TEXT: Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019

Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday

June 9, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This last week our nation, in fact most of the world,

recalled that day 75 years ago when

155,000 American, British, French and other Allied troops

stormed the beaches of Normandy.

June 6, 1944: D-Day.

It was a glorious day, but it was also a terrible day.

Many of the companies in the first wave of the invasion

had a 90% or higher casualty rate.

Overall that day 10,000 allies, and 9,000 Germans, were killed or wounded.

And the survivors were scarred by the horrific memories forever.

 

Horrible.

But then you realize that most of those men knew

they had a good chance of dying that day.

But they went forward anyway.

Who would do that?

Who would jump out of a perfectly good plane

or leap out of a landing craft into crashing waves

in order to submit themselves

to a hail of bullets and bombs going off all around you?

You have to be either crazy, or enormously brave.

And they were NOT crazy.

They were in fact, some of the bravest men who ever lived.

It leaves us all standing in wonder, and reverence.

 

I think about that and I wonder if I would ever have that kind of courage.

If I could ever, not so much jump into a firestorm of bullets to defend my country,

but knowingly and willingly suffer a horrible death as a martyr

for Jesus, the church, and you.

 

I don’t know, I’m just not that brave.

In fact, most of us aren’t that brave.

 

___

But then I think of Pentecost.

And I look back at a bunch of frightened men and women who locked themselves

in an upstairs room, 2000 years ago.

They were very much afraid of being brutally tortured and killed,

but they didn’t have to go into battle, they could just choose to hide.

 

But then 50 days later these same men threw open the doors

and went into the crowds and proclaimed truth

that could subject them to automatic death from the authorities.

Of course I’m talking about the apostles and the other first disciples of Jesus

who were quivering cowards on  Good Friday

but were courageous preachers on Pentecost.

 

And the difference was the decent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

That, my friends, is what the Holy Spirit does.

It lifts up normal weak and frightened human beings

and makes them into heroic saints

with the courage to rush in where angels fear to tread.

 

This is the Holy Spirit that descended onto Church on Pentecost.

This is the Holy Spirit that descended on you in your baptism,

and strengthened you in a powerful way in your confirmation.

 

____

Would you be willing to storm the beach in Normandy?

Maybe some of you would,

I know a lot of you are, in fact, war heroes yourselves.

(Thank you for your service.)

But most of us couldn’t even dream of it.

And if you could storm the beach at Normandy for love of family and country,

would you be willing to suffer as much for Jesus and His Church?

Could you even simply stand up for the Church and Jesus

in the common things of everyday life?

 

Think of at that.

Do we have the courage to live the Christian life every day,

even if we’re not threatened with martyrdom or direct physical harm?

Maybe you’re tempted to sin–do have the courage to say no?

Or maybe someone at work or school is insulting the faith,

or even blaspheming Jesus Himself

—do you have the courage to simply disagree?

 

You may be afraid, but the thing is, we don’t have to do this on our own.

The Holy Spirit dwells inside of all the baptized,

in the fullness of His strength with all the confirmed.

We have same power of the Holy Spirit

that enabled Peter to go from denying Jesus on Good Friday to

throwing open the doors on Pentecost to preach to folks who wanted him dead!

That power is inside of you.

And as amazing as it sounds, and with all due respect and deference,

that power is greater than it took to be a hero on D-Day.

 

____

This is the power of God that can and does intervene, even dramatically,

in the life of every Christian—going back to the life of Christ Himself.

For example, think back to the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

How Jesus, in his humanity, was so overcome by fear and sorrow

as he could see not only the terrible physical suffering coming,

but also how it would be wasted for so many who would reject his salvation.

He was so overwhelmed that Scripture tells us he actually sweat blood

and asked His Father to find another way.

But then he concluded, “not my will but your will be done,”

and got up resolute and peaceful

and endured scourging, mocking, spittle, a crown of thorns,

carrying the cross up the hill,

and gasping for air, bleeding to death, hanging on the cross.

 

Imagine the courage that it took to do the that.

Even greater courage than landing on Omaha Beach

—there at least you had a chance of survival.

But it wasn’t simply human courage that led Jesus forward:

it was human and divine courage the came together

in the one person of Jesus, God the Son.

The Power of God.

