In 2008 Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, now of Philadelphia, wrote a little book entitled Render Unto Caesar. He was alluding, of course, to Jesus’ prescription that we render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God. The Archbishop asks: What belongs to Caesar? This belongs to Caesar: Respect for his office, respect for the civil law, obedience to proper authority, and service to the common good—he didn’t mention paying taxes specifically, but that’s what comes immediately to mind. “It’s a rather modest list,” Archbishop Chaput notes. He then asks, what belongs to God? Everything else, he says, including our work, our homes and families, our hearts, bodies and souls, and our first loyalties. We serve Caesar best by not confusing him with God, by rendering witness to something greater than Caesar not simply as loyal citizens but also as faithful ones. As the Year of Faith draws to a conclusion this week, we might reflect on what it means to be a loyal and faithful American.
“We are citizens of heaven first,” Archbishop Chaput writes. “But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so the glory and the irony of the Christian life is this: the more truly we love God, the more truly we serve the world.” Catholics should not be less involved in politics, but more; not less visible but more visible as Catholics
in the public square. We have both a mandate from Our Lord to work in and through politics for the Common Good, and a divinely-revealed magisterium with 3000 years of Judeo-Christian experience to guide us. The entire Western system of democracy, law, economics has developed from Christian principles, and has been adopted by the entire world. Who best can guide politics to the Common Good than Catholics guided by Christian principles? “The Catholic Church,” concludes Archbishop Chaput, “cannot stay, has never stayed, and never will stay out of politics…. Living our Catholic faith without excuses and apologies, and advancing them in the public square, are the best expressions of patriotism we can give to the nation.”
I say this because Christ’s two parables in the Gospel today depict not just the keeping, but the dissemination
of the Gospel: first, a man sows mustard seed in a field. The seed grows into a large tree, and the birds of the air (peoples of every class, tongue, and nation) come to dwell in its branches. The Church is a kind of spreading tree, uniquely suited to serving the Common Good, affording shelter to all who ask. But one must propagate
that seed, as we must propagate the gospel in the political order. In the second parable, a woman kneads yeast into three measures of flour—that’s about fifty pounds
. Have you ever kneaded even one pound of flour? I used to knead dough with my mother, with rather sore wrists, forearms, and shoulders afterwards. We finally got Mom a bread machine one Christmas…. Imagine fifty pounds of flour! Kneading God’s word into our culture, persistently and patiently, is long and hard work, and the particular job of the laity, once you’ve all been “kneaded” by us clerics from the pulpit (!).The Coming Wrath
St. Paul loves the Thessalonians in the Epistle, because they put in this work of evangelization. “We thank God for your unceasing
work of faith and labor of love…receiving the word in great affliction; from you the word of God sounded forth from Macedonia to Achaia, in “every place” your faith gone forth, your faith in Jesus, who delivers us from the “coming wrath.”
Last week, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize so-called “gay marriage.” The wrath is surely coming—the chaos and retribution that will inevitably result from our rejection of marriage and family life. It happened to the Romans when they gave up on marriage, and it will happen to us. Like the early Church, we must labor, perhaps go to prison, and even die, in order to propagate the saving Word of Life. It seems obvious, as American culture collapses, one state after another, that today’s American Catholics compare rather poorly with First Century Catholics. As Archbishop Chaput emphasized in his 2008 book, the times demand not less but more overt political involvement by faithful Catholics, providing that which only faith can provide for our nation. Let us turn to Our Lady, the first evangelist, both for inspiration and intercession. One simple bit of evangelizing you can do this time of year is to go to buy a hundred Madonna and Child stamps from the US Postal Service (before it goes bankrupt), and put them on all your letters—including the electric bill! We have every right, we have every duty, to keep Christ, and his Holy Mother, not only in Christmas, but in every aspect of the public square.
I was a parish priest for 20 years, and now I am a college chaplain. What’s the difference? In the parish I prepared people for divorce, and in the College I prepare them for marriage.
In the parish, people generally don’t come to the priest until they have a problem, and most of those problems are marriage problems. Some couples come with strong faith in God and solid hope for their marriages. Most, however, come for the last rites. Usually they’ve been living a “married singles” lifestyle for years before I see them. I would ask: “Do you pray the rosary together?” No, father, we don’t know how.
“Do you attend Mass on Sundays?” No, father, we haven’t gone to Mass for years.
“Are you contracepting?” Not anymore—we don’t sleep in the same bed.
“Have you seen a counselor?” No, father, it’s too late for that.
I felt like asking them sternly why they disregarded the Church’s precepts, and why they ignored her wisdom, and why they didn’t come to a priest sooner. But all I could do is comfort them as their marriage broke apart, and as they entered into the dreary and painful desert of the divorced. They could still be saints, if they faced the ongoing trauma of custody battles, financial crises, and darksome loneliness by turning to God in prayer. Many do become saints precisely through the tragedies of divorce, in the way that widows and widowers turn to God. Nevertheless, “preparing people for divorce” greatly pains and discourages the parish priest.
In the College, on the other hand, most of the people I serve are under 21. They are too young to drink, but not too young to prepare for lifelong marriage. Courtship at the two dozen or so serious Catholic colleges in the United States is a major occupation, and rightly so. Not only does College afford them intellectual, social, and spiritual formation—it affords an unprecedented pool of faithful and marriageable Catholics. Interestingly, a significant percentage of students at these colleges have been called to the consecrated state. But living with authentically beautiful men and women anneals their call to virginity for the sake of the kingdom. For the rest, those called to the married state, a lifetime of happy marriage awaits them. They have only to follow the rules. They prepare for marriage by learning to pray alone and together, by sharpening their minds and their bodies for the contests ahead, and by assimilating the patrimonies of art and science. No one expects perfect happiness in their marriages, and they know grave marriage problems are always possible. But the smiles and lightness of foot among these couples lift us all up.
In the parish, a priest can come to resent marriage preparation. Precious few engaged couples take their faith as seriously as they must to avoid divorce. As we witness their vows, we wonder how many will file for divorce within the decade. In the college, however, I have rediscovered the joy of marriage preparation. These young couples—witnesses to purity and joy—have restored my confidence in marriage. If we have despaired of the very nature of marriage (as is evident in the ludicrous push for homosexual “marriage”), we need look no further than these young people to be reassured. Resources:
For those in courtship, I recommend Steve Woods’ The ABC’s of Choosing a Good Husband or The ABC's of Choosing a Good Wife
, as well as a CD set by Steve Woods called Catholic Courtship - A Challenge to Teens & Twenties
. If you are engaged, there is Kimberly Hahn’s Life-Giving Love: Embracing God's Beautiful Design for Marriage.
If you are having difficulties in your marriage, I recommend Michael McManus’ Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce
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