TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 16, 2020

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 16, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Friday/Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day when the world celebrates lovers.

So let’s talk about love today.

But not “love” the way the world thinks of it, but love the way it truly is:

love the way God thinks of it.

 

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus continuing the same Sermon on the Mount

that we began reading last Sunday.

Today Jesus is talking specifically about the commandments.

Now, many people view the commandments as just a bunch of rules,

rules that we keep under fear of going to hell, or “Gehenna,” if we don’t.

This was a conception of the commandments very common in Jesus day:

especially among some of the Pharisees and Scribes,

who held a very legalistic view of the commandments,

thinking that if they could keep just the literal meaning,

then they would be saved.

 

But Jesus had a very different view of the commandments.

Elsewhere, in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

There are some who’d like to believe that with this one “new” commandment,

Jesus abolished the 10 commandments of the old covenant.

But to Jesus, keeping His commandment of love

is the same as keeping His Father’s 10 commandments.

He says, in John 15:

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

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments

and abide in his love….”

 

And so, as we read today in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law.”

Jesus doesn’t throw out the laws the Pharisees clung to,

but instead He reinforces even “the smallest part of the letter of the law”.

But He calls us not to be shallow and depend on

a merely technical legalistic interpretation of the law,

but to go deeper and let the law encompass

all of our lives and all of our actions.

He says:

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses

that of the scribes and Pharisees,

you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

He calls us to keep the commandments with all of our hearts, in love.

 

_____

Let’s think about what happens when 2 people are in love.

When two people really love each other,

when they’re in the zenith of the romance

–they don’t think in terms of minimums, but of maximums.

They don’t just think, “what’s the least amount of this love that I can get by with,”

rather, they want and allow their love to seep into everything they do and think.

So they don’t want to hurt each other in any way:

and so they don’t just agree not to beat each other,

rather the very thought of inflicting even the slightest pain

–physical or emotional

–is unimaginable.

And so Jesus says, if you love me and mine

–not only “Don’t kill them,”

but, as He says:

“whoever is angry with his brother

…and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’

and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.

In other words, “don’t show others contempt or hatred in any way,

don’t even think about hurting the one you love, or that Christ loves.”

 

Also, two people in love give themselves to each other in every way they can

–they give their time, their emotions

and their physical presence to each other,

and they can’t begin to think about giving themselves

in the same way to someone else.

They don’t want to stay late at work, or to be with their friends

when they could be at home or on a date with their beloved,

This is especially seen in love of spouses,

which is so beautifully experienced

in the complete gift of their bodies to one another.

In light of this, Jesus tells us to respect the awesome meaning

of spousal love expressed in this gift.

And so he says, if you love me and mine, not only don’t commit adultery,

but also don’t even look at [someone] with lust”

because that’s the same as

“committing adultery with [them] in your heart.”

 

___

When you love somebody you make promises to them

and there is nothing more important than  keeping those promises

–those commitments.

When you make a date, you show up;

when you promise to be at the Church at 3:00 for a wedding ceremony

you show up.

And so Jesus says, when you make a commitment in love in marriage,

you can’t put aside that commitment

by signing a piece of paper that says you’re divorced

–no court on earth can separate what you and God have joined.

You’ve given yourself and you can’t take yourself back,

and if you try to not only take yourself back,

and also try to give yourself again in a commitment

to a different person,

you don’t marry that different person, you commit adultery.

 

And when you fall in love, you talk, and you talk all the time.

You talk about deep secrets, profound thoughts,

and even the most silly dreams and nonsense.

And as you talk you share yourself, and you become deeper and closer

in love through trust.

You don’t lie to someone when you’re in love

–and if you do, your relationship will soon die like week old roses.

So Jesus says, if you love me and mine, not only:

“Do not take a false oath…”

but also:

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’

Anything more is from the evil one.”

Lying is completely inconsistent with love.

 

____

If you want true love, keep the “rules” of love,

but not as a bunch of legalistic constructs

–don’t obey the rules like a lawyer, but like a true lover.

If you follow the commandments this way, your love will be returned to you,

and you’ll know what it means when we read:

“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and nor has it

entered the human heart,

what God has prepared for those who love Him,”

On the other hand, if you don’t follow the commandments as a lover,

then you will lose the one you love above all others

–you will lose God.

