TEXT: 27th Sunday in Ordinary, October 8, 2017

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 8, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

October, has, for years,

been designated by the Catholic Bishops in America

as “Respect Life Month.”

So, as I have for the last 22 years,

this month, particularly today, I will preach on the topic of respecting life:

specifically, on the evil of abortion.

 

But I gotta tell you, part of me wonders: Why? What good does it do?

After all these years of 1000’s of priests, bishops and Popes,

proclaiming the Gospel of Life

so many Catholics still don’t understand

that abortion is destroying not only

the lives of millions of unborn babies, and their mothers,

but also, mankind’s fundamental respect for all aspects human life.

 

Sometimes I feel a bit like those servants we read about in today’s Gospel:

“he sent his servants to the tenants ….

But … one they beat,

another they killed,

and a third they stoned.

Again, he sent other servants…. but they treated them in the same way.”

 

Now, it’s true, no one has stoned or killed me

or any other priest I know for preaching pro-life.

True: but they’ve done worse: they don’t listen, and

continue to either support or to vote for those who support

the killing of the most innocent human beings in abortion.

 

Why don’t Catholics get it?

The last few years one particular reason seems to stand out.

It seems that sometimes we allow the term “pro-life” or “respect-life”

to have a mixed or ambiguous meaning

that winds up confusing Catholics

regarding the fundamental issues and priorities involved.

 

So, let’s clarify something: what does it mean to “respect life”?

 

Now, as Christians, we are called to respect the life of all human beings

because each one of us is created in the image of God,

and shares a unique dignity and life given by God himself.

But it doesn’t take a Christian or even a religious person to see this:

every rational human being should understand

that the life of every human being demands respect.

 

But how far do the demands of respect go?

Does respect for human life demand that if someone attacks me,

I can’t defend myself,

even if they’re trying to kill me?

What about if they’re trying to kill my children?

 

Does it mean countries can’t go to war for a grave reason,

even if their attacked or fight to liberate the oppressed?

Does it mean that we can never punish a criminal,

or deny immigration to an alien?

Going even further, does it mean you can’t provide for yourself or your family

before you provide for a stranger?

 

“Respect” is a big word, and respect for human life is very demanding.

But there are limitations.

Common sense, and the Church, teach us that there is

a certain hierarchy and order in human life, and so in the ways of respect.

For example:

we place duty to family ahead of duty to strangers,

we respect individual responsibility and free will,

and we recognize that some human choices don’t deserve respect

because they are contrary to human dignity.

 

Now, it can be very confusing to figure out all the various duties and demands

of respecting human life.

But to begin to do this we need to keep in mind the fundamentals

—the most basic and important principles

set the priority and order of everything that follows.

 

So what is the most fundamental demand of respecting human life?

It’s not to hard to figure out on our own, but again God helps us by commanding:

“thou shall not kill.”

If we look carefully at Scripture

we discover that this has a precise but pretty basic common sense meaning:

one can never ever intentionally and directly

kill an innocent human being.

Notice the three key terms: intentionally, directly and innocent.

This is the most fundamental principle of respecting human life.

And so it is absolute and without exception.

 

And as we sort of move away from situations

where this fundamental principle directly applies

we see that all the other demands of respect for life

come from it and relate back to it,

even as they become more subtle,

allowing for different non-absolute responses.

 

So, for example, the first step away might be the case of self-defense.

If someone is trying to kill you he is not innocent,

so the principle in it’s most absolute form does not apply.

You still have to respect the person’s non-innocent life,

but not at the cost of your own innocent life:

you can fight back, even taking his life to save yours.

 

Or take another step.

You’re driving at a normal speed

and suddenly someone rushes into the road and you hit him.

Respect for life requires you to try not to hit him

—but if it’s unavoidable,

if you un-intentionally hit him, you have not failed to respect his life.

 

Walk way down that road now.

Say a man comes to you demanding money for food.

You know he’s healthy and employable, but he’s lazy and chosen not to work.

If you refuse his request for help do you fail to respect life?

He was not innocent, and you did not intend for him to starve.

So respect for his life did not require that you help him.

In fact, you could reasonably argue that respect required you to scold him,

to have more respect for himself: “go get a job.”

As St. Paul says elsewhere: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.”

 

The point is: we begin with the fundamental rule, and that orders all the rest.

