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Listen to the audio version of Fr. De Celles’ homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019 here.
1st Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The word “Advent”, of course, means “coming.”
And the season of “Advent” is the time of preparing for the coming of Christ.
But Advent actually involves preparation for 2 “comings”:
we prepare to celebrate the 1st coming of Christ 2000 years ago,
and we prepare for His 2nd coming at the end of time.
So Advent is not simply about the NOW,
but about looking back and forward.
In short, it’s about making the present the meeting point of past and future.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think of this as “the Advent Season,”
but as “the Christmas Season.”
And they don’t so much look forward to Christmas,
as want to have Christmas NOW, and not wait for December 25th.
And they don’t look back much either,
except to remember the good times they’ve had on past December 25ths.
But for us, it’s got to be different.
As much as we look forward to the coming December 25th, 2019,
we do so first by looking backward to December 25th, 2000 years ago.
And really, we look even farther back than that.
For example, today with the first reading form the prophet Isaiah,
we look back about 500 years before the birth of Christ
—that’s 2500 years back;
and in the Psalm we look back 500 years further back to King David
–that’s 3000 years back.
But even there, as we look back, we also look forward.
Because the millennia-old prophecies we read in Isaiah and the Psalms
are prophecies of the future—theirs and ours.
“In days to come, …
All nations shall …say:
“Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
that he may instruct us in his ways.”
He’s talking here about the future coming of the Messiah,
and the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world.
So looking back at what Isaiah said
we then sort of look forward with him
500 into Isaiah’s future
and 2000 years into our past
to the birth of Jesus.
But Isaiah doesn’t stop there:
he goes on to say:
“He (the Christ) shall judge between the nations,
They shall beat their swords into plowshares…
one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”
Clearly this part of the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet.
Rather, he’s talking about the same thing Jesus does in today’s Gospel,
when He talks about His second coming, saying:
“you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
So Isaiah’s prophecy is part of our past and part of our future..
Some might say:
Father, what’s all this about the future and the past?
What about the present?
It is true that we must live in “the present moment.”
As Paul reminds us in today’s 2nd reading:
“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”
But we have to be careful.
First of all, over-focusing on the present
can cause us to sort of cut ourselves off from the past.
And so we lose sight of the lessons of history.
We forget the wisdom and the important sacrifices made
by so many who came before us, especially our parents.
And we lose sight of our past sins.
Some say this is good, letting go of the burdens of the past
—and there’s some truth there too.
But if we forget the evil we’ve done,
we also forget the need to repair the harm we’ve done,
and to avoid doing it again,
and to appreciate the profundity of the forgiveness we’ve received,
and the necessity to forgive others as we have been forgiven—in the past.
And if we forget the good we’ve done in the past, and the lessons we’ve learned,
where would we be today?
Not standing on the shoulders of giants
and building on the strong foundations laid before us,
but instead re-digging foundations every day,
throwing away the treasures hard won
by our ancestors and forefathers, and even ourselves.
And focusing only on the present can also lead us to lose sight of the future.
Of course, we can’t think just about the future,
especially if we’re worrying about what might come.
But if we don’t look to the future at all,
we can lead us to lose sight of our potential.
We stop being concerned about improving ourselves
and building a better world for our children
and to teach them
how to sacrifice and what to believe and value today
so they can become the best God made them to be
—even if that means making their life a little less fun
and a lot more disciplined in the present and now.
And we forget that the actions we do today have consequences tomorrow.
And if our situation in the present isn’t all that good
we lose hope that things can be better….in the future.
In the end, an exaggerated focus on the present
can lead many into a certain self-centeredness.
We forget the importance of those who came before us,
and those who will come after us,
and we become the center of our world,
and our immediate happiness takes priority.
And the search for this “happiness” quickly turns into
a quest for immediate gratification and good feelings,
without concern for past lessons of right or wrong,
or future consequences.
Worst of all, without an eye on the past and future, we lose sight of Christ.
We don’t look back at the prophesies and their fulfillment.
We forget that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,
and the profundity of His Incarnation and Birth,
and His life, death and resurrection.
And we forget His promise that
if we believe in Him and kept His commandments,
He would give us share in His life and love
in this world and in the world to come.
And we won’t look forward to sharing in that life and love,
to growing in holiness,
to becoming the great men and women He created us to be.
We’ll lose grasp of the wondrous hope
that even if everyone else abandons,
Christ will always be there loving us.
