Twenty fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parish Picnic Celebration. As I write this on Wednesday, Hurricane Florence looms in the Atlantic, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do about the Celebration scheduled for today. I hope we can still have it, in some form at least, but if we can’t… In any case, fiat voluntas Dei—God’s will be done.

 September 11, 2001. Let us pray for all those who died, on 9/11 and in the “War on Terror…” … Eternal rest grant unto them Oh Lord. And send Your holy angels to defend us and to protect all who risk their lives for our safety.

And let us pray also for the brave souls who continue to fight to protect us, and for the conversion of our enemies. And let us pray for our nation’s safety, and that, with the strength of Christ and tempered by His wisdom and mercy, we may defeat those who seek to harm us.

Humanae Vitae Conference. Last weekend’s conference on Humanae Vitae and its ramifications for the world, was a huge success, with over 150 attendees. Our speakers, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Dr. Robert Royal and Bob and Gerri Laird did an excellent job in helping us understand the importance of the encyclical and the devasting effects contraception has had on our Church and our culture. Thanks to them, and to our staff and volunteers, especially Eva Radel, Tom Browne, and Liz Hildebrand, who made it all go so smoothly. And thanks be to God!

 

Some Happy News. I’m delighted to write that Brigitta Sanchez-O’Brien, daughter of parishioners, Patrick and Maria (and my goddaughter!), graduated as valedictorian of her class at John Paul the Great University last month. I’m sure you all join me in congratulating her and her family. Please keep her in your prayers as she begins graduate studies this month at Pepperdine University.

 

St. Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church. One of my favorite saints, is St. Peter Damian, a great and fiery advocate of clerical reform in the 11th century. I commend him to all of you as a heavenly patron in this time when reform of priests and bishops is so important.

Born in 1007, Peter was the youngest of a large noble, but poor, family. Left an orphan at an early age, he was adopted by an elder brother, who ill-treated and under-fed him while employing him as a swineherd. The child showed signs of great piety and of remarkable intellectual gifts, and eventually another brother, took him away to be educated. He made rapid progress in his studies, first at Ravenna, then at Faenza, finally at the University of Parma, and when about twenty-five years old he was already a famous teacher at Parma and Ravenna. But, he could not endure the scandals and distractions of university life and decided (about 1035) to retire from the world, entering the hermitage of Fonte-Avellana.

Both as novice and as professed religious his fervor in prayer and penance was remarkable. He continued his thorough study of Holy Scripture and was appointed to lecture to his fellow-monks. In 1043 he became prior of Fonte-Avellana, which he remained till his death.

Although living in the seclusion of the cloister, Peter Damian watched closely the fortunes of the Church, and like his friend Hildebrand (a key assistant to several Popes, who would become the future Pope Gregory VII), he strove for her purification in those deplorable times.

In 1045 when the reforming pope Gregory VI (John Gratian) was elected, Peter hailed the change with joy and wrote to the pope, urging him to deal with the scandals of the church in Italy. In 1047 and 1055 Peter attended and addressed synods at the Lateran and Florence at which decrees were passed condemning clerical unchastity and simony (the buying or selling of holy or spiritual things or church offices).

In 1051 Peter published his venerable and famous treatise on the vice of sodomy among the clergy of his time, the “Book of Gomorrah.” (Sodomy refers to homosexual acts and what we would call “homosexual lifestyles”). It begins: “Alas, it is shameful to speak of it! It is shameful to relate such a disgusting scandal to sacred ears! But if the doctor fears the virus of the plague, who will apply the cauterization? If he is nauseated by those whom he is to cure, who will lead sick souls back to the state of health?”

The book caused a great stir and aroused widespread enmity against Peter, and still does today. Although sometimes excessively harsh in rhetoric, it is also compassionate, especially to innocent victims and truly repentant sinners. It is filled with penetrating insights and lessons that would seem to apply aptly to the Church today.

In 1057 the abbot of Monte Cassino, was elected as Pope Stephen X, and was determined to create Peter a cardinal, so he could better assist the Pope in reforming the clergy. Peter resisted the offer, but was finally forced, under threat of excommunication, to accept, and was consecrated Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. The new cardinal was impressed with the great responsibilities of his office and wrote a stirring letter to his brother-cardinals, exhorting them to shine by their example before all.