 

And it didn’t stop there: think how even death couldn’t defeat His divine power,

so that on the third day he rose again breaking the bonds of death forever.

 

This is the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus and His Father.

This is the power that came to the Church that first Pentecost

in a dramatic way:

the upper room was filled with a loud wind and tongues of fire

and they were filled with courage to throw open the doors.

And this is the power that came to you in baptism and confirmation.

The power that remains in the church and in the faithful every day.

 

_____

This power has been shown in many ways throughout the history of the church,

in large and small ways, dramatic and subtle ways.

Today you look up on that wall and you see a dramatic example of that power

—that took place actually on another beach.

We remember how St. Raymond of Peñafort,

had traveled to the Island of Majorca with the King of Spain

to preach to the Muslims

but soon discovered the King had brought his mistress along.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, St. Raymond

courageously chastised the King for his adultery,

and stormed out to go back to Spain.

And when the King closed all the ships in the port to him,

Raymond, filled with confidence in the power of Jesus Christ,

he went down to the beach, said a prayer, made the sign of the cross,

and stepped on one end of his great black cape,

which became filled with wind like the wind of Pentecost,

and he sailed across the sea 160 miles back to Spain.

That was not human courage,

that was the power of the Holy Spirit, that not only filled his cape with wind,

but filled his heart with confidence and courage

enabling St. Raymond to step out on the water and not look down or back.

That painting will always remind us not only of the holiness of our great patron,

but also of the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit,

acting in each and every Christian life.

 

____

And of course we need that power very much today.

We know there are huge problems in the church.

We are in great need of courageous and faithful leaders.

And we are equally in need of courageous and faithful followers,

who are willing, by the power of the Holy Spirit,,

to stand up in charity and respect to speak and demand the truth.

And to support those leaders, who also filled with the Holy Spirit,

truly seek to renew the Church of Jesus Christ.

Not by tearing down the church, and not by building a new church,

but by cleaning out filth that has been accumulated

by those who have not been open to the Holy Spirit, but to the evil spirit.

 

There are, of course, lots of obstacles to this.

It seems we’re talking on an impossible task.

But think back to the apostles: at the beginning of that first Pentecost day

they led only a couple of hundred Christians.

By the end of the day there were 3000 more, and now there are two 2 billion.

Not to mention all those who have gone before us in the faith in the last 2000 years.

 

Yes I know today the problems seemed insurmountable,

and the power of the evil one seems unstoppable.

But imagine you’re soldier about to land in Omaha Beach in 1944.

What could you do against the power of the mighty German Wehrmacht

manipulated by the evil Adolph Hitler.?

But in the end, in spite of many casualties, the victory was theirs.

 

But it was not theirs alone—God was on their side.

Now, last week I watched a few of the great movies about D-Day.

One of those movies was “The Longest Day,”

a movie with every heroic actor from the 1950s and 60s.

And in two separate scenes

an American General and a German general

both say to their subordinates, “I wonder whose side God is on.”

As parochial as it may sound, God was definitely on our side.

Just think about all the things it had to go right for us, and wrong for them.

Which shouldn’t be a surprise because we were fighting to end the tyranny of

a homicidal genocidal tyrant who was taking over the world.

 

And God is clearly on our side today, yours and mine.

By the action of the Holy Spirit, He can and will give us courage and wisdom,

to truly purify and renew His Holy Church.

 

____

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

let us recognize the power of God made manifest on this altar,

as by the command of Jesus and the action of His Holy Spirit

the bread and wine are transformed into the true Body and Blood of Jesus.

And as you receive His Body, may it strengthened and renew

that divine power within us,

power made manifest in the Cross, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost,

power made manifest in the course of human history,

and power made manifest in at every moment

in the everyday lives of every Christian.

TEXT: 6th Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019

6th Sunday of Easter

May 26, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

There are certain words that even though we hear and repeat them

over and over again, in our daily conversations, on the daily news

and even in our most solemn prayers,

sometimes we don’t stop to think what they really mean.

One of these words finds its way into our Gospel today.

The word is “peace.”

 

Today Jesus tells His apostles,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
But what is this “peace” that Jesus is leaving His apostles?

Is it something simple like the tranquility of the quiet places

He would often lead them off to relax and pray?

Or is it something earth shattering, like an end to violence and war in the world?

