Isolation on earth is hell, and hell is isolation: to be cut off, to feel the terrifying emptiness of rejection, to sense that one’s own mother and father have no interest in one’s life. The overused word “exclusion” and the contemporary acronym FOMO (“fear of missing out”) manifest this essential fear of being left out. As healthy social structures collapse (especially the family and the “village”), technology promises to fill the vacuum. Corporations that are making lots of money on our loneliness tell us that a smartphone “connects” us to others. And yet, we are a city of isolated single people. Might I recommend a better way: religion. Of course, religion has a bad name these days, especially when some religious leaders are revealed as the most isolated of all people. But consider the very meaning of the word. “Religion” comes from the Latin re-ligare, literally to “re-tie” (“ligare” means to attach or connect, as in “ligament”). True religion reconnects us with God and each other, but it too has a cost. We must spend an hour in Church, in the presence of God and other people. We must also spend time and money on the “Domestic Church,” meaning Mom, Dad, and the children. If you don’t yet have a family (and God calls almost all of us to marriage), be faithful to some kind of godly community: a young adults group, a book club, a service group. Families, however, will always be the backbone of every village. I struggle every day to pastor a parish with so few families. The sense of isolation in our city parishes terrifies me. Every family is a treasure, which is why I am so grateful to those brave enough to get married and have children. The Feria family, for example, is a backbone to my church. Bud, Lorna, and their five children provide such a sense of stability. The Feria’s have never given up on each other, and, in a declining Catholic culture, they have been a radiant Domestic Church at Star of the Sea for thirty-five years. Their youngest, Fergus, just received his First Holy Communion and gratefully opens his mouth each Sunday to receive Jesus at the 9:30 Mass. May God bless us with many families like theirs! Ryan and Mary-Rose Verret are another family with five children. Authors of the Witness to Love marriage apostolate, they have given most of their adult lives to building up families. They will be staying at my parish this week while they speak to the Archdiocese and the famous Napa Institute. We are privileged to receive them!
On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry, delegate to Virginia’s Colonial Convention, urged his colony to establish defensive militias against England’s Royal Marines. Many of his fellow delegates argued for appeasement rather than confrontation, and in vigorous response, Patrick Henry cried out “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
250 years later, appeasement or resistance is again an open question. The growing tyranny today is not as obvious: no Royal Marines in redcoats march in America’s town squares. But perhaps you noticed something else in our town squares last week. Flags, and I don’t mean American flags. At the local Bart station, for example, rainbow flags hung proudly from every corner. Large rainbow decals had been placed on every train car. A rainbow-festooned guard stood on the platform silently waving his or her (the agent had suppressed its sex) flag in our faces. He or she wasn’t smiling. I felt as if I were in a movie about 1942 occupied Warsaw. The flag-wavers seriously won’t tolerate any difference of opinion. Corporations and workstations that do not display these colors will be questioned. How much longer before priests or anyone else who dissents from the party platform is arrested?
Rainbow flags are no longer about gay rights, which have for many years now been accorded to people identifying as gay or lesbian. Rainbow flags, along with exhaustive media campaigns, have become a means of coercing people into submission to the social dogmas of our elites. Paramount among those dogmas is the assertion that God does not exist, and that every person has absolute free choice. What was once the gay rights movement has become the transgender movement, which has become the transhuman movement. Finally the “sexual revolution” has shown its true colors. It insists that “choice,” the highest good, must remake human nature. But the problem with this dogma is that only the elites can afford “whatever they want.” The rest of us who cannot afford to create our own realities are provided with devices and pharmaceuticals that maintain the delusion of absolute personal autonomy, and we are “happy.” The capitalist elites in America and Europe are attempting what the Marxist elites attempted in Russia 102 years ago, and what the emperors did in Rome 2000 years ago.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, who grew up under Guinea’s Marxist dictator Sékou Touré, spoke recently in Paris. “As once during the decline and fall of Rome,” he said, “so today the elites care for nothing but increasing the luxury of their daily lives, and the people have been anaesthetized by ever more vulgar entertainments.” Critics of the Roman Empire called it “bread and circuses": the emperors kept the plebs happy by providing them with food and entertainment. Nero, meanwhile, owned half of Rome and built houses larger than many provincial villages, all for himself. Today, as long as I have unlimited access to the internet, I will not complain that the Silicon Valley elites consume fifty times more of the planet than the rest of us. But this kind of social arrangement cannot last. The tensions between the superrich and the ordinary American, and the anxieties of those at war with their own human nature, will destroy the individual and the society at some point. “I am convinced,” Cardinal Sarah continued, “that this civilization is living through its mortal hour.” Have we indeed chosen death over liberty?