And those of you who have loved deeply and lost their beloved,

or come close to losing them,

you know that the loss of your beloved

can be more painful than the burning of the hottest fire,

and more confining and hopeless

than the chains of the darkest prison.

And so Christ says, if you do not follow the commandments with love,

“you will be thrown into prison.”

AND “[You] will be liable to fiery Gehenna”—Hell.

 

____

When we leave here today we should be filled with love,

not as the world understands love,

but with the radically different love of God, of Jesus.

Most of us are at least affected by the world’s notion of love in important ways.

We find it in our schools, in the media, in entertainment.

We hear it from our teachers, from our political leaders,

and even, unfortunately, from some of our clergy.

St. Paul warns us in today’s second reading

that we are not to conform to this false worldly notion:

“We speak…not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age…

Rather, we speak God’s wisdom.”

The worlds’ wisdom tells us that our moral norms

must constantly be changed and adapted

to be modern, up-to date, relative or relevant

But in the Gospel, Christ gives us very specific, clear and unchanging norms,

as do Sts. Paul and Peter and John elsewhere in the New Testament,

using hard words like “unless you do this you will not enter the Kingdom”

and “Anything more is from the evil one.”

As St. Paul tells us today:

“God’s wisdom [is] mysterious, hidden,

which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,

and which none of the rulers of this age knew.”

[The rulers in governments, or Hollywood, or Wall Street, or in the media.]

 

____

Today, Scripture tells us:

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;

if you trust in God, you too shall live”

As the world places before us its false and shallow notion of love,

let us pray that we may choose to follow the way of true love,

in the fullness of the law of love of Christ.

Let us follow the commandments not as lawyers, but as lovers.

And let us love as the great and perfect lover shows us,

not with fear of loosing our beloved,

but in the joy of our Beloved’s promise to His bride, and to each of us:

“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,

and nor has it entered the human heart,

what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

TEXT: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, 2020

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

According today’s Gospel text,

in accordance with the Old Testament law given by God to Moses,

the presentation of Jesus is the Temple

occurred exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus,

so 40 days after Christmas, or today, February 2.

So it is said that this feast is the last feast of Christmas.

Of course, the Christmas season ended 3 weeks ago,

but today we sort of look back at the days following Christmas

and remember this unique event in the life of the Holy Family,

including the remarkable prophesy of Simeon,

and the praise and witness of the prophetess Anna.

 

And so when this special feast of February 2 falls a Sunday,

it outranks the regular or ordinary time Sunday Mass,

and we celebrate it instead.

And we have these very special opening prayers to the Mass,

with carrying and the blessing of candles,

reminding us of Christmas in a unique way:

we remember how on Christmas

the angel of light appeared to the shepherds, as St. Luke tells us:

“The angel of the Lord appeared to them

and the glory of the Lord shone around them”

And we remember how a light in the sky, a star, led the magi to Jesus.

 

And so on this feast Simeon tells us, that

Jesus Himself is the “light for revelation to the Gentiles.”

 

And so, today we look back and experience a little bit of the joy of Christmas.

 

But today’s feast is more than that.

It not only points back to Christmas,

it also points forward to the even greater feast of Easter.

In fact, it forms sort of a midway point,

or a bridge between Christmas and Easter:

three weeks ago was the last day of the Season of Christmas

and just over three weeks from now is the first day of Lent

—the great season of preparing for Easter.

 

And so, in that context, looking in today’s gospel, we see some remarkable things.

 

___

First consider, that it says,

“When the days were completed for their purification

according to the law of Moses,

Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem.”

According to law of Moses a new mother had to wait 40 days after childbirth,

a period of ritual purification, before she could take her child to the temple.

So, 40 days of purification.

Now, of course Mary had no need of spiritual purification,

but she was obedient to the law, and so she kept the 40 days.

 

Of course these 40 days of purification after Christmas

remind us of the 40 days of purification from sin in Lent before Easter.

 

___

And where do Mary and Joseph go to offer the sacrifice?

It says: they “took Jesus up to Jerusalem.”

And not just to Jerusalem, but clearly to the Temple in Jerusalem.

And on Palm Sunday, as we begin Holy Week,

where do we remember Jesus going: to Jerusalem and to the Temple.

 

___

Then, today’s gospel tells us Mary and Joseph came to the temple

to consecrate Jesus to His Father, and

“to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,

in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”

What’s going on here is that essentially,

Jews were required to go to the Temple, God’s home,

and literally give their son to God.

