TEXT: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 13, 2019

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 13, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel tells us a story of gratitude and ingratitude.

Jesus cures 10 lepers, but for some reason

only one—the foreigner, the Samaritan—comes back to thank Him.

So Jesus says:

“Ten were cleansed, were they not?

Where are the other nine?

Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

 

This seems a pretty natural question till you stop and think about it:

why does Jesus criticize the other 9

who probably went on to the temple to show themselves to the priest

just like Jesus told them to,

and in doing so they probably also gave thanks to God?
The thing is, Jesus is trying to make several important points.

 

First, He’s saying that it is He, Jesus,

who is both the God who cured them

and the God to whom they should come to give thanks.

But He also makes a second point

—one that the leper probably didn’t understand,

but one that was not lost on the apostles,

at least as they looked back on it later.

He’s saying not only is He God,

but He is also the new priest that they should come to.

He’s the priest of the new covenant because He offers the new sacrifice,

His sacrifice on the Cross,

that saves them not merely from leprosy, but from every evil,

and offers them new and eternal life.

The new priest who gave His Church a means

to continue to come to Him and share in His sacrifice

as He took bread and wine and said to His apostles:

“this is my body given up for you…”

“this is the cup of my blood,

the blood of the new covenant.”

 

All this wasn’t lost on the apostles and the early Church:

they clearly saw that Christ had used this powerful miracle

to teach us the necessity of appreciating

the life-giving power of His Cross and the Eucharist.

And so St. Luke makes the point to record in his Gospel

that the Samaritan

“fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him,”

and that Jesus said:

“none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God”

But of course in his original Greek text

St. Luke used the Greek word for “thanksgiving”

which is “Euchariston”

in a not so subtle way of pointing out that this whole miracle

points to thanksgiving for the “Euchariston”—the Eucharist.

 

____

Today, polls tell us that 72% of Catholics don’t believe

in the true meaning of the Eucharist:

that it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ,

and a re-presentation of the one salvific sacrifice of the Cross.

Not quite 9 out of 10, like with the lepers,

but I imagine if we threw in those who

fail to truly be grateful for this gift,

to receive Him reverently and with sincere faith in Holy Communion

we’d easily  be out to be at 9 out of 10.

 

Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith in Jesus saved him.

But Catholics, myself included,

repeatedly fail to have faith in Jesus and His words

that “this is my body.”

And even when we believe, how often do fail to imitate the Samaritan

and come to Jesus to thank Him for this miracle.

 

Most of the time our failures are slight

and we recover quickly to reverence and faith.

But sometimes our failure leads to neglecting the Eucharist,

and even to sacrilegious behavior.

It’s even led some to view receiving Holy Communion

as a “right” that no one can deny you:

to a mentality that once you’ve been baptized a Catholic,

it doesn’t matter what you do or say,

you can always receive Communion.

 

Now, it is true that there is an immediate and direct connection

between Baptism and Eucharist.

We see this in today’s readings—particularly the 1st reading and the Gospel,

in the stories of the healing of the lepers.

The sacramental symbolism is vivid.

The cleansing of the leprosy is the washing away of sins in Baptism.

Naaman plunges 7 times into the waters of the Jordan:

7 being symbolic of the seven sacraments opened to us through baptism

and the Jordan being the river of Jesus’ own baptism,

pointing to Jesus Himself as the one who “cleanses” the lepers

—just as it is Christ Himself who cleanses us

in the waters of baptism.

And finally, once cleansed they offer thanks to God:

Naaman by offering sacrifice a to God,

the Samaritan in the Gospel by coming to Jesus,

again, pointing to the sacrifice of Jesus

which we call the “thanksgiving”

–to the Eucharist.

 

So we see the direct connection between Baptism and the Eucharist:

the cleansing of Baptism prepares us for the Eucharist,

 

And while Baptism does give birth to a right to receive Communion,

it is not an absolute right:

some forget that we have to keep our baptismal purity

if we are going to come to Jesus in the Eucharist.

How utterly perverse it would have been if the leper had been cured,

but then had willfully re-contracted leprosy,

and then returned to Jesus.

 

Grave or mortal sin is a choice to return to being spiritual lepers,

and so makes giving thanks to Jesus non-sensical.

So then how can a baptized Catholic in the state of mortal sin

expect to receive Holy Communion?

As St. Paul sternly warns us elsewhere in scripture:

“Whoever…eats the bread or drinks the cup …in an unworthy manner

will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

So it has been the constant teaching of the Church

that if a baptized Catholic commits a “grave” or “mortal” sin,

  • a sin that cuts us off from God’s eternal life—

he cannot receive Holy Communion

until he has been cleansed of that sin and so restored to God’s life

by the absolution of the sacrament of penance,

which the early Church Fathers said was “like a second baptism.”

 

___

Now, the Church doesn’t want to be the “mortal sin police,”

publicly denying Communion to all sorts of people.

Even if we did, priests don’t usually know who has unconfessed mortal sins.