I hope not. I hope someone will rescue western civilization from its death throws. In 1935, almost every leader of the European democracies professed admiration for two strong leaders: Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. In those years before the Second War, Winston Churchill was the only major statesman to clearly see and bravely oppose the growing tyrannies in Russia and Germany. Both Soviet Communism and German National Socialism denied, he said, the nature of the human person, whose innate dignity and liberty are not fabricated by the government but given by a Higher Power. Who is our Winston Churchill today? What gifted statesman can see through the current propaganda? Again, Cardinal Sarah in Paris last week: “We will not rediscover an understanding of the dignity of the human person unless we recognize the transcendence of God. Man is only great and most noble when he falls on his knees before God. The great man is humble and the humble man is on his knees!”
Do we create our own reality, or do we receive it from God? Do we order our lives together according to natural laws, or do we fashion a social order entirely based on human agency? Those societies that have attempted to order themselves without reference to God have quickly become tyrannical: National Socialism in Germany, Soviet socialism in Russia, and capitalist communism in China.
The avalanche of “Gay Pride” propaganda last week made me realize how late is the hour. First, I had to wonder who is paying for all this propaganda? Second, I realized that it’s not about gay rights but about control. And while most Americans feel uneasy about the obscenities paraded down main street in the name of “gay rights,” most of us have been appeasing the growing tyranny for many years. Few are willing to confront the menace.
Human societies cannot long sustain themselves without bending a knee to a Power beyond themselves. Although Cardinal Sarah is not the gifted statesman who can overcome the growing tyranny, he at least refuses to appease it. He courageously exposes the true colors of relativism’s dictatorship and points us to the only One who can help us regain our freedom. Cardinal Sarah’s entire discourse can be found at this site.
Today I am 28 years ordained, and Pope Benedict is 68 years ordained. A singular blessing of my priesthood is to have been ordained the same day as Joseph Ratzinger, and on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Both Peter and Paul, the acknowledged pillars of the Church, died in prophetic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A priest is ordained for three tasks: to serve the world by confecting Sacraments as “priest,” delivering the Word of God as “prophet,” and governing the Church as “king.” We priests lament, and our parishioners complain, about how much time priests spend on “governing,” that is, administrative work. American priests and bishops have become more like business managers than men of prayer or preachers of the Word. It’s easier to spend our time on building projects and staff management than offering daily Mass, praying a holy hour, or saying a rosary. It’s safer to sit on committee meetings and attend social events than to speak on unpopular issues.
One of those issues has flooded San Francisco this week, and indeed this entire month, and indeed this entire country. We call it “Gay Pride.” Many Catholics celebrate “Pride,” having forgotten perhaps that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. How many of my parishioners will attend the Gay Pride Parade this weekend, and bring their children, and what is my responsibility as their pastor to apply the light of the Gospel to this issue? Certainly no Catholic priest or bishop wants to speak about the "Pride Parade" this Sunday, but an excellent article appeared on Archbishop Cordileone’s Catholic San Francisco website: https://catholic-sf.org/news/should-catholics-attend-pride-events. One of our young adults tweeted this article and received a flurry of heated opinions. She inspired me to include the following in my own Sunday bulletin:
Should Catholics attend "Gay Pride" events? The "Pride" movement began in New York to protest discrimination against people identifying as gay and lesbian. The "Pride" movement, however, has become mostly a promotion of behaviors that are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some Catholics attend "Pride" events to support people who perhaps are still discriminated against. But we can work for justice without compromising the laws of God. Catholics should not participate in events that oppose the natural law or Christ's Gospel. The Gay Pride March is especially confusing to children. For a balanced and clear article in our Catholic newspaper on whether Catholics should attend Gay Pride events, please read this article: https://catholic-sf.org/news/should-catholics-attend-pride-events.
