June 8, 2017

June 11, 2017

I am thinking of the headlines. “13 Catholics and local priest were taken hostage by Abu Sayyaf in Marawi City, on the Philippine island of Mindanao.” And then two days later: “6 people died, 30 were wounded, and 3 ISIS extremists were shot by police in a terror attack which happened on London bridge.” Unbelieveable!

So how does a Catholic – on Trinity Sunday – react to these headlines? I’m no expert in these matters, but I offer you my opinion as a Catholic priest for 47 years.

For some perspective on Catholic-Muslim relations, go back to the mid-60s. In public speeches, the popes were speaking positively about Islam, especially to the Catholic bishops of Africa, where millions of Catholics lived side by side with millions of Moslems. The popes promoted accommodation to Islam. In their optimism, the popes emphasized beliefs which were common to both: that God is One; that He is Creator; and that absolute obedience is owed to Him. (I am not aware that Islamic leaders ever responded in the same positive way toward Christianity. It was strictly a one-way street.)

In the 1990s, the focus shifted to Muslims in the Middle East. Think of the Gulf Wars of Kuwait and Iraq, destruction of the World Trade Center (September 11, 2001) in which 3,000 died and 6,000 were wounded, and the US pursuit of Al-Qaeda into Afghanistan. Benedict XVI signaled a different papal approach to Islam with his Regensburg address in (September 12, 2006). He never meant to be provocative. He simply cited the observation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor that linked Islam and the Prophet Muhammad with violence.

For me, in 2017, it is both truthful and prudent to recognize this link between Islam and violence in certain circumstances. Why? First, remember that Islam was founded 600 years after Christ; it is, in part, a negative reaction to Christian belief. Second, the Koran knows absolutely knowing of God as a Community of Interpersonal Love. Third, Islam considers Christian belief in the Holy Trinity blasphemous. Fourth, Islam offers only three alternatives for non-believers: conversion, added taxes, or death. Fifth, Islam considers the faith of Christians is an insult to God and deserving of death. 

On this Trinity Sunday, I embrace wholeheartedly the confession of my Catholic faith. I believe in One God in Three Persons. I believe that God is one and that His divine nature is a communion of interpersonal love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I also uphold the right of others to maintain beliefs different from mine. I respect their conscience, even if it is improperly, erroneously formed. I wish them well. History and common sense, however, suggest to me that it is better that I live at a distance from them, that I discourage intermarriage with them, and that I always be alert to the possibility of violence.

Reverend James Garcia 

June 1, 2017

June 4, 2017

One of the great things about being Catholic is that our “disposable income” is absolutely at our disposal and no one else! God left us absolutely free regarding our money. In the Catholic Church, there are no tithing rules. None! The Catholic Church has no teaching about 5%, 2.5%, 1% or any other percent of your income going to the Church or to charity. “But Father Garcia...what about the sixth precept of the church...that we should contribute to its financial support?” Yes, that’s correct, we should contribute. But no Catechism, no Canon Law, not the Vatican, no bishop, no encyclical ever said how much. That’s the point of being Catholic free!

St Paul does say in 1 Cor 16:2 that “on the Lord’s day, every one of you should put something aside” for the needs of the community, but he NEVER stipulates any amount! His guiding principle is found in 2 Cor. 9:6, namely that “God loves a cheerful giver.” You can be a cheerful giver with 50 cents, 1 dollar, 20 dollars, whatever. If it is done, as Scripture says, “not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:5), then whatever you give qualifies as a true gift – no matter how little or how much you decide. So, “Go for it” people of St Elizabeth. Let whatever you give be done cheerfully and God will love you.

I knew a priest who was very wise about “disposable income.” He said that God never based his judgment of us on what percentage of money we give away. He said “You can’t buy your way into Heaven.” Mother Teresa once said: “It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.” She also said: “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” This is perfectly in accord with 2 Corinthians.

So, after all the above, what’s the point in this week’s column from “The Administrator’s Blotter”? Simple, I want to acknowledge everyone who has chosen to be a “cheerful giver” to St. Elizabeth parish. Borrowing the words of St. Paul himself: “God loves you!”

Second, taking the May 20/21 collection as an example, I want to salute the 174 persons/families who regularly use the Sunday Envelopes. The gifts from the envelope users generated 72% of the first collection revenue, i.e. $2,583. The remaining $972 came in the baskets un-identified but still gratefully received. So the parish received a total of $3,555 from “cheerful givers.” (Hint: please sign up for parish envelopes and use them. They are one of the better ways of insuring a stable income for the parish.)

Third, I want to acknowledge the wonderful group who “straighten” all the bills, count and roll the coins, and otherwise prepare the collection for bank deposit every Monday. It’s 3 hours of tedious work and they too are “cheerful givers”. ☺ Thanks Emma, Sarah, Mary, Rosanne, Carmen, Emmanuel.   ~ Reverend Garcia

May 25, 2017

May 28, 2017

Friends, every year in October at St. Elizabeth, the ushers count how many people attend Sunday Mass. Across the Archdiocese of San Francisco this is called “The October Count.” In 1961 – 56 years ago – “The October Count” reported that 123,000 thousand Catholics were attending Sunday Mass within the San Francisco City parishes. In 1993 – 32 years later – only 47,000 Catholics were attending Sunday Mass on any given Sunday. In 2017, some 23 years later, the Archdiocese no longer publishes “The October Count”. THAT, my friends, should tell you even more.

From my perch in the sanctuary I count roughly 400 people total attending the 5 different Sunday services at St. Elizabeth. “Father, that’s impossible!” Au contraire, and we Catholics here in the Portola neighborhood should know that we are part of a national trend. 50 years ago 85% of the Catholics in the cities of New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania were attending Holy Mass every Sunday; now their “October Count” has dropped to 15%. I publish these statistics not to discourage you faithful Catholics of St. Elizabeth’s, but again to ask the question of WHY.

The reasons for the decline in regular Sunday Mass attendance...? I suppose we could discuss the usual “culprits”...poor liturgy, banal sermons, secular culture. Writing from Washington , D.C. Msgr. Charles Pope recently opined that many of today’s Catholics simply aren’t interested in what the church has to offer. For them going to church on Sunday is a non-essential service. Sunday Mass is a boutique item. “Time with Jesus” is just another way to accessorize your life. You know, a gym membership, craft beer subscription, a time-share in Hawaii, an occasional Sunday Mass... “and I’ll take Holy Communion too.”

Thinking about it more, people don’t go to church on Sunday ... they don’t sanctify the Day of the Lord because they erroneously think that everybody is going to be saved. For them, a ticket to heaven is a universal right! It’s like an Obama phone. It’s free. Just sign up! Bam! Heaven is in the bag!

I don’t think so! The way to revive Sunday observance is to recover what the Bible says about the urgency of salvation. Our Lord Jesus was no Happy Face emoji when asked about salvation. He was no late-night comedian when asked how many would be saved. He devoted several parables warning us of the impending catastrophe that would catch many off guard. In that dreadful moment He said that the sheep (“Welcome”) would be separated from the goats (“Depart from Me”). The wise virgins would make it into the joyful banquet hall. The foolish would be forever consigned to the outer darkness. He who is Truth itself says that the road to damnation is wide and many travel it and that few enter through the narrow gate.

The “October Count” statistics in San Francisco are not going to change anytime soon. But, Friends, never drink the “Kool-Aid of universal salvation.” Instead, always be faithful to the Sunday assembly. Join yourself to Jesus’ church-body. He is the place of true worship and salvation.

Reverend  James Garcia