<![CDATA[Fr. Joseph Illo's Blog - Blog]]>Thu, 26 Nov 2015 13:17:50 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Thanksgiving Homily 2015]]>Thu, 26 Nov 2015 21:16:38 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/thanksgiving-homily-2015PictureThe First Mass in 1565, before the First Thanksgiving Meal in the New World.
An Authentic Thanksgiving
A Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and many thanks for beginning your holiday with Mass this morning. You are among the faithful who celebrate a genuine Thanksgiving as did America’s founding pilgrims. We must never forget that America was founded by religious pilgrims, motivated more to worship God freely than material prosperity. Prosperity followed, but worship came first. They, and Presidents Washington and Lincoln after them, established Thanksgiving as a day of worship and sacred gratitude to God. I’ve been told that America’s very first Thanksgiving meal was at St. Augustine in Florida, following a Mass offered in thanksgiving by Spanish colonists, fifty years before the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. The first act of thanksgiving on our soil was, therefore, the Catholic Mass, the same Mass that we are offering on this Thanksgiving Day.

A cardiac Event
Last week a friend of mine went through a “cardiac event,” which means her heart almost gave out. She is fairly young but saw her life failing her, and all that she held dear being taken from her. I was amazed to hear her cheerful and even thankful voice on the phone. “In this trauma, I thank God for all he has given me, and I know He has allowed my heart to falter at this time for a good reason.” She witnessed to me that a time of pain and confusion is the precise moment to give thankful praise to God, who never ceases to care for us.

Stand Erect
Our two readings are from the 34th and last week of the Liturgical Year, and speak of the end times. The prophet Daniel is thrown into the Lion’s Den, and Jesus predicts the unimagined stress at the end of the world. In the first reading, Daniel, an exceptionally gifted youth who had enjoyed the king’s favor, is destroyed by envious people. The King, reluctantly, is forced by political necessity to execute him. One of the more gruesome means of capital punishment at the time was stripping a man naked and throwing him into a cage with several lions. Daniel refuses to express bitterness at this turn of fortune; he doesn’t miss a beat, but joyfully—even with gratitude—climbs into the cage. The next day, untouched by harm, he sings out to the king, “O King, live forever! God has sent his angel to close the lions’ mouths,” for he is the living God. Daniel’s unshakeable faith motivates his unshakable thanksgiving.  So it will be at the end of the world. “You will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,” Jesus tells us in the Gospel. Some “people will die of fright… but when these signs begin, stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”
When things go very south for you, when your enemies attack and your friends reject you, when your money fails, when your health fails, when your mind fails, stand erect, raise your head, and know that your redemption is at hand. It is precisely in distress that we must thank God, if we are to survive the great distress. People of faith, in fact, grow stronger in times of distress if they consistently thank God. They are immune from discouragement.

A. Lincoln
Let us return to President Lincoln, who uttered the following words precisely at the time of greatest national distress, in the midst of our Civil War.

“The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added… [from the] ever watchful providence of Almighty God…. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.…I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Thank God