Don’t misunderstand me: for Christians, the present, NOW, is critical.
But it’s only possible to understand and live well in the present
by seeing it in the context of the past and future,
as the meeting, the nexus, the coming together
of past and future.
As St. Paul says: “It is the hour now.”
“Now” is the time
“to awake from sleep”
to “throw off the works of darkness”
and to “put on the armor of light.”
Now is not the hour of self-gratification, or of isolation from past and future.
Now is the time to take what we’ve learned in the past,
and begin to be the person God gives us the potential to become,
–and to help those around us to do the same.
Now is the hour to listen to God’s promises of the past,
to remember how He fulfilled so many of them in the past
and to look forward to their completion in the future,
as Jesus comes in glory.
Unfortunately, for too many, Advent is a time of NOW alone,
without past or future:
it’s all about immediate self-gratification.
For some this comes out in obvious ways.
Think of some of last year’s Christmas parties or shopping adventures,
and St. Paul words today strike a particularly familiar note:
“let us conduct ourselves
…not in orgies and drunkenness,
…promiscuity and lust,
…rivalry and jealousy.
…the desires of the flesh.”
For others, it comes out in less obvious ways.
How many parents have given their children ridiculously expensive gifts
that they know would only spoil them.
They think only of the immediate gratification
they and their children will feel on Christmas morning,
but not the long term effects that indulging
greed and selfishness will have in years to come.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If we spend this Advent as a time
to remember the promises and miracles of the past
and to open our hearts and minds to our hope in our future with Christ,
this could be truly the best, happiest and holiest Advent–and Christmas—
we’ve ever had.
And that can begin right here and now, at this Mass.
Some tell me that Mass has little relevance to them, some even say it’s boring.
Unfortunately, what happens with a lot of these folks is
that they’re looking at the Mass strictly as a present experience,
and so they look for easy and immediate gratification:
they expect to be entertained or made to feel good
by the priests, or the music,
or by the people around them.
And so the Mass has become about them and what they want right now.
But the Mass is the perfect and concrete example
of what I’ve been talking about:
the present as the meeting place of past and future.
Think of the 2 main parts of the Mass:
the Liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist.
The Scriptures and Homily lead us
to look back and forward at the same time, as we’ve done today.
And then, most sublimely, we enter into the mystery of the Eucharist:
where God miraculously descends out of eternity
and makes the one perfect sacrifice of the Cross of 2000 years ago
and the future heavenly banquet
really and truly here in this present moment.
Christ born 2000 years ago and Christ coming again at the end of time,
present to us right now, and entering into us in Holy Communion.
And suddenly we are united to:
“the Alpha and the Omega…
who is and who was and who is to come
….the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Open your mind and heart today to this great mystery.
Let this be the beginning of an Advent free of selfishness.
A time of remembering and hoping in
the promises Christ has already kept and will soon keep.
A time of repenting past sins, and of becoming who we truly long to be.
At time to look back at the babe born in Bethlehem,
and look forward to his coming again.
A time for the wondrous past and the glorious future to come together,
in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Listen to the audio version of Fr. De Celles’ homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019 here.
MODIFIED Mass Schedule
Nov. 25th – Nov. 29th
St. Raymond’s will be following a Modified Mass Schedule
Monday, Nov. 25th through Friday, Nov. 29th
Monday, Nov. 25th – 8am Mass ONLY
Tuesday, Nov. 26th – 6:30am Mass ONLY
Wednesday, Nov. 27th – 8am Mass and 7pm Mass
Thursday, Nov. 28th – 10:00am Mass ONLY Thanksgiving Day
Friday, Nov. 29th – 8am Mass ONLY
Solemnity of Christ the King
November 24, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Most of you are familiar with a Great and Powerful King
who History tells us conquered and ruled most of the near east
about 300 years before the birth of Christ
–a young man named Alexander the Great.
According to an ancient story,
it’s said that one day when Alexander was riding with his army
a beggar along the side of the road cried out to him for a piece of bread to eat.
Alexander looked down on the man and instead of giving him the bread he asked for
promised that he would make the beggar ruler over 5 great cities.
Of course the beggar was shocked, and replied,
“Lord I ask for only bread and you make me a ruler,
to which Alexander replied:
“My friend, you ask like a beggar, but I give like a king!”
I think that in some ways this story pretty much sums up
today’s feast day of Christ the King.
For Christ, Kingship is not about mere domination,
but about generosity.
