ones” –omnium divinorum divinissima – as it was referred to by a Holy Father of the Church, St John Damascus.

At the same time as we pray for our candidates, to whom we pledge our support, prayers and fellowship, we ask our Lord to ignite within our youth –men and women- a great desire to give themselves entirely to Him. In His infinite mercy, may He grant us the grace of great and generous hearts that choose to follow Him through priesthood and the consecrated life.

Reflections About The Pieta – Beauty

Beauty, one could say, is the eternal obsession of the artist. In any time, the ideal and goal of art has been to elevate the human spirit and to help it find, almost by intuition, that other level of reality in which perfection, proportion, harmony and light exist. Around 1965 Blessed Paul VI, in his exquisite Italian, wrote to artists: “This world in which we live needs beauty not to fall into despair. Beauty, like truth, is what puts joy in the hearts of men; it is the precious fruit, which resists the wear of time, which unites the generations and makes them communicate in admiration. And all this by your hands… Remember that you are the guardians of the beauty in the world”.

Michelangelo was, without a doubt, one of the best “guardians of beauty on earth”. He studied it and reflected it in his works in a way that very few have managed to do. If we had to describe the Pieta in one word, we could all agree to use the word “beautiful”. It is beautiful in its expression and its technical aspects – the proportion of the lines, the serene countenance of the faces, the nobility of the chosen material, the famous sfumatto technique of sculpting, the gracefulness and beauty of Jesus and Mary. The sculpture, encompassing all in an equilateral triangle, provides as a whole an admirable sense of balance and serenity. Michelangelo perceived sculpture as the highest expression of art. He justified it in this way: in architecture and painting, the artist creates, constructs, invents, imitates. In sculpting, however, the form is already in the stone. The artist, more so than creating, unveils the beauty already contained in the block of marble. With patience and skill, the sculptor’s mission is to bring to light the image that is, so to speak, trapped, imprisoned in the stone, removing all excess. Sculpting is, above all, manifesting hidden beauty. It is discovering the beauty that God left hidden inside of the stone.

I believe that all of this is undoubtedly related to our spiritual life. In some way, each one of us is “a guardian of the beauty on earth.”  The most noble and eternal beauty is not the one that reflects art, but rather reflects holiness. True kindness, love for Christ, humility, purity, virtue, fidelity, hope – God has entrusted us with the mission of protecting all of these within our soul; to refuse to allow the darkness of the world to take away the highest beauty that unites us more closely with God, source and origin of all beauty. In the XIII century, after receiving on Mt. Verna the gift of the stigmata, St. Francis of Assisi could only repeat: “You are beauty…you are beauty.”.

Within us lies a beautiful form that brings meaning to our lives. The Christian life consists in allowing the Divine Artist to sculpt us, polish us, remove what is excess from us and bring out the image and beautiful form that He had in mind when He created us. It is not about inventing who we are, but about discovering who we are, finding the original project that God placed in our souls and that, in docility to Him, we can bring to light and manifest.

The words of the prophet Isaiah now come to mind:  “We are the clay, you are the potter. We are all work of your hands…”

And these from Jesus: “May your light shine before men….”.

This we must think through slowly….very slowly….