Happenings on Palm Sunday weekend

On Palm Sunday morning I had the blessing of being able to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange.  The joy of the capacity crowd was evident in the Church and outside of the parish Church.  This was a scene repeated all of the Diocese all of the weekend.  St. Polycarp’s in Stanton, like so many of our parishes, had great processions and festivity.  Later on in the afternoon, there was another procession that I was part of in the neighborhood of St. Joseph’s in Santa Ana.  Thanks to Fr. Christopher Smith, when he was pastor of the parish, the custom was begun to have a Eucharistic process and to bless the streets, homes and families in the neighborhood around St. Joseph that was subject to so much violence.  This tradition continues and a great group of us prayed, carried the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance and sang and blessed all who passed by.  We were accompanied by singing in Spanish, English and especially by the beauty of the Samoan choir!  Last year, and this year, we also stopped at two locations where individuals had died and we blessed these areas, and visited and prayed with the families of those who had died.

The violence these days is much less, thanks no doubt to the presence of the Eucharistic Lord who is carried through the streets, and the prayers and ministry of all who walk in procession.

We were also blessed, this Palm Sunday Weekend, to have a major gathering  – for the first time in many years of the young people of our Diocese on the Cathedral campus.  Over 700 young people were present for Mass and reflections and talks.  It was certain ly a time that I enjoyed.  After the opening Mass, I  had a question and answer session with the young people, took a lot of “Selfies” and jammed on the keyboard with the Francis Cabildo band!

At this same time we were blessed to have Leonardo Defilippis back on campus with his drama about the life of St. John Vianney.  This was held in the Freed Theatre of the Cultural Center.  This production of the life of St. John Vianney is captivating and powerful. Another example of how the Christ Cathedral campus is a home for all who come, and evangelizes through music and drama which can draw so many to God!

Blessing of the Streets

Blessing of the Streets

 

Blessing of the Streets

Blessing of the Streets

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IMG_4532VIANNEY Pic 3

Waiting for the Lord’s call

I set out to write this column regarding the month of November and the days of All Saints and All Souls and what they teach us about life and eternal life. However, things have changed somewhat and now the reflections on the Eternal Life to which we are called, which we received in our baptism, has now become very personal as I sit by my father’s beside at hospice in Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield , Ill., praying with him into eternal life. I am writing this, as I have occasionally done before, on my iPhone.

For these days and this month, I found these words from All Souls Day yesterday in a parish bulletin from a church where I celebrated Mass: “We do everything possible to eliminate the thought. Yet for the Christian, death is not a moment separate from the rest of life. The deepest hope nourished by the faith is the final encounter with Christ. But that final encounter with him requires we face on a daily basis many options during our lives before that final meeting. The love and the fullness of joy at this final birth are built a day at a time by the efforts that we knowingly exerted because we opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit.”

All Saints Day and All Souls Day have their roots in sacred Scripture, which contemplates the mystery of life and death and our eternal life in the resurrection of Christ. The history and prayers for these days, which go back to the 10th century, were nuanced and clarified and celebrated in various cultural contexts. I have had the blessing to experience these days both in Italy and Mexico. These days remind us that although we are individuals, these passages from death to life are rooted and secured as a response of faith in community. We are not solo and not our own masters.

As I sit here with my father waiting for his passage into eternal life, I remember that we are not far from what was once called the hospital’s “expectant fathers’ waiting room” where he waited for me to be born in the early hours of May 10, 1951. I specially thank the staff of hospice at Saint John’s Hospital. Through their ministry and professional and loving palliative care (like that of the St. Joseph Health system in Orange County) they have ensured that he is not in pain and does not suffer. Their work in palliative and hospice care assures that while the patients here await the Lord’s call, they do not suffer and are not alone. Their presence here is a reflection of the Paschal Mystery of Christ and Saint Paul’s words, “O Death, where is your victory, O Death where is your sting?”

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Protect Life & Dignity of the Sick

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Today the California State Senate Health Committee is taking up SB 128 – entitled “The End of Life Option Act”. This legislation would allow physicians in our state to prescribe life ending drugs. This legislation threatens not only the sanctity of human life but the dignity of the sick and vulnerable. Over this past weekend I asked that all priests in the Diocese of Orange preach on and discuss this issue in our parishes and centers. Below is a homily that I shared with our presbyterate and offered as a resource to be shared at Masses. Additionally, I have reposted my reflections from November of last year when my father passed away. Please read and reflect upon these resources and share with your families and friends. Also, please join me in prayer today as our representatives discuss and vote on SB 128.

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I am addressing you today about a topic of urgent concern not only for Catholics, but for our culture, that has recently come to the fore in California. A new bill has been introduced into the California Senate—SB 128–called “The End of Life Option Act.” It is being heavily promoted by the Hemlock Society (which has renamed itself Compassion and Choices). The objective of the proponents is to try to pass legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide this year, but failing that, to forward a Voter Initiative to the public in 2016. This would make California the fourth state permitting physician-assisted suicide without approval by a court.