In late 1059 Peter was sent as papal legate to Milan by Pope Nicholas II, where the clergy had been corrupted by widescale simony and unchastity. Things had gotten so bad, that benefices (church offices) were openly bought and sold and the clergy publicly “married” the women they lived with. But the faithful of Milan strove hard to remedy these evils. When Peter arrived, the irregular clerics raised the cry that Rome had no authority over Milan. At once Peter acted, boldly confronting the rioters in the cathedral, and proving to them the authority of the Holy See with such effect that all parties submitted to his decision. He exacted first a solemn oath from the archbishop and all his clergy that for the future no preferment should be paid for; then, imposing a penance on all who had been guilty, he re-instated in their benefices to all who under took to live chastely.

In July 1061, Pope Nicholas II died, and a schism ensued. Damian used all his powers to persuade the antipope Cadalous to withdraw his false claim to the papacy, but to no purpose. Finally a council at Augsburg, at which a long letter by St. Peter Damian was read, formally acknowledged Pope Alexander II as the true pope.

Over the next few years Peter was sent as papal legate to settle various disputes and establish reforms in Florence, Ravenna, France, and Germany.

Early in 1072 he was seized with fever near Faenza, and after a week’s illness he died. He was never formally canonized, but he was venerated as a saint from his death at Faenza, Fonte-Avellana, Monte Cassino, and Cluny. In 1823 Leo XII extended his feast (February 23) to the whole Church and pronounced him a Doctor of the Church, thus officially recognizing Peter’s status as a Saint of the Church. (Condensed largely from The Catholic Encyclopedia).

St. Peter Damian, pray for us.

 

Oremus pro Invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

 

TEXT: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2018

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 9, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

As you know in 1776 America was an overwhelmingly Protestant country.

But as time passed millions of Catholics began to immigrate in search of

new opportunities and freedom.

They found both of those, but they also found prejudice against them

—both because of their foreign habits and accents,

and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.

So many times they had to fend for themselves

—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,

and schools for their children.

 

And most of that time this assistance was organized by and in the Church.

Great Catholics like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann,

and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,

founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,

by simply helping their neighbor out when they needed a break.

Mr. Giuseppe ran a tab for Mrs. Scalese at the grocery store

—he knew she’d pay when she could.

And Mrs. O’Boyle let the whole Murphy family move into her house

when Mr. Murphy died in a mining accident.

 

As time has passed that same attentiveness to public acts of mercy and charity

has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,

but it’s gradually been translated in very different ways.

As Catholics came to have more and more of a political voice,

we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions

to the problems of healthcare and poverty,

programs like

Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and aid to dependent children.

 

At the same time, as Catholics also became more economically prosperous,

they also became very supportive, financially,

of great Catholic charitable institutions

—building a huge system of first class Catholic

hospitals, schools and universities,

and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities

.

 

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics

—it is a great expression of the honest and deep-rooted Christian desire

to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,

who cured the sick, who “made the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

We can be proud of ourselves.

 

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,

and even a loss of true charity.

First there’s the danger of taking charity, an act of love,

and turning it over to bureaucrats.

I mean no disrespect to so many good folks who work hard

in government sponsored social welfare programs.

But even these folks have to admit that that there’s way too much bureaucracy,

which not only inhibits their effectiveness,

but can often also transform charity from an act of love

into an act of cold administration.

One way to counter that problem is the way Catholics have so often:

by directly supporting Catholic organizations,

like the Little Sister of the Poor,

who work with minimal administrative hassle,

and with the loving touch of Christ Himself.

 

But, I must admit, even that doesn’t address the problem that most concerns me.

Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,

or giving a check to the good sisters,

giving money is not enough to satisfy the Christian duty to give charity.

 

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:

“Jesus  went …into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to Him a deaf man who had a speech impediment….”

He put His finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;

…and said to him, “Ephphatha!”“Be opened!”

 

Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?

He’s God— He doesn’t have to go someplace to perform a miracle:

remember the words of the Roman centurion,

who asked Jesus to cure his servant, but then added,

in words we now quote, or paraphrase at every Mass:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,

but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”

Why does Jesus go to the man?

And why does Jesus touch the man, why does He speak to a deaf man?

He doesn’t have to do or say a thing to heal, He just has to will it—but He does?

Why does He do all this?

 

There are two basic reasons.

The first is to give us an example of love,

Christ has the power to heal from far away, but He chooses to go to the deaf man

to show that He, Jesus, personally loves that man.

 

We also have a power similar to Christ’s, although not as mysterious:

we also don’t have to go to people to help them,

we can simply write a check for a large amount of money,

money that seems to perform miracles for people

—people far away, that we never actually see in person.

Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where

that money in a way translates into human love,

by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.

But in the end, does it communicate your love?

In the end have you really given your love—or have you just given money?

 

The thing is, your act of love is not just necessary for the poor or sick person

—its necessary for you also!