And the flipside of this is equally important:

if we don’t observe the fundamental rule,

none of the rest have any order or make any sense.

 

____

Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus talks about:

“a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;

the rain fell, and the floods came, and …that house, …fell.”

And in today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

The cornerstone of respecting human life

is the absolute right to life of innocent human beings.

Pull that cornerstone out, and like a house built on sand in a flood,

the whole house will fall.

 

If we don’t understand that duty to protect innocent human life,

what would ever make us think we’re required us to,

for example, feed the hungry,

even when they truly cannot help themselves?

How do we know that one nation may not attack another without a just cause?

All of our high-minded ideals of justice and duty and respect

are nonsense, if not grounded in the most simple, basic and fundamental

principle of respect for innocent life.

 

_____

And so we come to abortion, which is unarguably the killing of

the most innocent and defenseless of human beings.

And talk about abortion obviously has public and even political ramifications,

especially just one month before state elections.

 

Some people argue that there are more important issues at stake than abortion.

But what can be more important than the systematic promotion

of the abuse of most fundamental moral principle,

attacking the most fundamentally innocent?

A million abortions a year, more than 50 million in 38 years,

and millions more to come?

 

Or they say that even if abortion is the most important single issue,

lots of other smaller issues combine to outweigh it.

Some people say they show their respect for life by working for

the end of the death penalty,

health care for the uninsured,

prosperity for the poor and middle classes,

and for the rights of immigrants.

Let’s set aside the fact that good people—even Good Catholics—

can disagree about each of these issues and others like them;

for example, contrary to what some bishops and priests think,

the Church officially teaches that sometimes

the death penalty is allowed and even necessary.

But what sense do these lesser issues make

and how can we understand the right way to approach them,

if our understanding of them is not founded upon the issue:

absolute respect for the right to life of innocent human beings?

And how can we trust someone to promote and value these subsidiary issues,

when he rejects the cornerstone issue?

It’s like putting up the windows or the doors of a house

before you lay the foundation

—they’ll either blow away in the wind

or some dishonest person will come and walk off with them.

 

For example, how can we trust a politician

with making the right decision about health care rights

—a decision that embodies a true respect for life—

when the politician can’t understand that a baby’s right to health care

exists only when it has life,

that health without life is literally meaningless.

 

Some argue that we need to fix our immigration policy:

some say we need to crack down and seal the borders,

others say we need to open the borders and end alleged discrimination.

Again, contrary what some bishops and priests seem to think,

good Catholics can disagree with on this issue,

and question each other’s judgments,

but why would we think politicians

who enthusiastically embrace unquestionably unjust attacks

on the most defenseless and innocent members

of our own society—the unborn—

would avoid unjustly harming immigrants in the future?

It’s like voting for a member of the Klan

because he claims to support minority voting rights.

 

Some even argue that current economic issues require us

to ignore abortion in order to fix our fiscal house

–and I agree that our fiscal problems are hugely important.

But how do you begin to count the cost of millions of aborted innocents?

How do you weigh on a scale

10’s of millions of babies against trillions of dollars of debt?

Would you take a trillion dollars to kill your neighbor’s child?

Sounds a bit like Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver

for betraying the perfectly innocent one.

“What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

 

And in a certain sense, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 million babies or only 1 baby:

anyone who’s moral system,

whose sense of respecting human life,

promotes and defends the death of even one innocent human life

in order to achieve some perceived good of many others

is a fool and a reprobate.

This logic is nothing new:

Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Jesus to death, once said:

“it is better that one man should die for the people,

than the whole nation perish.”

One wonders if Caiaphas was in the group of “chief priests”

that Jesus was talking to in today’s Gospel.

 

____

Speaking of priests,

some of you may be tired of priests preaching about abortion.

Friends, frankly, I agree with you.

But remember how Jesus chastised the Jewish priests for their failures:

for rejecting the prophets—and him!

So as long as human life is so fundamentally disrespected by so many Catholics

that they fail to rise up with all other like-minded pro-life Americans,

and crush the plague of abortion in this country,

God Himself will continue to send His servants, His priests,

and they must do their best to try to collect what is due Him:

respect for the truth, and respect for human life.

 

_____

But priests are not the only servants He sends.

Each of you is also His servant.

So act like it, and go out into the world you live in

and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

Demand, with charity and clarity—and never with violence—

that human life be respected, especially in the most fundamental way:

respect for the life of the innocent and defenseless unborn.