But remember, in ancient pagan religions giving your son to your god

meant you had to had to sacrifice your son to your god—kill him.

Remember when Abraham was about to do this with Isaac, his only son

—he took him up Mount Horeb to sacrifice him,

but God, the true God, the all loving and all merciful,

spared Isaac and had Abraham sacrifice a Ram in his place.

 

So, the Law of Moses established this as the rule for all Jews:

you gave your son to God, but instead of sacrificing him

you sacrificed a year-old lamb,

or if you were poor 2 turtledoves or pigeons,

which represented your son.

So, by sacrificing your lamb or pigeons you were sacrificing, giving,

your son completely to God.

This is what the Presentation was about.

 

Well, what happens at the end of the 40 days of Lent?

 

We celebrate not only Easter, but as part the Pascal Mystery,

we celebrate Good Friday, the sacrifice of Jesus, the lamb of God,

on the Cross

—where Jesus actually offers Himself as a sacrifice for us.

So the sacrifice of the Presentation points toward of the sacrifice of the Cross

 

___

And then there is this beautiful prayer and prophecy of Simeon

But in there he has this line that seems completely out of place, as it tells us he,

“said to Mary his mother,

‘Behold, this child is destined… to be a sign of contradiction

–and you yourself a sword will pierce…’”

It seems out of place, except in the context of the Cross,

where contrary (or in contradiction) to appearances

Jesus was not defeated on the Cross,

but gained victory over sin and death.

 

And at that same cross, is Mary, standing with her son,

offering her son to the father,

just as she once offered her baby boy in the temple.

But this time, there was no lamb, there were no turtledoves.

This time her son was is the sacrifice, not redeeming Himself, but redeeming us.

And so, she again obediently accepted God’s will,

offering herself up with her son in spiritual sacrifice.

So as the soldiers drove a sword into Jesus heart,

that same sword spiritually pierced her heart as well.

All as Simeon foretold—at the Presentation.

 

___

And then as I mentioned before,

when Simeon calls Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,”

we remember the angelic lights of Christmas.

But we also remember that the light of the resurrection of Jesus

dispelling the darkness of death of Good Friday.

So that as the Church opens the celebration of Easter Sunday,

the Easter Vigil Mass begins with a ceremony

much like we just celebrated

—the only other Mass that begins

with the congregation holding candles symbolizing the light of Christ.

Again, the Presentation is a bridge between the light of Christmas

and the light of Easter.

 

___

As we celebrate the last feast of Christmas,

we remember that Christmas was only the beginning of our salvation.

Today we look back at the birth of Jesus,

but also forward to his death and resurrection.

And as we come to this sacred temple,

let us be like Simeon and Anna, giving praise and glory to our Lord,

and like Mary and Joseph present their son to the Father,

And as we enter into the mystery of this holy Mass,

the mystery of the Cross of Christ made present to us,

as Jesus offers Himself to His father for our redemption,

let us join Mary in offering ourselves in union with His Sacrifice,

giving ourselves completely to the Father, through Jesus.

And as we leave here today, may Jesus, who comes to us in Holy Communion

remain with us throughout the week,

and reveal Himself though our lives,

as a light to all those who seek Him.

 

 

 

 

TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26, 2020

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 26, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“He said to them,

‘Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’

At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

 

There’s been a lot of talk for year about the “New Evangelization.”

Of course, the word “evangelization” comes from the Latin word “Evangelium,”

which comes from Greek word for “good news,”

and which we normally translate as “Gospel.”

 

So sometimes people use the term “New Evangelization” to mean

a new effort to bring the good news of the Gospel to all people

—not just oversees, but next door.

 

But the term “New Evangelization” was actually originally used by the Church

to mean something a little different.

Back in the 1980s when St. Pope John Paul II first started using the term,

he was talking about the people and nations whose cultures

had been formed and immersed in Christianity for centuries,

but who no longer understood even the basics of the Gospel,

the “Good News,” of Jesus Christ.

And so he called for a “new evangelization” of these people,

a push to “re-evangelize” quasi-Christians—to “re-Gospel” them.

 

And he said that that new evangelization must first begin

of not only with those who are marginally or culturally Christian,

but also those who are trying to be devout Catholics—you and me.

We also don’t know the Gospel as well as we should,

and more than that, we don’t know and love Jesus as we should.

