TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 5, 2020

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 5, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today, of course, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord,

the day the “magi from the east” came to visit and worship the Child Jesus.

But this begs the question: who were these “magi from the east”?

 

Although we commonly refer to them as “kings,”

they are most probably not actual kings:

neither Scripture nor the early fathers of the Church calls them that.

But somewhere along the line it became common to call them kings.

Probably because of the prophesy in Psalm 72, that we sang today:

“The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;

the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.

All kings shall pay him homage…”

And perhaps also, the prophecy of Isaiah, that we read in our first reading today:

“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”

 

  • So, while they probably weren’t actual royalty,
  • the Church does see them as fulfilling these prophesies,
  • so there’s nothing wrong in calling them kings, if you want.
  • But scripture and the fathers call them “Magi,”
  • a Greek term that refers to a particular educated class in Persia,
  • most probably priests of Zoroastrianism.

As such, they would be well educated in philosophy, and astronomy/astrology,

truly wise-men, seekers of the truth,

and also so well-read on various religions, including Judaism.

 

And this is probably why they followed the Star.

They probably knew about the famous prophesy of Balaam,

found in the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament.

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near:

a star shall come out of Jacob,

and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

  • Because of this prophecy, they, like many pagans of the time,
  • thought that a world king would come from Israel
  • And so when the Magi saw the star, they put 2 and 2 together,
  • and being seekers of truth, and moved by Holy Spirit, they set out.

 

Nowadays all sorts of scholars try to explain what this star actually was.

Some say there was no star: it is merely made up, pious fiction.

Others suggest it was the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 7bc;

others say it was a supernova, or a comet.

 

But the Fathers of the Church did not think it was anything like that.

As St. John Chrysostom pointed out in the 4th century:

stars and comets don’t move around in the sky,

or disappear and then reappear,

or come to rest over a specific house.

So, as St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes, the Fathers taught it was

a newly created light in the sky, but very close to the earth,

specially created by God to guide the Magi to Bethlehem.

 

And what do the Magi find in Bethlehem?

Scripture tells us:

“going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.”

It’s important to note, that the story of the Magi is only in Matthew’s gospel,

which tends to tell the story from St. Joseph’s perspective,

but here he makes no mention of Joseph:

only “The child and Mary, his mother”

Why?

The Magi certainly would have been aware of

the very first and most important of all Jewish prophesies,

found in Genesis 3:14, when God Himself foretells

the coming of both the Messiah and his mother:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

And so the Magi come searching, and find, the new Adam and the new Eve.

 

And what do they do when they see Jesus and Mary?

It tells us “and they fell down and worshiped Him.”

The Greek here denotes a total bodily prostration in front of a divine king

they worship Jesus by falling on their faces.

 

And that worship continues, as it tells us,

“Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts,

gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

Of course, the gifts show the homage, the worship, due to a king,

gifts fit for a king.

But the early church saw a rich symbolism in each of the gifts:

–gold, symbolizing his Kingship.

–frankincense, symbolizing Christ as High Priest;

incense symbolizes both prayers and smoke of sacrifices

of the priests

–and myrrh, which was used in Jewish burial, including Jesus’ burial,

so the myrrh shows that baby is born to die on the Cross

 

And then it tells,

“being warned in a dream not to return to Herod,

they departed to their own country by another way.”

We see how they are open to the Holy Spirit’s movement in their hearts,

and so are spared the wrath of Herod.

And they went home filled with that Spirit.

 

Scripture is silent about what happened to them after this,

but strong early Church traditions tell us that when they returned home,

the three Magi, Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar,

each gave away their wealth to the poor

and spent they lives proclaiming the birth of the savior.

Then, forty years later, when the Apostle St. Thomas came east

proclaiming the Gospel

he baptized them and ordained them as priests.

One Medieval account goes on to tell us:

“Having undergone many trials and fatigues for the Gospel,

the three wise men met …in 54 (AD)

to celebrate the feast of Christmas.

Thereupon, after the celebration of Mass, they died.”

 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it: if it isn’t true, it ought to be

 

____

So what do we learn from the story of the Magi?

First, we remember they were gentiles, but searching for truth, and finding it.

They were the first converts to the faith.

There will always wise men in every age searching for truth, for Jesus,

and they are in our midst today.

