TEXT: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 15, 2018

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 15, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we read a very familiar text of the Gospels:

Jesus sending out the 12 apostles

to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick and drive out demons.

I’m sure you’ve heard homilies addressing various aspects of this text,

but, and I may be wrong,

but I bet there’s one aspect you’ve never heard a homily about.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

 

The text tells us: “they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

We hear this and usually focus on the fact that the apostles cured the sick,

but we almost always overlook how they did it: they anointed with oil.”

 

Yet in these 4 words we find one of the great treasures of the Church:

one of only 7 sacraments of the Church,

the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

 

Now, a “sacrament” is defined as

“an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.”

It always amazes me when Christians

—specifically Protestants, but also many Catholics—

deny the existence or efficacy of the sacraments.

Because it seems very clear to me that Christ did in fact

give them to us for our sanctification.

 

For example, He told us that,

“unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit,

he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

And then we read how He supervised His apostles baptizing people,

and then commanded them as He ascended into heaven:

“go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them!”

 

Or take the Eucharist.

He tells His apostles,

“the bread which I shall give ….is My flesh

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man … you have no life in you.”

And then He took bread and said, “this is My body…Do this in memory of me.”

 

We are physical beings, and as such we communicate and understand and live

through physical realities.

We talk to each other by moving our tongues and then hear with our ears.

We comfort each other with the physical smiles of our mouths,

or with the physical embrace of our arms.

And Jesus knows this, because, as Creator, He made us this way.

And so to communicate His gospel, He doesn’t just send the Holy Spirit.

NO! First He comes in a body, to proclaim the gospel

with the words of His mouth,

and to suffer for our sins by the sacrifice of His body.

 

And to continue that communication after His bodily ascension into heaven,

He left us physical outward signs to communicate His grace.

On the one hand, we have the words He taught,

written down in scripture so that we can physically read and hear them.

On the other hand, we have the physical body of the Church,

the living family of Christ we can physically belong to and learn from.

Yes, the Spirit comes and works in us,

but first through and using these physical realities.

 

And the same thing with the sacraments, which Christ established

using physical outward signs to give grace,

to communicate what they symbolize.

So water symbolizes purification and life-giving, and so it’s used for baptism.

And bread symbolizes fundamental nourishment

necessary for sustaining and strengthening life,

and so it’s used for the Eucharist.

 

And in the ancient world oil was used as one of the most important medicines.

We still use it for that today.

But in the ancient world, oil was also used for many more things than that:

to give light, to cook, to clean, as a perfume, and on and on.

In fact, it was used for so many things that it became

a symbol of the generosity of all God’s gifts.

And so the ancient Jews used it as a religious symbol

of God giving someone a special gift.

For example, kings, and priests and prophets were anointed

to symbolize that God was giving them a gift of His special power.

 

So Christ took oil, this symbol of both healing and God’s abundant generosity,

and used it as the sign of the outpouring of His grace of healing.

 

___

You might say, but Father, that’s an awful lot to pull out of one short phrase.

True, but that is what the Church has always believed, right from the beginning.

And so we go back to Holy Scripture, to the letter written probably 20 years later

by the Apostles James, where he acknowledges this sacrament, writing:

“Is anyone sick among you?

Let him call for the presbyters (or priests) of the church;

and let them pray over him,

anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

and the prayer of faith shall save the sick person…

and if he has committed any sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

 

This was the belief and practice of the apostles:

this is the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

 

_____

So then, what exactly do we believe about this sacrament?

First of all it is a sacrament of healing.

But while this can certainly involve physical healing,

its primary effect and purpose is spiritual healing.

The Catechism summarizes the specific effects of the grace of sacrament, telling us:

— it unites the sick person to the passion of Christ;

— it spiritually strengthens them, giving them peace and courage;

— it imparts the forgiveness of sins,

if the sick person is not able to confess their sins;

— and it restores physical health, if that is part of God’s plan;

— and finally, it prepares the person to pass over to eternal life.

 

Now, it’s important to remember, physical healing is not the primary purpose

spiritual healing is.

So I’ve given the sacrament to many people,

and I’ve seen many physical healings,

sometimes spectacular and clearly miraculous.

But most of the times I don’t.

And that didn’t mean the sacrament didn’t work.

Because in almost every case, I’ve see a change in the disposition of the person

as they receive inner the strength to face their illness in faith and in peace.

The power of Christ to endure trial in peace, and even to allow it to purify them,

and draw them closer to Jesus.

 

___

The question then comes up, who can receive this powerful sacrament?

Contrary to a popular notion,

Anointing is not reserved to those who are on their death bed.

It is often rightly given on the death bed, and then as part of the Last Rites

we call it the “Last Anointing,” or from the Latin, “Extreme Unction.”

But it’s frustrating to me that sometimes

the first time I hear about a deadly illness

is when the family calls me to give the last rites.

I’m happy to give them, but I think, “if only you had called months before….”

Perhaps there could have been a physical healing,

but certainly their father or grandmother or spouse

would have been given the peace of spiritual healing.

 

On the other hand, the sacrament is not given

to those who have just any ailment or weakness, no matter how painful.

Rather, it is reserved for those who suffer from an ailment that causes them to

“begin to be in danger of death.”

