From the Chaplain's Laptop: What our Country Needs
August 31, 2012
Someone told me that Rick Santorum had given a speech
at the Republican National Convention that spoke to some of the real issues facing our country. I pulled up a video on an ABC news site and began to listen. About seven minutes in, Santorum mentioned “getting married before having children.” A few seconds later ABC cut him off—a political commentator began analyzing his speech even before it was finished. I considered that rather odd, and frustrating. I wanted to hear the Senator from Pennsylvania, not a pundit. I found another site that (thankfully) streamed Santorum’s entire speech without interruption. Just after the point that ABC had cut him off, Santorum went on to clarify the consequences of the assault on marriage. No wonder ABC would not let us hear that part. Santorum went on to praise “hands that pray” and a party that “welcomes all life, born and unborn.” I heard bits of other speeches at the Convention, and most talked about “belief in America” and “belief in ourselves.” Rick Santorum got as close as anyone to urging belief in God
when, for instance, he insisted that we can only realize our potential “with God’s help.” But even that indirect reference to religion was too much for ABC News.
What does our country need? More jobs? More empowerment of the private sector? More oil? Sure, those things would help. But what it needs is repentance
, and few dare to say it. This struck me today as I was reading the breviary Scriptures from Jeremiah 3. God said, “How I should like to treat you as sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage among the nations…but like a woman faithless to her lover, even so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel.” What Israel had that we do not have is a national sense of repentance.
It was not always this way in America. Consider the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation: “I recommend to [my fellow citizens] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers…” The President of the United States recommended both thanksgiving and humble penitence to God
. Until our nation publicly acknowledges from Whom all blessings come, and does “humble penitence for our national perverseness,” there is little hope for any positive change, no matter who is elected in November.
Homily: How Best to Thank God
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Today the Gospel speaks to us of the famous ten lepers, all of whom Jesus healed of leprosy. Only one returned to render him thanks. And Jesus seems a little hurt that the other nine did not take the trouble to thank him.
We often say, “I’m only human … I just want a little thanks.” Jesus Christ is not only human, but he is human: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). One of our greatest weaknesses is ingratitude. We often do not take the trouble to thank God and God’s servants, and of course if we feel others do not thank us our noses go way out of joint. I can remember my first month as pastor of my last parish. The business manager took me aside one afternoon and said: “Father, I know you appreciate us, but you could tell us once in a while.” And I have been tempted to think many times, “all I do for this parish, and nobody appreciates it!”
So Jesus feels slighted, and rightly so. In fact, we owe God an infinite debt of gratitude for His infinite gifts, both for creating us and for redeeming us. He asks us to thank Him, surely not for his own good (he doesn’t “need our thanks”) but for our own good. It is good for us to cultivate and express genuine gratitude. Not the superficial “thank you” phrase so often parroted in our culture, but a welling up from the heart gratitude for His very presence.
How best to thank God? What gift can we give to the one who has everything? Well, what Jesus seems to want most of all is our faith. The lone leper, a Samaritan, a “double leper”, so to speak, renders him thanks: ‘gratias agens.” But how did he render thanks? He fell on his face at the feet of Jesus and magnified God in a loud voice: “cecidit in faciem, cum voce magna magnifcans Deum.” He professed his faith in the divinity of Christ. He believed in him. He prostrated himself before Jesus, which is done only before a deity. And Jesus makes this clear in the last line of our Gospel: “Rise and go: your faith has saved you.” Of course, what he means is that God has saved him, through his faith. But he first had to make that profession of faith in the Divine Person of Jesus.
It is precisely this faith that is seriously on the wane in our time. Without faith, nothing works. Without faith, there is no real love, no gratitude, no justice, no equality, no hope. All virtue, all prosperity and human flourishing, depend on one foundation: that there is a power greater than ourselves ordering the universe. Acknowledgement of God’s providence in human history changes everything for the individual Christian. Faith in God, not in man, served as foundation for the great flourishing of culture in the Christian west. This culture stands on the precipice in our time, as the faith on which it was built recedes.
Thus has Pope Benedict called for a Year of Faith. Let me read to you from the document Porta Fidei.
Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people…. In the light of all this, I have decided to announce a Year of Faith. It will begin on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, … The starting date … also marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
We all have a crucial part to play in this Year of Faith. You who are tutors, must bring the faith to your students. All scholarship has its beginning and also its proper end in faith, “fides quarens intellectum” presupposes a faith, but also leads to our final end, union with God through faith. The Catechism begins with the Creed, but ends with Prayer, the deepest expression of faith. You who are students, must bring the faith to the world beyond this campus. TAC has set out to form witnesses to the Truth, “co-workers in the truth” in the words of Pope Benedict. Faith in God is the highest expression of Truth.
