Tradition & Tamales

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I wonder how many of you remember the Christmas present that was under the tree when you were 7yrs old or even at 11yrs? Probably not so much. Now if you got coal in your stocking, that probably left an impression. The things that we remember are the traditions and rituals that accompanied the season that our families observed. This is especially true if you grew up in an ethnic neighborhood that held on to traditions from other countries. Unfortunately, today so much of our Christmas “traditions” have become homogenized by commercial and corporate marketing.

For instance, you can even obtain store-bought tamales. While they may do in a pinch, they are no substitute for the tamales that your tita made every Christmas. There was something special not just about the taste but about the entire process that culminated in those Christmas tamales. It was not just a recipe that was being passed on but a family tradition that bound generations, instilled strong memories that you can recall year to year and pass on to the next generation. How often was it that four generations got together assembling those tamales, being supervised by the matriarch, who made sure you did it just the right way!

The same is true with many other family traditions as well: the handmade Christmas ravioli’s, baking Christmas cookies or pies, decorating the Christmas tree on a certain day, setting up the family Nativity Creche, and countless others. It is easy in our cyber-world where you can get everything on-line to forgo the many Christmas traditions handed on from generation to generation and in doing so lose something of great value, of heart-warming significance. I still remember with great fondness my paternal grandmother taking us every year on the bus uptown to see the wonderful Christmas displays in the big Department stores. I can still taste the bean soup my maternal grandmother made each New Year’s Day so we, as she would say, “could fart in the New Year” (she was a bit of an earthy type).

One of the best parts of being a Catholic is that we are good at preserving traditions and making them available to new generations. Unlike many Christians, Catholics attend Christmas Mass (after all the word Christmas comes from Christ-Mass). And we are not shy about making it a triumphant celebration, singing the timeless hymns that Christians have sung down through the centuries. Even those Catholics who aren’t so regular at attending Mass, show up on Christmas and I am always glad to see them! It’s not Christmas without you!

As Advent speeds by, don’t let it pass without engaging in those Christmas traditions that were handed on to you through your family. And if you don’t really have any to speak of, well then start some that you can begin passing on to your children. While they may forget the Christmas present under the tree, they will remember the time spent making those special cookies only made at Christmas or delivering presents to a family in need, lighting the Advent candles at home, or sending out Christmas cards and gifts. And of course, the most important tradition to continue on, from year to year: attend Christmas Mass together as a family.

The traditions that we hold and pass on are not just nostalgia. They are memories that come to bear on the present and make the past accessible to us again and guide our present as we create our future. The same is so with Christmas, it is not just a remembrance of the one-time birth of Christ into our world but a bringing to bear the effects of the Incarnation on our time and place and lives. So then, how will the Birth of our Savior change us this year?

And whatever you do, for goodness sake, don’t buy those store-made tamales!

Fr. John B.

PS: Together Let Us Go Forth to reaching our Campaign goal! The end is in sight. I just need a few more of you to make your Pledge to the Capital Campaign. Remember, all I ask is a Pledge at this time, you will have the next 5 years to redeem the pledge in any way that works for you.


Beyond Thunder-dome

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

The passing of President George H.W. Bush reminded me that there was a time before we all entered “Trump World”, a day before “Obama-in-the-Highest” worship took hold, even a period before Bush 2.0 and war-without-end, amen! became the norm, a world without the “blue dress” and Clinton & Clinton and Clinton redux. As I accurately foresaw in my March 6, 2016 pre-election prophecy, we have entered the world of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. A place where “two men enter, one man leaves”. You remember November 2016, Dr. Dealgood won, Aunty Entity lost. Still Aunty Entity cries ceaselessly: “You think I don’t know the law? Wasn’t it me who wrote it? And I say that this man has broken the law. Right or wrong, we had a deal”. The 24-hour cable news, social media cycles demands nothing less than the death of your political opponent and even then, the corpse must be dragged through the streets.

