A dear parishioner went to Sunday Mass last week at another parish, a very fine parish in our city. “All of the servers were women!” she complained. “Where have all the men gone?”
Recently I visited Mom and Dad back home (Shippensburg, Pennsylvania). To help out the local pastor, I always take some of the Masses at my home parish. Two excellent female servers served these Masses. There is no question that in general girls are more motivated and more competent servers than boys, especially at the age most kids serve the Mass. In fact, they are so zealous for the things of God at that age that few boys want to serve with them. Many Catholic women tell me “when I was a girl I wanted to be a nun,” and this is precisely the age they excel at altar serving. Personally, I am inspired by the devotion and maturity of female servers. At Star of the Sea, we have forgone female servers, and this has not been easy. It is harder to form boys at that age for divine service; it’s much easier to work with girls. I'm sure we would also find female priests a comforting and delightful alternative to many of us priests who suffer from the "bachelor syndrome:" Catholic priests are often wanting in sensitivity and social skills. Which is why, on a purely human level (apart from the divine mandate), the Church is well-advised to limit the priesthood to men. If women were to be ordained I'm fairly sure that male priests would gladly surrender the Church's pastoral work to those who are more naturally more caring, relational, and zealous for religion.
It's been three years since I decided to develop a male-only altar server program at my parish. The decision ignited a culture war around us. Google “Star of the Sea San Francisco” and you will get many negative articles about a misogynist pastor at a retrograde parish. For twenty-five years I had offered the Holy Mass assisted by female servers, and at school Masses and outside of the parish I still enjoy the help of female servers in my sacred liturgical duties. But I am more convinced than ever that the Church's decision to allow girl servers was a mistake. In just about every place I've offered Mass, most of the boys and men have deserted the altar. I concelebrated Sunday Mass at Fatima, Portugal, a few months ago, for example. Of the 13 scheduled servers, only three were male. In the parishes, the shrines, the cathedrals--where have the boys and men gone? They have abrogated their sacred duties. Religion has become women’s work. God bless our women! But God help our men. Given this natural apathy in the human male for things spiritual, we should in charity expect them to serve. It will lead them out of themselves, give them a sense of sacred responsibility, and bring many into the priesthood. If we have a crisis of priestly vocations, and if we have a crisis of fatherhood and male identity, a modest solution, at least, would be to expect them to serve at the altar. Let them do it. Expect them to do it. Give them space to do it.
A dear parishioner went to Sunday Mass last week at another parish, a very fine parish in our city. “All of the servers were women!” she complained. “Where have all the men gone?”
Advent Looks Forward
We have entered the Season of Advent and most of us are thinking of Christmas—certainly the department stores have been thinking about Christmas for the last two or three months. But Advent is not about Christmas, or at least not Christmas as a monthlong shopping spree. The Mass readings and prayers speak of the end of the world; “there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea…people will die of fright….” But amidst this confusion Christ the Redeemer will return. Christmas means “Christ’s Mass,” and every Mass points toward His Second Coming—when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory, not as a little babe but as supreme judge. He will bring justice and order and true peace to those who have believed in Him. “Wake up!” the Apostle says in the Epistle today. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
The “Holiday Season”
God affords us much comfort in this season, a holiday warmth that literature and art rightly portray: the Christmas star, the charming beauty of the divine child in the manger, choirs of angels singing in the sky. Christ was born in Bethlehem, however, not to make us comfortable on earth, but to guide us to heaven. Advent looks forward to His Second Coming, be that the last day of human history or the last day of your personal history. Every bit of our faith, and every Mass, looks to the next life. Yes, Advent points to Christmas, but Christmas points to heaven. As Jesus himself was a wayfarer on this earth, spending only three decades on this planet, so we too are wayfarers and pilgrims, on our way to our true fatherland. Our Christmas parties and shopping and tinsel must not replace Advent’s guiding purpose, which is to prepare ourselves for the day Christ will return to submit everything to his Father.
