JANUARY 26, 2004




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Official newspaper of the
Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California, encompassing all of
Alameda &Contra Costa counties.

In His Light

Making Christ’s light shine
is God’s mission for me

I am grateful to all of you who have expressed appreciation for my commitment to contribute a regular column to The Catholic Voice. I find a lot of satisfaction in using this vehicle as part of my teaching ministry.

I started right in on writing my first couple of offerings before I selected a title to use as a sort of tag line for my regular column. When the time came to pick a title I chose, as you see next to my byline, “In His Light.” I’d like to share with you my reasons for this choice.

First of all, I wanted a phrase that focused on Christ. When I was in the seminary I read a sermon of Father Karl Rahner that had a tremendous influence on my understanding of the priesthood.

Rahner warned against the danger of priests viewing themselves as “ecclesiastical civil servants,” functionaries whose principal reason for being is to keep the operation going.

Yes, priests exist to serve the Church, but we serve the Church as a means to serving Jesus. He is our reason for being. So, while I am a “churchman,” I am before all else “Christ’s man.” He is the center of gravity for my life and ministry. Therefore, I wanted a title for this column that puts the focus on Him – the “His” of “In His Light.”

The idea of including the word “light” in the title comes from a particular circumstance that will irrevocably mark my service as a bishop in Oakland. One of the first and most significant responsibilities that fell to me when I was sent here was to assume from Bishop Cummins the leadership for our building the Cathedral of Christ the Light of the Nations.

I take this as a sign from Divine Providence that working to make Christ’s Light shine out resplendently here in the East Bay is God’s particular mission for me.
The cathedral project is only one means to achieve this goal. Our fundamental and most basic mission is to witness to Christ the Light, to hold up His light before all the women and men of this time and place as the meaning for our lives and the key to achieving our true destiny.

Pope John Paul II put it very well in his Apostolic Letter “At the Beginning of the Third Christian Millennium” (Novo millennio ineunte): Our neighbors do not so much ask us to speak about Jesus as, “in a certain sense ‘to show’ Him to them” (cf. Jn 12:21).

They won’t be satisfied with descriptions about the light; they want to see the light. And so our Holy Father asks us, “Is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?” (n. 1).

The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!” The whole Church says “Amen” to that because “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is, St. Paul tells us, “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

From what I’ve shared with you I hope it is clear that the title I’ve chosen for my column is a way to set a goal for myself and to make a pledge to you.
My goal in this, as in all my teaching, is to share the Light that has been entrusted to me through my consecration in the Apostolic ministry. Here I aim to offer the Christ-Light in the sure conviction that He will light up your path through life and lead you to the life that we all really long for, for which we were made – eternal communion with the Holy Trinity.

My pledge is to treat my service of the Light as a trust. I am not the Light; like the Baptist I only bear witness to the Light (cf. Jn 1:15). I am only His steward.
I dare not substitute other “lights” for His. That would be to engage in fraud. No, what I owe you is the Gospel truth, the faith of the Church, “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and [which] darkness has not [and never will] overcome” (Jn 1:5).

It’s only when I report how things stand “In His Light” that I am fulfilling my duty to you.



New Year’s resolution: Invest in black boys

By Fran S. Atchison
Religion News Service

I tried in vain once again to go to bed and awaken on different days. It was a resolution my husband, Sam, and I routinely make each new year.

Alas, there is never enough time, and having added newborn twins to our nightly “to do” list, getting to bed before midnight isn’t even a goal for 2004.
The twins are our choice, I often remind myself, albeit not daily. Things are not that overwhelming day to day. But twins at 50, when one is not Joan Lunden, with a baby nurse, can certainly be exhausting.

Our sons came home with us on a very humid Friday last June from the boarder baby unit of a Newark, N.J., hospital. Kevin and Jonathan caught me by surprise.
They were so tiny — I had forgotten how small babies could be.

Our biological daughters, ages 11 and13, were entering puberty. Moreover, since few women in my age group are raising infants of their own — indeed, most are grandmothers — I had few friends with whom I could commiserate.

The boys spent every day of their first six weeks of life in the hospital, perfectly healthy babies awaiting a home. But, because they were “black boys,” they waited.

I have since become astounded at the number of people who travel abroad, spending large sums of money to get an infant in whom they will devote time and money, giving every indication that great plans for that child’s future are in the offing.

Not so with black baby boys abandoned in hospitals.

Thus, though it is difficult, my resolution for this year is to stay the course — beyond diapers and formula — and continue to invest in these beautiful boys.
I will need to remain firm in my resolve, because there is little in our society to support the premise that they can become the doctors, judges, senators or university presidents I see when I hold them.

All is not lost, however, for the plight of black males is now on the radar screen of some.

For example, Rosa A. Smith, a former superintendent of the Columbus, Ohio, public schools, and current president of an education foundation in Cambridge, Mass., has argued black boys should be the litmus test for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Writing in the Oct. 30, 2003, issue of Education Week, Smith cited statistics that reveal African-American boys are over-represented in special education—as high as 25 percent in Massachusetts’ K-12 public system.

With the requirement that school performance data be disaggregated by race, gender, ethnicity and special needs, the actual performance of black boys, Smith contends, will serve to highlight institutional barriers in education.

Bottom line: schools will no longer get away with educating just a few.

A recent front page story in The New York Times, “Colleges Struggle to Help Black Men Stay Enrolled,” pointed out the wide discrepancy in college participation rates of African-American males compared with other groups of men.

The story described the special class for male students created by Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to address the needs of this group of students who are far less likely to graduate college than African American women, or any other group.

According to the Times, the college graduation statistics are equally abysmal for disadvantaged and middle-class black boys.

What is it about African-American boys that results in such bleak tidings?
What can I do as a loving mom who is poised to introduce her sons in the stroller as Kevin, the doctor, and Jonathan, the judge?

Several things come to mind.
First, I am reminded of the biblical verse that states, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

What this suggests is that society’s attitudes notwithstanding, God has not given up on my sons and their peers.

Thus, I am more focused about this resolve to invest in my young men than any other New Year’s trifle offered in previous years.

Second, since I know the study of the classics has, as Os Guinness notes, “intrinsic human, cultural, and spiritual worth,” Kevin and Jonathan will be introduced to the classics early and naturally, through world history — first through the wonderful books of great, but forgotten, children’s authors.

They will play with Legos, to be sure, but they will also learn Latin.
In sum, I will not wait for the issue of black boys to become avant garde.

Can you blame me?

I will probably never again go to bed and wake up on different days, but I’m OK with that. Would that many other parents of black boys would likewise resolve to do the same.

(Fran S. Atchison is the grants administrator for the Newark, N.J. public schools. Her husband, Samuel K. Atchison, is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J. and a regular columnist with Religion News Service They are both fellows of the George H. Gallup International Institute in Princeton, N.J.).


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