From the Chaplain’s Laptop: Subsidiarity
November 25, 2012
We are at the end of the liturgical year, having just celebrated the last Feast of the Year, Christ the King. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, asks Jesus if he is a “king.” The Messiah replies: “Not a king of this world.” Kings of this world buy political power, and as much as they can get; the King of Heaven testifies to the Truth, and eternal truth. “Truth?” Pilate sneers. “What’s that?” Truth is anything that will get me more power, he thinks. Jesus speaks a language that Pilate cannot or will not understand.
The U.S. Government is growing bigger and more powerful. The bigger it grows, the less it speaks the language of truth. Speaking truth to power in this country will get us thrown in jail before long. But here is a truth that probably won’t get me fined just yet: “The government that governs least governs best.” An American president said that, but he was only reformulating an old Catholic principle, “Subsidiary.” This Principle holds that folks should govern themselves at the most local level possible, beginning with the family, and then the neighborhood, and then the village, and then the county, and then the state. Most decisions can and should be handled on the local level. The State or Federal government should step in only when absolutely necessary, because they will be the least knowledgeable, and the most wasteful, means of governance.
I live at a small Catholic College (Thomas Aquinas College, student population 365). The College governs itself much more effectively than larger institutions. Rather than take certain federal tuition subsidies, for example, Thomas Aquinas College offers an extensive work-study program. With 75% of the student body working on campus, the College hires relatively few outside staff. Students do most of the landscaping, maintenance, janitorial, food service, and even development, admissions, and clerical work. The College runs extraordinarily well, with pristine lawns, spotless bathrooms, and a well-oiled physical plant. Students pay less tuition; the College pays less for staffing; students take pride in their work; the College campus looks beautiful all the time. The principle of Subsidiarity is manifest at Thomas Aquinas.
Earthly rulers want power. In democracies, they promise people an easy life in return for that power. People usually see through this kind of thing, but not in periods of cultural decline. I must say that the students at Thomas Aquinas College are in a cultural incline. They don’t want an easy life. They want the truth, and they want a beautiful College, and they are willing to work for both. With joy they cut the grass, paint the buildings, clean the bathrooms, and spend hours over their books, because it is their College. Life is beautiful in this Village, in this Shire, even without much help from Big Brother. We serve the King of Kings while we work, and we don’t have much need for an earthly king.
Homily: Receiving the Word in Great Affliction, with Joy from the Holy SpiritExtraordinary Form Second to Last Sunday of the Year
November 18th, 2012The most persecuted religion today “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers” (1 Thess 1:6).
St. Paul indicates in our first reading that he who “receives the word,” that is, he who believes, does so in great affliction, but also with joy from the Holy Spirit. In this fallen world, faith is always persecuted.
In 2010, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone stated that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. Two weeks ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the same thing.
, for example, radical Hindu groups have been burning Christian churches and homes for the last ten years. In Nigeria
last month the Muslim group Boko Haram drove a truck packed with explosives into St. Rita’s church during Mass, killing eight. In Canada
, the Education Minister of Ontario declared October 10 that the province’s Catholic schools may not teach students that abortion is wrong. In 2005, a Pastor in Alberta
faced a jail sentence for publishing letters critical of homosexual conduct. In Sweden
, a Pentecostal pastor was sentenced to one month in prison for citing Biblical references that condemn homosexual acts. In Iraq
, 72 Christian churches have been attacked or bombed since June, 2004. In the USA
, the Church faces crippling penalties if it does not fund procedures that violate its conscience. In the recent words of Cardinal George, “This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain.”A Mustard Seed and a Bit of Yeast
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,”
And yet, Jesus promised Peter and all Christians that the jaws of death would not prevail against the Church. In the Gospel today, Jesus portrays the Kingdom of Heaven, which on earth is the Church he founded, both as a “mustard seed” and as a “bit of yeast.”
First, let us consider the Mustard Seed: it is so small as to be almost invisible to the unaided eye. In the year 33AD, practically no one in the Roman Empire noticed the routine execution of a Jewish criminal, with his mother standing by. But from this routine event poured forth an infinite volume of divine love. The Church welled forth from this crucifixion, and she flourished, watered by the blood of her martyrs. As difficult as it is to accept the results of the national election two weeks ago, I can guarantee you that it was providential. The adversity to come will water the growth of the Church. We can only hope that now it is our chance to be saints and martyrs. It is our turn to suffer for the sake of the Name. If the coming persecution would not be for our good and the greater glory of God, he would not have permitted it. So none of us should fret, or get depressed, and certainly no one should give into fear. God is ever with us.
