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.
Elizabeth (left) visited by Mary, the
Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne
Homily: The Role of the Church in Checks and Balances
St. John the Prophet
Today is an odd liturgical feast: the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. All other saints are commemorated on the day of their death – their birth into eternal life). The Church celebrates the nativity of only two other people: Jesus, on Christmas, and Mary, on September 8th. But Jesus called St. John “the greatest man born of woman,” the great prophet: not foretelling the future, but speaking God’s word in the present.
My life for the truth
John spoke the Word boldly amongst the political powers of his time. He did not fear to tell Herod that a man should not live with his brother’s wife. Everybody knewthat, but John said it, and knew that saying it would get him into trouble. The Church exercises an irreplaceable prophetic role in restraining political power. Political power is intoxicating and becomes absolute if not regulated. The founders of our country established a system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. But the authors of our Constitution also guaranteeing the free exercise of religion in the public square, to safeguard another means of governmental regulation. The churches help balance the power of the state, even as the state helps balance the effective exercise of religion. For some time now, though, Church and State have been at odds. As Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law Professor recently said, “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”
We are in a two-week period of prayer, study, and fasting called by our Bishops the Fortnight for Freedom, June 21-July 4. On Friday the Church commemorated St. Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, who resisted the King’s unreasonable demand to control the Church in England in 1530. King Henry beheaded Thomas More in 1533. More went to the scaffold calmly, saying: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
We all want to be good servants of our republic, and good citizens of our state. Insisting, even with our lives and our property, that the State has no authority over certain areas of our lives is a high act of loyalty and patriotism. St. John the Baptist was beheaded in 30 AD for insisting on a moral authority above King Herod’s authority. St. Thomas More was beheaded in 1533 AD for insisting on a moral authority greater than King Henry’s authority.
We turn to our lady, the Mother of Jesus our Lord, who saw her own son executed by the Roman government for testifying to the truth. Let us pray through Mary to her Son to grace us with the wisdom, joy, and charity of the saints in our present moment.
My Father in 1991
Happy Father’s Day! A few weeks ago I visited my mother and father at the homestead in Pennsylvania. My father, Dr. John Illo, is 87 years old, and I thought I knew everything about him. But in talking to him last month, and in listening to my mother describe the early years of our family, I discovered a new respect and love for my father. He served in Manila during World War II (US Army), and now that I think of it, he used to tell us children stories about crossing the Pacific on troop ships and the liberation of Manila from the Japanese. He went on to earn his MA and PhD at Columbia University while supporting his young wife and family. We will never understand all there is to know about our fathers, but we love them and honor them.
Our spiritual fathers—the US Bishops— have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” beginning this Thursday through July 4. They explain in their letter, entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom,” how America founded its Republic on religious liberty (our founders, remember, were religious pilgrims).
“In 1634, a mix of Catholic and Protestant settlers arrived at St. Clement's Island in Southern Maryland from England aboard the Ark and the Dove. They had come at the invitation of the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who had been granted Maryland by the Protestant King Charles I of England. While Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe, Lord Baltimore imagined Maryland as a society where people of different faiths could live together peacefully.”
Pennsylvania, too, was founded by William Penn, a Quaker, who respected all faiths. In 1760, for example, Pennsylvania was the only place in the British Empire that allowed Catholics to celebrate Mass.
Religious freedom—a hallmark of American culture—is quickly eroding. Our country is tipping, dangerously. Will we do nothing as it tips? The enemies of our Republic and our Church assume we will do nothing to stop them. Join me in a Fortnight for Freedom! On June 22, I will lead a holy hour at 6:30pm to pray for our country. On June 23 at 6:30pm, I will host a “God and Coffee” on religious freedom. Let us fast, too, on the Fridays of June 22 and June 29. Let us pray the rosary and St. Michael prayer with our families. See the insert of this bulletin for the full schedule of our Fortnight.
Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally Address
June 8, 2012 in San Francisco, California
Last month I took my elderly mother into Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. We stood before that icon of American freedom and read its inscription: PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV. V X.
This quote from Leviticus describes the Biblical Jubilee Year. Every 49 years, God commanded that all slaves be freed, and all debts be canceled. By doing so, the people acknowledged God alone as the true master of all men and owner of all property. Before God, “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights.”
The message on the Liberty Bell is clear enough: God, not man, is the foundation of human liberty. If we attempt to build a social order apart from God’s law, we lose our freedom
. The liberty bell first rang 260 years in the only place in the British Empire to permit religious freedom, in Philadelphia, the capital city of America at the time. America pioneered religious liberty. Our founders made the statement to the world that religious freedom is good
for society. 260 years later, will America relinquish that freedom without a struggle? I want to invoke God’s blessing upon all of you who have come to this fair city of San Francisco to stand up for religious liberty. I want to beg God’s mercy upon all of us who have come to engage the battle for American freedom inscribed not only on our Liberty Bell, but on every piece of American currency: in God
we trust. Not in men, but in God.