The only “mortal sin police” in that case is you policing yourself:

“Let a man examine himself,” as St. Paul says.

So before Communion, each Catholic must examine himself,

and if you have a mortal sin that you have not gone to confession for

you must deny yourself communion.

 

But not all sins work that way.

Some sins are so public and clearly grave,

that they require some sort of public repentance

before the sinner can be given Communion.

So the law of the Church explicitly provides:

“Those …who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,

are not to be admitted to Holy Communion”

Notice, it doesn’t say they “shouldn’t go” to Communion,

it says they “are not to be admitted.”

In other words, the burden of denying Communion shifts from the individual self

to the priest:

the priest is forbidden to give Communion in these cases.

 

Now, the “rule” here isn’t so much to punish the sinner,

          as it is mainly meant for the good of the rest of us.

Because if someone who stubbornly persists in publicly committing mortal sins

and then receives Holy Communion,

other good people might start to think those mortal sins

weren’t so mortal after all.

And these same good people

might start to think the Church doesn’t really mean

all those wonderful things it says about the Eucharist.

 

This is what we call the “sin of scandal

—confusing people about what is true or false, right or wrong.

 

So for the good of the innocent,

no one, no priest, deacon or extraordinary minister

—not even a bishop or cardinal—

is ever allowed to give Holy Communion to

“Those …who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin…”

 

____

This month of October is “Respect Life Month.”

This reminds us that of a common example of a manifest public grave sinner,

the Catholic pro-abortion politician.

These politicians often claim that Catholic Baptism gives them

an absolute right to receive Communion.

They are terribly confused.

 

Let us be clear: as Pope St. John Paul wrote in Evangelium Vitae:

“direct abortion…always constitutes a grave moral disorder,

since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

So it is clear that Catholic politicians who publicly support

the so-called right to abortion

are in fact “obstinately persist[ing] in manifest grave sin,”

and “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion”

The tradition and the law are clear, and the Popes have been clear.

There is no doubt.

 

___

Now, the question has also come up

about ordinary Catholics who simply vote for pro-abortion politicians.

No one knows who you voted for, and even if you tell people,

it almost never becomes well known.

So normally these folks cannot be called public sinners

so a priest can’t deny them Communion.

 

But is voting for a pro-abort, nevertheless, still a mortal sin

that would require that the voter deny himself Communion?

 

First, it’s clear that it is definitely a mortal sin to vote for a candidate

specifically because he’s pro-abortion.

 

But what if a pro-life Catholic

votes for a pro-abortion candidate instead of a pro-life candidate

for some reason other than abortion?

For example, if a Catholic voter votes for a pro-abort because he’ll do a better job

in providing health care, or caring for the poor, or dealing with immigration?

 

The only time this would be in any way morally permissible,

is if there were what the Church calls “proportionate [grave] reasons.”

In other words, the second issue, or issues,

would have to be objectively just as important and grave and widespread

as abortion.

 

Think about this: it has to be objective: not based on feelings, or irrational fear.

 

And it must be equally grave:

but what could be equally as terrible as killing a little baby?

The economy? Universal health care? Immigration?

—I can’t even begin to see that.

 

And it has to be just as widespread:

an average of over 1.3 million babies have been aborted in America

every year since 1973!

What other thing this equivalent evil is that widespread?

 

Now, maybe, if a pro-life candidate

came out in favor of the nuclear annihilation of Iran.

Or if a candidate opposed killing unborn babies in abortion

but supported the killing of illegal immigrants when we catch them.

Okay, in my opinion, those would be proportionate to abortion

and you might morally vote for a pro-abort over the pro-lifer.

But in reality, nothing like that is at issue in any elections today.

 

___

In short, voting for or supporting a pro-abortion candidate

instead of a pro-life candidate

is almost always a mortal sin,

and anyone who commits this sin

must deny themselves Holy Communion

until they have repented and been cleansed

by the grace of sacramental of confession.

 

____

Some wonder why the bishops aren’t enforcing these “laws” more clearly.

Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of suffering your negative reaction.

I know I am.

But in today’s Gospel Jesus says:

“Go show yourselves to the priests.”

And as St. Paul tells us in the second reading:

“such is [the] gospel, for which I am suffering,

even to the point of chains….

But the word of God is not chained.”

For a priest–or anyone else–to deny the Church’s constant teaching by silence

—even out of fear—

is simply to try to chain the word of God and to deny Jesus.

And as St. Paul says: “If we deny Him, He will deny us.”

 

____

Now, as we move deeper into the mystery of the sacrifice of the Mass,

open your hearts to appreciate

the power of Christ and the magnificent gift He gives us here.

Follow the example of the Samaritan leper:

have faith in the power of Jesus and in His word,

And like the Samaritan,

come before the altar and “fall at the feet of Jesus and give Him thanks.”