In other words, generally speaking, unless your already dangerously weak,

if you have something like a bad cold or flu, back pains, or a broken arm,

you are not generally in “danger of death” and so we don’t anoint them.

However, if someone is in the early stages of cancer or heart disease,

or any other serious illness that truly does present a real danger of death,

even if only the “begin[ning]”, these persons may, and should, be anointed.

And if someone is truly weak due to “old age,”

then definition of danger of danger death might apply.

___

Also, Anointing can be repeated if the person gets worse

or has a relapse of the same illness, or comes down with another ailment.

 

It can even be given to someone who’s unconscious,

as long as they at least implicitly asked for it when they were able to

–in other words, for example, you go to Mass every Sunday,

so if you were in a coma I would assume that would want the sacrament.

 

There are however, some limitations on who the sacrament.

First, the priest can’t give it to someone who

“obstinately persists in a manifestly grave sin,” and refuses to repent.

 

Also, the sacrament can only be received by a Catholic who has

“reached the use of reason,” in other words, over, about, 7 years old,

essentially because before then a child can’t be guilty of sin,

and so, after Baptism, there’s in no need of the spiritual healing of Anointing.

Many argue, “but we want the physical healing of the sacrament.”

I get that, but that is simply not in God’s plan for the sacrament.

But remember, God is not limited by the sacraments, we are:

maybe I can’t anoint a person,

but God can heal anytime, anyplace, according to His Holy will and mercy.

 

___

Finally, one other important thing about this sacrament:

like all the sacraments, it can only be given to the living.

Nothing saddens me more than being called after a person has already died

—there’s not much I can do.

I remember one time, when I was newly ordained,

the hospital called at about 4 in the morning,

asking me to anoint a patient who had just died.

Now, I was young and foolish, and already been to the hospital twice that night.

So in my sleepiness and foolishness, I blurted out, “Right now? But he’s dead!”

Now this was stupid, and I knew it as soon as I said it.

So I went and prayed with family and blessed the body.

But I couldn’t give him the grace of the sacrament.

 

___

Now, understand, the Church and her priests

never want to deny the sacraments to those may receive them.

So we follow the rule:

If there is any doubt” whether the person

has reached the age of reason, or has a life-threatening illness,

or is unrepentant, or is dead,

we give the sacrament.

 

___

What a beautiful sacrament, what a great gift from Jesus.

And yet, like the short but powerful phrase in today’s gospel,

“they anointed with oil,”

it so often gets overlooked and forgotten.

 

Of course, this is probably because most of the time

we’re not suffering from life threatening illness,

so we don’t think about it or talk about it.

 

But now, I’ve talked about it, and now, you think about it.

If you or someone you love needs the sacrament, do NOT hesitate

to call me or Fr. Smith or any other priest, and we would be happy to help.

 

____

As we now move more deeply into the Mystery of the greatest Sacrament,

the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist,

as we prepare ourselves to receive Our Lord,

let us consider the great gift that this and each of the sacraments is:

that Jesus would so kindly give His little ones’ signs of His active love,

that He would literally show us His love

in such simple but understandable and powerful ways.

And let us pray for an ever-deepening appreciation of

these Divine and precious treasures,

especially the one revealed to us today:

“they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

TEXT: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 8, 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

In today’s Gospel we encounter 2 very disconcerting facts.

First, it tells us that the people in Jesus’ tiny home town of Nazareth

His old friends and even family, “Took offense at Him.”

Second, it tells us: “So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

 

Let’s look at these a little more carefully, beginning with the first one.

Why is it that the Nazoreans took offense at Jesus,

refusing to accept His teachings?

A lot of times we think,

“if only Jesus would come to me and speak to me

—that would strengthen me, and my faith, so much.”

So it’s kind of stunning to us

that even these people who knew Jesus so well, His own people,

who He came to and taught personally,

wouldn’t believe in Him.

 

But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising.

Jesus offended people all the time, saying a whole lot of things

that were hard for them to accept and believe.

For example, remember the Bread of Life discourse in John 6,

when He taught His disciples that He would give them

a bread that would really be His own body,

and they had to eat it to have eternal life?

Scripture tells us:

“Many of His disciples…said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

But Jesus, “Do you take offense at this? ….

…After this many of His disciples …no longer [followed] Him.”

 

Or remember Matthew’s chapter 19, where Jesus lays out 6 very hard sayings:

including the prohibition of divorce, and re-marriage after divorce;

and the teaching that some people are simply not capable of marriage

—their either born that way or made that way by others.

Scripture tells us the apostles,

“were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

In other words, even they had a hard time believing these hard sayings.

 

Why is this such a surprise that people in Jesus’ time

would take offense at his hard sayings?

—we see the exact same thing all throughout the last 2000 years,

and especially today.

The Church says: “no divorce and remarriage”;

and that “homosexuals just can’t marry each other,

whether they were born that way or made that way by others.”

Don’t people take offense at that?—and all it is, is the direct teaching of Jesus.

Even members of his Church take offense

—even sometimes bishops and priests—

“His own kin and in His own house,” as it were.

Why are we surprised that the people of Nazareth took offense?

 

Jesus can be offensive, if we cling to our sins, or refuse to have faith.

