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Elizabeth (left) visited by Mary, the
Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne
Homily: The Role of the Church in Checks and Balances
St. John the Prophet
Today is an odd liturgical feast: the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. All other saints are commemorated on the day of their death – their birth into eternal life). The Church celebrates the nativity of only two other people: Jesus, on Christmas, and Mary, on September 8th. But Jesus called St. John “the greatest man born of woman,” the great prophet: not foretelling the future, but speaking God’s word in the present.
My life for the truth
John spoke the Word boldly amongst the political powers of his time. He did not fear to tell Herod that a man should not live with his brother’s wife. Everybody knew that, but John said it, and knew that saying it would get him into trouble. The Church exercises an irreplaceable prophetic role in restraining political power. Political power is intoxicating and becomes absolute if not regulated. The founders of our country established a system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. But the authors of our Constitution also guaranteeing the free exercise of religion in the public square, to safeguard another means of governmental regulation. The churches help balance the power of the state, even as the state helps balance the effective exercise of religion. For some time now, though, Church and State have been at odds. As Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law Professor recently said, “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”
We are in a two-week period of prayer, study, and fasting called by our Bishops the Fortnight for Freedom, June 21-July 4. On Friday the Church commemorated St. Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, who resisted the King’s unreasonable demand to control the Church in England in 1530. King Henry beheaded Thomas More in 1533. More went to the scaffold calmly, saying: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
We all want to be good servants of our republic, and good citizens of our state. Insisting, even with our lives and our property, that the State has no authority over certain areas of our lives is a high act of loyalty and patriotism. St. John the Baptist was beheaded in 30 AD for insisting on a moral authority above King Herod’s authority. St. Thomas More was beheaded in 1533 AD for insisting on a moral authority greater than King Henry’s authority.
We turn to our lady, the Mother of Jesus our Lord, who saw her own son executed by the Roman government for testifying to the truth. Let us pray through Mary to her Son to grace us with the wisdom, joy, and charity of the saints in our present moment.
St. Joseph’s parishioners gathered
at the Stand Up for
Religious Freedom Rally
in San Francisco, June 8.
We are in the midst of our Fortnight for Freedom. Thanks to all who attended our Holy Hour on Friday and our God and Coffee with Pastor Walter Hoye on Saturday night (if you’re reading this at the Saturday night Mass, do stop by in Fr. O’Hare Hall, to join us for the discussion with this man of God, and his wife, who have suffered so much for insisting on his right to speak publicly about his faith).
The Bishop has told us that by the end of June he will name a new pastor, and I only have a few more weeks left in our beautiful parish. I will miss this parish and Modesto terribly, and leave with such beautiful memories. I remember first arriving, in September 1999. I was serving on the Priests’ Personnel Board as the Vocations Director for the Diocese. The pastor, Fr. Joseph O’Hare, was ill, and the Board was discussing who could run the parish until he recovered. All the heads turned to me and Msgr. Ryan said “What about you, Joe?” So I packed up that day and moved into what I thought would be a temporary assignment. But I could not help falling in love with the parish. I offered the Vigil Mass that Saturday, and after Mass spontaneously consecrated the parish to Our Lady, the Mother of God. I knelt before the altar that night and offered the parish to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The people expressed such beautiful confidence in my heartfelt instinct.
After eight months as temporary administrator, I applied for the pastorate. Although the Bishop had said I was free to apply, he decided later that I would not be appropriate for the position. I was a bit crushed, and poured out my disappointment to Mary Mullins, the parish secretary. “Father,” she said to me, “you have to fight for this parish. We want you, and you want the parish. Faint hearts do not win fair ladies.” Her words strengthened my faint heart, and I went back to the Bishop to argue my case. He deferred to Msgr. Ryan, the Vicar General, who sighed and said, “We need to give guys a chance. Let Joe take the parish.” Thank you, Bishop Blaire and Msgr. Ryan, for giving me a chance! I hope I have not disappointed you!
Happy Father’s Day to all of our padres. I’ve often wondered if they invented Father’s Day just because they already had a Mother’s Day and didn’t want us to feel bad. It’s not easy to be a father! After all, mothers, whom we love with all our hearts, get a pretty clear job description: have babies, feed them, change their diapers. But fathers… we can’t have babies, we don’t have the right equipment to feed them, and we aren’t very good at changing diapers. So how does a father be a father?
