Welcome to St. Joseph’s for this glorious Palm Sunday! It may be a bit rainy outside, but inside our church Jesus Christ shines upon all us all.
We cast our palms before His glorious entrance into the Holy City, represented by the priest advancing up the aisle to the altar, and we take those palms home to place on our walls for the rest of the year.
Is Holy Week, just a myth—the most powerful myth in world history, but nonetheless just a legend? So declares secularist atheism.
We must realize that our society has been soaking in secularist atheism for fifty years. We are just about pickled in disbelief. In 1991, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict pointed out a consequence of the growing atheist mentality of our time. It is the historically unprecedented problem of drug abuse. Most teens use some form of illegal drugs on a weekly basis—this has never happened in world history. But what about adults? Stop to think that many people you know are addicted to legal drugs: Vicodin, Ambien, alcohol, marijuana. Why has the world become so unbearable to contemporary man?
No one can peacefully face the specter of a world without God, a world where nobody really knows me or cares about me. We cannot face a world where suffering has no meaning, where we cannot “offer it up” because there is no one to offer it up to. We must find some way of escaping such a world. Such was the sad fate, apparently, of Whitney Houston. The real problem, however, is not “drug abuse;” it is atheism. If God does not exist, our existence has no meaning either.
The solution? Maintain a robust belief in God, and practice that belief. Don’t be a fool—admit that someone greater than you governs the world, and all will be well in the end. Things have a way of working out, because Someone up there is governing the universe. Let us throw our palms before Him this Sunday, and persevere in practicing that faith throughout the year.
I am 50 years old this year, but I’m not the only one. Our Diocese is also 50 years old this year, having been established on January 13, 1962. I did my Master’s Thesis on the life and times of our very first bishop, Joseph Sadoc Alemany (1850-1884). The part of our planet that was to become the Diocese of Stockton first became “Catholic” when Junipero Serra traipsed north to establish his missions. In those days, we were part of “New Spain,” and later, became part of Mexico, and then for one month, the “Bear Flag Republic of California.” Finally, in 1848, we became part of the great United States of America. The first diocese covered all of our fair state. Over the years, that large diocese was carved up into the 12 smaller dioceses, of which we are one of the smallest.
Our Diocese is 50 years old, and our parish is 45 years old, having been established in 1967 on a bare and windswept plot of land on Old Oakdale Road, not much better than a dirt track on the eastern edge of town. Walnut orchards stretched from our parish towards the Sierras on what is now Orchard Supply Hardware and Orchard School. One of the first things I did upon arriving at St. Joseph’s in 1999 was to attend the ribbon-cutting of the new Orchard Supply Hardware, along with Mayor Dick Lang.
In five years, our parish itself will mark 50 years of history. Although I will not be here in 2017, I would like to see a history of the parish written for that occasion. I would certainly come back for the party! We have five years to gather all the historical records of our parish and write that book. I need a Parish Historian — someone who can gather all the old pictures and newspaper articles that chronicles our history. If you have a taste for history and would like to work on this book, please give me a call!
My Dear Fellow Pilgrims,
I write to you on St. Joseph's Day, and am looking forward to our Great Mass this evening, when we will celebrate our beloved Patron.
We are approaching the final stretch of Lent, with less than two weeks until Holy Week. Let us continue to pray for each other to be truly sanctified by means of our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One of my resolutions was to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament each day to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. What a joy it has been for me to spend these five minutes in the Chapel in the middle of each day -- such a beautiful little break from the usual stresses of life. Don't miss all the upcoming Lenten means of sanctification detailed in this email, especially our Parish Mission with Fr. Jay Mello next week.Upcoming Events:
We hope many non-practicing Catholics "come home for Easter." How beautiful it is to receive the sacraments every week or even every day! Why have so many Catholics abandoned the Church and the Sacraments? One major factor is the so-called "Sexual Revolution." The Church insists that real love is so much more than sex, and that sex itself is sacred. Our secular culture, however, insists that sex is nothing more than recreation. Consider this analogy: If Daddy gives his children all the candy they want whenever they want it, while Mamma makes them wait for dinner, which parent will they go to when hungry? Just so, popular culture tells us that we can have all the sex we want whenever we want it, while Holy Mother Church tells us that we have to wait for marriage. Most Catholics, of course, follow popular culture rather than the Church in matters of sexuality. The social damages from this so-called "sexual revolution" are devastating, but we largely ignore the problem. Lent is a time to face our problems, and solve them, with God's help.