And it is wrong not to bring them to Jesus: we need to evangelize everyone

–especially at Christmas, when so many people have hearts open to Jesus

–and especially children and fallen away Catholics

–and especially so many Protestants of goodwill,

who truly love Jesus but lack the fullness of the truth about Him.

 

But to do that we must also be like the magi,

and remember the importance of our own continuing study of the faith,

and so continuous growth in our knowledge of and love for Jesus.

 

And remember, with all of their learning, there was a purpose to it.

They had learned about the star, but when they saw it,

they responded: they got up and followed wherever it led them.

It’s not just enough to know our faith, we have to respond to it.

 

So, for example, Jesus teaches us to love those in need

we know that, but when a needy person comes to us, do you respond?

 

Or when the Lord calls you to do something specific for Him, do we respond?

Let’s say you retire, and then you get invited to volunteer at the parish,

with some other charity—do you respond?

Or let’s say you love your Catholic faith, and you’re single,

and feel a call to priesthood or religious life—do you answer?

Whatever—it’s not just enough to be a Catholic,

like the Magi, Catholics also have to follow Jesus when He says,

okay, now I want you to do this, or that, for me.

 

Also, notice that when the star seems to have disappeared

when they got to Jerusalem, the Magi didn’t give up.

Instead, they started asking around—they kept searching, but in a different way

And then God rewarded their faithful perseverance:

the star came back: and they “rejoiced.”

 

Sometimes we have figurative stars in our lives that lead us to Jesus,

and then suddenly they seem to disappear.

But we must also endure in faith

For example: we’re inspired by truly holy priests and bishops:

they are like bright stars that lead us to Christ,

But then we see the scandalous behavior

of other truly unholy priests and bishops,

and the stars seem to disappear.

But when that happens, we can’t give up,

we just keep on searching as best we can,

because it’s not really the stars we’re seeking

—we’re seeking Jesus.

And in His own time, He will send us some sort of new star come to guide us to Him.

 

Or sometimes we just seem to go through a spiritual dry spell,

sort of a dark night of the soul.

But we preserve, keep praying, don’t give up

and then suddenly it lifts, and it’s bright again.

 

___

The Magi also remind us of the centrality of worship

They come from hundreds or thousands of miles away,

and the first thing they do is prostrate themselves before the Baby.

Do we prostrate ourselves before Him, both in our hearts and in our bodies.

The Magi knew the importance of the physical expression

of the prostration of the heart,

of falling down on their knees, and even on their faces,

to say to Him and to themselves:

you are God, King of the Universe, and I am not.

Do we make this connection?

At Mass, when you kneel, are you just following the crowd,

or are you truly prostrating yourself—body and soul—

before your beloved Jesus?

And when you leave here standing on two feet,

does that prostration remain in your heart throughout the day and week?

 

And do we bring Him gifts, and gifts of highest quality?

First: do we give Jesus ourselves, our very lives,

by living our lives the way He taught us to, by trying our very best

to love Him and our neighbor,

and keep all of His commandments completely and without exception?

 

But also, do I place everything I have at His disposal?

Do I place my gold, my money and time and talent at His discretion.

Or am I selfish, holding tight to my things, for my pleasure or my own judgment.

Do I burn my incense before Him:

do I give myself to Him in prayer and worship?

Is the Holy Mass something I endure, or a gift of praise

as I offer up myself to be united to His sacrifice of the Cross?

And do I sanctify every day,

by constantly remembering His presence and praising Him?

 

___

And finally, the wise men remind us that it doesn’t end after Christmas:

they went back and spread the gospel, telling people in a strange country

about this Jewish savior of the world

When we leave church today what will we do?

When Christmas is over what will we do?

The lesson of Magi isn’t just to come and adore Jesus,

but also to go and bring others to adore Him.

 

____

As we now move more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,

let us place ourselves in the presence of the Magi.

May they guide us, as once the star guided them,

to come before the King of the Universe as we approach Him on the altar as they once approached Him in Bethlehem,

in His true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.

May we imitate them,

prostrating ourselves in worship and offering ourselves to Him.

And with Saints Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar, and Mary, His Mother,

may we leave here today,

proclaiming the coming of Christ and His salvation,

in everything we say and do, to all we love and to all we meet.

TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, December 29, 2019

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 29, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Christmas is filled with symbols that lead us to understand the truth

about the more important things that the day is truly about.