TEXT: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 29, 2019

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 29, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today /tomorrow is

the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

And although we don’t celebrate their feast this year because it falls on a Sunday

—the Lord’s Day—

I don’t think the Lord would mind if we talked about them,

and especially one of them: the great and glorious St. Michael.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells that us angels are:

“purely spiritual creatures angels [with] intelligence and will:

they are personal and immortal creatures,

surpassing in perfection all visible creatures.”

The word that keeps coming up in that description is “creatures”

angels, like us, were created by God.

Now, Scripture is silent about how or when they were created,

but we do know that they were already around before Adam and Eve.

In fact, there are 2 angels in chapter 3 of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve.

The one most easily recognizable is the cherubim, which is a type of angel.

Genesis tells us that when God cast Adam and Even out of paradise

He placed a “cherubim [with] the fiery revolving sword”

as a guard over the gates to keep them out.

 

But there’s another angel also, who’s much harder to recognize

—at least as an angel.

That’s because he is a fallen angel,

—he is the serpent—also known as the devil.

 

So in first chapters of Genesis we see the basic division of angels

between glorious angels and fallen angels

—or what we commonly call “angels” and “devils.”

And this points back to the ancient Jewish teaching

recorded by St. Peter in the New Testament,

that sometime before the creation of the visible world,

some of the angels sinned and were cast out of God’s presence.

 

Tradition tells us that God created the angels to glorify Him by their service,

but also by their beauty  or greatness—or their “glory.”

And there was one angel who out-shown all the rest.

So magnificent was his glory that he was described as a bright shining light

and named “the bearer of light”— or in Latin: “LUCIFER.”

Yes, the greatest angel in heaven,

the prince of the heavenly hosts, was the one we today call Lucifer.

 

Now, as the Catechism teaches, angels, like human beings,

have both intellect and will.

And Lucifer—being the greatest of the angels—

had the greatest intellect as well,

and his magnificent intellect told him

that he was, in fact, the greatest of all creatures.

 

But tradition tells us that at some point

God called all the angels together to tell them

that He was going to create man,

and create him in His image and likeness.

And then He told them, not only was he going to create man,

God the Son was going to become a man.

 

This was impossible: Lucifer understood serving God,

but if God became man, he, Lucifer would have to serve a man as well,

a measly sub-angelic earthbound creature.

How could God do this?

It made no sense to Lucifer’s great intellect, as it became blinded by pride.

And so he uttered those works the Fathers of the Church attribute to him:

“non serviam”: “I will not serve.”

He refused to be man’s servant,

and so he refused to obey God and be his servant.

 

And so by his own free will, he set his mind and will against God and man,

and was cast out of heaven into the fires of hell,

creating that great irreconcilable division

Jesus refers to in today’s gospel:

“between us and you a great chasm is established

to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go

from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”

 

Now the prince of light had become now the prince of darkness.

His angelic wings turned to the scales of a serpent, a dragon.

No longer the humble servant of God,

but now the prideful “enemy” of God—and that became his name:

“enemy”, or in Hebrew “Satan.”

 

He is God’s enemy—and man’s as well.

Because he sees man as the cause of his fall.

And so he has set himself to destroy man,

and to keep man and God apart forever.

And we see this right in the beginning of the creation of man,

as the serpent lies to man about God,

and causes man to sin and to also be thrown out of paradise.

 

So that is the state of affairs:

and there is the spiritual battle waged through all of history.

 

But is there no one to stand up for God, for man,

and for the God-man, Jesus Christ?

Is there no one who will meet this terrible and powerful fallen angel in combat

as God’s champion?

 

The thing is, Lucifer was not the only magnificent angel in heaven.

And right behind the bright and proud Lucifer

stood another who was humble and strong.

This is the angel that God chose to send to lead his angels

as they cast Lucifer and his angels out of heaven

—as the Book of Revelation tells us:

“Then war broke out in heaven;

Michael and his angels

battled against the dragon…and its angels

….He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,

which is the Devil or Satan,

…and threw it into the abyss.”

 

“Michael”!—the Hebrew name which means “Who is like God.”

Now, there is some debate over exactly what the significance of this name is.

Most scholars say that it proposes the question: “who is like God?”

and implies the answer “no one is like God”—least of all Lucifer.

But some suggest that it proposes the question “who is like God”

and implies the answer “Michael is like God.”

I think both these meanings are correct.

 

Unlike Satan, who in his pride tries to make himself God’s equal,

as if the answer were “Lucifer is like God”,

Michael, humbly serves God by fighting against that pride,

and in his humility doesn’t seek to be God’s equal,

but to be good, “like God” is good

—Michael is not a god, but he is godly.

In fact in his humility he is very much like God the Son who became a man,

and came to earth “to serve, and not to be served.”

 

The humility of Jesus eventually led Him to die for our sins on the Cross.

And it is this humility that conquers the pride of Satan, and Adam and Eve.

Elsewhere in the Gospels we read that Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth;

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

I mentioned earlier that when God banished Adam from paradise

he placed an angel with a fiery sword in his hand to protect the gate.

Who was that angel?

