October 27, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
As most of you know,
I was born, bred, schooled and gainfully employed until the age of 31
in the Great State of Texas.
Texas is a unique state.
It has flown the flag of 6 nations, including the “Republic of Texas” for 9 years.
It’s massive expanse of land is bounded
on one side by the vast coastline of the Gulf of Mexico,
and on the other by the Rocky Mountains;
and in between it has the coastal plain, the piney woods,
the hill country, and yes, the desert.
But most of all it has it’s history: from it’s pre-colonial Indian tribes
to it’s colonization by Spain in 1519, to the modern day,
Texas history is filled with colorful characters and dramatic events.
Perhaps the best known of these is the story of its war for independence,
in particular the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio—my home town—
and it’s great heroes:
James Bowie, William Travis, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston.
So, as you can see, I am a proud Texan.
And it took a lot to get me to leave there 22 years ago when I entered seminary:
it took another Great State with a colorful history and tradition:
my new home, the Great State, the Great Commonwealth, of Virginia.
Like Texas, Virginia is a physically beautiful state.
Of course it doesn’t have the serene and starkly dramatic desert
—but it does have that stunning vivacious rolling greenery.
And it doesn’t have the shear size of Texas,
but what it lacks there it more than makes up for
in the size of its history and historical characters.
While Texas has it’s Crockett and Houston,
they are midgets in comparison to giants like
Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson,
and, of course, George Washington.
Now, you might wonder, what does any of this have to do with Jesus Christ
and the Catholic Faith?
Well, I’ll tell you.
Virginia has been a tremendously important state in the history of our nation.
And there can be no doubt that individual Virginians
have profoundly changed and shaped that history.
But Virginia and Virginians,
also have a terrible stain on their record:
200 years ago they supported an institution so horrible
that today we Virginians, and all Americans, still feel the guilt:
the despicable institution of slavery:
the treatment of a human being
as less than human
and so without basic human rights or dignity.
How could such a great state with great statesmen
ever support this inhumane institution?
Well, you can come up with lots of explanations:
different times, the effects of culture, the economics, etc.
And you can understand that while Jefferson and Washington
seemed to truly want to eliminate slavery, they found it impossible to do so
without ripping the fragile Union of States apart
losing their historic chance to establish
a government truly of “We the people.”
But then…why did they continue to own their own slaves
—Washington only freeing his in his will, Jefferson not even doing that?
Of course, again, there are lot’s of reasons,
and I’ve well aware of them so please don’t come to me after Mass
to educate me.
Understand me: I am not trying to knock down these giants
—their great and noble historical achievements stand for themselves
and do not merit attack from this pulpit.
And I will say it: I am a huge fan and admirer of Washington.
But no matter how we look at it, no reasons and no historical anomalies
eradicate the fact that slavery is—and always has been—
a grave moral evil.
And as great as these men were, no one could convince me that in 2013
Virginians would ever elect a Thomas Jefferson or George Washington
if they were around today and still supported slavery.
As we know that one stain was not isolated in its effects,
as it corrupted the whole society of the first part of the 19th century,
warping the economic, social and political systems,
eventually leading to over 500,000 dead in a bloody civil war,
which was followed by another 100 years
of the hatred and oppression of racism
that we bear the scars of even to this day.
All because certain states and even certain great men in those states
refused to recognize a particular class of persons as human beings
with human rights.
States and their governance are important, always have been.
It was, in fact, the states who came together and organized the United States,
and it is at the state level that many, if not most,
of the laws that effect the day to day life of Americans
are written and enforced.
This importance is reflected, at least to some extent,
in the American constitutional principle of “states’ rights”.
“states rights” tends to have a negative connotation in some circles.
This is understandable inasmuch as that negative connotation
is rooted historically in state laws protecting slavery and racism.
But the problem is not with “states rights,”
but with the persons who are defining, defending and working out
the laws at the state level.
As long as state government officials were tolerant of slavery or racism,
their corruption would corrupt their states, and then the whole country.
So we see, the men and women we choose to lead our states
are critical to real justice in our country.
Remember that all of those heroic Virginians I mentioned
served in Virginia government before achieving national prominence
—both Henry and Jefferson served as Governor.
In less than 2 weeks we have a state election in Virginia.
But sadly too many Virginians seem to view this so called “off year” election
as really unimportant.
This baffles me, especially when you consider all the issues at stake,
especially in the election of Governor:
taxes, jobs, the economy, transportation, energy, etc..
But the thing is, no matter where you stand on those important issues,
what good is any of that if the man or woman you vote for
doesn’t get it right on the most fundamental issues?
For example, what if one of the candidates
seemed to have all the right answers,
but one day came out saying
that a certain group of people are inferior to others,
not fully human beings with fundamental human rights .