For example, the lights on the trees and houses remind us

that the birth of Jesus was the dawning of

“the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

But one of the most important symbols is found

as family members gather together

from all over the country or even the world,

and we remember that part of the meaning of Christmas is that

the Baby Jesus was born into a human family,

The Holy Family, of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

 

Now, it’s easy for some of us to kinda get that backward:

thinking that Christmas is about our family,

and that the Holy Family reminds us of us.

But we have to be careful, because Christmas is never primarily about us.

Christmas is first about Christ, and what he did 2000 years ago.

 

And what He did was this:

the Eternal Son of God entered into the world as a human being.

What an incredible thing to think about.

And what an incredible thing it tells us about the dignity of man,

that somehow our human nature

has the capacity of being united with God’s divinity.

 

But the Eternal God did not just become man in a vacuum:

He entered the world as all human beings were created to:

He was born into the family of a husband and wife,

Mary and Joseph.

And this reminds us of the dignity of family:

the first 2 chapters of Genesis tell us

that in the beginning God didn’t make man to live alone,

but rather He made man in His image as both male and female,

to live together sharing one life and love,

the 2 becoming 1 flesh.

 

But He doesn’t stop there.

The very first thing He says to the 2 is: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

Become parents, have a family.

This is the way God created human beings:

He created us to love, and to do so first in families,

founded on husband and wife, mother and father.

So that marriage and family are the first and foundational

relationships or society in the world

—and it is man’s very nature to be born, raised and loved there.

 

Which means, in turn, that that marriage and family themselves

have a certain nature:

God made marriage and family to foster true love in a particular way.

 

_______

Of course we find early on that families aren’t always perfect.

The third chapter of Genesis tells us about man’s original sin

—and we see how that sin changed everything,

effecting human nature even today:

making us weak and vulnerable to sin.

But Genesis tells us that the original sin was a sin of Adam and Eve together:

it happened in their marriage,

and then directly affected their children, their family.

 

Sin messes up everything—including marriages and families.

 

Today, sometimes it seems some families are so messed up by sin

that they seem hopeless.

Some even suggest that the institution of “family”,

at least as it’s traditionally been structured, is hopeless.

 

But Jesus would disagree.

He didn’t think human beings were hopeless after the sin of Adam and Eve,

but instead became a human being specifically to conquer that sin.

And He didn’t think marriage or family were hopeless

because of the sin of that first marriage and family,

but rather purposefully entered into His humanity

by means of a human marriage and family.

So that in coming to redeem man, he began by redeeming the family.

 

And He has redeemed the family, beginning with His own family

—the Holy Family,

by the grace of God and their own free choices,

a family totally without sin.

Of course we know Jesus was sinless,

but we have to remember He was first sinless

as the son of Mary and Joseph:

St. Luke tells us today that He was “obedient to them.”

And Scripture also tells us that Joseph “was a righteous man”

and, of course that Mary was “full of grace.”

In other words—they were also sinless.

 

_____

Some say, yeah, Father, but that’s not the way it is today:

my marriage is far from perfect, and my family has lots of problems.

True—but how many of those problems are rooted in somebody’s sin?

Maybe Dad seems to love his job or his liquor more than his family,

or Mom seems to love the kids or her parents

more than she loves her husband.

Or maybe a son or daughter, are disobedient, or running with a bad crowd.

Or maybe a mother-or-father-in-law are interfering where they have no business.

 

But imagine if there were no sin in your family.

Life would be wonderful.

And that’s how Christmas should affect your family.

Christ came to conquer sin and give us,

first and foremost in marriage and family,

the knowledge and grace, to restore love and overcome sin.

The problem is all too often we ignore the knowledge, and we reject the grace.

 

But that’s no reason to reject the idea of marriage or family

—it’s just all the more reason to try to understand

what God created it to be, and accept his grace.

 

_______

Still, nowadays a lot of folks see the problems with family and marriage

and think it’s time to change things.

We see this in the changing attitude promoted by the secular culture:

Divorce is presumed to be normal and even good,

as are contraception, premarital and extramarital sex.

and living together before marriage.

And now, homosexual activists are called “heroic”

even for viciously attacking anyone who stands in opposition

to their efforts to redefine the notions of marriage and family.

 

More and more Christians, even Catholics,

ignore the very words of Scripture itself

to support their redefinition of marriage and family.

They ignore the fact that Jesus clearly defined marriage

as only between one man and one woman,

when He taught:

“he who made them from the beginning

made them male and female,

…’For this reason a man shall …cleave to his wife,

and the two shall become one.”