Back then, Presidents were just presidents. We looked at what they said and did, but we didn’t stare. Now all eyes are transfixed on every utterance, every tweet and every handshake. Even the time before Pope John Paul II, Popes were just popes. Since then we have celebrity Pontiffs. Who really cared where Paul VI lived? Or what John XXIII had for breakfast? What about the type of shoes Pius XII wore? No one cared. In fact, most Popes stayed in the Vatican, and were often not seen or heard from for months. But today, in Thunderdome, you know they are there, they remind us constantly.

Life in Thunderdome is not quiet. 24-hour access to everything is required. Participation is mandatory. Failure to update your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account is treasonous. Russian salad dressing is seditious. “Deep Throat” has come back as Deep State. The world is always on the edge of the Apocalypse in Thunderdome and the orange man might push us over at any moment.

So maybe, just for a time we can all tune out Thunderdome! I know we can’t go back to the way it was during the Bush 1.0 years or earlier but we can use this Advent time to remind ourselves of what really matters and what really lasts.

The prophecies of Israel’s prophets gave the Jews a vision of a better future. But they mostly gave hope. Hope that there would come a time when the injustices and violence of this world would be put to flight. That hope made the present moment pregnant with expectation and pushed the people beyond their fears and temptation to collapse in despair. For us, the Scriptures from the first few Advent Sundays remind us of the future God has planned for us as well. Like the Israelites of old, we Christians have our own distinctive hope in the Kingdom of Jesus that one day will come to full flower. That makes the present bearable.

Our Christmas preparations focus our minds and hearts on the birth of Jesus and the ways we share that joy with one another. I know life in Thunderdome says that the only thing that matters is politics but Advent tells us there is something even more important: a life of Faith. How do you get in Thunderdome? Pick a fight. How do you get in the Kingdom of Jesus? Turn your swords into plowshares.

“We don’t need another hero, we don’t need to know the way home, all we want is life beyond the Thunderdome”… Let Jesus take you to his Peaceful Kingdom during this Advent and Christmas time.

Fr. John B.

PS: Please take note of the Mass Schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as it has changed.

Still, He Comes

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Not everyone always agrees with my writings, imagine that. Actually, if they did that would be rather boring. And so, some did take issue with my assessment in my letter, “An Unexpected Journey”, as being too loud, not speaking softly and rather acerbic. I accept that criticism. At the same time after putting in over 30yrs of serving and building up the Church I love, I find it hard not to come to its defense. It’s not just that the Church is a force for good in the world that I want to see continue as such but the salvation of souls hangs in the balance. Each priest, each bishop will be held accountable for the souls lost due to scandal and confusion. Therefore, speaking up so that people know that the ecclesiastical bureaucracy is not the Church nor is it a way to determine the veracity of the teachings of Catholicism appears to me to be a necessary action.

This is certainly not the first time in the history of the Church that we have had corrupt leaders, they come and go and this crop of ersatz leaders will reap their consequences someday. The more challenging part for pastors is the confusion and ambiguity that seems to be a persistent theme coming from Vatican officials. Grant it, maybe part of the murkiness is due to the contrast with the clear and precise teachings of both Popes Benedict and John Paul II or even the amplification that comes from social media and the internet blogs but whatever the source, the confusion surrounds the teaching on Marriage, Divorce and Human Sexuality in general.

These are challenging teachings in a culture that stresses “anything goes as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone”. Those of us who have tried to uphold the consistent teachings of the Church on these matters know how difficult they are for people to accept and try to live out. This is especially true for those who have had messed up marriages and painful divorces. Often, they remarry, not knowing the implications for a baptized Catholic. Once they do come to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage and try to have their marriage regularized in the Church, the annulment process is often long and cumbersome.

Many of those in invalid marriages stick with a process that can take years, agree to live chastely, actually celibate until their marriage can be validated in the Church. Many simply refuse to remarry. Then there are those who struggle with same-sex attraction and do their best to live chastely. When it comes to the teaching on the Regulation of Births, many couples practice Natural Family Planning, which bears great fruit in a marriage but is very challenging, requiring a lot of discipline. Then there are those who chose to bring a child to full-term all the while being pressured to abort.