People will die of fright
In the Gospel today, we hear of confusion and terror: the sea and the waves will roar; the powers of the heavens will be shaken. It is for these days that we must prepare, because they will surely come. But we who believe will not die of fright. “When these things begin to pass, look up,” Jesus instructs us, “because your redemption is at hand.” We spend our lives longing for his return, when all his disciples will pass with him through the splendid gates of his Eternal Kingdom. It would be an unspeakable tragedy if even one of us were to lose our eternal soul. Advent calls us to keep our final end in mind during the Christmas parties and shopping adventures, but also to keep in mind the proximity of our redemption. Now is the time to prepare for judgment; now is the time to hope for redemption.
Dressing for Mass
I spoke of one simple way to prepare for Our Lord at the English Masses last week, and I say it now at the Latin Mass: we should dress for Mass in our Sunday best. The clothing we put on for Sunday Mass should be consecrated, reserved for this sacred purpose: to honor God for his Sabbath Sacrifice. Someone gave me a gift card to Macy’s recently, and I bought a nice pair of shoes with it. These shoes look good and feel good, and cost a bit of money. I decided to keep these shoes on a shelf the whole week, and use them only for Sunday Mass. I will use my scuffed up, well-worn work shoes for daily Masses, but on Sunday you will see my polished, more formal footgear from now on. Formality, like other aspects of the sacred, has been denigrated, even mocked, in our era of Blue Jeans. We must recover a reverential formality. We honor Christ’ sacred presence on Sunday by wearing better than ordinary vesture. If I appear for Sunday Mass now without my Sunday Shoes, I want you to call me on it! “Father, where are your Sunday Shoes?”
When Christ returns he will clothe us in the fullness of holiness and glory. Let us do our best to anticipate that final coming by clothing ourselves, inside and out, in humility, holiness, and charity. Consider Christ’s Holy Mother. In every painting she wears a veil, a sacred garment reflecting her interior consecration. Let us also clothe ourselves, especially on Sunday, with holiness. Our Lady will help us prepare for Christmas, and for the Second Coming. Even as we shop and enjoy parties and write cards, let us bring Jesus and Mary to every Advent activity—a decade of the rosary or the Angelus and some real Christmas carols at every Christmas party—so that we will be prepared to meet Christ when he returns on the clouds of heaven.
The Feast of Christ the King
This week the Church celebrates “Christo Regis.” In Latin it sounds more direct—not Christ the King but simply “Christ King.” “Jesus of Nazareth,” wrote Pope Benedict, “is so intrinsically king that the title ‘king’ has actually become his name.” Indeed, the word Christos in Greek means “the anointed one,” from the verb chrio, to anoint (we get the word “chrism” from this verb). In the ancient world, Kings and priests were simply called the anointed ones, literally “those smeared with oil,” the christoi. We remember our dear Carmelites at Cristo Rey monastery ten blocks from here, founded by refugees from the persecutions in Mexico in the 1920s. Many were martyred in those years with the cry of Viva Cristo Rey on their lips, “long live Christ the king.” So it was that the Mexican priest, Blessed Miguel Pro, died on November 23, 1927 (we celebrated his feast day on Thursday, along with Thanksgiving). The local “king,” Plutarco Calles, president of Mexico, had him executed by firing squad when Catholicism was illegal in Mexico. He died with arms outstretched and the final words viva Cristo Rey.
The Feast of Christ the King may be difficult for us Americans to appreciate, given that we don’t trust kings. Down with King George, and up with democracy! But even democracy needs a strong leader, and for the past twenty years the weaknesses of our democracy have become evident. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have been able to achieve the necessary unity to lead this nation. Leaders at all levels of church and state lack decisive authority; they waffle and contradict themselves as much as they contradict each other; their lives often betray their own declared principles as is currently on graphic display in the news.
But we should not become unduly disappointed in our earthly leaders. They are after all only human. Our hope must not be in any president or political party. Ultimately only God has the capacity to rule humanity, precisely because this Ruler is above humanity. Only our Creator understands humanity from the inside and still loves each of us. And besides, all earthly rulers submit to Him sooner or later. No one really breaks the laws of God; we simply break against these natural laws. Neither God nor Mother Nature is mocked.