Or was He promising them that they would never argue amongst themselves?

Or was He simply extending to them a common social greeting: “peace”?

 

To answer this question let’s think about the one place in Scripture

where there’s absolute peace

–in the first 2 chapters of Genesis,

at the beginning of the world in the Garden of Eden.

There we find that there is peace in every sense of the word

–there is harmony between people, specifically husband and wife,

between man and nature, between man and himself.

Most especially, there is harmony between man and God.

We’re told that Adam and Eve lived with God,

that He would walk with them in the garden in the cool of the evening.

And why not: this is what God created them for.

Our God of love created man to be like Him–in His own image and likeness

–so He could give them His love, and receive love in return.

 

And that is the peace of paradise: sharing God ‘s one life of love forever

The Old Testament tells us how this is the peace lost

when Adam and Eve didn’t keep God’s word,

but this is also the peace restored in the new Testament with Christ.

St. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is like a new Adam,

and that all things are made new under him.

Christ comes to restore the peace of paradise,

to bring us to share forever in the one life of love with God.

 

And so on the night before He died, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells His apostles:

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

This is the promise of the restoration of living with–dwelling with–God.

And doing this by doing what Adam refused to do: “keeping [God’s] word.”

 

Jesus goes on to say: “Not as the world gives [peace] do I give it to you.”

The peace of Christ isn’t simply the tranquility of a quiet place to relax;

it isn’t an end to wars and violence in the world;

and it isn’t a mere social greeting.

The peace of Christ is found in entering into the perfect life and love

that exists between the Father, Son and Spirit,

being one with them by imbibing their grace,

and hearing and being transformed by and keeping God’s word.

This is the peace of Christ: the peace of paradise, the peace of heaven itself.

 

Heaven—paradise—is the perfection and completion of this peace,

but we can share in this peace even in this life.

So that even as Christ kept His Father’s word perfectly

by obediently accepting the violence of the Cross,

He also experienced the peace of being in perfect union

with His Father and the Spirit,

so that even in midst of His agony and pain,

He had the interior peace to promise the repentant thief:

“Amen I say to you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”

 

This interior peace may seem impossible for human beings to attain–and it is.

But for God nothing is impossible

—and with His grace, nothing is impossible for us.

 

So how do we find this peace?

We start, as I’ve said, by keeping His word.

As Jesus went on tell His apostles at the Last Supper:

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love..”

We cannot share in the peace of Christ if we refuse to enter into

and live the love of Christ.

And when we live in that love—abide in that love—God will come to dwell in us.

 

But how does He come to dwell in us?

God moves as He wills,

but He’s promised to come to us whenever we receive the sacraments.

He came to us in Baptism, when He washed away the stain of Adam’s sin,

and made His sons and daughters.

He came to us in Confirmation,

when the Holy Spirit came to us with the fullness of His gifts.

And He comes to us in Penance, where we are again reconciled to Him again,

as the priest prays over us: “may God grant you pardon and peace.”

 

But nowhere more fully or profoundly is this same grace given,

this same gift of peace,

than in the sacrament we are here to celebrate today–the Eucharist.

The sacrament which is a foretaste of the eternal heavenly banquet.

The sacrament that brings us into communion with the Cross,

and thereby into the act of love that brings us

into the life of the resurrection

–the act of obedience of the New Adam that reconciles fallen man to God

and offers him the life of paradise,

of heaven, eternal life with the Trinity.

 

_____

This whole notion of peace is lost on most people—even most Catholics.

It’s true that we all want there to peace

between nations, and communities, and families.

But when we speak of this peace, we usually mean a peace

founded in temporary compromises, even injustices.

Peace like the Armistice agreement at the end of World War I,

a peace that ended one war,

but simply set the stage for years of suffering and ultimately more war.

Or where a wife agrees not to talk about her husband’s drinking,

and he agrees not to beat her—too often.

Or where parents agree not to talk about

their adult children’s falling away from the faith,

and the adult children agree

to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Or when Christians agree to tolerate all sorts of immoral behavior in society

and compromise their moral principles in legislation,

just so they’ll be allowed to live their own lives according to own beliefs,

and then wind up being called bigots and hatemongers anyway.

