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An interview with Father Tiny Gomez

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CatholicView has the privilege of interviewing Fr Tony Gomez, a priest at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Culver City, California, famous film capital of the world. A former 8th grade teacher for many years, this devoted priest brings with him a wealth of many years experience working with our youth. Although Fr Tony has only been in the priesthood for approximately one year, he is already becoming well known and respected in his parish for the care and love he extends to all. For this month’s feature he has chosen the following topic, "Is The Church Having A Significant Impact On Today’s Society?"

CatholicView:  Thank you for consenting to do this interview with CatholicView.  Do you think that in today's society the Catholic Church is having a significant impact on people?"

Father Tony: I have thought a lot about this since you asked me and it really is a difficult question. The Church is making a huge difference in the lives of some people and is having a significant effect, but does it have the effect on society as a whole that it used to have? I am not quite sure. And in one sense, I am not even sure that we aim at that anymore, simply by the fact that there aren’t enough priests nowadays.  And it is kind of sad because as much as we talk about evangelization, I am not certain we are really gung-ho to get everybody in Church because we would have to have, on a typical Sunday, 20 or 25 masses and who could do it, if all Catholics, just Catholics showed up at Mass?  Who could handle the numbers?  Nobody could.  And so, it makes me kind of sad after one year of priesthood to see we really don’t put out a big push to bring people back; we wait for people to come to us.  And this is kind of an ineffective way of doing things, but the burden does turn from the priest to the people of the parish to be the ones who create the impact on the community like the early Church.  The Apostles did their part.

People are attracted to the Church by those who are in the Church and the Church as a whole.  When people see the unity and the joy that people share that has a huge impact. It makes people think "if this is so good I want a part of it". That may be what we lack today. We came out of the legalistic period and we are still trying to evolve out of it.  There was so much emphasis on "just do all the right things" and that takes care of it.

Our culture has promoted for a long time extreme individualism.  That is kind of like how Catholics were raised, to just "do your thing" and be the individual that comes to Mass and take care of yourself, take care of your family and then go home again.  We really do need to create that entire sense of being a community of family worshiping together. Doing things together and knowing each other. You walk in and you don’t see strangers in Mass.  If you come to your parish you know the people, you know the priests, you know some of the people who are around and you become a family. If somebody says "I am your parishioner" and you think "Gee, I have never seen you before" that makes no sense to me.  No sense at all.  And the majority of people, those people who have that experience of Church family love it, absolutely love it, but not everybody has that.

CatholicView: What do you feel is the single most important thing the Church has done to bring the greatest impact on today’s society?

Father Tony: The Church, certainly today, in the face of all the criticism and everything else continues to be a prophetic voice for justice and rights in the Church although I know many women would disagree with that. There is still a fight for equality for women in the Church.  And a necessary fight which is not going to end.

CatholicView: Do you feel the Catholic Church has been instrumental in raising awareness to all the changes surrounding us so that we know when to reject the bad and accept the good?


Father Tony: Let me make this analogy since I was an eighth teacher for so long.  When I went through school, and I don’t know what it was like before I went through, there was more of a emphasis on taking education very seriously. And I was brought up thinking high school was to prepare for college. You know it’s going to be fun but the idea is to get from the high school to the college.  Now there were other friends who grew up with the idea "well okay, high school can prepare me for a job".  Now you see today that a lot of kids prepare for high school thinking high school is a time when you have fun.  You learn a little bit along the way but the emphasis is "have fun". Now naturally some of those people we’ve been seeing the last fifteen years or so who grew up with that mentality are becoming teachers. And so, the mentality "this is the time to have fun" influences the way they teach. And this is got to be part of the reason for lower test scores. There are multiple reasons. I don’t want to blame it all on teachers because the whole culture feeds into it. But I know that’s a reality; just a different mindset. The same thing happens in the priesthood in the sense that a lot of guys who are ordained now grew up in a different mindset than guys who were ordained many years ago and you are influenced by the values of the culture and you have that clash.

What the culture promotes and what the Church says is not so clear anymore on exactly what the good is. For example, birth control. It is clear what the Church is teaching and it is clear that natural family planning is a far preferable way to plan a family. But at the same time, you know, we go ahead and put a moral obligation on people to not use any type of artificial birth control but we don’t give them natural family planning. They have to go so far out of their way to try to find any class where they can learn it and then all married couples want to take that class. There is no way that there are enough classes; there aren’t enough teachers.  So here in one sense we are placing a small burden on couples but then we are not giving them the tools to live the morality of it. And so, how do we hold up to it? The line is starting to get blurred. I am thinking of all kinds of things. Just look at the way we dress to go to church. I grew up thinking you have to be dressed up, but now you know, for me it’s jeans and a shirt. I still just can’t wear a tee shirt. But you know, we see kids wearing tank tops and shorts. What would have been defined as awful, awful, a few years ago, maybe more than a few years ago is just kind of normal. There was a time when women wore veils on the head, or a piece of tissue, anything at all but something.

CatholicView: Is the Church aiding Catholic Christians to reject consumerism and commercialism in order to become closer to God?

Father Tony: Here we are again, and in theory we all know consumerism is bad in practice. But we are all subject to it. We are all affected by it. Let me just speak of priests, the guys who have to have the most expensive priest clothes and all the finest. There is no way we can undo the socialization process that we grew up in. So then, you have to continue to be in perceptive and check your values and see if we are living the Christian values and measure "is this what I believe in? Is my life reflecting what I believe"? We get messed up all the time and try to continue to struggle with it.