As a pastor, what am I supposed to say to these Catholics who embrace the teaching of the Church at great personal cost and sacrifice? “Well, now none of that matters because the Vatican wants the Church to be “nice, tolerant, accepting, regardless?” “What you’ve done is all for naught?” Believe me, every pastor would like to make it easier for people to fix these situations and we work hard to find pastoral solutions for every unique situation. But none of us have a magic wand and the teachings of the Gospels are not based on a popular vote. “Everyone’s doing it” is not a justification for sin.

So instead we as pastors, try to walk with those who struggle and find themselves in lifestyles that are not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Through that struggle, many come to a deeper spirituality and stronger commitment to Christ. Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a Field Hospital is spot on. We are all sinners, sick people in need of the Divine Physician. Some of us need a band-aid, others need serious surgery. Whichever, the Church is the place for all of us to be. Accepting Jesus’ prescription, “take up your Cross and follow me”, and taking every dose of the medicine of grace will bring us all healing and salvation, even if at times it is hard to swallow.

For now, we prepare for the Birth of Christ. He comes no matter the pastor, bishop or Pope, is a saint, scoundrel or scoffer. Remember, Jesus was born into a broken world, in a decrepit stable, hardly a place for a child, yet alone the Savior to be birthed. So, he comes again into a broken Church, to a wounded people and a fractured leadership. Yet, he comes no matter the conditions. Still, he comes.

Fr. John B.

My deep thanks to all you and for the gift of sharing 18 of these 30yrs here with you!

Love, Fr. John B.


America and the Hand of Providence

Fr. John BonavitacolaDear Friends,

Pope Paul III, not Paul VI of Humanae Vitae fame, now St. Pope Paul VI, but Pope Paul III of Sublimus Deus fame, is who we should thank on this Thanksgiving Day holiday. Sublimus Deus (The Sublime God), an encyclical letter issued in 1537, some 45 years after Columbus came to America, stated that, “Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved…” It also called for the evangelization of the native Americans who wished to receive the Christian faith.

In 1614 a few years before the arrival of the Mayflower, Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) sailed from America back to England and left his Lieutenant Thomas Hunt behind to load his other ship with dried fish. Hunt instead lured some native Americans on board and subsequently kidnapped them, intending to sell them as slaves in Europe. Hunt came to port in Malaga, off the coast of Spain. Fortunately for the Indians (as the Europeans called them) Spain was a Catholic country adhering to the moral teachings of Paul III and so opposed the slave trade and the enslavement of the Indians. One of those Indians was Tisquantum, whose name means “the wrath of God” but better known as Squanto. The Spanish Jesuits intervened and freed Squanto and some of his companions. Somehow Squanto communicated to the Spanish priests that he wanted to go home, except they had no idea where his home was. The Spanish Jesuits would have probably baptized Squanto so to ensure his status as a free man.

Squanto made it to London, where he stayed for three years trying to get back to North America. In those three years Squanto learned the English language and became familiar with the customs of the white man. Finally, a British merchant agreed to let Squanto sail with him to North America and after six years Squanto made it back to his homeland. Upon arriving, he found out that his tribe had been decimated by disease and not a single member of his tribe remained. Squanto was captured by the Wampanoag tribe; whose leader was a man named Massasoit.

In the winter of 1620 the Puritan Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower on the shores of New England. After a brutal voyage they had to face a brutal winter in a foreign land. Because of the kidnapping and the disease that previous Europeans had inflicted on the native Americans, the native people were not happy to see the new arrivals. Being the dead of winter when they arrived, the Puritans could not plant and so they resorted to stealing bushels of corn from the Indians. Not exactly a way to ingratiate themselves with the natives. That of course set the Puritans up to come face to face with the “wrath of God”.

For some reason, Squanto, Tisquantum (the wrath of God) put aside any resentments and wrath he had towards the Europeans for his kidnapping and the decimation of his tribe and got the chief Massasoit to agree to send him to negotiate with the Puritans rather than attack them. History would surely be different if Squanto had not helped the new arrivals survive— helped the very same people who had introduced new diseases that helped cause his own people not to survive.