Well, we begin by changing diapers, even if we are not very good at it. We hold our wives’ hands as they give birth to our children, and we make them comfortable while they are nursing our sons and daughters. In other words: support. We provide support for mothers and children behind the scenes; we appear when needed to defend their honor and safety. Fatherless America is probably our greatest social problem, but the solution is as close as the nearest Bible.
The Bible shows us St. Joseph, the great father of the Church and our particular patron at St. Joseph’s Parish. He quietly provided for Mary and Jesus, even though he was neither a biological father nor a carnal spouse. He took responsibility for his wife and child. He instantly and unquestioningly obeyed God rather than insisting on his own plans. (“Take the child and his mother to Egypt….Joseph arose immediately and took the child and his mother to Egypt.”)
Planting and Growing Seeds
Today’s Scriptures speak to us of planting seeds. From Ezekiel: “I plant a tender shoot on a high and lofty mountain; It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.” Every man’s dream—to grow sons as tall and straight as majestic cedars. From the Gospel: a man scatters seed into the ground, and “the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain.” Every man’s dream—to bring home an abundant harvest. Again from the Gospel: “a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, once sown, puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky dwell in its shade." Every man’s dream—to build a spacious home, in whose branches many children find shelter.
Brothers: it is one thing to plant the seed, and quite another to cultivate it. God gives us the seed, but he also gives us the strength to cultivate our little plants. Fatherhood is a lifelong vocation from God. He gives the increase, but he enlists our manly strength and joy to rear the children. Brothers: the single best thing you can do for your children is to bring them to Mass every Sunday, with their mother.
In the current movie, For Greater Glory, Andy Garcia plays the Mexican general Enrique Gorostieta. He is married to the beautiful and devoutly Catholic Tulita, but Gorostieta himself is an atheist. He decides to command the Cristero soldiers, not because he believes in God, but because he loves his wife and children. He is shot down by government forces nineteen days before the end of the war, dying for his wife, his children, and his country. An exciting footnote: Paula Moreno, from the movie production team, will be speaking this Saturday at our parish.
Pray for your Father
I pray for my father every day. He is an enigma to me. He interprets my own manhood. I am becoming more like my father every year. God has entrusted his own fatherhood to our earthly fathers, beginning with St. Joseph. May God grant our fathers wisdom and strength. May we honor them, in gratitude to God.
My Father in 1991
Happy Father’s Day! A few weeks ago I visited my mother and father at the homestead in Pennsylvania. My father, Dr. John Illo, is 87 years old, and I thought I knew everything about him. But in talking to him last month, and in listening to my mother describe the early years of our family, I discovered a new respect and love for my father. He served in Manila during World War II (US Army), and now that I think of it, he used to tell us children stories about crossing the Pacific on troop ships and the liberation of Manila from the Japanese. He went on to earn his MA and PhD at Columbia University while supporting his young wife and family. We will never understand all there is to know about our fathers, but we love them and honor them.
Our spiritual fathers—the US Bishops— have called for a “Fortnight for Freedom” beginning this Thursday through July 4. They explain in their letter, entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Freedom,” how America founded its Republic on religious liberty (our founders, remember, were religious pilgrims).
“In 1634, a mix of Catholic and Protestant settlers arrived at St. Clement's Island in Southern Maryland from England aboard the Ark and the Dove. They had come at the invitation of the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who had been granted Maryland by the Protestant King Charles I of England. While Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe, Lord Baltimore imagined Maryland as a society where people of different faiths could live together peacefully.”
Pennsylvania, too, was founded by William Penn, a Quaker, who respected all faiths. In 1760, for example, Pennsylvania was the only place in the British Empire that allowed Catholics to celebrate Mass.
Religious freedom—a hallmark of American culture—is quickly eroding. Our country is tipping, dangerously. Will we do nothing as it tips? The enemies of our Republic and our Church assume we will do nothing to stop them. Join me in a Fortnight for Freedom! On June 22, I will lead a holy hour at 6:30pm to pray for our country. On June 23 at 6:30pm, I will host a “God and Coffee” on religious freedom. Let us fast, too, on the Fridays of June 22 and June 29. Let us pray the rosary and St. Michael prayer with our families. See the insert of this bulletin for the full schedule of our Fortnight.