“I myself will tend my sheep,” God declares in the first reading. I will rescue them, because Israel’s kings have not governed them well. What are God’s laws? Our Lord gave us only two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor. Love God first, beginning with right worship, with a devout and reverent attendance at Mass. If Christ is King, we will never miss a Sunday Mass if we can help it. With firm purpose we will come to Mass early to prepare for his divine presence, we will dress for the King in what is called our “Sunday best,” we will listen carefully to the readings and offer ourselves with him as the priest elevates the chalice. If Christ is our King, we will make Sunday Mass the center of our week. May God grant us a sacred and reverential fear of his divine presence in the Holy Mass!
May Christ give us also to reverence Him in each other! “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will sit upon his glorious throne with all the nations assembled before him.” And He will judge them. What is the one criterion by which God will judge us, according to today’s Gospel? Recognizing and loving Him in each other. “What you did for the least of my brothers,” the King says, “you did to me.” And who are these “least?” Certainly the poorest of the poor, the invisible people in San Francisco, like the ones we served with the French Sisters on Thanksgiving in the Tenderloin. But each of us lives and works with people we least like, or who least like us. It is of these people who irritate us, perhaps even disgust us, or whom we irritate, that Jesus speaks. Love them, and you love me. Give the troublesome a bit of your time, exercise patience with the noisome, call that relative you don’t want to call on his birthday, and you go to heaven. Ignore them, and you go to hell. Every man is Christ, in his sometimes distressing disguise. It’s as simple as that. Long live Christ the King within us!
Some of you will have read Robert Cardinal Sarah's excellent little book The Power of Silence. I am sitting in an airport on a wonderfully clear morning in Southern California, and another power is at work: the Power of Noise. As the sun rises over the lovely San Bernardino mountains, noise attempts to overcome the silence. Through high-tech speakers mounted every 20 feet throughout this entire building, a woman’s prurient voice assaults my hearing. She suggests that she would like to sell me her body, cheap. I walked the length and breadth of the concourse seeking relief, but found none. I finally resorted to what everyone else does these days: I plugged in some earphones. But even white noise at elevated volume could not erase her wailing. And anyway, white noise is after all noise. Still, this dark noise cannot overcome the peace of Christ within us.
Why am I in Southern California? A former student from my days at Thomas Aquinas College invited me to witness her wedding at her home parish in Guasti. Let me say how privileged we priests are to be a part of so many good peoples’ sacramental lives. Few things encourage a priest more than witnessing the vows of two devout Catholics. The union of good Catholic families gives us joy today and hope for tomorrow. Thank you, dear young people for getting married! Thank you, dear parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, for preparing your children to shoulder the sweet yoke of Christ through marriage!
At the heart of marriage is silence: an intense love that words would only betray. Weddings can be noisy affairs, but on either side of the raucous reception is the silence of consecration. The priest consecrates bread and wine at their nuptial Mass, and the couples consummate that consecration later that night in wordless self-offering.
Among the reasons marriage is roundly rejected today, I think, is its silence. The world cannot tolerate the quiet sacrifice of self that lies at the heart of marital love. We are a culture addicted to noise. In every airport, in every Uber, in every hotel and restaurant lobby, noise painfully assaults us. At 6 o’clock this morning I thought I would escaped the hotel lobby’s sound sytem by sitting outside. A silent sunrise was unfolding over the eastern hills. To my horror, the hotel had equipped even the taxi rank outside with high-definition speakers. Rap driveled from them as rosy-fingered dawn spread over the mountains. My Uber arrived, and I got in the car with a nice young man at the wheel. Hip hop emanated from the radio. No escape.
Back home I spent an hour in our church before the Blessed Sacrament. Although I could hear the soft sounds of people coming and going, each respected the beautiful silence of God’s presence. How blessed to pastor a church that understands silence! All we did was expose the Blessed Sacrament on the main altar, and the parish grew still, and deep, and beautiful. Jesus will push back the noise for all who come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. May our newly-married couple stay close to His silent presence, before whom they made their vows yesterday.
On Thursday we give thanks to God for our dearest country, the blessing of living in America. Rendering thanks to God is a simple duty of Christians and of Americans, as our first President decreed in 1789: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God …."