It is important to recognize from the outset that this initiative is not concerned with “death with dignity” in the sense of people refusing excessive or overly burdensome treatment at the end of life. The Catholic Church and the USCCB have supported the freedom of Catholics to refuse such treatment, and even provides resources to help you make decisions about treatments at the end of life.[1] So what does this new legislation concern? It concerns the legalization of physician-assisted suicide—where physicians could provide lethal doses of pharmaceuticals to be self-administered by terminally ill patients. Some of you may be thinking—“so what’s wrong with that if this option is completely voluntary?—if people don’t want it, they don’t have to take it—the legislation is simply giving an option to those who want it.” The ethical and cultural issues may not at first be evident, but I think I can bring them to light by examining the three major militating principles given to us by Jesus and the Catholic Church. The principles are as follows:

  1. Our duty to protect the life and dignity of the sick, weak, poor, and defenseless.
  2. Our duty to assure that new laws do not impose onerous burdens — such as the duty to die — on the vulnerable.
  3. Our duty to prevent cultural decline arising out of laws that devalue or degrade human life.

Let’s begin with the first principle – Our duty to protect the life and dignity of the sick, weak, poor, and defenseless. To begin with, most assisted suicide advocates admit—pain is not the reason for advocating suicide—because most pain from terminal illness can be adequately controlled by physicians. According to the 1992 manual produced by the Washington Medical Association –adequate interventions exist to control pain in 90 to 99% of terminally ill patients.”[2] Additionally, most of the depression leading to suicide attempts can be treated adequately with current protocols and treatment.[3] After extensive study of physician assisted suicide requests, Dr. Kathleen Foley, former Director of Palliative Care at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, concluded:

When these fears [about pain, depression, and self-worth] are dealt with by a caring and knowledgeable physician, the request for an expedited death usually disappears.[4] The developments in the treatment of pain and depression in terminally ill patients has caused the Hemlock Society to shift its focus away from pain and depression to the indignity of the need for assistance – as if the help we need and give to each other is some kind of enemy that must be overcome rather than the very part of life that makes us human and gives us the opportunity to give and receive love and compassion. [5]This should concern us all, but has particularly alarmed the disability rights community, because it undermines the dignity of the disabled. Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, responds to this idea as follows:

As many thousands of people with disabilities who rely on personal assistance               have learned, needing help is not undignified, and death is not better than reliance               on assistance. Have we gotten to the point that we will [advocate for] suicides               because people need help using the toilet? [1]

This is the reason that there is such a broad coalition against physician assisted suicide – from the World Health Organization to the American Medical Association, and beyond.[7]

If suicide is to be preferred over needing assistance, what does that say about the worth and dignity of disabled people? Are we telling the weak, the dependent, the vulnerable, and the poor that they are a burden and it would be better if they just went away? Are we not saying that death is better than compassion? Are we not reversing the teaching of Jesus Christ who said that love conquers death? The influence of culture and cultural trends is amazingly strong, and if this prioritization gains momentum, we will enter into a new level of the culture of death.

The second principle concerns our duty to assure that new laws do not impose onerous burdens — such as the duty to die — on the vulnerable. It runs as follows: A law permitting freedom to one group cannot impose an excessive or onerous burden on another group. At first glance, it might seem difficult to see how permitting assisted suicide for one group of people could impose an onerous burden on another group of people. Nevertheless, many physicians and ethicists have warned against this possibility precisely because “the mere option of assisted suicide” can put pressure on vulnerable people to request it against their wishes. This is particularly true for all people who could be persuaded that they, or their family, or the world would be better off if they were dead. Ethicists and directors of palliative care[8] write extensively about how seldom the decisions made by dying patients are truly autonomous, and how easily they are influenced or manipulated. For example, after the legalization of assisted suicide in Oregon, the physician of Kate Cheney refused to prescribe lethal medication for her because he thought the request was not her free choice, but came from pressure applied by her assertive daughter who was tired of caregiving. The daughter then found a more agreeable physician who wrote the prescription, after which Ms. Cheney took the lethal “medication” and died.[9]

It is irrelevant whether family members, friends, or physicians are well-intentioned or not—if they suggest that a person might be better off dead, then he or she could take that suggestion as a rejection of self-worth and lovability – and acquiesce to the perceived request to die.

