The Catholic Voice asked Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, to talk about his first five years as bishop of Oakland, and what he wants to accomplish:
What about being in Oakland has surprised and/or delighted you?
When I arrived, I had priests tell me that Oakland had some of the biggest challenges of any diocese in the United States but also some of the biggest opportunities and potential. I would agree with that.
I am not just delighted, but uplifted by the warmth and kindness of people, everywhere I go. At every parish, after every Mass, people wait for me for a brief exchange. Sometimes it’s just a handshake but often people whisper prayer intentions in my ear. I appreciate that although we have never met, I have a pastoral relationship with them as their bishop. That kind of closeness means a lot.
Another one of my happiest discoveries is the cooperation of the presbyterate. From the very first convocation, there was a spirit of kindness. Men had different opinions and they could express that, but underlying is a spirit of cooperation. I very much appreciate that.
You speak of three goals: improving the Sunday Mass experience; building missionary disciples; and the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. If you were sitting in the pews, what makes for an inspiring Sunday experience?
When Mass is conducted with reverence it is a sacred action. It conveys a sense of the transcendent; Mass is where heaven and earth meet. It’s not just another secular event.
Certainly, the parish experience — a welcoming community, warm, wonderful people — is important. But the Sunday Mass must be more than that, because we can find fellowship in other clubs and groups.
The liturgy must give people a connection with Christ and with God that they don’t get by staying at home, reading a book or listening to music on their iPhone, or by going to a book club or social group.
A reverential atmosphere is aided by sacred art, architecture and sacred music. The music can be familiar and folksy, like St. Louis Jesuit music, if it is sacred and done well. As Vatican II says, we can take advantage of the Church’s full treasury of sacred music, and not just one little part of it. One of my goals is to broaden people’s experience, so they aren’t limited by one type of music.
The other important aspect of Sunday Mass is that the homily is intelligent and challenging, that it helps bring people to love the Word of God, to experience Christ.
Although we had a wonderful Year of Mercy, you’ve said that mercy doesn’t end with a date on the calendar. How are you keeping mercy in the forefront of the diocese?
We have some important programs, such as our immigrant resettlement program and Claire’s House, which will help children who are survivors of sex trafficking.
I’m very proud of the refugee resettlement program. We have had so many parish groups raise funds and collect furniture that sometimes we don’t have enough refugees to go around! With Claire’s House we’re getting some opposition, but we also have tremendous support from the whole diocese. I’ve been talking about it at the end of confirmations. People come up after Mass and put money in my hand, “This is for your Claire’s House. We want to help.”
And then we have the quiet, daily works of mercy in which so many people participate but often are taken for granted. I want to shout out about these acts of mercy!
One example is the daily meal service at St. Vincent de Paul. I’ve had people say, “How come your big, rich, powerful church is doing nothing to help the homeless?” I respond, would you like to come with me to St. Vincent de Paul? Put on some gloves and help us feed the homeless, and clothe them, and give free medical care or legal help? People drive by all the time and don’t see it, but that’s all going on.
The Knights of Malta work so hard to subsidize the health and legal clinics, providing a half million dollars each year.
The St. Vincent de Paul Societies collect food donations; Catholic Charities assists with crisis counseling, support to families or seniors facing eviction and so much more.
And I should mention Catholic Worker, which is one of my favorites. I’m particularly fond of J.C. Orton. What one man can do? For 20 years, he’s gotten up early and prepared oatmeal and a full hot breakfast, which is served to the poor in People’s Park in Berkeley each Sunday morning.
After our deacons are ordained Aug. 4, they will meet me the next morning at 7 a.m. The first exercise of their diaconate is going to be serving the poor. This is how the early Church described it in Scripture; the preaching came later. These acts of mercy change our hearts and people’s lives.
Full story at The Catholic Voice.