And so in the new evangelization the Church calls us

to begin by renewing our own knowledge of the Gospel,

and growing in our own personal relationship with Jesus.

So when I first came to this parish that my efforts at the new evangelization

would be directed primarily to re-evangelize you, my parishioners.

 

A couple of weeks ago, in my bulletin column,

I wrote about making New Year’s resolutions.

And I suggested that instead of the usual resolution of losing weight, etc.,

that we make resolutions that would lead us closer to Christ.

 

Today I propose to you that we make these resolutions a concerted effort

to in our continuing new evangelization of our parish, and each of you.

 

____

So, how do we do this…?

 

First we begin with the “Moral Life.”

Today’s Gospel tells us that Christ told Peter and Andrew:

“‘Come follow me…’…and [they] followed Him.”

To live with Jesus we must walk the way of Jesus,

we must live the life he does—the moral life.

Can you imagine Peter and Andrew cursing or lying in front of the Lord?

So we need to resolve to change things.

Of course we need to get of all sin in our lives,

but usually when we try to change everything all at once,

we wind up failing miserably, and give up.

So a good strategy is to make a resolution to focus on one or two sins at a time

to really work on them.

 

Then there’s the Life of Charity:

           how can we love Christ if we don’t love as He does?

So we resolve to work on particular areas of charity,

for example, beginning with family,

being a more patient parent, a more attentive spouse,

a more considerate or son or daughter.

Or being particularly patient with the people at work who really annoy you.

Pick one or two things and commit to being charitable, loving.

 

And then your Prayer Life.

How can you know someone you don’t even talk to or listen to.

And that’s what prayer is, a conversation with God.

So make a resolution to do something this year to improve your prayer life.

Something big or something small—but commit to pray a little more or better.

 

And then the life of Grace,

the grace especially that comes to us in the sacraments.

We really can’t enter a deeper relationship with Jesus unless He helps us

—through His grace.

So resolve to partake of the sacraments more often, or more devoutly, this year, in one way or another.

Again, keep it simple, but be specific, and commit yourself.

 

And how can you know a person, if you know nothing about them?

So you need to educate yourself about Christ, and His Bride, the Church.

And there are so many ways to do that nowadays,

from lectures here at the parish,

to reading Catholic books or websites, on and on.

 

 

___

But the thing is, the Christian life begins and ends with being loved by Jesus

and loving Him in return.

But that love has to be lived, and it is not lived in a vacuum.

And so, for those who love and follow him,

Christ draws us all, by His grace, into being one with Him,

and one with each other in Him.

So much so that He calls us His own Body.

And so as we live and love as one body of Christ,

we must live a life of love with each other.

 

This is the life of the Church,

and it is lived out in a very concrete way in the life of a parish.

The life of love and mutual service, following the example of

the one who “came not to be served by to serve”

and told us to “follow” Him.

Whether it’s serving as an usher, or altar boy, or with the youth group,

or making meals for sick mothers, or organizing parish dinners, whatever.

This is the life of love in the Church.

 

Now, it’s true that the Church is much bigger than any one parish.

And there are many ways to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ

in context of this large Church

–whether actually working for the Church,

or as a devout Catholic working in a secular job.

Moreover, the largeness of the Church brings many blessings

—for one, the realization of the depth and breadth

of man’s response to Christ

as we see of billions of Christians worldwide.

 

But we all need a place to call home,

and sometimes we can get lost in a crowd.

This is one important reason why the Catholic Church is organized into parishes,

mainly along geographic lines,

so that Catholics living close together can actually share

something of a common life together, as a family.

 

Sadly, some people think of the parish only

as the place they go to Mass on Sunday.

It is that, thanks be to God, but it’s more than that.

The word “parish” itself comes from Latin roots and means, essentially,      “household”: in other words, the parish is like a family.

Or should be.

It should be a place where we find real opportunities to love, live and learn

as Christian brothers and sisters, and fathers.

 

In today’s second reading St. Paul writes:

“I urge you, brothers and sisters,

in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

                   …that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

In this letter the Holy Spirit, who of course inspired every word of this,

was writing to the whole Church, past and present,

but St. Paul himself was only is writing to the tiny group of people

living in the city of Corinth, in Greece around 60AD.

While today we would call this the “diocese of Corinth,”

in all likelihood, it was a community smaller in size,

both geographically and in population, than St. Raymond’s parish.