Squanto negotiated a fair deal for the theft of the corn and taught the Pilgrims how to plant, fish and survive in this land. Of course, much to their surprise, Squanto spoke perfect English. The Pilgrims were convinced that Squanto was sent by God for their assistance. Little did they know the complete role that divine providence had played in their survival. Ironically, the very anti-Catholic Puritans were saved through the efforts of the likely baptized Catholic Squanto, whose life was spared enslavement because of the efforts of Spanish Catholic priests and Pope Paul III.

This Thanksgiving, if you are worried about a problem in your life or your family or your business, remember that the hand of divine providence is already working to bring forth the solution. And sometimes in order to come to fruition, divine providence comes to depend on the selfless actions of one person, who is willing to put aside his or her pain and need for justice so to open the door for others to live.

That’s how our Thanksgiving got its start. Our gratitude list goes back through many generations and individuals who helped us get to this moment because they somehow allowed divine providence to work through them. Are we willing to let divine providence work through us by putting aside our concerns and like Squanto using our scars and wounds to allows others to survive and thrive?

Fr. John B.

An Unexpected Journey

Fr. John BonavitacolaDear Friends,

The scheduled meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops started off with a sniper attack from the Vatican. As you may have read, the Vatican insisted the US Bishops NOT vote on their proposals to deal with Bishop Accountability and the Investigation of the McCarrick Affair. Some have said that the Vatican pulled the rug out from under the Bishops. But that is way too kind. The Vatican bureaucratically castrated the US Bishops, at least those who still had some. And amazingly it seemed like many Bishops were ready to plow full steam ahead until the Vatican pulled a trump card. But was it really?

The US Bishops, or any country’s Bishops Conference does have its own jurisdiction and the right to make particular law. Obviously, an individual Bishop’s Conference can’t make universal law. But the Vatican insisted it wanted to wait until the February meeting of all the world’s head of Bishop’s Conferences to deal with the issue of clerical sexual abuse in a uniform way. But if the Vatican was concerned that what the US Bishops were legislating would conflict with universal norms or law they could easily have sent the Vatican’s top Canon Lawyers to advise the Bishops and make sure there would be no conflict or after the February Meeting they could always amend what the US enacted. What’s even more cynical is that the Vatican waited until Sunday afternoon to let Cardinal DiNardo, the USCCB President know of this directive.

Strange how in 2002 when the US Bishops legislated the Dallas Charter which deals with priests who abuse, the Vatican went right along and even was amenable to changes in the Code of Canon Law based on what the US Bishops had done. But when it came to the accountability of Bishops the Vatican clearly put the brakes on. At least now we know that the source of corruption is the Vatican officials. It seems like they have a lot to hide when it comes to protecting the malfeasance of Bishops and the appointment of McCarrick’s partners in crime who are currently Bishops of Dioceses.

Interestingly, the directive to halt the vote came from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. Both Cardinal Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC are members of that Congregation. It would appear they got the Congregation to employ this preemptive strategy. Both of them have a lot to lose if the Vigano accusations prove correct. Brilliant move on their part. Apparently both Cardinals are steeped in the Chicago/DC way of doing things.

What this does is to give those Bishops who have jelly-spines cover. How convenient to do nothing by claiming, ‘we have to be obedient to the Pope’. Well we should remind them that the Bishops are equal with the Pope in the episcopal ministry. While the Pope is first among equals, the rest of the Bishops still have their own authority and jurisdiction. They are not lacky’s of a Pope. The Letter to the Galatians clearly demonstrates that fact. The Apostle Paul, tells us in Galatians that, “he opposed Peter to his face when he was clearly in the wrong”. Paul was not challenging Peter’s authority as leader of the Church but was opposing the way in which Peter was exercising that authority, treating Gentiles and Jews differently. The US Bishops need to follow Paul’s example and challenge the Vatican and the cartel that runs it by challenging the way they exercise their authority in a way that protects them and not those who are most vulnerable. The irony here is that the Pope is blaming clericalism for the problem while at the same time his staff is acting in a most clerical way, alla Cardinal Richelieu, afraid that if the US Bishops appoint lay boards to unravel this mess they lose their power.