As a boy, I read a book by Fr. Walter Czisek, With God in Russia
. Fr. Czisek spent 15 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps for practicing his faith. The book greatly inspired me, but I wondered if anything like that could ever happen in America. My parish in Modesto supports a parish in Vladivostok, Russia. Shortly after the Soviet government dynamited the Orthodox Cathedral in Vladivostok (on Easter Sunday 1922), the Catholic Cathedral was confiscated and turned into a state archive. Since 1991, two American priests have painstakingly restored that building. But religious practice in Russia, and the social goods that depend on religion, has not so quickly recovered. Religious liberty, once lost, takes a long time to recover.
In 2002 I visited our sister parish in Vladivostok
. I’ll never forget the impression this Soviet city of 1 million presented as we flew in: not one steeple or dome, not one cultural monument, to break the miles of deteriorating apartment buildings and grey factories. The Soviets had decided to revoke every religious liberty. With religion removed from the public square, the government became hopelessly corrupt, culture declined, and the economy collapsed. In a society that looks to the government as the highest moral authority, lying, cheating, and stealing are indispensable business practices. As the producer the current movie For Greater Glory
recently said, “No one ever wins when religion is oppressed.” What is happening in the United States today? Mary Ann Glendon summed it up last month: “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”Thomas Aquinas College
in Southern California recently published an Open letter to President Obama
. “It is manifestly an affront to the American conception of religious liberty and to the first amendment of the US constitution to demand that citizens ‘adapt’ to a violation of conscience.” This is our core principle in the current battle: we can never adapt to a violation of our foundational right. It would violate not only common good
but also our identity
as free men and women. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York declared in a Face the Nation interview in April, “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we won’t back away from it.”
Today in Vladivostok, the skyline is not as flat and colorless as it used to be. The Catholics have rebuilt their cathedral, and its twin steeples now grace the skyline at 22-stories high. With greater religious liberty in Russia, life is improving, although the Putin government continually threatens to restrict this fundamental right. But what will Philadelphia look like in 50 years if we surrender our First Amendment Rights? What will San Francisco, or New York, or Chicago look like if we lose this battle? Let us pray to God, to whom the battle belongs, that we have the strength, the wisdom, the charity and the courage to engage this, our moment, and to acquit ourselves as well, under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.
Photos from the Rally
The Liberty Bell inscription
from Leviticus 25:10
“PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL
THE LAND UNTO ALL
THE INHABITANTS THEREOF”
A few weeks ago, Florida’s American Legion Auxiliary Girls State refused to allow its Catholic participants to attend Sunday Mass. The convention describes itself as “a nonpartisan program that teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and Country,” and I’m sure it is a fine program. Margeaux Graham, one of 300 girls in the state convention, asked to leave the program for an hour on Sunday to attend Mass. She was refused. The regional leader asked if he could bring a priest to the convention to offer Mass for the Catholic girls. He was refused. At that point, Margeaux dropped out of the program rather than drop out of Sunday Mass. “This country was founded on the principles of religious and personal freedom,” Margeaux wrote to the convention leadership, “the fundamental rights that either you or your loved ones fought to protect.”
This case manifests a growing intolerance for religious liberties in our country. Nothing good can come from denying our citizens the right to worship. Denying the good that religion brings to society will only weaken that society. We cannot stand by as some in our society deconstruct our civil freedoms and weaken our social order. The Bishops of our country have set aside 14 days, from June 21 to July 4, as a “fortnight for freedom a great hymn of prayer for our country. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. At St. Joseph’s, your priests will lead an hour of prayer on Friday, June 22, from 6:30-7:30pm, to pray that religious intolerance be averted. We will pray that people of all faith or no faith at all join hands as brothers and sisters. You will see articles in this bulletin, and hear homilies encouraging us all to know and defend the first of our Bill of Rights, the freedom to practice our religion in a peaceful and socially beneficial manner. Let freedom continue to ring across this Land!
40 Days For Life: Many prayers, candles and
signs outside of the abortion
clinic in Modesto.
There is an accelerating “climate change” in our country. In particular, Religious Freedom in America is eroding faster than the glaciers in Greenland. The founders of our nation saw the need to immediately strengthen our Constitution with the “Bill of Rights.” The first of those Bill of Rights is the free exercise of religion. This First Amendment guarantees citizens the free practice of the faith of their choice, without the interference of the U.S. Government.
Two weeks ago the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandated that all employers will purchase insurance that provides sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing drugs. That means that our parish, for example, will have to pay for the chemical abortions of our employees, should they request it. Catholic hospitals will have to provide for abortions. In a meeting with pastors last week, Bishop Blaire stated forcefully that the Obama Administration’s decision is “an egregious—an egregious—violation of the Constitution and the First Amendment.” Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience…. This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.” As of this writing (February 1), 125 bishops and many other public figures of our nation have joined him in strong objection.
Which way America? What freedoms of conscience will the government still permit us in the years to come? How much more will the Church be singled out for persecution? In 2010, Cardinal George of Chicago spoke these prophetic words: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." Which way, America?