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Catholic Voice
  December 12, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Christmas message: Continuing the mystery of the Incarnation

In preaching the timeless story of the birth of Christ each year at this time, we preachers are always faced with the question lingering in the minds of at least some people: “So what difference, practically speaking, in my everyday life, does all this make, anyway?” The devout would immediately answer, “all the difference in the world.” However, not everyone has reached this point in their spiritual journey.

It is common, then, for preachers to fall back on an equally timeless principle of our Catholic faith: our own participation in the mystery of the Incarnation by making Christ present through lives of good works and holiness.

As I reflect back over this year, I am deeply grateful to God for how I have seen our people live out this principle in so many ways. I would, however, like to highlight two of the more significant examples.

More than a year ago I was approached by the Oakland Stake President of the LDS Church, Dean Criddle, and other Mormon leaders in our area, who expressed a desire for our two churches to work together on a project for the benefit of everyone in our community.

We came up with the idea of conducting an interfaith blood drive in conjunction with the American Red Cross, with a very ambitious, indeed unprecedented, goal: 1,500 units in the month of July. This was a critical decision, given that blood has a very short shelf-life (just a few weeks) and the summertime is when the need is greatest but the donations are at their lowest.

The result? We ended up exceeding our goal, collecting a total of 1,700 units! You didn’t hear or read about it in the mainstream media, but this turned out to be the most successful faith-based blood drive in the entire history of the American Red Cross, and the largest ever in our region, giving the life-saving gift of blood to all those in need, without distinction of any kind.

I am very grateful to Elder Criddle for his leadership in this historic effort, and also to Father Jay Matthews, whom I asked to lead the effort on our Catholic side and who cheerfully gave so much of his time and energy to it. A great debt of gratitude is also owed to our priests who opened up their parishes for the drive and to all of our people who donated blood. You all helped make the drive the great success that it was!

Plans are already underway to expand the drive even further next year, both in terms of geography (Monterey to Eureka) and of the number of different faith communities participating.

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Then in October, our diocese participated in “Life and Dignity Sunday,” the campaign to sign people up for the Catholic Legislative Network. This is an initiative of the California bishops to help our people stay informed of the issues being debated in legislatures and courts in our state and around the nation that affect the common good.

The bishops realize how important it is for our people to be kept up to date and activated on these critical issues, which is accomplished through a weekly newsletter sent out by e-mail to all subscribers, and which covers the full spectrum of issues pertaining to social justice and human dignity: health care, housing, assistance to the poor, the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, immigration, marriage and the family and much more. Here again we had a record result: 17,000 people in our diocese signed up, representing 350 percent of the goal of 5,000 sign-ups set for us by the California Catholic Conference, the highest success of any diocese in the state.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to our “diocesan champion,” Father Dan Danielson, whose enthusiasm and unrelenting hard work was instrumental in making this happen, as well as to our “parish champions” who coordinated this effort on the level of their local parishes.

Your motivation and spirit of solidarity are evidence of all that we can accomplish in transforming our society with the values of the Gospel by tapping into the power of our faith.

“Continuing the mystery of the Incarnation by making Christ present through lives of good works and holiness”: yes, it is an oft-repeated principle, a frequent and favorite topic of preaching for many of us, but one that never gets old.

As often as we make it real, we are made new all over again in Christ. This is how we live the mystery of Christmas and keep its joy alive every day of the year, all throughout our lives.

Christmas is not a day or a season, it is a lifetime of growth in holiness by generous giving of oneself. If we reflect upon our experiences of this reality, we learn the life-saving lesson that Christ never gets old; he is always new, fresh, and alive. Yes, his birth does, indeed, make all the difference in the world.

I pray that in this way the mystery of Christ’s birth which we celebrate at this time may live on in your hearts all throughout the year, all throughout your lives.

Merry Christmas!

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