Almost certainly some of my parishioners, and many non-parishioners, will express anger over this paragraph. Others will laud what they say is a prophetic witness. Regardless of praise or blame, however, a priest must provide specific and relevant Gospel truths for people’s daily lives. He must teach what the Church teaches, as is so splendidly done in the article I cited in Catholic San Francisco. One must ask why it took a young lay woman’s prophetic witness to motivate her priest to speak directly on a clear and present danger to his parishioners’ well-being. Thank you, dear laity, for your prophetic witness, and may you continue to inspire us priests and bishops to exercise our prophetic role.
An alternative parade in San Francisco!
After Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, the Church celebrates two “feasts of the Lord,” which extend the glory of the Paschal Season into the year. These feasts Corpus Christi, which we celebrate today, and the Sacred Heart on Friday. Thus we conclude the great Paschal Season that we began on Ash Wednesday almost four months ago. We began by fasting on Ash Wednesday and we conclude by eating the Body and Blood of the Christ today. We enter now the “Sundays after Pentecost,” which will take us through the summer and autumn to the First Sunday of Advent this year on December 1st. We make our way to heaven within the mystery of Pentecost, in the age of the Holy Spirit, between the first and second comings of the Messiah. But it is the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the Corpus Domini, that sustains us during our pilgrimage to eternity. The Holy Eucharist is the Most Blessed and Beautiful of all the Christian Mysteries. Adoration (a Latin word ad orem meaning “into the mouth,” the mouth of God!) brings us into God’s very being.
SS. John Fisher and Thomas More
Yesterday was also celebrated the Feast of SS John Fisher and Thomas More, martyred in 1535 by King Henry VIII. Of all England’s bishops, John Fisher was the only one to remain faithful to the Church in the face of the King’s apostacy. Thomas More, Henry’s own Lord Chancellor and the most brilliant mind in the realm, also refused the King’s declaration against the Church, saying famously at his trial: “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” These men died rather than compromise the truth, whom they knew as a person, Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They echoed the serene faith that martyrs have made from the first centuries of Christianity. In the year 303 the Roman Emperor Diocletian made attending Mass a capital crime, just as Henry VIII did in England. One Sunday morning Roman soldiers arrived at the home of Emeritus, a Christian who had invited a priest into his home to offer the Holy Eucharist. The soldiers arrested 49 Christians and brought them before the local magistrate. “What did you not understand about the law?” he asked them. Emeritus famously replied to the judge: Sine Dominico Non Possumus. We can’t live without the Holy Eucharist. Life would be without purpose, without beauty, without goodness. We would have no reason to get up in the morning, to go to work, to be kind to our wives and children, to be honest in our business dealings. We would rather die. And they did die. The government put all 49 Christians to death in February of the year 304.
Religious persecution is on the rise in our own time. Will there come a time when Mass will be illegal in our country as it was in 4th century Rome and 16th century England? Last week a large color ad in the SF Chronicle advertised a legal firm for clergy abuse cases. Certainly, abusive priests must be brought to justice, along with all other criminal public servants. But what graphics did the ad use to describe abusive priests? It portrayed a priest’s hands breaking the Holy Eucharist over a silver chalice. Why did they choose an image of the Holy Eucharist to portray a horrible crime? Accuse the priest, accuse the hierarchy, but don’t accuse the Blessed Sacrament! A bill is rapidly making its way through the CA legislature, SB 360, which will put a priest in jail if he refuses to tell what he has heard in sacramental confession. The absolute confidentiality of confessional prepares the soul to receive the Holy Eucharist. I will read a letter from our Archbishop on this in a minute. But realize that an attack on the Sacrament of Confession is an attack on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The time will come when all Catholics will have to choose between peace with Christ or peace with this world. We will have to make the choice the bishops of England had to make in 1530, and the choice Christians had to make in 4th Century Rome.
Is Christ’s Body and Blood worth fighting for? Yes it is. Without the Eucharist we starve. The social order will collapse without this spiritual sustenance. So let us begin by coming back to Mass and adoration, because most of us have already lost faith in the Eucharist: only 20% of Catholics in San Francisco attend Mass anymore. A Catholic population that has lost its hunger for the Bread of Life will lose the Bread of Life. Its priests and its churches and its schools and hospitals will be taken away from them, and their culture will fail. Because: sine Domenico non possumus. We cannot live without the Lord’s Supper.