God created you to give yourself, not just to give a check.

You can never be happy, you can never become what God created you to be,

you can never be like Jesus Christ,

if you do not personally give your love to those in need of it.

 

_____

The other reason Jesus personally healed the sick was,

to show that He was the messiah that the prophets had foretold,

and that He had the power of God Himself.

As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:

“Here is your God,…

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,

the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

By showing this power, people begin to listen to him, and that’s what He wanted.

It’s no mistake that Jesus says out loud to the man who can’t even hear Him:

Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”

By performing this miracle of love,

the ears and hearts and minds of this man and his friends

would now be open to hear Him.

 

One of the problems with sending money

and letting other people do our charitable work

it that it can totally remove Christ and His power from the picture.

This is a huge problem with lots of organizations that help those in need,

especially with government social programs.

A government social worker can’t even say “God bless you,”

much less explain that the love of Christ

is the reason they’re doing their job.

And even some  so-called “catholic charities” have the same problem:

we sadly read all too often some otherwise good Catholic organization

is giving funds to abortion providers,

taking Christ completely out of their work with that.

 

_____

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,

and we, individually, are the members of the Body.

You are his hands, you are his fingers.

He sends you out to show not only your love, but also His love, and His power.

He sends you to be like the people in today’s Gospel,

who couldn’t help but tell everyone about His power.

 

Now, this doesn’t mean that you all have to

volunteer to work full-time or even part time with some charity

–although neither is a bad idea.

But it does mean that when opportunities arrive to show the mercy of Christ in

your life, you must do so.

Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,

every day Jesus brings someone to you who needs his mercy.

 

Sometimes this is in small things:

maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,

so you stop to tell them a joke;

or a friend is in the hospital and you go to visit.

Sometimes its’ in larger matters:

maybe your elderly parents are having a hard time taking care of themselves,

so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;

or maybe your neighbor’s lost his job, even his home,

and you let his family live in the basement apartment

your parents used to live in.

 

_____

Great acts of charity are a vital part of the history of the Catholic Church,

especially in America.

I hope that you will continue that great tradition.

But not simply by writing checks to Catholic charitable institutions.

But first and foremost by giving yourself:

your time, your presence, your sweat, your patience, your love.

Remember that the power of the check book cannot communicate your love,

and you cannot personally communicate Christ’s love through cash.

Hear what Christ is telling you in Scripture today: “Ephphatha, be opened.”

And open yourselves up to live in the charity of Christ, every day, every moment.

Twenty third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lighting and Murals. I’m getting lots of positive feedback about the new lights. I hope the settings we’ve come up with are okay with everyone: we dimmed some of the lights and turned off others so that the Church won’t be too bright all the time. So no more wisecracks about “sunglasses.”
As far as the Murals… Recall that there will eventually be two murals in the new arches we built above the statues/shrines of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother. In accord with our agreement, the artist is still working on a project for another parish in Washington, so the first of our two paintings will not be completed until sometime between March and May of 2019, and the second painting should then be completed sometime between August and October of 2019. I have not decided if we will install the first one when it is finished, or if we will wait to install it when the second is also finished.
Our artist is Henry Wingate, who has done various pieces for several churches. You can see examples of his work on his website: http://henrywingate.com.
Recall, the painting over St. Joseph (the “first painting”) will be the depiction of St. Raymond miraculously sailing away from Majorca. The charcoal drawing of that painting was hung in the space a couple of weeks ago, but was taken down by the artist to use as he paints. The painting over the Blessed Mother (the “second painting”) will depict Mary appearing to St. Raymond to ask him to help found the Mercedarian Order of priests (Our Lady of Ransom, or Mercy).
The term “mural” means a painting that becomes part of the surface of a wall. However, our artist will not paint directly on the wall. Rather, he will paint on two large 20-foot canvases in his studio in the Shenandoah Valley, and bring the completed paintings to the church, fix them to 20-foot sheets of wood, lift them up to the spaces provided and mount them on the wall, framed by the arches we have added over this last summer.

Parish Tax to “the Diocese.” As many of you are aware, 8% of our Sunday (and Holy Day) Offertory Collections goes to the Bishop to pay for the Diocesan offices and Diocesan-wide programs. This “cathedraticum” is standard procedure in most dioceses.
Some have asked me if it is possible to give to the parish without the parish having to pay that “tax” on their donation—they want to make separate donations to the “Diocese,” e.g., through the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal.
So to be clear, if you put a donation in the special “Maintenance Fund” envelope (or otherwise indicate that on your check) or use the similar designation with Faith Direct, that donation will not be subject to the 8%. Also, if you make a donation separately from the offertory collection, e.g., if you donate to a capital campaign (like the Lighting and Murals), or if you mail in a check directly to the office, that amount is also not subject to the 8% tax.