Is this a real concern? The experience in the states of Oregon and Washington indicate that it is. Who are the populations most likely to feel the pressure to commit assisted suicide? Those who feel like a burden to their friends and family, those who feel badly about having a weakness or an illness, those who are reversibly depressed because they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, those with clinical depression, and those who have low self-esteem —in other words, a huge segment of American society. Once again the victims are those who are most vulnerable—who need our protection—so that they might have what they truly desire—continued life! Recall that the majority of assisted suicide requests are reversed when pain and depression are treated adequately.[10]

The pressure to commit assisted suicide is also exerted by insurance companies who are carrying out the mandate of new euthanasia legislation. In Oregon, for example, a cancer patient named Barbara Wagner was sent a letter by a company administering the state’s insurance plans stating that they would not pay for a drug that would help treat her cancer, but instead would pay for her assisted suicide. She told the Seattle Times, “I was absolutely hurt that somebody could think that way. They won’t pay for me to live but they will pay for me to die.”[11] Such letters are not uncommon, and the pressure to die they exert did not exist before the legalization of assisted suicide. This onerous burden to die is not only contrary to ethical laws; it is radically contrary to the teaching of Jesus who loved the weak and vulnerable and held them in highest esteem.

The third and final principle concerns our duty to prevent cultural decline arising out of laws that devalue or degrade human life. This principle enshrines not only the teaching of Jesus, but also that of St. John Paul, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis on the culture of life. Physician-assisted suicide threatens the culture in two respects:

  1. It reconfigures our view of “the quality of life.”
  2. It legitimizes and normalizes suicide as socially and morally acceptable.

With respect to the first point, Dr. Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center for Bioethics Research states what Catholics have known for centuries — “noble and heroic life can be achieved by those who have little or no control over the external conditions of their lives, but have the wisdom and dignity necessary to fashion a meaningful life without it.”[12] What Callahan is saying is that we have a fundamental option about how to define “quality of life.”

Should we define quality of life in terms of our strengths, abilities, intellectual acuity, and competitiveness—or should we define it in terms of a relationship with the loving God, the compassion we show to others, and the contributions we try to make to the various people and causes around us? If we define “quality of life” in the first way—then suffering has no meaning—and as we lose our mental acuity, physical agility, autonomy and competitiveness, we will see our quality of life slipping away—leading to a sense of purposelessness, worthlessness, emptiness, and malaise. However, if we define “quality of life” in the second way, and put on the mantle of Christ, then we will likely see a remarkable transformation take place during the time of our physical and natural decline—namely, an increased capacity for trust in God, and compassion for, and forgiveness of others. As St. Paul said, “I will boast in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me—for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).

Weakness and diminishment are sublime dignities — not scandals, impositions, or degradations. We as Catholics must stand up for this by word and example–as Pope Francis has encouraged us — so that the most vulnerable in our society will not only be protected but flourish in their true dignity of imparting faith, wisdom, forgiveness and compassion to their loved ones before they pass to the next life.

The second major cultural problem brought about by physician-assisted suicide concerns the legitimizing of suicide itself. There is an old expression in the philosophy of law—“What becomes legal, soon becomes acceptable, and what becomes acceptable, soon becomes ‘moral’ — because ‘everyone’ is doing it.”

What are we saying to our young people when we legalize assisted suicide? Of course – we are telling them that suicide is acceptable, which opens the door for them to conclude that it is moral. We are creating a cultural trend – not merely for the toleration of suicide, but for its goodness – its moral acceptability. We should not be surprised if suicide rates – of both young and old — increase as we stoke this cultural trend. This has certainly happened in Holland, where lethal injection and assisted suicide rates have increased every year over the six years between 2006 to 2012 — with a 13% increase in 2012. The Dutch now have “mobile euthanasia units” that will promptly come to a person’s home to administer lethal drugs upon request.[13]

If the California initiative succeeds, it will accelerate the assisted suicide trend in the United States – and if we are anything like Holland, it will cast not only a shadow, but a deep darkness upon our culture—not lifting us up to the light of Christ, but pulling us down into the eros of death.

Catholics have championed the above three principles throughout the centuries. Recall, almost immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church started a healthcare system, a social welfare system, and an educational system extending far beyond the Christian community. It reached out especially to the weak and the vulnerable – particularly slaves.[14] This concern for the weak, sick, poor, and marginalized eventually led to the diminishment of Roman slavery and to the largest international healthcare, social welfare, and public education system in existence.

                 Today, I am asking for your help. Would you please read some of the resources available at the back of the Church and seriously consider working against this legislation by contacting your state senators and legislators. Would you please go to the California Conference Website – www.cacatholic.org, click on the red icon which says, “Urge a ‘No’ Vote on Assisted Suicide” – and simply follow the prompts.

Let us pray and work together to help our culture understand the tragedy and danger this legislation presents to the vulnerable populations living within it.

