<![CDATA[Fr. Joseph Illo's Blog - Blog]]>Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:20:18 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time]]>Sun, 31 Jan 2016 23:20:03 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-4th-sunday-in-ordinary-timePictureProphetic love: our parishioners Paolo and Liz with their baby Sophia at the Walk for Life last month
Love is patient….
Our second reading today should sound familiar, if you’ve ever been to a wedding: “Love is patient, Love is Kind....Love never fails.” I’ll return to St. Paul’s description of Christian love in a minute, but first a glance at the Old Testament and Gospel readings.
I will not leave you crushed
The Prophet Jeremiah is discouraged. His fellow Jews oppose or, worse, ignore, his preaching. I can relate to that, because I often feel like I’m preaching to an empty (or mostly-empty) church on Sundays. Do you ever get that feeling when you speak to your children or employees, that they just couldn’t care less? So Yahweh speaks encouragement to his prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Last Saturday 50,000 of us marched down Market Street in solidarity with people still in their mothers’ wombs, but actually God knows each of us even before we are conceived. Before we even make it to the womb, God knows us and loves us. “Be not crushed,” he tells Jeremiah, “as though I would leave you crushed!” Every prophet will be rejected by the people he loves because the word of God will always be a sign of contradiction. If we are not at some point “crushed” by the words we bear we are not speaking God’s word. Yes, the prophet will be crushed, but God will not leave him crumpled in the dirt. He will raise him up, stronger, better, invincible. “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, because I am with you,” says the Lord.
The Cliffs
Jesus too speaks the word of God in his hometown, and his neighbors are driven to fury. They drag him to the edge of the cliffs on which Nazareth is built to hurl him down headlong, but he passes through their midst. Just a digression here, if you don’t mind. In a few days forty of us from this parish will look up at those jagged 70 foot limestone cliffs. On Wednesday we leave on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to walk where the Son of God walked, to pray at the places he prayed, to see, smell, and taste the life he lived. And we will offer Mass where he died and rose. Nothing like a week in the Holy Land confirms a man’s faith in Christianity, because our faith is real, it is historical. We can spend a week in the place where eternity stepped into time. The first time I saw those horrible cliffs near Nazareth, I shuddered to think how the people Jesus grew up with would want to cast him from their pinnacles. I encourage you to make that trip before you die. So they try to kill Jesus, and they do kill Jesus eventually, in the most horrible manner possible. But He will say from the cross, “Father, forgive them. I still love them….”
Love never fails
In our second reading, St. Paul defines the love Christ pours into us from Calvary. I don’t have time to unpack even half of the riches of this passage—I leave it to your prayerful reading of this Scripture (for example, during your weekly holy hour). But this I will say about Paul’s description of Christian Love: it never fails. If you make a speech at the Rotary Club, and you don’t get all the words right, or didn’t prepare well, or are just not a good speaker—your words will not fail if you speak with love. If you are not that smart, and you don’t know how to run your business or your family or your friendships well, if you only use love, you will not fail. If you submit to God’s love in the way you speak, in the patience and kindness with which you speak and act, he will not fail you. Love will not fail you, because God does not fail.
Mother of Mercy
Pope Francis has declared a year of mercy for this reason, that it is love, not knowledge, it is fidelity, not success, it is mercy, not sacrifice, that God desires. We turn to Mary, the Mother of Mercy Incarnate, Jesus Christ. She will teach us how to speak and act with love, even in very difficult circumstances. My first pastorate was a large parish; 30 staff. I didn’t know quite how to lead such a large number—you know that if you get more than two people in a room you’ve got a fight. I tried all sorts of prayer techniques and best management practices, but eventually I just got them together every Wednesday to pray the rosary (and of course after the rosary, lunch). But it was the presence of Our Lady, and her Son, that made our parish, and parish staff, a place of love. The love of God, through her, will not fail us.

