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 have entered the fifth week of Lent—in the older calendar, “Passion Sunday.” According to a more ancient tradition, the four-week season of Lent ends as the two-week season of Passiontide begins today. But even in the newer form of the Mass, from today the readings focus on Our Lord’s approaching suffering and death rather than the Lenten themes of sin and conversion. Both forms also use the Passiontide Preface (or, the Preface of the Holy Cross), rather than a Lenten Preface, in these last two weeks. The Crucifix may be covered from today until Good Friday, and statues until the Easter Vigil. Today is also known as “Judica” Sunday, because the introit or entrance verse comes from Psalm 42, the same verse used for the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. “Judica me Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta.” Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against a godless people. These words stay on Our Savior’s lips throughout his Sacred Passion. Tu Deus fortitudo mea, “you O God are my strength”—Jesus clings to this psalm as he endures the outrages of wicked men.
Finally, until the 1940s a second collect prayer for the Pope was said on Passion Sunday. Since the third century, the Bishop of Rome would offer a Mass at each of the 50 or so “station churches” in Rome, to show his paternal solicitude for the various parishes of his Diocese. Over the centuries, the tradition of offering Mass in one of these ancient parishes on each of the 46 days of Lent developed. The station church visited on this day, Passion Sunday, is San Pietro in Vaticano, St. Peter’s Basilica, the home of the Popes since 1377. It is our joy to pray for the Pope today, on the day of his Station Church, especially as our new Pontiff prepares to take formal possession of his office at his Installation Mass on Tuesday.
Our Gospel is taken from St. John Chapter 8, which begins with the women taken in adultery, which is the Gospel for the Ordinary Form today. Jesus pardons the woman, who would have been stoned to death by Jewish law, but he also tells her to sin no more. This act of forgiving sin, which we Catholics take for granted every time we enter a confessional, seemed to blast a big hole right through the Old Covenant, although in reality Jesus was fulfilling rather than detracting from the Mosaic Law. It drove the Pharisees and legal scholars to fury against Jesus. They accuse him of everything under the sun: You are a Samaritan (that is, a heretic). You are insane. You are possessed. Jesus patiently, but firmly, corrects their absurd charges, but finally speaks the one word that is sure to get him killed, the unspeakable tetragrammaton: I AM. It is the Name that Moses heard on Mount Sinai, the name Yahweh. “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” So Jesus declares his eternity and his divinity. He leaves no room for equivocation: either he is a madman, claiming to be divine, or he is all that he says he is: the eternal consubstantial Son of God. Immediately the Jews picked up stones to kill him.
Jesus is obliged to hide: Jesus abscondit se. Consider the indignity of having to run and hide. The Lord of Lords and King of Kings, having pronounced his divine Name, must dodge his enemies and hide behind a tree or down some dark alley. He doesn’t have to hide himself, of course, but his hour has not yet come. In obedience to his Father’s plan, then, he does what puny human beings often have to do: he runs and hides. He hides the way Adam hid behind a tree after he had sinned. The Christ did not sin, but he knows the shame we all feel when we must hide ourselves. Our frail humanity must often hide or flee certain evils we cannot prevent. Inevitable human misunderstandings, awkwardness in certain social situations, and the consequences of our own miserable sins all require us to flee and to hide. Every morning when we put on clothing, we are hiding our bodies from shame and embarrassment. When we enter the confessional we hide our sins from others (and sometimes even from the priest, depending on how we make our confession!).
We long to be free of shame; we yearn for a day when we will no longer have to run and hide. But that day is not yet here. For now, we must endure our shame, and we enter into Our Savior’s humiliation before men. His shame, freely chosen, will heal our shame. Through his stripes, in his blood, we are healed. We enter into this time of Passiontide, heedless of the shame, with Christ our Lord.
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
Extraordinary Form Homily September 30, 2012
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Jesus crossed the lake to his home town of Capernaum. Just as he is getting out of the boat, some men hurry up to the dock to lay down their paralyzed friend, right in front of Jesus. And Our Lord goes to the root of the problem: he cures the man’s sins. Only after healing his sins does he heal his paralysis.
We take two lessons from today’s Gospel.
A Bold Move
Our First Lesson: the paralyzed man’s friends make a bold move by plopping him down right in front Our Lord. They don’t give Jesus any choice but to face their friend, and they don’t give their friend any choice but to face Jesus. St. Thomas writes: “the paralytic symbolizes the sinner lying in his sin; just as the paralytic can’t move, so the sinner cannot help himself.” Those who bring the paralytic to Jesus lead the sinner to God. Most of the time we bring a friend to God by praying to God for his soul. Sometimes more direct action is indicated. A good friend will take a buddy to an AA meeting if circumstances warrant an intervention. A good friend will insist that his brother get to confession if he needs it.
And this brings us to our Second Lesson: the Sacrament of Penance. This sacrament releases paralyzed limbs and hearts. Imagine paralysis in the ancient world, before motorized wheelchairs, handicapped ramps, and automatic doors. A paralyzed man had to lay on his back for the rest of his life, staring blankly up at the sky. So this paralytic lies in front of Jesus, helpless. Does Jesus cure his paralysis? Yes, but only after he forgives his sins. Our Lord points out that mortal sin is worse than paralysis. Indeed, it is sin that paralyzes. It puts us flat on our backs. The first thing in any distress—physical, emotional, or spiritual—is to go to confession. Jesus heals the man’s paralysis with a word, not only indicating his divinity, but showing how external paralysis only manifests the root problem: the internal paralysis of mortal sin. The first thing in any sickness is to get to confession, because the soul is infinitely more important than anything else. If our souls are all right, the rest of us will be perfectly all right. Even it pleases God to permit a persistent bodily infirmity, we will be all right.