What’s happening here is that the Vatican wants to keep the focus on clerical sexual abuse, an issue that we have dealt with in the US and have all the right policies and procedures in place to handle accusations and remove perpetrators from the priesthood. What the Vatican does not want to deal with is the Bishops who continue to conceal the homosexual network that thrives in the Church and is responsible for 80% of the abuse cases and the abuse of seminarians and other young adults. Maintaining “bella figura” and not confronting buggery appears to be their goal.

I have great affection for our Bishop, he is not corrupt, doesn’t live a double life, doesn’t coddle abusers, doesn’t tolerate immorality in the priesthood and lives a personal life of great simplicity but I do pray he has courage to stand up against the emasculating actions of the Vatican.

Where do we go from here? I’m considering what actions we should take next. But for now, we will remain local. We will be providing Thanksgiving Food boxes to needy families in our area, we will hold our Adopt-a-Family Program for Christmas and we will start to spiritually prepare for the Birth of our Savior at Christmas. In other words, we will be faithful Christians because that is who we are.

Fr. John B.


Do you inspire others to give?

Fr. John BonavitacolaDear Friends,

On a visit to the city of Rome, some years ago, a person I was with had never been before and upon seeing the hundreds of churches, he remarked, “these people must really love God.” So many generations of believers gave of their time, talent and treasure to build some of the most magnificent Catholic Churches in the world. I often wonder when people visit our country what impression are they left with? Obviously, the buildings that stand out the most are the tallest skyscrapers and most of them are used to house financial institutions, banks, investment firms, and insurance providers. I guess someone could walk away, after seeing all that and conclude that we really love our financial security. It raises the question, that ironically is found on our currency, In God We Trust, do we really?

In my very first assignment as a priest, I was in a city parish that was quickly shrinking. Two of the parishioners, an older couple really left an impression on me. They were on a fixed income and had age related health problems so their budget was extremely tight. Yet they were faithful members of the parish and despite their poor circumstances found ways to give to the Parish. Each Friday, they fasted and instead of a meal they prayed the Rosary together for the Parish and they used the money they saved from fasting as their weekly offering. It wasn’t much but it was really a lot. It was true sacrificial giving.

Whenever finances, whether personal finances or the Parish finances take me to a place of worry and fear, I remember that elderly couple. Usually I feel instant shame that I am not trusting God. I see their faces joyfully making their Sunday offering each week and my fears evaporate and I am once again reminded to put first things first. If they could trust God then why shouldn’t I? Years after I left that parish I learned that the couple had died within six months of each other. They did have a Life Insurance Policy that covered their final expenses and what remained, they left to the Parish! Even in death, they decided to be sacrificial givers!

But why do we give? Is it just to support a cause or a project, fixing the roof or the AC or supporting a ministry? Well, that’s part of it. But we give because it is first and foremost and act of worship. All through the Bible there are reminders to give back to God our first fruits. The Biblical word is tithing. We give because we have a need to give, it’s part of our human DNA. And when we give we find joy. Giving pulls us out of ourselves and reminds us that there are greater purposes for which we were made.

As Thanksgiving draws near we are pointed in the direction of gratitude. In fact, the history of our country is intertwined with a people who give thanks for what has been, what is and what will be. When our parishioners, and I hope you can participate, pack and deliver Thanksgiving food boxes and turkeys on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 8am, each one will know the joy of giving. When you encounter another who is in need and respond to their need and accompany them in their moment of need and see the gratitude on their face, you will understand the joy of being a generous giver. No other lesson is needed. We just concluded our annual FullCircle Program Banquet and when a parent says to me, “thank you Father, you saved the life of my kid”, there is no greater joy for me and no greater inspiration for me to continue giving.