Sincerely,

Bishop Kevin Vann

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[1] See the California Catholic Conference’s document on End of Life Decisions and Directories
http://www.cacatholic.org/index.php/component/content/article/77-linked-articles-and-directories/583-frequently-asked-questions-end-of-life
[2]
Albert Einstein, 1992, “Overview of Cancer Pain Management,” In Judy Kornell, ed., Pain Management and Care of the Terminal Patient (Washington: Washington State Medical Association) p.4.
[3] See Burke Balch and R. O’Bannon, 2000, “Why Assisted Suicide Should not be Legalized.” (http://www.texasrighttolife.com/about/159/Why-assisted-suicide-should-not-be-legalized )
[4] Kathleen Foley, M.D., and Herbert Hendin, M.D. 2002. p. 314.
[5] R. Leiby 1996 “Whose death is it anyway? the Kevorkian debate; it’s a matter of faith, in the end.” Washington Post. 1996, Aug 11.
[6] Marilyn Golden and Tyler Zoanni 2010. p.1.
[7] In addition to the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, the following are also opposed: The American College of Physicians, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society, many other medical organizations; the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)—as well as virtually every major national and international disability rights organization.
See Kathleen Foley, M.D., and Herbert Hendin, M.D., 2002, The Case Against Assisted Suicide: For the Right to End-of-Life Care (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press) p. 3. And also see Marilyn Golden and Tyler Zoanni 2010 “Killing us softly: the dangers of legalizing assisted suicide” in Disability and Health Journal (http://dredf.org/PIIS1.pdf) p.1.
[8]Two of the most prominent experts are Dr. Leon Kass, M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, former Director of Bioethics at the Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics – now renamed after him. See Leon Kass 2002 “I Will Give No Deadly Drug: Why Doctors Must Not Kill” in Kathleen Foley and Herbert Hendin 2002, pp. 17 – 40. See Edmund Pellegrino 2002 “Compassion is Not Enough” in Kathleen Foley, M.D. and Herbert Hendin, M.D., 2002, pp. 41-49. See also Leon Kass, M.D. 2001 “Preventing A Brave New World” in The New Republic June, 2001.
[9] See Marilyn Golden 1999 “Why Assisted Suicide Must Not Be Legalized” in Disability and Health Journal (http://dredf.org/assisted_suicide/assistedsuicide.html)
[10] See Kathleen Foley and H. Hendin 2002. p. 314.
[11] See Hal Bernton, “Washington’s Initiative 1000 is Modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act,” Seattle Times, October 13, 2008.
[12] See Kathleen Foley, M.D. and Herbert Hendin 2002 p.9.
[13] Kate Connolly 2012, “Dutch mobile euthanasia units to make house calls” in the guardian (United Kingdom) March 1, 2012.
[14]Helmut Koester 1998 “The Great Appeal: What did Christianity offer its believers that made it worth social estrangement, hostility from neighbors, and possible persecution?” (New York: WGBH Educational Foundation) pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/appeal.html

A Time of Prayer and Reflection

Vietnam 2 Vietnam 3

 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

The calendars (regular and liturgical) of these current days have some points for reflection form us, historically and faith wise.

We are right at President’s Day, which is a combination of the former observations of Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays. As citizens of the United States it behooves us, I believe, to know something about these two Presidents, their history and their respective eras. Growing up in Springfield, Illinois I was able to experience firsthand much of the Lincoln heritage.  I would certainly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “A Team of Rivals” as an insightful contemporary narration of President Lincoln and the challenges of the Civil War era and the life of Lincoln.

Right upon us now is “Mardi Gras”, which means “Fat Tuesday”.  This refers to the fact that when Lent was very strict the kitchens of homes and establishments were emptied of all fat and meat, to prepare for Lent, which follows the next day on Ash Wednesday. The colors of Mardi Gras, and some of the customs, also can trace their origin back to the Epiphany as well.  This can remind us of at some level, of the connection between faith, ritual and thus, even our “secular festivals”. 

This is also an occasion to reflect on the tremendous and apostolic work and mission of Catholic Charities here in Orange County.  We just celebrated their Mardi Gras Gala last Friday night, which brings so many people together for the purpose of supporting the mission of Catholic Charities. At the Gala, the local Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher were recognized for their outreach locally and for the faithful support of the mission of the Church in the Holy Land in these violent times in the Middle East.  Thank you Tita Smith for your leadership and that of your Board and staff.

Finally with Ash Wednesday upon us, Lent is here.  The word Lent is actually an old English word.  Countries whose heritage is Catholic, use a word such as “Quaresima” (Italy) or “Cuaresima” (Spanish speaking ) that reflects the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert.

This season of “Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving ” are an opportunity to reflect on how we are disciples of the Lord, and how we are called to live that relationship with Him in a deeper and more profound and even public way!  More later on this season…

Finally, in the early days of Lent, Fr. Binh Nguyen, Fr. Francis Vu SJ and I will be in Vietnam for the celebration of TET ( Lunar New Year) and the first days of Lent.  We hope and pray that this visit will continue to strengthen the bonds of Faith, family and friendship between our Diocese and the people of Vietnam.