And as king He gives us not only everything we need,
but also whatever He gives us is infinitely more generous and wonderful
than anything we could dream of.
Perhaps one the most striking yet simple examples of this is found in today’s Gospel
as the good thief asks his King:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “”Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The thief asks only to be “remembered”,
but Christ promises him not only that, but “paradise today”.
God’s generosity to man begins in the very beginning.
After creating the whole universe
God, as sovereign Lord of the universe,
first gave life to man,
but then gave all His creation over to man as a gift as well.
But even this wasn’t enough for Him to give—He wanted to give us something more:
to give us a share of His life in heaven itself.
And so He eventually established Israel as His own people,
the doorway He would eventually enter to give Himself totally to us.
Now, when God first established the nation of Israel, He established it without a king,
they were governed by Judges, and local rulers.
God told them that the only King that they should have was Him
–God was their true king.
And what better king could they have?
But as time went on the people demanded a human King.
God warns them that a human king
would fall prey to the temptations of worldly power
and, in effect, make them into “his slaves.”
But in spite of his warning they continue to insist,
and God gave them their first human King: King Saul.
It didn’t take long for Saul to do what God warned against:
caught up in his pride and lust for worldly power and worldly goods,
Saul began to, in effect, enslave his people.
So God removed Saul, and replaced him with King David.
But David also fell victim to the temptations of worldly power:
we all know the story of Bathsheba.
So then God made a promise to Israel:
one day a descendant of David would come and rule over not just Israel
but over the whole world as well.
But this king would be different
–perfectly just and not falling to the temptations of the world,
and ruling forever.
And not only would He be David’s son, but he would also be God’s Son, telling David:
“I will raise up your offspring after you,
…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
I will be his father, and he shall be my son.”
For a thousand years, through various terrible kings, and wars and exiles,
even as their kingdom was destroyed, and their human kings were replaced with puppet rulers under men like Alexander the Great
and the Caesars of Rome,
the Israelites clung to their hope in God’s promise for this King,
the Son of God and son of David.
They waited for the one who would be anointed King by God Himself
–the one they referred to as the “anointed one,”
or in Hebrew, the “Messiah,” or in Greek, the “Christus”–or “Christ”.
The King that most of them hoped for was a human King
who would come with a human army
and re-establish a human Kingdom, a Kingdom of this world.
But that was not the King that the prophets foretold; as the Isaiah told them:
“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,
and we esteemed him not.”
In the fullness of time God kept His promise:
He sent His Son born of a virgin of the house of David.
As St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading,
He was a king whose kingdom was not of this world,
but rather a kingdom that consists of
“all things in heaven and on earth…, the visible and invisible.”
A kingdom who’s gift to His people is not limited
to worldly goods or economic prosperity, but
to eternal “redemption, [and] the forgiveness of sins.”
A king who conquered not by making war with the blood of a sword, but by
“making peace by the blood of his cross.”
This king would not be a king who would enslave His people,
or who would be tempted to seek personal satisfaction
in the perks of earthly wealth.
Though worthy of life of gold frankincense and myrrh and the adoration of kings,
He was born in a stable and first visited by poor shepherds.
Though worthy of a golden throne on the right hand of His heavenly Father,
His only thrones in this world would be of wood:
the throne of a wooden manger, and the throne of a wooden cross.
And so it was, as we read in today’s Gospel,
that as He hung upon the cross, twice someone said to Him:
“let him save himself if he is …the Christ…the King.”
Once this was the voice of the leaders of the people gathered atHhis feet,
and once it was the voice of the unrepentant criminal crucified next to Him.
They didn’t recognize their king,
even though Pilate had placed above his head the sign that said:
“THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Only one spoke up to recognize the king.
Only one….the one who was suffering with him,
the repentant thief who hanged upon his own cross
recognized that this king did not want to come down from the cross,
because He had no need of worldly comforts or a worldly kingdom.
Christ is King.
But like so many of the Jews of His day,
we also often don’t recognize Him or His kingdom.
Like them we often want Him to rule by fulfilling all of our dreams and wishes
and taking away all of our burdens and sufferings
–and sometimes we doubt He is King when He SEEMS powerless to do so.
And sometimes we try to replace Him as king.
Think about it: who or what is your real king?
Who or what rules your life?
Do you look to the world for your King, and so become a slave to the world?
Is your king worldly power? or money? or fancy toys? or worldly respect?