CCD/Religious Education Starts Tonight! Don’t forget that CCD/Religious Education begins tonight, tomorrow, and Tuesday. Catholic parents have no greater obligation than to teach their children their faith—if you don’t do it now, you can count on them leaving the Church when they finish high school. And then what will happen to their lives, and to their souls after death? SO IF YOU LOVE THEM (and I know you do) BRING THEM TO CLASS, and support our efforts to support your efforts to pass on the faith to your kids.
As always, I’m especially excited about our High School program. Do you want your kids going to college with an 8th grader’s understanding of their Catholic faith and morals? Of course not. So we offer them these challenging and interesting classes to help:
9th Grade: “Basic Catholicism.” Delores Nelson returns for her third year and will be assisted again by Claudia Lopez. “Mrs. Nelson” is one of the most gifted, loving and inspiring Catechists in the Diocese—all her students love her and learn from her. With a Masters in Theology, for 16 years she was DRE at St. Andrew’s, is a frequent speaker at conferences, and conducts catechist training sessions. Using Basic Catholicism as a springboard, Mrs. Nelson tackles the tough moral subjects with her students, so they are better prepared to deal with the immorality of the culture in which they live.
11-12th Grade: “Catholicism and Ethics.” Our excellent experienced and certified team of Catechists, Mike Connolly and Don Jarvis, return this year with a renewed and enhanced curriculum to help our young people to explain and defend their faith to others.
10th Grade, First Semester: “Sacred Scripture” and Second Semester: “Church History.” Brittany Doucette and Doug Maines team up again this year. Brittany has extensive experience as youth minister, editor, school teacher, catechist, and conference speaker. She holds a Masters in Theology, Advanced Catechist certification and is currently teaching Middle School Religion at the Basilica School of St. Mary in Alexandria.

Sunday Confessions. One thing I really like about our parish is the Sunday morning Confessions. But, please remember that we have only 2 priests assigned to the parish, and usually one of them is offering Mass, and sometimes the other is unavailable due to illness, vacation, etc.. Also, sometimes a priest will start confessions late (less than 30 minutes before Mass) because his other obligations have detained him (including greeting parishioners after Mass, which I consider very important). In any case, even when confessions start late, confessions should normally end once Mass has begun (the priest may extend this, but that should not be taken for granted, and they should never go later than the start of the Gospel).
Also, while all are welcome, these confession times are provided specifically to meet the genuine needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days, especially for those who have a specific need to go to confession before Sunday Mass. This means you should not plan to go to confession on Sunday merely because it is more convenient than some other day/time, or to make a merely devotional confession. Parents, in particular, if you follow the admirable practice of monthly family confessions, please do this on Saturdays or Wednesdays, but not on Sunday mornings. (Of course, if the line is short on Sunday, then feel free to take advantage, but be considerate of other’s needs).
Thank you for your patience, and for going to confession!

Parish Celebration Picnic. Next Sunday, September 16, is the big day for our annual picnic with a celebration of paying off the parish debt. Bishop Burbidge will celebrate the 12:15 Mass, and then stay for the picnic afterwards. Unfortunately, Fr. Gould will not be able to join us after all, having another commitment to tend to (argh!!!). But Fr. Daly will join us as will Fr. Joseph Okech Adhunga, AJ, who was in residence here for many years. I look forward to seeing all of you there!

Communion Rail. I think it went great last week! Seems like folks really appreciated it. Thanks for everyone’s cooperation.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 2, 2018

22nd  Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 2, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

“From within people, from their hearts,

come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,

adultery, greed, malice, deceit,

licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly…”

And He adds,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

 

Sad to say, that sounds like a list drawn up to describe

certain cardinals and bishops and priests caught up

in the abuses, lies and unchastity reported in the news the last few weeks.

As we continue to struggle with that scandal,

I was hoping not to have to address that this week,

but to preach about something a little more spiritual or uplifting this week.

 

But then came Archbishop Vigano’s statement and all uproar about that.

So, I’m back to square one.

 

For those of you who aren’t keeping up with the news,

about a week ago the former papal nuncio, or the Pope’s Ambassador,

to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano,

issued an 11-page statement that proports

to shed new light today’s scandals.

Included in this, were accusations that top Vatican officials, whom he named,

are involved in what he calls a ‘homosexual current” in the hierarchy,

and that they knew about McCarrick’s abuses for over a decade.