I want to recommend a little book by one of my favorite Catholic commentators, Mary Eberstadt. It is entitled Adam and Eve After the Pill and should be available in our bookstore soon. She looks at the social facts straight on, and counsels a way back from the edge of the abyss. It's bracing and jolly good Lenten reading. You can watch a 2-minute trailer on the book
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Joseph Illo
Copies of Adam and Eve after the Pill
may be obtained here
. Book Trailer: Adam & Even after the Pill
Laetare: Rejoice to know that God is very much alive.
In 1991, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote a little book entitled Turning Point for Europe.Europe was at the point of deciding whether to maintain its historically robust belief in God, or to cast off its Judeo-Christian heritage for a radical secularism. Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out a phenomenon unprecedented in human history—the problem: drugs—the pervasive and persistent use of drugs by major populations who find life unbearable without them (well over 50% of American high school students abuse drugs). Why do we in the modern world find life so unbearable? Why can’t we bear the inevitable pains and distresses of human life, as people in former times could? Cardinal Ratzinger suggested one difference in our time: a pervasive and persistent atheism. As the German philosopher Nietzsche said in 1882, “God is dead, and we have killed him.” It is true, that we killed God, on the Cross. But is God dead? He is certainly not dead. He is very much alive, a cause of great joy with anyone who has eyes to see it. Jesus is our Joy, and his Holy Mother is the Cause of our Joy.
Blindness and Sight
In the Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man. The Old Testament rabbis taught that blindness, like all sickness, resulted from personal sin. Jesus, the New Testament rabbi, teaches that blindness is not from sin, but sin is blindness. Sin does not cause physical blindness; it causes spiritual blindness; it blinds a man’s soul; it imprisons a man in a gloomy darkness. The only deadly blindness is of the heart, not of the eyes. (“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.”) One man can see perfectly well, but not believe, while another man can believe with unshakeable faith, even though he cannot see. Seeing is not believing, but believing is seeing. “Do you believe in the Son of man?” Jesus asked the blind man. “I do believe,” he replied. I do not need my eyes to see.
“Seeing,” in the most important sense, means recognizing our own sin—that we are all beggars at the throne of grace—and “seeing” means knowing that God loves us infinitely, that my sins are just a drop in the ocean of his mercy.
Why is the world so sad? So negative? If anything happens in the world, the news media will make the worst of it. If it rains, how terrible the weather. If the weather is bright and sunny, how terrible the drought. Why is the modern world so inclined to see the bad in everything? Why do so many of us need drugs to cope with what we think is an unbearable world? It is because so many are blind to God’s goodness, his beauty, his providence.
God Lives. Rejoice: This is the day the Lord has made.
We live in a world culture that has long since declared that God is dead, that He never did exist. It is called radical secularism, and it is becoming dangerously aggressive. If secularist aggression continues unopposed at the current rate, Christianity, and especially the Catholic Church, will be illegal in ten to twenty years. A long winter of sadness will grip us; your priests and bishops will be eliminated, and the sacraments will cease, except in underground groups at great peril and difficulty. It has happened to many societies over the last 2000 years. It will happen again soon enough in our time, if we do not resolve to oppose it.
God is not dead. He is very much alive. We killed him, true enough, but He has risen from the dead. He makes every morning a new day for us. He is ever ready to sink our sins, our petty, miserable mistakes, into the abyss of his love for us. We have only to come to him. Laetare Sunday is a little prominence in the long valley of Lent, from which we glimpse Easter Sunday. We are halfway there. So let’s keep moving—we will be at Easter soon enough.