Have you become a slave of sex or drugs or alcohol;
are you ruled by hatred or violence or pride?
Are you a slave of other people’s opinion,
or are you ruled by fear of being unpopular?
Or is your joy and happiness–even the daily joys of this earthly life
–rooted in and transformed
by your citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?
A mark of the great kings of this world, like Alexander the Great,
is their generously in giving of their worldly goods.
But a kingdom based solely in this world ultimately leads to slavery
–slavery to kings of this world or to things of this world.
Christ our King is more generous than any worldly king could ever be.
And while we can truly begin to enjoy the wonders of His Kingdom
even as we live in this world,
His is not a kingdom of the world,
and so His generosity isn’t limited to the passing and petty
joys and pleasures of this world:
the true gift of His kingship is an eternal paradise
full of treasures beyond all imagining.
So today, and everyday, let us come to our Lord,
offering Him the praise and adoration
due the King of “heaven and …earth…, the visible and invisible,”
Let us thank Him for the many gifts He’s already given us,
but also, let us bring to Him all of our sufferings and troubles
–all the crosses of our lives
–not looking so much for worldly relief, and saying with the unrepentant thief,
“if you are king, save yourself and us,”
but rather, accepting the crosses of this world,
and as humble repentant sinners, asking only:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And let us rejoice in the boundless generosity of Christ the King,
confident that He will reply,
“I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.”
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 17, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Have you ever been so depressed, so sad, so caught up in fear and anxiety
that you begged God just to make it stop?
Or have you ever been in so much physical pain, that you couldn’t bear it
—you hurt so much you begged for some painkiller
to just make it go away?
Have you ever been so desperate with pain, whether emotional or physical,
that you thought, even in passing, about suicide—just to end it all?
If so, you have had a small taste of what Hell is like.
We don’t like to talk about Hell.
But we need to talk about it, because it’s real,
and if we’re not careful, we may go there.
So, as we come to the end of the liturgical year,
the Church calls us to think about what happens at the end of our lives.
We talk about Heaven a lot, but this week we need to talk about Hell.
And so consider our first reading today that tells us,
“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the… evildoers will be stubble,
…[it] will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.”
I actually don’t think many Catholics, really believe in Hell anymore.
And if they do believe, they think it’s someplace other people might go.
And really only a few really bad, really horrible people,
like Judas Iscariot or Adolph Hitler.
The thing is, if you believe in Jesus, you have to believe in Hell.
Because He does.
In fact, He talks about it a lot in the Gospels.
Maybe this sounds familiar:
“…the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.
[But] the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.
“Many” go to Hell, because it’s so “easy,”
but only a “few” go to Heaven, because it’s so “hard.”
Think about that for a moment.
Then think about this: Jesus also says,
“If you would enter life, keep the commandments….
You shall not murder, …commit adultery, ….steal,
… bear false witness,…
[You shall] Honor your father and mother….”
You say, “but I don’t break the commandments…
I mean, I don’t murder anyone or commit adultery.”
How about this:
“You have heard that it was said …, ‘You shall not murder…
But I say to you that … whoever says, ‘You fool!’
will be liable to the Hell of fire.”
You never curse anyone, call them ugly names in anger or just for fun?
Or how about this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
…better [to] lose one of your members
than your whole body be thrown into Hell.”
You never looked at someone with lust?
No, no, you always have a pure heart, like an innocent child!
There’s no stolen glances, no “inappropriate” internet browsing, going on here!
Or how about this:
“…I was hungry, and you gave me no food,
…thirsty and you gave me no drink,
…a stranger and you did not welcome me,
….naked and you did not clothe me,
…sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
…as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”
“…‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire… “
Okay, now that I have your attention….
It’s easy to go to Hell because we tend to be easily attracted
to the sins that take us there.
We enjoy getting angry at the guy that cuts us off in traffic
—at least for the moment.
And, guys, you’re enjoy being attracted to women, in the good ways,
but also in the bad ways.
And those are just 2 sins.
How many really honor their parents the way they should?
How many steal or lie by cheating on their taxes.
And how many envy the rich, or ignore the poor?
Or stay comfortably at home, rather than visiting a sick friend.
It’s so easy for us—it is so appealing so often—to sin.
And on the other hand, it’s hard to love,
really love your neighbor as yourself,
much less love God with all your heart mind soul and strength.
Now, that being said…
The Church teaches some very important things about sin we should all know.
First all, not every sin will send us to Hell.
