Her formal name, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula, may have been bestowed upon her by St. Junípero Serra’s intrepid missionaries when they founded their pueblo in my adopted home town in 1781. But in the centuries since, many of us Angelenos have learned to call Los Angeles home.
My own homecoming happened unexpectedly a few years ago, when my husband accepted his dream job. During our quick period of discernment, our prayer was simple: “Lord, if this is not your will, please make it obvious.” Happily ensconced in suburban life with a vibrant parish family and a manageable mortgage payment, perched on the verge of the empty nest, our lives turned upside down when our yes to God’s will for our life brought us to Los Angeles quickly and definitively. As one who loves the beach and anything new, I was excited for our adventure to begin.
Our lives turned upside down when our yes to God’s will for our life brought us to Los Angeles quickly and definitively.
But shortly after we stuffed our carefully culled personal belongings into an apartment that had a third of the space of our old house but cost almost triple our old mortgage payment, the realities of living in this city began to reveal themselves. In a city where “nobody walks,” we got rid of a car and committed to an urban lifestyle for the first time in our married lives. A large part of settling in became the search for a new faith home. We frequented liturgies at seven of the 14 parishes within a five-mile radius of our new digs. Like the high-Yelp-rated food and entertainment choices that now surrounded us, each church had its own charism and flavors, but all were generous with their welcome and true to what we profess.
Living in our apartment, I quickly came to know the Westwood Village neighbors I encountered most frequently by sight. But the first to welcome me were not the other professionals or students who shared our apartment building. They were the nameless men and women who dwelt quietly among us on bus benches and in corners and behind alley dumpsters. Almost immediately I felt their presence, such a contradiction amid the vibrant, clean-living wealth I was seeing around me.
In the City of Angels, these quiet angels offered the smiles, greetings or requests for simple compassion that my neighbors were often too busy to offer.
This was certainly not my first exposure to the plight of the unhoused. But here in the City of Angels, these quiet angels offered the smiles, greetings or requests for simple compassion that my neighbors were often too busy to offer. Their plight ripped at my heart as I tried to compute mentally and spiritually the tremendous contradiction of wealth and need that surrounded me. What can I do to help them? I asked myself and others daily.
One great blessing of being a person of faith here is the omnipresent example of our shepherd, Archbishop José Gomez, and his emphasis on welcome, compassion, service and worship. Being Catholic in Los Angeles means belonging to a faith family filled with need, but also with great commitment and seemingly unlimited potential.
I have learned that it was not only those poor among us who needed Jesus’ love. Often the wealthiest people I have met were the ones who were facing the greatest spiritual poverty and loneliness.
Living, walking, working and praying amid so many “angels” has challenged me to understand the hearts of those I encounter and to endeavor to journey alongside them, seeing contradictions less as hopeless obstacles and more as endless opportunities. Here in Los Angeles, church for me is the pews of our parish, but it is also the shelter in Venice; Family Theater Productions in Hollywood, where I encounter faithful storytellers honing a craft; and the Pauline Book and Media center in Culver City, perched adjacent to the 405, that offers coffee and an open door and Jesus always truly present in the chapel. “Church” is the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in all her glory, but also my favorite stretch of sand in Santa Monica where I can praise and witness the brilliance of the Creator. And church is our home, a small but warm place where we can welcome others and shower them with love.