Lincoln was not a Catholic, nor even really a Christian, but he believed in a “beneficent” power greater than himself. People like him, and like you who celebrate Thanksgiving with a Mass, are America’s best hope. May you enjoy the blessings of peace and joy with family and friends today, granted to those who put God first, thanking Him with grateful hearts. With Our lady, let us sing, Now thank we all our God, from whom all blessings flow.
<![CDATA[A Better Version of the Last Homily for the Year]]>Sun, 22 Nov 2015 18:46:10 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/a-better-version-of-the-last-homily-for-the-yearPicture
The End
We have come to the end, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost and the Last of the liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin again with the first Sunday of Advent—thus the seemingly endless cycles of life and death. But these cycles will not continue forever. Only God is forever, and one day we will reach our “end”—the essential purpose for which we were created. “You were made for a greater purpose,” said Mother Teresa. “To love and be loved.”
To attain this perfect love, which we call heaven, requires God’s Grace. But it also requires endurance on our part (longanimitas in Latin—long-suffering, literally “to a great length”). In the Epistle, St. Paul assures us that he is praying for us, his readers, even those of us at Star of the Sea in 2015. He is praying for our perseverance, because as Jesus says in the Gospel, “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.” His words (permanserit usque ad finem in Latin) mean “remaining steady through to the end.”
The Lord describes this End as one of terror, for who can see the face of God and live? Many have portrayed the Second Coming in bright and pleasant images—Jesus floating down in clouds, surrounded by rosy-cheeked baby angels, with happy souls floating up to meet him in the sky. No one knows the time or the manner in which he will return to earth, but here is how He describes that day: “when you see a desolating abomination in the holy place, you must flee to the mountains…pray that your flight not be in winter…woe to nursing women on that day…” This last warning became terrifyingly real to my mother in October 1962. It was the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Union had their nuclear warheads pointed at New York City, where our growing family was living in a small house in the Bronx. She was still nursing me, her fourth child as the world came the closest it has ever come to global nuclear war and the end of life as we knew it. The End will come, and it will be exceedingly hard: had those days not been shortened, Jesus says, no one would be saved. The powers of the heavens will be shaken, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn.
Every eye shall behold him, even those who pierced him, and no one will be able to deny either God’s existence or Christ’s Lordship on that day. “When you see these things, know that he is near, at the gates.” How do we persevere in our faith until he arrives; how do we keep our wits in a time when titanic forces will rip away our faith away?
Your Word O Lord
We have this consolation: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” One thing will remain. We will always be able to find him in the Sacred Mass. The Mass, given us through his Holy Church, not only brings us his Word, but gives us the capacity to see and hear his Word in the chaotic world. When so many of our loved ones, especially our own children, have given up on the Mass, it is tempting to lose faith in it ourselves. But today we renew our commitment to the Mass, the still center of our lives, the source of God’s Word. Even though heaven and earth collapse around us, may God find us holding tightly to that Word, to the Mass. Our Lady and all the Saints are here with us. Let us hope and pray that those closest to us will also find their way back to this fellowship—imperfect on earth, but soon to be perfected in heaven.

<![CDATA[From the Pastor's Laptop: Girl Boy Scouts]]>Wed, 18 Nov 2015 03:04:16 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-girl-boy-scoutsPictureScout Pride, the first news site Google listed on the girl boy scout story
Earlier this year a controversy ensued over the question of phasing out altar girls at my parish. Many good and thoughtful Catholics could not understand why a pastor would think that sexual differences indicate different roles in the Mass. The heat generated over this question took me aback. How much of it, I wonder, is generated by our unconscious acceptance of liberalism’s mantra that personal autonomy is the supreme good? If that is so, then indeed we should be at liberty to choose our sexual identity, despite our natural bodies.
Last week five girls submitted applications to become Boy Scouts in Santa Rosa. I don’t think this was prompted by the girls themselves, because children generally appreciate the natural differences between boys and girls. Rather, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported in an article by Steve Rubenstein: “One by one, under the watchful eyes of parents, they trooped to the head table and plopped their applications in front of Council President John Carriger. ‘I’d like to be a Boy Scout,’ each girl said” (emphasis mine).
From my experience with youth programs over the years, I’m fairly certain that these gender questions are of little interest to children, but of pressing concern to adults. When I checked this story on Google, I found that every news site listed by that estimable search engine was reporting in lockstep with the prevailing gender-neutral dogma, and many of them were homosexual advocacy sites. I was surprised, on Halloween this year, to see how many adults dressed up in costumes. Halloween in my neighborhood was less about children than about adults. Children need us adults to consider their needs before our own, at least some of the time.
Girl Altar Boys? Some of my best altar servers were girls over the years.  If redefining gender roles is of little interest to children, then who is really behind such things, and whose agenda are they advancing? So many of us have unthinkingly accepted liberalism’s mantra of “choice” but there are some things one simply cannot choose and simply cannot change no matter how loudly one says them or how hard one tries to choose them because they just are: boys can’t be girls; girls can’t be boys; marriage can’t be redefined; killing a human being is never not murder – all of these things just are because that’s how God defined them. 

Libralism's creed of personal autonomy has been the air we breathe in the West at least since Francis Bacon wrote his treatises on man’s domination of nature. Liberalism’s creed is not going to go away any time soon, but at least we can bring a measure of reason to the controversy. We can calmly insist that our natures are greater than our wills, that Mother Nature is not mocked, and that she always wins in the end.  (For a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, consider the Catholic Troops of St. George or the interdenominational Trail Life USA.)