 

____

Which brings us to the 2nd disconcerting fact in today’s Gospel reading,

the fact that: “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

How can Jesus “not be able” to perform a miracle?

After all, He’s God, isn’t He?

 

But notice, in fact, Jesus is “able” to perform miracles in Nazareth.

The text goes on to say,

“apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them.”

So He did do miracles there.

 

To understand all this you have to remember

that Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:

either to show His power so that people would believe in Him,

or simply out of mercy to the afflicted.

 

The only thing that limits Jesus

is either His own divine nature or our human nature.

His divine nature limits him in the sense that,

for example, as God by nature He is not capable of doing any evil,

He is not capable of not loving.

And our human nature limits Him in the sense that

in His love for us He respects our free will

—and limits Himself according to our choices.

 

Here in Nazareth He is “amazed at their lack of faith.”

His own people are, in the words of today’s first reading:

“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”

There’s not a thing he can say or do to change their minds,

so there’s no reason to perform a great sign,

except out of mercy for “a few sick people.”

 

Think of all the times He performed great miracles,

and still the eyewitnesses didn’t believe in Him.

Again, go back to the Bread of Life discourse

—right before that

His disciples personally witnessed Him feed five thousand men,

“with five …loaves and two fish.”

And still many of them they left Him because His sayings about the Eucharist

were too hard to accept.

 

Same thing here in Nazareth, so He says, in effect,

“no miracles, believe or don’t, it’s up to you.”

The only thing limiting Him is His respect for their free will choice to reject Him

 

____

Of course, He faces the same problem today.

Through His holy Catholic Church He continues to proclaim the hard sayings,

and people still take offense because of a lack of faith.

Even His own people.

For example, Americans, 90% of whom were born into the Christian families,

but so many now reject Christ and His teachings.

And Europe, a civilization saturated in and founded on

Christian history and heritage,

and now the faithful are only a small minority.

And you and I—we also all too often take offense at His teachings

because all too often our faith is too weak.

 

Some people say, that’s why it would be great

if He’d show some great sign of His power.

But again, that didn’t work so well 2000 years ago:

remember the feeding of the 5 thousand.

And it really doesn’t work today.

In my opinion Christ has been performing an incredible mighty deed

for 2000 years—His Church.

The “miracle of the Church”—founded on the ministries

of men like St. Peter, a humble fisherman who denied Jesus 3 times.

Or St. Paul, who tells us in today’s 2nd reading that

he suffered from some unnamed weakness he describes as

“a thorn in the flesh …an angel of Satan.”

 

And for 2000 years it has been ruled by and filled with weak men and women,

even great sinners:

laymen, priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes.

And yet look at what she has done:

the Catholic Church has dramatically changed the world,

and still survives today as a strong dominant voice and force

for truth, worship and charity.

 

If that’s not a mighty deed of Jesus I don’t know what is.

And instead of inspiring awe and faith, it seems to draw only disrespect.

 

Of course, sometimes miracles can be helpful in strengthening faith.

But you know, sometimes God works more effectively

by not doing might deeds

—by remaining silent, or simply speaking in a quiet voice.

 

____

Let me give you a personal example.

I apologize if you’ve heard part of this story before,

and I’ll try to make a long story short.

29 years ago I was working at a moderately successful career

with one of the large international accounting firms.

But after a major restructuring in the firm, I decided to quit,

confident that I’d have my pick of jobs with other companies.

But it didn’t turn out that way, and days turned into weeks,

and weeks into months.

 

So I started to really get serious about my prayers.

And then I realized a couple of things:

first, what success I’d had, had really been a gift from God

—He had been doing mighty deeds for me all along.

And second, I realized that I was asking Him for a new mighty work

—“find me a great job”—

even though I had had very little faith in Him.

 

In short, by doing nothing, he forced me to my knees and to believe.

And then, He did do a mighty deed.

At first, it was a wonderful career opportunity.

But pretty soon it began to lead to where I am today.

 

___

Sometimes, it’s only when God holds back His might deeds

that we are able to see His mighty deeds

—because it is only when we realize how weak we are on our own

that we can begin to see Christ’s true might,

and how strong we could be with His grace.

 

For as Jesus told His apostles at the end of all the hard sayings in Matthew 19:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

And as he said to St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

And so St. Paul summarizes: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

____

Now some will surely say that all this merely wishful thinking,

or a psychological self-deception.

“Of course,” they say, “when you’re weak you can become desperate,

so you cling to religion as a way to explain things.”

Maybe.

They can believe that if they want to.

 

But that’s not what we believe.

We believe there is an all-powerful God, who loves us.

We believe that He came into the world to teach us how to live and love,

and to save us from our weakness, by the power of His grace.

And we believe that it’s only when we humble ourselves

to recognize our weakness and sins,

and the power of his words and grace,

that we can become the truly good men and women He created us to be.

 

____

As we now move deeper into this Holy Mass,

let us have faith in Our Lord Jesus

and in everything He’s taught us,

even the sayings that are sometimes offensive

to our sinful and obstinate hearts.

And let us kneel before Him humbly

firm in faith that by the power of His grace

“when I am weak, then I am strong.”

TEXT: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 1, 2018

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People

to dissolve the Political bands which have connected them with another,

and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station

to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,

a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

 

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….