 

They ignore the fact that Jesus condemned divorce, saying:

“What …God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Adding: “whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery…”

And they ignore the fact that Jesus blamed attempts to redefine marriage

on “hardheartedness,” which is just another word for sin in Scripture.

 

Some folks simply reject what the Scripture says about marriage

because they say it’s just the work of men, and not of God.

So, for example, some point to writings of St. Paul,

like the one in today’s 2nd reading from Colossians,

which is repeated almost verbatim in his letter to the Ephesians:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,

as is proper in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives.”

They say, “look: Paul is a misogynist!—he hates women!”

 

If they would only recognize that this is the word of God, not Paul,

they might look a little more carefully, at this and other texts.

First of all, if you look at the context of these 2 texts you see that when he says

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,”

he’s simply telling them to imitate Christ who

“came not to be served, but to serve.”

Basic Christianity.

 

But then he goes on to say: “Husband love your wives.”

Contrary to the Jewish Law and Scripture,

the laws in Ephesus and Colossae, which were pagan cities,

treated wives as property to be used by their husbands,

not equal partners to be loved.

So Paul says, in effect, husbands, start treating her like God intended.

As he clarifies in Ephesians:

“husbands should love their wives as their own bodies….”

So Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says, in effect,

husbands, your misogyny is a sin,

          part of your  false and unnatural re-definition of marriage,

          not God’s true definition—so stop it!

 

_____

Of course, many people today might say:

that’s all fine and good, but don’t impose your religious views on me.

 

But the thing is, the nature of marriage isn’t revealed solely in Scripture.

Think about this.

Nowadays a lot of people are avid, some even fanatical,

about protecting the environment.

One thing that’s always amazed me about all this is

how so many people can, on the one hand,

argue for the necessity of keeping the environment

the way it is “intended” “naturally”

and on the other,

not be at all concerned about keeping man

the way he is intended to be “naturally.”

 

And yet man does have a nature.

And that nature extends to marriage and family life.

Scripture helps us understand this,

but we can see it by common sense and rational observation.

It’s clear throughout recorded history,

and even from what we know of pre-historic time,

that marriage had always and only been a union of male and female.

Were there exceptions to the rule?

Yes, sometimes, but almost always as the result of males abusing their power

to write the laws to suit their purposes:

for example: if women are property, of course you can own 2, or 50.

 

But marriage between 1 male and female has always clearly been

the bedrock of society,

so much so that the civil laws concerning marriage

didn’t originate in order to establish and define marriage,

but simply to protect what marriage naturally was

–marriage existed before laws were written to protect it.

 

Some say, well how could a change that effects only a small percentage

of the population effect, like so-called “gay marriage,”

have any consequence to the rest of the population?

Yet most of these same people insist

that a one-degree change in the world’s temperature

could wreak catastrophic consequences on the global environment.

 

Some celebrate the new laws that redefine civil marriage.

Does that mean if we pass laws

to redefine the words “hot” and “cold” and “normal temperature”

will that help the environment?

 

Some say that that pollution is destroying delicate eco-systems.

and that in turn will having devastating effect on all life on earth.

But I wonder, isn’t divorce and promiscuity

destroying the delicate balances of marriages and families,

and isn’t contraception devastating the reproduction of the human race?

 

_____

The love of families gathered together at Christmas

is a very special part of the season.

But this love has nothing to do with Christmas

if it does not lead us to a deeper understanding

of the profound love of the Lord Jesus,

and God’s great gift of to us of both

the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

and the human family—father, mother and children—itself.

 

Let us turn together to the Lord now, and thank Him for these great gifts.

And let us pray that through the Grace of Jesus Christ

and the intercession of Mary and Joseph

we may imitate their example of loving and sinless family life,

and learn to cherish and protect this most sacred and natural gift.

TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord – Christmas – December 25, 2019

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Christmas  

December 25, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

He was born in a shelter where they kept the livestock,

a “stable,” maybe a barn or dirty cave.

It was a cold night in late December,

maybe with snow or freezing rain falling all around outside,

maybe with a wind blowing it into the entrance of the cave,

or through the holes in the walls of the barn.

And then they laid Him a manger—a food trough for animals.

 

Why?

Why did the creator of heaven and earth, God the Son,

chose to become one of us?