<![CDATA[Speaker Series: Maria Elena Monzani - Sunday Nov. 15 @ 7pm]]>Fri, 13 Nov 2015 03:18:44 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/speaker-series-maria-elena-monzaniPicture
If you are near San Francisco on Sunday evening, I invite you to my parish for a 7pm presentation by Dr. Maria Elena Monzani, an astrophysicist from Stanford University. She is one of our few high-level scientists who believe in something greater than what we can see through our advanced telescopes. With images from the Hubble Telescope, she will show how the wonders of deep space show the fingerprints of God Almighty. This is sponsored by Star of the Sea’s Speaker’s Series, is free and open to the public, and will include some nicely-appointed Italian antipasto eats after the talk (eg, prosciutto, salami, cheeses, etc). Come on by if you are near--7pm this Sunday, November 15, in the parish auditorium

<![CDATA[From the Pastor’s Laptop: Mater et Caput]]>Tue, 10 Nov 2015 02:03:05 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-mater-et-caputPictureThe inscription at the base of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Today is the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome, the Cathedral of that city and the ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput (as it is written on the bases of the mighty columns flanking the central portal). Translated: “of all the churches in the City [Rome] and the world—mother and head.” She (the Lateran Basilica) is the Mother and Head of my little parish here in San Francisco, and the Mother and Head of your dear parish, wherever in the world you may worship the Good God. We celebrate the dedication of this particular parish, established in the year 324, because in solemnizing her dedication we render thanks for every one of our own little parishes.
Have you ever been to St. John Lateran? It is a magnificent church, immense but usually quite empty except on special occasions. Most parishes in Rome are empty these days, with only a few isolated people scattered among the rows of empty pews for Sunday Mass. I suppose today’s successful organizations (consider Facebook, Google and Uber here in the Bay Area, which employ thousands of the brightest and best) would consider the Catholic Church a dying entity. Considering her client base and revenue, we would have to agree.
And yet the pastors of St. John Lateran’s Parish in Rome have never given up. They have remained open through the barbarian invasions, Europe’s various civil wars, the current secularization. These men have given up expecting full churches, but they have not given up offering the Holy Sacrifice. They have had to redefine what “success” means in a post-Christian age. A successful pastor is a faithful pastor. He may or may not have lots of people at Mass, but he will continue to offer the Mass prayerfully and consistently, even if he is the only one at the altar. He will become a soul before God, and he will return every morning to the conviction that God Alone Suffices.
Those of you who have children know how discouraging it can be to see them casually toss Jesus away. Almost every faithful Catholic family I know has seen their children or grandchildren cave into practical atheism. Know this: the Domestic Church will suffer the same failures as the Parish Church. And the Parish Church suffers the same disappointments as the Mother Church in Rome. Most of our children will sell their birthrights for a bowl of porridge; they will suffer the bitter disappointments of life without God. We must do what we can to deliver Jesus, and then become a soul alone with God, heedless of success or failure. Our children are not our own; we are stewards, not owners, even of those we love the most.
The Lateran Basilica, a big empty Church in Rome, is our Mother and Head. We hope it will one day again ring with the joy of a thousand voices every Sunday. But in our time she is a Sorrowful Mother who has been abandoned by her children. She does not love them any less for it, nor love God any less.

<![CDATA[From the Pastor's Laptop: Halloween]]>Sun, 01 Nov 2015 03:38:54 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-halloweenPictureLittle Olivia receives her First Holy Communion
I’m so excited! It’s Halloween! On our classical radio station the announcer said that it is, “well, Halloween, of course, and All Souls Day. Tomorrow is All Saints Day, so tune in for our Sacred Music concert tomorrow and all will be forgiven.” Today is not All Souls, of course, but I was so happy to hear at least the connection in the secular mind between All Souls and All Saints. Every Soul is called to be a Saint. If you are in town, our All Souls High Mass will be Monday evening at 7pm.
All of us must be saints, or as Leon Bloy said, “the only real tragedy in life is not to become a saint.” To get into heaven we must become saints, that is, learn to trust God with all our “issues.” God has provided Purgatory (a second chance!) for those of us who don’t learn to trust in this life. It is unspeakably sad not to become a saint, and hell is an unspeakably sad place. Consider if one of your children were not to become a saint, that is, would end up in hell. If we find it hard to bear the death of a child, who could bear the eternal damnation of one’s own child? On this Halloween, in which not so few children do dress up like the damned, we must ask ourselves if we are safeguarding the innocence of our children. Our best hope, of course, is the Eucharist, as the older form of receiving communion says: Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ safeguard your soul unto eternal life.” May God reward all you parents who bring your children to Mass faithfully. It is their best hope for eternal happiness, for “he who eats this bread will live forever.”
Last week I spent three days with my elderly parents. Dad came out of his room one morning to see two of the great-granddaughters eating breakfast with simple joy. He lifted his hand and smiled sweetly: “to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” No earthly beauty compares to the innocence of a child, in which is revealed all the perfection of God’s sacred face. Nothing is so sad as the day a child loses her trustful purity.  As the world tears away at her purity, she looks to her parents and elders for safety.
Are we convinced that the only real tragedy is not to become a saint? And do we realize how viciously the world tears at the souls of our children? Our children trust us with their innocence. Have we been worthy of that trust? Have we done what we can to protect them from scandal? Have we fulfilled our sacred duty to teach them the eternal truths that safeguard their purity and strengthen them against corruption? Have we made sure our schools, to whom we entrust our children’s purity 40 hours a week, safeguard that purity? Something to consider this Halloween night, the eve of All Saints.