A very blessed season of Lent to all and thank you for all of sacrifice and generosity in so many ways.  May the Lord bless you always .

+Kevin W. Vann

 

A Week for Gratitude

There are a number of gatherings and events that mark the life of the Church in the United States and around the world in these days.

In the Church in the U.S., this week is known as “National Marriage Week.” This week brings to mind for me, first of all, my mother and father as I go through our family albums and as our family prepares our home of many years for sale this spring. I wish to salute my sister M.T. in that regard for all she has done. Seeing the pictures of my mother and father over the years, I think once more how they taught all of us, by their lives, modeling and sacrifices, what the Sacrament of Marriage given to us by Christ is. I think also of the witness of all involved in marriage preparation in our Diocese of Orange and beyond, and those who have enriched my life as a priest over the years, particularly those involved in Marriage Encounter both in Spanish and English. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a place on its website where couples can make a retreat on line this week, and I would highly recommend it.

We just finished Catholic Schools Week and celebrated a Mass and dinner in honor of our consecrated men and women here in the Diocese of Orange. Last night I spent an evening with the Norbertines at St. Michael’s Abbey. I reflected on the words of Pope Francis in his apostolic letter addressed “to all consecrated people on the occasion of consecrated life.” Using the three aims in this letter—to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope—I shared my own vocation story with them and how the gift of consecrated life was integral to hearing the voice of Christ. This series began with a talk by Father Abbot Eugene Hayes, O.Praem, and I was featured on the second night. There will be a series of presentations in the evenings ahead by other men and women religious. I thank Abbot Hayes so much for his invitation for this reflection and a time of prayer and fraternity with the Norbertine community.

At the end of Catholic Schools Week we held an appreciation banquet for our teachers, faculty, staff and school board members for all of our elementary and high schools. During this banquet, as mentioned in last week’s Orange County Catholic, Sister Mary Vianney Ennis, RSM, was honored for her years of teaching and administration at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa. The witness of her religious life as a Sister of Mercy has made a difference in the lives of so many children and families here over these past 50 years. As she prepares to return to her native Ireland, we thank Sister, pray for her, and reflect on the centrality and importance of the gift of consecrated life to the Church.

And in this year of consecrated life, I would publicly like to acknowledge another Sister of Mercy who has affected many in this country and around the world. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, has recently returned to the motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy in Albany, N.Y. I first got to know Sister Mary Ann when I was a student priest in Rome and so many of us—priests, religious and lay men and women—would walk to the “Stational Church Masses” in Rome during the Lenten season. She was part of the big family of American seminarians, priests, religious and lay people who spent time in the Eternal City for ministry and study. Her ministry of communication was a part of the work of Catholic News Service at that time. In later years, after I became the Bishop of Fort Worth, I got to know her in the Office of Communications for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She was a great help to me when she and Barry McLaughlin were in Fort Worth for communication workshops and helped us through some challenging times. Each time I was at the Bishops’ Conference headquarters I would enjoy visiting with her about the latest projects and challenges. Her humor, insight and comprehension of the local and Universal Church were a gift to us all. Her book about the life of Saint John Paul II is a wonderful resource. In these first months of the Year of Consecrated Life I would like to thank Sister Mary Ann publicly for her friendship and help to all of us to communicate and express ourselves more effectively as people of faith. We all extend our prayers to her and the Sisters of Mercy in these days.

Finally, it was noted recently that the cause for beatification for Chiara Lubich was opened in Castelgandolfo, Italy. I mention this because I would consider myself among the “Bishop Friends of Focolare” who will be meeting in Castelgandolfo next month in March. I will not be there, but I have a great admiration for Chiara, whose ecclesial movement of “Focolare” (an Italian word meaning “hearth”)  was born out of the ashes of World War II in Trent, Italy. I salute all of the members of Focolare worldwide and their sense of ecclesial communion  and for living the mission of  unity. Their magazine, “Living City,” notes that “’Living City’ has its roots in the Focolare, a worldwide lay Catholic movement, founded in l943 in Trent, Italy, which today numbers more than 5 million people of all ages, religions and backgrounds (read more at focolare.org).  Its spirituality of communion is based on Jesus’ prayer for unity, ‘That all may be one’ (John 17:21).”

May the Lord continue to bless all of you in these still new days of the New Year.

Far From Ordinary

The days and weeks in the liturgical season following the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord are called “Ordinary Time.” This refers to the fact that the Sundays are now counted or “ordered” one after another. This period of Ordinary Time is rather short because next month the season of Lent will be upon us. The longest section of Ordinary Time follows the celebration of Pentecost and the end of the season of Easter, the 50 days celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord. These days are not to be understood as “ordinary” as compared with “extraordinary.”