And why did He have to come to us as a tiny Baby?

And why did He have to be born in such miserable conditions?

 

The simple answer is that God, in His wisdom, knew

that only man could atone for the sins of man,

but only the power of infinite eternal God could make up

for sins against the goodness of infinite eternal God.

So God had to become one of us

—and in all things, from birth to death, good times and bad–

so that as both God and man

He could atone for and save us from our sins.

 

But there is another reason God the Son

had to be born into the world this way,

a reason we must not forget today.

 

We read in tomorrow’s/today’s Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This reminds us that the eternal God the Son,

entered into time and became a man not only to redeem us,

but to speak to us:

to tell us about Himself and the Father,

and to teach us what life is really all about.

 

St. John calls Him the eternal “Word” of God,

because He communicates God to us.

So that, all throughout the Old Testament, when God speaks to His people,

in some mysterious way, it is the Son in action.

But in the fullness of time God chose to speak to His people directly,

face to face,

and so the Son, the Word, became a man, Jesus, and spoke to us.

 

And that speaking did not just begin when He was an adult,

as He walked up and down the roads of Israel teaching and preaching.

Rather He began teaching us on that first Christmas morning

as a tiny little Baby.

 

Now, some might protest, “babies don’t speak.”

Well, tell that to a mother of newborn baby crying in the middle of the night:

to you and me it sounds like crying, but to her he is clearly saying,

“feed me, mommy,” or “I’m scared, mommy.”

Or tell that to a pregnant mother: when the baby kicks he says,

“here I am, I’ll be out soon.”

 

Babies say a lot without saying a word.

They say to us, “innocence,” they say to us “new beginnings,”

they say to us “protect me.”

But most importantly they say: “love me.”

 

In a beautiful homily at Christmas Midnight Mass many years ago,

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how man can be intimidated by God

—either by His majesty and power,

or by the demands He makes of us,

and sometimes by a combination of both.

So it’s easier to walk away from Him,

or to assume that He doesn’t have time for us,

or simply ignore His existence.

 

But then Benedict went on to teach, [and I {quote}]:

“Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child.

He made Himself dependent and weak, in need of our love.

Now – this God who has become a child says to us

– you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

 

“You can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

“Love me.”

 

In a sense, this is nothing new for God:

after all, He created Adam and Eve

simply so that He could love them, and they could love Him.

And even after their original sin,

and through all the sins and betrayals of mankind

over all these millennia,

he still continued to offer mankind His love,

and invite them, to “love Him.”

 

So, is it surprising that when He enters the world to save us

—to reconcile us to His Father’s love,

and to teach us about His love, and how to love,

God the son enters as a tiny Baby,

whose very existence seems to coo: “do not fear me, love me”?

 

And the Babe says even more than that.

He says:

“I am the all-powerful God, but I have made myself vulnerable for you.”

Again, this vulnerability is nothing new for God

—since Adam and Eve

he has exposed Himself to the wounds of our rejection and sin.

But now the Word becomes flesh

—and the vulnerability of the Babe speaks in a clear and human way.

A vulnerability that becomes even more apparent soon after Christmas,

as King Herod orders His execution.

 

And finally, He is born in the most miserable conditions:

in a strange city,

away from family and friends who might assist His parents

in protecting and caring for Him,

and in damp dirty stable, on a cold late December day.

Again, He speaks, saying: “I come to suffer.”

 

It’s interesting, some argue that Christ was not actually born on this day,

certainly not in December—probably, they say, in June or July.

As proof they point to the text we read at midnight Mass tonight/last-night,

which tells us that on the night Jesus was born:

“there were shepherds in that region living in the fields

and keeping the night watch over their flock.”

Skeptics say shepherds wouldn’t have kept flocks outside

in the cold of December.

 

The thing is, yes they would.

Because you see, Bethlehem, was just about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem.

And modern Jewish scholars tell us

that in order to keep sheep available year round

for the sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem,

special herds were kept just outside the city—year round.

So yes, there were shepherds in the fields in late December.

And yes, the newborn Babe was born shivering in the cold,

as He tells us that He had come to suffer for us.

 

But this episode with the shepherds tells us something else:

the shepherds come to worship Jesus,

who one day will be called “the Lamb of God”

and replace the Temple sacrifices of the Lambs

with His own sacrifice of the Cross.

 

_____

The Word becomes flesh and speaks to us,

in the tiny voice of a vulnerable, suffering lovable Baby.