And make that demand known wherever God sends you

—at home, at work, at school, at play,

and in the voting booth.

 

_____

Friends, Christ is the cornerstone of our faith and of our life itself.

And He has taught us to recognize that common sense dictates

we must respect every human being

as having a unique dignity and life given by God himself.

And He has taught us that the cornerstone of that respect for life

is respect for the right to life of the most innocent and defenseless among us.

If we would not reject Christ the cornerstone,

let us not reject this cornerstone of respect for human life.

 

TEXT: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 1, 2017

26th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 1, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This last week I was on vacation with three of my brother priests.

I had a very relaxing time, playing golf, seeing some movies, watching sports,

and just goofing off.

It’s good to get away, to put the problems of the world around us aside,

and just relax and refresh.

 

And there are a lot of problems: the world seems to be in a mess.

On a global scale,

we have the threats of Islam-ist terrorism and nuclear proliferation,

not to mention the decline of Western culture and morality in general.

On a national level, we have the problems of

rising leftist-anarchism, anti-Americanism, racism, lawlessness,

and economic hardship,

not to mention the political confusion in Washington.

On a cultural level we have attacks against

freedom of speech, conscience and religion,

as well as on traditional moral values, and common sense itself.

Not to mention the promotion of greed and envy among both the rich and poor,

the glorification of hatred and destruction of those who disagree with you,

and redefinition of the meaning of words like love and truth.

And then we have increasing problems in the Church,

as confusion spreads over teaching and the papal authority.

 

Today, the American Bishops call us to reflect on

one of the most terrible problems in a particular way:

today is “Respect Life Sunday,”

and the beginning of “Respect Life Month,”

reminding us of a fundamental problem

that is both a symptom and a cause

of so many of our other terrible cultural problems today:

that is, the scourge of abortion,

the willful murder of the most innocent human life, an unborn baby.

 

Think about it.

Abortion erodes the fundamental respect

for the dignity and worth of every human life.

If you don’t have to protect an innocent baby, who do you have to protect?

If you don’t have a right to life, what other right do you really have?

—without life, no other rights exist!

If mothers and fathers can be convinced it’s okay to kill their own children,

what is the worth and meaning of being a mother or father,

or being a family?

 

And if babies have no value, then it’s ridiculous to argue,

as society has for thousands of years,

that marriage and sex are largely about having and protecting babies

—if babies are useless, then how can marriage and sex

gain any meaning from them,

so sex and marriage have nothing to do with

the reproductive union of male and female,

and so you can have sex with or marry anyone you want

–males can marry males, mothers can marry their daughters.

And really then, sexuality, or “gender,” loses a lot of its meaning too.

 

And then of course, if babies are useless and without dignity or rights,

what could be wrong with killing unborn Black babies:

so even though Blacks make up only 13 percent of our population

35 percent of abortions in the U.S. are of Black babies.

 

Abortion, as I say, is both a symptom and a cause

of many of the other terrible problems today:

it is related to the rise of racism, sexism, pornography, homosexuality,

transgenderism, divorce, greed, envy, poverty, violence,

religious persecution,

and a general decline in patriotism and respect for the rule of law.

 

____

Of course, abortion is not the cause of every problem, directly or indirectly.

But the same things that cause abortion

also cause most of our most terrible problems

—that’s what I mean by abortion being a “symptom.”

So, abortion doesn’t cause terrorism,

but abortion and terrorism are both caused by

the same profound lack of respect for innocent human life.

 

And that in turn is rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding

of why human life is so important.

All decent people, in our guts, by our nature, by common sense,

seem to understand that innocent human life is different from other life:

human life is different, better, higher

than the life of trees, or bugs, or cows.

And innocent human life is different from non-innocent human life,

life corrupted by willful evil choices:

it’s natural, common sense, to think that

it’s okay to do violence to a person who’s about to murder your son, and not okay to do violence to a child playing on a swing.

 

But why is that—why is human life special?

Christians and Jews, and the cultures they formed all over the world,

tell us it’s because God made us different

“little less than the angels” …. “in the image and likeness of God.”

And governments throughout the last 1600 years are founded on this principle.

Even our own government, as we read in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, [common sense]

that all men are created equal, …endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life….”

