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.
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.
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
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
From the Chaplain’s Laptop: A Missed ChanceOctober 18, 2012
Thursdays are my day off, and last Thursday I was sitting on a beach with a pile of books. The sun went down and I was left in the dark without a reading light. So I began to wonder if I could pull up a live-stream of the vice-presidential debate on my phone. After some fiddling, I pulled it up, just in time to hear the moderator lob the bomb at our two Catholic candidates. Please tell me, she said, “what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.” This was the big moment, the Catholic moment. The question afforded Paul Ryan, a faithful Catholic, the opportunity to broadcast clarity on the abortion issue to an unprecedented degree. Everyone was listening. And so he began: “My faith informs me in everything I do.”
I groaned and shifted my chair on the beach. He had fallen into the trap that Raddatz so casually tossed before him. She wanted him to speak about abortion as a religious issue rather than a scientific issue, and he did just that. Granted, Congressman Ryan mentioned “science and reason,” but he did not drive the point home. Abortion is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue, a civil rights
issue, based on scientific fact. A human fetus is human, and genetically distinct from his or her mother. Vice-president Biden, in his turn, of course, affirmed the falsehood of abortion as merely a matter of religious opinion.
In the days following the debate, I waited for someone to point out Ryan’s missed opportunity. On Monday, the redoubtable George Weigel did it, at National Review Online.
He imagines Ryan answering the question “what role does religion play in your own personal views on abortion?” in one word: “None
.” Weigel imagines Ryan going on to explain: “When I say ‘none,’ I’m speaking about abortion, as I assume you were, as a public-policy issue. My opposition to the abortion license that Roe v. Wade
created is based on science and reason. Biology and embryology teach us that the product of human conception is a human being — nothing more, but certainly nothing less. No scientifically literate person denies that; it’s a fact, not an opinion.” Weigel’s full commentary deserves a wide reading.
We missed a golden opportunity to point out an obvious fact, to point out the elephant in America’s living room: the human fetus is a living human person with inalienable rights. Those rights are egregiously violated 4,000 times a day in our country.
Homily: Only One Good
October 14th, 2012
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Only One Good
Our Scriptures today point us to the One Good, which is God. The rich young man in today’s gospel calls Jesus “good,” and Jesus playfully replies, “why do you call me good?” Our culture pretends that there are as many goods as there are vendors to sell them, and to be happy, we must own these goods. But there is only one Good. I walked into Lowes the other day to buy a beach chair. The store was stuffed to the rafters with good things, all with discreet price tags. A euphoria blew through me. I have a credit card, and any one of these good things can be mine. Each will make me happy. This was the feeling, the quite American feeling, that enveloped me as I strolled into Lowe’s the other day. I have been well trained to seek happiness in what the American economy can provide.
The Rich Young Man
A rich young man runs up. He throws himself before Jesus, barring his way with an urgency: “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus plays a little game with him—“why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” And Jesus lists God’s commandments. He knows the young man has practiced these well since his childhood. But: even keeping the law of God is not enough. Jesus looks at this young man, for whom he will die on the cross, with love. “You are lacking in one thing…” You hardly know God, because your wealth prevents you. Your many good things bar you from the One Good. Get rid of it all if you wish to enter into life. And the young man went away sad. His face fell. His goods could not make him happy, and he knew it, but he was not ready to trust God.
Camels and needles’ eyes
Jesus then looks at his disciples, with a stern love, and he says the same thing: “Children, how hard it is for wealthy people to get to heaven.” He says it again, because the disciples, believers in the prosperity gospel like all Jews of the time, are shocked. He says it a third time—harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle… This exceedingly astonished them: “then who can be saved?” Everyone depends on wealth. No man can live only by fresh air and the love of God. Yes, Jesus says, for you it is impossible. You can never wean yourselves from your attachments. But I can. For God all things are possible. Let me do it for you!
A Year of Faith
Brethren, on Thursday we entered a Year of Faith. We, who enjoy the goods of the earth to a degree unprecedented in human history. We, who have grown up delighting in the shiny packages our market offers rather than delighting in the things of God. We Americans, who check the stock market several times a day on our iPhones, who surrender immense governmental powers to a man because he promises us only one thing: to preserve our standard of living. We play lip service to faith, but really, Americans believe in the dollar above all. People with our kind of wealth do not need God. And yet, some wealthy people have been able to get through the needle’s eye. Solomon, for one, as recounted in the first reading. How did he get past his wealth? “I prayed, I pleaded, and the spirit came to me.” I deemed riches nothing in comparison … gold is a little sand, silver so much mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her. He pleaded with the urgency of the rich young man for true wisdom. We must pray for this kind of faith.
A Time of National Decision
In the presidential debates this month, I've noticed that we can’t seem to get past the economy. The candidates throw out fantastic and complex numbers. But who will speak about God? Who will say that America’s wealth cannot save her? Who will declare that this election is a battle for America’s soul, not her investment accounts? Who will say “in God we trust?” Who but us, Catholics, who have the fullness of Gospel truth? In this Year of Faith, in this season of national decision, Catholics must again play a crucial role in the battle for America’s soul. We can’t simply go along with the party line. We must testify to the Way, the Life, and the Truth, the supreme Good for our country.
Let us pray, as always, through the woman of faith, Our Blessed Mother. Let us pray the rosary for our country in these next few weeks, that at least all Christian Americans may vote according to their faith in the only good man, Jesus Christ our Lord.
From the Chaplain's Laptop: What our Country Needs
August 31, 2012
Someone told me that Rick Santorum had given a speech
at the Republican National Convention that spoke to some of the real issues facing our country. I pulled up a video on an ABC news site and began to listen. About seven minutes in, Santorum mentioned “getting married before having children.” A few seconds later ABC cut him off—a political commentator began analyzing his speech even before it was finished. I considered that rather odd, and frustrating. I wanted to hear the Senator from Pennsylvania, not a pundit. I found another site that (thankfully) streamed Santorum’s entire speech without interruption. Just after the point that ABC had cut him off, Santorum went on to clarify the consequences of the assault on marriage. No wonder ABC would not let us hear that part. Santorum went on to praise “hands that pray” and a party that “welcomes all life, born and unborn.” I heard bits of other speeches at the Convention, and most talked about “belief in America” and “belief in ourselves.” Rick Santorum got as close as anyone to urging belief in God
when, for instance, he insisted that we can only realize our potential “with God’s help.” But even that indirect reference to religion was too much for ABC News.
What does our country need? More jobs? More empowerment of the private sector? More oil? Sure, those things would help. But what it needs is repentance
, and few dare to say it. This struck me today as I was reading the breviary Scriptures from Jeremiah 3. God said, “How I should like to treat you as sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage among the nations…but like a woman faithless to her lover, even so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel.” What Israel had that we do not have is a national sense of repentance.
It was not always this way in America. Consider the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation: “I recommend to [my fellow citizens] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers…” The President of the United States recommended both thanksgiving and humble penitence to God
. Until our nation publicly acknowledges from Whom all blessings come, and does “humble penitence for our national perverseness,” there is little hope for any positive change, no matter who is elected in November.