<![CDATA[From the Pastor's Laptop: ​God's Time]]>Fri, 29 Jan 2016 19:26:43 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-gods-timePictureThe Missionaries of Charity retreat in Realengo, Brazil in June 2014
On Wednesday I offered Mass at the Missionaries of Charity Novitiate here in San Francisco. Normally the sisters begin the processional hymn as soon as the priest enters the sacristy, no matter what time it is. I used to wonder at this but then discovered that most MC chapel clocks are five minutes fast. As Mother Teresa was always in a hurry to serve Jesus, so their clocks to this day are just a few minutes ahead of everyone else. It's a kind of a race, and many of us priests try to outpace the sisters by getting to the convent even before they get to the chapel so we have time to vest.
But on Wednesday I got into the sacristy just a few minutes before the hour but the sisters remained silent. What's wrong, I wondered. Are they losing their touch. At the top of the hour I entered the chapel for Mass and glanced at the clock. It was a few minutes slow, and the sisters were simply being obedient to the chapel clock, as always. I must say it was the first time I've seen an MC clock slow, but it made me think that perhaps time does not hold the MCs in bondage as it does the rest of us.
Mother Teresa's clocks are mostly fast, but sometimes slow, and sometimes in agreement with our nation's atomic clock in Colorado. But always Mother Teresa's daughters live not in this world's time but God's time. Through much prayer and practice, these novices will learn to live within the times and places of God's choosing. 
We've been hearing the story of King David at daily Mass. On Wednesday, Nathan the prophet tells David that it is not yet time to build the Lord's temple. Even though the King had amassed the gold, silver, stone, and wood for a splendid house of God, he was to continue worshipping in a tent until God gave the word. In fact, David would never have the satisfaction of carrying out his plan, and the first temple would always be known as "Solomon's Temple," despite the fact that it was his father David who had provided all the materials.
One sows, and another reaps, Jesus told us. One begins the building, and another completes it. Have you ever put great effort into a project (such as raising your children) and seen very little success come from it? Then another comes along and provides some little spark that brings your work to completion, and runs off with all the glory. To be a missionary (as we all are--sent from God to save souls) means to work without commensurate compensation in a foreign land. It means surrendering to God's time rather than insisting on our own expectations. It's not easy to plan (as we all must) and then accept the transmutation of those plans.
We are all Christian missionaries of charity during our earthly pilgrimage. And we are all novices in that missionary life. The Missionaries of Charity don't worry over much about exact time. Every time is the right time to praise God, and to bring that praise to others' hearts. So let us not be overly concerned about where and when we are. Let us hope, rather, that we can do something beautiful for God in the little time given us on earth, and enter before long into the eternity of happiness prepared for those who love Him. 

<![CDATA[Homily: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time]]>Mon, 25 Jan 2016 01:01:49 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-third-sunday-in-ordinary-timePicture
Our Throw Away Culture

Yesterday around 50,000 people, mostly under 30 years of age, testified to the sacred value of every human life by walking down Market Street here in San Francisco. 60 people from our own parish walked as well, under our blue parish flag, behind our blue banner, most wearing our blue parish T-shirts. The 11th annual Walk for Life West Coast met limited but fierce opposition—a little knot of pro-abortion folks at Powell Street, which our wonderful SFPD dutifully kept back from the peaceful prolife crowd. One of them shouted repeatedly through a bullhorn, “the fetus is not a baby,” while families passed by with large photographs of beautiful babies, fully-formed, in the womb. We wondered how they could be so angry and in such denial.
Pope Francis coined the term “throw away culture,” which best describes the abortion industry. We throw away perfectly good food, we throw away usable clothing, cars, and electronics; we too easily give up on marriages that could be repaired and friendships that just need a little loving care. But it began, I think, when we began throwing away our children. We all bear this national sadness, in that we have given up on what just needs a little love. But the Walk for Life yesterday was not sad, and not angry (except for the few counter demonstrators). It was full of joy, the joy of our youth. After all, the Walk for Life is about the joy of new life. It is the natural law that we proclaim, and the existence of a beneficent God who has given us life, and given it abundantly.
The Joy of the Gospel

In the first reading today, Ezra the priest publicly reads from the books of the Law to the Jewish people. Israel had lost the law for 50 years during their Babylonian Captivity, and they have a lot of catching up to do. Ezra reads from daybreak to midday, and the people weep as they hear it. “Do not weep,” Ezra says, “and do not be sad, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” In the Gospel, the Lord himself reads from Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue, where he had grown up. “I proclaim a year of grace, a year acceptable to the Lord.” Jesus finishes the reading, rolls up the scroll, and sits down. “Today, this prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing,” he says quietly. In Jesus, God is with us, and we are acceptable to the Him, no matter what we have done or had done to us. A few parishioners who had never been on the Walk before told me how much joy they discovered in hearing the speeches and seeing the energy of the crowds. They had accepted a culture in which parents give up on their children, and yesterday they discovered the joy of the Gospel. God can save us from the sadness that abortion brings to our land.
Ever Young