Homily: Corpus Christi
Today Holy Mother Church celebrates Corpus Christi Sunday, a feast commemorating her spouse’s gift of his own body and blood at the Last Supper. What does Corpus Christi mean in Latin? The Body of Christ. But today’s scriptures speak more of His blood than His body.
On Easter Sunday I splash you, the congregation, with holy water. Some people duck as the water flies through the air, and others shudder when the water hits them. But consider what Moses did at the Passover sacrifice: he splashed bulls’ blood on the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant….” Imagine what bulls’ blood would do to your nicely-coiffed hair or brand new Easter outfits.
Why did Moses do this? Because only blood would seal the covenant. The people would never forget that they had entered into a pact with God that day. They said: “All that the Lord has commanded us we will do.” Moses accordingly sacrificed several young bulls, draining the blood into large bowls. Half the blood he poured over the altar, and the other half he splashed over the people. There they stood, dripping with the blood of the covenant.
Mass is this sacrifice
The Mass is not just a nice Sunday service. It is that, but much more. The Mass is not just a friendly fellowship meal. It is that, but much more. The Mass is, in fact, a blood sacrifice. The Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, eternally offered and present to the world. In the Mass, we are brought back in time and space to Jerusalem, 33AD, to the foot of the Cross, as witnesses of the Redemption. We hear Christ’s words at every Mass, “This is my body, which will be given for you. This is my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you…” The Mass is the Last Supper, and it is the bloody Passion of Christ, when he cries out “I Thirst.” He thirsts for our love; he thirsts to redeem us with his infinite love. We hear Jesus’ final word, “It is consummated,” meaning all is accomplished, all is perfected in his one perfect self-offering to the Father.
“May the mingling…”
But the Mass, a sheer gift of God, engages our response. We make our own gift in return for God’s gift, as stewards of the mysteries we receive. At the part of the Mass called the “Offering of the Gifts,” the priest receives water and wine from the people. He mixes a drop of water into the wine with these words: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” We are a drop of water, and God is an ocean of wine. We mingle our humanity with his divinity in the Mass, and so become the Body of Christ. In the Mass, we become divine, godlike, sharing Christ’s purity and perfection. The Mass transforms us into Himself, even while we retain our individual human natures. The Saints are all wondrously different, but united in their sharing of Christ’s divinity. We are those saints, or at least saints in the making, to the degree that we enter into these mysteries.
Reverence for the Mass
A few practical considerations, if the Mass is everything we have said it is. First, we must dress the part. Sunday Mass is not a picnic in the park or a barbecue on the beach. If we believe in the Mass, we will show that belief by the way we dress. Second, we must attend the Mass every time, on time. The Mass is an appointment with God, which we never miss and for which we are never late. It is not a movie or a concert from which we can leave early if we want. And third, the Mass never ends. It must be lived Monday through Saturday, in our businesses, throughout our marriages, at the voting booth, and in every relationship. The Mass is everything to us, and to the world. It is our only hope.
The Liberty Bell inscription
from Leviticus 25:10
“PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL
THE LAND UNTO ALL
THE INHABITANTS THEREOF”
A few weeks ago, Florida’s American Legion Auxiliary Girls State refused to allow its Catholic participants to attend Sunday Mass. The convention describes itself as “a nonpartisan program that teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and Country,” and I’m sure it is a fine program. Margeaux Graham, one of 300 girls in the state convention, asked to leave the program for an hour on Sunday to attend Mass. She was refused. The regional leader asked if he could bring a priest to the convention to offer Mass for the Catholic girls. He was refused. At that point, Margeaux dropped out of the program rather than drop out of Sunday Mass. “This country was founded on the principles of religious and personal freedom,” Margeaux wrote to the convention leadership, “the fundamental rights that either you or your loved ones fought to protect.”
This case manifests a growing intolerance for religious liberties in our country. Nothing good can come from denying our citizens the right to worship. Denying the good that religion brings to society will only weaken that society. We cannot stand by as some in our society deconstruct our civil freedoms and weaken our social order. The Bishops of our country have set aside 14 days, from June 21 to July 4, as a “fortnight for freedom a great hymn of prayer for our country. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty. At St. Joseph’s, your priests will lead an hour of prayer on Friday, June 22, from 6:30-7:30pm, to pray that religious intolerance be averted. We will pray that people of all faith or no faith at all join hands as brothers and sisters. You will see articles in this bulletin, and hear homilies encouraging us all to know and defend the first of our Bill of Rights, the freedom to practice our religion in a peaceful and socially beneficial manner. Let freedom continue to ring across this Land!