We count on Our Lady to help us, the woman who believed in the promises of God. In the concluding words of Benedict’s letter, “Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed “blessed because she believed” (Lk 1:45).”
Funeral Homily for Neil Phillips
August 24, 2012, Modesto, CA, by Fr. Joseph Illo
I wish to welcome all who have come to this funeral to pray for Neil Phillips’ soul and to console his beloved wife Stacy, the five children, three grandchildren, two sons-in-law, and Neil’s siblings and extended family. Many of you have traveled from a distance—a special welcome to Mr. Dino Durando from Kansas City, who brought Neil and Stacy into the Religious Education Department of our parish many years ago before he took a new job with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. We welcome local priests, including Fr. Ramon Bejerano, pastor of St. Stanislaus parish, and Fr. Michael Brady, Chaplin at Central Catholic High School. Many thanks to Fr. Mark Wagner, pastor of St. Joseph’s, and the staff of this parish, for organizing such a beautiful requiem Mass. We welcome also Fr. Jerry Jung, an Opus Dei priest from Berkeley who leads a regular men’s recollection at our parish. Many thanks to Fr. Matthew McNeely from St. Stephen’s Parish in Sacramento, and his assistance with the Latin form of the Mass, and for the other members of the Fraternity of St. Peter, including seminarian Tim O’ Brien from Nebraska, and all the extended family. For five generations the Phillips family have been such an institution in the Patterson-Modesto area that we all feel like part of the extended Phillips family.
Neil died as he lived: in imitation of Christ
Neil Phillips was on his way to an Opus Dei men’s recollection when he was killed in a tragic accident last Thursday. He was on his way to study the Scriptures with other men and to pray for his family when God took him. The Founder of Opus Dei, St. José Maria Escriva, wrote these words in a little book called Furrow: “Those who flee like cowards from suffering have something to meditate on when they see the enthusiasm with which other souls embrace pain. There are many men and women who know how to suffer in a Christian way. Let us follow their example.” By the grace of God, Neil Phillips was no coward. Over the years, he had learned from the example of the saints how to face difficulties with composure, even with joy, and to make of his life a gift to others, with God’s help. His life, too, served as an example of Christian manhood, of suffering life’s difficulties with patience and gratitude.
At 10:20pm last Thursday, Fr. Mark called me on the way to Doctor’s Hospital. “Neil Phillips has been killed in a car accident,” he said. I didn’t realize how much a brother Neil was to me until I heard those words. I have seldom felt this sense of loss as I have in the days following Neil’s death. For so many of us, Neil served as a kind of bedrock in our lives. And if he was that for us, what must’ve he been for his beloved wife and children?
Fr. Mark blessed Neil’s body at the hospital, as our hospital chaplain, Fr. Larry Guerrero, had done an hour earlier. Fr. Mark told me that Neil looked like Christ in noble repose after the crucifixion: very few marks of the trauma on his body—a few scratches on his face from the flying glass—but a tall, fit body, with composed features and beautiful proportions. “It was like looking at the image of Jesus on the shroud,” he said. His body in death portrayed his person in life, by the grace of God. He lived a well-ordered, valiant, and self-sacrificial life, in imitation of his Master.
Lazarus: purchased with the Blood of the Lamb
Holy Mother Church gives us the Gospel of Lazarus for the Solemn Requiem Mass, the Mass for the dead. Jesus loved Lazarus of Bethany with a particular brotherly affection. Lazarus is dying, and Jesus lets him die—He does not stop death. He tolerates it, in view of a greater good. “This illness is not to end in death,” he tells his disciples, “but is for the glory of God.”
Still, faced with the death of her brother, Lazarus’ sister Martha questions Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died….” In other words, “why didn’t you heal him? Why did you let the one you love die?” Death certainly tests our faith in God. I have known many people to lose their faith, at least for a time, after the death of a loved one. “Don’t worry,” Jesus tells Martha, “your brother will rise.” “Yes, I know he will rise on the last day, but I miss him now,” Martha replies. Jesus simply says, “I am… the resurrection and the life…” He doesn’t stop death, but he puts death in its place. Death is relativized, subordinated to Life. Jesus is Life itself. Death can be extremely painful, but it no longer has the final word. As we chant in today’s Mass at the Preface, “for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended….” “Do you believe this?” Jesus asks Martha. “Yes, Lord, I do believe…” she responds. And her response, her faith, makes all the difference.