Let us also consider the bit of yeast. Even tinier than a mustard seed, one microscopic spore of yeast will swell until it permeates an entire loaf of bread. So the Church expands until it fills the entire earth. Christ’s Church is indefectible.
No one can destroy it, and it will always triumph in the end.The Year of Faith
In this Year of Faith, we must have confidence in the Word of God which has been entrusted to us. We cannot be so short-sighted as to concede defeat to the present secularization. The Church will go one growing, despite any attempts to destroy her. We must keep the faith. We must live the faith. We must insist on the faith.
In the words of Cardinal George, secularism is on the “wrong side of history.” Secularism’s Culture of Death cannot sustain itself any more than atheistic communism could sustain itself. It will collapse, and then the world will turn back to the Church, to those of us who have kept the faith, who have lived the faith, who have insisted on the faith.
Let us turn to Our Lady, who kept her faith when all was lost, at the foot of the cross. She will stand by us, if we stand by the Cross. I want to conclude with a prayer to Our Holy Mother composed by Mother Teresa:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of humility, that I may receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as you loved Him, and serve Him as you served Him. Amen.
I sent the following letter to my parishioners after the last general election, in 2008. Despite the aggressive anti-Christian action of many politicians over the last four years, we Catholics again elected a slate of anti-Catholic and pro-abortion leaders. This letter is perhaps more to the point now than then. The only difference now, is that St. Joseph’s parish now has confessions every weekday at 5:00pm, in addition to the weekend schedule noted in the 2008 letter!
November 21, 2008
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Dear Parishioners of St. Joseph’s,
Recently I said at Mass: “If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate on November 4, and you knew what you were doing, you need to go to confession before receiving communion.” Have I spoken out of turn? I will answer that question, as best as I can, at the end of this letter.
All Catholics have the grave obligation to defend every innocent human life, but in particular the poorest and neediest. Jesus said: “What you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.” There are many kinds of poor in Stanislaus County. The homeless, the incarcerated, the elderly poor, the infirm and those in nursing homes all need our special love. I am privileged to pastor a parish that lovingly serves all of these types of needy people. But there is an entire class of Americans who are targeted for focused attack, a people with no rights, whose very lives are at the whim of judges and politicians. I of course speak about Americans before they are born. The abortion industry, and our legal system, refuses to recognize the humanity of the human fetus. But if a human fetus is not human, what is it?
We Catholics, and all people of good will and sound reason, must defend the lives of these poorest of the poor. Protecting unborn people from abortion is the defining issue of our time, as constantly clarified by our Church: “Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable,” wrote John Paul II in the Gospel of Life (1995). “Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name.”
Many Catholics voted for candidates on November 4 who stated clearly that they would promote abortion. President-elect Obama, for example, promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would do upon taking office is to sign the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act,” which would grant unlimited access to abortion in all 50 states up until the moment of live birth. Many Catholics voted for such pro-abortion candidates thinking that their good positions on other issues, such as the war or health care, outweighed their deplorable stand on abortion. Many discount “one-issue voting,” but if the issue is grave enough, no one would object to “one-issue voting.” For example, if the issue were legalizing slavery, no one would hesitate to vote against a candidate on this one issue. In fact, this election was a largely one-issue vote anyway, and that issue was the economy. What we Catholics, and all people of sound reason, must understand, is that a refusal to protect all human life is a deal-breaker. Abortion is a much graver issue than slavery.
My dear brothers and sisters, I know many were confused about the issues. It is a difficult time for us all, and we are facing new social and cultural issues. Neither have your pastors and bishops spoken clearly and with one voice on these issues. But one thing is clear and certain: we can never vote for a candidate who promises to promote abortion. No one who promotes the killing of unborn people can be entrusted with the public good. “The greatest destroyer of peace in the world today,” wrote Mother Teresa, “is abortion.” It is not the economy, war, health care, poverty, or terrorism. It is abortion. “Human life,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception….the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of civil society and its legislation.” In other words, this is a civil rights issue, We have to speak for those who have no voice. We must demand honesty from our public officials, who are clearly dishonest when they pretend that the human fetus is not human.
If you are one of the 54% of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position, and you knew the gravity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion. Don’t risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously. I appeal to your conscience, grounded in Church teaching. To some degree we all have the blood of these children on our hands. I myself have confessed sacramentally, and I confess to you now, that I have not done enough to defend these children. Their blood is on my hands too. We will see them in the next life, and they will ask us why we let them die.