So, we are now presented with an opportunity for some extra-ordinary stewardship. That is giving over and above our normal giving or tithing. Our participation in the Diocesan, Together Let Us Go Forth/Juntos Sigamos Adelante Campaign will be successful if each and every one of us participates in some sacrificial way. While we all can’t give the same gift, we can all make the same sacrifice.

As I personally participate in the Campaign and pledge my sacrificial gift, I think of that elderly couple from my first parish, now long deceased. What I can say about them is that in their poverty they were extremely rich, they focused on abundance and not scarcity. They inspired others to give.

Will that be how people remember you?

Love, Fr. John B.

PS We have just a few of them left among us, that is WWII Veterans and on this Veterans Day, I salute them and thank them for their generous, sacrificial giving to our Country. We live in freedom because they did not hesitate to give. I especially thank Mr. Vince Galgano, who served in WWII and at 100yrs old never misses Sunday Mass! God Bless!

Together, Let us go forth

Fr. John BonavitacolaDear Friends,

Our records indicate that the first baptisms at our parish took place in July of 1870. Ever since then the Catholic community in Tempe has been alive and well. The first Church, a small adobe building, built by hand by the parishioners was located where now stands the ASU Sun Devil Stadium ticket office. By 1912 the parish moved to roomier space at College and University avenues, the current location of the All Saints Catholic Newman Center. By 1957, through the stewardship of the Hughes family, the ten acre campus on Rural Road had its beginnings.

In 1932 the Catholic mission in Tempe was officially founded as a parish with Fr. James Peter Davis as the first Pastor. He would quickly leave the parish to become Bishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico and later Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fr. Francis Green would follow as the second pastor but his tenure in Tempe would be short as he was soon appointed Bishop of Tucson.

The new parish of Mt. Carmel originally encompassed the entire eastern half of Maricopa County. As the Phoenix area grew so did the new parish. Both the school and parish quickly outgrew the property near ASU and in the late 1950’s under the direction of the new pastor, Fr. Daniel McCready a new site was chosen for the parish at 2121 South Rural Road. The Hughes Family of Tempe donated the 10 acre property, originally a farm. Initially a school was constructed and then in 1968 the cornerstone of the present church was laid. The new church on Rural Road was built to accommodate 1000 people: ten times the size of the church on University! The church was officially dedicated in May of 1969 by Bishop Green of Tucson and the homily was preached by Archbishop Davis, both former pastors. After the parish moved to its new location the old property became the ASU Newman Center. In December 1969 Our Lady of Mt. Carmel became part of the newly created Diocese of Phoenix.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel continues to grow and change as the city and entire valley expand. Yet the parish continues to stay close to its original purpose: to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the surrounding neighborhoods, families and institutions. In 2007 we celebrated our Diamond Jubilee and our theme was taken from the words of the prophet Haggai to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: greater will be the future glory of this house than the former and in this place I will grant prosperity. In fourteen years we will be celebrating our Centenary as a Parish. What will our Catholic community look like in 2032?

Just as the Catholic community in 1870 built that small adobe church, then as the community grew, the next generation of Catholics in 1902 built the Church on University Ave. and then by the late 1950’s yet another generation of Catholics at Mt. Carmel began to build our present campus on Rural Road, so it falls to this generation of Catholics to keep it all going forward and make provisions for future generations of Catholics.

And so this weekend we officially kick off our participation in the Together Let Us Go Forth Diocesan Campaign. Not only are we trying to keep our parish strong but our Diocese will celebrate 50 yrs in 2019 and as a young, new, fast growing Church in the southwest we have a lot of infrastructure to build so the Church can thrive in the Diocese of Phoenix.

As we go forth together in this Campaign consider all the hearts and hands and treasure that went into getting us where we are today. Unknown people from previous generations had the forethought, vision and commitment to being stewards of the grace of God to leave for us a place to find God, worship God, learn about God and give Jesus to others.

What legacy will our generation bequeath to future generations? When we look back over our history we can find innumerable parishioners whose faith was marked by abundant and sacrificial giving. Will future generations remember us in the same way? Will our future be greater than our past?

Fr. John B.