Yet, in these early days of Ordinary Time there are a number of days and weeks marked out by the Church in the United States and the Universal Church for our study, consideration and celebration. For example, between Jan. 18 and 25 we have the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This week of prayer is between these dates because Jan. 18 had historically been the feast day of the “Chair of Peter” at Antioch, and Jan. 25 is the feast day of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Following these days, I would especially like to acknowledge the commitment of Bishop Brown to his study, prayer and dialogue in the ministry of working together with so many ministers and officials of other faith communities and his work on the national level in the path to Christian unity.

This past week also saw many of the marches and prayer vigils for life held around the country, and especially here in California in Orange County, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The typically snowy winter weather on the East Coast did not hamper the enthusiasm or commitment of the crowd in Washington, D.C. at the annual March for Life that I have participated in a number of times. The march has changed over the years and it is now very youth-oriented, a fact which was noted by pro-choice advocates in the past and which concerned them. This powerful witness to the sanctity of life before birth gives a young voice to those who cannot speak.

In addressing Catholic gynecologists in Italy last year, and in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis spoke very strongly about our “throwaway” culture and the ending of pre-born life through abortion, at the same time speaking clearly about the need for pastoral care for those women and families who need care and assistance in difficult times so that they do not have to choose abortion. We need to be particularly grateful to such organizations and the many people who are committed to this in such efforts as Birth Choice, Catholic Charities, Casa Teresa and Mary’s Shelter.

Finally, we are now in Catholic Schools Week, with many of our parishes and schools planning celebrations. I was grateful to be at St. Justin Martyr Church last weekend for Sunday Mass to celebrate the opening of Catholic Schools Week and I plan on visiting a number of our other schools this coming week. Thanks to all for the sacrifice and commitment of our faculty, staff and parents, who are missioned in these schools to help our young people meet the Lord and be transformed for life. We are grateful for the religious who are still missioned in various ways throughout the schools of our diocese, and such networks as the Sisters of St. Joseph Educational Network and the Affiliated Schools Network of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. The work of the Orange Catholic Foundation and all of its efforts are tireless in providing scholarships and grants to families to help with the cost of tuition.

I was in Washington, D.C. recently for a meeting of the United States Bishops Education Committee to strengthen and help to focus once again on the centrality of the mission of our Catholic schools in our local Church. The materials they gave me from the Secretariat for Catholic Education begins with these words: “Our Greatest and Best Inheritance: Catholic Schools and Educational Choice” and “The Catholic School Advantage: Forming Children for College and Heaven.”

Enjoy and take advantage of these special weeks.

ourth-grader Shannon Lawless raises her hand to answer a question Dec. 20, 2011, at Christ the King School in Irondequoit, N.Y. National Catholic Schools Week begins Jan. 29 this year and runs through Feb. 5.  (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier) (Jan. 19. 2012)

Fourth-grader Shannon Lawless raises her hand to answer a question Dec. 20, 2011, at Christ the King School in Irondequoit, N.Y. National Catholic Schools Week begins Jan. 29 this year and runs through Feb. 5. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier) (Jan. 19. 2012)

Participants march in the OneLife LA rally in Los Angeles Jan. 17. The event was one of many held across the country to mark the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion. (CNS photo/CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva) See

Participants march in the OneLife LA rally in Los Angeles Jan. 17. The event was one of many held across the country to mark the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. (CNS photo/CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

 

Christmas Time in Italy

Cardinal Capovilla and I

Cardinal Capovilla and I

 

Right now I am in Rome at Christmastide and will celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphanyat the North American College here, where a new wing of the college will be dedicated by Cardinal Parolin, who will be representing Pope Francis. The college is at capacity enrollment and I have been blessed to spend some time with our seminarians and priests, as well as seminarians from my former dioceses. I am here now because I was supposed to come earlier during a conference on the “complementarity of man and woman” at which Pope Francis gave the opening address. Later my good friend Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church gave a very well received reflection on marriage. However, because of my father’s death I was unable to be present at that time.

This time I have been able to visit the Fratelli Ruffatti factory where great progress is being made on the restoration of the Hazel Wright Organ for the future Christ Cathedral. I want to extend my thanks to all who are generously supporting this aspect of the cathedral renovation , and please pass the word that we are dedicated to the restoration of this historic instrument, whose beauty will draw many to God, and in turn the service of his holy people.

The NAC Seminarians on Pilgrimage and I

The NAC Seminarians on Pilgrimage and I

While I was in the north of Italy, I was blessed to meet and visit with the former secretary of Pope Saint John XXIII: Cardinal Loris Capovilla. He is 99 years old and sends his blessing and prayers to our diocese.