<![CDATA[From the Pastor's Laptop: Hearing it Again]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 17:01:24 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-hearing-it-againPicture
A number of you appreciated last week’s homily on Roberto Gutierrez. One email was curious, however. “Thank you for an inspiring blog. At last you gave us something positive rather than more on contraception and divorce….” I can certainly sympathize with readers who are tired of hearing about our social problems. I’m tired of writing about them.
When I was younger I would complain to my mother, and come to think of it still complain, about her belabored subjects. “Mom, you told me all about this last week. I got it the first time. I’m sick of hearing about it!” And she would say “but you’ve got to hear it again, dear.” Not only did she see the need for repetition to keep my awareness sharp, but she also wanted me to consider various dimensions of a grave problem. Apparently I didn’t see it as a grave problem, nor had I considered all the ways I might possibly solve the problem. “Let us leave no stone unturned,” she would say.
Few of our contemporaries consider contraception or divorce as grave problems. The widespread acceptance of a contraceptive mentality has led to infidelity, divorce, abortion, sexual perversion, and the consequent host of social problems. Have I said this before? I’m as tired of saying it as you are of hearing it.
But “tired” does not excuse our obligation to address a problem as grave as the loss of family life. In fact, I must conclude that we are tired of hearing about it precisely because we don’t think it is a problem. If you’ve got cancer, you don’t get tired of talking about it until it goes away. You ruminate day and night over possible ways to cure it. Sexual perversions, and the consequent loss of family life, is the social cancer of our time. Not talking about it means we accept it. Is anyone complaining that we are talking too much about poverty, or school violence, or climate change? We talk about these things because we consider them important. Is sexual purity important? Is the family important? Is human life important? If so, then we had best keep talking about contraception, divorce, and abortion, even if we are sick of them. “You’ve got to hear it again, dear,” as my mother would say.

<![CDATA[Homily: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time]]>Wed, 21 Oct 2015 21:47:38 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-29th-sunday-in-ordinary-timePictureRoberto with his wife Ana holding up a relic of St. John Vianney
Pleased to Crush Him

“The Lord was pleased to crush him.” Thus the first line of God’s Word today, from Isaiah 53. If I were a cynic, I would think this is some kind of cruel joke. Why would God want to crush anyone? Getting crushed by life is the number one reason people don’t believe in God. As St. Teresa (whose feast day we celebrated last week) said to God after falling off her horse into a stream, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.” Who wants to believe in a God who, for example, would let a young father die of cancer? Better to believe in technology or money or pleasure—at least those things can give us a little relief from a life always subject to sickness and tragedy.
On Friday I preached a requiem Mass for a man who died of cancer, leaving a wife and two children, ages 12 and 14. When Roberto was first diagnosed, I went to his home for dinner. My heart bled for the two children, whose blank expressions showed their confusion, not able to imagine life without their father. His wife was more composed, but equally at a loss to understand. We all believed in God’s providence but could not possibly understand why this was happening. Roberto, however, who was being crushed, did understand. When asked how he felt, he would say with a smile: “Never better.” We didn’t believe him. We thought he was either in denial or painting over his darkness with a plastic smile. How much longer before he crashes, we thought. How much longer can he keep believing in a loving God?

Never Better

But as the cancer ate away at his body, and every treatment failed, Roberto continued to smile (except momentarily when in extreme pain). And we began to believe him. Last week, just before he died at home, he continued to insist that he had never been better. And I believe now that Roberto was right. He came to see that the sickness was healing him, that is was a gift by which he could finally let go and trust. It was precisely through his infirmity that he gained the capacity to make that act of loving trust in God, and in his wife and children. Never had he believed in all of them, and loved them so!