Who in their right mind would vote for him,
even if he was the 2nd coming of George Washington himself?
The thing is, there are candidates around today who say this very thing.
But this time the group they target is not people of African decent,
but people of every color and ethnicity
who have only one fatal defect:
they are simply unborn baby human beings.
One gubernatorial candidate, who is strongly pro-abortion,
is actually openly and viciously attacking his strongly pro-life opponent
for defending the fundamental right to life of unborn Virginians.
He tries to label him as “anti-women,”
but what he really means is that his opponent is ant-abortion.
For example, the pro-abortion candidate runs ads
accusing the pro-life candidate
of supporting new health and safety regulations
on all the abortion clinics in Virginia
just to shut down them all down.
As if shutting down all the clinics killing unborn baby Virginians
would be a bad thing?
The pro-abortion candidate says the pro-life candidate wants
to end women’s access to contraception.
In reality, the pro-life candidate supported a bill
recognizing that each unborn Virginian is a “person”
from the moment of their conception.
But the pro-abortion candidate won’t call the unborn babies “persons”,
just like the slave owners wouldn’t call their African slaves “person.”
And what the pro-abortion candidate calls “contraception”
is really drugs that induce abortion after conception,
and so we’re not talking contraception, but abortion.
Now, imagine if Candidate A criticized Candidate B for
trying to put restrictions a white man’s right to choose
to treat a black man as his property…or to lynch a black man.
Or if Candidate A criticized Candidate B because
Candidate B tried to pass a law saying that all blacks are persons.
The whole state would be in an uproar, and no one would vote for Candidate A.
Why don’t we have the same reaction to a candidate who says
that unborn babies are not persons and that we can kill them?
Jefferson and Washington were great men,
and they gave birth to a great nation, and a great state.
But what made them great was the founding principle,
carved into the foundation of our history by Jefferson himself, as he wrote:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,
that all Men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty,
and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
But in denying those self-evident truths as applying
to Africans and their descendants, those otherwise great Virginians
undermined the very thing that made for greatness,
and led our nation, our state, to disaster.
And the same stands true today in Virginia, as candidates
for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and assembly delegate
deny these self-evident truth—the “unalienable right…to Life”
when it comes to unborn baby Virginian.
How can you vote for them?
And how can you stay home and not vote against them?
Today’s gospel tells about the self-righteous Pharisee blinded by his pride,
and the penitent tax collector who, by humble openness to God’s grace,
saw himself as he truly was.
The Pharisee reminds me of the many Christian in the 18th and 19th century,
who were blinded by either their noble ambitions for our nation
or simply by greed
or by a prideful sense of both a moral and natural superiority
over the black race,
and so defended or even embraced the practice of slavery.
But the tax collector reminds me of the many others, who saw their error,
and humbly repented their involvement in slavery.
In particular he reminds me of another tax collector, a man named John.
You see, before he was a tax collector, John was the Captain of a slave ship.
Until one night his ship was caught in a terrible storm
and like the tax collector in the parable,
he called out to Jesus, and Jesus saved him.
But not only from the storm, but from his whole way of life, and as he became
one of the most outspoken opponents of slavery of his time.
He would put all this into the words of what has become
one of the most beloved Christians hymns, as John Newton would write:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
How blind were John Newton, and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington,
to the great inhumanity called slavery?
How blind are we Virginians today to the great inhumanity called abortion?
Some of you may be thinking:
“preacher, mind your pulpit,”
or “there is a wall of separation between church and state.”
Tell that to the Reverend John Newton,
the former slave trader, turned tax collector, turned Anglican priest,
and to the other founders of the Abolitionist Movement,
that began in and was spread from the pulpits of that day
—first in England, and then in America!
There can be no wall that separates
man from humanity,
or truth from government.
22 years ago I moved from the Great State of Texas
to the Great Commonwealth of Virginia.
I am still a Texan at heart, but I am proud to be a Virginian too,
especially because of Virginia’s rich traditions of noble courage,
and great heroic figures that forged our great nation.
Even so, too many Virginians of times passed, including our greatest heroes,
were blinded by their times, culture, and fears,
and, yes, even blinded by their hopes for the future of America.
But as time would tell their hopes could never be fulfilled until
“all men” were truly treated as “created equal,”
and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
…Life, Liberty, an
d the Pursuit of Happiness…”
On Tuesday, November 5, I pray that we Virginians
will live up to what was best in our forefathers.
But I pray also that, by the grace of Jesus Christ,
we may see what they were so unpardonably blinded to.
I pray that we will all be true heroes, authentic moral giants,
defending the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
of all human beings, white or black, rich or poor, born or unborn.
God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia. Amen.