 

Sadly, the world had lost sight of both

this common sense/natural understanding of the dignity of human life,

and the Judeo-Christian explanation of where it comes from.

So that is not surprising that the rise of so many of our terrible problems

we have today

coincides with the rise the rejection of traditional Christianity,

that began in the early 1900s and is reaching its new highs today.

 

Man has turned away from God,

or perhaps turned toward a different kind of god.

 

The very first Commandment of the Judeo-Christian Decalogue is:

“I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.”

More and more our society is turning away from the God of the Bible,

and even the God of the Declaration of Independence,

and turning toward other false gods.

The false gods of wealth, pleasure and selfishness.

The false god of a total license to do whatever you want.

The false god of hatred against those who disagree with you.

And most especially, the false gods of popular opinion,

or our own personal opinion.

 

And so more and more we turn away from God

and toward ourselves, as a group or as individuals.

But we are not God—and so disaster.

 

____

How do we fix this?

Well, we begin by turning back to God.

Specifically, we Christians turn back to Christ

and invite everyone we know to join us.

 

In today’s first reading St. Paul tells us:

“Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself…coming in human likeness;

…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to…death,…death on a cross.”

 

Jesus was truly God the Son, but he didn’t cling to his Divine Rights

when it was time for Him to humbly obey His Father

and become a human being to die on the Cross for us.

 

And yet we, who are merely lowly creatures created by God,

pretend to be equal to God.

 

_____

If this doesn’t change, the problems that plague us will only get worse

and destroy us—in this life and in the life to come.

But it can change.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of

a son who first tells his father “no,” “but afterwards changed his mind”

and obeyed his father.

Jesus goes on to point out that sinners can change their minds too,

and be saved.

 

And today’s first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel tells us the same thing:

“if [a man] turns from the wickedness he has committed,

and does what is right and just,

he shall preserve his life;

since he has turned away from …sins …he shall not die.”

 

Friends, what our world, nation and culture, and even our Church, needs

is for us all to turn away from the false gods we’ve created

that lead us to sins and the terrible consequences that come from them,

and to turn back to the true God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

We have to stop clinging to the false gods we have made ourselves out to be

—either individually or as a society or community—

and take on the same attitude as Jesus,

not grasping on to some ridiculously false sense of equality with God

but rather humbling ourselves, becoming obedient,

even if it means we have to suffer a little, or even a lot,

even as became “obedient to the point of death…. on a cross.”

 

We need to turn away from these false gods and turn toward the Lord,

turn toward God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ,

at whose name

“every knee should bend, …

in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

 

____

For some time now, great men in the Church have been promoting the idea

that a powerful way to remind ourselves of this “turning toward the Lord”

is to revive the centuries old tradition

of the Church of turning toward the Lord at Mass.

That is, the whole Church, people and priest, gathered at the Mass together,

turning together to face the same direction

as a sign of their unity in turning together to worship the Father,

through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

Great men from the very-white German theologian-turned-Pope, Benedict XVI,

to the very-black African pastor-turned-Prefect for Divine Worship,

Cardinal Robert Sarah,

have called us to this practice.

 

In doing so they have repeatedly pointed out

that the overemphasis on the priest turning to face the people

during the Mass

reflects our overemphasis on turning toward each other

to find the answer to our problems.

They point out how the turning together toward God in prayer,

in humility, in obedience,

can help us to regain the proper attitude of Christ,

of not clinging to a false divinity, but embracing obedience to the true God.

Symbolically recognizing that all of us, including the priest,

need to, as Ezekiel reminds us today,

turn from the wickedness we have committed.

Not to turn our backs on each other, but to turn with each other toward God.

 

____

For some time now, we’ve celebrated our Sunday 8:45 Mass this way,

where after the Prayer of the Faithful,

during the most important prayers of the Mass,

including the offering of the sacrifice and the Consecration,

the priests stands at the altar facing the same direction as the people

—we usually call it “facing east” or “ad orientem.”

Today, we expand that practice to this/the 10:30 Mass

—and will do this from now on the first Sunday of every month.

 

There are lots of reasons for doing this,

but I think this counterculture symbolism I’ve just discussed

may be the most important

—at least the most powerful on a practical level.

I know it’s not easy for everyone to get used to

—that’s why most of our Masses will continue as usual,

with the priest facing the people.

