This morning you will notice I’ve taken the liberty to strew our white marble altar with pink flowers—camelias from the tree in front of Loyola Hall. For today is Laetare Sunday, the one Sunday in Lent on which instrumental music is permitted and flowers may adorn the altar. Your priests and your altars bear rose vesture today, signifying the joy proper to those who can see Easter on the horizon. The Mass Collect today articulates our hope: “with prompt devotion and eager faith may we hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come.”
The Father’s Prodigal Love
On Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church spreads the feast of Christ’s greatest parable before us, that of the so-called Prodigal Son. Its vast panorama portrays three characters: the younger son, the older son, and the Father. It is the parable of the Prodigal Father, Rich in Mercy. So Blessed John Paul II named his second encyclical, Dives inMisericordia, on God the Father, which often refers to this parable. It never fails to console him who reads it prayerfully. More than any other, the parable of the Prodigal Son convinces us of God’s tender and undying love for his sons and daughters.
Let us weep: I have lost my son
First, consider the younger son: “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” In a shocking act of non-negotiable, in-your-face self-centeredness, he demands from his father half of the family business in cash so that he can waste it in a distant land—perhaps Las Vegas or Miami. We might miss the outrage in his words—“I can’t wait for you to die, old man: give me your money now”—but imagine how it sounded to Jesus’ hearers, who held their fathers in great reverence. The son leaves his father’s home for a “distant country,” which as Fr. Barron points out renders the Greek choran makran, which may be translated “vast region.” The lost son enters the empty lands of his own self-absorption, the vast barren regions where demons abide. He is truly the Lost Son.
Let us rejoice: I have found my son
Eventually, the Lost Son hits bottom, returns to his senses, and resolves to turn back to his father’s house. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” The Father scans the horizon day after day, longing for his son, but refusing to force him. He detects only a glimmer in his son, a small speck on a distant horizon, slowly moving closer. He does not wait, but tucks up his noble robes and runs, not walks, but runs to his son. And all is forgiven. The Father does not even wait for his son to finish his confession: your sins do not matter now. All that matters is that I have you back, safe and sound. You have returned to me.
God is always watching us, waiting for our next move. Thoughtlessly, we fear he watches our every move in order to condemn, waiting with baited breath to accuse us. But this image is not Scriptural. Jesus, in his greatest parable, portrays a Father, rich in mercy, relenting in punishment, always ready to forgive. In the Bible, it is Satan who accuses. The Son and the Holy Spirit defend, not accuse, against Satan’s accusations. “I have come not to condemn, but to save what was lost.”
So the Lord says to Joshua in our First Reading, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you;” So St. Paul says in our Second Reading, you are a “new creation: God has reconciled us to himself through Christ,… not counting our trespasses against us.” The ring, the finest robe, the fattened calf—all this is ours, if we return to our Father’s house. We can only do that through the grace of Christ.Therefore, Paul concludes, “we implore you: be reconciled to God.”
Three more weeks of Lent
Three more weeks of Lent, and the great liturgies of the Sacred Triduum, open up before us. There is no more propitious time in the year to be reconciled to God. Change bad habits, make a good confession, return to the Word and the Sacraments with your whole hearts, in fasting, weeping, and praying. Return to your father’s house. He will not refuse you. He will run to greet you, with open arms, for my Son, he says, “was lost, and is found. He was dead, and has come back to life again.”
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