 

These are the first sentences of the Declaration of Independence.

This week we celebrate the 242nd anniversary

of the signing of this extraordinary document,

which give birth to and form the foundation of

our beloved country.

 

This Declaration is a great and noble document.

This is true especially from our particular perspective as Christians,

because it expresses many ideals that are very Christian.

For instance:

–It affirms that there are, in fact, certain “self-evident…Truths”:

objective truths which are always valid

no matter what we think about them.

–and that the “Laws of nature” behind these truths derive from “God”,

and that these laws are the source of the rights which we cherish.

 

9 of the men who signed this declaration went on to die for these principles

in the American Revolution.

And for the last 2 ½ centuries many of our ancestors

—and maybe your yourself or members of your immediate family—

went to war for these same principles,

and some are at war right now.

These Americans have made many terrible but beautiful sacrifices

—some even the ultimate sacrifice of death.

 

This is a great country: one to die for.

And one to live for.

Capable of wondrous and noble achievements.

But unfortunately, also capable of terrible failures.

 

___

One of the most important—and Christian—ideals expressed

in the Declaration of Independence

is the notion of certain inalienable rights.

But when our forefathers enshrined these rights in the Declaration

they presumed 2 things:

first, that those rights were inalienable

precisely because they came from God, and not from governments;

and second, that those rights were inalienable only to the extent

they were used in conformity with their just and good purpose

as defined by that God who gave them to us.

They presumed, in other words, that those rights were subject

to the commonly accepted moral principles and structures

of the American people of 1776

—the basic principles of traditional Christian morality.

 

But in the last 50 years or so we seem to have forgotten some of that,

as those rights have sometimes taken on a whole new

and even perverse meaning.

Let’s think for a moment of the modern notions of

the rights called “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

Let’s start with liberty.

Liberty was critical to the founders because they wanted people

to be free to become the best they could be.

Freedom to become, not freedom to degenerate.

Freedom to accept all the good things God gives you,

to lift up yourself, your family and your community to be great.

Not freedom to waste your God given gifts and talents,

destroy your family or betray your community.

 

It is true that when we allow people the freedom to become,

we also give them great freedom to not become—or to become bad.

But that is not why God gives us freedom.

In today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom we read:

God fashioned all things that they might have being;

and the creatures of the world are wholesome,

and there is not a destructive drug among them.”

God creates us to be good.

And God gives us freedom to choose; as Moses tells us elsewhere:

“I have set before you life and death, …therefore choose life!”

God gives us the liberty to choose,

but not so we would choose what is evil,

but so we would choose what is good—and to be good!

 

This leads us to another right that is so terribly misunderstood today:

the right to “pursue happiness.”

To the signers of the Declaration of Independence,

the term “pursuit of happiness” had a well-developed meaning.

Now, it is true that there was some debate

over what exactly constituted “happiness” and the “pursuit” thereof,

but it was all within certain very narrow philosophical parameters.

For example, some maintained that happiness was basically equivalent

with living a virtuous life.

Others argued that happiness was about a sense of safety and security.

Still others argued it had to do with an overall sense of well-being.

But absolutely no one thought it meant what most people nowadays

seem to think means: the right to pursue pleasure.

Mix that with the false modern notion of “liberty”

and you have something no American had in mind 242 years:

freedom to do whatever makes you feel good.

 

By any standard, happiness and pleasure are not the same.

The immediate pleasures sought by a teenager

–in drugs or alcohol or sex or thrill seeking–

will never lead to the happiness of that same man or woman at 40.

The lonely old man or woman who cheated on their spouse

or neglected their children

or drank every other paycheck,

may have had a lot of fun, but no one calls them happy.

 

Pleasure is a cup gulped greedily and in haste,

but then all you have left is an empty cup.

As we read today:

“God formed man to be imperishable;

the image of His own nature He made him.”

To reach our full potential as the image of God–

–to fill the cup of life with His goodness

—this is true happiness.

 

____

And finally we think about the inalienable “right to life.”

As Scripture tells us today:

“God did not make death…

death entered the world… by the envy of the devil.”

Now this doesn’t mean that it’s always a sin kill a human being,

for example, in war:

over and over again God Himself led Israel into battle

and helped them kill their enemies.

Sometimes wars must be fought for just reasons.

 

Without addressing the right or wrong of any particular war,

if we look carefully at our approach to each we can see the effects of

the fundamental importance the founders placed on the right to life.

Most especially we see it in the way all Americans are so concerned about

the possible death of any innocents.

And this is the essence of our founders understanding of “the right to life.”

That a man, woman or child who is innocent of crimes or injustices,

has a right to live a life of liberty pursuing true happiness.

 

Still, it is amazing to me,

that we Americans can be so concerned—rightly—

about the right to life of innocent civilians in war,

while at the same time,

so many of Americans deny that same right to life

to the most innocent American civilians—unborn babies.

Thousands raise loud protests against soldiers accused of war atrocities,

but how many of those raise a cry against the doctors

who abort innocent babies,

or a scientist who destroys an embryo for experimentation,

or a politician who protects and funds them?

What about the inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness

of unborn babies?

 

 

We truly live in the greatest country on earth.

And yet sometimes we seem to have lost sight

of the meaning of the founding principles,

upon which this greatness was built.