But I think that having this symbol at some of our Masses

can be a powerful reminder of the need for all of us

not to depend merely or primarily on ourselves, individually or together,

to solve our problems.

Yes, we need to work together,

but depending primarily on the power, wisdom and mercy of God.

 

_____

The world is mess—from terrorism, to sexual immorality,

to killing our own unborn babies.

And all this is because of sin—because we have made ourselves into gods.

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

let us remember that in the Eucharist we stand at the very foot of the Cross,

where Jesus once

“humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death,

even death on a cross.”

And so let us turn together toward the Lord,

either physically, or metaphorically.

So that we may leave here today and go out into our very troubled world,

always turning toward the Lord,

by taking on the attitude of Jesus,

not clinging to some false equality with God,

but humbling ourselves and becoming obedient to Him.

TEXT: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 10, 2017

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

We live in a very strange, confusing and even nonsensical time.

A time when the primary virtue often seems to be “tolerance”

but where tolerance means not merely putting up with evil,

but accepting and even embracing evil things as if they were good,

A time when “charity” is defined as

never saying anything that might offend someone else,

no matter how destructive we know their behavior to be.

A time when it sometimes seems

the only sin is recognizing someone else’s sins.

At the same time, we’re told that we can’t judge anyone else,

unless, of course we judge them as being guilty

of some offense against, for lack of a better term,

political correctness,

in which case, the all-important virtue of tolerance doesn’t apply:

it’s okay to be intolerant of these people.

We see this all around us:

from the school that recently punished a first grader

who committed the grievous crime of calling a little boy a little boy

when he wanted to be called a little girl,

to radical groups suppressing free speech on campuses.

And we even see it growing in the Church as well,

as various churchmen urge us to refrain

from preaching the hard sayings of Jesus, lest we offend someone,

and risk causing them to feel excluded from the life of the Church.

 

We sometimes call this “political correctness,”

but all too often that term is much too benign a description,

as more and more it involves the enshrinement lies and ignorance,

often through violent coercion.

 

____

But all this runs directly against the complete message of Scripture

Over and over again Scripture tells us that we must judge the actions of others

—not in the sense of deciding who’s going to heaven or hell:

only God does that

– but we must make objective judgments about good and evil,

including in the actions of other people.

 

Today’s first reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel tells us:

“If…you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,

the wicked shall die for his guilt,

but I will hold you responsible for his death.”

Here and elsewhere Scripture makes it very clear

that we have to recognize sins around us,

and that we cannot merely silently tolerate or accept them.

 

And yet often people try to take the Scripture out of context

and twist the words of Jesus to justify tolerance or acceptance of sins.

One of the most common examples is pointing out that

Jesus ate and drank with all sorts of people,

even the “Gentiles and tax collectors”,

and they try to use this to convince us that Jesus

was always accepting of the sins of sinners.

But they forget that when the pious Jews complained to Jesus

about his eating with people who were clearly, objectively, leading sinful lives

that the Law of Moses required to be shunned by the community,

Jesus didn’t rebuke them for being intolerant,

telling them that they should “get over it,”

but instead he said:

“People who are in good health do not need a doctor;

sick people do.

I have come to call not the self-righteous, but sinners.”

Christ judged the tax collectors to be sinners

—and He compared them to sick people

–there was something wrong with them

that needed to be cured.

 

Some are confused by this: and they point to texts

like today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“[The] commandment[s] …are summed up in this saying, namely,

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ”

Love does no evil to the neighbor;

hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

They argue that being “judgmental” and “intolerant” isn’t loving,

and loving is all that really matters.

 

But St. Paul doesn’t equate love with making other people feel good,

or avoiding making them feel bad.

He’s not saying we don’t have to keep the commandments

if the alternative feels better.

He’s saying that the commandments themselves tell us what true love really is:

it’s not loving to commit adultery—no matter how good it feels;

it’s not loving to kill or steal

—no matter how many problems it might solve for you or your loved ones.

 

St. Paul tells us: “Love does no evil to a neighbor”

Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus tells us:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

… sick and …you did not visit me.’

…’Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,

you did it not to me.’

Is it loving to just stand by and let your neighbor starve to death?

No!

Well then how is it loving to just stand by and let your neighbor

be destroyed by evil, and maybe go down the road to hell?

 

By not doing something to help—isn’t that the same as doing evil?

An intentional “sin of omission.”