Stand up for Religious Freedom Rally Address
June 8, 2012 in San Francisco, California
Last month I took my elderly mother into Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell. We stood before that icon of American freedom and read its inscription:
PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV. V X.
This quote from Leviticus describes the Biblical Jubilee Year. Every 49 years, God commanded that all slaves be freed, and all debts be canceled. By doing so, the people acknowledged God alone as the true master of all men and owner of all property. Before God, “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights.”
The message on the Liberty Bell is clear enough: God, not man, is the foundation of human liberty. If we attempt to build a social order apart from God’s law, we lose our freedom
. The liberty bell first rang 260 years in the only place in the British Empire to permit religious freedom, in Philadelphia, the capital city of America at the time. America pioneered religious liberty. Our founders made the statement to the world that religious freedom is good
for society. 260 years later, will America relinquish that freedom without a struggle? I want to invoke God’s blessing upon all of you who have come to this fair city of San Francisco to stand up for religious liberty. I want to beg God’s mercy upon all of us who have come to engage the battle for American freedom inscribed not only on our Liberty Bell, but on every piece of American currency: in God
we trust. Not in men, but in God.
As a boy, I read a book by Fr. Walter Czisek, With God in Russia
. Fr. Czisek spent 15 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps for practicing his faith. The book greatly inspired me, but I wondered if anything like that could ever happen in America. My parish in Modesto supports a parish in Vladivostok, Russia. Shortly after the Soviet government dynamited the Orthodox Cathedral in Vladivostok (on Easter Sunday 1922), the Catholic Cathedral was confiscated and turned into a state archive. Since 1991, two American priests have painstakingly restored that building. But religious practice in Russia, and the social goods that depend on religion, has not so quickly recovered. Religious liberty, once lost, takes a long time to recover.
In 2002 I visited our sister parish in Vladivostok
. I’ll never forget the impression this Soviet city of 1 million presented as we flew in: not one steeple or dome, not one cultural monument, to break the miles of deteriorating apartment buildings and grey factories. The Soviets had decided to revoke every religious liberty. With religion removed from the public square, the government became hopelessly corrupt, culture declined, and the economy collapsed. In a society that looks to the government as the highest moral authority, lying, cheating, and stealing are indispensable business practices. As the producer the current movie For Greater Glory
recently said, “No one ever wins when religion is oppressed.” What is happening in the United States today? Mary Ann Glendon summed it up last month: “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”Thomas Aquinas College
in Southern California recently published an Open letter to President Obama
. “It is manifestly an affront to the American conception of religious liberty and to the first amendment of the US constitution to demand that citizens ‘adapt’ to a violation of conscience.” This is our core principle in the current battle: we can never adapt to a violation of our foundational right. It would violate not only common good
but also our identity
as free men and women. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York declared in a Face the Nation interview in April, “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we won’t back away from it.”
Today in Vladivostok, the skyline is not as flat and colorless as it used to be. The Catholics have rebuilt their cathedral, and its twin steeples now grace the skyline at 22-stories high. With greater religious liberty in Russia, life is improving, although the Putin government continually threatens to restrict this fundamental right. But what will Philadelphia look like in 50 years if we surrender our First Amendment Rights? What will San Francisco, or New York, or Chicago look like if we lose this battle? Let us pray to God, to whom the battle belongs, that we have the strength, the wisdom, the charity and the courage to engage this, our moment, and to acquit ourselves as well, under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.
Photos from the Rally
Homily: Right Relationships
Most of our time and money are spent cultivating “relationships,” and rightly so. Man is a social animal. We cannot be fully human without relationships. From conception, I develop in relationship to my mother, sensitive to her moods and physiological states. I can hear her voice and feel her heartbeat. At birth, I nurse at her breast, and then begin to cultivate relationships with other people—my father, my siblings, aunts and uncles, friends. I begin to understand myself as reflected in their eyes. As I grow into adolescence and adulthood, I begin draw very close to some individuals—best friends, kindred spirits, and for most of us, eventually a spouse and then children of my own. My happiness, my well-being, my sense of myself, all depend on right relationships. But if my relationships are dysfunctional, I will be dysfunctional.