I’m always struck by the energy, the joy, the youthfulness of the Pro-life Movement. It is born of a conviction that we are free and at peace with nature if we submit to God’s natural ways. We can keep our children as do every other species God has placed on this beautiful earth. He will provide the joyful strength to face any difficulty that raising children may bring, if we but trust Him. As Obianuju Ekeocha, a speaker from Nigeria, said yesterday, "I stand here before you not just as a black person or an African person. I stand here before you as a woman to say we should never have to buy success with the blood of our babies." We do not have to choose between a child and a successful life. God gives us both, if we are willing to let Him describe success for us.

<![CDATA[From the Pastor’s Laptop: St. Agnes’ Day]]>Thu, 21 Jan 2016 15:28:34 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-st-agnes-dayPictureThe poorest children in the western hemisphere: Missionaries of Charity school in Haiti
This morning I offered Mass at the Missionaries of Charity women’s shelter here in San Francisco. Six sisters gathered in the small chapel, heads bowed before the simple altar to celebrate the Feast of St. Agnes. Mother Teresa was baptized “Agnes” by her parents, after one of Rome’s famous child martyrs, beheaded at age 12 because she would not marry a prefect’s son. Today St. Agnes’ church presides over the Rome’s Piazza Navona, filled these days with monumental fountains and street artists. Inside the basilica, at a side altar, rests the girl’s head, her tiny skull, about the size of a grapefruit, such a precious relic of the Church’s glorious but simple faith. She was not yet 13, her body not yet fully-formed, even her petite head still that of a child, when she stared down the Roman Empire. “I would rather die,” she told Roman omnipotence, “than give myself to anyone but Christ.”
Tomorrow marks 43 years of legalized abortion in the United States. In 1917 Our Lady said at Fatima that Russia would spread her errors throughout the world. At the heart of Soviet communism was disregard for the human person, where individuals are merely “capital,” cogs in the great machine of economic history. The Roman Empire, which recognized no inherent value in human persons, was built on the same economic principles. Only when Jesus and His Church brought the good news that each person is made in the image of God, did the culture of the west begin to recognize human rights. While the Soviets outlawed Jesus and His Church for 70 years, Russia did indeed spread her error of depersonalization throughout the world. Soviet Russia was the first large government to legalize and promote abortion. We have embraced that error of depersonalization, and it is now America who is spreading her errors throughout the world. Tomorrow is a day of prayer for the full legal restoration of all people’s right to life, and a day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person through acts of abortion. Your priests are instructed to wear violet vestments tomorrow in acknowledgement of the darkness and pain we are spreading.
What a grace to offer Mass, then, on St. Agnes’ Day at Mother Teresa’s sisters’ women and children’s shelter. The full might of the American Government is behind the abortion industry, but here six simple sisters are providing a home for 12 homeless women and their children. During my homily, a child began shouting somewhere in the building, and I was a little irritated. how can I preach in this chaos? And then God corrected me: it is impatience—even intolerance—for children that has led us to legalized abortion. If, as Marx wrote, human beings are just “laborers” with no greater value than moving parts of an “economy,” than children have no right to life unless they contribute to the economy. At the shelter this morning, these poor mothers and children, a liability to the American economy thrown out by our economically-driven society, knew that they were more than pieces of a machine. They knew the love of these sisters, who show them great patience day in and day out. Love is patient, and love is kind, wrote St. Paul. Long after the “economy” has collapsed, that loving kindness will still be with us, thanks to God’s grace and the witness of the martyrs.
Don’t neglect your prayers and fasting tomorrow, Friday, January 22, and I’ll see many of you at the Walk for Life in San Francisco on Saturday. I’ll be under our blue 15’ Star of the Sea parish flag.

<![CDATA[Homily: Wedding Feast at Cana]]>Sun, 17 Jan 2016 20:26:45 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-wedding-feast-at-canaPictureTwo new friends I met in the parking lot the other Sunday
Today the Gospel recounts the Second Luminous Mystery, the Wedding at Cana. We hear the last recorded words of our Lady today, uttered just before Jesus’ first public miracle: “Quodcumque dixerit vobis, facite.” Whatsoever he will tell you: do it. “Do whatever he tells you.”