If your brother is sick, you have an obligation to help him.

The very least you can do is tell him—warn him–that he’s sick,

even if he doesn’t want to hear it!

 

How many times do we not love our neighbors —truly love them—

enough to even, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

“go and tell him his fault.”

Not with hate or contempt or self-righteousness,

but with genuine compassion and patience and a depth of love

that isn’t seen in the cowardice of the easy way out of silent tolerance.

In love, I would not tolerate cancer in my brother,

—and I will not tolerate sin in my brother’s life.

Instead, with patience, prudence, and in love, I must, as Ezekiel tells us,

“speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,

… trying to turn him from his way”

It doesn’t matter if it makes you feel uncomfortable, or even afraid.

We must obey Jesus, who is love Himself,

and loves more purely and completely than all of mankind combined,

but tells us, if you love your brother:

“If your brother sins…go and tell him his fault ….”

 

_____

Sometimes our lone voice isn’t enough to convince the people we’re close to

that what their doing is seriously wrong or evil.

And so, Jesus goes on to tell us:

“…. If he does not listen [to you alone],

take one or two others along with you.”

But sometimes not even the voice of even all of our family and friends

is enough to wake us up to the dangerous presence of sin in our lives.

And so, Jesus goes on to tell us:

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.

If he refuses to listen even to the church,

then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

 

The Church sometimes teaches things that are very unpopular

—unpopular but true—

but all She is doing is “hearing” what God says,

and “warning” His children, Her children.

Most of the time the Church warns Her children very gently, like a tender Mother:

gently, but firmly, and clearly.

But sometimes, when necessary, Holy Mother Church warns Her children

by being very strong and strict with them:

and sometimes She is even forced to cut them off

from full communion with the Church.

For example,

she denies Holy Communion to any person in the state of mortal sin

especially public sinners who

publicly obstinately persist in grave manifest sin,

such as pro-abortion Catholic politicians,

divorced and civilly remarried Catholics,

and Catholics in so called same-sex marriages.

She even sometimes excommunicates some of her children,

whether it’s a theologian spreading the poison of heresy,

or someone involved in the abortion of an unborn baby.

In love, and as a last desperate resort, she treats them,

according to Jesus’ own specific instructions,

just as God commanded the Jews to treat “a Gentiles or a tax collector”

—as outcast from the community.

But at the same time she also treats them as Jesus treated

“a Gentile or a tax collector”

she goes to them over and over and calls them, in true love,

to recognize their sins, and to amend their lives, and in the love of Christ,

to receive his wonderful forgiveness and reconciliation

—with Himself and with His Bride, the Church.

 

____

As the saying goes: even the devils can quote Scripture.

But we must not to be misled by people

who quote one or two lines of Scripture out of context

or twist common sense beyond all recognition.

Instead, we must not be afraid or intimidated into forsaking

the truth and the complete message of revelation.

In a culture that is more and more confused about

the true meaning of love and tolerance,

we must always love our neighbor enough

to never confuse

love with the silent toleration of evil.

Because the Lord who loves us and calls us to love each other,

and to help each other, is not confused at all.

He tells us very simply:

“If …you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,

I will hold you responsible for his death.”

because: “Love does no evil to the neighbor.”

TEXT: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 3, 2017

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 3, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

A couple of weeks ago I took a vacation,

driving out to the Midwest to see some family.

When I got back I realized something remarkable:

for 7 days, I had largely avoided all TV and radio,

and even the internet, for the most part.

It was one of the most relaxing things about my vacation.

 

Doesn’t it seem that nowadays we’re constantly inundated from all directions

with new information and ideas.

Much of that information is very useful.

But much of it is useless, and some of it is even destructive.

 

How often do we ever stop to think about what we’re learning

and how its shaping who we are?

Are we shaping our minds with the merely human wisdom of this age,

or are we renewing our minds with the Wisdom of God.

 

Think about it:

for example, how much time do you spend in front of a TV set?

And yet, since we often watch TV to relax,

think of how much “human wisdom” you, or your family,

takes in without critically evaluating the information you receive.

But most of what we see comes out of Hollywood or Madison Avenue:

do you really want them shaping the mind of you or your children?

 

And think about the internet,

and all the wronghead and even disgusting information

just a few key-strokes away.

Look at social media:

foolish, ignorant, and unprincipled people

are given a worldwide platform.

