Choosing the Hope of Faith

Choosing the Hope of Faith

By Fr. Mark Arnzen
Pastor St. Lucy Parish
The Valley Catholic – April 7, 2020

The new reality of ministry has hit us all like an avalanche. I was on the last day of my annual spiritual retreat when the news filtered in – we would no longer be celebrating public Mass in the parishes of our Diocese. At our Monday staff meeting, we worked, planned, and discussed how this new reality would work in our lives. As we walked out at the end of the meeting, the news came through that we were to begin to “shelter-in-place,” and all public ministry was curtailed.

The past few weeks have been a strange time as almost all contact with the parish has been done through online streaming, telephone calls, and talking from six feet apart. It was not something I was trained to do nor wanted to do as a priest. Building relationships, listening and comforting, sharing good news and celebrating is where we had been, but now we are somewhere else.

This became a stark reality in two ways these past weeks. First is the death of a parishioner. We have had four long time parishioners die these past few weeks, and these moments have been some of the most difficult in my priesthood. Seeking to listen, comfort, and pray with someone over the telephone. Sharing the heartbreaking news of their beloved mother, father, husband or wife’s death, and then having to give them the news: we cannot celebrate a funeral Mass at this time. The silence was deafening, both over the telephone and in my heart. Hearing the soft cries of a daughter or husband and not being able to reach out to care for and comfort them is impossible to put into words.

The second reality is the isolation we are all experiencing, both as priests and the many members of our parish communities. In reaching out to all our parishioners over the past few weeks, we have heard both stories of sorrow and joy, but we have mostly heard stories of hope. The day after receiving a phone call from our outreach team, a widower wrote me a beautiful note that he was doing well but also that he appreciated just hearing a voice from the parish and the prayer they shared together over the phone. We also helped to point people who were in midst of feeling the stress of buying food and other necessary items towards the partnership of Catholic Charities and Second Harvest at St. Martin of Tours Parish. All these moments, both joyful and sorrowful, remind us of how Jesus calls us, even in telephone calls, to be sisters and brothers to one another.

As Easter morning comes into our lives, we know that our self-isolation echoes that of the first disciples after the death of our Lord Jesus. While our time of isolation is much longer than the three days experienced by the apostles and the other disciples, we are experiencing the same fears and doubts about our future as they experienced. This is where, I as a priest, and every follower of Jesus Christ, must look to the light of the Cross in choosing the hope of faith. There is hope at the end of the tunnel, where darkness becomes the light of Easter morning. Our journey has not come to an end, nor have the problems of life disappeared.  Instead, we are giving a perspective that allows us to know that death and darkness are not the last words but rather love and life of Jesus Christ sing out in our hearts.

Bishop Cantú’s Holy Week Prayer during Coronavirus Pandemic

Bishop Cantú’s Holy Week Prayer during Coronavirus Pandemic

By Bishop Oscar Cantú 
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 5, 2020
The Valley Catholic – April 11, 2020

We gather this evening in prayer. Our gathering is virtual – each of you in your homes, and Fr. Hao and I here at this Cathedral.

We gather virtually because of the crisis we are experiencing of the Coronavirus. But I tell you that what is not virtual is the power of our prayer. I tell you that what is not virtual is the presence of Jesus in this Altar, the presence of Jesus in your homes, in your hearts, in your minds, and with your families.

This evening we have begun Holy Week. This most holy of times in the year we recall Jesus entering Jerusalem, and we too come to the New Jerusalem with our prayers – our prayers for a relief from suffering, our prayers for our families, for our communities, for our healthcare workers, for so many throughout the world who are suffering because of this crisis. And we raise a voice of prayer—prayer to God. A God who always hears the cry of the poor, the cry of those who suffer, and we raise our voice tonight.