In St. John’s first letter, in speaking of sins, he explains:
“I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death.
[but] There is a sin that leads to death.”
Remember, in Scripture “life” equals “Heaven, and “death” equals “Hell.”
So there are sins that do not lead Hell,
but there are deadly sins that do lead to Hell.
We also call those deadly sins “mortal” sins
which comes from the Latin word, “mortus,” or “deadly.”
And the sins that are not deadly, we call “venial.”
But how do we know what’s a mortal sin and what’s venial?
The Church teaches that 3 things have to be present for there to be a mortal sin:
the thing you do has to be “grave matter…
which is …committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
So, first, you have to do something really bad—what we call “grave matter.”
Let’s look at 2 clear examples, black and white.
You tell a lie under oath, that’s leads to a man being imprisoned.
That’s a big deal—or grave matter.
But let’s say you tell a lie about taking out the trash.
That’s wrong, it’s sin, but it’s not that big of a deal—so not grave matter.
Second, you have to know that it’s bad.
Now there are some things everyone should know is wrong.
So, for example, everyone should know that it’s wrong to lie under oath.
But some things might be harder to know.
For example, some Catholics were never taught that missing Sunday Mass
is grave matter, and that’s not something you could know on your own.
So if a Catholic like that misses Sunday Mass
because they genuinely don’t know it’s a sin,
the lack of knowledge means it’s not a mortal sin.
And third, you have to freely choose to do the bad thing—deliberate consent.
So, if someone blackmails you into lying under oath, you’re being forced,
so you’re not freely choosing, so there’s no mortal sin.
And the same applies if you’re insane, or asleep, and you commit some grave act
—you’re not using your free will then either.
So, if it’s a really bad thing, and you know it, and freely choose to do it,
it’s a mortal sin.
But if even one of those is missing, it may still be a sin, but not a mortal sin,
it does not lead to Hell.
Some say, this sounds like a lawyer’s set of rules.
No; it’s a set of reasonable, merciful and just principles
that describe how God judges us.
And through the mercy and justice won for us
by Jesus’s offering his own suffering on the Cross as payment for our sins, we can receive forgiveness, if we will only sincerely ask for it.
And to show us this in a dramatic way,
Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance or Confession
as, rising from his death on the Cross,
He appeared to His Apostles on Easter, and:
“He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
whose sins you hold bound are held bound.”
But if we reject this, we continue down the road to Hell.
And we do not what to go to Hell.
Because the eternal pain of Hell is indescribably horrible.
But when Scripture, including Jesus Himself,
tries to describe it, it calls it things like:
“eternal fire,” “blazing like an oven,”
“the fiery lake of burning sulfur,”
“the blazing furnace,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,”
“where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,”
Again, image the worst moments in your life,
the deepest depression, the darkest grief, the most terrifying anxiety,
the most horrific physical or emotional pain…
Image those moments, going on and on and on with end,
or without any hope of even the slightest diminishing…
and then multiply that by a million… and that is Hell.
Now, some would say,
“how could a loving God allow this?”
But remember, one of the greatest gifts that flows from his love,
that makes us truly created in his image, like God,
is His gift of free will.
So it is His choice is to allow us the freedom to choose.
It is our choice to do those things, to enter the gate, to walk down the road
to Heaven or to Hell.
Our choice, not His.
And even then, he loves us to much that he gives us every grace
to help us to live the life that leads to Heaven.
And he even forgives us so quickly and totally when we repent as he has taught us.
And he gives us Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s magisterium
to guide us in virtue and know what is a sin, and what is a mortal sin.
If only we will listen, and accept and follow.
I don’t preach at length about Hell very often.
But my job as your pastor boils down to really 2 thngs,
which are actually 2 sides of the same coin:
one, to get you to Heaven,
and two, to save you from Hell.
We talk about Heaven a lot, as we should.
But sometimes we need to talk about Hell,
because is real, and horrible, and forever.
As we continue now with this holy Mass, as Christ descends to this altar,
and offers us His Crucified, Glorified and Heavenly Body,
the Bread of Heaven,
let us allow Him to join our lives to His,
filling us with the grace to follow Him to Heaven,
and flee from all things that lead us to Hell.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 10, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Last Tuesday was election day.
And all the candidates I hoped would win lost, except for one.
These were, as you probably know,
the candidates who opposed the killing of babies
and maiming of mothers in abortion,
and who opposed the abuse of our children through
the promotion of radically perverse ideologies in our schools.