Not my problem

The wedding is at Cana, a village 15 minutes east of Nazareth. The reception would be shockingly poor by today’s standards; the modest amount of wine the newlyweds could afford soon ran out. Our Lady sees the impending embarrassment, and discreetly mentions it to Jesus, who at first refuses. In Greek he says guné, tí emoí kai soí, “woman, what matters this to me or to you?” It’s not my problem. Our Lady doesn't press Jesus, but she finds another way to entrust the Lord with her prayer. And this is how he wants us to pray—to ask for grace like we really want it ("you will find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer. 29). This week marks 43 years of legal abortion in the United States, and many of us are preparing for the Walk for Life on Saturday. The Church will keep on walking, and keep on praying, as we have these 43 years, until this barbaric injustice is corrected. Like Our Lady we will persist in prayer, but trust God’s perfect will, even if it seems he is ignoring us.

The wine of human relationships

Notice that Jesus does his first public miracle at a wedding. He doesn’t just bless the wedding with a wave of his hand; he provides 150 gallons of the most excellent wine so that the people might enjoy themselves in each other’s company. Wine, in biblical terms, is joy (“he gives wine cheer the hearts of men” Ps 105). God is not satisfied with mere politeness at his wedding party, and neither are we. He wants us to laugh and sing and dance with each other, to form deep and trusting friendships.  But why is deep friendship so elusive? We learn to keep our distance from others because we discover that deeper human relationships always include pain. Everyone has issues, and it’s just too much trouble to share those issues. Without occasionally entering into another’s pain, however, we will never enjoy real friendship, either with God or with other human beings. The pain we must share with those we love is a small price to pay. God doesn’t want us to live in isolation, and neither do we. The first recorded observation of God about human nature, in Gen 3, is that it is not good for man to be alone.

A Parish Family

Do you feel isolated in this large city? Do you feel isolated in this large urban parish? Is it a home to you, or just a place to get the sacraments and get out? Many of us have good friends in the parish, but I’ll bet most of us don’t know the names of the people sitting around us right now. Young people often say that Mass is boring.  They say that because young people crave authentic friendships, and they are not finding them at Mass. In fact, church is boring if it does not provide the wine of human and divine warmth. And if young people do not find the joy of human warmth at Mass, they will find it elsewhere—in a bar, at a football game, on the street. Unless we adults put some energy into making our parish a family, a place where people want to learn each other’s names, our children will find love elsewhere.

Mother brings us together

Our Lady brings the wine—the joy of human warmth—to a group of invitees who probably didn’t know each other well. Here at Star of the Sea we are still largely a congregation of anonymous people, and that’s a shame because we are parish named for Our Lady. Many friendship groups are forming in our parish, thanks be to God, but we have a long way before we will attract young people looking for love. You and your children need more than that in a parish.
A few suggestions to make our parish more like a home: Many folks escape out the 8th Ave door after Mass, presumably so they won’t have to greet anyone between their pew and their car. Even if you walked to Mass, a simple act of charity would be to exit toward the parking lot, which is the only social space we have at Star. You would have occasion to learn each other’s names, and maybe make a new friend. You could join one of our bible studies and sit for an hour with ten other people around the bible; you could come to the monthly barbecues or the Tuesday holy hour to pray the rosary together. You could attend the next Star Speaker Series—we always have hospitality after the talk—or you could attend Saturday’s Walk for Life as a parish rather than as isolated individuals. Our Lady will help us become a parish family, and will provide the wine of real human warmth, so that this parish becomes a truly human community. That is what God wants, that is what we all need as human beings.