One of the highlights of this trip for me was a pilgrimage to the city of Livorno and the parish of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. I went with a longtime friend of mine, Monsignor Fred Berardi of New York and a group of seminarians from the North American College. The city of Livorno, and the family of Antonio Filicchi in particular, were instruments of the hand of God in Mother Seton’s journey into full communion with the Catholic Church. When she was able to make her profession of Faith at St. Peter’s Church in Barclay Street in New York, (she was not conditionally re-baptized at the time) it was due in part to the example and care for Elizabeth and her family in Livorno after the death of her husband William Seton. Don Gino Franchi, the pastor for nearly 50 years, has a great devotion to Mother Seton, and saw to the reburial of the remains of William Seton on the Church grounds, because his tomb had nearly been destroyed during the bombing of Livorno during the Second World War.

We were able to celebrate Saint Elizabeth Ann’s feast day with the parish community. The paintings in the parish church clearly show the heritage of Mother Seton in establishing the Catholic school system in our country. This is especially important as we celebrate Catholic Schools Week later this month, and I will be attending a meeting of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education later this month at Notre Dame, working to strengthen our commitment to Catholic schools.

Some of the other paintings in the Church also celebrate the commitment of the entire Vincentian family to the service and care of the poor. Evident in these paintings is Blessed Frederick Ozanam, who founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Vincentian family and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (of whom we have many here in our diocese) have been providing — and still provide– heroic, hands-on, loving and unsung service to the poor and those on the margins of society.

A very blessed new year,

Bishop Kevin Vann

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Livorno St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Livorno

The First Sunday of Advent

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

Dear friends in the Lord,

 

As we begin a new Liturgical Year with the powerful symbols of the Advent season and the promise of grace and hope that the new Church year always brings, we turn first of all to the opening prayer for today’s Mass.  In the powerful image of this opening prayer we read “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming…”

 

Advent draws first in the mystery of the Lord’s second coming, and then to the mystery of His first at his birth.  We run forth to meet Christ, who in turn comes to us.  This encounter of Faith can be found in the people who cross our paths daily.  As we enter now more fully this new liturgical year, I hope to return a little more often to reflect on these encounters of Faith in the people, prayer and events of the Diocese of Orange, as I did when I began writing this blog some years ago in Fort Worth.  To that end, I would like to reflect on the events of this first Sunday of Advent in our local Church.

The sanctuary window at Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaHabra

The sanctuary window at Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaHabra

First of all, we gave thanks to God for the gift of rain this Sunday, which is the first in many months, and there is more forecast for this week.  Interestingly, I now anticipate rain as much as I did the snow when I was back in the Midwest, in my home Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.First Rain

The rain was evident during my time at Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra, which is on the northern boundary of our Diocese, next to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  I was there to install Fr. Ed Becker as the new pastor, who succeeds the beloved Msgr. Justin McCarthy.  Msgr. McCarthy was also present along with the parochial vicars, deacons and staff of the parish during this joyful celebration. 

Altar servers after Mass at Our Lady of Fatima

The afternoon saw a group of about 40 Knights and Dames of Malta gather for the rosary for the First Sunday of Advent, led by Abbot Eugene Hayes and members of the Order.  The Order of Malta does great work with the sick and the infirmed, and many of these members (including myself) will be going on the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes in May with those who are ill and infirm and are referred to as malades.   I have been to Lourdes three other times since 1976 and the days in Lourdes are always moments of great grace, healing and perspective on life and Faith.  These are also moments to meet once more the Mother of God who said that “I am the Immaculate Conception” to St. Bernadette. Order of Malta

Finally, in the evening hours I was the main celebrant at a 7:00 PM Mass in Spanish at Our Lady of Fatima in San Clemente.  This was an addition to the parish Mass schedule to help meet the needs of the many Hispanic families in the southern part of our Diocese who cannot for various reasons (employment and family) make the Spanish Masses during the day and in the afternoon.  The Church was full!  The response of the people to this additional Mass was one of gratitude to the Hispanic leaders of the parish and the dedication and vision of the parish priests, Father Jim Reis, pastor, and Fr. William Hubbard, parochial vicar and the parish staff and musicians.  Viva Cristo Rey! 

           

The Promise of Palliative Care

Dear brothers and sisters in The Lord,

I have had the privilege of spending the last two nights with my father as he is preparing for his journey into eternal life.  This has been a chance for me to return thanks and give back to them, as I have been thinking of the many nights he and mom stayed up with all of us when we were sick!

I have seen first-hand the love and care of all of the sisters, nurses and staff here at St. John’s Hospital hospice here in Springfield who care for him and administer his medications so he is not in pain nor alone in his journey. Their choice of living this life of compassionate care is a blessing to us all.