Today we celebrate two mysteries: that of fatherhood, and that of the Holy Trinity. First, Happy and blessed Father’s Day to all of us, not just to our fathers and grandfathers, but to all of us who have provided for, protected, and indeed procreated by their participation in God the Father’s gift of Himself.
We pray for all our fathers this entire month of June, the month also of the Sacred Heart, by placing their names between two lit candles in our sanctuary. I also invite you to place your father’s picture on the photo stand in front of the altar of St. Joseph, father of the universal Church. It’s not easy being a father these days, but we men have only to turn daily to God the Father to know how we can provide, protect, and procreate those entrusted to us by Him.
Our second mystery is the greatest mystery of all, and the source of all fatherhood in heaven and on earth, the mystery of the Holy Trinity. From the catechism #234: “the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them all.” The mystery of the Triune God takes us down into the core of all being, into the essence of God’s inner dynamism. God is one, but within this fundamental unity, God is three, a community of persons. He is one, but never alone, an eternal exchange of love between Persons. Without reference to the communal God, human community will always fail.
There is only one God, who is above all things and through all things and in all things. St. Athanasius wrote in the 3rd century: “God is above all things as Father; he is through all things as the Word (Jesus); and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.” Our best profession of the Holy Trinity is to make the sign of the cross well: intentionally, thoughtfully, prayerfully, joyfully. It is our testimony that Love—the eternal exchange of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is at the core of all reality. In the rite of exorcism, for example, the priest continually makes the Sign of the Cross both over himself and over the penitent. When the diabolical approaches to separate you from God and those whom you love, to disfigure your relationships, it will see the mark of the Three-in-One and fall back. So make the sign of the cross often over yourselves and your children.
God’s Sacred Communion
The human person—you and I—are essentially wired for relationship, to live in community with others. We need to be close to at least some other persons, because the fundamental template of the universe is a relationship between three persons, Father Son and Holy Spirit. In a godly relationship of love, no one owns anything exclusively but shares even his own person with the beloved. He knows the joy of trusting the one who loves him or her. The Father trusts everything he is and has to the Son, who trusts his father in the Holy Spirit, as he said with his last breath on the cross: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” So Our Lord says in the Gospel today from the farewell discourses in John 16: “Everything that the father has is mine…” The Spirit too, has no identity apart from the Father and the Son, as Our Lord says in the same passage: “The spirit of truth will not speak on his own, but will speak what he hears.”
God is one, but God is never isolated: he is essentially a communion of persons. And each of us is one, an “individual,” but we never need be isolated, because God invites us into communion within Himself, especially when we receive “Holy Communion.” We come together each Sunday to become one Body by receiving the Body of Christ. A city like San Francisco can easily isolate people, but we always have a home here in the Church. This morning I was doing my morning prayers in Golden Gate Park and a homeless woman walked by pushing her cart. She was completely alone, and she was talking to herself. She wasn’t talking to another person, but only to herself. She was disturbing my prayers, in fact, but I should have just jumped up to greet her in the Lord. Alas, a missed opportunity to break through someone’s isolation. But be very sure that God never talks just to “himself;” he communicates always to another person. We do not have to be self-absorbed or isolated, because the Holy Trinity always invites us into His Communion. Let us pray for all the lonely people, and let us be a Sacrament to them of God’s sacred communion.
Last week the London Guardian reported that Pope Francis has decided to change the translation of the Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation" (at least in the Italian translation).
The Pope has authority to change, not the Lord’s Prayer itself, but the translations and theological interpretations of the Lord’s Prayer. However, the Holy See should do this carefully, clearly, and systematically, and unfortunately this was not done. For example, if you google “changes to Lord’s Prayer” you will find stories from CBS, NPR, The Economist, The Irish Times, the Huffington Post, Fox, and CNN, and every other unofficial and theologically-uninformed source, but nothing from the Holy See! The Vatican website has nothing about the Pope's change in how we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the “perfect prayer,” the most fundamental expression of the Christian faith.
Having heard all about "changing the Lord's Prayer" on NPR or CNN but not from the Holy See, parish priests and bishops are scrambling to cobble some explanation for their people. In their Sunday homilies, thousands of priests will attempt to explain “what the Pope means," and most of us will not do a good job. But if the Holy See will not offer clarity, the lesser shepherds will have to do their best. Here is my attempt.
