Note: Rev. Joseph Illo, head chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College, delivered the following homily at today’s 11:30 a.m. Mass, just hours before most of the College’s students departed for the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco.
Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Francis de Sales, the “Good Bishop of Geneva.” People called him “good” meaning “gentle,” as we hear in the opening prayer of today’s Mass. (“Grant, O Lord, that we may always display the gentleness of your charity in the service of our neighbor.”) It is just for this “service of our neighbor” that many of us will set out for San Francisco in a few hours.
This year we have a record three buses and many cars packed with students on pilgrimage to the West Coast Walk for Life. We pray that we will witness to the charity of Jesus Christ, whose ambassadors we are. St. Francis de Sales often used the image of bees and honey in his writings, showing how souls are saved more effectively by sweetness than by confrontation. We hope to attract hearts and minds by honey rather than vinegar at this year’s Walk for Life.
In the first reading, in the cave incident, the Lord puts King Saul into young David’s power. Rather than attack the man who is hunting him down, however, David lets him go, but then calls after the irrational king when he is at a safe distance. “Why do you seek my life, O King?” he calls out. “I have done you no wrong. Let the Lord judge between us. As you can see, I could have killed you but refused to touch the Lord’s anointed.” Every person, even the most vulgar counter-demonstrators that we have seen on past Walks for Life, are God’s children. Many of them will hurl obscene and hateful words at us from beyond the police barriers; some may even physically assault us. We must defend ourselves, but we have no right to return their violence.
Like King David, let us refrain from attacking our enemies, and let God be the judge. We will return their hatred with love and patience. We are the Pro-Life Generation, and God will bring justice and love to bear in the end.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus chooses his Twelve Apostles, “that they might be with Him and He might send them forth to preach.” Notice that first they would “stay with Him,” and only after that experience of prayerful presence would they go out on mission. Prayer must come before action. We must prepare ourselves prayerfully for the engagement tomorrow on the streets of San Francisco.
I recommend using the seven-hour bus trip as a time of prayer. We don’t have to pray the entire time, of course, but I suggest praying all four sets of the Rosary, all 20 mysteries, spread out through the trip.
Please remember that we are not going to a picnic. Folks often make the mistake of going to an abortion clinic or a prolife rally as if it were World Youth Day. Certainly we are full of joy and energy, but remember that we are entering the gaping maw of the culture of death. We go to mourn, as well as to testify, to the 1.2 million people who die violently every year in this country. We are ascending Calvary tomorrow, and we need to prayerfully prepare for the contest.
Our Lady was able to face Calvary because she prepared herself through prayer. Let us join her, like St. John, in prayer as we advance to the very epicenter of the culture of death tomorrow.
Fr. Illo and students prepare to depart for the Walk for Life West Coast