Consequences

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Sometimes what appears as an act of kindness is really a form of enabling bad behavior. I think that is the case when President Trump interceded with Chinese authorities to have the three UCLA basketball players released from their shoplifting charges. Experiencing the consequences of our behaviors is necessary to becoming mature, honest, and upright people. So for these three young men, who already have swollen egos because they are up and coming basketball stars, the next thought, after being saved by Trump, was “what else can we get away with?”.  Rather than saving their future star status, they are now set up to make some really poor decisions that will most likely negatively impact their lives. After all, if they could get away with causing an international incident, what boundaries can they possibly place on their behavior?

Most young people start out thinking they are pretty invincible. When they don’t experience the logical consequences of their behaviors, the message they get is that they can get away with anything. The logic they need to make morally upright decisions and choices gets twisted. Since we learn logic by consequences, cushioning the fall doesn’t help us learn. Parents too often try to get in between their children and the consequences of their actions. Then as children grow, rather than owning their behavior, they become empowered to make choices that harm others and then claim victim status.

Maybe these three young men were scared straight by the experience. But somehow I doubt it. Most likely, they will turn out to be pretty egotistical men who insist on always having it their way. I would not want to be the coach who tries to discipline or correct them.

What does this have to do with Advent and Christmas? Well, lots of parents have traditionally used the image of Santa Claus to teach very young children some of the basics of behavioral consequences: “he’s making a list, checking it twice to find out who’s naughty and nice.” Maybe not always the best way to teach logical consequences but still effective for the very young. Obviously, as we grow, we should ideally learn that gift giving and receiving are acts of love. But we have to start somewhere.

The same goes for our spiritual behavior. The higher motivation is always love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. But still, even as adults, we learn from our consequences.  Advent is a brief time to measure yourself against the teachings of our Faith. How well are you doing in practicing the basics of Catholicism? How is your Mass attendance? When’s the last time you went to Confession? Are you a generous giver of time, talent and treasure? How spiritually fit are you?

This year Advent is as short as it can be. Christmas falls on Monday so Christmas Eve is Sunday afternoon. That means two Masses back to back: the Fourth Sunday of Advent and then Christmas Mass. It also means two opportunities to give generously to your Parish. So please make note of both!

The good news this year is that as Advent is short, many of us have been doing extra spiritual work, including prayer. I am referring to the recently completed Jubilee Year of Our Lady of Fatima. Since Mary dominates the season of Advent, I hope that many of you can continue to reflect on her role in Salvation History as well as what she teaches us about her Son. Mary stands as a sign of hope for all people. Are you a sign of hope to others after her example?

During this short Advent season, I invite you to reflect on the name of Jesus. As St. Paul tells us, it is the name above all names. How well do you honor the name of Jesus in your life by your lifestyle? Do you share a family resemblance to Jesus? Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “his mother, brothers and sisters are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” How well are you keeping the Word? Advent is pregnant with grace. Will you open yourself up to receive it?

 

Love,

Fr. John B.

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Gratitude

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I think we should rename Thanksgiving Day to “Lord grant me grace to accept my blessings” Day. Too often we fail to realize all that we do have or we assume we had something to do with it and we cut grace out of the picture. Sometimes we look with suspicion on the opportunities presented to us and rather than seeing the wrong turn we made as a chance for something new, we just see it as a way to get lost.

I recently read a headline: “Scientists say Universe should not exist”. True enough. It’s outside the realm of scientific inquiry to answer “why” the universe exists or to put it another way, they can’t really tell us why there is something rather than nothing. Our understanding of the world and ourselves is too often constrained by an insistence that only science can give us knowledge. By doing so we cut off knowledge from other sources, such as theology or philosophy and the world becomes meaningless and life is at best the instinctual will to survive.

But the fact that the universe should not exist yet it does, is reason enough for gratitude. The fact that there is something rather than nothing is probably a blessing most people overlook.