I’m a big advocate of freedom of speech, but also the freedom to listen, or not.

 

Or think about the news we receive.

A couple of years ago a survey showed that something like

90% of news reporters don’t believe in God,

but that about 90% of Americans do—and you do!

And yet we so often uncritically let all these human sources shape our minds.

 

Even the best and most impressive human wisdom is limited

–it makes mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes.

I can remember when, not so long ago, scientists were telling us

the world was about to enter a new ice age.

In the last century alone the so called “wisest” people of our time

and worked diligently on problems like

political unrest, poverty, racism, starvation and violence

and yet those problems are still around, some worse than ever.

 

____

Human wisdom, so called, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The fact is, that if we form our minds and consciences

by learning solely or even principally from human  wisdom

we’ll inevitably wind up leading a life

full of confusion, frustration, disappointment and even despair.

 

But St. Paul tells us today in his letter to the Romans,

“Do not conform yourselves to this age

but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

that you may discern what is the will of God,

what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

He “begs” us to let divine wisdom enlighten our human wisdom

so that we can begin to see and understand things as they really are.

Elsewhere, he calls this “put[ting] on the mind of Christ.”

 

____

In today’s Gospel, we find out what happens

when we use human wisdom without divine wisdom.

When Jesus tells the apostles that he has to go to Jerusalem

to suffer and be killed, St.  Peter “rebukes” Him:

“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”,

And Jesus turns on him and says

“Get behind me, Satan….

You are thinking not as God does, but as [men] do.”

Here the word “satan”, is used as the Hebrew word for “enemy“.

Now to some this is very shocking, especially since

just last week we read the text that comes right before this one

in Matthew’s Gospel

where Jesus called Peter, not his “enemy,”

but the “rock” upon which he will build his Church:

the famous text of the institution of the papacy.

How can he call Peter the rock one minute, and his enemy the next?

 

The thing is, we believe that the promise Jesus made to Peter

means that it was Christ’s will and plan to build and protect the Church,

by using the popes as a unifying source of direction and doctrine.

—what we believe and how we live out that belief.

 

But we don’t believe that everything every pope says or does is infallible dogma.

And we especially don’t believe that they can’t make mistakes

in their day to day personal life, just like the rest of us.

 

In last week’s Gospel, Peter was teaching as a pope,

stating a central dogma of our faith that he had learned from Jesus,

and that divine grace had helped him to finally understand:

proclaiming: Jesus “you are the Messiah.”

But in this week’s Gospel, he’s not so much teaching at all,

and he’s clearly not taking from what Jesus had taught him,

or being guided by divine grace.

Instead, Peter is relying on simple, basic and imminently fallible human wisdom

–and he completely blows it.

And Jesus tells him: “You are thinking not as God does, but as [men] do.”

 

In his human wisdom, Peter looks to Jerusalem

and sees only horrible suffering

and he just doesn’t want Jesus to go there.

But Jesus looks to Jerusalem with the mind of God,

and sees not only his great suffering

–and his death on the Cross–

but He also sees the plan of the Father, the wisdom of the Father,

coming to fulfillment in redemption for the children of God

and in the Resurrection.

 

___

St. Peter’s problem is the exact problem we face every day of our lives:

all too often we also don’t “thin[k] as God does, but as human beings do.”

For Peter, the issue was whether or not Christ should suffer.

For us the issues usually aren’t much different.

Christ says

“Whoever wishes to come after me

must …take up his cross, and follow me.”

But the wisdom of men doesn’t like crosses and suffering.

Rather, it often tells us that we should constantly

be seeking pleasure and avoiding personal pain.

So we see some of the so-called “wisest” people of this age

embracing things that they think will somehow end suffering:

things like abortion, euthanasia, divorce and contraception

And they tell us that pleasure is the purpose of living.

And so we live in a society immersed in

consumerism, materialism, sexual depravity, and escapism.

and driven by greed, and lust, power and selfishness.

But the wisdom of God tells us:

deny [your]self, take up [your] cross, and follow me.”

 

____

[But] How do we know if we are thinking with the human or divine wisdom?

How do we go about transforming our minds in Christ?

We begin by doing what we do when we want to know the mind of anyone:

we talk to them and spend time with them.

So to take on the mind of God we begin to by talking with him–by praying.

And by spending time just being with God.