 

He was emphasizing both the need for unity with the whole Catholic Church,

but also, in the context of that Catholic unity,

specifically, unity with each other in the Church in Corinth.

 

And the Holy Spirit says the same to us, here today.

 

The Church is huge, and we can sometimes have a hard time

finding a place in it, and having a sense of belonging.

But the parish is not so huge,

and is one important place where we can come to understand

that we belong to Christ and His Church,

or to help others understand that.

 

Even so, many times I’ve been told that the even the parish is too big.

But the parish is only too big if you don’t get involved

in some small group or activity

that will help you to understand that you are part of the wider parish.

On a very practical level, by becoming more active in small ways,

in small groups in this relatively small parish,

you can experience and grow in the love of the Church, the body of Christ,

and so draw deeper into the love of Jesus Himself.

 

Let me give you an example.

I once knew a man who was in his late 20s.

Long story short: he was a pretty good Catholic: he loved Jesus,

and he came to Mass every Sunday and to Confession every month;

he lived a pretty good moral life,

and he knew a lot about the faith, the Bible and the History of the Church;

and he loved being a Catholic.

But there wasn’t much direction to his Catholic life.

Then one day he decided to volunteer to teach in his parish’s

High School CCD program.

And things began to change.

He started to develop a thirst to learn about the faith,

he joined the parish’s young adult group

and made a lot of really good Catholic friends

who supported him in living his Catholic life.

And he started to go to daily Mass and adoration,

and became an usher and RCIA teacher, and a lector.

 

Again, long story short: so here he is today, your pastor.

 

____

Now, you don’t all have to sign up for bible study,

or to be ushers or CCD teachers—

much less to be priests.

But I do want all of you to grow in your faith and love for Christ and His Church,

and share that with others.

And I want you begin that today, this week, this year, in this parish.

 

In today’s bulletin,

we’ve included a list of our parish committees and apostolates.

Take it home with you, look it over, think about it, and pray about it.

And then, most importantly, do something about it.

If you’re not doing anything do something.

And if you are already doing something, ask yourself, can I, should I do more?

Not just for good of the pastor or the parish,

but truly for your own good, and the good of your family.

 

____

I hope this year of our Lord 2020 will truly be a year of new evangelization

for you, and this parish.

A year in which we will first grow personally, and as a parish,

in morality, charity, grace, prayer and knowledge of Christ and His Church.

And grow in sharing in the life of Jesus,

by voluntarily giving of yourself by sharing your time and talent,

and living the life of Christ’s love with your brothers and sisters in Christ,

as an integral part of a spiritual family of Jesus, here at St. Raymond’s.

 

____

“Come follow me” Jesus said.

“At once they left their nets and followed Him.”

TEXT: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 19, 2020

2nd  Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

47 years ago this week the Supreme Court of the United States ruled

that women have a fundamental right to abort their babies

—the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

Since then pro-life advocates, including the Catholic Church,

have been waging a peaceful war to mitigate and eventually overturn

that barbaric decision.

The war continues.

 

Over the last 25 years or so I have preached on the evil of abortion,

and the need to fight that evil at every turn,

including in the public square and in the political arena,

especially in the voting booth.

Some people have objected to these homilies,

some arguing that I am unnecessarily political,

some that I’m often too partisan,

and some that there were, in fact, more important issues to worry about.

I could understand many of those objections:

they are absolutely wrong, but I see where they’re coming from.

 

But the one objection I have never understood is when people say

that my position on abortion

—or rather, the Church’s doctrine on abortion—

is fundamentally unjust

since it ignores the rights of women to make choices

based on their own good.

The problem is, anyone who argues

that abortion is about protecting women and their rights

is ignoring the fact that in every abortion there are at least two victims:

while it is clear that every abortion

stops the naturally beating heart of a baby,

what many refuse to recognize is that it also

breaks the naturally loving heart of a mommy.

 

For the last 5 decades doctors of the body

have overwhelmingly defended the medical choice of abortion,

while at the same time doctors of the mind

—psychiatrists and psychologists—

have also defended that choice as often being necessary

for the psychological health of the mother.

But anyone who argues

that an abortion can ever be psychologically good for a woman

is ignoring the facts.

Think about it.

You don’t have to teach women to love their children without reserve:

what mother do you know that if she had to nurse her baby

through the suffering of some terrible disease

like leukemia or kidney disease

wouldn’t gladly trade places with her baby?

Mom’s are just like that.