And in all this He says not merely the invitation, “love me”,

but also as He shows Himself vulnerable and suffering for us, He says:

“love me because I love you.”

 

And as He says this He opens the door

to the speaking He will do the rest of His life, especially as an adult

—both in words and actions.

This speaking—the Gospel—will be difficult for many to bear.

Because it will be demanding, it will be hard to believe,

and even cause them suffering, even martyrdom.

 

Over the last 2000 years many have walked away,

afraid of these teachings of Christ—and they continue to do so today.

But if we begin here, with the Babe in His Mother’s arms,

we are not afraid of His Gospel,

because we see that it begins in and springs from love.

God is love, St. John tells us, elsewhere.

And in Bethlehem the Divine Love became a  human Babe, saying to us,

“before you hear anything else I have to say, understand this:

do not be afraid of me, because I love you: love me in return.”

 

_____

As you may or may not know, Easter, not Christmas,

has always been, by far,

the most important Feast in the life of the Church.

In fact, it seems that Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated,

at least not liturgically,

until the 4th century.

And yet, today most people make a make a much bigger deal

about Christmas than Easter.

 

Some say this is due to

the commercialization and secularization of Christmas,

and to some extent that’s true.

Many lament the overemphasis of the birth over the resurrection

—the feast of our salvation—and to some extent they have a point.

 

But I can’t help but remember that

without the Word becoming flesh and blood in Bethlehem

that flesh and blood could not have died and resurrected

in Jerusalem 33 years later.

And without the Eternal Word coming to us in the form of a tiny Baby,

the world would not understand His invitation to love Him

and to be loved by Him

in quite the same way.

 

Perhaps in this overly commercialized and secularized 21st century,

a world that is in a very real sense afraid to listen

to the Gospel of Christ

because it knows if it listens it will have to change.

….perhaps it is part of God’s providential plan for this century

to focus attention, no matter how unintentionally,

on the birthday of this vulnerable, suffering, lovable Babe.

To see Him in manger scenes or in their minds eye,

in the arms of His Mother Mary, or His foster father Joseph,

and with the shepherds come to watch and worship the Lamb of God.

And in all this to hear Him, the Eternal Word of God, say,

in a voice that echoes over 20 centuries of human history

and into eternity:

“you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

Perhaps, in God’s eternal plan, the cooing invitation of the Baby Jesus

will melt the icy hearts of our faithless century,

including yours and mine,

and open them to listen to the Gospel of Christ

and recognize it for what it truly is:

the Gospel of true love.

 

_____

As we enter now into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,

the sacrament of love,

the sacrifice of the Lamb of God,

let us remember that the proclamation of the Gospel

that culminated on the Cross in Jerusalem

began in the manager in Bethlehem,

as the one who loved us from all eternity

was born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas day,

the Word of God made flesh speaking to us

through the vulnerability and suffering of the lovable little Babe.

Come, let adore Him. Come, let us love Him.

 

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The impeachment of President Donald Trump is a very troubling thing,

no matter how you look at it.

And people do look at it differently.

They approach it from very different perspectives

–and come to very very different conclusions.

 

For example, on the one hand,

many people have for years seen Trump as

an evil person, a bigot, a liar, a scam artist,

and so tend to see the accusations against him as entirely believable,

and many are eager to accept them as true

and see them as high crimes and misdemeanors.

 

On the other hand, many people have come to see Trump as

a flawed but heroic figure, sometimes crude and prone to hyperbole,

but plainspoken, and a champion for the things that make America great.

And so they tend to see all these accusations as exaggerations and fake news,

a plot to overthrow their votes.

 

And then there are still others, who see the good and the bad in complete truth,

and they make an entirely fair and just judgment.

You, know, people like you and me.

 

It is fascinating, how people, good and bad,

can approach the same objective reality in different ways,

and come to very radically different conclusions.

 

The same thing happens with Christmas.

People clearly approach it in very different ways,

and so understand it completely differently.

 

Some approach it from the perspective of

materialism, consumerism or simple personal satisfaction of appetites,

in the spirit of greed, avarice, and envy.

And so Christmas is all about the gifts, and the fun, the immediate gratification.

 

Others approach it from the perspective of

sentimentality, emotional feelings of love and belonging,

and so Christmas is all about real but fading affection for family and friends,

and a genuine but passing goodwill toward strangers and even enemies.