Pope Benedict wrote in 2004 (as Cardinal Ratzinger) that Catholic public officials who "consistently campaign and vote for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" are guilty of grave evil. If they have been warned to abstain from Holy Communion and persist in promoting abortion, he wrote, “the minister of holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” to them. In 2002 he had written that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program … that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”
If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate, I cannot say for certain if you should refrain from Holy Communion. I don’t know what you were thinking. But voting for a candidate who promises “abortion rights,” even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion. It is a grave mistake, and probably a grave sin. No issue can compare with the legalized destruction of a mother’s child. I am writing to you because I love you and I care about your relationship with God. I am also writing because God requires this of me as a Catholic priest….
We do not have to settle for “pro-abortion” candidates. We can and must demand that our public officials protect the inalienable right of all Americans to live and flourish. If every Catholic in his district told Congressman Dennis Cardoza, for example, that we support him and most of his policies, but that we will not vote for him unless he defends all human life, he would change his position. All of us Catholics, all people of sound reason and good will, can and must simply require our public officials to act reasonably and responsibly in respect to human life.
If you need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our priests hear confessions on Fridays from 6:30-7:30pm, and Saturdays from 8:30-9:30am and 4-5pm. May God bless you, our families, our parish, and our nation.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Joseph Illo
Homily: Be Not Afraid
November 11th, 2012
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we honor our military veterans who have defended our homeland’s sovereign freedom. An army protects her nation’s freedom from external tyranny. Political leaders protect a nation from internal tyranny. Today’s opening prayer reminds us that freedom is essentially the pursuit of God’s will: “Almighty and merciful God, … unhindered in mind and body alike, may we pursue in freedom of heart the things that are yours.” Freedom is the capacity to attain the “things that are Gods”—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Last week’s election focused on the things that are man’s (mostly the economy) and not the things that are God’s (respect for human life and freedom of religion, for example). Some of the leaders we elected, sadly, disregard human life, and so violate human liberty. It is an unhappy and tyrannous state that strips God’s natural law from the public square. We honor our veterans best by defending America from internal threats to her freedom, as they defend her from external tyrannies.
In the Gospel today, Jesus praises the indigent widow for giving her mite to the temple treasury. Tithing—giving ten percent of one’s increase—was obligatory for Jews in Christ’s time, but the widow gave not 10% but 100%. “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” The Church does not specify the Biblical ten percent, but the fifth Precept of the Church, as defined in Canon 222, states: “The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church, so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for apostolic works and words of charity.” The essential purpose of charitable giving, however, is not to fund a need; it is simply to give. The poor widow’s mite certainly did not fund much of the Temple’s expenses, and yet Jesus said that she had given more than the wealthiest benefactors. We don’t give to a need; we have a need to give. Sacrificial giving is absolutely essential for our sanctification, as an act of surrender to God’s providence. In giving from our substance, we proclaim God sovereign Lord and possessor of all we have. Consecrated religious make an absolute vow of poverty. Those of us in the world give a sacrificial percentage of our wealth as a sign of our absolute trust in God’s providence.
As a layman, I gave a portion of my income to the Church, but as a priest I figured I was exempt. Then I heard someone give a convicting talk on sacrificial giving. I decided to start giving 10% off the top, but the timing was bad—always is. I had just bought my first new car (I still have it today—runs like a top). It took me three years to save $17,000, but the car ended up costing $27,000. So I borrowed $10,000 from a friend and told him it would take two years to pay it back. Just after I started tithing to my parish, a series of strange windfalls came to me over the next two months—someone paid me back for a loan, I got a hefty tax rebate, the Bishop reimbursed me for expenses over some years without my asking, etc. In two months I was able to pay $10,000 back, even while tithing, whereas before tithing it took me almost two years to save that amount. Wow, I thought to myself. It really works! Actually, it doesn't always work like that. Little miracles like that happen just enough to open our eyes to God’s providence.
Money is important, but certainly not the most important, of God’s gifts. Faith, hope, and love, for example; our time, health and energy, personal talents, and friendships— these gifts are much more precious than financial wealth. And God asks us to return a portion of these gifts as well. It’s what Blessed John Paul II called the Law of the Gift: that we receive to the extent that we freely give. In St. Francis’ words, “it is in giving that we receive,” and in Fr. Robert Barron’s words, “abundance comes through the willing gift.” If you want more faith, give faith. Share it with others, and your faith will grow. If you want more joy, smile at others, share your joy, and God will fill you with true joy.