What do we do?

 

We do what Jairus did in today’s Gospel:

we go to Jesus, plead for his help, bring him to our troubled nation,

and we believe that he will save us.

America needs Jesus.

It needs a new American Christian Revolution.

Not one based in violence or hatred,

but in truth and love.

Armed not with guns and bombs,

but with the simple principles of our founding

enlighten by the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Not forcing our religion on our countrymen,

but simply exercising that liberties which are

the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.

 

Friends, we must exercise our God given right to go out and declare the truth

about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We must invite our countrymen to live in the true freedom

that only the truth of Christ can give.

To live life in the love of Christ—to have life in abundance.

And to pursue the holiness of life

that will fulfill our true potential and true happiness

–in this world and the world to come.

 

____

Some say America is too far gone…it seems hopeless.

But it must have seemed  hopeless to Jairus when his friends told him:

“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”

To those who think our cause is hopeless you say, as Jesus did:

“Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”

Some will ridicule you, as they did Jesus.

Again, remember what Jesus said:

“do not be afraid; just have faith.”

 

Today we thank the Good Lord for the birth of a great nation

born to defend the God given rights of it’s citizens.

For 242 years brave men and women have bravely fought and died

to defend this nation and those rights.

But today as you rightly celebrate her greatness,

“do not be afraid” to recognize her failings,

and “do not be afraid” to bravely fight to save her.

Do not be afraid to proclaim the true meaning

of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith”…in Jesus Christ.

TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Sunday June 24, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 24, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

It’s a very unusual feast.

Usually when a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday

we basically skip over it to celebrate the regular Sunday Mass

—the Lord’s Day.

Also, there are only 3 nativities—or birthdays—we celebrate:

Christmas, Mary’s Birthday, and this one.

Very unusual.

But we do this because St. John is a truly unique figure in salvation history.

He is the last of the Old Testament prophets

and the first of the New Testament

—a sign of the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in Christ and His Church.

 

And he’s also the first public disciple of Christ,

and so a model of Christian discipleship,

reminding us that every Christian is called

to proclaim Christ and His Gospel to the world we live in,

even, if it means martyrdom, as it did with St. John.

 

Given that, it seems extremely providential that this year

his feast falls on the Sunday of Religious Freedom Week

—the week from June 22 to June 29,

that the American Bishops have asked us to set aside

as a period of concerted prayer and penance

for the defense of the Religious Liberty.

 

___

We are in an unprecedented moment in the history of our nation,

which was founded on the principle:

“that all men are …endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable Rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

and who’s Constitution goes on to specify

the most important of these rights,

in its Bill of Rights, in order to guarantee them.

 

And the very first right it specifically guaranties is Religious liberty:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

 

For 229 years the definition of “the free exercise of religion”

has been interpreted very broadly,

and whenever anyone tried to narrow that definition

either the congress, the courts or the president

eventually stepped in to slap it down.

But in recent years the federal and state governments,

have tried to narrow the definition to extreme extents.

 

Take as an example the case of the Colorado Baker

who refused to make a wedding cake for a so-called “same sex marriage,” on the grounds that it was contrary to his Christian faith.

The State of Colorado found him guilty of illegal discrimination,

and ruled that the so-called “gay rights” of the same-sex couple

were more important than the Baker’s religious beliefs.

 

Thank goodness the Supreme Court just overturned the state’s ruling,

but it did so on a very narrow finding that the State

had exercised a specific bias against the religious beliefs of the Baker.

In other words, the Supreme Court didn’t insist,

as the constitution does, that you,

“shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise …” of “religion”’.

Instead, they just said, ‘the state can’t show a bias against religion,’

as they clearly did when they, the Colorado officials, had said things like,

“freedom of religion has been used

to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history,

whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”

 

But that means that the Court left open the question

of whether the “right to gay-marry” can outweigh the freedom of religion.

 

___

Even so, a win is a win.

But it also means we still have a fight on our hands going forward.

 

Thank goodness we now have a president, love him or hate him,

who is trying to defend our religious liberty,

appointing a strong pro-religious liberty Justice to the Supreme Court,

and overturning the prior president’s anti-religious liberty policies,

especially in health insurance and education.

 

But a lot of folks out there,

including many congressmen, judges and state and school board members,

continue to try to demote “religious liberty” to sort of a 2nd class liberty.

Even though 229 years ago our founders

refused to approve our Constitution unless it specifically guaranteed

the fundament right to religious liberty,

these government officials today believe that it is easily overridden

by a very recently invented liberty,

not found even in the craziest of nightmares of the founders.

 

This newly minted liberty usually goes by various nice sounding names,

like “the right to privacy” or “to choose.”

But ultimately, the underlying liberty being pursued

is simply “sexual liberty”:

—the right do whatever, you want,

however, whenever and with whomever you want.

In the end, the so-called rights to contraception, abortion, and “gay marriage”

flow from this.

Rights which our founding fathers would have called not “liberty” but “libertinism,”

which they unanimously condemned.

 

____

2000 years ago huge crowds came out to listen to John the Baptist preach.

One of the people who scripture says, “liked to listen to him,” was King Herod.

But eventually St. John offended Herod when he publicly accused him of adultery.