Or when bishops and priests agree to turn a blind I or cover up abuse,

so that they can keep up a facade of righteousness,

but in the end create even worse moral scandal.

 

This is peace as the world gives peace, not the peace of Christ.

 

Sometimes, because of the sinful choices of men,

this worldly peace seems to be all we can hope for

in relations between nations and people.

But in the end it’s like sip of water in a parched desert,

compared to the true peace of Christ,

the fountain of life-giving water springing up inside of us.

 

All too often we settle for this impoverished notion of peace.

Perhaps there’s no better illustration of this

than in a ritual we practice at many Masses.

At every Mass, right before Holy Communion,

the priest quotes the Lord Jesus saying:

“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”

But the prayers of the priest make it clear he’s not talking about worldly peace.

Right before this he says

“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,

graciously grant peace in our days.

that…we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress.”

And immediately after he says,

“graciously grant [us] peace and unity in accordance with your will.”

 

But then the confusion usually comes when

the priest invites the people to offer each other “the sign of  peace.”

Just as Christ gave His peace to the apostles at the first Mass at the Last Supper,

the sign of peace at Mass today is meant to be a reminder

that we are about to receive the peace that comes in the Eucharist:

to share in the power of the Cross and Resurrection,

His perfect act of love that offers us restoration to Paradise,

the peace of perfect loving and HOLY Communion

with the Father, Son and Spirit,

and through them, communion with each other.

 

And yet all too often, it can become basically and expression

of the way “the world gives peace”

                   —a time to offer a friendly greeting, or even to chat for a moment.

Not that there’s anything wrong with friendly greetings, and such.

But that’s just not what the Sign of Peace at Mass is about.

It’s supposed to be a profound and solemn ritual sign and prayer

that points us not toward the temporary or superficial peace of this world,

but toward the abiding perfect paradisal peace of Christ

that’s about to flow into us as we receive Holy Communion.

 

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Father, you’ve been telling us this for years.”

I have, and thank you for listening, thank you for the efforts you have made

to incorporate this into our Masses here at St. Raymond’s.

 

____

Nowadays the word “peace” is thrown around as the panacea of all problems.

But what kind of peace—true and lasting peace, or false and temporary peace?

Today, let this word resonate with its truest and deepest meaning.

May it awaken in us the desire to not settle for anything less than

the perfect peace of the perfect paradise of heaven

–with the Blessed Mother, St. Raymond, and all the angels and saints

who have kept God’s word throughout the ages.

The true and mysterious peace we receive in this world by

entering into Holy Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

The peace of Christ be with you always.

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019

5th Sunday of Easter

May 19, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

In today’s gospel Jesus tells His apostles at the Last Supper:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

 

This commandment to love each other is, in many ways,

what has made Christianity so attractive to so many people

over the last 20 centuries.

And rightly so: Man, in his very nature, at the core of his being,

is a creature of love: above all else, he longs to be loved and to love.

 

This is clear both from scripture and just from common sense.

In scripture we read that “God is Love”—that God’s whole life is love,

and that in the beginning this God

created man in His image and likeness,

a creature created to receive God’s love and love him back;

and God says it is not good for man to be alone,

so He creates man as both male and female,

so that they can love each other.

Man is created for love.

 

But common sense also tells us that no human being can be happy without love.

In fact, all our lives we search and work to be loved by others.

We see this as an infant reaches out her arms to be held by daddy,

or cries at night, not because he’s hungry or wet,

but simply because he wants his mommy.

And we see this in adults as they constantly search for the love of a mate,

or do all sorts of things to win the praises and approval

of colleagues, friends and strangers.

 

We see it also in the generosity of a child who shares her toys,

the lover who writes poems for his beloved,

the parent who works like a slave to provide good things for their children.

 

We are created for, and so constantly driven by, love.

 

But like all good things, the desire for love can be easily corrupted.

Sometimes this happens when the desires to receive love and to give love

become entangled and confused:

love yields to self-love,

as we begin to give love mainly so that we can receive it,

or we confuse receiving love

with receiving what our passions desire

—love becomes reduced to a feeling, and so to pleasure.

So loving is cheapened to mean bringing pleasure

—however passing, temporary or base.

 

Sometimes this corruption comes about as our desire to be loved

causes us to do whatever it takes to feel that we are being loved.