A few weeks ago, our Sunday Gospel reading was the Parable of the Tenants. They had leased out a vineyard and at the harvest refused to pay the owner his share of the bounty. They eventually killed the owner’s messengers and even his son. What they failed to recognize first was that the vineyard they leased had been built by others. After all they didn’t inherit a barren waste land but rather a well cultivated farm. So, in their arrogance they considered the vineyard theirs and theirs alone rather than themselves as caretakers of a world someone else had built.

The world we occupy and even the country we live in have been built by others, first by God always. So, we build on other’s success. How well or not do we respect what we have inherited? The Parable reminds us that we are tenants, not the owner. Therefore, we should consider ourselves blest to have such a vineyard to work in and cultivate. If not, then as the Parable concludes, the owner will return and settle accounts and it won’t be good.

So, measuring from Thanksgiving a year ago, how have you cultivated the vineyard? How well have you built on what others have passed on? How much do you respect and express thankfulness for all that came before to make our world what it is? How willing are you to build on and even improve the world you have inherited, so that those who come after you will likewise benefit from the world you helped shape?

Here is a simple exercise to help increase your awareness and gratitude. Consider any ordinary object that you use and consider what went into getting that to you for your benefit. Since it’s Thanksgiving consider the Turkey. For there to be a turkey, there had to be a place where a turkey could live, with the correct environment, air, water and food. Of course, all the elements of the environment have to be governed by precise laws to work in harmony to sustain the life of the turkey. At some point, someone had to figure out that the turkey might be good to eat. Today you consume a turkey that you probably did not have to hunt for in the wild, did not have to dispatch, pluck the feathers and clean the guts. In fact, today you can even obtain a turkey that has already been seasoned and cooked. But if you did cook the turkey, you had to use an oven with gas or electric that is supplied to your home. You didn’t have to build a fire, or an oven, or drill for the gas or run the lines for the electricity. And on it goes. A lot of effort, knowledge and ingenuity of someone else went into getting your turkey to the table. You can take it a step further and consider who established the conditions in the first place, who gave human beings the ability to reason and so discover first principles from which to build upon? Who put first principles in the universe? Who created the universe?

In light of that our Thanksgiving Gratitude List should be long, very long.

Gracias, grazie, merci, xie xie, danke, terima kasih, arigato, salamat po, dziekujue, obrigado, tack, cam on ong, diakuju, malu aupito, fa’afetai, mahalo, mesi, dank u, gratias tibi ago! In any language – thank you.

 

Love,

Fr. John B.

Does Prayer Change Anything?

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Does prayer change anything? That seems to be a question that some are asking in light of the awful massacre at the First Baptist Church in Texas. After such a diabolical mass shooting, many people said things such as, “we send our thoughts and prayers to the families.”  Almost immediately, others declared that prayer is useless; after all, they reasoned, if prayer worked, the tragedy would never have occurred, especially in a place where people were praying. Fair enough. I realize that some people were using the tragedy for political purposes to push for more gun control; others seem to have been drinking vinegar for breakfast or had a bad case of hemorrhoids, but others were sincere in their questioning of the efficacy of prayer.

Saying that prayer should have stopped the gunman belies a misunderstanding of what prayer is all about and causes confusion over the nature of the Judeo-Christian Godhead. If God were to intervene to stop bad or evil things from happening, that would make God a tyrant, albeit a benevolent one. By preventing all evil from occurring, God would be denying us the freedom of choice and hence the freedom to choose love or not love. The irony here is that the same people, who insist that God prevent someone’s bad and harmful behavior, also reject God because he is a tyrant who controls our behavior by giving us a moral code to live by and holding us accountable to it. So, they say, who is God to tell me how to live my life?  They reject the moral norms that emanate from Divine Revelation. It seems that they want it both ways: God as a benevolent tyrant who controls people’s evil behavior but who also has no control over the rest of our behavior.