Let us turn especially to our Blessed Mother, most needed in difficult times. When the apostles realized what they had allowed to happen, that they had not stood by Jesus when he was arrested and crucified, they clung to Mary, his Mother. And to the apostles, gathered around Mary, he appeared after his resurrection. To the apostles, gathered around Mary, he sent his Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We too must gather around Our Lady, His Mother, in order to be faithful to Him. Immaculate Heart of Mary, cause of our joy, pray for us.
My scooter with pear blossoms in front of the
rectory--a fine day for riding!
Three weeks ago I gave a Lenten mission at St. Patrick’s parish in Ripon. It was at the height of the almond blossoms—indeed, it was the very weekend of the Ripon Almond Blossom Festival. For five days I drove to the parish of my good friend, Fr. Peter —through magical tunnels of pinkish-white blossoms, with blooming branches arching above me on both sides of the narrow country roads.
For the next two weeks our Valley was awash in blossoms of every type—almond, pear, apple, peach, plum, and nectarine. The weather that accompanies our blossoms is up and down—warmly inviting breezes one day, and sharply cold winds the next. The weather is Lenten Weather—high highs and low lows. We embark on these 40 days in search of God, who dwells within us. We fast and pray and give alms so as to find God in the still secret places of our souls. Fasting is difficult (remember take lots of deep breaths) and dedicated prayer will take significant bites out of our schedules. We have to rearrange significant areas of our daily routines—we have to surrender some comfortable habits for a greater good—if we are to get even a glimpse of Christ’s loving presence within our hearts. Just about now, halfway through Lent, we feel like we are running out of steam.
In this often trying pilgrimage of Lent, I thank God for the blossoms. They shine with hope. Their freshly fluttering innocence manifests God’s promise to “make all things new.” Reading the newspaper every morning seems like watching a train wreck in slow motion, or the gradual but inexorable collapse of a noble edifice. It seems like whole sections of our culture are caving in every few weeks—how can we regain what the aggressive forces of secularism are destroying week by week? And yet, just a drive in the country at blossom time restores my spirits. As discouraging as things become, God will always bring about a Springtime of blossoms and sunshine. Let’s enjoy this magnificent Springtime God has given us, and move briskly through our Lenten pilgrimage!
Homily: Real Love
Ten Commandments: a building plan for God’s temple
For the last ten weeks we’ve been covering the Ten Commandments in my 6th grade catechism class. “Today,” I say to the class, “we will study the 8th commandment. Does anyone know the 8th commandment?” They all look at the wall, to the Ten Commandments poster. “Thou shalt not lie!” they shout. Let me try that right now with you all: what is the 4th commandment? Honor your father and mother. The seventh commandment? Thou shall not steal. The tenth commandment? Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. Now, which is the most important commandment? Yes, that’s right, it’s the First Commandment, Commandment Number One: “You shall have no other gods before me.” God commands us to love him above all else. If we get that first commandment right, everything else will follow. But because we are a little slow sometimes, and a little forgetful, God spells out what loving Him looks like: no cussing, lying, stealing, fornicating, or killing. And go to church on Sundays!
These Ten Commandments reflect the natural law. They make us all—even atheists—better people. They make for an ordered and peaceful culture. Those commandments are a building plan for God’s temple on earth, but if we invite Christ’s Holy Spirit into this temple, the Church becomes a living body. We are that living body, and each of us temples of the Holy Spirit. These temples need cleaning out from time to time, as we see Jesus doing in the Gospel. In Jerusalem, the god, “money,” was edging out the true God. Jesus had to clean it out, like he cleans out our souls every Lent. He sweeps out our lust, impatience, selfishness, cussing, gluttony, and material greed, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We all need a good Lent every year to keep His temple pure.
Scrutinies: Jesus thirsts for you.
Today we move sixteen people one step closer to Catholic Church by having them undergo a “scrutiny,” part of the long process of initiation. The Gospel for this Mass is always the Samaritan woman at the well, John 4. Jesus is thirsty—for water, of course, but much thirstier for the love of this woman. He thirsts for your love and my love, and we give Him so little. He will end up dying on the Cross, abandoned by almost everyone, with these words on his parched lips: “I Thirst.”