This can lead to all sorts of strange and abusive situations:

from a wife who will do anything, bear any abuse, to please her husband,

to a man who will sacrifice his family to be loved and praised by a world

that will forget his name tomorrow.

And it can lead to a society where saying the popular thing

becomes more important than telling the truth,

where tolerating or even celebrating flaws and errors in others is more important

than helping them overcome those flaws and errors.

 

But all this sort of gets things backwards.

The heart of Christian love, is, as Jesus tells His apostles:

“love one another as I have loved you.”

And how did Christ love them?

 

An ancient Christian definition of love is

willing and striving for the good of the beloved.”

Love means wanting was is truly good for the beloved

—not what will give them temporary pleasure.

And love means striving, or doing things, that will bring about that good.

In Christ we see this can ultimately mean doing what is good for others

even if they hate you for it:

truly loving another is never directly dependent on

being loved in return by that person.

Jesus loved all mankind, both His own people and the Gentiles.

And so He told them things they needed to  hear for their own good,

hard sayings that they often walked away from,

or even that made them to want to kill him–even when they did kill him.

 

___

Man is created for love: both receiving love and giving love.

But while he searches to find someone to love him, as is only natural,

he should never confuse being loved by others

with being an object of pleasure to others.

And he—or rather, we

should never forget that there is one who already truly loves us: God—Jesus.

His love is not selfish, but selfless.

He truly wills and strives for our good without concern for his pleasure:

there was no pleasure when He walked

the length and breadth of Israel preaching;

there was no pleasure on the Cross.

 

There was only love.

 

It is true, Scripture teaches that we should try to “please” God.

But God is pleased not in what we do for Him

but in seeing us truly becoming the loving creatures He created us to be

—in seeing His beloved growing in true happiness.

Like parents who delight in their baby’s first step,

not because it reflects well on their parenting

but because they are simply delighted that their child is growing up healthy.

 

Think about it: how do we please God?

As Jesus tells us, also at the Last Supper,

“if you love me you will keep my commandments”

Does it do God any good if we don’t kill each other,

or if we don’t steal from or lie to each other, or commit adultery?

No, but all these things are contrary to loving each other

and so absolutely opposed to what we all strive for,

what will make us happy.

 

____

This points us to the second aspect of love:

man not only seeks to receive love,

but he can not be happy if he does not give love.

 

Again, this love is not selfish, but selfless: it does not give in order to receive,

it simply gives for the good of the beloved.

And so like Christ’s love there must always be a sacrificial element

to truly human love:

it must be willing to lose everything, even the love of the beloved.

 

___

So, if we love, we must love like Christ

and be willing to tell others the truth even when they don’t want to hear it.

Sometimes this involves telling others that

Christ alone loves them perfectly and eternally,

and is the only one who can give them the perfect love of heaven.

Sometimes this means telling them that this or that action or belief is wrong

because it is contrary to true human love

—whether this is the truth about the evils of

greed or socialism,

abortion or pre-marital sex,

racism or homosexuality.

 

Sometimes it means not only “telling them”

but doing something more tangible.

Sometimes parents have to punish their children for doing wrong.

Voters have to replace public officials for the moral evils they legislate.

And society has to reject, with our pocketbooks, our patronage or our protests

attitudes and behavior contrary to true human love.

 

___

Now, if we love, we do all this with love.

Which means we do it not in a way that makes us feel good,

but in the way that will effectively achieve the good for our beloved.

Sometimes maybe a misbehaving child should be spanked

—but not as a way of relieving parental stress.

Love says: should the child be spanked or scolded

or sent to bed without desert

—what will be best in this situation?

And again, not wondering “will my little baby still like me if I do this?”

but “what is best for my beloved?”

 

Christ Himself showed us this:

remember how He was gentle

with the woman caught in adultery,

or with the Magdalene who wept as His feet,

or even with Peter who denied Him,

and Jesus responded simply: “do you love me?”

But remember that Jesus also harshly and publicly chastised

the scribes and Pharisees:

“Woe to you… you white washed tombs…. you hypocrites…

you brood of vipers…”

And how He once even made a whip

and physically drove the moneychangers from the temple.

 

But none of this was about making Himself feel good

—but doing what those particular people needed at that particular moment.