Prayer is not about manipulating God to do what we think is best, but as in the Serenity Prayer, we are reminded to pray for the courage to change the things we can and accept those things we cannot change. In both cases prayer is giving us the solution or the way through things as we face challenges and problems throughout life. Our life consists not only in the choices that we make as individuals but also the intersection of the choices other people make that affect us directly or indirectly. For people of faith, the sum of all those choices works out, because of God’s grace, to the best possible conclusion for each believer. Prayer helps us to trust in that process despite the fact that we do not know what is happening on the unseen plane or how such incongruent choices and circumstances can work out for our best possible advantage. As St. Paul so confidently wrote in Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Prayer does effect change, primarily in us who pray. First, it helps us to embrace God’s plan for our lives. That plan we call God’s Will. The general outline is found in God’s Word and the Teachings of His Church. And that is a tall order, no doubt. But prayer helps us to accept God’s plan and find the courage to live it out. Just imagine if the Texas shooter had been a man rooted solidly in prayer. At the minimum, he would have embraced the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” and if he were Christian, he would have tried to live by the command to “Love one another.” If he had truly embraced that moral code, demanded of us by God, then how could he have possibly taken the actions he did?

The moral standard of behavior that God expects of us, if we live it out, does prevent evil. Prayer helps us to live by that standard of behavior. Prayer also helps to accept what comes and to find ways to deal with it and manage it. Remember – Jesus reminded us that God’s grace falls on the just and the unjust and that until He comes again, we live with the wheat and the weeds growing together in the field of the Kingdom. It can be a bit messy at times.

Be people of prayer. Prayer changes us. It changes our attitudes, builds our character, helps us find solutions to the problems that beset us, helps us discern the true from the false, and accept the cross that we each must carry.

For now, ignore the naysayers and pray that the people of the First Baptist Church in Texas will have the strength and courage to carry the heavy cross that has been laid on their shoulders.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. Amen.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

Does Winner Take All

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

It’s been a year since Trump trumped. And what a year it has been! The way I see it, it has really been the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Everything is coming to light, and the contrast that has been revealed is very stark. Compromise seems to be off the table. One side wins and one side loses seems to be the wave of the future. But we are trying. By we, I mean the religious community. Our culture has changed drastically and is no longer in sync with the Judeo-Christian values of our past. Because of the efforts of mostly unelected judges, even our laws now often reflect an anti-religious bias. When I was a boy growing up in Quaker Pennsylvania, we had the Blue Laws. All non-essential businesses had to close on Sunday. It was the Lord’s Day and since the majority of people worshiped on Sunday, not having to be open for business made sense for most employers. That all changed as some people fought hard for the right to work seven days a week without a day off.

The overturning of the Blue Laws is a mild example compared to what has happened since. With the advent of legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and assisted suicide in many states, religious believers and employers are being asked to compromise their values under the penalty of law. That is quite a change from how things were in the not too distant past when spaces were carved out for the minority position. The question then becomes: how big and expansive is the First Amendment? Is it still possible for religious beliefs to operate freely within the public square without government restriction? Since the morality that is the basis of so many current laws and policies and cultural expectations is often antithetical to the previous Judeo-Christian morality that infused our laws and practices, this is new territory. For instance, should churches have to solemnize same-sex marriages? Should Catholic hospitals be made to perform abortions and assist with requests for suicide? Or should a private business be compelled to engage in business that violates a business owner’s conscience?

The reason I say we are trying to figure out compromises and coexistence is because things have changed so drastically, and we, as religious believers, want to live in peace with those who have a different value system. Suddenly we find ourselves strangers in a strange land. So where should the lines be drawn? Where does freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion end and discrimination begin?

These are some of the issues the Supreme Court will look at as it hears the case of the cake baker in Colorado who, though he never refused service to gays or anyone else, declined to service a same-sex wedding event. Much of the media is presenting this as a case of gay rights. It is not. So you will see headlines such as: “Do religious people have the right to discriminate against gays?” But what you won’t see in a headline is: “Do Americans still have the freedom of conscientious objection based on sincerely held moral or religious grounds?” Regardless of how it is framed, this is an extremely important case – one of the most important in our history as it will determine how expansive the Freedom of Religion really is. That does not mean the solution will be perfect, but compromise never is. What I hope for is that when the Supremes sing, it will be consistent with the historical fact that Freedom of Religion is our first freedom and should be restricted only for the most compelling reasons. Is our society big enough and free enough to accommodate a baker who wants to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage and one who objects to doing so, not on discriminatory grounds but on moral grounds?