In fact, everything we have is God’s anyway, and sharing some of what we have convicts us of this truth. It detaches us from things so we can fulfill the two great commandments of last week’s gospel: to love God and neighbor. Returning a portion of our gifts is called stewardship. We are stewards, not owners, of everything we have. Giving part of it back to God convinces us of this over time. We learn to trust Him.
Be Not Afraid
But we are afraid to give—to give even the token 10%, let alone the 100% that we ultimately must give. God, and the man of God Elijah, urges us to be not afraid. In the first reading, the Prophet asks a poor widow for a bite to eat. She says that her son and she have only a morsel left, and then they will starve. Elijah then says to the widow: “Be not afraid.” Give it all to God, and you will see what wonders he will do for you. “And the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the cruse of oil run dry,” for the mother and son until the drought ended.
“Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid to give what God asks, and to smile as we give it. John Paul II thundered these words in his first papal homily, given at St. Peter’s, October 22, 1978. I watched it on YouTube last night. Let me translate it for you:
Non abbiate paura! Aprite, anzi, spalancate le porte a Cristo!
Do not be afraid! Open, even fling wide, the doors to Christ!
Alla sua salvatrice potestà aprite i confini degli Stati, i sistemi economici come quelli politici, i vasti campi di cultura, di civiltà, di sviluppo.
Open to his saving power national borders, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, of society, of development.
Non abbiate paura! Cristo sa “cosa è dentro l’uomo”. Solo lui lo sa!
Be not afraid! Christ knows what is in the heart of man. He alone knows!
Pope John Paul spoke these words as the borders of his homeland were closed to Christ. Perceptive people see our own national borders—our fields of culture, our political and economic systems—closing their doors to Christ. In this year of faith, we must not be afraid to give everything we have—not just 10% of our time, our abilities, our money—to the work of the Gospel.
Most of you are college students. You labor long hours to learn the eternal truths and principles undergirding western civilization. You will need these first principles to defend, recover, and preserve America’s basic freedoms. As our military veterans fought tyranny from without, you must fight tyranny from within. Many will become teachers, and businessmen, and political leaders. You must wage these battles in the fields of economic development, political leadership, higher education, and in the vast fields of culture and society. Do not be afraid to trust God as the poor widows of our Scriptures today. Do not be afraid to witness to God’s truth as did Blessed John Paul II. May God, and Our Lady, strengthen you in waging the battles for culture that are certain to require your service.
From the Chaplain’s Laptop: Faith in God, not Political Programmes
November 7th, 2012
On Election Day I was driving home from a funeral Mass for a young wife and mother. She had fought seven years with cancer and had prevailed
: she had kept her faith in God, so evident in her radiant smile. Her glowing faith, and the depth of her family’s love, contrasted sharply with the superficial twitter spinning through the airwaves on Election Day. Everyone was in a tizzy, of course, as our national dose of base political theatre reached its climax. Devout Christians were desperately offering one more prayer, one more sacrifice. Perhaps even now, as the Obama machine churns inexorably to victory, one more rosary will avert disaster.
A billboard flashed by on the freeway: “Breast Augmentation: only $3,200!” A supermodel triumphantly heaved an augmented bosom towards the freeway, dangling a measuring tape. Compared to the really bad stuff championed by the political winners (secret abortions for our daughters, militant homosexual agendas, calculated attacks on family life, etc.), breast augmentation seemed rather quaint. But the blazing billboard made me realize that, Obama or Romney—it didn’t make a whole lot of difference. Disaster has already struck. Are Americans really spending $3000 on fake mammaries while the rent goes unpaid? When breast augmentation has become “normal,” as on freeway billboards, we know that irrationality and disorder have overrun us. For some time now, America has elected to ignore the natural law and manufacture a cheap imitation—propaganda such as “a pregnant woman is not carrying a baby” and “marriage is whatever we say it is” and “we can spend as much as we want and never have to pay it back.”
Once again, a majority of Catholics has elected an anti-Catholic president. Once again, we’ve put our trust in political leaders rather than in our Church leaders. But politics is not our problem, and even less our solution. Only a decadent culture pays as much obsessive attention to politics as we have over the last year and a half. In fact, the good news is that politics has become hardly important. In the perceptive analysis of Matthew Warner, politicians have long ago switched from the vocation of leadership to the business of marketing. “[candidates for office]look at the cultural map of the day and then create a platform and a message that tickles enough ears to win them an election.”