 

____

This balance between when to be hard and when to be soft,

or when to speak or be silent,

is difficult, to say the least.

And it’s hard to love when we know that

only resentment or even hatred and recrimination will be returned to us.

 

But Christ knows this, and so in His great love for us He helps us

—in so many ways.

 

First, He gives us His own personal example all throughout scripture.

 

And then He calls us to constantly examine our lives,

continuously holding ourselves up to the standard He set.

 

But most importantly He gives us Himself.

He loves us so much that He not only died for our sins,

He died and rose again so He could give us a share in His own life of love.

In so many ways, but especially in the sacraments,

He pours that life of love into us—the life of grace—

so that we are never alone in any of this:

the God who loves us is with us

to help us to love as we were created to,

to lift us when we’re tired,

to guide us when we’re confused,

to strengthen us when we’re weak,

to remain with us when we feel all alone.

 

___

So it doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been:

we don’t have to continue to fail at love and loving.

As he says in today’s 2nd reading from Revelation:

“the old order has passed away…Behold, I make all things new.”

 

Now, as we move more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist,

let us turn to Our Lord and see in this sacrament

the purity of love that led Him to the cross

and the power of that love that raised Him up from the Tomb.

Let us recognize in this holy mystery

the love that desires nothing more than our good,

and that works, by the power, the grace, of this sacrament,

to achieve that good in our lives.

And filled with the grace of this sacrament, let us follow His example,

and go out into a world desperately seeking and yearning for love,

and boldly proclaim in our words and actions the truth about love.

And in all this, let us keep His tender commandment:

“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019

 4th Sunday of Easter

May 12, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 “Mary had a little lamb,

whose fleece was white as snow.

“And everywhere that Mary went,

the lamb was sure to go.”

 

When I was a child, I really believed that that nursery rhyme

was about the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus.

I mean, after all, she was the “Mary” I heard the most about.

And Jesus was the Lamb of God.

And He was absolutely pure, His soul, His fleece, “was white as snow”

And of course, when He was little He followed His mother wherever she went.

 

But then I got older, I discovered that it was actually

was only written in the 19th century by an American Protestant,

writing about a little girl named Mary Sawyer,

who brought her pet lamb to school one day.

So much for my youthful piety.

 

But it was still a pretty good instinct.

 

Last week I preached about how Jesus,

in a sense, in order to become the Good Shepherd

first had to become the Lamb of God:

not only the sacrificial lamb,

but the innocent and docile lamb before His Father,

hearing His Father’s voice and following it:

“not my will, but yours be done.”

 

And in like manner, Jesus had to become Mary’s little lamb

before He could be our shepherd.

God entrusted His Son to Mary, to tend and feed and love.

And it was Mary’s voice that He followed and obeyed when He was a little boy,

but even in some sense as a man.

For example, at the Marriage Feast at Cana,

it was to Mary’s voice that Jesus responded

to perform His first great public miracle at the beginning of His ministry.

And even now, He listens to her voice when she intercedes for us.

Albeit, not to follow or obey, but in love and deference.

 

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is called Good Shepherd Sunday,

and in the gospel Jesus speaks to us as a Shepherd.

Now, we know that when He ascended to heaven

he left other shepherds to tend his flock on earth in his name

beginning with St. Peter and the Apostles,

and today, their successors, bishops and priests.

 

But the thing is, just as Jesus had to be a Lamb to become our Shepherd,

if Christians are to truly follow Christ,

to be the sheep who hears His voice and follows Him,

we must all be not only sheep, but, in some way, we must be shepherds like Him.

We must all care for and tend the sheep of His flock.

 

And Mary is the prime example of this.

She was God’s little innocent lamb, that God cared for in an especially tender way,

from her conception and throughout her life.

all so she could grow up to be His mother, the shepherd of her little Lamb Jesus.

And being His shepherd when He was a child,

she is, in a certain sense, our shepherd,

and the role model for being Christian shepherds for Jesus.

 

She has been this for us right from the beginning,

since she was there in the upper room, for the apostles at the first Pentecost.

Of course, Peter and the Apostles were the authoritative shepherds

installed by Jesus to lead the flock,

but in a certain way, as the mother of Christ, and the mother of His Church,

she was, like a motherly shepherd of the apostles.