CatholicView: Today’s society has given our youth a whole new set of rules concerning sexual preferences as well as sexual freedom. What impact has the Church had on the sexual freedom issue our society seems to condone today?

Father Tony: There is a huge amount of freedom and acceptance too. You know, I don’t know that we can undo it all. Especially just by saying no, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. But we can give kids an experience that there is something better. There is something higher to reach for, there is a dignity that they can hold themselves to and be proud of. And we have to get away from a rule that says you can’t do this, and start teaching the goodness of living a different way. And of beginning to see each other as persons not as objects to be used for "my own pleasure", to re-objectify yourself and work toward the greater good, the sense of self worth, the relationship with God and all the benefits that you get from that. The inner peace and so forth. Sometimes that is forgotten, and you see kids who really do want a relationship with God, not just kids but society as a whole. You do see spiritual hunger there, yes a huge spiritual hunger and we have to communicate that there is a way to fill it but you don’t have to go to Western Buddhism or New age religions or all these other things that they are trying to do to fill the spiritual hunger. This hunger can only be filled by God.

CatholicView: One of the ten commandments is keeping the Sabbath holy. How is the Church bringing this to the forefront of its members’ consciousness in these busy times?

Father Tony: That’s what we were talking about at the beginning. We depend on people coming to us instead of us being clear that we need to go out and encourage people to come to Mass. If liturgy is better, people will come naturally; the word will spread. It will really spread. A question, how do we make liturgy alive? For so long the liturgy belonged to the priests and everybody else just sat there and watched it. And even now, you know, even with liturgical changes, that’s the experience that most people have. You just sit there, as much as we talk about full and active participation. It is not going to be full active participation unless it goes beyond being able to give a three or four word response occasionally. Now one of the things that is big for me and I know people don’t like it but I believe in doing away with all altar rails because they reflect the old theology which implies you can’t dare to approach the altar; you just stay down there where you belong. Well no, I would be more comfortable if the altar were right down in the middle of everybody. Where everybody is around it.

CatholicView: Do you feel that the Church is now teaching people to be more knowledgeable about their Christianity?

Father Tony: We are asking people to reach a greater depth of understanding. That is what we really want. We want people to understand how important the relationship with God is and even that yes "this is God residing in me". He is the loving God and merciful God who dwells within us. He doesn’t want to make His home outside but makes His home within us. And is always there. In the confessional I’ll ask people what is your image of God and so often a lot of stuff comes from this image of God Who is ready to punish you as soon as you make a mistake. Our God is a loving and merciful God.

CatholicView: One of the differences that I have noticed is that the Church has made important steps toward unifying with other Christian faiths. How does this affect Catholics today and do you feel that this is a good step toward unifying all Christians into one body?

Father Tony: I absolutely think it is practically the most important thing. The Pope should be working on reunifying Christianity because we are meant to be one Church, one people, one group of believers in Jesus and in fact, I wish the one thing that John Paul could do before he dies is to reunify us with the Eastern Orthodox Churches because we recognize the validity of their sacraments, their ordination, their everything and they recognize ours. And there is no reason for us to be apart now for the almost a thousand years that we have been apart. There is no reason and I would wish that he would make that a number one priority. It is anti-Christian for Christians to be fighting each other. It goes against everything Jesus taught.

CatholicView: Where does the Church stand today about scientific breakthroughs such as the cloning of animals and possibly human life?

Father Tony: My conscience tells me cloning of human beings is absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong. Now is it the same with animals? They don’t have souls. But it is a small step from animals to human beings. The manipulation of human life. In cloning the dignity is removed from human life, you know; dignity is removed from the person. I have huge problems with a lot of the medical advances.

CatholicView: We are losing some of our Catholic members to Protestants denominations. Why do you think this is happening and what can we do to offset this trend?

Father Tony: You know I think the biggest thing people find when they go to the Protestant denominations is the bigger sense of fellowship because they are dealing with small denominations and people know you and love you and are happy to see you when you are there and it is just a huge sense of fellowship. And instead of an intellectual faith it is a faith of feeling. There is no reason we can’t do the same thing. except the seminary beats your faith from your heart to your head and you have to spend years getting it back down to your heart.


CatholicView: In closing, do you have any personal comments you would like to make?

Father Tony: The one thing I would say, because I am involved in Life-Teen that kind of bothers me is that teenagers have been the invisible members of the church for years and years and years. You know, we take them through first communion and then into Confirmation then finally they are confirmed and we offer them nothing after that. Nothing, nothing, nothing. They are ignored. Completely ignored. Hoping that okay, it is a teen experience that they fall away from the Church so let’s hope they will come back when they are adults. It drives me crazy. In the culture there are so many things that mark the passage of time for kids. You know, you get your birthday every year, you become a teenager, you graduate from 8th grade, you go to high school, you get your driver’s license, you become 18 so a whole new world opens up to you. You hit 20 and you are no longer a teenager, 21 now you can drink legally, I mean there are these different moments in the culture that mark the passage of time, and is significant for them and we don’t do anything. This is how we lose our youth. From Confirmation until they get married there is nothing. So it is kind of like, see you later and when you are engaged come and see us. And we really need to reach out to them with significant things that tell them "okay confirmed at sixteen, seventeen you are still important to us, at eighteen you are still important, at nineteen you are important to us". That is how we lose kids. Why would they come if the Church is not interested in them?

CatholicView: Father Tony, thank you for your time and your honest opinions. I know the readers at A CatholicView will enjoy and benefit from your candid and insightful comments.


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