What a great thing it is to spend time praying before our Lord

truly present in the Blessed Sacrament

—like the Psalm says today:

“So I gaze on you in the sanctuary

to see your strength and your glory.”

And we can do more than gaze:

we can be with Him by receiving Him in Holy Communion also.

 

And when we really want to know the mind of another person

we also try to find out everything we can about them from other people.

So, in putting on the mind of God, we go to Scripture and Tradition,

and the teaching of the Church.

And, by the grace of God, as we begin to prayerfully let these teachings take root,

we begin to experience the true transformation and renewal of our minds.

 

____

Some Catholics say nowadays,

that we don’t have to listen to, much less obey, Church teaching.

They say the Church and the Popes make mistakes

and that Vatican II told us we have to obey our own consciences.

It is true that many times individual priests, bishops and cardinals,

and sometimes even Popes,

make mistakes in their teaching.

But the constant teaching of the Church,

that which is passed down from the apostles

through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,

and applied and clarified through centuries of prayerful teaching

by the Church’s Popes, Councils, theologians and saints,

in that, the Church does not make mistakes,

protected as it is by Christ’s promise that

“the gates of hell shall not prevail” against it.

It’s fallible human beings in the Church,

relying on their own or others merely human wisdom,

that make mistakes.

Just like Peter did in rebuking the Lord.

 

And while it is true that we do have to obey our consciences,

the conscience of a Catholic should be nothing less than

a mind which is conformed to the wisdom of God,

not the wisdom of men.

What Vatican II really taught was that Christians:

(quote) “… must always be governed according to

a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself,

and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office,

which authentically interprets that law

in the light of the Gospel.” (close quote)

So, if the preliminary judgment of our conscience

is NOT consistent with the mind of Christ

passed on to us through centuries of official teaching of the Church,

then we know we’ve been using human wisdom

and not the Wisdom of God.

 

We call this the “proper formation of conscience.”

But this forming of conscience, does not happen overnight:

it is a steady process, the result of a concerted effort

to pray, to spend time with the Lord

and to learn all we can about the teachings of the Church.

So, it must begin as early as possible: from the first moments of childhood.

And it must begin at home, with the family.

It begins with daily family prayer,

moms and dads gathered with their kids and with the Lord,

teaching them their Catholic prayers,

and that the Lord listens to their prayers.

Praying before meals, before bed, for particular needs.

Praying the family rosary and coming to Mass together every Sunday

… so many ways to pray as a Catholic family.

 

And it begins by parents teaching their children about Jesus and His Church.

Do you ever just talk about Jesus at the table?

Do talk about the day’s events in the light of the Gospel and Church teaching? When you’re in the car driving home from Mass on Sunday

do you talk about the readings, or the homily, or about the Eucharist?

When someone makes fun of your son or daughter at school

do you remind them that they made fun of Jesus too, and even killed Him,

but then He rose from the dead?

 

____

Last week, parents sent their kids back to school.

Ask yourself: does the school you send your kids to

teach them to conform to merely human wisdom?

Or does it help them transform their minds to think as God does?

And if you get the wrong answer to those questions, what are you doing about it?

Have you thought of changing schools, or homeschooling?

Or at least making concerted systematic effort at home to counter the problem?

 

Do you make the effort to bring them to CCD, Religious Education,

so they can spend at least an hour learning what the Church teaches,

after spending multiple hours at school learning what the world teaches?

And do you make sure they do their CCD homework

with the same diligence as their Math homework?

 

____

Almost every moment of our lives, we learn something.

But when we learn, what do we learn?

Do we form our minds and consciences by the eternal truth of God’s mind,

or merely the fallible opinions of men?

Do we imitate Peter as he listens to the mind of the Father and teaches:

“You are the messiah,”

or when he listens to his own weak human wisdom,

and gets rebuked by Christ: “Get behind me, Satan!”

 

____

We live in an age of much information and great human learning.

This can often be a great blessing.

But we must remember:

not all information is true or helpful,

and merely human learning can often be terribly flawed,

and even destructive in its error.

Today as we come together to pray,

to gaze on and receive Our Lord in the Sanctuary,

and to listen to his word,

let may these words of St. Paul be seared into our minds and hearts:

“Do not conform yourselves to this age

but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

that you may discern what is the will of God,

what is good and pleasing and perfect.”