 

Of course, all this month of May we remember this in a special way.

And tomorrow, May 13, we remember particularly how 102 years ago

she came as mother and shepherd to 3 real live shepherds,

3 little shepherd children who lived in Fatima, Portugal 100 years ago.

And there she came to protect the world against the sin,

and especially against the false shepherds of atheism, particularly Marxism,

encouraging us to listen to the voice of Her son, to follow Him, repent and pray.

And she called on these simple little children to become shepherds in Christ

first by sharing with the flock of the Church what Mary had told them

and second by doing so with the innocent example of faithful little children,

Jesus, and Mary’s, little lambs.

 

____

Like a shepherd, in the upper room with the apostles,

with the children at Fatima,

and with every single Christian for 2000 years,

the Blessed Mother has protected her little lambs.

And all this she did as part of her God-given role as Mother of Jesus,

and Mother of His Church: mother of all of us.

Because that is what a mother does:

she cares for the little lambs that God entrusts to her.

 

As I say, all of us are called to be shepherds, in some way, in Christ.

In this month of May we remember the unique Motherly way Mary lives this vocation.

And today we, as Americans, remember how all mothers share

in this vocation in a similar way.

Like the Blessed Mother Mary, all mothers are shepherds.

 

Like a shepherd, our mothers protect their lambs.

Of course, they protect them from

natural disease, hunger, ignorance, the cold, and harm.

But in Christ, mothers are especially called to protect their lambs

from wolves posing as shepherds, trying to lead them astray

especially those trying to lead them away from Christ;

whether its atheist or false Christian prophets,

or even the prophets of the secular society of the West

—the culture of our own often hedonistic society.

Like a shepherd, a mother must protect her children, especially from

–false notions of Christ and His Church

–false notions of right and wrong, good and evil

–distortions of the dignity of Women, and of men and family

–lies promoted about the meaning of love and sexuality

–complete perversions of the fundamental dignity of human life.

 

Just as the Blessed Mother came to Fatima to protect her children, her little lambs,

from  the rising atheistic and secular culture,

today’s mothers also have to protect our children

—grown up children and babies, born and unborn—

from the devastating effects of that culture come to full bloom.

 

____

Today, let us thank the Lord for the gift He gives us, of the good shepherds

who are our good, faithful and courageous bishops and priests.

But let us also thank Him for the gift of His Mother, who protects us

and comes to us in our hour of need, calling us to follow her son.

And let us thank Him for entrusting us to the gentle and loving guidance and protection

of our natural or adopted mothers on earth.

 

As we enter more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass on this Mother’s Day

let us pray that all mothers may always hear the voice

of the one true Good shepherd calling them to Himself,

and that under the protection Our Lady of Fatima,

they may lead us and all the world to Him.

And let us pray that He may give them the reward they deserve

for their tender care for us:

loving and devoted families on earth,

and eternal happiness

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

3rd Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s first reading tells us how in the months following

the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus,

the Apostles were arrested for preaching the Gospel.

As I think about this, what strikes me most strongly about the apostles’ attitude,

after their abiding faith, is their amazing courage.

 

But their courage isn’t expressed in the way we usually think of it

–they didn’t pick up weapons and fight the soldiers,

or try to cleverly argue in the courts.

Instead we find that they went meekly before the Sanhedrin,

just as Christ meekly accepted His sentence

by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.

Like sheep led to the slaughter.

 

Now, when the situation required it, the apostle’s courage did lead them

to fight to defend themselves—not with swords, but with truth and wisdom.

In fact, in today’s Gospel they do a little of that, saying,

“We must listen to God, not men.”

But also see in the reading the greatest example of their courage as Christians

was becoming what Jesus called them to be:

like little children, or, as meek as lambs or sheep.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells St. Peter to: “Feed” and “tend my sheep.”

It is as sheep that Christ calls us to follow Him.

And so it is that one of the earliest paintings of Christ

is found in the Roman catacombs of the Christian martyrs,

where He is pictured as a Shepherd carrying his little lamb on his shoulders.

 

To follow Christ is to be like Christ–to share His life.

And so today’s 2nd reading from the book of Revelation tells us of a vision

of those who are already in heaven, saved by “”the Lamb that was slain.”

So we see Christ as THE Lamb, the lamb of sacrifice.