<![CDATA[From the Pastor’s Laptop: Epiphany Again]]>Thu, 07 Jan 2016 20:33:17 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-epiphany-againPictureThe card my mother and father sent me for Christmas
Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany, which most of us celebrated on Sunday, but some of us celebrated again yesterday. For that matter, I celebrated Epiphany again this morning because we have the Latin Mass every morning. I was able to offer a “ferial Mass of the Epiphany,” with all the readings, prayers, and other trimmings packed into a little low Mass at 7:30am. What a joy to read again and again the story of the Three Kings, and to bask in those rich prayers. In the older calendar, Masses between Christmastide and Lent are not named “Masses in Ordinary Time” but “Masses after Epiphany,” pointing to the Feast of the Three Kings as an anchor in the liturgical year.
After the day’s work yesterday, I sat in a large chair by the fire as El Nino’s storms blew over the city. Among my personal mail was a Christmas card from Mom and Dad. The envelope portrayed a faint rendering of the three kings, pointing to something in the distance. The card inside had the same image in full color, revealing that to which the Kings pointed: small figures of a woman on a donkey, led by a man with staff in hand. We get the impression that the woman was expecting a child. “May the Star brighten your life” the card read. My mother is forever apologizing for getting Christmas cards out late, but it arrived in my hands precisely on the Feast of Epiphany. Thanks Mom!
The importance of the Star revealed itself to me at Mass this morning, as I “re-celebrated” Epiphany. The Star is especially to the priests and people of a church named “Star of the Sea.”  Our Lady is that Star, and we must imitate her as Stewards of the New Evangelization.” Anyone who is a member of any Catholic parish is given the capacity to shine like stars in the sky to a world that has never “heard” of Jesus Christ. San Francisco is full of brilliant young adults, young adults who do not necessarily reject Jesus or his Church, but who have so much else to do than go to a church. A Star filled the three Kings with joy. Can we be stars of joy to those we meet on the streets of our cities?

<![CDATA[Homily: 2016 Feast of the Epiphany ]]>Mon, 04 Jan 2016 02:47:12 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-2016-feast-of-the-epiphanyPictureNew stars being born in the N92 sector of the Small Magellanic Cloud
From the top of the year
By ancient tradition, the Church sets the dates for the coming year’s liturgical feast at the Epiphany Mass, based on the date for Easter. This year, we will celebrate the Great Pasch on March 27, and from our Epiphany perch at the top of the year we can see the year’s great mysteries opening before us. Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate these mysteries every year, going more deeply into their graces every time? God always gives us another chance….
Starz and the Star
Fr. Philip, the Russian Orthodox priest a few blocks over, called me today. He wondered if he could have some of our cast-off poinsettias for his Russian Christmas on Wednesday (January 6). He assumed that we Romans would have ended our Christmas festivities early, while the Russians were just getting going. I told him that we will be celebrating Christmas until next Sunday, but that we could come up with at least a dozen poinsettias for our Slavic brethren down the street. This is one of the joys of city life, to have so many interesting cultures and friends within a stone’s throw.
Epiphany is truly the day of gift giving: Jesus received gifts from the Magi, but the Magi received the far greater gift of seeing God face to face. St. Matthew tells us that the Magi were “overjoyed” at seeing the star, not only because of its shining brilliance, but because its beauty led them to the Savior. When they found Jesus and his Mother, they forgot all about the star! They prostrated themselves and did homage to the King of Kings, who makes the stars (have you ever seen those blazing images from the Hubble telescope of a “stellar nursery?” the Lord’ is continually giving birth to new stars!). But we poor humans commonly mistake the stars—sport stars, movie stars, political stars—for the Creator and Lord of the stars. My mind may wander from the altar at Mass, but it is glued to the TV screen when my favorite basketball star is poised to throw his three-pointer.
A Light shines in the darkness
The preface of the Mass often pinpoints the core mystery of a liturgical feast. Today’s preface describes Epiphany in these words: “When your Only begotten Son appeared in the substance of our mortality, he repaired us by the new light of his immortality” (my translation). Simply unveiling his divine face—by shining his “new” light upon us, Christ remakes us. The magi saw this light radiating from the baby’s face and it transformed them. Think of how a child’s smile can disarm us. Now think what it must’ve been for the Magi, the shepherds, St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, to look into the face of Jesus. If only Herod would have looked into that baby’s face! The prolife movement most effectively changes hearts when it simply shows the face of the child to those who promote abortion.
Simply by shining on us, Christ’s light restores our humanity. No darkness can overcome our true humanity, born in the image of God. The revelation of that unconquerable light is essential to our faith, such that the traditional form of the Roman Rite repeats it after every Mass in the so-called Last Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Who knows what new forms of darkness this year might bring? Yet we begin this year with an unshakeable faith in the Light that cannot be overcome, the light streaming from Christ’s sacred face, the light reflected in the face of his Holy Mother, and all who join him in his saving mission. We must believe, as we enter this new year, that Christ’s light will not be overcome.