Several of the early fathers of the Church say it was none other than St. Michael.

And what was his sword?

It was, I think, none other than the sword of Christ himself:

the sword of humility, which Christ wielded on the Cross

to defeat the pride and sin of the devil.

 

On the Cross Christ won the war,

but the enemy refuses to admit defeat, and the battles continue.

There is no peace on earth today

—there can be no peace as long as, in the words of St. Peter:

“Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion

looking for (someone) to devour.”

And so, Michael continues to fight the battle with and for Jesus.

Just as he has from the beginning when he drove

Lucifer and his cohorts from heaven,

and as he stood—sword in hand—at the gates of paradise,

and as he defeated the enemies of Israel—as the book of Daniel tells us,

and as he will until the end of time as the Book of Revelation tells us.

 

Look around at the world, and you see the battle joined.

The enemy, the devil, Satan

—whom Jesus calls “a liar” and “a murderer” “from the beginning”—

is frantically busy sewing lies and death at every corner.

 

The last century saw more death by wars than all of recorded history.

At the same time even more were killed by genocide,

10s of millions in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russian, and Mao’s China.

And today millions more are at risk of death

as evil men plot to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

But even more terribly,

how many 100’s of millions have been killed in the last 40 years

from abortion?

 

God told created Adam and Eve as male and female

and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”

What lies Satan spreads today about this great gift of sexuality.

Lies that lead to 41% of all babies in America being born out of wedlock.

Lies that lead to men trying to “marry” other men.

Lies that lead boys to think they are girls, and girls think they are boys.

Lies that lead bishops and priests to fail in their vows of celibacy,

to conspire, and even commit the most heinous crimes.

 

The Lord also told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it.

But the Father of lies tells us that means it’s okay to be greedy and envious,

or fixated on possessions.

God created us love each other

and commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But the father of lies tells us to ignore the those who are in need

or who can’t help themselves,

or to blame those who have more than you

for you not having what you want.

 

The battle of Michael and Satan goes on.

But it’s not just Michael and the angels who are called to fight—so are we!

As St. Paul’s tells us in Scripture:

“Fight the good fight.”

And: “Put on the full armor of God,

…to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

 

But how do we fight this battle?

We fight it by yielding the same sword as Michael: Christ’s sword of humility.

We fight it by being humble before God

by being his servant, obediently keeping his commandments

—all 10 of them, even if it means we suffer as He did.

And we fight it by being humble before our fellow man,

by serving our neighbor,

whether our neighbor is a family member,

a fellow parishioner, our coworkers,

and especially those like Lazarus in today’s Gospel,

“the poor man …who would gladly eat his fill of the scraps

that fall from our table.”

 

Today at this Mass,

in the company of St. Michael the Archangel, with Gabriel and Raphael,

and all the heavenly hosts of Angels: [the Virtues, Powers, Principalities,

Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim….]

let us enter into the humility of Jesus Christ, God the Son,

who became a man to serve us,

and who continues to serve us under the humble disguise

of a piece of bread.

Let this Body of Christ, God the Son, make us like God the Son,

who saved us by His humility on the cross.

Let this bread of angels make us like the angels,

humbly serving Jesus as his warriors against the Enemy, Satan.

Let us enter into the battle with the sword of humility

—the sword of Christ our Savior,

the sword of St. Michael the Archangel, “who is like God.”

MODIFIED Mass Schedule Sept 30th – Oct 4th

MODIFIED Mass Schedule

 Sept 30th – Oct 4th

 

St. Raymond’s will be following a Modified Mass Schedule

 

Monday, Sept. 30th through Friday, Oct. 4th

 

Monday, Sept 30th – 8am Mass ONLY

Tuesday, Oct 1st  – 6:30am Mass ONLY

Wednesday, Oct 2nd  – 8am Mass and 7pm Mass

Thursday, Oct 3rd – 6:30am Mass ONLY

Friday, Oct 4th  – 8am Mass & 7pm EFM Latin Mass

 

Saturday and Sunday – Normal Mass Schedule

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6th – confessions are canceled

TEXT: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 22, 2019

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 22, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Sometimes the words of Jesus in the Gospels

are very clear and understandable.

For example, last week we read the parable of the one lost sheep:

just reading it once you get the basic point.

 

But sometimes Jesus’ words can be very very confusing,

and today’s Gospel is a prime example.

First of all, Jesus tells the parable about a steward who

first squanders his Master’s property,

and then goes on to cheat him out of some more of his property,

but in the end

“the master commended that dishonest steward

for acting prudently.”

Then Jesus seems tell us to follow the dishonest steward’s example:

“make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,

so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

 

What are we supposed to make of this?

Is Jesus actually telling us to be dishonest?

 

Now, there are 2 key things necessary to understanding

the meaning of Jesus’ words today.

 

The first is to understand the use of this word “dishonest.”