When you think about it, this is our greatest thirst and our greatest hunger: to love and be loved. When I was in 10th grade, the teacher asked us all what we really wanted in life, more than anything else. I think I wrote something about a red Ferrari. But the girl next to me, a somewhat expansive individual with a big heart and even bigger voice, slipped me a piece of paper. I read these words on it: “I want to be loud.” I looked at her: “You want to be loud?” I was thinking that she was already loud enough. But she laughed loudly but then said shyly, “No, silly. I want to be loved.” I had misread her handwriting. But I’ve never forgotten that insight. “I want to be loved.” Of course, that’s what we all really want, even more than a red Ferrari. This first scrutiny asks our 16 candidates two questions: do you know Jesus’ thirst for you? Do you know your thirst for Him?
Let’s talk about love. This Samaritan woman by the well was thirsting for love, but not finding it. She had been married five times, and was on Man Number Six, though not married to him. Jesus knew this of course, but does not condemn her. He loves her utterly. In time, she comes to know of His tender love for her, His enduring love, his perfect love for her.
Enochs: “it feels so good…”
I want to talk to you about what happened at Enochs High School recently. Some call it love, and some call it disgusting. You know the story: 41-year-old Mr. Hooker left his wife and three children to move in with his 18-year-old student. I want to entirely respect Mr. Hooker and his young friend, Jordan. Like Jesus, we must not condemn them, but evaluate what they did. Letters flooded the Modesto Bee after this incident, and every one of them expressed disgust. But we must ask: why are we disgusted? We used to object to unmarried people living together, but that was long ago; we don’t find homosexual relationships disgusting; we don’t find pornography disgusting—I mean the stuff you see all the time on HBO and MTV. We have accepted all these sexual aberrations. We say, that’s their choice. Elvis Presley wrote a song in 1965 called “It feels so right; how can it be wrong?” If you google that line, you will pull up dozens of rock songs since then that say the same thing. If it feels right for me, it must be right for me. Mr. Hooker and his young friend insist that they feel so very right about their relationship. So who are we to say it is wrong?
I think we object to a teacher having sex with his student because we do, after all, want to believe in real love. Genuine love is not defined merely by feelings. Feelings come and go, but love is a decision. It is a decision to give to a wife and children rather than to take from them. It is described by words like fidelity, reverence, sacrifice, commitment, and devotion. We are disgusted when someone is so selfish as to leave his wife and three daughters for a private fantasy. He disregards not only his own family but all of us, because a stable society is built on marriage and family life, not personal fantasies. How long do you think Mr. Hooker and Jordan will stay together? Do you think they will build a beautiful family together? What will happen to Mr. Hooker’s wife and children, to whom he has already committed himself?
Contraception: Why Not?
How did America get so confused about love and sex? It started, of course, with Adam and Eve eating that darned apple. But more recently, it was the artificial contraceptive pill—hormonal contraceptives—that pushed us from genuine love into self-centeredness. Now, I apologize if you’ve never heard the Church’s teaching on contraception presented well. The Church, up this point, has not done a decent job of teaching it, and she has lots of enemies who love to confuse the issue. Artificial contraception is much in the news these days—everyone’s talking about it, so I too will talk about it.
When the hormonal pill was first marketed in the 1950s, marriages and families were strong. So were our school systems, our social structures, and our economy. As artificial contraception gained acceptance, the Church reaffirmed her constant teaching: that every act of marital intercourse, to be a genuine act of love, must be open to the transmission of new life. That teaching stands, while the culture around it has disintegrated. If you separate sex from babies, then the whole culture will disintegrate. Marriages will disintegrate, and with them families and eventually society will revert back to a kind of dark ages, where the strong rule the weak. Love and trust will fade from public life, to be replaced by violence, distrust, and fear. Is this happening?