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage and the strong push to require religious organizations to provide services such as abortion or assisted suicide, we have been trying to figure out where the lines are. No longer is there a willingness to carve out space for conscientious objection. This is a whole new reality. What we are trying to figure out as a society is what does co-existence look like with two opposing value systems? At this point it is not helpful when one side wants to totally crush the other, insisting that compromise is not acceptable but only unconditional surrender is. We saw that for the eight years of the previous administration. Gratefully, the Justice Department recently issued a list of 20 Principles for Religious Liberty to all federal agencies to provide guidance on religious liberty issues and end attempts to inhibit the free exercise requirement of the First Amendment.

A lot hinges on this Supreme Court case. Will it be a government that espouses benevolent neutrality or malevolent hostility? Either we will find ways to compromise and accommodate one another, continuing our experiment in ordered liberty for all, while living in a pluralistic society with many different and often opposing viewpoints and values, doing so in relative peace, or one side will be given power to dictate what the free exercise of religion will actually look like going forward.

There is a reason Religious Liberty was listed first in the Bill of Rights. Once a government is given power to invade a person’s conscience then all liberty ceases.

Love, Fr. John B.

Soon To Be Out Of Buisness

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Even though another Respect Life Month has come and gone, our 40 Days for Life is still going strong. Thank you for your support. The relocation of the Planned Parenthood Clinic to Baseline and McClintock presents some challenges, and the design of the plaza obstructs our visibility to those entering the clinic and from offering sidewalk counseling to those who want options. In order to increase visibility, the Aid to Women Center is opening an additional site right next door to the Planned Parenthood Clinic! In the short time the new Aid to Women  Center (it will continue to operate at the Apache Road location) was opened next door to the former PP Clinic on Apache Road, it provided many, many women options which they never knew existed. It made a dent in the abortion business at that clinic. As the saying goes, PP can run, but it cannot hide.

The new Aid to Women Center will be at 1849 East Baseline Road, right next door to the Abortion Clinic. It will be staffed by an RN and provide pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and counseling to women to provide alternatives to abortion. This location will greatly assist in intercepting women headed for an abortion and give them information and an opportunity to make a real choice. If you have worked on the front lines, you know that many women have no idea there are other resources available to them or that there are people who are willing to walk with them through their pregnancy and beyond. The pro-abortion side always brags about being “pro-choice;” well, here is their opportunity to really give women a choice and not a one-sided argument. We have no problem competing with them. We will make the argument in favor of life and if someone rejects it, then it is on us. This has always been a battle to win the hearts and minds of all people. An even playing field is what we ask.

The Aid to Women Center needs our help to get this up and running. They are looking for Room Donors as they did with the Clinic on Apache Road. You can have a room at the new Center dedicated to you or a loved one or a special group. They also need volunteers who are willing to work at the Clinic (4 hour shifts) and provide sidewalk counseling (training will be available). If you are interested in either, contact Stephanie Gray at sgray@aidtowomencenter.org. Also, if you go to their website, they always have a list of needed items such as diaper bags (and all that goes in them) or strollers, etc.

Once again, we have an opportunity to put our faith into action. Because of the close proximity of Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Abortion Clinics, thousands of lives have been saved and thousands of women have been spared the pain of abortion. It is especially important for us to maintain a strong presence at the new location as it is the only abortion clinic in the East Valley that performs surgical abortions.

As always, our presence there is peaceful and prayerful. We do not argue or fight with anyone who disagrees with us. Sometimes the pro-choice crowd shows up with a bullhorn and says some pretty despicable things to us. Well, as Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they say all kinds of evil things about you because of me.”