And so, Herod beheaded St. John.

 

Even 2000 years ago, sexual libertinism overrode religious liberty.

 

__

Something similar happened in the 16th century,

with another king and another saint.

The king was Henry VIII of England,

who had also gotten caught up in sexual libertinism

and wanted to divorce his wife in order to marry his mistress.

And the saint was St. Thomas More,

whose feast we celebrated 2 days ago on Friday.

Thomas, a layman, was known throughout Europe

as one of the most brilliant of scholars, and greatest lawyers.

Like John the Baptist, he was also very popular:

people used to love to read his books,

or to come to listen to his arguments in court or Parliament.

And like Herod, King Henry also liked to listen to him

—in fact, Thomas was one his most trusted friends and counselors.

But then Thomas got in the way of Henry’s sexual liberty,

opposing his divorce and adultery,

and then his oppression of the Church when it refused the divorce.

 

___

And now we have the same problem with so many government officials today.

But this time it’s not the personal problems of individual officials,

but it is their adamantly held position

that sexual liberty overrides everything else.

From states trying to force Christian florists and bakers

to participate in gay weddings,

to school boards deciding that clergy are no longer “trusted adults”

that children should talk to about their sexuality.

And don’t forget how Obamacare threatened to stop the Little Sister of the Poor

from taking care of our poor senior citizens

if they refused to pay for employee insurances providing for

contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

 

____

None of this bodes well for Catholicism and Christianity in America.

Combine this with years of accusations that the Church “demeans women”

and “hates” homosexuals,

and we see a frightening pattern.

If religious liberty is overridden by absolute sexual liberty,

and if Christians can be portrayed as truly demeaning and hateful,

they’ll have every excuse they need to pursue even further oppression

of Christians, especially faithful Catholics.

 

And remember, right after the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom

it immediately goes on to guarantee

freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly.

If sexual liberty can override the first liberty of the first amendment,

that means it will soon override those liberties as well.

And then how far off is the day when priests

won’t have the freedom to speak about Catholic morality,

even inside our own churches?

And how soon before Catholic parents will lose the freedom

to speak about it to their own children in their own homes?

How soon before governments close your churches, arrest your priests,

or take your children from your homes because you’re not fit to be parents.

 

It can’t happen here, right?

Tell that to the Supreme Court who in 2015 wrote that

the reason states had outlawed same sex “marriage was, [quote]:

“to disparage and to injure” homosexuals.

If the Court sees opposition to “same sex marriage” as an attempt to “injure,”

and if sexual liberty overrides religious liberty,

wouldn’t the next logical step be to do something

to stop Churches from “injuring” homosexuals?

 

___

We must defend and fight for our religious liberty.

And the fight is winnable.

Yes, St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More were beheaded,

but sometimes a we find a happier outcome.

 

In the year 1293 the 93-year-old St. Raymond of Peñafort

was invited by King James I of Spain to join him on a trip to Majorca,

an island off the coast of Spain that the King had recently recaptured

from the Moors, or Muslims.

Like Herod and St. John,

King James liked to listen to St. Raymond preach,

and like Henry VIII and St. Thomas,

King James was actually a pretty good Catholic

and a close friend of St. Raymond.

But there was a problem: like King Herod and King Henry,

sometimes King James let his sexual appetite get the best of him.

And when St. Raymond arrived in Majorca to preach

he discovered that King James had brought his mistress along.

The Saint begged and pleaded and exhorted the King

to repent and send her away, but the King refused.

 

So in response, Raymond announced he was leaving Majorca

and going back to Spain immediately.

The problem was, they were on and island,

and the King threatened to jail anyone who allowed Raymond board a ship.

 

But Raymond was undaunted: he simply walked down to the beach,

said a prayer,

took off the large Dominican cape,

stepped on one end and held the other end out to catch the wind.

And off he went out across the water, sailing 160 miles back to Spain

using his cape as both his skiff and his sail.

And hundreds of eyewitnesses testified to the fact—both in Majorca and Spain.

 

And the king repented, sent his girlfriend away and went back to his wife.

 

____

Sometimes we seem to win, sometimes we seem to lose.

Sometimes we make a convert, sometimes WE are made a martyr.

 

But all of us must fight for religious liberty.

 

Not a war against persons,

but a war against religious oppression, and false notions of liberty.

And not with violence or hate, but with reason and love,

even for our enemies.

The only swords we will wield are the swords of truth and the Word of God,

and our most important weapon will be simple but constant prayer.

 

___

Today we celebrate a unique feast of a unique saint, John the Baptist.

As we ponder his unique place in the history of salvation,

let’s also recall something else unique about him:

his birth was announced by an angel to two different people.

The first announcement was to his father Zechariah,

the second was to the Blessed Virgin, Mary.

And to Mary he said,

“in her old age [Elizabeth has] conceived a son;

…her who was called barren.

For nothing is impossible with God.”

 

As we go forward today in our defense of religious liberty,

inspired by the example of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Raymond,

let us keep these words in mind.

Let us trust that the Lord will allow no one to most rob us

of one of the most basic rights He alone has given us:

the freedom to follow him in faith,

the precious divine gift of religious liberty.

Let be charitable, let us be courageous, let us be faithful, let us be determined,

knowing that “Nothing is impossible with God.”