My Chalice

In the Gospel, James and John demand that Jesus give them whatever they want: a really bad move. Haven’t we learned by now that God knows what will make us happy, and that only a fool tells Eternal Wisdom what to do? Jesus is patient with them: “what do you wish me to do for you?” And they blithely ask for the two top positions in his kingdom. Jesus replies: “you don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I will drink?” The brothers’ response has always impressed me: yes we can. They don’t know what discipleship will demand, but they want it, for love of Christ. And Jesus assures them that they will drink with Him, both on earth and in the Kingdom to come. He will make them capable of drinking their chalices to the bottom, because they have asked for it.
At some point in our lives Jesus will ask each of us, ‘can you drink from my chalice?’ May God permit us all to say yes, we can. Roberto Gutierrez was a very blessed Catholic American man. He and his wife had lucrative jobs, they lived in spacious home with large front and back yards, a pool, nice cars, two children (a boy and girl), and a bright American future. They were dialed in. But then Jesus came to Roberto and asked him, can you drink from my chalice? Roberto spoke for his wife and children: yes, we can. Drinking from the divine chalice, he said “I’ve never been better.” And he was right.

Peace and Joy

The question will come to us someday, if it hasn’t already. We all say yes I can, but then falter when it comes to living it out. It’s best to practice with the small stuff: you get the flu just before going on that Hawaiian vacation; someone gives you a rude gesture in traffic; your best friend stops calling you for no apparent reason. Best to practice with the small adversities and disappointments. It will lead to our peace and joy, if we, with Our Lady, can see God’s will in every circumstance. He never leaves our side, and we will be peaceful if we can only believe that. I continue, in this month of the Holy Rosary, to encourage all of you to pray the rosary, if not daily, then at least a few times a week. If we pray with and to Our Lady, we will be able to go to Calvary and back, as she did, with peace and joy. 

<![CDATA[From the Pastor's Laptop: The Wrong Side of History]]>Thu, 15 Oct 2015 23:17:01 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-the-wrong-side-of-historyPicture
I wish you a Happy Feast of St. Teresa of Jesus, of whom there are many delightful stories. My favorite is the time a little boy, all shimmering-like, appeared in our saint’s cell one day. “What is your name?” the Little Boy asked her somewhat coyly. St. Teresa replied: “I am Teresa of Jesus. What’s your name?” “I am Jesus of Teresa,” the Little Boy answered. I can hardly tell that story without tears starting in my eyes; we obviously have no identity apart from the Little Boy, but consider that he wants to have no identity apart from us.
Was this Little Boy on the wrong side of history? Certainly, in one sense. At the time of Christ’s death, no one was interested in what he had to offer. Do you increasingly feel like you are on the wrong side of history? We are told that if we persist in Catholic doctrines things like marriage, human life, and the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell—especially that last one), we will be left behind. We are told we’d best get on the right side of history or we could end up with some stiff fines or even jail time. When the Archbishop of San Francisco recently directed his high school teachers to adhere to Catholic teachings on marriage, eight state legislators complained that his standards “would be illegal for any other employer.” They encouraged him and all Catholics to get on the right side of history.
But let us refuse to be defensive. After all, we belong to the only institution that has outlived every other historical movement. All those all-powerful social phenomena, from the Roman Empire to the French Revolution to the Nazis to the Soviets: they seemed like such good ideas at the time. Their proponents declared them indisputable facts of history—conform, or be crushed, they told the Church. And they did steamroll over any who opposed them, and did hold undisputed sway over humanity, that is, until the money ran out. France’s Jacobins lasted two years, Germany’s National Socialists lasted six years, and Russia Soviets lasted 70 years. But eventually the money ran out, and people returned to the rational order of God’s natural law.
Yes, the Gospel has always been on the wrong side of history as viewed in the short-term. But we know, and can easily prove, that God is the Lord of history. You can’t deny human nature forever. Many can force us to say that men are women and women are men, but only until the money runs out. I can remember my first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, scene of one of humanity’s worst nightmares. But the nightmare lasted only five years. Purple and yellow wildflowers now adorn those killing fields, and the Blessed Sacrament resides in the old SS guardhouse (now converted into “St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish”).
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the Church is on the wrong side of history. We will all suffer in the short term from the insouciance of the powerful and the timidity of the weak. But history is God’s story, not ours. All time belongs to Him. Let’s try to keep our heads, even if it seems like everyone else has lost theirs. They will need the Church when the latest experiment in human engineering collapses, and we need to keep the Church clean and well-ordered for their return.