<![CDATA[From the Pastor’s Laptop: My Baptism]]>Thu, 31 Dec 2015 21:33:05 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-my-baptismPictureMy mother cradling me just after my baptism, December 31, 1961
It is the last day of the year, and the day 54 years ago that my father and mother brought me to the saving waters of baptism at Star of the Sea parish on City Island, New York. Thank you, dear father and mother, for bringing me to Jesus. May I never leave Him! May I never betray your trust in me, your infant son, as you brought me to the waters on the last day of 1961. I keep a copy of my baptismal certificate above my desk to remind myself every day of this gift.
On my birthday four weeks ago, I received a lovely card from a dear friend, a mother of many children. Rather than congratulating me, she thanked my parents for bringing me to birth, for baptizing and educating me in the faith, and giving another priest to the Church. It is healthy to think of one’s parents rather than one’s self on a birthday, lest we become discouraged over the insignificance of our lives. Of ourselves, we are indeed insignificant, and we are tempted to ask: Does anyone know or love me? Has my life meant anything to anyone? My parents know and love me, and my life has significance simply because of them.
But we are tempted to want more than our parents’ love. They have to love us, after all. We want to earn love. We want to captivate, to purchase, to own love. But as I grow older, I see that no “purchased” love lasts. Only received love lasts, that which we receive from God, and which he imparts to our parents to give to their children. In the end, only the gift remains.
Sr. Wendy Beckett, the renowned art critic and spiritual writer, wrote that we all carry a stick and a begging purse. Our life’s project is to throw both away. The begging purse wheedles to be known and loved. I used to plead with kids on the playground, “I’ll be your best friend if you play with me….” The stick aggressively defends us against insignificance. We wave it at those who do not pay attention to us, and even threaten those who do not pay us their love. I used to threaten kids on the playground, “I won’t be your friend anymore if you don’t play with me.”
Only a ready knowledge of God’s love, learned over many years, can cast the stick and purse away. This New Year, I desire to know for certain that the world cannot give meaning to my existence. It’s “God or Nothing” (I highly recommend the recent book published under that title). This year, if I can only cast the world aside will I be capable of receiving all.
If I am listening, I often hear God speaking to me personally when I pray the breviary. So it was this morning, when he tenderly reminded me of his gift 54 years ago: “In baptism you were not only buried with him but also raised to live with him,” St. Paul wrote in the first reading. “Continue to live in Christ Jesus the Lord, in the spirit in which you received him. Be rooted in him, and built up in him .…”
May God grant that I can believe in my baptism this year! Christ alone gives significance to our lives. If we know Him, we know ourselves, and we can cast the stick and purse from us. We can be forever free of this world’s empty promises.