There is a much better way to plan our families. There is a natural way, more effective than drugs, a way that respects a woman’s natural cycles and enriches relationships. Those who plan their families in the natural way almost never divorce—less than 3% compared with the national rate of 55%. It costs no money, but it does take commitment, discipline, and trust—the very stuff of true love.
Trust the Church
So, dear brothers and sisters, let us trust the Church. She knows what she’s talking about, because she was established by Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit. Even if you are not Catholic and don’t believe in the Church, you must admit that couples who plan their families naturally—who refuse artificial contraception—have healthier, longer-lasting relationships. Despite this evidence, the government and the media pundits insist that natural family planning does not work. Almost every political cartoon in the Modesto Bee over the last three weeks has mocked the Church’s proven wisdom on contraception. Now is the time for Catholics to understand what has always been taught. Now is the time to do our level best to live the genuine nobility that Christ calls us to through his holy Church.
The Battle for America goes on, now centered on the government’s “Mandate” that the Catholic Church pay for contraceptives and abortion drugs. The current Administration, and the News Media which serves it, insists that the issue is about contraception, while the Catholic Church insist that the issue is about religious freedom. Actually, both issues are at stake, but the government/media wants to talk about contraception, so let’s talk about contraception.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi declares that since most Catholic women use contraception, the Church should promote contraception. That doesn’t make sense. It would be like saying that because most college students cheat on exams, universities should promote cheating. Rep. Pelosi also falsely states that the Church (her Church, by the way) seeks to deny contraception to Americans. Also not true. Actually, what the Church seeks is simply to avoid being forced to purchase something that is gravely harmful to her employees.
The presidential administration insists that contraception is necessary health care for all Americans. But the only reason contraception would be necessary healthcare is if fertility were a disease. But fertility is the normal, healthy state of any organism. Infertility is the disorder that needs to be treated. Certainly we have to plan our families, but simply throwing artificial contraceptives at folks is hardly effective family planning. Contraceptives harm women, on a number of levels.
Contraception harms a woman’s body. In 2005, the World Health Organization declared the hormonal contraceptive a Class One Carcinogen. Is this “healthcare?” Our President would force employers to distribute artificial, cancer-causing drugs to their employees, while more effective, natural methods are available. Last year, the contraceptive companies sold $15 billion of their product and got lots of free advertising from the government. Follow the money trail to the proposed legislation…
Contraception causes immense social damage. If contraceptives are so good for society, why has family life deteriorated with their increased use? 50% of couples who contracept end up divorcing; more than half of Americans are not even getting married anymore. But only 4% of couples using natural family planning end in divorce. Is contraception good or bad for us? Most of us, as Nancy Pelosi correctly states, are dependent on contraception. But we can, and must, break the dependency. We must regain true health.
Homily: Listening is Love
Listening to each other
Today’s Scriptures point out the crucial virtue of obedience. Jesus was transfigured before them, and a voice from heaven said: “This is my beloved son.Listen to him.” God says, if you love me, you will listen to me. And if you listen to me with your heart, you will obey me.
How do you feel when you’re talking about something important with a friend and you realize … they have not been listening? You’re talking on the phone and your get the feeling that your friend on the other end has been checking his Facebook page while you’re talking. The other day my mother was talking to me on the phone and I wasn’t listening to her. At one point she asked me a question and … there was this pause. “What did you say, Mom?”
“Joe,” my mother said, “were you listening to me?”
Listening is love. We all know how it feels to be really listened to, and we all know how it feels to be ignored. And when the person we are listening to is an authority, listening means obedience. God is our ultimate authority—he is never wrong, and never asks of us anything that would harm us—so listening to God means obeying Him absolutely. “This is my beloved son—listen to him.” That means, obey Him with dedicated trust.
We have the fearful story of Abraham and Isaac in the first reading. God had promised Abraham a son, and Abraham waited twenty years to see that promise fulfilled. His wife Sarah finally bore Isaac and he became the beloved child of his parents’ old age. When Isaac is about 8 years old, God tests Abraham’s obedience by asking him to slaughter his own son. God seems cruel, even sadistic. If it were anyone else, we could not trust him. But we can trust God. We can obey him without fear. Abraham makes ready to kill his own son.