Salvation comes only when Christ becomes a lamb before His heavenly father:

as we read the words of Isaiah on Good Friday:

“Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers,

he was silent and opened not his mouth.”

Hearing the voice of his Father and following it: “not my will, but yours be done.”

So by laying down His life as the Lamb of God,

Christ the Lamb becomes Christ the Shepherd.

As the book of Revelation goes on to say:

“the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them.”

 

To follow Christ, then, we must be like lambs or sheep,

in part because he is a lamb.

Sometimes we find it difficult to think of ourselves as sheep.

On the one hand, the idea of being gentle little lambs

that Jesus will always take care of is a comforting thought.

But what can disturb us is that sheep, generally speaking, are pretty stupid animals.

They follow their masters voice without question.

 

Now, Christ does not call us to be stupid:

in the garden of Gethsemane Christ was not being stupid.

Christ made a free intelligent choice,

a wise choice to hand over His will to His Father in love.

And Christ calls us to be like Him:

to intelligently and wisely choose to listen to Him and follow Him,

but to do so with absolute trust at every moment

and in every action of our lives.

 

But how do we know if we are truly following the voice of Christ the Shepherd?

In the book of Jeremiah God promised:

“I will give you shepherds after my own hearts.”

And Jesus did give us such shepherds,

Christ commissioned St. Peter to be a shepherd with Him, commanding Peter,

“Feed my sheep.”

And elsewhere Christ tells His apostles: “He who hears you, hears me.”

 

In Latin the word “shepherd” is “Pastor.”

And so from the earliest times

listening to the Shepherds or “Pastors” of the Church

has been the yardstick to measure whether a Christian

is hearing the voice of Christ the Shepherd, and following Him.

 

But it must be remembered that just as Christ the Shepherd is first the Lamb of God,

in a similar way pastors of the Church must first be lambs of Christ.

To be true shepherds of his flock–to feed  his sheep—

a priest must follow only him and listen only to his voice

and in turn be his voice to his sheep.

Just as he did, they must proclaim good news of the love and mercy of God,

the resurrection, and the promise of everlasting life.

But they must also proclaim the hard news,

including the hard sayings about the Cross,

repentance from sin and everlasting death.

 

And as the Pastors preach,

the sheep must hear the voice of Christ the Shepherd, and follow him.

 

We must receive his word like lambs:

not like the leaders of the Jews in today’s first reading,

that arrested Peter and the apostles,

or like the Romans who put Peter to death in Rome,

but like the saints in heaven, described in today’s second reading

who sang, “to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might,

forever and ever.”

and then, “fell down and worshiped.”

 

____

Now, this can sometimes present a problem:

sometimes different priests, and even bishops,

preach very different things from each other.

What’s happened here is that some pastors refuse to be lambs,

and follow the voice of Christ the Shepherd’s voice.

Instead, they listen to another voice:

perhaps the voice of their own pride or fear,

or perhaps the voice of popular ideas,

or even the voice of the Father of lies.

 

It’s unfortunate, but very often we have to ask the question,

which pastor do you believe?

To this I  can only say:

listen to the pastor who is repeating what Christ and his pastors

have always taught.

So we look to Sacred Scripture

which was inspired by the Holy Spirit

and written down by the human hands of the first pastors of the Church,

and to the Sacred Tradition that has constantly and officially taught

by their successors, especially the chief shepherds of the Church,

the successors of St. Peter, the popes.

 

But that’s not all we do.

We also, very importantly, listen to God in prayer,

never taking prayer as a new source of God’s revelation,

but asking the Christ the Shepherd to lead us

to an ever deeper understanding of the words He has given us

through Scripture, Tradition, and the preaching of our pastors.

Praying that we may be His sheep, listening to His voice and following Him.

And also in prayer, praying for our pastors, that they may also be His sheep,

before they try to be our shepherds.

 

____

From the earliest days of the Church the image of Christ the Shepherd

was precious to those who had to courageously sacrifice their lives

because they believed in Him.

As we approach the altar of sacrifice let us remember that to be our Shepherd,

Jesus first had to be the Lamb of God, “the Lamb who was slain” for us.

And let us remember that to be like Him, to share His life,

we must become lambs also:

laying down our lives, hearing His voice and following Him.