Fear not, we can turn things around. Across the board, abortions are declining and abortion clinics are closing. And in a surprising turn of events, DHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, the same department that the Little Sisters of the Poor had to sue in Federal Court for violating their religious rights, has issued a draft of a strategic 5 year plan that among its goals is a dedication to serve all Americans from conception to natural death. Wow, that phrasing should sound familiar. It might become the official policy of our Federal Department of Health that life begins at conception. That would finally be in sync with biological science.

The Aid to Women Center has been going strong for the past 32 years. It was started mainly by parishioners from here at Mt. Carmel. Some are still around; many have passed on. So now it is up to another generation of parishioners to continue the work of the Clinic.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

 

P.S.  Twitter continues to ban Pro-Life Ads, particularly from the pro-life group Live Action, on its platform all the while allowing Planned Parenthood to place ads. Ask Twitter to stop censuring Pro-Life Ads by tweeting them @support.

To Save A Life

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Over the past dozen years our Parish has supported a variety of youth programs aimed to keep the next generation connected to the Church. One of these programs is designed to help young people who struggle with issues such as substance abuse, cutting, eating disorders, pornography and other similar issues. The FullCircle Program has grown and developed over these years, and this year we have seen a big increase in requests for assistance from families. No doubt the opioid explosion is fueling a lot of the new requests. To better manage the increased numbers, we added an additional fulltime staff counselor. Additionally, we have increased our outreach to many of the area schools, including Seton Catholic and Brophy, so that they have more tools to help their students.

One of the bigger efforts we engaged in this year was to help start a Sober High School. So often the place where young people get their drugs and get high is at school. Having a safe, sober environment greatly helps their chances of staying sober and staying in school. With the help of Sun Valley High School in Mesa and the support of the Principal, Mr. Joe Procopio (a really exceptional principal), we were able to create a school within a school that custom fits the curriculum to the needs of each student.

This year, sadly, we experienced for the first time, two overdose deaths of young people who had been in the FullCircle Program. While they were with us, they thrived, were happy, and connected to their families. One of the families told us, “We love you. While she was with you, our daughter was the happiest she had ever been. Thank you for giving her that time.” Small consolation but gracious words from a grieving family. Unfortunately, after these young people left our program, they didn’t continue to use the new tools we gave them. For me, it was a painful punch in the gut. One of the reasons I started this program was so that I wouldn’t have to watch parents bury their child from something we could prevent. While I realize we can’t save everyone, I won’t stop trying.

Still, gratefully, there are many more success stories. Many of our kids finish the program, finish high school, go on to college or trade school, actually get a job and become self-supporting – much to their parents’ surprise! More than that, they become useful, helpful members of society and remain connected to their faith and God.

1 Peter 5:8, which I have inscribed on my paten, says, “Stay sober and vigilant. The devil prowls like a loin looking for someone to devour.” Right now the devil is devouring our young people through the use of drugs, alcohol, and other self-destructive behaviors. Because of your support, encouragement and donations, we will continue to be on the front lines of this battle.

But to continue on the front lines, I need your help and support. Please continue to patronage our FullCircle Coffee Shop on Sunday mornings. I also want to invite you to attend our Annual FullCircle Banquet on November 11 at 7PM for some well-mannered frivolity. This year it will be held right here at Mt. Carmel. Tickets are on sale on the weekends or at the Parish Office during the week. If you can’t attend, please consider making a donation to the Program. (All donations are tax-deductible.) You can donate either through Our Lady of Mt. Carmel or The FullCircle Program, Inc. Also consider remembering the Program in your will or estate planning or end of year giving in December or become a partner with an ongoing monthly donation. Either way you will be part of saving lives and healing families.

When you come to the Banquet, you will hear and see the success stories from some of our young people and their families. It is important for you to hear so that you know what you are part of and how your support is making a difference for so many young people and their families.

 

Love,

Fr. John B.

 

P.S.  FullCircle is qualified to receive Matching Gifts and other Employer related charitable giving. Just contact us if you need any information to make that happen with your employer.