A Pure Heart, a Strong Spirit
St. Maximilian Kolbe was sick from the age of 17. Tuberculosis struck him while in the seminary and left him with only 25% lung capacity the rest of his life. But see how this infirm man founded and oversaw the largest friary in the world, Neopokolanow near Warsaw, with 700 men. At the time of his arrest in 1941, he managed the largest printing business in Poland. He survived three months in Auschwitz while giving his food to others, and in the end freely offered his life for another man in the starvation bunker. Where did he get his extraordinary strength? Not from his weak body, which God never cured in his life. Fr. Kolbe’s remarkable strength came from a pure soul, a heart cleansed of sin.
If we are sick in spirit, and even sick in body, let us look first to our souls. If our nation is sick, let it look above all to its soul. Our Lord wishes to cleanse, heal, and strengthen us, but we must get on our knees before him. We must confess our personal sins, and repent of our national sins. Nothing else matters if the soul is diseased. Our souls must be our first concern.
Let us pray to the Blessed Mother, that she also bring our sick and suffering souls to her Divine Son, that we may share her purity, and the glory God has bestowed upon her, and all the saints.
Homily: Spiritual Paralysis
In today’s Gospel, the man was paralyzed, helpless. He could not move. He was completely dependent on others. Have you ever been laid up, and had to gratefully depend on the care of your friends? We learn to love each other so much more deeply when we surrender ourselves to another’s care, or surrender ourselves to caring for another. Illness can be a beautiful means of receiving divine love.
The man was paralyzed, and his friends brought him to Jesus. They couldn’t get through crowds around the door, so they climbed up on the roof, broke a hole in it, and lowered him down with ropes. “When Jesus saw their faith”—not only “his” faith, but the faith of the man’s friends, he said to the paralytic: “My child, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus goes straight to the root problem: the man’s sins. His real problem was not physical paralysis, but the spiritual paralysis that binds all men and women.
Last night the musician Tony Melendez gave a concert here in Modesto. He was born without arms, but he plays the guitar with his toes and sings so beautifully. Tony radiates joy, despite or even perhaps because of his disability. A man does not need perfect physical health to be happy. That is a lie of the “supermodel culture.” In fact, physical gifts can lead to great sadness—poor Whitney Houston, for example. She began singing Gospel music in her church choir, but the world twisted her gifts, seduced her, and led her to a bitter end. A growing spiritual paralysis eventually killed her.
Jesus reconciled the man
Jesus goes straight to the heart of the matter. “My Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is the only word we need to hear to be truly happy: that whatever we’ve done or not done in our lives, God is greater than our failures. He will reconcile us if we trust him. This is the “word” that Jesus was preaching—“many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, and he preached the word to them.” This is the word that draws out the human heart, and draws immense crowds. This is real healthcare.
True Health Care
A word about the healthcare debate between the Church and the current presidential administration. (Please take a bulletin home, because it includes an important insert from our Bishops on this issue.) The most vital healthcare Americans need is not contraception or access to all sorts of pharmaceuticals. The real healthcare we need is for our souls, because America is sick at its soul.
A secular government is promising all sorts of Band-Aids for our national paralysis—limitless access to sexual intercourse, countless free drugs and pharmaceuticals, and a towering debt to pay for it all. But only Jesus addresses the real problem: we lack God’s grace. We must turn to a power higher than the government.
The HHS mandate in question is not really about contraception, although the administration wants to frame it in those terms. The Mandate is really about an executive branch of government that seeks utter control even over our consciences. It cannot tolerate a power higher than itself. It wants to erase any faith-based activity from the public square; it wants to restrict the people’s faith to private churches. The Mandate would drive Catholic hospitals and universities—indeed, any conscience-based activity—out of business. It is an old problem, but we are facing it anew.
Our national paralysis is becoming obvious. A stubborn economic paralysis depresses America; political gridlock frustrates collaboration among rival parties. The battle is not about healthcare or about the economy or about politics. The battle is over America’s soul. We have turned our backs on God. Are we willing to turn back to a power higher than the government, or do we somehow hope that the congress, the presidential administration, and the courts can solve our conflicts? We are truly a conflicted nation at this time, and it is causing a persistent paralysis of our national energies.
Lent begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. The word “Lent” means springtime in Old English, and every springtime is a new beginning. We enter into Lent with true hope: that God will help us conquer our addictions and overcome our paralysis. The first reading from Isaiah speaks this hope: “Remember not the things of the past—see, I am doing something new!” God gives us another day, another chance, another Lent. We can regain our innocence; we can recover the joy of our youth. Make a plan for Lent now: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Give yourself to Jesus this Lent through resolute acts of love and sacrifice. And put it all into the immaculate hands of our Blessed Mother.
Jesus healed people, and only the Church can heal and protect the dignity of every human person in our nation. We cannot look to the Government to heal our cultural ills. Our nation needs the Church as much or more than it needs the government. After all, America was founded by pilgrims feeling government oppression, to establish a country where citizens could practice their faith free of government control. They made this the very first amendment of our bill of rights.