How could such an amazing creature as a mom

ever benefit emotionally from doing something

so radically opposed to her nature?

 

Still, in spite of scientific study after study

that proves this common sense observation,

and in spite of the millions of emotionally crippled women

that come to them,

the mental health establishment refuses to open its eyes to see the truth.

 

___

Sometimes when I speak to people about abortion, someone will say:

“what do you want to do, put these women in jail?”

The answer is not only “no” but “are you crazy?

The very fact that they do something

so obviously contrary to their own basic nature

leads me to first assume that something extraordinary intervened

to confuse or impair their judgment.

And that “something” includes the systematic brainwashing they receive

in school, in the media and from health care workers.

And more importantly it includes the incredible pressure brought to bear on them by

doctors and nurses grown callous to their patients,

parents ashamed of their little girl

or boyfriends or husbands unwilling to shoulder responsibility

for their own sexual conduct.

If anyone should be punished, it should be these people

who should know better,

and to whom the distraught woman or frightened girl comes for help.

In the words of the great advocate of women’s rights of the 19th century,

the famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony,

speaking on the evil of abortion:

“thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation

which impelled her to the crime!”

 

And yet it is the woman who does bear the punishment

—whether the laws of society recognize the crime or not.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many times

doctors, lawyers, feminists or boyfriends say,

“honey, you didn’t do anything wrong”

–every woman who aborts knows in her heart what she did,

and there is no punishment conceived by man or woman

that could compare to the hell

that they heap upon themselves.

 

These women know.

Some don’t always admit it, but they know.

I’ve seen the terribly tortured look on the faces

and heard through torrents of tears the tormented voices,

of too many women who come to me in the confessional.

Especially in the last few years as the group called Project Rachel

has become more and more active in our diocese.

Because Project Rachel, and other groups and individuals like it

recognize the distress of these women, and offer them a helping hand.

 

It’s interesting that Project Rachel phone counselors

say that although they always offer women a choice between a referral

either to a priest or to a psychologist,

the women overwhelmingly ask for a priest.

I didn’t understand that, until a few years ago

when a woman sat in my office telling me

that for 10 years she had very clearly seen the connection

between her severe emotional problems

and the abortion she had had just a few weeks

before those problems began.

And yet counselor after counselor for 10 years

kept telling her that she hadn’t done anything wrong

—abortion was okay:

the only problem she had was her unreasonable guilt,

and so they tried to cure her guilt.

 

But now she was fed up with her problems, and she was fed up with their lies.

She came to a priest—even though she was not even Catholic

—because she knew that a priest would believe her when she said

she had been wrong in aborting her baby,

and that a priest might help her to deal with

the terrible thing she had done.

 

The truth hurts, but lies hurt more

—especially when you’re dealing with the life and death of babies,

and the love and guilt of mothers.

It’s time to end the lies

—time to end the silencing of these women who cry out in pain.

 

____

How do we do this?

Of course, most fundamentally

we have to change people’s attitude toward abortion…

society must admit that killing unborn babies,

and encouraging mothers to do so, is simply grossly wrong.

We need to stop confusing women in crisis pregnancies

and denying proper treatment to those who bear long standing guilt.

To do this we must have good men and women in public office

who will deal with abortion with honesty, and true compassion.

 

___

That’s what we can do publicly and for long term results.

But more immediately, we offer our full support

to women we know who might be tempted to abortion

—we tell them the truth, but we also offer them all the help we can,

whether financial, medical, emotional and spiritual.

 

And… we can help that poor devastated woman in our midst

–perhaps our sister, mother, wife or friend–

who has had an abortion and needs more than anything else

to admit her guilt, receive forgiveness

and begin to heal the open emotional and spiritual wounds

of a broken heart.

 

In the end, there is only one person

who has the power to make this healing happen.

In today’s Gospel St John the Baptist points to Jesus and says,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus alone can bring the fullness of forgiveness and peace these women long for. Jesus alone can shine the light on these women

living in the darkness of our society’s culture of death,

made all too personal in the death of their own babies.

Jesus alone can heal the wounds abortion has left them with

by pouring into their broken hearts His boundless love.
Jesus is the only answer for these women.

 

____

Scripture goes on to tells us that after John pointed out Jesus

as the Lamb of God, people started to follow Jesus.

Today we must follow Jesus, proclaiming his gospel of life and love,

of repentance, forgiveness and healing

especially to the living victims of abortion.