<![CDATA[Homily: Suicide and Divorce]]>Sun, 04 Oct 2015 14:08:10 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-suicide-and-divorcePictureA family I know on their tour of a San Francisco candy shop
Monday Note

I don’t post my homilies until a day or two after Sunday’s Mass, because I like to preach the homily a few times to real congregations before sending out a final version. I want to note something from today’s readings, however, before yesterday’s homily.
Jonah tries to flee from Yahweh by taking a ship for Tarshish, but a storm comes up and the sailors learn that it is because of him. “Throw me overboard!” he tells them. Why didn’t Jonah just jump into the sea himself? Because that would’ve been suicide, not sacrifice. He has to let the sailors throw him overboard, because killing oneself is not salvific. In two days, Governor Jerry Brown will either veto or approve a bill making suicide legal in California. The money behind this bill is immense, undoubtedly from insurance companies who don’t want to pay long-term care for the elderly. Let us pray that Governor Brown follows the 3000-year-old wisdom of our Judeo-Christian tradition, articulated by Jonah in today’s reading. Suicide is not self-sacrifice. It is despair, and always wrong. Now for Sunday’s Homily….

The Synod for the Family

Today, October 4, the feast of St. Francis, Pope Francis will open the Synod for the Family in Rome. Marriage and family life are clearly in deep trouble. These days, less than half of cohabitating couples marry, and of those who do, more than half get divorced. It cannot be merely coincidental that in today’s Mass readings, which open the three-week Synod, Jesus definitively answers the question debated in last year’s pre-synod (should the Church loosen the rules on divorce and remarriage?). “I say to you,” Jesus tells us, “whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.” The world defines marriage as a human agreement to satisfy adult desires; Jesus defines marriage as a divine covenant to provide for children.

Let no man tear apart

The world will focus on one question: will the Church change her rules on marriage like everyone else has? Consider Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. “Can a man divorce his wife?” the Pharisees ask Him. Jesus refers them back to Genesis (today’s first reading). “It is not good for man to be alone,” God says to the lonely Adam. “I will make a suitable partner for you.” So God fashions Eve, a suitable partner because she is like him enough to connect, but unlike enough to help him. So a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, who will come to love him even more than they can. The two will become one flesh. Jesus concludes matter-of-factly: if God has forged this unity, who are you to tear it apart?
Is divorce lawful? No, because it is not good for man to be alone. Divorce separates. It alienates a man and a woman, and worst of all their children. In most cases it’s worse than a difficult marriage, which after all can be fixed.
“Then why did Moses permit divorce?” you will ask. “Because of the hardness of your hearts,” Jesus replies. Certainly our hearts become hardened by life’s traumas, which render happy marriage impossible for most us. But not for God. In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter objects to Jesus’ definition of marriage, saying “if that is how it is with marriage, better not to marry.” And indeed, most do not marry these days, at least not with the expectation of lifelong fidelity. Divorce has been an option for the last 30 years. I don’t think you are capable of this either, Jesus implies, but I’m offering you a sacrament. I will give you the grace necessary to be happily faithful until death.

So Harsh

Many, especially from wealthier nations, say the Catholic Church is so harsh. We just pass the buck to Jesus—he’s the one who said those harsh words about adultery. But Jesus is no harsher than a coach who passionately believes in his athlete, who pushes him, who gives him the skills and encouragement needed to reach beyond himself, to run that five-minute mile, to win that Olympic gold. The Church refuses to “settle” for a lesser definition of marriage, and she believes we are capable of Christ’s high calling, with His help.

The Children

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus blesses the little children. “Let them come to me,” he tells the apostles. Christian marriage is essentially about children, not adults. We who began using contraceptives in the 1950s began denying children. By denying children, we began denying marriage. If October’s Synod can do anything about marriage, it will focus on children rather than adults. After Mass yesterday, a man with his four sons told me: “Your homily described my situation exactly.” His wife had left him for another man, but his sadness did not compare to the hopeless confusion in the faces of his four boys.
Why do we make sometimes immense sacrifices to keep our families stay together? Because Jesus told us that marriage is until death, and because we love our children. Look into the faces of your own children before you give up on your marriage, and beg God for the grace to bless them rather than to maim them for life.