As I left, however, he shouted after me “where’s your mask?” Well, there’s something at least we can all agree on!
Two days ago I was walking my deserted neighborhood at dusk. A few dozen yards ahead of me a lone man walked over to some bushes and began urinating on the wall of a house. I remonstrated with him. “Please do not foul our neighborhood” I said to him. He asked me if the public bathrooms were open. I didn’t know, but I did know it was wrong to pour urine on another person’s home. We went back and forth for a bit, but were not making any progress toward a moral consensus.
As I left, however, he shouted after me “where’s your mask?” Well, there’s something at least we can all agree on!
Memorial Day: the virtue of patriotism
Since I don’t have a public Mass next Sunday, this will be my only chance to speak about our national holiday this month, Memorial Day (which is still a week off). I’d like to speak about the virtue of patriotism. It is good and pleasing to God to honor, in memoriam, men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. My father served in General Douglas MacArthur’s army during WWII. At 94 years, his mind is as sharp as ever, and I love to listen to his war stories. He describes the liberation of Manila, how American service men helped the Filipino people rebuild after the Japanese occupation. I love for my country, just as the Filipinos love their country. It is our duty to cultivate the virtue of patriotism, thanking God for the land of our birth.
Good Stewards of our Fatherland
Charity begins at home, and so before asking how we are protecting “the planet,” we should ask how we are doing right here in America. Am I exercising careful stewardship of God’s gifts right here in my own backyard? Authentic care for the environment begins at home, thanking God for my own neighborhood and my own country first. In a particular way, Americans show respect and affection for their President, to their members of Congress, and to their nine Supreme Court justices. St. Paul urges us in 1 Tim 2:2 “that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered … for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” We disrespect every American when we ridicule our president, our governor, or our legislators, whether they are Democrat or Republican. We may have to disagree, and we may have to organize opposition to leaders who contradict the laws of God, but we must do so with charity, and with respect for their office and their persons. “Always have a reason for your hope,” St. Peter writes in today’s reading, “but do it with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear.”
You know how awful it feels to be in sharp disagreement with others, especially your friends and family. It feels awful because it’s a sin, because treating fellow citizens disrespectfully causes disorder in the body politic. We see disrespectful aggression nonstop in commercial and social media, in politics and podcasts. It tears our country down, and Catholics at least should strive for the virtue of patriotism: of respecting our fellow Americans, not merely “tolerating” them. We are all children of one Father. We must at least strive to order our lives together not as squabbling, nasty children, but as rational, respectful adults, building a peaceful and ordered nation.
The Spirit of Truth
Our Lord will ascend into heaven this Thursday, and the Church will enter her first novena from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday: nine days of prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. “I will ask the Father,” Jesus says, “and he will send you the spirit of truth.” In Greek the word is “paraclete,” literally “he who is called to stand beside you.” The Holy Spirit is “another advocate” who will be with you, Jesus says, until I return. America needs the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth and unity. Begin praying to the Holy Spirit now, preparing for Pentecost in two weeks. Veni Sancti Spiritus! America needs you now. The Church, so sadly fractured and corrupted, needs you now. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful; enkindle in the fire of your love, and they will be recreated, and you will renew the face of the earth.
A blessed Feast of Our Lady of Fatima to all of you, my dear readers. It was 103 years ago today that she came to the three shepherd children on what was then the feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. Today I invite you to pray the rosary in front of our cathedral at 3pm so that the Blessed Sacrament may be quickly restored to the people. She appeared in the depths of the Great War, which took 40 million human lives. The war's aftermath exposed the world to the Spanish Flu pandemic, which took another 50 million human lives. "In the end," she told the children, "my Immaculate Heart will triumph." Love wins.
More are beginning to realize how imbalanced our reaction has become to the pandemic. In the Catholic Church, many laity are asking why virtually all the world’s bishops are still denying them the sacraments, and on what basis they closed their churches when other essential services remained open. I saw a big sign at the local ice-cream shop last night: “this parlor is an essential service!” Ice cream might be essential, but the Eucharist is more essential.