We raise our voice, especially with three specific voices. Three powerful voices that Jesus listens too most intently: with the voice of St. Joseph, of San José—our Patron Saint in this Diocese. The voice of St. Clare, Patron of also this Diocese, as our County is named for her. And the voice of Mary, Mary of Nazareth, and in a special way, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

St. Joseph: because he cared for and protected the Holy Family. He is the Patron of the Universal Church and watches over us. Tonight, we ask him for his powerful intercession for us and for the church throughout the World, for those who suffer. We ask him to protect us, to protect his family.

St. Clare: because she was able to ward off invaders by displaying Jesus in the monstrance. Thus, she is often displayed with the monstrance in her hands, just as we also displayed Jesus this evening in the monstrance. May we have the faith and the strength of prayer of St. Clare to ward off this invasion of a crisis, of the tiniest of invaders, a virus, which has disrupted our lives terribly and brought so much suffering throughout the world. We ask St. Clare to pray with us tonight and to intercede for us – to intercede for the world.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: because when she rhetorically asked St. Juan Diego why he was concerned, and if he was worried for his sick uncle, she answered, “Am I not here who am your mother? I will take care of you.” And so, we ask the Blessed Mother to care for us, to care for those who are sick, and to care for those who care for the sick. For our heroic and tireless medical professionals, we raise a voice of prayer tonight.

The reading from the scriptures this evening from the book of Lamentations presents to us two realities. First is the reality of suffering – the suffering in the world that tempts us to think that God has abandoned us. Suffering is very real. Millions of people throughout the world are experiencing suffering now – those who have lost loved ones, those who are ill, those who care for them, those who have lost jobs, those who lost a sense of security. But, the second reality that the book of Lamentation presents to us tonight is the reality of God’s faithfulness. God promises that he will be faithful to his people, and that he will never abandon us. That promise inspires hope.

“Mercy is never exhausted,” says Jeremiah. Mercy, and compassion, from our God is never spent, never exhausted. What do we ask for tonight? We ask for His presence, His healing mercy, and His compassion to console those who suffer.

“It is good to hope in silence for the Lord’s deliverance,” says Jeremiah. We hope for the Lord’s deliverance of our world, and of our communities. We do so with a cry of prayer, with our hearts laid bare before him. Tonight, we hope in silence and prayer.

Today, on Passion Sunday, we recall Jesus entering Jerusalem. He rode humbly on a donkey. The King, who came into the world, came in humility, and was confident of his power.

Tonight, you and I, those of us who gather virtually on this night… we ride into the New Jerusalem. We ride into the New Jerusalem in the presence of our God with our prayers, and with our cries for deliverance, and with our cries for compassion and mercy. And we do so humbly riding on the backs, and with the assistance, of St. Joseph, St. Clare, and of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Some have described this virus as an invisible invader, so small that we cannot see it. But it has disrupted our lives and brought society to its knees. And since we are on our knees, we raise our hearts and glance upward to our God.

There was someone else who was very small and yet, tremendously powerful. When Mary appeared 500 years ago to St. Juan Diego in what is now México City, she appeared in the image as pregnant and awaiting the birth of the Savior the Son of God. Remember that Jesus also started out small within the womb, yet even when he was tiny, he had tremendous power. Early in Mary’s pregnancy, she traveled a long distance to greet her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” So powerful was the tiny presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, that John the Baptist in the womb recognized his hidden presence. So too was the tiny presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary who appeared to St. Juan Diego that it moved the hearts of millions of people throughout the land of México 500 years ago to bring them to the Christian faith.

We turn to Jesus in this small and humble presence, in the appearance of bread. And we ask him to exert his power to bring healing to our world. To bring relief to those who suffer. That his power may extend throughout the world – from Italy to China, from Vietnam to the Philippines, from Korea to Japan, from France to Africa, from the Middle East to South America, from India to California and into our homes, and into our hearts.

