We Catholics celebrate Easter for fifty days, and we are still swimming in the bright seas of glory streaming from our resurrected Lord. I’ll bet most of us still have some Easter candy around—a chocolate bunny yet perches atop the printer in my office. Why, then, does Holy Mother Church give us readings today that sound more proper to Lent than Easter? St. Peter reminds us that we are “foreigners and pilgrims” in this world, and that the world “wages war against the soul.” Jesus tells his confused disciples that he will soon leave them, and that they will weep while the world rejoices. I think the Church gives us such sober readings on the Third Sunday of Easter to remind us that the joy of Easter streams from Our Lord’s wounds— glorious wounds—but wounds nonetheless. We must not forget the price of our redemption, nor that we are not in heaven yet.
Foreigners and pilgrims
The world, of course, does not believe in Christ or in his resurrection. It tolerates Easter for one day a year, and then only as a holiday of marshmallow bunnies and chocolate eggs. It is in this faithless world that we pass 70 or 80 years as “foreigners.” We must not forget our status as “pilgrims,” making an often difficult and dangerous journey to our true homeland. I am reminded of Bilbo Baggins, who muttered to his nephew that “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door….” And while we are on that journey, we smile, we sing, we enjoy the good gifts God gives us along the way, but we keep moving. We keep one eye always on the road ahead: we don’t know what may come at us to “wage war” against our souls, and the souls of our children.
And so how to comport ourselves as we travel? St. Peter advises us to keep ourselves clean and upright, for it is only by doing good that we might silence the ignorance of foolish people. Perhaps never more than now has godless ignorance become so widespread. The absurdity of post-Christians using Christian language, such as “human rights,” to promote precisely the violation of human rights, can discourage any pilgrim. The very concept of human rights did not exist before Christianity, and that concept is used now to kill an entire class of human beings (as in a woman’s “right to choose”). When the whole world seems to be losing its mind, stupidly following really evil men who call right wrong and wrong right, who promote manifestly irrational laws, and who blame the violent consequences on Christians—then we realize to what degree we are strangers in this world. We scarcely speak the same language as our own friends and family. We see what they cannot see, and they consider us deluded and fanatical.
We cannot convince most people of the absurdity, nor prevent much of the damage from pervasive ignorance of the Natural Laws. But we can, and we must, do good in the brief time given us this side of the grave. A Christian must never forget his dignity, and the supreme law of charity. “Give honor to all,” St. Peter counsels us. “Respect the king (for Americans, that means President Obama). Slaves should be subject to their masters, and not only to the nice ones. We are slaves, in a way, to the political powers and social trends that overwhelm us. The world is against us, but this should not unduly sadden or disturb us. We are only here in transit, after all, like changing planes at an airport. We know whence we come, and wither we go.
You will weep, Jesus assures us; you will grieve but your grief will become joy. “I am leaving you,” he told his disciples. The world will defeat him; Jesus will hand himself over to this world’s power, but only in order to defeat evil by good. “I will see you again,” he declares, “and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away.”
My dear people, we must resist the temptation to let this old world get to us. We must not become despondent, even if marriage and family life collapses, and God is mocked all around us, and even, God forbid, those dearest to us lose their faith. We must still do good, and maintain our composure, and radiate goodwill to everyone, because we have been given a joy that no one can take from us. We can only hope to overcome some evil by patient goodness, and we cannot expect much from this world anyway. We must take the long view, the Christian view, the supernatural view, and think always in light of eternity. I think God has permitted us to live in a period of decline, so we do what we can to save souls and please God’s divine majesty.
We turn, always, to Our Lady. She patiently, and calmly, accepted her Son’s crucifixion. Somehow, she knew, he would overcome evil by good, and she would do it with him. It was hard for her, no doubt, but she didn’t lose her peace, even at Calvary. Let us apply ourselves to the same: imitating her faith, and calling upon her intercession, that we may faithfully follow her Son to our true homeland.
Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally Address
June 8, 2012 in San Francisco, California
Last month I took my elderly mother into Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. We stood before that icon of American freedom and read its inscription: PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV. V X.
This quote from Leviticus describes the Biblical Jubilee Year. Every 49 years, God commanded that all slaves be freed, and all debts be canceled. By doing so, the people acknowledged God alone as the true master of all men and owner of all property. Before God, “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights.”
The message on the Liberty Bell is clear enough: God, not man, is the foundation of human liberty. If we attempt to build a social order apart from God’s law, we lose our freedom
. The liberty bell first rang 260 years in the only place in the British Empire to permit religious freedom, in Philadelphia, the capital city of America at the time. America pioneered religious liberty. Our founders made the statement to the world that religious freedom is good
for society. 260 years later, will America relinquish that freedom without a struggle? I want to invoke God’s blessing upon all of you who have come to this fair city of San Francisco to stand up for religious liberty. I want to beg God’s mercy upon all of us who have come to engage the battle for American freedom inscribed not only on our Liberty Bell, but on every piece of American currency: in God
we trust. Not in men, but in God.
As a boy, I read a book by Fr. Walter Czisek, With God in Russia
. Fr. Czisek spent 15 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps for practicing his faith. The book greatly inspired me, but I wondered if anything like that could ever happen in America. My parish in Modesto supports a parish in Vladivostok, Russia. Shortly after the Soviet government dynamited the Orthodox Cathedral in Vladivostok (on Easter Sunday 1922), the Catholic Cathedral was confiscated and turned into a state archive. Since 1991, two American priests have painstakingly restored that building. But religious practice in Russia, and the social goods that depend on religion, has not so quickly recovered. Religious liberty, once lost, takes a long time to recover.
In 2002 I visited our sister parish in Vladivostok
. I’ll never forget the impression this Soviet city of 1 million presented as we flew in: not one steeple or dome, not one cultural monument, to break the miles of deteriorating apartment buildings and grey factories. The Soviets had decided to revoke every religious liberty. With religion removed from the public square, the government became hopelessly corrupt, culture declined, and the economy collapsed. In a society that looks to the government as the highest moral authority, lying, cheating, and stealing are indispensable business practices. As the producer the current movie For Greater Glory
recently said, “No one ever wins when religion is oppressed.” What is happening in the United States today? Mary Ann Glendon summed it up last month: “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”Thomas Aquinas College
in Southern California recently published an Open letter to President Obama
. “It is manifestly an affront to the American conception of religious liberty and to the first amendment of the US constitution to demand that citizens ‘adapt’ to a violation of conscience.” This is our core principle in the current battle: we can never adapt to a violation of our foundational right. It would violate not only common good
but also our identity
as free men and women. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York declared in a Face the Nation interview in April, “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we won’t back away from it.”
Today in Vladivostok, the skyline is not as flat and colorless as it used to be. The Catholics have rebuilt their cathedral, and its twin steeples now grace the skyline at 22-stories high. With greater religious liberty in Russia, life is improving, although the Putin government continually threatens to restrict this fundamental right. But what will Philadelphia look like in 50 years if we surrender our First Amendment Rights? What will San Francisco, or New York, or Chicago look like if we lose this battle? Let us pray to God, to whom the battle belongs, that we have the strength, the wisdom, the charity and the courage to engage this, our moment, and to acquit ourselves as well, under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.
Photos from the Rally
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.