One of my female parishioners was praying to God near a statue of St. Joseph the other day. She realized that “chastity isn't purely sexual. It boils down to the resistance of impulses that originate in weakness or fear. Why are we all wearing masks and being barred from God's house? Because we have a dearth of real men in our society who model forbearance and chastity. Women generally operate out of caution and fear, cousins to the maternal instinct. And most American men are now raised by women. Without that masculine balance, we see a country (and a world) paralyzed by fear, not practicing chastity, but embracing irrational impulses to control others’ behavior, and in turn, death.”
A woman, a mother, wrote those words. In her humility, she knows that women need men every bit as much as men need women. This pandemic has painfully revealed a social imbalance, an hysterical and irrational fear of the unknown. This prevailing fear is fundamentally an imbalance between male and female. We have too much female and not enough male. Doubtless many will react hysterically to these words, which proves a point.
Take that word “safe.” As a man, I wince every time I hear a man blithely say “be safe.” “Have a safe day!” “Keep safe.” Those are women’s words! We need women to balance the natural risk impulses of a man, and men should ensure reasonable safety for those in his responsibility. But a man who makes “safety” his supreme good cannot adequately provide for his loved ones or even himself. A man is biologically and emotionally built for risk, without which certain deeds cannot be accomplished. Winston Churchill did not say, when the rest of the world had submitted to Hitler, that England should stay “safe.” He said that Englishmen must enter a war they had little chance of winning. He led his kingdom in a desperate act of heroism when France had chosen “safety” above freedom and honor. The fact that the men of America have allowed themselves to become so fearful manifests a debilitating imbalance. Commercial and political interests, of course, exploit our weakness and fear. Why do we men not stand up to them?
Every time I check weather on my phone I get an alarming text: “Severe Weather: Storm Alert!” I look out the window. It’s lightly raining. I turn back to my phone and click the “alert.” It’s an ad for a weather app that will have lots more ads on it for handbags, Viagra, jewelry, and ‘Netflix originals.’ What’s truly alarming, if you will permit me, is how many of us give even a thought to the commercial media’s fear mongering. The Corona virus is real. The media’s publicity about the corona virus is not real. Who will hold commercial media to account for making money on “scaring the crap out of us,” as one Covid unit nurse told me here in San Francisco?
I have a dear friend, a mother of four children. Ten years ago she broke down in hysterics when I told her of a young man’s death. I was tempted to despise her weakness. The words of St. Paul, “why do you grieve like those who have no hope?” ran through my mind. But women are different from men. A woman understands life in a way men don’t, and men need a woman's understanding love. This woman had conceived, given birth to, and nursed four human lives, all of whom now have children of their own. She is surrogate mother to her grandchildren—she is the head of the house—because their fathers have failed them.
Men need women, and women need men. The social chaos generated by the pandemic calls men to step into the breach between reasonable risk and unreasonable fear. We must regain the natural and healthy balance between womanly caution and manly courage.
Happy Mother’s Day
One of my priest friends yesterday told me he was desperately looking for a See’s Chocolate Shop. “It’s my Mom’s favorite,” he explained. I hope all of us can deliver our mothers’ favorite treat today, a small token of our immense debt and love for them. This priest also told me that his bishop has asked everyone to deal with the closure of their churches by praying to Our Lady of Fatima. “When in doubt, talk about Our Lady of Fatima,” he said. In fact, Wednesday is her feast day, the 103rd anniversary of the first apparition in 1917. She came from heaven to bring us with her back to heaven. And that is what Our Lord says in today’s gospel.
Better that I go
Expedit vobis ut vadam…. “It is better for you that I go,” but literally “my going out expedites you,” from ex (out) and pedes (foot). My going out moves your “feet” out too. But where is the Lord going? He gently chides the apostles for not asking this fundamental question (“None of you have asked me ‘where are you going?’”). We need to know where we have come from and where we are going, our first principle and final end. We can choose (irrationally) not to return to God, entering a state of driftless isolation called hell. There is a terribly sad driftless look in many young people’s eyes today, a lack of purpose and direction. Most of them, thank God, find their way by before they reach fifty, but it takes people a lot longer to find their life’s purpose these days. Along with uncertainty of purpose, we suffer a sad isolation, a withdrawal from deep human relationships into a merely “virtual” reality, especially during this lockdown.