Video of the Evening Prayer is available at Bishop Cantú’s Holy Week Prayer during the Coronavirus

Hope in God Who Is with Us

Hope in God Who Is with Us

Monsignor Francis V. Cilia 
The Valley Catholic – March 30, 2020

In the First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul writes that in the end “these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” 

We know that love is of God and that God is love; Jesus taught His followers to be a community of love, modeled after the self-sacrificing gift of His life.  Some have said that the Christian life can be summed up as “Love and do what you want.”   

Love is the core of Christian living, but what humanity desperately needs during this time of pandemic is hope, without denying the necessity of faith and love.    

There is a problem with hope, in the ways that most people live it.  For us, to be a person of hope is to believe that things will turn out well, that they will end right, and that that end will be according to our hopes, our dreams and our prayers. It is easy for us to fall into a false hope, which attributes to God the same desires that we have for ourselves, our loved ones, our world, and even our Church.  I say that this is a false kind of hope, because it is not really founded upon our belief in God and divine Providence, but on what we think we know is best for all concerned.  

I read an article recently, entitled “Who Made Us God?”.  The basic premise of the short piece was when we begin to believe that we have all the answers, then we have walked down a path that is not open to God’s grace, but only to ourselves.   

During this time of pandemic, we desperately need to rekindle our faith, our belief that God who has known each of us from the first moment of our lives in our mothers’ womb will never leave us alone, but eventually will lead each of us to unending life.  These days, weeks and months, call us to remember that even in time of isolation, we are never really so distant from one another, that we are walking the path that has been set before us with each other, with our families and friends, our communities of faith and, indeed, with the entire human race.   

As such, it is our personal responsibility to be there for one another, in word, action and prayer.  And it is incumbent upon us to rekindle the gift of real hope in our lives.  Czech poet and president, Václav Havel, wrote that “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” True Christian hope can never be “doom and gloom,” even in the darkest hours – and none of us knows how dark the darkness may yet become.  Christian hope guides us to believe that whatever happens, however things turn out, Good Friday will always be followed by Easter morning.   

Like Jesus, in the garden the night before He died, we can and should pray that this suffering might pass, that all might be restored to health, that the world may soon begin to heal, families’ finances be made whole again.  And we should do our very best to stay healthy.  But, in the end, no matter what does happen, as a people of hope, we trust that God has always been, is and will ever be with us.  Let us comfort one another with this message. 

The Modern Christs

The Modern Christs

By Deacon Andrzej Sobczyk 
The Valley Catholic – March 30, 2020

We are living in unprecedented times. Most of us do not remember a year when life was affected in such profound ways. We are forced to stay home, grocery store shelves are half empty, streets and highways seem deserted, and we cannot even pray next to each other. Many of us live in fear: fear of someone close to us dying from the virus, fear of the healthcare system collapsing and not being there for us when we really need it, fear of losing our job and income, and worry about our retirement security. We cannot meet with friends, go on planned vacations, or perhaps even visit elderly parents and grandparents. Baptisms and weddings are postponed, funerals are brief, our grief is raw and unprocessed; we cannot even hug the people who long for consolation. We are isolated and deprived of so much that we came to take for granted. To say that this Lent is unusual would be a great understatement. 

In the middle of this tragedy and destruction, among the fallen ashes of lost dreams and hopes, I can see, though, some diamonds forming, and sparkling with the rays of goodness and hope. Healthcare workers are bravely fighting the darkness, risking their own lives while the stock of their protective gear is dwindling. Grocery store workers, pharmacists, delivery drivers, police, paramedics, firefighters, and many others working in essential services are supporting and protecting us with the shield of their own bodies and courage, even as they experience their own fear and uncertainty. Neighbors volunteer to shop for the elderly and the most vulnerable; they donate part of their own supplies to those in greater need. A sense of duty, responsibility, and connection propels all those people forward, and towards others, as they offer acts of kindness, care, and compassion. They might not have time to reflect on it, but they are saving us, offering their unconditional love and suffering for all; they are, as it were, Christ Himself, the One who came to serve and not be served. 