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM WEEK 2018 (June 22-29)

My Post (4)

The U.S. Bishops are once again asking Catholics to pray for the protection of our religious liberty during the Religious Freedom Week from the Feast of St. Thomas More, June 22, to June 29, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul.

All parishioners are strongly encouraged to take part!

Please join us for:

Prayer for Religious Freedom Recited after all the Masses during the Religious Freedom Week.

Holy Hour for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty on Wednesday, June 27, at 6pm

And at Home:

  • Pray the “Prayer for Religious Freedom” daily (see below or here)

  • Pray the Novena to St. Thomas More (see here).

“Prayer for Religious Freedom”

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we come before you

to entrust our prayers and petitions for our Church, nation and families.

We pray for the conversion of hearts to protect religious freedom,

the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage.

We beg for your mercy and forgiveness

for ways we have turned from your love,

and pray in reparation for those sins committed against life and freedom.

We pray that our hearts be united to yours

in order that all mankind may come together to worship and adore you

in unity rooted in love and mercy.

We do this through the intercession of

Our Blessed Mother, Mary Immaculate; St. Joseph, Guardian of the Church;

St. Thomas More and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, our diocesan patrons;

St. Raymond of Peñafort; and all the angels and saints. Amen.

TEXT: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17, 2018

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Life is filled with trials and challenges, especially nowadays

with so many problems that past generations never even imagined.

So it’s a great thing that in the summer we slow down and relax a bit,

and make opportunities to celebrate the good and important things in life.

So we celebrate our beloved dead on Memorial Day,

the dignity of work on Labor Day, the gift of liberty on the 4th of July,

and motherhood on Mother’s Day.

And, of course, today we celebrate fatherhood, with Father’s Day.

 

Fatherhood truly is good, and absolutely essential to the wellbeing of society.

But there are a whole lot of folks who forget this.

And this forgetfulness is the cause of so many of those problems I mentioned.

You know the statistics:

63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway children,

71% of all high school dropouts all come from fatherless homes.

And I could go on and on.

 

Fatherhood is important, good fathers are essential

—and bad fathers are a disaster.

 

Scripture tells us that in the beginning,

God created mankind in his own image and likeness as male and female,

telling them be fruitful and multiply.

In other words, in God’s plan for the happiness of mankind,

the first thing necessary is marriage,

and the second springs from it: parenthood.

Because you see, love is the source of all true happiness.

And marriage and parenthood are the “school of love

where all human beings are supposed to naturally

learn to love God and each other.

So that when marriage and parenthood are messed up

families and societies are in trouble.

 

Now, parenthood is a two-sided coin:

on the one side motherhood, and on the other fatherhood.

Both of these are equally important in the eyes of God, and for the good of man.

But sometimes the importance of fatherhood is forgotten,

and many people seem to think that its actually UN-important.

And so we see the results:

today 33% of all children are living in fatherless homes

and 40% of all children are born outside of marriage.

And father’s drift away from the family, one way or the other.

 

But that is not how families and societies are meant flourish,

and it promises the destruction of both.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus twice compares the Kingdom of God

to the seed of a plant.

Some today say that a fatherhood’s role is simply to plant the seed of his child

and then, more or less, walk away.

But fatherhood is much more than that.

Elsewhere in scripture Jesus uses another plant allusion, saying:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.”

And then he says: “and my Father is the vinedresser.”

A vinedresser doesn’t simply plant the seed and leave;

he remains to care for it, to help it become a full grown fruitful plant.

 

Where there is a seed planted, a true father,

created in the image of God the Father,

remains and feeds and waters his children

–first in a literal sense, he puts food on the table.

But a good father also feeds and waters them by seeing that

his children get a good education,

both formally and informally,

in practical matters, like hygiene and manners,

in secular matters, like math, science and history,

and in spiritual matters—teaching them the truth about God.

For a Catholic father this means taking responsibility

for personally teaching them the truths and practices of the Catholic faith,

as well as supplementing that by,

if possible, sending them to Catholic school,

or at least to CCD from K thru 12,

or homeschooling them with a solid Catholic curriculum.

 

And above all it means watering them with the water of baptism

and feeding them regularly with the Bread of Life!

What young plant or child would survive, much less flourish, without eating food

—and not just eating once in a while,  but every day?

What child would survive, much less flourish, spiritually and morally

without eating the bread of life not just once in a while,

but at least every single Sunday?

What kind of father lets his children starve?

 

____

A true father also protects his children.

A vinedresser might build a fence around his plants,

or cover them to protect them from ice,

or hunt down the varmints that try to eat them.

A good father tries to provide a safe home for his family,

and carefully watches who his children’s friends are.

He doesn’t let his children play in a busy street,

or stay out late at night unsupervised.

And he’s careful who he trusts to supervise his children

—never trusting them to anyone who would in any way

corrupt or endanger them.

 

And above all, he protects his children from moral or spiritual danger of any kind.

He’s not afraid to shield his daughter from boys who won’t respect her virtue.

And his son never does an overnight on Sunday if it means he won’t get to Mass.

 

____

God the Father, the vinedresser, also prunes away the dying or dead branches.

Likewise, a good, true father isn’t afraid of pruning the sickly or deadly things

from his children’s lives.