He also stated that in 2010 Pope Benedict secretly punished

the retired McCarrick by prohibiting him from exercising public ministry

and requiring him to live a life of seclusion and penance.

But then, Vigano says, when Pope Francis was elected

Francis lifted those sanctions and made McCarrick his trusted advisor,

in spite of the fact that he, Vigano,

had personally told Pope Francis all about McCarrick’s abuses.

So, he says, Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s’ behavior for five years,

and not only didn’t punish him, but effectively promoted him.

 

Now, these are just accusations, they’re not proven.

And such accusations against Pope is almost unprecedent in modern times.

And, if this were just some rumor, it would quickly be dismissed.

But this accusation is coming from an archbishop who before his retirement

had held numerous high offices in the Vatican,

he was the governor of the Vatican City State,

and sort of the head of all the papal ambassadors in the world,

before coming to the United States.

And when he was here, he was revered by American bishops

as a man of integrity and truthfulness—and he still is.

 

And he states that most of what he says is documented

in the files in the Vatican and Washington,

and can be corroborated by others.

 

So the charges are credible:

in fact, if an accusation with this level of credibility were leveled at a priest

he would be immediately suspended from office, pending investigation.

So, even if, hopefully, they’re wrong, they cannot be ignored,

even though the Holy Father seems to be trying to do just that.

 

____

So what do we do?

First, as I I’ve said before, we rally together, we do not run away.

We stand and fight for Jesus and the Church He founded—the Catholic Church. Because we place our faith and hope in them,

not in the mere men who are the princes of the Church.

 

But we also try to see all this in the context of the fullness of our Catholic faith.

In fact, we try to see how our faith has prepared us

specifically for moments like this.

 

_____

Since many of us were babies, every time we’ve entered the Church

the first thing we’ve done is to make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves.

And almost every time we’ve prayed as Catholics, we’ve done the same thing:

made the Sign of the Cross.

And every time we begin Mass and end Mass, the same thing.

And every Catholic Church, and almost every Catholic home has a Crucifix in it.

In fact, the center of the whole Mass, and so the center of our Sunday worship,

the Eucharist, which we believe is

first and foremost a re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross.

So St. Paul tells us:

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

but we preach Christ crucified….”

 

The Cross, and more clearly, the Crucified Body of Jesus,

is at the center of our faith.

Now, of course, we know that Jesus Rose and Ascended to Heaven.

But all that comes from the Cross: the Crucifixion changed everything.

 

The thing is… the Crucifixion took place at a specific point in historical time,

from noon to 3 o’clock on a particular date in March or April

around the year 30AD.

But in another sense, it also took place in eternity.

Because in Jesus, the Eternal God became man,

He is the nexus or meeting of earthly time and heavenly eternity.

So that while the Cross took place in time,

but it is also eternal and timeless.

 

Which why we are able to benefit from it 2000 years later.

And it’s how Jesus could die not just for the sins of people alive at His time,

but the sins of all people of all times,

the sins of Adam and Eve in the beginning,

and the sins of you and me in 2018.

And so we look to the Crucified Body of Jesus

and in the wounds and the blood and the spittle

we see the effects of all the sins of all times and places.

 

__

But when we look to the Crucified Body of Jesus we also see something else:

we remember what St. Paul repeatedly tells us:

that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth.

So in the bloody, beaten, and pierced Body of Jesus, we see His Church as well.

And not just today, but everyday for the last 2000 years.

 

For ever since Calvary the Church has been persecuted

from both within and without, just as Jesus was.

And so, few months after the Crucifixion and Ascension,

when St. Paul was going to Damascus to persecute the Christians there,

a voice spoke to him saying:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?…

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

 

So we see ourselves, and the whole Church, as the Body of Christ,

always on the Cross.

 

____

Now let’s think, who was there at the Crucifixion 2000 years ago?

One of the saddest truths of that day was that

there was only 1 of the 12 Apostles standing there—St. John.

Even sadder and more terrible still, was that one of the 12 was not there

because he’d killed himself after he had betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot.

 

Think about that: 1/12th of the apostles, about 8%.

So 8% betrayed Jesus completely,

but also, only 8% stood with Jesus completely.

So why would we be surprised today if as many as 8% of the cardinals,

or 17 cardinals,

would betray Jesus today,

or if only 17 stood solidly, bravely with Him?

I’m not saying this is the case today numerically,

just that it shouldn’t completely surprise us, if it was.

It should make us angry and maybe depressed

—just as the thought of the betrayal of Judas

and the solitariness of John does at the Cross.