The closest text we have to Christ’s words (the Greek) clearly say “lead us not into temptation” or trial or test. Anyone who has suffered a test of faith through serious illness or death or betrayal or any of life’s sufferings will pray this prayer fervently. “Lord, you know best, but please: if there is any way I could avoid this cup let it pass from me.” Lead me not through this trial is of course Christ's own prayer the night before His crucifixion. Yes, the Pope’s native Spanish translation is a little inaccurate (No nos dejes en tentacion—"do not let us fall into temptation"), but the Greek is clear, and the theology is clear: we should pray, like Our Lord, to be spared great trials, but if it pleases God in His ineffable providence to lead us through “the shadow of the valley of death,” we should do our best to submit to his perfect will with joy.
The Church is suffering great confusion at this time, but even this confusion is a "temptation" that God permits for a greater good. In one of Isaiah's great Messianic prophecies, God was "pleased to crush his servant" (Isaiah 53:10, but please read the whole passage). Let us believe that He "leads" us through dark valleys only for our greater good. It is the stuff of which great saints are made. God “led” Mother Teresa through a dark night for fifty years, in which she felt that God had abandoned her, hated her, and condemned her to hell. “I am the most hated one,” she wrote in her diary. She had lost all sense of faith, and yet only this great “temptation” could open her heart to receive the infinite God. People wonder how Mother Teresa could love the poorest of the poor so deeply as to become one of them. The fifty-year long trial of faith through which God led her is the answer. By “leading us” through temptations, and that means going ahead of the one being led, "leading us by the hand," God leads us to heaven.
Let us hope, in a time of anguish and confusion for the Church, a great trial in which many Catholics feel abandoned by their spiritual fathers, God will purify our faith in Him alone.
I want to report on a curious phenomenon in the life of Catholic priests. We are issued a prayerbook upon ordination called “the breviary,” which we promise to pray faithfully every day. We carry this book, usually in a leather cover, with us everywhere, and many priests refer to it affectionately as "my wife." It is called the “breviary” because it is a “briefer” form of the monastic liturgical office. Monks pray from it eight times a day for a total of about three hours, while we parish priests commit to five times a day totaling about an hour. The first of these “liturgy of the hours” (the prayers punctuate our day, sanctifying the “hours”) is called lauds, or “praises.” We begin the day praising God. Lauds consists of three psalms, a scripture reading, the “Benedictus” from Luke 1, and the Pater Noster, among other scriptures. I’ve been praying these same prayers every morning for 30 years, and you would think they would bore me by now. But—and here’s the curious phenomenon—they grow more fresh and thrilling year by year. Why am I not weary of the same old words?
St. Augustine described Scripture as a limitless well. We peer into this well, we become dizzy gazing into the depths, and we never tire of discovering new beauty in these life-giving waters. Each morning the Scriptures in my breviary restore me to life. As I get older, a good night's sleep comes less easily. After a fitful night, who can face the day’s troubles? But every morning, no matter how difficult the night has been, the breviary recovers the joy of a new day. Each morning, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, "His mercies are renewed," and each morning our praises are renewed with them.
I can hardly believe my good fortune: I’ve been issued a device that restores my vitality every morning. Lauds only takes about ten minutes, and I usually pray it with the other priests in the church at 7am, but I can pray it anywhere, every day. Wherever in the world I am, simply taking that ten-minute soak in the Word of God restores the joy of my youth. We will run, and not grow weary, as the Prophet says in Isaiah 40:31. The Lord will renew their strength every morning, and they will soar like eagles. This is my personal experience of praying the breviary, and I find it amazing.
A dear friend of mine, a marriage and family therapist who is married with seven children and many grandchildren, recently articulated the profound injustice of divorce. The decline of marriage and family, it seems to me, should be the Church's number one social concern, both for her own good and the good of all humanity. Here is my friend's clear thinking on why "God hates divorce" (Malachi 2:16):
"The breakdown in marital morality is also a major contributor to sexual and physical abuse of children. Children living in a home with a parent and a non-parent partner are eight times more likely to suffer abuse. The emotional damage and inadequate supervision of children in broken homes also renders them vulnerable to predators outside the home.
"All our efforts to combat poverty, to address and prevent abuse, are as nothing in the face of this society-wide pestilence raging in our parishes and families.