Christ himself left heaven to rescue us from meaninglessness and isolation. He then returned to heaven with the promise: “I go to prepare a place for you … I will come back again to take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” He calls us home; he presses us to His Sacred Heart. He also sends his Mother from heaven to bring us home. She too presses us to her heart.
Gathering her children
Our Lady at Fatima gathered 70,000 people in a muddy field to witness the miracle of the sun on Oct 13, 1917. The Mass—and all right religion--gathers people, calling them from isolation. Everyone realizes that the isolation imposed by the Virus is not healthy, but we must ask if blanket restrictions on entire populations is the best approach. Our leaders have deemed religion as non-essential, but they are wrong. Gathering people is certainly essential for a healthy social fabric. We need to be near each other as much as we need food and drink. I was in Costco the other day for an hour with hundreds of people, most of whom were a lot closer than six feet. We came together to gather our necessary food and drink as safely as we could—there is always a risk. I can guarantee you that fifty people at Mass in my very large church is safer than thousands of people in Costco every day. We need Costco, and we need the Mass. Both are worth the risk of contagion, because a far worse contagion is isolation. In the bigger picture, denying people the bread of life is a far greater risk to the common good, which is why the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion. Let us pray to God, and let us speak to our fellow citizens, in the words of the 3rd century Christians of North Africa when asked why they would rather die than give up the Mass: sine Dominico non possumus. “Without the things of the Lord, without the Mass, we cannot.” We cannot get up in the morning, we cannot go to work, we cannot enjoy healthy human relationships, we cannot sustain our society, without the Lord. The elder of that North African community, a man named Emeritus, explained to the Roman prefect that they would rather die than live without the Lord’s Supper. And they did die, but now they live with God, gathered around the table of his eternal banquet.
When will public Masses resume?
That’s a good question, and the Archbishop of San Francisco is working with the Mayor of San Francisco on it. In the end, not one of us deserves the inestimable gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, so we must wait humbly until the gift is given to us.
But it does seem odd that pandemic restrictions seem to be increasing precisely as the risk of infection and death seem to be decreasing. Why have neighborhood business closures been extended when the hospitalization curve has been flat for five weeks? Why can we still not have public Masses when the Covid units in our hospitals are increasingly empty? Why are we keeping the global economy shut down when the initial mortality predictions, on which those drastic measures were based, have been shown to be grossly exaggerated? Certainly we must enact safety measures, but such measures must be proportionate to the risks they entail to other areas of human life and health. Furthermore, we must consider not only our own health but the health and safety of the entire community. Social and economic shutdowns hurt the poor and the weak more than the upper classes. Those who control mass media can easily forget the marginalized, who are largely invisible to them. Mass media largely drives public policy in a highly politicized society like ours, and public policy seems to be denying the devastation blue collar America will suffer over the next few years. For the middle and upper classes the shutdown is at worst an inconvenience and at best an extended vacation. For the poor, it is a loss of livelihood.
I recently read a prophetic book by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) written in 1989, To Look on Christ. “The entire life of a society,” he wrote, “… can rest on a dictatorship of untruth: of how things are presented and reported instead of reality itself…. [in] a society shaped by the mass media, the image of man and his world has obtained an oppressive new reality. What is shown and ‘appears’ (on television, for example), is stronger than reality.”
G.K. Chesterton is said to have written that "when men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything." The media has provided us, who have lost much of our faith in God, with something in which to believe. It has provided us with fear, always a strong motivation for faith. It has identified an enemy (a pandemic) and pointed to a savior (the government).
I think we implicitly trust mainstream media because the media promises us a comfortable measure of personal autonomy. Trusting in a personal God requires a personal surrender to His will, but this is intolerable to a society that has made “free choice” its highest good. We prefer to submit a little of our will to powers that do not demand a complete surrender. The “experts” tell us that we will be safe as long as we give up just a few personal liberties. We can still keep our free choice to eat and drink what we want. We are free to watch Netflix all day (heck, porn sites are even offering two months of unlimited free content). Abortion clinics won’t close, and pet food stores will remain open. But we must keep isolated, despite what scientific data increasingly indicates. If we don’t learn something from the way the media has so easily frightened us and controlled us, we have already lost one essential freedom: the capacity to think for ourselves.