But, it could happen, despite God’s best laid plans.

 

And why isn’t St. Peter, the first pope, there at the Cross?

Even though he didn’t betray Jesus, he did deny Him after the fact.

So why should it surprise us that in the last 2000 years

we’ve even had popes who went bad.

I think of Pope St. Stephen VI;

newly elected he ordered that his predecessor’s body

should be dug up from his grave, dressed up as pope,

put on the papal throne and tried for all sorts of crimes and heresies;

and then he dumped his body in the Tiber River.

That’s a  bad pope.

 

Or of Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope, who had several mistresses,

and 9 illegitimate children, one of whom he made a cardinal.

Or of Pope Leo X, whose decadence was so bad,

the whole Church,

it set off Martin Luther and the whole Protestant Revolt, or “Reformation,”

in the 16th century.

 

Now, I’m not trying to scandalize you, but it’s there.

And popes sin, right from the beginning

—some popes obviously worse than others.

 

And where were the other apostles?

They hadn’t betrayed or denied Jesus, but they were afraid of suffering with Him.

So they kept their heads down, safe in the locked doors of the upper room.

So, why should we be surprised today

if many otherwise good cardinals and bishops and priests,

also choose to keep their heads down,

and say and do nothing that would cause them to suffer with Jesus.

Again, that should make us angry, and disappoint us,

but it should not surprise us:

in the beginning 84% of the bishops and priests did that.

 

__

So only John was there, and the other 11 apostles were not.

But who else was there?

Scripture tells us that the faithful women were also there at the foot of the Cross.

In particular Mary Magdalene, the great sinner who became the great saint.

To me, she represents all the lay people of the Church today,

who despite being sinners, truly strive to be saints,

and when in their weakness they fail, repent and constantly try again.

That doesn’t make them hypocrites;

hypocrites are people who say, “you do this, but I can do that.”

This just makes them Catholics who want to be saints.

 

Magdalene and the holy women did not run

from the suffering of the Body of Christ, even when 11 apostles did.

They were not afraid or embarrassed by the wounds in his precious flesh,

they did not hide in shame in the face of mockery.

They wept and moaned, and perhaps they felt angry and confused,

You weep and moan and are angry and confused today.

But you must not run and hide in embarrassment or shame,

but rather, like the Magdalene and the others,

stand with Jesus and His Church, on the Cross.

 

____

So we look at the Cross, and we see today’s Church.

The bloody, torn and spit upon Body of Christ.

But for Christians, whenever we see the Crucifixion,

we should also always see and understand it

in the light of the Resurrection and Ascension.

Just as part of the Church suffers on earth,

another part of the Church is already glorified in Heaven.

And just as the Body of Christ rose from the dead and walked the earth,

we also see the Body of Christ gloried even on earth today,

as it preaches of the truth about God and man

and struggles to live out that truth in the lives of ordinary Catholics.

And we see it glorified in the sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist,

as the Crucified Jesus pours out his strength, peace and forgiveness

on the members of his Body.

 

And we see that glory as sinners, like Mary Magdalen,

become devoutly in love with Jesus.

And we see it as a few cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests

are not afraid to publicly stand with Christ and the Truth,

at the foot of Cross even when it means suffering.

 

___

Who else is at the foot of the Cross, standing with Jesus?

Of course, Mary, His Mother.

Mary is always with Jesus when He needs her.

She was there when He was a needy baby and growing boy.

And she was there when He needed her on the Cross.

And she is with Him now bodily, in the glory of heaven,

and she is here with us, as His body continues to suffer on earth.

She would never abandon Jesus, and she would never abandon us.

____

As I mentioned before, the Church teaches that

the Eucharist is first and foremost the sacrifice of the Cross.

And so we come here every Sunday, not simply to pray or to hear God’s word,

but to stand at the foot of the Cross

—and to be united with the Body of Christ Crucified in the Eucharist.

With Mary, we unite our suffering to Jesus’s suffering on the Cross:

as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

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

–this is your true and proper worship.”

All the suffering we endure, and all the good we do.

And he unites ours to His, and His to ours.

 

___

My dear brothers and sisters, my sons and daughters in Christ,

today we can’t get past the suffering inflicted on us

by too many bad priests, bishops and cardinals.

And we are confused and frightened by the accusations against our Holy Father,

and pray they are not true.

But no matter what, we will not give up hope or faith,

we will not turn and run and hide.

 

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

and kneel at the foot of the Cross of Christ

made really substantially present on the altar,

let us stand with John, and Magdalen and Our Mother Mary,

and join them in uniting all our sufferings to His.