Still, Jesus himself, facing the corpse of his friend Lazarus, groans in deep distress, as we read a few verses later: “and Jesus wept.” Death distresses the most faithful disciple, and so the choir sang the terrible Dies Irae chant before this Gospel: “Day of wrath and terror, that terrible Day…” Death is no joke. Jesus will raise Lazarus, he will destroy death, but only at the price of his own death. The price must be paid.
The finest manner of living one’s life here below is that of imitating the life of Christ, of daily destroying death by dying to ourselves, by offering ourselves to God for others in small ways, and big ways when called upon to do so. A Christian man, in particular, provides for others by taking the bullet, so to speak, by sacrificing himself for others.
One of my friends from this parish told me that his office assistant was in the car opposite Neil’s truck last Thursday. She considers that Neil saved her life: the semi rig was coming for her, but Neil’s truck deflected the impact to her vehicle.
Our Mother, at the hour of our death
After the rosary last night, a woman was waiting to speak to me. Her name, she said, was Adrianna, and she was driving the car just in front of Neil’s truck through that intersection. The semi only clipped her back bumper even as it hit Neil’s truck with full force. After the impact, she got out to help. She cut Neil’s seatbelt loose and pulled him free, although he was unconscious. She called 911. Later that night, she found a card that had come off Neil’s clothing and gotten lodged in her own clothing. It was a prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes. I will read the prayer on Neil’s card to you:
Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes
O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of
Mercy, you are the refuge of sinners
and the comfort of the afflicted.
Look with mercy on us. By appearing
in the Grotto of Lourdes you gave
the world hope. Your Son has healed
many, thanks to your compassionate
intercession. Therefore, I come
humbly before you to ask for your
motherly intercession for all who
are sick in body, mind and spirit.
Holy Mary, pray for us now and
at the hour of death.
It is said that many a man calls out for his mother when he knows he is dying. We all need a mother in our last agony, and so Catholics pray that Mary hear our prayer, “now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” I speak now to my brothers in this church, the men and boys. Do not, my brothers, be ashamed of your mother. Pray the rosary, pray the angelus, stay close to her now, and at the hour of your deaths. Neil practiced a deep filial devotion to the Mother of God. I am quite sure that he called out to her at the instant of his death, because he called out to her continually throughout his life.
God gave us the life of Neil Phillips. God also permitted the death of Neil Phillips. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
If you feel called and are able, there is a fund to assist the college education needs of Neil’s two youngest sons, James (age 8) and David (age 13). Please send your gifts to:
Checks Payable to: "American Funds"
C/O FMC Wealth Management
Attn: Deb Fields (Phillips Sons)
2659 Townsgate Road, Suite 246
Westlake Village, CA 91361
(Your gift will be acknowledged by FMC)
There is also a fund for Neil & Stacy’s oldest son, Michael Phillips, who is a senior at Texas A & M this year. http://www.gofundme.com/12mgq0?utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Emails
My “blogmeister” (the redoubtable Dr. Anthony Parisek of Tracy, California) informs me that 102 subscribers to this erstwhile bi-weekly commentary are anxious for a new post. True enough, my last submission was a July 28 homily, and since then I have written neither a “pastor’s message” nor a homily, for the simple reason that I ceased to be a pastor as of August 1. On August 2 I left my parish for the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming to shepherd 13 Wyoming Catholic College students on their Freshmen Orientation, which consists of 21 days hauling 50 lb. backpacks up rather tall mountain passes (upwards of 12,000 feet). I joined them only for eight days, and certainly did not bring my laptop along for the ride. These students were among America’s finest, and no one learns leadership and sacrifice better than on such a journey.
On my last day in camp, I jumped over a log and severely torqued my ankle, such that the ensuing 6-hour horseback return to civilization was less pleasant that it could have been. Still, the trip was magnificent, and I have a foot quite similar to a blue watermelon to remind me of the experience. Three days ago I moved into my new digs at Thomas Aquinas College, where I will be one of three chaplains for the foreseeable future. I am ready, therefore, to resume my commentaries on the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is made manifest in this good old world of ours. My dear Anthony will begin posting College homilies and other reflections from your scribe tomorrow. Happy Sunday!