Scientists are working around the clock, racing to find a cure and develop a vaccine. People work from their homes to quietly support the economy and our existence. Spiritual leaders are praying for their communities and all of creation. Artists inspire and entertain lonely people in new and creative ways, people reach out to each other to show that they care and share their jokes to bring a touch of joy. Despite the increased risk, volunteers and non-profit organizations continue to care for the homeless, the poor, the immigrants, seniors, the most vulnerable. We all have a role to play, even if it is just staying home and not spreading the virus to others; in fact, it is an important role, and doctors are pleading with us to do just that, and save their lives in the process. 

The virus knows no borders, and that is scary, but it also makes us realize, more than ever before, that we are in this all together. And I don’t mean just the pandemic; I mean life, humanity, creation, universe and cosmos, I mean Love. We have stopped chasing away the homeless, we have halted evictions and foreclosures. Countries, businesses, and individuals with an extra supply of masks are donating them to others.  

This great suffering has made us more caring and more sensitive to the needs of our sisters and brothers. It has made us all a little more Christ-like. Christ sees all creation as one, and this crisis has allowed us to see the world through the eyes of Christ, even if just for a moment, a day, a month, or a year.  

It is a great blessing to experience this alignment, this intimate connection with God. I have no illusion that it will last forever, although I do imagine it every day and pray for the Kingdom to come. But I do sincerely hope that this experience of suffering and solidarity will help us move at least incrementally forward and closer together in spirit. 

Perhaps it will manifest itself in a creation of a more inclusive and universal healthcare system, which would mean a lot to all the uninsured and underinsured. Perhaps it will be a greater availability of more affordable housing. Perhaps it will be our willingness to pay everyone a living wage and provide paid sick leave. Perhaps it will be a recognition that immigrants are not a threat or an evil. Perhaps it will be a little more kindness, healing, and unconditional love. And that is already a lot. 

The Gift of Time

The Gift of Time

By Msgr. Francisco Rios
The Valley Catholic – March 30, 2020

Isn’t it interesting how something so small as a virus can turn our lives upside down? Not just our lives, but lives across the globe! We all had plans this Spring, whether they were spiritual, professional, personal, sports, travel, or other kinds of plans that we have had to cancel or adjust.

In Argentina, we have an expression “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” (There is no bad from which (God) will not bring good.”

In the Bay Area, and in many other places in the world, we never have time to stop. When I tell people that I take a nap every day, some say that napping is a waste of time, and some say that napping is a luxury. How many times in the past year have you said, “I would do that, but I just don’t have time?”

Now, we find ourselves with the gift of time on our hands! Within a few weeks, a small organism that had only been discovered a few months ago on the other side of the globe makes it to our area, and now we are told to stop and stay home. Now, we find ourselves doing what we have wanted to do – slow down, spend time with our family, do things that we have wanted to do, but have never “had the time to do.”

At St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Morgan Hill, we have been following the “shelter in place” orders, but we haven’t been isolated – physically yes, but emotionally and spiritually no! We’ve been trying to keep in touch with our community by calling our parishioners to wish them well and assure them of our prayers. We have also been live streaming the Mass and the Stations of the Cross, so parishioners can still see us. But, sometimes you don’t know how much you enjoy the ordinary things in life until you suddenly don’t have them anymore.

One of these is the interaction that we have outside of church with our parishioners. To try to keep this informal interaction, we asked parishioners to send questions to Fr. Sergio, and then we posted videos of us answering the questions seated in our living room. The questions started with why we became priests and what we’d do if we weren’t priests, how we as priests pray, and the questions keep coming in.

It is amazing how we can be distant physically from each other for our own wellbeing, but that technology is bringing us together emotionally also for our own wellbeing. But, it isn’t the technology by itself that brings our community together, it is our faith, our prayers, and our love for each other that brings us together through the technology.

I hope that when this pandemic ends, we will go back to the good parts of our daily routines, but that we will also keep the good parts that we have learned and done by staying at home: being there for each other, being grateful for our families, our health, to be able to stop, make time to think and pray.