Notice this word shows up 5 times in today’s Gospel:

“the dishonest steward”

“the person who is dishonest in …small matters

is also dishonest in great ones.”
and twice it mentions “dishonest wealth”

Unfortunately, this is a not the best translation of the word

that’s in the original Greek version of this text.

Usually it’s translated as “unjust” or “unrighteous.”

It’s the word used in Scripture to describe someone

who acts totally contrary to God’s will,

a person who has absolutely no love for God.

 

So we have not simply a “dishonest steward” but an “unrighteous steward”

–like someone who does not love God,

the steward shows his contempt for his Master

by squandering his property and cheating him.

 

Now look at the sentence:

“make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,

so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

Let’s change “dishonest wealth” to “un-righteous wealth”

 

What does Jesus mean by “unrighteous wealth”?

Does He mean that all money is bad,

contrary to God’s will, or to the love of God?

No: if you give money to the poor, or you use it to help a sick person,

or to provide for your family’s needs,

money is a very good thing.

And money well-earned is also good thing.

 

Does He mean money that is gotten by dishonest or sinful means is bad?

Maybe.

 

But He seems to have something more in mind here.

Earlier I said there were 2 keys to understanding this passage.

Now comes the 2nd key,

which are the words Jesus uses to sum upHhis whole sermon:

“No servant can serve two masters.

He will either hate one and love the other,

or be devoted to one and despise the other.”

And then the conclusion: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

 

Now, the underlying Greek word translated earlier as “wealth”

—as in “unrighteous wealth”—

is actually the same word now translated as “Mammon”

–wealth and mammon, same word, same thing.

So what Jesus is saying is,

a man who loves worldly wealth (mammon) more than he loves God

winds up not loving God:

in other words, you become unrighteous.

So “unrighteous wealth” isn’t merely money that’s gotten by dishonest means,

but money that you love more than God Himself!

 

Worldly wealth—money, riches, property, etc.—isn’t in and of itself evil.

But when you love money as if it were God, then you have a big problem.

Because the first of the 10 Commandments is very clear:

I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.”

And all the commandments are summarized

in what Jesus calls the “great commandment”:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

 

Now let’s return to our problematic sentences.

First:

“the master commended that unrighteous steward for acting prudently.”

Note, he commended him not for his unrighteousness,

but for his prudence, or wisdom or cleverness.

Then, again, he goes on:

“make friends for yourselves with unrighteous wealth,

so that when it fails,

you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

In other words,

“be clever

and take that stuff you love more that God

and use it for doing some good,

and maybe you can get into heaven.”

 

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

But we still have a problem:

this sounds an awful lot like buying your way into heaven.

Pretty clever, humanly speaking, if it were true.

 

But that’s not the kind of cleverness or wisdom Jesus is talking about.

So again, we return to the 2nd key:

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

This is the first principle of the wisdom Jesus wants us to use:

true wisdom places God, not the world,

at the beginning, center and end of all things.

 

So in this context, we see that when he says

“be clever

and take that stuff you love more that God

and use it for doing some good”

He’s not saying “buy your way into heaven,”

but rather

be wise with a wisdom rooted in the love of God,

and stop loving worldly things more than God,

and show that love of God by using those things

for doing some good!”

And then, when you love God more than things,

then, you can get into to heaven.

 

Now, that seems like a long way around to get to the meaning of the text.

It was.

Unfortunately, if you don’t go that way you get a lot of bad

—even dangerous—interpretations.

 

Some folks read this passage

and say it means simply “give to the poor.”

Okay, but what? and how? and why?

 

Some would say that it means it doesn’t matter how you get your money,

as long as you do good things with it—the ends justify the means.

Others would use it to justify dedicating their lives to the love of money,

and not worrying about loving God,

as long as they do some good things with the money.

Some also use it to say God wants us to be clever with money,

so that cleverness with money is used as proof of their love of God.

 

All this kind of thinking gets us into all sorts of trouble.

 

For example, throughout history of the Church various priests and bishops

—even popes—

allowed this kind of thinking to corrupt the life of the church.

For instance, the notorious cases where some priests and bishops

were actually trying to sell salvation,

either by accepting bribes to give sacramental absolution

to unrepentant kings and princes,

or by selling indulgences, contrary to the law and teaching of the Church.

 

In modern times we see a different but similar kind of corruption,

where priests tailor what they preach so as not to offend their parishioners,

even if it means editing out important truths of the Gospel,

because their afraid if they don’t

the Sunday collection will go down.

Sometimes we see bishops who are so afraid

of the Church losing her tax exempt status

or government funding for certain projects

they refuse to take hard stands to defend and uphold Catholic doctrine,

or to admonish erring Catholic public officials.

 

These men are very clever, and they are merely trying to

protect the finances of the Church

in order to be able to do good works.

But true wisdom is the mind of God, not the cleverness of the world.

Priest are called to be men of God, not men of business.

And serving God’s money is never more important than serving God.

 

And it happens, of course, to you too.

You work hard for your money, and all the stuff you have.

You are very clever and worldly wise.