The President and our government deserve our thanks and respect as well; St. Paul calls us to obey the king and all just civil laws; the catechism teaches us to pay our taxes. But God must have our first thanks, and our first loyalty. We serve our country best by rendering witness to something greater than our country. Presidents Washington and Lincoln would agree that citizens exercise loyalty to their president by exercising fidelity to their God. Abraham Lincoln confirmed his predecessor’s 1789 proclamation with his own of 1863: “I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Citizens of Heaven First
“We are citizens of heaven first,” Archbishop Chaput writes in his little book Render Unto Caesar. Catholics should not be less involved in politics, but more; not less visible but more visible as Catholics in society. The entire Western system of democracy, rule of law, and free economics developed through 3000 years of Judeo-Christian jurisprudence. Christian practices of democracy and human rights have been adopted by the entire world. Who best can guide politics to the Common Good than Catholics guided by Gospel principles? “The Catholic Church,” concludes Archbishop Chaput, “cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay out of politics…. Living our Catholic faith without excuses and apologies, and advancing them in the public square, are the best expressions of patriotism.”
Our Talent of Faith
I say this because Christ’s parable today speaks of talents, and St. Paul tells us we do not walk in darkness, like those who do not believe. God has given us the great gift of faith: we are in church this morning, and most of America is not. What are we doing with that precious talent, our faith? Are we keeping it all to ourselves, on a little altar at home, or are we spreading it? How many people have we won over to Jesus this year? We can at least invite our friends and relatives to Mass, and if they don’t come, pray for them daily by name. What about our enemies? Have we prayed for them by name? If I go to God with only the one talent he gave me at my baptism, he will say to me “You wicked, lazy servant!” I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to hear that on judgement day. Every Catholic has the solemn duty to evangelize, to win souls for Christ, to bring them to Mass and bring them to prayer, in whatever way we can.
Sober and Alert
St. Paul urges us to be “alert and sober” in his letter to the Thessalonians. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them.” Two years ago, our nation’s highest court told God that we don’t need His help in ordering our lives together. Our government redefined marriage and family, the most fundamental cell of society. Disaster is surely coming—the chaos that will inevitably result from this further decline of the family. It happened to Rome when senators began divorcing their wives. A great society that had been built on strong family life began to disintegrate. It is happening to us too. Increasing acts of random violence and domestic terrorism are not random: they are domestic. We have largely lost the domus, the home. As Archbishop Chaput wrote, the times demand not less but more overt political involvement by faithful Catholics, providing that stability which only faith can provide for our nation. We give God thanks this Thursday for our dear country, and we pray Him to preserve it as one union under his divine protection.
Sex and Money
Some say a priest should never preach on sex or money. I even would say that our bank accounts are more private than our bedrooms. How many of us would be comfortable seeing the details of our finances published in the parish bulletin? Before going any farther on this topic, let me just say that money is good. Wealth is a blessing, but blessings can quickly become curses because God gives his children blessings to be shared. If we hoard rather than share our blessings, they rot, and they infect us. If I keep all my love to myself, or never share my talents, or do not give time to others, and if I hold tightly to all my money, these blessings become curses. Share your blessings and they bless you; keep them to yourself and they curse you.
Love of Money
We are on the third and last of our annual stewardship commitment weekends. Two weeks ago we planned how we would set aside some time for God in prayer this year; last week we planned how to share some of our talents in building our community; this weekend we plan what financial gifts we will return to God. Someone joked last week that the time and talent weekends were a dress rehearsal for the really important one, the money talk. In a way he is right. Wealth has a more stubborn grip on us and needs greater attention. St. Paul says in 1 Tim 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all evil. Pretty strong words. I remember my seventh grade history teacher asking us why we went to war with England in 1776. We didn’t know, so he drew a huge dollar sign on the blackboard. All wars are driven by money, he said. In fact, greed drives almost all conflicts, from marriage disagreements to world wars. That’s why it’s crucial that we Christians free ourselves from the love of money by giving a portion back to God. Tithing frees us from wealth’s tyranny.
Question: Does God need our money?