"The Church needs a profound examination of conscience, repentance and amendment of life on how our failure to keep Christ’s commandments is wounding and killing children. The serious obligation to keep one’s marital vows and the sinfulness of breaking them is certainly the timeless teaching of the Church, spoken by the mouth of Christ himself."
On Sunday eight gunmen on motorcycles arrived at a parish in Burkina Faso (West Africa) just as Mass was beginning. They killed four parishioners and wounded many more. Two weeks earlier six Catholics had been killed during a prayer procession in another village of that country, just a day after gunmen had killed four Catholics at third village during Sunday Mass. Christian martyrdom in our time is the highest it's ever been in history, with the low estimate at one Christian killed every hour for his or her faith, and the high number at one every minute (between 8000 and 100,000 Christians were killed for believing in Christ last year).
Persecution, however, strengthens rather than eliminates Christianity. Roman governments tried to eliminate the Church over 300 years of bloody persecutions, but "the Roman Catholic Church" is still in Rome and the Caesars have long since gone. The Soviet government also tried direct persecution for 70 years, but that didn't work either. The current Chinese government’s attempts to suppress the Church through imprisonment and church demolition will also fail in the long run.
In the United States, Christians do not shed their blood, but certainly the Church faces both external and internal opposition. From without, those who cannot tolerate the Church’s influence in the public square seek to suppress her activity through the legal system. New Jersey recently expanded the statute of limitations for abuse cases … but only for the Catholic Church. The California State Attorney has just demanded full documentation on abuse cases … but only from the Catholic Church. The lawsuits that will come from government and private attorneys will drain parishes of their operating funds until, it is hoped, the Church simply gives up and goes away. But this will not work, because the enduring dynamism of the Catholic Church is not in buildings and endowments. It is in faith, which has far greater staying power than politics and money. The Church will be reduced to a remnant, I suppose, over the next fifty years, but in contracting it will grow more intensely focused. The Church of the catacombs glows white hot with faith, because faith is all it has left.
The Church is also undermined from within. Many weak and some malevolent clergy have diminished the Church’s influence by minimizing Catholic faith and practice. Catholics rarely hear clear homiletics on unpopular doctrines, and Catholic school students usually hear secular doctrines given equal weight to Church doctrine. How often have you heard clear preaching on artificial contraception or abortion? Homilies on tolerance, inclusion, social justice, and climate change are a lot more popular. Why is it that most Catholic school graduates cannot articulate the Church’s understanding of the human person? Most Catholics can easily parrot the party line on gender ideology but would be hard-pressed to explain Eucharistic theology or human anthropology.
Many weak and some malevolent clergy have minimized Catholic faith and practice. Catholics rarely hear clear homiletics on unpopular doctrines, and Catholic school students usually hear secular doctrines given equal weight to Church doctrine. Most Catholics can easily parrot the party line on gender ideology but would be hard-pressed to explain Eucharistic theology or Christian anthropology.
How can we strengthen our faith and rebuild the Church? This Thursday is Ascension Thursday, but most Catholics will not celebrate it or even think about this wonderful mystery, so fundamental to the Christian faith. The hierarchy has moved this mystery to Sunday, but most Catholics don't attend Mass even on Sundays, because the clergy has decided not to talk about missing Mass as a mortal sin.
How can we regain our crumbling faith? You can do what my mother did: properly celebrate the Great Catholic Feasts. The bishops had already stripped our Ascension Thursday altars when I was a boy, but that did not stop my mother. She piled us into the old station wagon for a trip to the mountains. She had us pray the Mass prayers and readings before sitting on blankets under the blue sky to eat and play games. Ascension Thursday shone in my boy's heart, despite episcopal malfeasance, because of my mother. Ascension’s promise, that one day I too will be taken up to heaven, sustains my adult faith to this day.