And we must invite them to join us, and follow Jesus.

Because if they do, Jesus Christ will lift their burden of guilt and sin.

 

___

Jesus calls you and I to remain silent no longer.

To our fellow Americans who believe the lies and manipulations of

pro-abortion advocates, radical feminists, leftist media and politicians

we must proclaim the Gospel of Life.

To those young girls and older women who face crisis pregnancies

we must love them enough to tell them the truth

that even if husbands, or boyfriends or parents abandon them,

Christ will never abandon them.

And to those women who suffer the pains of guilt of past abortions

we must remind them that Christ longs to

dry their tears, take away their grief, and forgive their sin.

If only they will ignore those who try to silence their cries of pain,

and instead listen to voice of John the Baptist, and our voices with him,

as we point to Jesus Christ and proclaim,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

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

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 5, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

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

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

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

 

Although we commonly refer to them as “kings,”

they are most probably not actual kings:

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

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

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

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

the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.

All kings shall pay him homage…”

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

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

 

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

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

truly wise-men, seekers of the truth,

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

 

And this is probably why they followed the Star.

They probably knew about the famous prophesy of Balaam,

found in the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament.

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

a star shall come out of Jacob,

and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

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

 

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

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

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

others say it was a supernova, or a comet.

 

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

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

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

or disappear and then reappear,

or come to rest over a specific house.

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

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

specially created by God to guide the Magi to Bethlehem.

 

And what do the Magi find in Bethlehem?

Scripture tells us:

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

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

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

but here he makes no mention of Joseph:

only “The child and Mary, his mother”

Why?

The Magi certainly would have been aware of

the very first and most important of all Jewish prophesies,

found in Genesis 3:14, when God Himself foretells

the coming of both the Messiah and his mother:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

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

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

 

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

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

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

they worship Jesus by falling on their faces.

 

And that worship continues, as it tells us,

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

gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

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

gifts fit for a king.

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

–gold, symbolizing his Kingship.

–frankincense, symbolizing Christ as High Priest;

incense symbolizes both prayers and smoke of sacrifices

of the priests

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

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

 

And then it tells,

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

they departed to their own country by another way.”

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

and so are spared the wrath of Herod.

And they went home filled with that Spirit.

 

Scripture is silent about what happened to them after this,

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

the three Magi, Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar,

each gave away their wealth to the poor

and spent they lives proclaiming the birth of the savior.

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

proclaiming the Gospel

he baptized them and ordained them as priests.

One Medieval account goes on to tell us:

“Having undergone many trials and fatigues for the Gospel,

the three wise men met …in 54 (AD)

to celebrate the feast of Christmas.

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

 

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

 

____

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

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

They were the first converts to the faith.

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

and they are in our midst today.

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

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

–and especially children and fallen away Catholics

–and especially so many Protestants of goodwill,

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

with some other charity—do you respond?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Also, notice that when the star seems to have disappeared

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

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

And then God rewarded their faithful perseverance:

the star came back: and they “rejoiced.”

 

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

and then suddenly they seem to disappear.

But we must also endure in faith

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

they are like bright stars that lead us to Christ,

But then we see the scandalous behavior

of other truly unholy priests and bishops,

and the stars seem to disappear.

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

we just keep on searching as best we can,

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

—we’re seeking Jesus.

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

 

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

sort of a dark night of the soul.

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

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

 

___

The Magi also remind us of the centrality of worship

They come from hundreds or thousands of miles away,

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

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

The Magi knew the importance of the physical expression

of the prostration of the heart,

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

to say to Him and to themselves:

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

Do we make this connection?

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

or are you truly prostrating yourself—body and soul—

before your beloved Jesus?

And when you leave here standing on two feet,

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

 

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

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

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

to love Him and our neighbor,

and keep all of His commandments completely and without exception?

 

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

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

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

Do I burn my incense before Him:

do I give myself to Him in prayer and worship?

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

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

And do I sanctify every day,

by constantly remembering His presence and praising Him?

 

___

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

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

about this Jewish savior of the world

When we leave church today what will we do?

When Christmas is over what will we do?

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

but also to go and bring others to adore Him.

 

____

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

let us place ourselves in the presence of the Magi.

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

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

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

May we imitate them,

prostrating ourselves in worship and offering ourselves to Him.

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

may we leave here today,

proclaiming the coming of Christ and His salvation,

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