The Holy Trinity: A Community of Persons
Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the deepest truth God has given us: the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. God is one, but he is never alone. God is a community, a relationship of persons. Three persons in one God. God is relational, and that is why we are hard-wired for relationship, for we all made in his image. The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a right relationship, and it reveals to us what our relationships can be. The Father gives to the Son rather than takes from him. Life is about giving, not taking. We call this “stewardship.” The Father gives himself to the Son, who receives him; the Son gives himself in return to the Father, who in return receives him.
Our own relationships are dysfunctional to the degree that we reverse this divine model. When I take from another person rather than giving, I turn the divine pattern on its head. On the other hand, when I refuse to receive the gift of another person, I refuse happiness. If we want right relationships, and the vitality that comes from them, we must imitate God’s relationship to himself.
Believing and Doubting Each Other
How do we know that God is a trinity? This we know, for the Bible tells us so: “All power has been given to me,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. Given by whom? By the Father. “The Father and I are one,” Jesus often said. Jesus and the Father are one, but they are distinct persons. The closest anyone comes to this is in marriage, where two persons become one flesh, one in mind and heart, while remaining distinct individuals.
“Go, therefore,” Jesus continues, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus names the three divine persons. And then he extends his eternal relationship to us: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.” God will always be in relationship to us, even as he is eternally in relationship to himself. Will we be in relationship to him?
A curious verse occurs here: “When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshipped, but they doubted.” We believe in God, or we wouldn’t be here. But we doubt. When really bad things happen to us, or when much is asked of us, we are not absolutely sure God really exists, or that he cares about us. In fact, when a human relationship fails us, we often give up on our relationship with God. Few Catholics maintain their relationship with God through a divorce, or the death of a child. “What kind of a God could do this to me?” we say.
Submitting Our Relationships to God
Yes, I believe in my relationship with God, but I doubt. I believe in my relationship to my spouse, but I doubt. I’m not absolutely sure she really loves me, or that my father really cares about me, or that my children will be there for me, or that my friends understand me. “Women, you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them.” we men say.
The solution to this dilemma of human relationships—we believe but we doubt—is our relationship with Christ. If my friendship with God is alright, my friendships with others will be perfectly alright. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all else will be given to you.
Do you want your marriage to flourish? Do you want a free and life-giving relationship with your parents or your children? Do you want effective relationships with employees, co-workers, and your supervisor? Do want supportive relationships with friends and associates? Do you want a right relationship even with yourself? Then work for a right relationship with God. Take the trouble to pray, to listen to God and even speak with Him, to spend time with him. If I am a man of prayer, my personal relationship with God will be right, and if my personal relationship with God is right, my human relationships will be perfectly alright.
May First Communions
Happy Trinity Sunday! Pentecost (last Sunday), Trinity Sunday (today) and Corpus Christi (next Sunday) bring the entire three-month sweep of Lent- Eastertide to a grand finale. Trinity Sunday portrays the core of our faith: that God is a communion of persons, eternally giving and receiving love. And it is the family that portrays the Trinity.
The family essentially undergirds a peaceful social order, and so among the government’s many roles, supporting families is paramount. The Romans knew this, for example, and in its apogee, the Empire exhorted her citizens to practice fidelity to their spouses, to beget many children and to educate them well. When the emperors and senators began cheating on their wives, aborting their children, and practicing homosexuality, the empire began to weaken, and eventually collapsed.
Who or what can provide necessary family support in our day? Public education, the entertainment industry, and politics have all demonstrated their indifference to family life. Our government too is faltering in its essential duty — its promotion of same-sex “marriage” manifests even an enmity towards marriage and family life. The government needs a power greater than itself, a perspective broader than its own, to accomplish this task. Good religion, which is non-partisan and non-political, exercises an irreplaceable role in our Republic. George Washington wrote that “While just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support” (my italics).
I have been asked to deliver an address this Friday, June 8, at a Freedom Rally in San Francisco to protest the government’s incursions on our First Right in the Bill of Rights — the right to Freedom of Religion (see back page). We must call the government back to our founders’ respect for religion, to their acceptance of the support only religion can offer. We are preparing for the national Fortnight of Freedom, about which I will speak next week.