And in Holy Communion,

let our unity with Jesus and His Church be strengthened,

as one Body of Christ, suffering and glorified,

filled with every grace and blessing, every peace and virtue,

that flows from the pierced Heart of Jesus.

TEXT: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018

21st  Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 26, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s gospel begins by telling us:

“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?””

What exactly is the hard saying they’re talking about?

To understand the question we have to remember that for the last 5 weeks

we’ve been reading from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel

—one of the most important

and yet most misunderstood or neglected chapters in the bible.

 

5 weeks ago, we began with the feeding of the 5000

—the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.

Then we moved into what is often called the “bread of life discourse”

—Jesus’ explanation about how to “have eternal life.”

We must eat his “flesh,” which “is the bread of life.”

That’s the hard saying.

 

It’s interesting that while the miracle of the multiplication of loaves

is reported in all 4 gospels,

only St. John reports the bread of life discourse.

Now, some say this discrepancy is because John made the whole thing up

—that Jesus never really said it.

But this is absurd.

As St. John writes at the very end of his Gospel:

“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things,

and who has written these things;

and we know that his testimony is true.”

 

What really happened is that John was the longest living of all the apostles

—he died at a ripe old age, maybe when he was 90 years old,

maybe as late as the year 100 AD.

And so he wrote his Gospel many years after the others,

maybe 30 or more years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke,

—and so it’s almost certain that he’d read them,

since they were widely circulated.

On top of that, we know that John’s Gospel is the most theologically profound

—perhaps because of all the years he’d had to think about it,

or perhaps because of his unique closeness to Christ

when he was on earth,

he was, after all, called “the beloved disciple.”

 

So after having lots of time to think and pray over the life of Jesus,

and reading what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written,

he wrote down his own recollection

—not making things up, not correcting the others,

but recording things he’d come to understand

were much more important than maybe they first appeared.

 

In particular, John came to focus on the central importance

of mystery of the Incarnation.

And so he begins his whole Gospel, by explaining:

          “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

Through him all things were made… In him was life.”

And then he concludes:

“the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

 

The Incarnation—the taking of flesh by the life-giving God

—is at the heart of John’s understanding of the Gospel.

And so, while Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded the multiplication of loaves,

and did so not only to impress us with Jesus power,

but also to help us understand Jesus giving us the Eucharist,

in chapter 6, of his Gospel John says, in effect,

‘but don’t forget what Jesus said after he multiplied the loaves:’

I am the bread of life….and the bread that I will give

is my flesh for the life of the world.”

 

Again, some people want to see this as John making something up

to make a point.

Still others today want to say it really happened,

but Jesus is talking in merely symbolic language.

John probably had encountered people like this in his own time.

And so years after Christ’s death,

and probably after years of hearing some arguing that Jesus had just

been speaking metaphorically about His flesh and the bread,

John finally sits down and writes to the whole Church

and very carefully reports

that Jesus Himself insisted they were wrong.

 

And so John writes, at Verse 53:

“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,

“How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”

Now, think about this: His followers think he’s talking about real food.

They don’t think He’s talking in symbols:

that spiritual grace is like food, or perhaps that His teaching is like food.

They’re upset because He sounds like a cannibal

“How can this man give us [his own] flesh to eat?”

 

And how does Jesus respond?

He doesn’t change His teaching—He doesn’t say,

“no, no, I’m only talking in symbols”:

No: “Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood,

you do not have life within you.”

 

Now, in the original Greek the word He uses here for “eat

is very descriptive of physical eating: the Greek word “trogo

doesn’t translate as “consume” or “sup upon”

but to physically “chew” or “gnaw.”

He’s saying, ‘you’re right: I’m not being symbolic.’

As then He goes on to say:

“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

 

Then you can see the disciples, thinking…

“how can he do this? That’s impossible.”

Or as John writes:

“Then many of His disciples who were listening said,

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

 

How familiar these words are to us today

—we hear it all the time, maybe we say it ourselves,

even if only in the back of our minds.

It’s hard to believe that the bread Jesus gives us is His body.

But Jesus still doesn’t back down.

As John writes at verse 61:

“Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this,

He said to them, “Does this shock you?”

 

And then Jesus reminds them that they’ve seen His power

—they’ve just seen him feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread.

And He tells them there’s more to come, as John records:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending

to where He was before?

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

 

Now, some seize on Jesus’ words:

“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail,”

They try to argue He’s backing away from talk of flesh being real food

–that He’s somehow saying that,

“no, no, it’s the spirit, it’s all spiritual food, not really my flesh.”