When will public Masses resume? They will resume when we think that the supreme good of the Holy Mass is worth more than a proportionate risk to our bodily health.
Can somebody tell me, please, why the government, supported by the media, is increasing restrictions in San Francisco precisely when the number of Covid cases has been decreasing for over a month? Why do we have to wear masks now that the mortality rate has been shown to be one twentieth of initial projections? Why has the Mayor extended my neighborhood business closures for another month when the curve has been flat for five weeks? Why can I not freely give the sacraments to my parishioners when the Covid units in our hospitals are increasingly empty? Can somebody please explain this to me?
Somebody did explain this inexplicable disconnect with reality to me. His name is Joseph Ratzinger, and he did so in a series of conferences given in 1986, published in book form as To Look on Christ (St. Paul Publications, 1989). “The entire life of a society … can rest on a dictatorship of untruth: of how things are presented and reported instead of reality itself…. [in] a society shaped by the mass media, the image of man and his world has obtained an oppressive new reality. What is shown and ‘appears’ (on television, for example), is stronger than reality.”
How has this happened? Well, if you don’t believe in God, you don’t believe in nothing. You will believe in anything, because human nature has to believe in something. The media has provided us with something to believe in. It has provided us with fear, which is always a strong motive for belief. It has identified our enemy and offered us a safety net in which we can put our trusting faith. The problem is: the media’s portrayal of the situation is not based in scientific fact, nor in human reality. The fact is that curve has been flattened, and the fact is that human beings need social interaction.
Belief in a personal God requires a personal surrender to a higher power, a will more perfect and greater than our own. This surrender of will is intolerable to people who have made “free choice” the highest good. So we try to have it both ways: we surrender a little of our will to powers that do not demand a complete surrender. The government and the media tell us that we will be safe as long as we give up just a few personal liberties. We can still keep our free choice to drink and eat what we want. We are free to watch what we want on Netflix (heck, they even offer two months' free unlimited pornography). Abortion clinics won’t close, and pet food stores will remain open. But we must wear masks, and keep away from each other, even though sound science demonstrates a diminishing infection risk.
It's not a good way to live….
“You made him Prince over all your possessions….” Those are the last words of the Litany of St. Joseph, just before the final prayer, which we will all offer today to Jesus, son of Joseph. To whom has Almighty God granted seats at Christ’s right and left in heaven? Surely to his parents, to Mary on his right and to Joseph on his left. The name “Joseph” means “the Increaser” in Hebrew, and that is just what the Patriarch Joseph did as Pharaoh’s administrator in time of famine. He increased wheat and oil so that the people would not die of hunger. The New Covenant Joseph will increase our virtues, our holiness, and our intimacy with Jesus and Mary, if we trust him as our father.
A dear friend asked me last week: “Do you know how much the saints love you?” His own wife was dying of cancer, and she quite literally cast herself upon one of her favorite saints, Junipero Serra. With the pastor’s permission, she stretched her body over the saint’s tomb at Mission San Carlos in Carmel. Her cancer disappeared a few months later. “How much the saints love us!” her husband exclaimed in wonder.
Fr. Calloway offers several consecration formulas on page 235. In the first prayer we ask “St. Joseph, whom God has made the Head of the Holy Family, accept me, I beseech you, though utterly unworthy, to be a member of your ‘Holy House.’” Above all we long for home, and this is what we ask for through Joseph. In Fr. Calloway’s second consecration prayer, we boldly promise: “I give everything to you, St. Joseph. Take me as your own. I am yours. Amen!”
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph long to take us into their home, but they will not force us to enter. It is ours to make an act of entrustment, a valiant self-offering. We must allow them to love us. I will pray these acts of consecration at the 6pm Mass tonight (live streamed). From this day forward, I ask you to join me in memorizing one of the “acts of daily consecration to St. Joseph” (page 239). I myself will add one of them to my daily prayers, right after my daily consecration to the Immaculate Mother of God.
Thank you for making this 33-day journey with me. I don’t know all of you on earth, but we will know each other in heaven, where “I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). God bless you all!
Fr. Joseph Illo
Star of the Sea Parish,