The politics of today is mere market strategy, disconnected from any sense of truth. I think we do best to ignore it as much as possible. The solution to our national malaise is an appeal to the goodness, the thirst for truth, the longing for beauty, in every American heart. Benedict XVI has a name for it: the New Evangelization. In this Year of Faith, which began with America’s clear reaffirmation of the Obama programme, let us at least witness to our faith in God rather than faith in any
November 4th, 2012
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every Sunday, the Gospel reflects and fulfils the Old Testament Reading. Moses, for example, prefigures Christ, and the Exodus prefigures Christ’s baptism in water and blood. In today’s Mass, the Gospel actually repeats the Old Testament reading verbatim. It is the famous Shema’ Israel, in Hebrew “Listen O Israel.” The Shema’ is the Hebrew Credo: There is only One God.
In our First Reading, Moses had finally arrived within sight of the Promised Land, and he prepares to die. He parks the entire Hebrew Nation on Mount Nebo, overlooking the Dead Sea and the hilltop fortress which would become Jerusalem. He repeats for them the Ten Commandments, urging them to keep faith, so that they will have a “long life.” In one sense, he means a long and prosperous life in Israel, but in a deeper sense, he points to a long life, an eternal life, in the “Land flowing with milk and honey,” which is heaven. But to get to this Land, Moses exhorts the people with a final word, the Shema’: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is Our God, the Lord alone! You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” To this day, faithful Jews place a tiny scroll with these words on their foreheads when they pray, facing Jerusalem. They put little boxes (called Mezuzas) with this scroll on their doorposts, and touch them upon entering and departing their dwellings, as we do with holy water.
The First Commandment: God
1,400 years after that incident on Mt. Nebo, a scribe asks Jesus, the New Moses: “Which is the greatest of all the commandments?” By then, the Jews had not ten but 613 commandments, not counting many traditions and practices. The Catholic Church, by the way, has 1752 laws in our canonical code, and many more traditions and practices. Religion can get rather complicated!
The Scribe who approaches Jesus is no doubt a sincere man. He wants to know the one thing necessary for holiness. The interesting thing is that Jesus doesn’t give the Scribe only one commandment—he gives him two. Here’s the First (the Scribe knew it by heart anyway): Shema, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone.”
If I were in a parish, I would preach my entire homily on this one line, and what it means for American Catholics on Tuesday. We elect the next president of the greatest nation on earth in two days, and on what basis will we elect him? On the basis of God’s Lordship? If Jesus is Lord, Christians in this country must vote for the man who will best respect His will. But I think most Christians will vote for the man who best respects the things of men, not of God, especially the American economy. If we vote for the economy, we will get a man who loves money, not God. And ultimately we will lose both our money and our God. Since this is not a parish, and I’m fairly sure you will all vote your faith, we move on. But be sure to vote on Tuesday, if you haven’t already (I mailed in my vote last week).
Shema, Israel! Jesus continues quoting Moses, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength. We must love God with the whole human person: with our heart (our feelings, emotions, and affections); with our soul (in spirit and prayer); with our strength (our will). But then Jesus adds mind as well (with our intellect). Love of God encompasses every dimension of our human person. His Lordship is absolute—over the food we eat, the movies we watch, our friendships, our sexual sphere, even over our money.
The Second Commandment: Neighbor
Finally, notice that Jesus gives the Scribe not only the First Law, but the Second Law as well, a law that Moses did not mention. It is to love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love our neighbor without first loving God, for that is the First Commandment. But we cannot not love God if we do not love every other person, even people with whom we are at enmity. “Every person is Christ,” as Mother Teresa would say. Simple, but not easy.
In the end, religion is not that complex. The Church gives us many laws to help us navigate our way to heaven. But in the end, “we go to God with empty hands,” in the words of St. Therese. In the end, God will ask us, as he asked Peter, “do you love me?” If you love me, you will feed my sheep.
November is the month of the end, the end of the liturgical year. It is the month when we consider our own end, and those who have already ended their earthly pilgrimage—the saints in heaven, the holy souls in purgatory. We begin this last month with Christ’s words ringing in our hearts, preparing us for heaven: Shema’, O Israel! The Lord is Our God, the Lord Alone! Love Him, with everything you have, and your neighbor as yourself, that you may have a long life in the Land the Lord your God shall give to you.