My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, I write to you to share my thoughts and hopes for the Year of Faith and how it might be lived and celebrated in the Diocese of San Bernardino. By God’s grace, this year also coincides with the 35th Anniversary of the establishment of our diocese. On this occasion we rejoice and are grateful to God for the many who were so important in the founding and establishment of the diocese.
We are, of course, well into the Year of Faith and I am heartened by all that I have seen and heard in our parishes, schools and other ministries of the diocese that are observing this Year in many faith-filled, creative ways.
The premise of this Year, given to us by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is that we renew our relationship with the Lord Jesus; that we re-encounter the living Christ; that we share our spirit of renewal with others and that we continue to feed this living faith we have rekindled in a variety of ways. Pope Benedict calls us to “rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ (Porta fidei, 2).” He calls each of us to encounter again, the living Christ.
FOR RELFECTION: Do you remember a time when you truly felt the love of God? What were the circumstances? Was anyone else present? Have you ever shared that experience with anyone, spouse, child or friend?
The simplicity of the Holy Father’s vision of this Year of Faith allows each of us to live it in a way that speaks to us personally as well as communally. Whatever it was that initially brought us to fall in love with the Lord Jesus, we are invited to find that love again, to renew it, to celebrate it and to be grateful for it this year. That is our call.
We must ask ourselves with all honesty and humility – who is Jesus to us? Where do we encounter Him in our daily lives? How is His Gospel of Love reflected in the way that we live? In the way we make our choices? In the way we see others? In the way we see the world?
Soon we enter into Lent, which gives us another opportunity to look closely at our relationship with God, this time with a reflection of what we need to do to make it better; to ask the question – what needs to change in each of us in order to strengthen our relationship with Our Lord?
We need these cues to help us focus on our faith so that it is a living part of us, not a memory or an obligation. Why? Our lives are stressful, demanding and busy. We struggle to find the time to pray, read the scriptures and keep the faith traditions we learned in our families and pass them down to younger generations. These are things that give life to our faith, that make us feel God is truly walking with us – through our sorrows and our joys.
And while many of us find it difficult to break from the inertia of our daily demands and stresses, we do long for more. We want to look to the horizon for a greater meaning, as one seventh grader asked me directly a few months ago, “what is the meaning of life?” We are searching for a truth and a love that cannot be taken away from us. This is what God offers us. This is what our faith assures us!
Through Moses, His faithful servant, God built a royal tent in the desert so that the people of God might come to receive His embrace (Ex. 25-40). He sent His only begotten Son to live among us so that we might know his enduring love and his desire for intimacy with us.
The invitation is still there. Jesus waits for us, rejoicing in our faithfulness and longing for our return when we take a path away from Him (Lk. 15:11-32). He invites us to dialogue, to tell Him what it is that we seek; what we hope for; what we fear. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest...” (Mt 11:28)
FOR REFLECTION: What is your favorite Bible story? Why is it your favorite? Next time you have the opportunity; share that story with your spouse, friend, neighbor or child.
A strong and faithful prayer life is obviously central to our relationship with Jesus. We may also take this Year of Faith as an opportunity to dedícate ourselves to Catholic practices that have had meaning to us in our lives: praying the Rosary; revisiting favorite scripture passages; visiting churches in our diocese that have significant meaning to our history, our spirituality or our family identity; adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; fellowship with others through bible study groups, prayer groups and small faith communities and the corporal works of mercy. These are things that help us exercise our spiritual muscles.
FOR REFLECTION: Is there a specific church that has meaning to you? What are the stories you can tell about that parish? Were you or your parents married there? Perhaps your children were baptized there. Why not visit the parish and say a prayer of thanks? Or, take your family to the parish and share these memories with your spouse, children or grandchildren.
Some have taken the opportunity to study the Church documents for which we are celebrating anniversaries in the Year of Faith – the Second Vatican Council (1962) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). It is like rediscovering an old treasure for some. Younger ones are finding the documents as a wellspring for understanding their faith and our church in this day and time. They are as relevant to us today as when they were created but only if we look at them in the context of our present age.
As Pope Benedict observed, “from Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the Saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith. (Porta fidei, 11).”
Not to overlook the obvious, we can find renewal in the sacraments of our Church. As we pray and reflect during Lent we are preparing ourselves for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a great gift of God’s grace and a powerful moment of reconnection to the living God. Easter offers us a chance to renew the promises of baptism, our first sacrament. And if our aim this year is to grow closer to Jesus, there is perhaps no better way than partaking in His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Celebrating our 35th Anniversary as the Diocese of San Bernardino during this Year of Faith serves as a time to reflect on the Visioning documents that so many worked to develop for our local church, including our Diocesan Impact Statement and our four guiding values of hospitality, faith sharing, reconciliation and collaboration. These words and ideas are remarkably contemporary in their articulation of how we might carry out the New Evangelization and mark the Year of Faith in our diocese and in our parishes, some of which have been communities of faith for over 100 years.
FOR REFLECTION: What does it mean to accompany someone? Do you remember a time when a person was present for you? One who spent time with you, listened to your plans, laughed at your adventures and wiped your tears? Who was that person? What was the situation? What stands out in your mind about that experience? What did you learn from that experience that you can share with others?
As a community of believers, this is the time to reaffirm and to act on our commitment to “impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope.” This hope must be renewed in each of us. As it strengthens our committment to live the Gospel we are moved to give special attention to our brothers and sisters who are vulnerable and marginalized. We renew our commitment to accompany our young people and our elderly, to create a welcoming environment to the new immigrants, and to celebrate our diversity as a church formed by people of different ethnicity and culture. We consider the formation of lay leaders and promotion of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life as an urgent task.
So as we celebrate the Year of Faith and the 35th Anniversary of our diocese, we move forward in our work to make the Reign of God a reality. Together with our patron saint, St. Bernardine, and the guidance and protection of our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe and “the Star of the New Evangelization,” let us celebrate this Holy Year with a resolve to renew our faith, joyfully bear fruit for the Church and for society and to live spiritual lives as children of God.
Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes