Fides quarens intellectum
Thomas Aquinas College is founded on two traditions: that of the Great Books and that of Catholic Education. Dr. Glen Coughlin, then the College dean, wrote in his 2001 Report on Instruction that the College is “committed to the proposition which animates all of truly Catholic liberal education …“faith seeking understanding.” St. Anselm used this phrase, fides quarens intellectum, in his Proslogion (which Sophomores will read this semester), to describe the relationship between human intellect and divine wisdom, between faith and reason. Theology is an attempt to articulate God’s ways in human words, but it is successful only to the extent that the theologian believes in the Faith. Pope Benedict (who better than most understood the relation of faith to reason) instituted our Year of Faith to underscore that faith is indispensable to the higher acts of the human intellect.
So declares our First Reading from the book of Wisdom. “The deliberations of mortals are timid, … the earthen shelter weighs down the mind.” You may experience this later tonight, in the library, as you try to get through your 80 pages of philosophy for tomorrow’s seminar. You will be tired, and hungry, and distracted, and homesick (some of you), and it will be hard to study. “Scarce do we guess the things on earth,” continues our reading, “and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty”—mathematics, astronomy, physics, and all the natural sciences, which are relatively simple, measurable, sensible—even these we must toil at. “But when things are in heaven, who can search them out … except you had given wisdom?” The highest discoveries of the intellect come only through God’s revelation.
Faith: A superior act of the intellect
Pope Francis in his first encyclical, Lumen fidei, says faith is an act of the intellect superior to that of unaided human reason, because it is illuminated not merely by empirical observation, but by love. Mother Teresa, for example, aided by her faith in the Love of God, understood reality on a grander scale than those who analyze things only in terms of power and economics. She could see the broader connections, the “mega-stories,” the deepest relationships between things and peoples. This kind of understanding is not achieved by men but given by God. And that is why Thomas Aquinas College spends great effort developing the student’s understanding of faith as well their understanding of intellect. Without faith, our intellects are hamstrung.
Only All for Jesus
In the Gospel, Jesus insists on the absolute primacy of God above every other created being. He goes so far as to say that we must “hate” our mother and father in order to love Him, and even hate ourselves. He uses sharp Semitic overstatement to press home his point: nothing must come before the things of God. Should my own mother mean more to me than God, I must “hate” her, that is, crucify my attachment to her. It is not my mother I hate, but my own disordered attachment to her that I hate. My own ways—my own “counsels” apart from God’s counsel—leads only to chaos and disappointment, and ultimately to death. Mother Teresa told her sisters that we must be “only all for Jesus,” and “nothing and nobody” must come between us and God.
This primacy of God’s wisdom over human wisdom bears on the current question of a military strike against Syria. Yesterday our College held a holy hour for the people of Syria, at just the time Pope Francis was holding his prayer vigil in Rome. 100,000 people prayed from 7pm to midnight in St. Peter’s Square, begging God to guide the deliberations of men in this difficult situation. God’s Church teaches that war must be a last resort, after all possible diplomatic negotiations have failed. War is an evil so great that scarcely any other evil justifies it. If men use only their own intellects, however, they will frequently resort to war; if men use their intellects assisted by God’s counsels, war will be a relatively rare occurrence in human history.
In 1991, both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa begged the elder President Bush to refrain from war with Iraq. “War is always a failure,” the Pope wrote. In 2003, John Paul pleaded with the younger President Bush not to attack Bagdad. Three days ago Pope Francis pleaded with President Obama to refrain from attacking Syria. He wrote to the twenty richest nations meeting at the G20 summit in Moscow last week: “please lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.” He went on to say that the leaders of the G20 “cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people.” For a man of faith, the 6 million refugees and 110,000 dead are, each one of them, “beloved.” Only love can see the human faces in war; only faith can illuminate the intellect towards a real solution in difficult conflicts. Human reason must submit itself to the corrective influence of faith in order to succeed. For his part, Syrian President Assad is ready to pit his country against the entire American military, effectively using his own citizens as human shields in a futile and ridiculous attempt to maintain his own petty power.
Syria cannot win this war, but neither can the American Military. Everyone will lose if we depend on mere human intelligence to solve this problem. Only the intellect informed by faith and charity can see the path to a real solution.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace
Today, September 8, is the feast of the Birth of Mary, although because it is Sunday we don’t celebrate it this year. Our Lady is the Queen of Peace, the Mother of the Prince of Peace. Her Immaculate Heart understood what the human mind, crippled by original Sin, can never understand. Let us submit ourselves to her Heart, perfectly in accord with God’s Sacred Heart. Her wisdom is God’s wisdom; her love is his love. Without God, and his Holy Mother, humanity is condemned to destroy itself, as history has repeatedly shown.
Peace is not always peaceful
You’ve heard the phrase “freedom is not free.” This College, for example, is currently engaged in a costly lawsuit with the federal government to preserve our religious liberty. Here below, freedom is not always free, and peace is not always peaceful. The peace Christ gives in today’s Gospel must often be preserved through nerve-wracking confrontation. Peace at any cost is not peace. Consider the carnage Europe bore for not confronting Hitler early on; consider the chaos parents undergo who do not discipline their young children; consider the nervous unrest any man suffers who does not wage unceasing war on his disordered passions.
“Not as the world gives, do I give you peace,” Christ says. Peace of soul comes only after violent battles with the spirits and powers of this world; Christ’s peace reigns only when we have submitted our wills to God’s will, and know we are right with his natural order. In his will is our peace.
The World’s Peace is no Peace
The world seeks its own peace apart from God, and it remains deeply troubled. For example, in the Middle East wishing each other “peace” is the normal form of greeting: shalom in Hebrew, and as-salaam 'alaykum in Arabic. The holy city of Jerusalem itself means “Foundation of Peace,” Yarah-Shalom. But ironically, I would say scandalously, the least peaceful place on the planet has been the Middle East, precisely where God came to earth and offered mankind his peace. Our nation’s most violent day, September 11, 2001, reflected this never-ending conflict (Muslims attacked New York City, the largest Jewish population outside of Israel). Jesus prophesied this, of course: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate.” Jerusalem continues to refuse God’s word, to refuse his prophets, to refuse his Christ, and we are all of us citizens of that City—the City of Man that struggles to become the City of God. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
As America draws farther from God’s law, violence will increase as society unravels. Our country is choosing to forget the words of her own Declaration of Independence, which states that “the law of nature and nature’s God” is the basis for every freedom. Fifty years ago we accepted contraception, and forty years ago we legalized abortion, and thirty years ago we granted divorce, and twenty years ago we exalted single parenthood. Last week an NBA player admits that he engages in perverted sex and our President calls him to praise his “courage.” What our president did—placating perversion—will only bring more violence to America in the long run. We are all familiar with Mother Teresa’s phrase, “the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today is abortion.” The moral infidelity of her citizens jeopardizes America’s peaceful order more than any foreign military threat. We are a people profoundly ill at ease, and ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.
The War for Peace of Heart
Solzhenitsyn famously said that the line separating good and evil passes not through political parties but right through every human heart. Even at Thomas Aquinas College, we must wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot imagine our green gate on the Ojai Road keeps the world’s chaos out of our campus. Alcohol is a problem among us; blasphemy and swearing are not uncommon; the use of pornography is endemic at TAC to some degree as well. Do we imagine we can receive Christ’s peace without doing violence to these sins, and violence to ourselves? The Kingdom of God suffers violence, the Lord says, and the violent take it by force. If our friends commit these kinds of sins, we must find a way to wage the battle with them, shoulder to shoulder. With charity and patience, we must fight for peace together.
Your Mission of Peace
Your mission as students and graduates of TAC is to bring Christ’s peace to the world by bringing his truth; and obedience to that truth. This will not be a peaceful task, either personally or publicly in a culture maniacally bent on attaining a worldly peace apart from God. You will have to wield the sword of division at times, even within your own family, even against yourself. But we wield this sword always with charity, and with the goal of reconciliation and sanctification. St. John portrays the New Jerusalem for us in our second reading, from the end of the Book of Revelation. That City needs no sun for light, nor temple for worship, for the Lamb is its light and its temple. It is of that city that we must be citizens. Let us ask Our Lady to help us be good soldiers and good citizens of the New Jerusalem, the true City of Peace. In this month of May, let us dedicate ourselves to praying the rosary for true peace, the fruit of saying yes to God’s perfect will.
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.
Jesus Climbs into Your Pickup
In today’s Sunday Gospel, the last before Ash Wednesday, Jesus commands Simon Peter to go deeper. Notice that Simon wasn’t paying any attention to Jesus at first. Picture the scene as if it were you, Joe University Student: imagine that you’re unloading boxes from your pickup at the Engineering Building on campus. You’re vaguely aware of a street preacher addressing a crowd of students nearby. Then the preacher walks over and gets into the passenger side of your truck. “Please take me downtown,” he says. You get in without question and begin driving. He looks at you and says, “The superficial mediocrity of American college life is not enough for you. Go deeper.”
Jesus is preaching to a crowd on the lakeshore. Simon, a professional fisherman, was not paying any attention, apparently—he was busy making a living, cleaning his nets after a frustrating and useless night’s work. Jesus steps into Simon’s boat, without asking permission, and asks to be taken a distance from the shore. He preaches from the boat, while Simon, who is weary from a hard night’s work, waits patiently. But he too listens. Then Jesus commands Simon in those perennial words: Duc in altum. “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.” It was one of John Paul II’s favorite lines. He quotes these words of Christ at the beginning of his apostolic letter guiding us into the Third Millennium, Novo millennio inuente. Duc in altum.
Simon, Simon Bar-Jonah: you have worked hard, but you have caught nothing, because you have not gone deep. You live your faith superficially; you keep your life in the shallows. You’ll catch nothing there. Let me show you how to go deep, teach you the virtue of holy daring, of trustful surrender to providence.
Simon replies: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. But at your command, I will lower the nets.” Simon’s acquiescence to Christ’s command defines the rest of St. Peter’s life, and the life of the Church. He makes the decision to trust Him whom he grasps intuitively to be Lord and Messiah. “Master,” he addresses him, “at your command I will lower the nets.” And having once trusted Jesus, Peter is flooded by a superabundance of life—a great number of fish flapping and slapping and breaking through the nets, and the other boats rushing over to assist their partners.
Peter sinks before Jesus: “leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He realizes with terror that the thrice-holy Lord and King of Isaiah’s vision (in our first reading) sits before him. Like Isaiah, Peter cries out “Woe is me: I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips!” But even as he cries out, Simon hopes that Jesus will touch a burning ember to his lips, will raise him up from the bottom of his boat and make an Apostle of him. And so Jesus utters his third command: “Do not be afraid (another of John Paul II’s favorite lines): from now on you will be catching men.” Simon and his partners left immediately everything and followed him.
Building a Civilization of Love
I like to think that Thomas Aquinas College is the last best hope for western civilization. The lights are going out in the west (my seminary moral theology teacher would often say that “the 21st Century belongs to the Pacific”). The curtain is falling on 18 centuries of Christian-inspired philosophy, scientific method, jurisprudence and economics, art, literature, and music. Our culture is regressing to a superficial humanism, an attempt at enlightened paganism, which will bear only dissatisfaction and violence.
Jesus needs fishers of men to build the Kingdom of God. He climbs into our boat and directs us to go deep into the Christian culture which is our patrimony. Our work now is that of students, fully assimilating the philosophy and theology offered so freely here at our College. But there will come a time to give back what we have received, to engage deeply the society in which we live. If all we do is keep the faith to ourselves, we have failed Jesus Christ. We must cast out the great net of a deeply imbued Christian culture, and then we will certainly catch souls for God. John Paul II calls this the New Evangelization, and Benedict XVI calls it a Year of Faith.
What will you do with your TAC education? How will you deepen your life and lower your nets for a catch? What and who will you catch for Jesus Christ? Do not be afraid of failure, for it is Christ himself who commands us. He stays within our boats as we cast the nets. With Our Lady, we dedicate ourselves to working alongside the Lord, building a civilization of love.
Extraordinary Form of the Mass; Second Sunday after Epiphany
The Back Wall: Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite
Today the Gospel recounts Second Luminous Mystery, the Wedding at Cana. We hear these words today in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity here at Thomas Aquinas College. As you leave Mass this morning, you might glance up to the scripture verse carved into the lintel over the main portal. It is the last thing we see upon leaving the chapel to return to the outside world. The words are the last recorded words of Our Lady in the Bible, uttered just before Jesus’ first public miracle. Jesus changes water into wine at her request, and the curtain falls, so to speak, on Our Lady as it rises on her divine Son. Cana is the last domestic encounter between Jesus and Mary—the mother’s last words to her Son before he sets out for his public life and ultimately his execution. Her words are: “Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite.” Whatsoever he will tell you: do it. Do whatever he tells you.
Our Lady’s prayer
Let’s look a little more closely at this First Miracle, which yielded the first glimmers of belief in his disciples. The wedding is at Cana, a poor village 15 minutes east of Nazareth. The reception would be shockingly poor by today’s standards. Jesus and all of his friends were there, and anyone else who could get in for a free meal and a cup of wine. Of course, the pitiably small amount of wine they could afford soon ran out.
Our Lady sees the problem, and discreetly mentions it to Jesus, so as not to embarrass the bride and groom. He refuses to intervene. In Greek, guné, tí emoí kai soí, “woman, what matters this to me or to you?” Our Lady is in a delicate position. She sees the need for wine, but she has heard the "disinclination” of the Lord. She doesn't press Jesus, but she turns to the servants: "do whatever He tells you." Mary here is the interceding Church, never growing weary in prayer. The Lord wants us to be "clever," to be insistent in prayer, and never to grow weary in faith. He wants us to ask for favors like we really want them ("you will find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer. 29). This week marks 40 years of legal abortion in the United States, and many of us are preparing for the journey to San Francisco’s Walk for Life. For 40 years the Church has been praying for an end to this barbaric injustice, a contagion that has infected every aspect American public life, a cancer that has spread from America throughout the world. Sometimes it seems the Lord refuses to answer our prayer, but like Our Lady we must not give up, nor grow weary in prayer.
Our Lady is a bride and not a slave; she is free and has rights with the Bridegroom, a holy confidence in asking for a favor. She is Mother Teresa getting a diocesan building from some poor bishop, or Mother Angelica closing a deal with Satellite TV executives. She freely and confidently commands the waiters, and naturally assumes general oversight of the household. Mary does not tell anybody "what" to do—she points it out to Jesus, apparently unsuccessfully, and then she points Jesus out to the stewards—urging them to a deeper faith, a deeper obedience. She's making the rounds, leaving no one out, interceding on behalf of all, simply encouraging all to have faith, to act on that faith. She did this at Fatima, telling the children simply to "pray, pray, pray." She respects each one's freedom, but points them to the obedience in which all freedom can develop. She is serene, because she has made her petition in faith, and knows that "whatever will happen, it will be within God's grace.”
And Jesus responds to her intercession, with magnificent abundance. Jesus, the man, desires the cooperation of the woman, his "helpmate." He wants to enter into a confidence, a relationship, a reciprocity, a marriage, with his Church. It’s impossible to imagine, but God wishes to be our spouse. “Your builder will marry you,” in the words of Isaiah 62:5. We are not only the sons and daughters, but the spouses, of God.
Our Lady was God’s first love, but not his only love. Through her, we each receive the grace of Christ to enter into that marriage. But Jesus our Spouse requires complete trust, and we must follow Our Blessed Mother’s words: whatsoever He tells you, do it.
First, I wish all of you a Blessed and Merry Christmas, and I thank you for attending the Midnight Mass, especially those brave enough to do so with little children in tow. During my boyhood in Pennsylvania, Mom and Dad would pile all six of us into the station wagon for Midnight Mass. We could see bright stars shining sharply in the cold black sky. We would crunch through ice and crusted snow to the church for a long Mass. Why, I complained, must we have Mass in the middle of the night? It’s too dark and cold! And my mother would explain that we go to Mass at Midnight because Jesus was born in the darkness, in the middle of the night. The Church celebrates Christmas Mass in the dark to underscore our liberation from darkness: we are no longer afraid of the dark. There is no darkness for men of faith because a child is given us, and we name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
True enough, the world is dark. The world without Christ is very dark. America celebrates Christmas this year with her flags at half-mast, watching the funerals of twenty schoolchildren, and wondering who will be next. Lurking in the backs of our minds is the fact that America kills thousands of children every day, with the support of the government and the approval of many Christian churches. The world is dark. Its movies are dark—I saw The Hobbit the other day and found it so much more dark and barbaric than Tolkien’s graceful tale of “there and back again.” So much of contemporary music, art, internet sites, news stories, clothing styles, and the rest of secular culture communicates gloom and desperation. We are a people addicted to anti-depressants, but it doesn’t permit us to evade the pervading fear and darkness.
No Longer Darkness
The world is dark, but God’s Kingdom is bright and beautiful. In the words of Isaiah, “To a people who walked in darkness, who dwelt in a land of gloom, a light has shown…. for a child is born to us.” The powers of this world fear and hate the child. They try to kill it, and they succeed in killing many children. But they cannot kill this Child.
St. Luke begins the Christmas story by acknowledging the powers of this world. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled….” Caesar had the power to command the “whole world,” even the Mother of God and God himself in her womb. They went obediently to Bethlehem to register with the government. No woman about to give birth should bounce on a donkey for three days, sleeping in strange places, exposed to cold and danger. And in the cold and dark she had her child, a child who would banish cold and dark forever. Cold is not cold for us, and dark is not dark, because God Is With Us.
Caesar will fail us. Governments that ignore the Law of God bring only darkness and suffering to their people. Our government used to acknowledge a power higher than itself, and we pray that it will again someday. We pray that the leaders of our Church will also submit to the will of God in everything, refusing to make bargains with the powers of this world. But no matter how dark it gets out there, our blessed hope shines brightly in here, close to Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. No worldly power, no abuse of worldly power, and no cultural decline, can extinguish this light. No Caesar and no Herod can kill this baby. We must stay close to Him, our only hope. We must stay as close to Him as did his Holy Mother, and St. Joseph, and the Holy Shepherds and Kings from the East. We must be saints like them, because outside of Jesus, it is cold, and dark, and hopeless.
We join the Blessed Mother at the manger tonight, not at all mindful of the dark and the cold. We pledge ourselves this night to stay beside them, and to never let go. We can be merry this Christmas, and of good cheer every day, because today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.
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.
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.