While we appreciate the wonderful advances of modern medicine – which have given us many cures for diseases and extended our lifespan considerably – many people today also worry that our last days might be filled with undue pain, discomfort, or other indignities.  One hundred years ago, most people died in their own homes; today, most people die in hospitals.  We worry that the diseases that afflict us, or even excessive medical care at the end-of-life, may be too burdensome to bear.  Few of us want to spend our last moments in an intensive care unit, with IV lines and breathing tubes and all the other apparatus of high-tech medicine. 

But this vision of what medicine has to offer the dying is limited; it does not give us the full picture of what is available.  Fortunately, medicine today offers better alternatives for end-of-life care – alternatives that do not involve excessively burdensome interventions that have little chance of benefit.  In fact, there is now a medical specialty all its own devoted to the care and comfort of patients when cure has become impossible: it’s called palliative care.  Good palliative care can offer tremendous solace and consolation to patients and families in the face of an inevitable death.

Good palliative care addresses the needs of the whole person – not just the biological aspects of disease or disability, but the psychological, social, and spiritual needs of people in their final days.  The work of palliative care in medicine is complemented by the hospice movement in nursing, which has made great advances in recent years in allowing patients to die in the comfort of their homes surrounded by loved ones, rather than in a hospital bed.  With these approaches, the goals shift from curing the disease (which at some point becomes impossible) to caring for the person (which always remains possible).  Good pain management, treatment of depression and anxiety, emotional and social support, and spiritual care are among the building blocks of good palliative care.  We understandably fear the effects of terminal diseases – pain, loss of functioning, isolation, or becoming a burden on others.  But with good palliative care, we need not fear that we will spend our last moments in intolerable pain, or alone, or subject to humiliating indignities. 

While he was on this earth, our Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry was a ministry of healing.  In imitation of Christ we are called to provide healing, comfort, and care to the sick, and especially with those whose illnesses prove to be terminal.  At the end of life, medicine has made not only technological advances, but also advances in compassionate care, which we should embrace as Catholics.  Our Catholic faith and morals do not require that we continue to pursue useless or excessively burdensome treatments that have little chance of benefit.  St. John Paul II witnessed to this in his final days: he heroically bore the burdens of chronic Parkinson’s disease for years, but in his last days he decided to forego further intensive medical treatments in a hospital, and instead lived out his final days in his apartment surrounded by caregivers and friends.  He accepted death when God wanted it, without hastening it and without fighting uselessly against it. 

Medicine is built upon a long and venerable ethical tradition, stretching back to the Hippocratic Oath, which can be summarized: when possible to cure, always to care, never to kill. Their choice of living this life of compassionate care is a blessing to us all, and truly enables us –with those whom we love and care for (compassion) — to choose the gift of life at the end of life!

As Pope Francis has said “There is no human life more sacred than another, just as there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another. The credibility of a health care system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”

 In Christ,

+ Bishop Vann

Waiting for the Lord’s call

photo (8)

I set out to write this column regarding the month of November and the days of All Saints and All Souls and what they teach us about life and eternal life. However, things have changed somewhat and now the reflections on the Eternal Life to which we are called, which we received in our baptism, has now become very personal as I sit by my father’s beside at hospice in Saint John’s Hospital in Springfield , Ill., praying with him into eternal life. I am writing this, as I have occasionally done before, on my iPhone.

 

For these days and this month, I found these words from All Souls Day yesterday in a parish bulletin from a church where I celebrated Mass: “We do everything possible to eliminate the thought. Yet for the Christian, death is not a moment separate from the rest of life. The deepest hope nourished by the faith is the final encounter with Christ. But that final encounter with him requires we face on a daily basis many options during our lives before that final meeting. The love and the fullness of joy at this final birth are built a day at a time by the efforts that we knowingly exerted because we opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit.”

 

All Saints Day and All Souls Day have their roots in sacred Scripture, which contemplates the mystery of life and death and our eternal life in the resurrection of Christ. The history and prayers for these days, which go back to the 10th century, were nuanced and clarified and celebrated in various cultural contexts. I have had the blessing to experience these days both in Italy and Mexico. These days remind us that although we are individuals, these passages from death to life are rooted and secured as a response of faith in community. We are not solo and not our own masters.

 

As I sit here with my father waiting for his passage into eternal life, I remember that we are not far from what was once called the hospital’s “expectant fathers’ waiting room” where he waited for me to be born in the early hours of May 10, 1951. I specially thank the staff of hospice at Saint John’s Hospital. Through their ministry and professional and loving palliative care (like that of the St. Joseph Health system in Orange County) they have ensured that he is not in pain and does not suffer. Their work in palliative and hospice care assures that while the patients here await the Lord’s call, they do not suffer and are not alone. Their presence here is a reflection of the Paschal Mystery of Christ and Saint Paul’s words, “O Death, where is your victory, O Death where is your sting?”