 

We All Have One

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Nun-sense, nun-vasion, nun-the-less, is coming next weekend as we host the Annual Diocesan Vocations Event. Yes, expect an invasion of nuns, sisters, consecrated women as they are variously called. It all begins at the 9A.M. Mass where Bishop will be the Celebrant. This is also a “your parents are coming to visit so straighten up the house” kind of letter! In addition to welcoming our Bishop, we will welcome religious communities of women (a few men’s communities, too) of every flavor that serve here in our Diocese. Our goal is to expose as many young people as possible to the work of the religious in our Diocese and have them consider if it is a way of life they are being called to. For the rest of us who already have our vocations set, it is a time to pray for vocations to the religious life and to thank those who serve us here in the Diocese.

It’s also time for us to celebrate as a Parish the one year anniversary of Mt. Carmel being “back in the Habit” with the arrival of the first four Servants of the Plan of God: Sisters Veronica, Maria Jose, Maria Cristina and Maria Alejandra (Sr. Stephanie arrived a few months later; they saved the best for last). How time flies when you are having nun fun! Personally, I am deeply grateful for their presence and the joy that they bring to us each and every day. This is also a time for us to express our thanks to God for allowing our Parish to be part of the Plan of God in a new way. Still, wherever I go, people continue to ask me, “How did you get these Sisters?” The answer is simple –  art of the deal; I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse! Not really. I truly believe it was Our Lady who showered this blessing upon our Parish.

 

Now if you haven’t had enough nun-sense, the invasion will continue. In the beginning of November, we will welcome two novice Sisters of the Servants who will be spending a few months learning and experiencing mission and Convent life with the other five. So prepare to welcome Sr. Maria Garcia and Sr. Alejandra (yes, another Alejandra! –  she will be Little (menor) Alejandra, and Sr. Maria Alejandra will be Big (mayor) Alejandra, less confusion!). Both of the novices are natives of Lima.

I’m not done yet. We will be honored once again to welcome Sr. Carmen, the Superior General of the Servants of the Plan of God worldwide from Nov. 2 until Nov. 10. So, too, the Sisters will also have to straighten up the house, as Mother Superior is coming! Please when you see her, make sure to thank her for sending the 5 Servants to our Parish and trusting us to help them begin their first U.S. foundation. Sr. Carmen gets many requests from Bishops throughout the world for her Sisters, which makes it all the more important to thank her for letting us establish Servants of God-North America, as I like to call them.

I say the first Convent in North America because I believe it is the Plan of God that the Servants open up many more convents in the U.S. Hence, the need for a Vocations Fair. Make sure to bring your children, even the little ones, as that is where the seeds of a vocation get planted. Please invite all the young single women you know, and challenge them to consider a life of service as a disciple in mission, a consecrated person. Just as when the apostle Andrew asked Jesus, “Rabbi, where do you stay?” and Jesus responded, “Come and see,” this event is so that young people can come and see what the life of a religious is actually like. And what they will see is women religious who serve the Church in varied ways with their unique charisms: parishes, schools, health care, hospitals, nursing homes, social services, evangelization, colleges and universities, retreat houses, and sisters who live cloistered monastic vocations.

I recall, years ago, bemoaning the lack of religious sisters in our schools, parishes, hospitals and other Catholic institutions. After all, the history of the Church in the U.S. amply demonstrates that while the priests and Bishops usually mucked things up, it was the women religious who really got things moving –  think of Mother Cabrini, Mother Katherine Drexel, or Mother Angelica, to name a few. Someone once said to me, “Why don’t you pray for more Sisters?”  So I did. And as you can see, God has been very generous in His response!

So please join us next weekend for the invasion of the nuns! Come experience our “Nun Raiser” (it’s a People Raiser in a habit). Pray for vocations and thank the religious who will join us next weekend.

“O God, we earnestly beseech Thee to bless this Diocese with many priests, brothers and sisters who will love Thee with their whole strength and gladly spend their entire lives to serve Thy Church and to make Thee known and loved. Choose from our homes those who are intended for Thy work.”

“Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for us. Pray for our priests and religious. Obtain for us many more.”

Love,

Fr. John B.