And you do it all for a good and noble purpose:

for your family, to save so you won’t be a burden on others in your old age,

or to be able to afford to help others.

 

Or at least that’s how it begins, or what you tell yourself.

But sometimes people discover “helping their family”

has become little more than just keeping up with the Joneses.

Being able to afford to give their kids the very best like any loving parent should

becomes giving them whatever they want,

or whatever will bring the most status,

whether it’s truly best for them or not.

And as they give generously to charities,

they do it to see their name listed publicly as a benefactor

for all the world to see.

They give to those less fortunate, but they look down on them because of it.

 

In today’s difficult parable,

the steward is condemned for failing to serve—or love—his Master,

but commended for his worldly cleverness.

It took us a little cleverness to get past the confusing words and weak translation.

But while this cleverness was in part the wisdom of men,

in the end it took the fundamental wisdom of Christ

poured out in Holy Scripture

to teach us the true meaning of these words today.

As we continue now the celebration of this Holy Mass,

let us pray for this wisdom that begins and ends

with loving God above all things;

the foundational wisdom revealed by Christ today, that:

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

TEXT: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 15, 2019

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 15, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s readings talk about turning.

What we have in all the readings are people turning away from God

and going their own way,

but then God calls them back, and they return to Him.

So in the first reading from Exodus, when Moses is up on the mountain

receiving the Law from God,

God tells Moses:

“Go down at once to your people…,

They have soon turned aside

from the way I pointed out to them…”

And then in the Gospel, when the prodigal son comes home,

the servant says to the older brother,

“Your brother has returned.”

 

In both of these readings, this turning away from God, or the father,

involves moral corruption:

In the 1st reading God says:

“Go down at once to your people,…for they have become depraved.

And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us the prodigal son

“squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation,”

and “swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

 

But notice, something about the first reading.

The moral depravity of the Israelites reflects itself in the way they worship.

God says:

“They …turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,

making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,

sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God…”

They not only don’t behave the way God “pointed out to them”,

but they also don’t worship the way God “pointed out to them.”

 

Fundamentally this reflects that the fact that

when they don’t obey God’s moral law they, in effect,

make themselves greater than God

—they know better than He does.

So, in effect, in their moral lives, they worship themselves.

 

And this is reflected in the way they actually liturgically worship, :

they invent a God out of gold, of their own creation,

what they want God to be,

and they worship him the way they want, not how He wants.

 

Of course, this is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do.

Worship is not supposed to be some empty ritual

that somehow entertains God or satiates His need for praise,

much less entertain us or satiates our need to praise.

Rather it’s supposed to essentially reflect the reality of our lives,

and, in turn, effect the reality of our lives.

 

For example, for the ancient Jews and for Christians today,

the most important form of liturgical worship is the sacrifice.

The sacrifice of the Old Testament was usually the ritual slaughtering of animals,           and the sacrifice of the New Testament is Christ’s death on the Cross.

But God isn’t pleased by simply killing and giving Him dead animals.

As we read in Psalm 50:

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you;

for the world and all that is in it is mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”

 

And He certainly isn’t pleased by the death of His Son.

 

What sacrifice is all about in both the Old and New Testament

is a symbol of the actual giving to God of the whole life,

not of the animal,

but of the person himself.

So when someone sacrificed a lamb, it symbolized giving themselves to God.

 

But a person doesn’t give themselves to God if they don’t obey Him.

So when Jesus died on the Cross, He didn’t just die,

but rather gave Himself up in total obedience to the Father:

“not my will, but thine be done.”

 

When the Hebrews in today’s first reading disobeyed God’s moral laws

they were not giving themselves to Him,

they were obeying themselves and keeping themselves to themselves.

So their sacrifices reflected that:

they sacrificed to a fake god of their own making:

they worshiped themselves.

 

The same is true of the prodigal son in the Gospel:

his disobedience of his father by the actions of his immoral life

is reflected in his leaving his father.

But his rejection of immorality, his desire to obey his father,

is reflected in his returning to his Father’s home

and promising to serve him.

 

All this is captured today as we read part of Psalm 51:

“My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;

a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”

And if we could continue reading the rest of that Psalm we would find the words:

“Then you will desire the sacrifices of the just,

burnt offering and whole offerings;

then they will offer up young bulls on your altar.”

 

Of course, as Catholics we believe that the sacrifice of the New Testament

—Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross—

is re-presented at every Mass, in the Eucharist.

But actually, there are two sacrifices in the New Testament:

Jesus’ sacrifice of the Cross,

offering Himself in total obedience to the Father,

and the sacrifice of every Christian,

offering ourselves in total obedience to the Father

As St. Paul says in Romans:

“offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God

–this is your true and proper worship.”

 

At every Mass that’s what we do: the bread and wine represent us

—our bodies, our lives, everything we do: US.

And so we offer up, or “lift up our hearts to the Lord,” in sacrifice.

 

But as we all know, the only sacrifice of real consequence,

the only truly worthy sacrifice, is Jesus’ sacrifice.