It seemed like a virtual tsunami of evil.
In the face of all this I was washed with a series of ominous feelings:
disappointment, devastation, sadness, anger, depression.
But I think the predominant feeling, the one that lingers, is fear.
I was, and am, afraid.
Now, there are different senses or meanings, of the words fear and afraid.
First, there’s the fear that is an awareness of present danger and evil,
or of the troubles and iniquity ahead.
This is the fear that Jesus talks about when he warns us to,
“…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell…”
And this is the fear that leads St. Paul to write to the Thessalonians
in today’s 2nd reading:
“pray for us, …that we may be delivered
from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.”
And it is this fear I experience when I think of the terrible things
that will happen to Virginia now that
the pro-abortion and anti-Christian party has control
of both the legislative and executive branches of state government.
Free to pass, enact and enforce laws that will not only
attack the right to life of the unborn and the sick,
but corrupt our children by forcing their ideological indoctrination
and denying parents the right to form their children
with their own religious beliefs.
These can surely destroy both soul and body, and lead our children to hell.
And I am afraid of them.
That’s one kind of fear, a practical awareness of evil, the fear I have now.
But there’s another kind of fear, fear we must never have.
That is the kind of fear that leads us to cower and run
from those who publicly oppose us and threaten us.
The fear of those who would, as Jesus once said,
“insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil
against you because of” your faith in Him.
This is the kind of fear Jesus talks about when he says,
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
Because, as St. Paul tells us today:
“The Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”
In today’s first reading from the second book of Maccabees
it tells a story that takes place
during what was called Maccabees’ Revolt in the 2nd century BC.
The Maccabees were Jews who revolted against the attempt by their Greek rulers
to destroy the beliefs and practices of Judaism,
by making it more in line with the beliefs and practices of the Greeks
–really trying to secularize Judaism.
The similarities with today are uncanny.
The Greek government merely wanted the Jews to abandon their religion,
and follow the religion of the government,
and there were many Jews who did just that.
Today, the secular government wants Christians to abandon our religion,
and follow the secular ideology of our government,
and there are many Christians, even Catholics, who are doing just that.
And we must react in a similar way as the Maccabees:
we must resist, we must fight.
But not with violence, as the Maccabees had to, things have not yet come to that.
But like the Maccabees we must fight by refusing to abandon our God given rights,
and make any sacrifices necessary to cling to our God.
The Maccabees give us a great example of that today,
as we see a whole family tortured to death for their faith.
If you notice in your missalettes, a lot of the verses have been skipped.
If we read those verses we’d see the way they were tortured and killed:
first they cut out their tongues,
then they scalped them,
then they cut off their hands and feet,
and finally they fried them alive in boiling caldrons of oil.
One after the other, 7 brothers and finally their mother.
And all during that, they kept encouraging each other
to accept the sacrifice rather than abandon God’s law.
WE must do the same.
And we must have confidence that we will win.
Not without sacrifice, and not right away.
The Maccabees fought for years to gain back their Temple,
and many were tortured and died.
But in the end, they won
–that’s what the Jews today celebrate on the feast of Hanukkah.
The Church has faced many similar hard times and battles in our past.
Look back to the first three centuries of the Church
when it was a crime to be a Christian,
and Christians often died for their faith and way of life in Christ:
look at the 12 apostles, 11 of them were executed for their faith,
and 28 of the first 32 popes were martyrs.
But in the 4th century the Emperor himself became a Christian,
and the persecution stopped.
But then it returned in a new way, as in the late 4th century
the Barbarians from northern Europe began to invade the Roman Empire.
The most famous of these is probably Attila the Hun.
Attila swept across northern Europe into Christian France,
and then the East into Christian Greece and Turkey,
killing, torturing, looting, burning and raping along the way.
And then in the year 452 he came South into Italy, and camped outside of Rome.
And there the Christians marched out to meet him.
But not with a huge army with swords,
but a small group of Romans coming in peace.
And at leading them was one of history’s most noble figures:
Pope Leo the Great.
As one eyewitness would later write:
“Then Leo …went to meet Attila.
The old man of harmless simplicity, …
ready of his own will to give himself entirely for the defense of his flock,
went forth to meet the tyrant who was destroying all things.”
And after Leo had courageously exhorting the ruthless conqueror of nations
to ” conquer thyself,” the witness went on to write:
“Attila stood looking upon his venerable garb and aspect,
silent, as if thinking deeply.