Answer: Obviously not, because he owns it all in the first place. In an absolute sense, even the Church does not need our money. It’s God’s Church, and he can run it without our money if he needs to. Don’t get me wrong. Your pastor still has to pay the electric bill, and your gifts support the Church in some very important ways. But God does not command us to tithe because He needs our money. He commands us to tithe, rather, so that we will learn to trust Him. Tithing helps free us from the love of money (so does prayer). The more we love money, the less we can love God and love our friends. In other words, we don’t give to a need; we have a need to give. And most of us Catholics have a long way to go in this department. The average Catholic gives just under 1% of our income away, but God asks for at least 10%. I don’t think we Catholics are inherently stingy, but I think we don’t think our money has much to do with our spiritual lives. We just don’t plan or even think about tithing. That’s why I’m bringing it up today.
Five Wise and Five Foolish
Let’s look briefly at the Gospel. Five wise and five foolish bridesmaids. The wise ones planned ahead. They loved the bridegroom enough to plan for him. When he arrived at Midnight, they were ready to go with him. Planning is an act of love. “This parable,” writes one author, “illustrates the kind of preparedness Jesus expects of his disciples.” How many of us plan our gifts to God and his holy Church? We could plan our time better, for example, and get to Mass a little earlier. We could plan our tithe better too. Most of us toss into the basket whatever we have in our pockets. We give God pocket change. Is that all He means to us?
Last year at this time I planned my tithe, and I did it again yesterday. I realized that over 12 months I’ve become negligent and thoughtless. And my circumstances have changed—we priests got a small raise in salary, but my tithe was not adjusted accordingly. After communion today, after we have received the Body of Christ, God’s supreme gift of Himself, I am going to lead us in a little spiritual exercise of planning our financial gifts to God. Planning my tithe yesterday hurt a little. I realized I was not giving what I could be giving, that I had a little too much extra money hanging around: money that rots and spreads infection. Mother Teresa once said “what would we do with extra money? Bank it? I’d rather die!” Those of us God calls to live in the world do need bank accounts and money in savings, but how much? Let’s let God guide us to greater freedom by submitting even our finances to His perfect will.
What we value in life
Today is our annual Stewardship Commitment Sunday. Every year we take stock of our personal relationship to God by considering the manifold blessings He pours upon us and how we share those blessings. God gives us an abundance of Time, Talent, and Treasure. Do we return a portion to him in grateful praise? Do we make gifts of our Time in prayer, our talent in charitable service, and our treasure in financial gifts to others? How we spend our time and money is the real indicator of how we are seeking happiness in life. Show me your day planner and your visa account and I will show you what you value in life. Today we look at all God has given us and plan gifts in return.
All time, all energy, and all wealth are God’s, and it all returns to Him, sooner or later. Why wait until “later,” on the day of our death, when we will have to surrender everything? I heard of a priest who died with a million dollars in the bank, which he willed to Mother Teresa’s sisters. But how much more wonderful to have given that money personally while he was still alive! Most of us will die regretting the time we did not spend with the people we loved. Let’s examine our souls this Sunday so we don’t die regretting anything.
Time is Prayer
They say time is money. Certainly time is the most precious resource we have. We Americans, in fact, and especially we San Franciscans, seem to have a lot more money than time. We are always strapped for time. But God gives us 70 or 80 years of time on this earth to prepare for heaven. He gives us 168 hours a week. What do we do with that time? If we don’t spend any of it with God in prayer, we cannot be very healthy or happy. Prayer opens me up to God’s blessings, and makes me capable of loving others. But God is patient. He doesn’t pout or complain if we miss Mass on Sunday, or don’t show up for our weekly holy hour, or neglect the Rosary, or never open his Bible. He does not nag us, so we must be mature in planning our time with him. After communion, I will lead us in a practical exercise—filling out a prayer planning form—the first of our three stewardship commitments.
Talent: Are we building up the Church?
We also consider “talent:” what strengths has God given us, and how do we use these talents to support others? Most of the talents we share with others will be outside the parish—helping our children and spouses, friends and colleagues. But for Catholics the parish is also a vital community. A Catholic is happiest when he or she commits some degree of service to the local parish. Social and service groups like the Knights of Columbus, Filipino, Chinese, or Latino clubs, our Mother’s Club and Young Adults fellowship, our Legion of Mary: these give us scope to exercise our talents right in our home parish. Teaching catechism to our children, serving on a parish advisory board, volunteering in our school or preschool, or serving the homeless are other ways to help build up the community.