And so we ask Christ to take our sacrifices and unite them to His own:

and so He takes the bread and wine that symbolize us,

and unites our sacrifice to His own sacrifice

by changing them into His Real Body and Blood sacrificed on Calvary.

 

But what good are our symbolic offering of bread and wine

if we don’t really give ourselves?

And how do we give ourselves if our lives are disobedient

to His teachings and His moral law?

If our lives out there in the world are not united to the life of Christ,

how can we ask Him to unite the gift of our lives to His in the Eucharist?

How do we worship Him when we do not obey Him

—when we really worship ourselves in the false gods our sins create?

 

Sadly, the words of God to Moses so often apply to us:

“…they have become depraved.

They have …turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,

making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,

sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God.”

 

___

It’s fascinating to me that this same phenomenon seems to manifest itself

throughout the life of the Church as well.

Over the centuries as we look back and see

the ebb and flow of the moral life of Christian peoples and cultures,

we usually also see a corresponding ebb and flow in their liturgical life

—as people worship God less in their hearts and lives

we see them worship Him less in the liturgy.

And conversely, when we see the great liturgical reforms of the Church

—in the Gregorian reform of the 6th century,

the Carolingian Reform of the 9th century,

the 2nd Gregorian reform of the 11th century,

the Tridentine reform of the 16th century—

all of them were intimately connected with the reform of morals

of the people and, especially, priests.

 

In a certain way, the liturgical reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s

also had this in mind,

as they called for all the faithful to take up

a more active participation in the Mass.

But by “active participation” they didn’t mean something that was

merely exterior, not just moving around and doing things at Mass,

but it meant something principally and primarily interior.

As Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy tells us:

“Before men can come to the liturgy

they must be called to faith and to conversion

Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation …

so that all men may know …Jesus Christ …

and may be converted from their ways.”

 

“Called …to conversion…”

“Converted from their ways.”

 

The word “convert” comes from the Latin, “conversio”,

from 2 Latin words: “cum” meaning “with,” and “vertere” meaning “to turn.”

So “covert” means to “turn with,” or “turn toward.”

So that in Christianity, to “convert” means to turn toward the Lord.

 

And conversion is not something reserved for non-Christians:

it is the calling and the constant striving of every Christian, every Catholic,

to recognize, that like the ancient Hebrews, we have, in so many ways,

turned aside from the way [Christ] pointed out to” us.

Like the prodigal son, every day we must recognize that we have,

in so many ways,

turned away from our father and squandered His inheritance.

And that we must once again come home, we must, re-turn to Him.

We must convert.

 

This conversion begins in the heart, but it is proclaimed at every Mass,

as we, all and each of us, lift up our hearts to the Lord in sacrifice:

pledging Him our lives, our love, our humble obedience.

And pray to the Lord Jesus to unite our little tiny imperfect lives,

to His magnificent and perfect life

offered once for all on the Cross,

and made present to us, once again, miraculously, on this altar.

 

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

let us, dear friends, now “turn aside” from sin, and disobedience,

and re-turn to the Father.

Let us turn away from the false worship of ourselves.

And let us together turn toward the Lord and worship Him in truth.

TEXT: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 8, 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

Thus begins today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom.

Intriguing words: Who can know what God is thinking, or what He intends?

 

Nowadays we hear something like this almost every day.

We especially hear it from people who reject moral teachings

that Christianity or Judaism has traditionally taught for 3,000.

“how do you know what’s right or wrong—are you God?”

 

That seems to be what the Book of Wisdom is saying:

‘Who can know God’s counsel,

or who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

 

But is it really?

 

Because the reading goes on to say:

“who ever knew your counsel,

except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?

 

Think of this: this reading is from the “book of Wisdom.”

And it is only a short example of how God did in fact

reveal His counsel and tell us what He intends

in the Old Testament: the Word of God Himself.

And in then there’s the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament

which reveal how Jesus is the Word of God made flesh,

the Wisdom of God made flesh,

and who is completely one with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus reveals perfectly the counsel of God and intention.

 

And after sharing all that with His Church,

He promised to send the Holy Spirit,

who would fill the disciples with the gift of God’s wisdom.

And He fulfilled that promise at Pentecost.

 

Jesus also promised that wisdom and Holy Spirit

in a special way to His 12 apostles, promising them:

“the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things,

and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…”

So that He could promise St. Peter, and his successors, the popes:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,

and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,

and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,

and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 

So we have the Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition

—the doctrines of Christ handed down to us

by His apostles and their successors, the popes and bishops.

And through the Holy Spirit He has guided His Church,

to deepen its understanding of those doctrines

and apply them to the developments of history.

 

So that now we have a vast wealth, a treasury of Catholic doctrine

that tells us today, the counsel of God and His intentions.

And as the first reading today concludes:

“And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.”

 

“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

The Catholic Church can–and does.

 

But not totally.