If they develop friendships with people who behave badly or sinfully,

a good father is not afraid to prune that friend out of their lives.

If their children start to develop bad habits,

good fathers aren’t afraid to discipline them.

If they don’t do their homework a true father doesn’t hesitate

to turn off the TV until they do.

If they speak or dress immodestly a good father isn’t afraid to set them straight.

Of course, always with love, avoiding bitterness;

sometimes with tenderness, but always with strength.

And always remember St. Paul’s simple instruction:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
____

Some fathers are overwhelmed by all this.

They feel like the man in today’s Gospel who plants the seed

and then wakes up one day and it’s all grown up,

and, as Jesus says, “he knows not how.”

Some fathers feel that they “know not how” to raise kids,

so they leave it to someone else,

to their wives, or teachers, or other “experts.”

 

Now, it’s true that when it comes to kids Moms do some things better than Dads.

But not everything.

For example, a Mom might think a dress looks really pretty on her daughter,

but a good Father knows that the boys won’t be thinking it’s justpretty.”

A Mom may be able to tell her son, “you be a gentleman on your date,”

but a good Dad can show his son how to respect a woman,

especially her dignity and her virtue,

by the way he himself treats women, especially his wife.

 

And besides all the male/female differences,

there are a lot of simple things that a particular Dad, for some reason,

does or understands better than a particular Mom:

maybe math, or being patient, whatever.

 

And it’s true that teachers are better at teaching some things than Dad.

But a true father makes sure they don’t try to stray beyond their field.

 

And believe me, parents tell me it happens all the time.

Is your daughter’s biology teacher teaching biology, or sexual morals.

Is your son’s history teacher teaching historical facts, or ideological doctrine?

 

And, this isn’t limited to public schools

—sadly, it can happen with Catholic school teachers too.

 

A good father realizes that much of the corruption in our society

is flourishing because of the seeds planted in the schools.

A few seeds of immorality here, or radical ideology there.

Here a seed of heresy, there a seed of anti-Catholic bigotry.

And then one day you wake up and you wonder why

your children don’t share any of your values and reject your Catholic faith.

Again: “he knows not how.”

 

A good father doesn’t abandon his responsibilities to “experts.”

 

___

Now, some of you women may be saying, but what about me?

Ladies, of course a lot of this applies to mothers as well.

But let it also remind you to help your husbands,

and all the men in your life, to be good fathers

—especially to support them and praise them when they try.

 

And some of you men may be saying, that’s all fine and good,

but my children are all grown up.

Yes, but you can apply this to being a grandfather,

and to helping your grown son to be a better father.

 

Or maybe your man without any children.

But are you an uncle?

Uncles are sort of fathers once removed.

Or maybe you’re a teacher, or a coach,

or work in some field that affects fathers and their children.

Then it all applies to you to, one way or another.

 

And then some of you fathers might agree with everything I’m saying,

but you’re in the military and you have no choice

but to be away from your family, sometimes for months on end.

Of course, when you go away you have to rely on others—especially your wives– to do much of the feeding, protecting and pruning.

But even then, as you know better than I, you must still do your best

to provide whatever support you can to your wives.

Stay in contact with your kids as best you can,

and remind them not only that you love them,

but of your expectations of them, especially

that they respect and obey their moms,

and that they love and serve Christ and His Catholic Church.

And pray for them—and make sure they know that you pray.

 

And remember,

while we look to God the Father as the source of all true fatherhood,

Jesus also tells us:

“he who has seen me has seen the Father.”

By your imitation of Christ, who laid down His life for His friends,

your example of laying down your life for you children and for all of us,

is an incredible act of fatherly love

  • a heroic effort to truly protect your children from real

 

___

Or maybe you’re a member of one of those families

where things are not as I describe:

maybe there was or is no father in your home,

or maybe you had a very less than perfect father growing up.

There are lots of reasons this happens,

and sometimes things are just beyond our control.

But I’m sure everyone would agree that if they could change things,

they would make things more like the way I’ve described

than how they are or were.

And just because things aren’t the way they should be,

it doesn’t mean that God can’t or won’t find some way to help you

to make it through these difficult times.

He will if you let him, because He is the true Father of us all,

and He is always there loving us just the way we need Him to.

You do your best, and then trust in God, and He will be there for you.

 

___

And finally, Fathers, all this is not to pick on you.

It’s tough being a Father: it’s hard enough being a spiritual Father, but

to be the Dad of a family nowadays is so difficult

—sometimes I say, “thank God for celibacy!”

So many of you are great fathers, or trying your very best to be.

Thank you, and God bless you.

All this is just to remind you and to encourage you

to always strive, with God’s grace, to be the very best father.

And to emphasize how important that is, how important you are.

 

____

Our world is filled with problems,

many of which our grandparents would never have dreamed of.

But that’s because our grandparents would have never tolerated

the diminishment of fatherhood that we have.

 

Today, let us all celebrate fatherhood and praise its goodness and importance,

And as we continue with this Holy Mass,

the mystery which flows from the perfect love

between God the Father and Son,

let us pray that, by the grace of this sacrament,

we may always honor and love our fathers as we should,

and [that] our fathers may always

be the good and true fathers

we so desperately need them to be.