In the Gospel Jesus points out that the Pharisees preach well but they don’t put their own good intentions into practice. “They lay up heavy burdens but will not lift a finger to help others carry them.” To be Catholic, to be Christian, to be human is to lift a finger to help others carry life’s burdens. It is simply good stewardship. Jesus says the Pharisees do not “practice what they preach.” I’m sure they had good intentions, but somehow, they didn’t act on those intentions. They were not faithful to their own beliefs. In the words of my favorite animated movie, Horton Hears a Who, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant’s faithful 100 percent.” I’d like to be a little more like Horton and a little less like the Pharisees. Jesus calls us to walk with each other, to work with each other. Christian stewardship is walking with each other on the long road to heaven, helping each other to be strong on this journey.
Allow Our Blessed Mother to guide your prayer and your charitable service. She appeared many times to simple folk, most recently to three shepherd children in Portugal, always with one goal: to lead them in prayer so as to be more charitable to others. “Pray the rosary,” she said, “so that people will not lose their souls.” Let’s make a quick prayer to her as we plan our gifts.
Note: Below is the prayer planning form (Stewardship of Time Commitment Form) that we used at Mass
Yesterday I offered four Masses for All Saints Day and saw a lot of people approaching the sanctuary for Holy Communion. We all have many virtues and vices. Even after we struck our breasts with the words mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, we were not ashamed to approach the communion rail at the edge of the sanctuary. St. Paul calls us “saints,” not because we try really hard to be holy (some of us do), but because of what we receive from God’s sanctuary.
On All Hallows Eve I visited a dear friend who was dying. She was a mother to many priests over the years, and mother to many others, in addition to her own seven children. During my two hours with Ann, a parade of children, grandchildren, and “spiritual children” came to be with the holy one on her deathbed. Her husband had gone back to God a few years ago, but she remained in the family home, surrounded by the vineyards they had all planted and cultivated over many three generations. On Tuesday, her children and grandchildren prepared dinner in a flurry of family energy around their dying mother. “She will go back to God on All Saints Day,” her eldest daughter said. I thought that would be an extraordinary grace, and prayed that it might be so.
Yesterday, All Saints Day, Ann took her last earthly breath just after the children led the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary around her. Today I placed her name in the canon of my first Mass for the dead, a quiet morning requiem offered as the sun was just touching the crystal windows above the altar. Is she a saint? Yes, she is a saint. She received the Holy One in Eucharistic Communion almost every day of her life, and several times in these last days from various priests. “The souls of the just are in the hands of God,” we will hear in today’s Mass, “and no torment shall touch them.” Ann was justified by God’s overwhelming grace, and the fact that she did not reject that grace. She is in the hands of God, and we pray for her soul, for certainly those who die with need for any purgation will be consoled by our prayers and sacrifices.
To be at the bedside of one who has lived a holy life, a joyful and simple life in God’s presence, is an unutterable consolation. I will never forget the Vigil of All Saints 2017, when I sat by the bed of a saint and prayed with her that God’s perfect will be fulfilled entirely in our lives. May she rest in peace. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.
The Gospel is “good news,” but does anyone see any good news from today’s Gospel? Jesus describes his Heavenly Father as a King who invited guests to a wedding feast for his son. When they refused to come, he burned their city. Is this the God in whom we trust? Does God really become enraged, killing and burning those who oppose him. In fact, at least one city is in flames just north of us, and many will ask how God can permit this. Our hearts go out to those who have perished or lost homes in Santa Rosa and Napa. They must endure a great trial and neighborhoods? Nearly 6000 buildings have been reduced to ashes, one of which is Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, at which two of my friends teach. Many of you have told me that your children have lost their homes. Has God done this to us in retribution for our infidelity?
God permits losses such as these, and daily run-of-the mill adversities, so that we will know that here below we have no lasting city. In the end, we have only Him. He takes away our property, our health, even our lives, so that we will direct our hopes to nothing less than eternal life with him and His saints. It is a hard lesson to learn, but ultimately we must become supernatural, not content with anything merely natural. Everything natural, sooner or later, will burn. We are pilgrims on this earth, meant for heaven.