And by that I mean, while the doctrine of the Church teaches

all the fundamental truths that we need to live as God calls us to,

knowing how to apply that doctrine to everyday life,

in large issues and small,

is not so easy.

From the small choices, like “what clothes should I wear today?”

to the large life-changing, or even world-changing, choices.

In those times, we probably all ask ourselves:

“who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

 

But then we remember that we do know what He fundamentally intends.

And, the Holy Spirit who has guided His Church to understand those doctrines,

isn’t exclusive to the popes and bishops

—that same Holy Spirit is active in guiding the life of every Christian,

especially those of us who have received

the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.

 

And on top of that, every human being, being created in the image of God,

has the gift of reason, the ability to think rationally, to figure things out.

Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel:

“Which of you wishing to construct a tower

          does not first sit down and calculate the cost…?”

 

And so when we face the choices of life—big and small—

as Catholics we take all that treasury of doctrine

and compare those to the facts at hand,

and then use reason and the grace of the Holy Spirit God,

to make the very best judgment we can, and follow that.

 

This process of obediently applying the doctrine of the Church,

through the use of grace and reason

to the particular facts at hand

is called “following our consciences.”

And this choice we make is called a “prudential judgment.”

 

Even so, there are a lot of variables here.

First, do we know and understand

what the Church doctrine is that applies to a particular issue?

Then, do we know all the facts, and do we see them clearly?

And sometimes facts can be seen from different angles.

And then sometimes our reason fails us;

some of us are more rational, or wiser or emotional than others

—all this can affect our reason.

And then there’s the Holy Spirit—sometimes we listen, and sometimes we don’t.

 

“Who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

 

We know a lot, but sometimes it’s confusing.

 

Because of that, in many cases human reason can lead different people

—even truly good Catholics—

to reach different conclusions and choices in particular situations.

 

Let me give you an example of this, something very controversial in our time.

 

As you may know, our Holy Father, Pope Francis,

has voiced his strong support for those who say

man is largely to blame for climate change,

and that man can correct it by changing his way of life.

Two of the Church’s doctrines he sees applying to this are

first, that we should not abuse the gifts that God has given us,

and second, that we should love our neighbor,

and so not harm our neighbor

by our neglect or abuse of the environment.

 

Okay, so far so good.

That is where we begin.

But then comes the hard part: applying doctrines to facts, with reason and grace,

and making a prudential judgment.

 

All of us, including the pope, bring different factors to this choice,

and our minds process it differently.

We approach it from different perspectives and biases,

we have different information, know different facts,

or see certain facts as more important than others,

or interpret them differently than each other.

I mean, even different scientists say different things.

So that even when we do our best, we can be right or wrong

when we make our prudential judgment—even the Pope can be wrong.

 

And so, when it comes to matters of prudential judgment,

as Pope Benedict XVI once wrote:

“…There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion”

even if it means “a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father.”

 

Thus, while there are important doctrines involved here,

our response to claims of climate change, and mankind’s blame for it,

is, clearly, a matter of prudential judgment left to each individual.

 

 

____

Now, let me make sure we’re clear.

Some people try to argue that all choices and decisions

are a matter of prudential justice.

They are terribly wrong.

Catholic doctrine unambiguously holds that some things

are always wrong in themselves, “intrinsically evil,”

including things like murder, abortion contraception and homosexual acts.

So, for example, just like it is always evil to kill someone

simply because they are in the U.S. illegally,

it is also always evil to kill someone

simply because they are in their mommy’s wombs and unwanted.

No arguments to make, no prudential judgment involved,

just well settled doctrine.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to accept this:

that doctrine is not up to our particular judgment.

But if you want to cling to your own opinions

as if they are your most valuable possessions,

rather than embrace the clear doctrine of Christ and his Church,

Jesus says: “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions

cannot be my disciple.”

 

___

Now, some of you may think that I disagree with the Pope on climate change.

Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.

Actually, I hope I’ve been careful not to interject

my own prudential judgment here.

 

Even so, sometimes a priest—whether he’s a Pope, Bishop or Pastor—

finds it necessary to share his judgment with his flock,

just as Pope Francis has done with climate change.

The problem is, sometimes people mistake

sharing prudential judgment with teaching doctrine.

 

And that’s a very dangerous mistake.

Because if Catholics don’t see the difference between doctrines and judgments, some Catholics might hear some really stupid judgment of a foolish priest

and rightly reject it as foolish,

but then think they can reject everything the foolish priest says,

even if it’s divinely inspired Church doctrine.

It happens all the time.

 

So when the Pope thinks he needs to intervene to stop climate change,

he’s going to use passionate language to communicate his zeal.

But, the thing is, he’s making a passionate plea

based on his own best prudential judgment

—not giving a catechesis on doctrine.

 

____

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

let us pray that,

following the truth revealed by Christ in the doctrines of His Holy Church,

and using right reason and the grace of the Holy Spirit,

[that] each of us, and our nation as a whole,

may be a true instrument of His will that God intends us to be.