A New Priest
We welcome Fr. Michael Rocha to the Catholic priesthood, and to our parish, for his First Mass. Our new priest grew up in Modesto and began serving Mass as a boy in St. Joseph’s parish, in which I served for 12 years. Now our former altar boy will offer the Supreme Sacrifice as a man, in persona Christi capitis. He has become a father, and will, God willing, become more fatherly as he learns to serve the Church qua sacerdos. We welcome Fr. Michael’s family as well: his mother Emilia and his twin sister Michelle, along with all the aunts and uncles and cousins. Fr. Michael’s father returned to God a few years ago, and so we remember the soul of Frank Rocha as his son offers the Holy Sacrifice at our altar. To our guest priests and seminarians, in particular Fr. Patrick Summerhays, archdiocesan vocations director, and Fr. Chrysostom Baer, prior of St. Michael’s Norbertine Abbey, and other guests. Many thanks to our festival choir as well, led by Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, and to the Knights of Columbus for providing the barbecue after Mass.
Where are we going?
Our Lord’s words in the Gospel contain a little pun. Expedit vobis ut vadam…. “It is better for you that I go,” but literally “my going out expedites you,” from ex (out) and pedes (foot). So, literally, he says “my departure moves your feet out.” We’re all getting out of town together! But … where are we going? Our Lord gently chides the apostles for not asking this basic question: “None of you have asked me where are you going?” The fundamental question in life, it seems to me, is “Where am I going?” Certainly, I’m on the road to somewhere. If you feel a bit lost at times, ask yourself: Where have I come from, and where am I going? The fathers of the Church answered this question in terms of exitus and redditus: We came from God, and we are returning to God. The priest is ordained precisely to remind every living soul of this first principle and final end. In fact, he himself, following Christ himself, leaves home in search of souls, and then returns “home” (to God), dragging his net full of fish. “You will be fishers of men,” Jesus told Peter.
The Smell of the Sheep
Fr. Michael will report for his first assignment in Epiphany Parish, about 25 minutes from here. He will take on the menial duties of a parish priest, entering into the mundanities of every soul that comes through the doors of his church. A priest certainly takes on the “smell of the sheep,” but sheep sometimes do not smell so good. Far more importantly than simply smelling like the sheep, the priest offers sweet-smelling sacrifices to God on their behalf. God wants to sweeten the smell of the sheep through his priests. The priest encounters the people where they are at, but in faithfully bringing them the Word of God, the Sacraments of Christ, and the tender Mercy of our Father, the priest brings the sheep beyond this world’s paltry pastures into the shining fields of eternal joy. Meet the people where they are at, O priest, but do not leave them there! Fr. Michael has been ordained, that is, fundamentally ordered and oriented, toward Christ: both to be Christ and to bring Christ. And it is the priest’s intense interior life--his fidelity to prayer--that enables him to deliver Christ’s word, sacraments, and charity. To remind himself of this, he puts on the Roman collar during the long hours he will work every day, and he puts on priestly vestments during his liturgical service. May God give our new priest the grace of faithful perseverance until he himself enters the splendor of eternal life!
She covered him with perfect obedience
It is to be noted that Fr. Michael is 100% Portuguese. It was to his people that the Mother of God appeared 102 years ago in what many popes have said is her most decisive apparition. Her simple request was that we make good confessions, receive Holy Communion devoutly, and pray the rosary faithfully, because nothing can touch a man of prayer. We pray today that Fr. Michael remain a man of prayer, a man of the Eucharist, close to the Mother of God. She protects the sacred priesthood of all who call upon her day and night.
Finally, I want to relate a strange phenomenon at the ordination ritual yesterday. Fr. Michael put his hands into the Archbishop’s hands to promise obedience, which is the most costly of all the promises any of us make to God. The new priest put his hands into the hands of the Archbishop, who then asked him: “Do you promise obedience to me and to my successors?” There was a moment of silence in the Cathedral as we all wondered: will Michael submit himself in all things to the will of God, through his superiors? Will he submit himself to his pastor, to his bishop, and to the Church's teachings in everything? “God came to earth to obey,” wrote St. Jose Maria Escriva, “and to obey men.” Just then, in the silence, a bell began to ring. It was eleven o’clock, and the cathedral bells began to ring out the Ave Maria before striking the hour. As we all listened to Our Lady’s theme on the bells, the young priest answered “Yes,” echoing Mary’s yes to the angel. Fiat. “Let it be done to me according to thy will.” As the new priest made this leap of faith, I could see the Mother of Christ covering her priest’s imperfect obedience with her perfect obedience. Let it be done to you, Fr. Michael, as God has said. May you go with God, and may you lead us to Him by your holiness of life.
Fr. Joseph Illo
Star of the Sea Parish,