The Feast Begins Here
The good news is that, though we lose everything in this world, we never lose God’s invitation to the wedding feast. That feast begins here, at the Mass, and is perfected in the life of the world to come. “On this mountain, the Lord will provide a feast of rich foods and choice wines,” the Prophet Isaiah says in chapter 25. “Juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. He will destroy death forever, he will wipe away every tear, he will remove the reproach from every person….” Historically, the Prophet is referring to Mount Zion and the restoration of the Jerusalem temple after the Babylonian Captivity. But for us in San Francisco, God is talking about this mountain—these three steps leading up to the altar. This is the mountain, and here is the place, where God will provide rich food and choice wine, healing and joy for each of us.
Why don’t we see it?
How is it that we don’t we it? How is it that so few come to Mass, this wedding banquet for His Divine Son? As long as he have life in this world, God invites us to the feast. A Christian responds to God’s invitation simply by attending Holy Mass. The King, in the parable, burns the city of those who refuse his invitation. Jesus exaggerates the king’s anger to stress that indeed, “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” We will burn if we do not attend the Mass, because without the Body of he Lord we are defenseless against the raging fires of evil in this world. With the Holy Eucharist, nothing can harm us. We are invincible because the almighty God lives within us. Many who lost lives and property in this devastating conflagration crowded into the cathedral in Santa Rosa. In the presence Church of the Eucharist, they have a home that no fire can destroy.
Are we doing enough to bring our loved ones back home? Not long ago I mentioned to a nice lady at Mass how much I miss seeing her husband. She spoke to him, gently, and he came back to Mass after many years. Sometimes it just takes a simple invitation, and if the time is right, the person will return to the sacraments. In other cases, as we all know, they ignore the invitation. From today’s Gospel, we should be convinced how serious it is to refuse the King’s invitation. The fact that 75% of Catholics in our country are not doing the one thing necessary to be saved from the fire should convict us. And yet we cannot force anyone to Mass. We do need to pray for them, and more, offer sacrifices for those who are trying to live their lives without God. This is what Our Lady of Fatima asked of the three children: make everything you do a sacrifice for sinners. Let’s do all we can to make the Sunday Mass the most important thing in our lives, and bring everyone we know to that saving banquet.
One hundred years ago today Our Lady appeared for the last time at Fatima, providing a miracle seen by more people than any prodigy in human history. The Miracle of the Sun was meant, however, to point to the message she gave the children over her six apparitions. What is that message? Prayer, Penance, and Adoration. Many today are receiving this message, thanks be to God.
Last Saturday the Cathedral in San Francisco was packed as we have never seen, all waiting for the Archbishop to consecrate the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The faith of most Catholics has become alarmingly anemic in the last few generations, too weak to save our souls or even affect our daily lives. In centuries past the Catholic faith built a peaceful civil order in Europe, but now is powerless to prevent society from unraveling at the edges. What civil leader or culture-shaper takes the Catholic faith seriously today? Like many priests, I am tempted to give up, but Our Lady gave us hope at Fatima. She said “Pray to Our Lady of the Rosary, for only she can help you.” The only hope for my parish and my archdiocese, and my personal life, is surrender to God’s will through her Immaculate Heart.
Archbishop Cordileone preached a powerful message at the Consecration Mass last Saturday. Here are his three main points. “Our Lady at Fatima called the children to prayer, penance, and adoration. I repeat that call to you: I call every Catholic in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to pray the rosary every day, as she asked, and the family rosary once a week. I call every Catholic in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to fast every Friday of the year, as she asked, giving up some food such as meat, or drink, or sweet, or even a whole meal. I call every Catholic in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to adore silently before the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus once a week, as she asked--fifteen minutes, a half hour, and hour. I am calling every Catholic in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to these simple but most effective practices, as Our Lady asked, for the conversion of sinners and for peace in the world. Only she can help us.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's complete Consecration Mass homily may be found here.
Fr. Joseph Illo
Oratory-in-Formation at Star of the Sea Parish, San Francisco