And lo, suddenly there were seen the apostles Peter and Paul,
clad like bishops,
standing by Leo, the one on the right hand, the other on the left.
They held swords stretched out over his head,
and threatened Attila with death
if he did not obey the pope’s command.
Wherefore Attila … straightway promised a lasting peace
and withdrew beyond the Danube.”
Today, November 10, is the Feast day of Pope Saint Leo the Great.
And today we must have the courage to go out and meet the foe,
not with violence, but with the truth of Jesus.
To be, like Leo, “of harmless simplicity…ready …to give [ourselves]
entirely for the defense of [our] flock”—our families, our children.
The last two weeks I told you one way we can fight is to vote.
Well, we fought that battle on Tuesday, and lost.
But we must not give up the war, but will live to fight on with the same weapon
a year from now.
And the battle for next year’s election begins today.
But besides that, we must look for every way we can to stand up
for Jesus and His Church, and to protect His and our children and families.
There are many ways we can do this.
First of all, if your children are in public schools,
make sure you watch like a hawk what they’re learning every day.
And then make sure that you’re bringing them to CCD,
and that they take it very seriously,
and that you reinforce what the learn at home.
….But more than that, I think it’s time these parents
must now very seriously consider, or reconsider a radical change.
That is: take your children out of the Fairfax County Public Schools.
If I could, I would open a school here that would be free of charge to all of you.
But I can’t: I don’t have the money, and the County probably wouldn’t let me.
But there are Catholic schools nearby,
and our parish and the Bishop both offer scholarships to help.
Or maybe you can homeschool
—we have 50 or so homeschool families in the parish now.
Now, this will probably involve sacrifice by the families.
Maybe giving up vacations, or dramatically changing your lifestyle.
Maybe working a second job.
But in the end, none of those sacrifices compares to what
St. Leo was ready to give up when he went out to preach to the Attila.
or to the tortures the 7 Maccabees brothers and their mother went through.
And none even come close to the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us on the Cross.
What sacrifice will you make?
What sacrifice is necessary to make sure your children
know the faith and keep the faith?
Because I can promise you, if you don’t do something,
5, or 10 or 15 years from now you will come back to me and ask,
“why don’t my children believe anymore?”
As we now enter more deeply in this Holy Mass,
the re-presentation of Our Savior’s Sacrifice on the Cross for us,
let us pray for our county, our state and our nation,
that Christ may bring us back from falling into the abyss.
And let us pray that God grant us the grace
to fear the real dangers that surround us,
but to never be afraid to resist those dangers.
May Christ give us the courage He once gave to the Maccabees and St. Leo
for the glory of His Name and the salvation of His children.
Listen to the audio version of Fr. De Celles’ homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 10, 2019 here.
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 3, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel we find a very interesting character named Zacchaeus.
Now, Zacchaeus was a tax collector,
and because of that the Jews called him a “sinner.”
Does that mean it’s a sin to collect taxes?
The problem was that in Jesus’ time tax collectors often made their money,
and even got rich, by assessing and collecting
more taxes that people legally owed,
and then keeping that extra amount for themselves
—in other words they were notorious cheaters and thieves.
And Zacchaeus was one of them.
One of the reasons Zacchaeus had this job was that he was chosen by Romans
who didn’t care if he stole from his fellow Jews,
just as long as he gave Caesar what was due to Caesar.
But imagine if the Jews had been allowed to choose, even elect,
their own tax collectors.
Zacchaeus would definitely be out of a job.
Perhaps this biblical story inspired the folks
who wrote the Constitution of the State of Virginia,
because in it they listed 5 local officials
who have to be elected by the people.
One of those is the Count or City Commissioner of Revenue
—the tax collector.
Given that, would you elect Zacchaeus to be your tax collector?
Would you elect anyone who was a notorious cheat and fraud
to determine how much tax you owed,
and give him access to all the tax collections of Fairfax County?
If you knew you could be over assessed on your property tax
by 100s or even 1000s of dollars,
and that instead of the taxes you paid going to pay for roads and public works,
that they were going into the bank account of the tax collector
—would you re-elect him?
I guarantee you, even if you had never voted in your life,
you would go out to vote against that thief.
And even if you weren’t eligible to vote,
you would make sure your friends and family voted against him, or her.
This Tuesday we have state, local, and county elections.
Now, the Commissioner of Revenue of Fairfax County is not on this year’s ballot.