 

Others approach it from the perspective of altruism,

giving to the less fortunate and those in need,

either out of true generosity or out of guilt.

And so Christmas becomes about one’s annual acts of charitable giving,

and serving the poor,

but lacking in true and lasting love that goes on to change lives,

of both the givers and the receivers.

 

___

But for us, we must come at it from a wholly different perspective.

And that is what Advent is all about

—approaching Christmas from the right perspective.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus asks,

“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?

Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing?

Then why did you go out?  To see a prophet?”

 

Advent is about the “going out to see,” and what we are going out to see,

and why we go out to see it.

Advent is sort of our perspective on Christmas, how we approach Christmas.

 

So that as Christians, Advent as a time of correcting

our false understandings of Jesus, our wrong attitudes toward Him.

 

Seeing that He is not just one aspect of Christmas, like Santa Claus.

He IS Christmas.

And He’s not just a cute little baby that stirs familial and human sentiment,

He is the Creator of the Universe who stripped Himself

of the glory of heaven and became a vulnerable little human baby

so that He could grow and tell us the truth about God and ourselves.

He is the Almighty Author of life who took on a frail human life

so that He could teach why He gave us life

and how He created it to be lived.

And His is the Supreme and Only Living God,

who is alone worthy of the worship and adoration of the whole universe,

and yet became a man so He could suffer and die for our sins.

 

And so Advent is a time to approach Him completely differently

than anything else in our lives.

A time to give and receive, but first to receive what He gives us—Himself—

and to give ourselves back to Him.

A time to love, but not with a love that is merely superficial or sentimental,

but with the love the Christ gives us, His own perfect love,

and so love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength,

and love one another as He has loved us.

A time to care for those in need, but not just because it makes us feel good

but because we recognize that Jesus loves them as much as He loves us,

and so we delight in sharing with them because we love them.

And none of this can be passing, but must be rooted in

the eternal God born in time in Bethlehem,

and it must go on and on, every moment of our lives.

 

Today is Gaudete Sunday, or rejoice Sunday.

It stands as a stark reminder to us that although all of Advent is a time of joy,

it should also be a time of sadness.

 

Again, that is not the perspective most people have.

But it must be ours.

Because while we rightly look forward with expectant joy

toward the celebration of Christmas,

to really understand and appreciate what this joy is all about

we first need to understand not only what Jesus has done for us,

but why we need Him to do it,

and why we are not worthy of Him doing it.

And that is where we find the sorrow of Advent

—sorrow for our sins, the times we’ve failed to love Him,

when He always loves us so much.

 

____

In today’s gospel Jesus tells John the Baptist’s disciples:

“the blind regain their sight,

the lame walk,

lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear,

the dead are raised,

and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

In Advent we realize that He’s talking about us.

We are spiritually blind

—too often we don’t see Him who is the light of the world.

We are spiritually lame

—we do not walk with Him who is the way the truth and the life

We are spiritually lepers and unclean

–too often we walk in or even wallow in the filth of the world.

We are deaf

–how many times to we fail to hear His voice, and follow Him?

We are spiritually poor

–as we store up treasures of the world,

but not the true treasures of heaven.

And sometimes we are even spiritually dead,

as we do all these through deadly, or mortal sins.

 

And so Advent begins in sorrow,

but sorrow filled with hope, and so enlightened by joy.

Some ask, how can we do this—have both joy and sorrow at the same time?

The answer is simple, and at the heart of Advent:

Advent is forming ourselves in the perspective of one

who is loved by Jesus and who loves Him in return.

And anyone who has loved, even on a human level,

knows that only in true and deep love do you find

the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows in life.

 

And so we feel sorrow, because all too often, instead of loving Jesus,

we have chosen to be spiritually blind, lame, unclean, deaf, poor

and even dead to Him.

But at the same time, in spite of all that, we see Him coming to us,

to heal us from all our sins and vices,

to give us not just life, but life in abundance with Him.

 

___

Life is often all about perspective—about how we approach things.

In this holy season,

let us be careful not to approach Christmas from the wrong perspective

—the perspective of so much of the world around us,

of materialism, or sentiment or even empty altruism.

But rather let us recognize and live Advent for what it truly is meant to be:

the way we form the correct perspective about Christmas,

the way we approach Christmas from the right direction.

 

Remembering Jesus is what we go out to see, Jesus is why we go out.