But that would mean He’d be contradicting everything He’s been saying.

No, what He’s saying is, in effect,

“But you’re not remembering who I really am!

I am the eternal Word who created life itself

—“the words I have spoken are spirit and life.”

I multiplied the loaves to feed the bodies of 5000,

and one day you’ll see me ascending—bodily–into heaven.

I work in my body and through my body,

but don’t limit me to the power of normal human flesh.

I have spiritual power that goes way beyond human limitations.”

 

That’s what He meant

—and that’s what the people there understood Him to mean.

And that’s why they left.

As John writes:

“As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life

and no longer accompanied Him.”
Think of this—these were His disciples,

people who had believed in Him and were following him from town to town.

They’d heard His beautiful words and seen His great power.

And yet all because they could not accept this one hard saying

—because they couldn’t believe in the Eucharist—they walked away.

 

And what does Jesus do?

Does He run after them saying,

“no, no, wait, come back…you misunderstood”…?

No.

Still He won’t back down.

Instead, as St. John records:

“Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

It’s as if He’s saying,

“What about you?

Those others refuse to believe me, what about you?

You have a choice—believe this “hard saying” about eating the bread

which will be my flesh,

or you can leave too!”

Where else in the Gospels does He give such a stark choice:

“Here’s the line—which side are you on?”

 

What a terrible moment this must have been for those 12.

It was in fact a hard saying, who could believe it?

 

But then we read:

“Simon Peter answered Him,

“Master, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced

that you are the Holy One of God.”

Words. Life.

So simple.

They believe His words because they believe He is the savior,

so they have no choice:

They believe because He said so.

 

Did they understand what he meant?

I would wager no, not really, at least not completely.

But they did understand that he meant what he said.

And so they believed, and struggled to understand.

 

And almost exactly a year later that understanding took a huge leap forward,

when they sat with Jesus at the Passover supper,

on the night before He died,

remembering the first Passover, the night 1300 years before

when the Jews believed the word of the God given through Moses

and ate the flesh of the sacrificed lamb,

and God saved their lives from the angel of death

passing over Egypt

and freeing them for a new life in the promised land.

When they were at supper,

Jesus took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, and broke it,

just as He had when He multiplied the 5 loaves into 5000 loaves.

But this time He said:

“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”

And with the cup: “take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”

 

They listened to these strange but absolutely clear words of Jesus.

And they remembered the words He had said

that day after multiplying the loaves,

His words about His flesh being the bread of life,

true, or real, food that He would give them and that they must eat.

And they believed.

 

For 2000 years the Church has held fast to this belief.

And through the years, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

And contemplation on the teaching of St. John and the other apostles,

we have come to understand it better.

But all of it goes back to what Peter said—we believe, because Jesus said so.

 

Unfortunately, there have always been those

who do not side with Peter.

Of course this begins with the early disciples

who loved what Jesus had to say,

and were impressed by His power,

but left Him because they could not accept this hard saying.

 

But not all of the nonbelievers walked away.

As John tells us today:

“Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe

and the one who would betray him.”

And as he goes on to tell us at the end of Chapter 6:

“Jesus answered them,

“Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”

He was referring to Judas…Iscariot;

it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”

Judas stayed, but He did not believe.

And it seems, according to John,

that, the Eucharist was the beginning of His unbelief and betrayal.

 

Today, many followers of Jesus do not believe His words about the Eucharist.

Even those who say, “Scripture alone” and “it’s in the bible, so I believe it”

–they don’t believe what Jesus insisted on 5 times in John Chapter 6.

And even those who claim to be in the company of Peter’s successors

—many Catholics don’t believe,

even too many bishops and priests.

 

Am I saying that they are like Judas—betrayers of Jesus?

I can’t say that—only Jesus knows their hearts.

And Jesus loves them and is more merciful than you or I can even dream.

What’s more, many of them love Jesus very much.

 

But there is a line that Jesus draws.

There is a word Jesus speaks.

There is a truth Jesus insists on.

There is a gift Jesus gives.

And there is a faith in all that—a faith held and proclaimed by Peter,

and the Catholic Church for 2000 years.

Faith in the words of Jesus:

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…

you do not have life within you….

For my flesh is true food….

..The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

 

These are hard sayings.

But as we enter into this great mystery here today,

let us not allow our weak faith,

our stubborn hearts,

or our limited minds,

to lead us to abandon Christ, or to betray him

as He gives us Himself, His body, His flesh

to eat as the bread of life.

Rather let us hold firmly to the faith of Peter in the word of Christ:

“Master, ….You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe, and are convinced ….”