And I have no idea if our current commissioner is honest or not
—I presume he is as honest as the day is long.
But what if there were people on the ballot running for other offices
that were known to be guilty of other terrible sins
that would directly affect their office?
For example, what if a person was running for delegate
who had proposed changing state law
so that a doctor could commit an abortion—could kill a baby—
even after nine months of pregnancy,
even as it’s about to be born, even as his mother is dilating?
Well, there’s at least one candidate on our ballot that did exactly that.
I mean babies fully grown, healthy, and coming out into the world
—and she says we can kill it.
Or what if there was a person running for school board
who promoted the transgender agenda in our schools?
You know that 90% of young children who have gender confusion
actually grow out of it pretty quickly and accept their bodies
and happily flourish in the gender they were born with.
But the Fairfax County School Board,
with the exception of only 2 members,
including our own Springfield representative,
has supported an agenda
that doesn’t help these kids during their confusion,
but encourages them to be confused even more.
And it even promotes an agenda that leads them
to taking medication that permanently stunts physical maturation and growth,
and to even have surgeries cutting off their sexual organs
—permanently mutilating perfectly healthy bodies.
And they tell young girls that there’s something wrong with them
if they’re traumatized by having to share a locker room or restroom
with a confused, naked, boy.
Imagine, your precious daughter having to share a restroom
with a fully grown man, just because he says he’s a woman.
What is all this but child abuse?
Whether it’s encouraging the delusions and mutilation of confused children,
or the traumatization of other kids?
If a parent even spanks a child in public,
the County can call it child abuse and take that child away from them.
And if a priest abuses a child, they rightly put him in jail and defrock him.
So if a member of or candidate for the school board,
supports the abuse of children through
traumatization, confusion, or mutilation, what should we do with them?
In the Gospel today the Jews rightly judge Zacchaeus to be a sinner.
But they also seem to go further—they seem to assume he cannot change.
But he does change.
After meeting Jesus he admits his sin, repents, and makes restitution.
As the Gospel tells us:
“Zacchaeus …said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
This reminds us that we should never assume that criminals and sinners
cannot change and be forgiven.
Far from it; as Christians, as Catholics,
we should pray that that happens, and rejoice when it actually does.
But that does not mean that we shouldn’t recognize injustice when we see it.
And that doesn’t mean that we should elect thieves to collect our taxes,
or that we should elect someone who wants to kill babies
to make laws about life and death,
or that we should elect someone who embraces the abuse of children
to be in charge of our schools.
In fact the opposite is true:
we must vote to stop the killing of babies and the abuse of children.
Now, some say,
but what if the pro-abortion or pro-transgender-agenda candidate
has a lot of other good ideas that I support?
But which one of those “good ideas”
is more important than protecting our children?
That sounds a lot like the Bishops who cover up for child-abusing priests,
saying, “yes, but other than that, Father is a great priest.”
This Tuesday Virginians go to the polls to elect state and local officials.
The county assessor, or Commissioner of Revenue, is not on the ballot this year.
But the whole school board is on the ballot
—and we get to elect 4 of the members:
the representative of our district, Springfield,
and 3 at-large representatives.
And all the state delegates to the Virginia Assembly are also on the ballot,
including our own.
You would never elect a thief to collect your taxes,
why would you elect someone who won’t protect our children
to run our schools or write our laws?
I can’t tell you the names of people to vote for.
And when you get into the voting booth not only will the ballot not tell you
who’s pro-abortion or pro-transgender theory,
(but) in many cases it won’t even say what party they belong to.
So you have to find out before you go into the booth.
There are many voter-guides out there—check them out.
Or ask you friends—ask someone here after Mass.
But find out.
And don’t assume anything.
For example, after the last election a member of our immigrant community
came to me in tears telling me all her friends and family
voted for another member of their ethnic group,
assuming they had the same values.
But when it came time for them to govern, their values were radically different,
as the elected official promoted a radical pro-abortion agenda.
Remember, Zacchaeus was a Jew, but he stole from his fellow Jews.
So do not assume—find out.
In today’s gospel Zacchaeus was a sinner, but he repented
—he was lost, but was saved by Jesus.
So we should never judge anyone’s heart.
But we must judge their public actions,
especially when they endanger our children.
And we must judge our own hearts, and our own actions,
including the times in the past when we’ve failed to vote, or voted badly.
So consider all this, and resolve with me today,
to protect our children from all who would harm them.