The Virtue of Obedience
Abraham listens to God. God asks us to listen and trust His Son, Jesus Christ, even when it seems impossible. But we find it hard. In Spanish, kids often say this in the confessional: “no escuche’ a mis padres.” I did not listen to my parents. They don’t just mean that they ignored their parents, but that they disobeyed them. The word “Obey” in Latin, “obedire,” simply means to “listen carefully.” This is my beloved son. Listen carefully to him. Obey him, even when he asks something extraordinary of you.
We are constantly told, in our culture, that “choice” is important. “Keep your options open.” “You have many choices.” You want to sell any product, call it a “choice” product. But once we know that something is God’s will, we have only one choice, not many choices. Our one choice is to obey his commandment, to follow him carefully. Love is listening; love is obedience. Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Jesus speaks through his Church
Jesus Christ speaks through the Church he founded 2000 years ago. Are we Catholics listening to Him? We are, but we could all do better. It is not easy to listen attentively every day to his voice in the Church, especially when Satan throws ten thousand conflicting voices at us through every conceivable form of social media. For example, God commands us to keep holy the Sabbath—to attend Mass every Sunday. But how many of us do that? I wonder how many high profile Catholics, the “Catholic” politicians and media stars, who presume to speak for the Church, keep this basic commandment. God commands us to tithe, but how many of us make a serious attempt to do that? God commands us to be fruitful and multiply, to have children, and to plan our families naturally, without artificially sterilizing our marital relations. How many of us obey this clear and constant teaching of Jesus Christ? On this issue of artificial contraception, which is so much in the news these days, our disobedience on this one point has led to manifold social problems, from broken families and social disintegration to economic depression. Many Catholics laugh when I say contraception is the root of most of our social and even economic problems. But the fact is, we Catholics have disobeyed Christ on this issue for two generations, and we are seeing the prophecies of Pope Paul VI realized. For forty years we have shut our ears to the clear teaching of Christ through his Church.
It is hard to listen to God, and to God’s servants, be they popes, priests, or simply our own parents. But it is harder, in the long run, not to listen. To listen well, we need to pray. So I beg you to obey God in the first and most fundamental of all his commandments: keep holy the Sabbath. Mass every Sunday. Consistent participation in the most perfect prayer, the Mass, will keep us from going completely off the rails. Let us pray to our Holy Mother, Blessed Mary, to keep us faithful to the Mass, and faithful to Christ her son.
I’ve been reading a bit of Wendell Berry recently. His small Kentucky farm reminds me of the small Pennsylvania farms of my boyhood. Berry is one of America’s more perceptive observers - he sees clearly why our economy, and our culture, is faltering. He wrote these words in 1979:
“The reason that we are a rich nation is not that we have earned so much wealth - you cannot, by any honest means, earn or deserve so much. The reason is simply that we have learned, and become willing, to market and use up in our own time the birthright and livelihood of posterity.” Thirty years later, we still are consuming and wasting five or six times the amount that we need or deserve. But now, perhaps, we get the feeling that it is running out. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price of our profligacy.
America was founded on the economically sustainable and humanly satisfying culture of the family farm. Small farms and large families made America a nation of honest citizens who practiced thrift, exercised strength of character, and cultivated a respect for other people, animals and the land God had given them. The virtues of hard work and frugality developed in Americans the strength to save the world from both fascism and communism in the century just past. But these virtues of the Great Generation have become “old fashioned.” We have become a nation of large, industrial farms (more akin to factories or mining operations) and small, fruitless families (more akin to personal interest groups). Our cars, our houses and our vacations now consume twice as many resources for half as many people. An America like this will not long maintain her wealth or moral stature. We sense that something is wrong. But rather than give up our wasteful lifestyles, we justify them by talking about “saving the planet.” Movie stars make grand speeches, but they maintain several gigantic homes for their one or two children.