<![CDATA[Homily for Holy Family Sunday]]>Sun, 27 Dec 2015 17:03:57 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/homily-for-holy-family-sundayPictureBreakfast with the Arias family and some of their twelve beautiful children. Large families make a priest’s heart sing!
The Holy Family
On the Sunday after Christmas, the Church directs her thoughts to the Family, indeed, the “Holy Family.” With the Bethlehem shepherds, we kneel to gaze upon that most basic, God-given community—the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This year I found it very hard to find Christmas cards with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on them. Snowmen, reindeer, ice-skating Snoopies and penguins with Santa Hats—all sorts of imaginary images but not one of Jesus and his family. Try this: google “Christmas” and click the images tab. How many silly images of Santa Clauses and chorus girls in red tights will you go through before you get an image of Jesus and Mary? But a culture embarrassed about Jesus at Christmas is like a teenager embarrassed to be seen with his mother in public. We love her, and depend on her, but can’t possibly be seen with her.
Hannah’s Offering
The first reading for today’s feast is the lovely story of Hannah in the temple, from First Samuel. The beautiful Hannah had been married to Elkanah for many years but God had not given them a child. In the Jewish culture especially, to be childless was a woman’s greatest shame and sorrow. Hannah had made a sort of deal with Yahweh: “if you give me a child, I will dedicate him to your service.” You can imagine a devout Catholic woman promising God her firstborn son she for the priesthood. Well, Hannah has a baby boy and brings him to the temple: “I prayed for this child,” she tells the temple priest Eli, “and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord.” With those words, she turns and leaves the temple. Can you feel the pathos as she leaves her child behind? God graciously accepted her offer, and the child Samuel grows up to become one of Israel’s greatest prophets.
The Finding in the Temple
Hannah leaves her only child in the temple and walks away. Another mother will leave her only child in the temple and walk away—we hear of this in the Gospel today, and every time we pray the fifth mystery of the rosary. The Blessed Mother of Jesus leaves her only son in the temple, or rather, he deliberately separates himself from her. Men and women at the time traveled in separate caravans, and boys could travel with either one. We can understand how Joseph thought Jesus was with the women, and Mary thought he was with the men. An entire day lapses before they learn that Jesus was not with either one. Beyond the horror of losing their only child, they had lost the promised Messiah and failed their entire nation. They rush back to Jerusalem and spend three days searching for the lost child. Mary is understandably upset: Son, why have you done this to us? Do you not know that your father and I have been looking for you for three days? But the boy’s reply is mysterious: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” He seems to disrespect both parents (“I am not subject to anyone but my Father, and Joseph is not my father”). But isn’t that how God works with us at times, leading us through confusion to a greater faith?
The Lord Jesus, even at age 12, leads his own mother into a greater faith. She who is given a child must give that child back to God, as Hannah did, and keep silence before God’s mysteries. She said not another word, and learned that her child is not her own. Everything we have—the home we live in, the car we drive, the body we use—is from God and going back to God. It is our role to send it all back to Him. Dedicating a son for God’s purposes is a woman’s deepest desire, and why so many mothers cry to me that their children are no longer attending Mass. Above all we want our children’s greatest good, which is to know, love and serve God, but God demands that service in a manner and time of His own choosing. It is sometimes very hard to give when He asks, and we sense we have lost our chance if we don’t give our children when and how He demands. But God always gives us another chance to entrust ourselves, and our children, to Him.
Still our best hope to reach God
The family is still our best hope of doing that. Simply by having children, we honor God. We honor Him more perfectly by educating these children to know, love, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next. And in honoring God, we honor the entire human family. “How vast and rich,” writes St. John Paul, “is the treasure of Christian truth about the family! It is a necessary good for peoples, an indispensable foundation for society… it is a unique good for children… a school which enables men and women to grow to the full measure of their humanity.” How vast and rich this mystery, before which we kneel today. Let us ask Our Lady to help us honor God in our marriages, in our children, in our families.  

<![CDATA[From the Pastor’s Laptop: Christmastime in the City]]>Fri, 18 Dec 2015 19:51:55 GMThttp://www.frilloblog.com/blog/from-the-pastors-laptop-christmastime-in-the-cityPictureChristmastime in San Francisco’s Civic Center.
Christmastime in the City. What makes it so beautiful? Last night a few friends and I went to our city Symphony’s Messiah, but we had dinner at Max’s beforehand (everyone has dinner at Max’s before the show). The restaurant was packed with gleeful folks on their way to Christmas concerts, operas, and ballets. Christmas lights, holiday music, and that special spring in everyone’s step, that touch of joy in everyone’s voice, filled San Francisco’s Civic Center. For these few days at least, everyone in the city has agreed that we can regard each other with good cheer.
How is it that Christmastime in the City brings about this particular magic within the maddening crowds? Dickens tried to describe it, and unfailingly this cheer returns year after year. I can scarcely believe it is mere mass self-delusion generated by a Christian myth about the Messiah. As the choir rang out Handle’s words last night from the Prophet Isaiah, “For unto us a Son is given….,” a truth overwhelmed the entire city. There is more good than bad in the world, and we can order our lives together peacefully.
Handel’s Messiah is always more than a concert; the Hallelujah Chorus brings even the most jaded atheists to their feet as the words “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” rings through the night. Why does Christmastime in the City sparkle? I think because the sheer concentration of people in a city is a concentration of goodness and beauty. For these few days, by the grace of the Son who is given us, the vast majority of humanity in any city chooses to be good and beautiful. Even if it is only once a year, for a few weeks, Christmastime is a glimpse into what could be, what will be, and what in fact is. People are intrinsically good, true, and beautiful.