TEXT: 1st Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

8/9 days ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, millions of Americans

crowded the malls and stores all across the country,

or went online to Amazon and other sites

to be the first to take advantage of sales and specials,

and get that perfect gift at the perfect price.

All in the name of the so-called the beginning of the “Christmas Season.”

Of course, it wasn’t the Christmas Season—that begins on December 25th.

And it wasn’t even the beginning of the Advent Season—that begins today.

 

In any case, what does all this frenetic fixation on buying and selling

have to do with Christmas or Advent?

Not much.

And yet it is an example of what will go on for many people

throughout Advent: a fixation on material things

all in the name of preparing for Christmas.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong: buying presents isn’t a sin.

In fact, it can be a very good part of Christmas—

they can be an important way of sharing God’s love.

But making presents and other things

the main focus of Advent and Christmas can become a sin.

And to a greater or lesser extent,

it’s a sin that tends to effect most of us every year, in one way or another.

So that the words of Isaiah in today’s 1st reading apply to us:

“we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.”

 

___

According to St. Augustine, sin is a

turning away from the Creator [God]

and turning toward the creature,” the things created by God.

Whether that “creature” is a new 60” plasma flat screen television,

or the latest Xbox,

or even a human being we see as a mere thing, or object, to use,

sin always relates to loving the things God created,

more than we love God.

 

Advent is a time to turn away from sin, and re-turn toward loving God.

And this idea of “turning to God” is at the heart of today’s Gospel text,

where 4 times Jesus tells his disciples to “watch”.

Watch for God, watch for Jesus.

To keep our eyes searching for him,

and once we find him, keep our eyes fixed on him.

 

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is what usually happens:

these weeks before Christmas have become a time when it’s so easy

to allow our eyes to stray,

searching after and fixing on the material gifts of Christmas.

 

But to help counter being distracted by material gifts,

perhaps we can allow ourselves to be attracted

by the spiritual gifts that Christ has given us.

As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:

“I give thanks ….for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,

…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

 

_____

Think about how in the next few weeks you’ll bring out

so many Christmas decorations

and even the Christmas-y clothes

that you’ve received as gifts on past Christmases.

Like the Christmas tree ornaments your children made for you

when they were little,

or the special Santa Claus sweater Mom gave you

before she passed away,

or the diamond earrings your husband gave you

on your first Christmas together.

Good. Do that.

 

But why shouldn’t we also take out the even greater gifts

we’ve received through past Christmases?

–the graces brought to us through the birth of the Christ child

2000 years ago?

The sacramental grace made possible by that Christmas

and given to you in your baptism

and renewed every time you received Holy Communion,

and in each of the other sacraments.

The grace of hearing God’s word,

of being a member of His Body, the Church

and sharing in His life.

The particular graces He’s given you whenever you asked for His help

to be strong and righteous.

All made possible by the first Christmas, and so all gifts of Christmas past.

 

Bring out these gifts now also.

And allow them to help you to “watch” for the coming of Christ.

 

__

Think of the most precious material gifts you’ve received for past Christmases

—the gifts you really “loved” the most,

and either remember most vividly

and in one way or another—physically or in memory—

take out every year at this time.

But ask yourself:

is it the gift itself, or the person behind the gift

that makes the gift so special?

Ladies, those diamond earrings—is it diamonds,

or the love of your husband they represent that means more to you?

Dads, are those tree ornaments all that beautiful,

or is it your memory of your darling children who gave them to you?

Sons and daughters, young or old,

was that first bike you ever got so awesome,

or is it your memories of mom or dad giving it to

and teaching you how to ride

that means so much?

 

St. Paul tells us today:

“you were called to fellowship with …Jesus Christ our Lord.”

As with all gifts, this is the key to the spiritual gifts God has given us:

not the gift itself, as wonderful as it is,

but the person who gives the gift.

The Giver not the gift, the Creator not the creature.

 

So this season of Advent must be a season

of turning away from fixated on material things,

and turning toward Christ

through the things that bring us close to him—the spiritual gifts.

 

____

In Latin, the word for “turn toward” is “convertio”—or conversion.

And that’s what I’m challenging you to today: conversion.

This Advent convert to Jesus Christ:

take out all the spiritual gifts Christ has given you in the past,

and let them bring you closer to Christ

and deeper fellowship, or communion, with him.

 

For example, the spiritual gift of Holy Mass.

When you come to Mass take to heart the Gospel message today:

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

It is true, we don’t have any idea when Jesus

will come again in his glorified body to judge the living and the dead.

But we do know the exact time he first came to earth in the flesh,

the year 1 at the first Christmas.

And we do know that he continues to come to us, in the flesh,

at every single Mass:

precisely at the moment of the miracle of the consecration

and at the moment of the intimacy of

receiving Holy Communion.

So today, be watchful and alert.

Watch for him to come: turn your eyes and minds and hearts to the Altar

as the Word made flesh descends as the priest says, “this is my body.”

And as you come to receive don’t be looking this way and that for who you know

or what they’re wearing—don’t even look at the priest:

these are all just creatures.

Rather let your hearts shout the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”

And watch and turn your eyes and heart and mind–and body—

to your Creator as He comes down to you in Communion.

 

And do this at every Mass during Advent.

And don’t let that happen only once a week.

At St. Raymond’s we have Mass twice every weekday

3 times on Wednesday and on the first and third Fridays!

So, come. And watch, and turn toward the Lord.

 

___

Another important spiritual gift aiding our conversion this Advent is Confession.

To come to Christ through his representative, the priest.

To admit that we are sinful: to admit our avarice and greed and lust and hate.

And turn our hearts away from inordinate love of creatures,

and toward loving the Creator.

And then to receive more spiritual gifts:

the graces of forgiveness and to overcome sin.

 

And there are countless other spiritual gifts:

coming to worship our Lord in adoration on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Or coming to Lessons and Carols next Sunday,

or to my talk on St. Joseph the Thursday after that.

Or any one of the many spiritual events scheduled in the parish

—you can find a full schedule on the insert in today’s bulletin.

 

And taking time for personal prayer

—the Rosary, or reading scripture or other good spiritual books.

I can’t even begin to list them all: all the other spiritual gifts like this

packed away just waiting for you to take them out and use them.

 

And these are just sort of the external spiritual gifts:

we also know about those graces Jesus places in our hearts

to keep us turned toward Him and following him in everyday life,

The grace, the strength, courage, wisdom and love

to obey his commandments,

and to be alert for opportunities to serve our neighbor,

with the love of Jesus himself.

He has given you all these—they are inside of you waiting for you use them.

 

 

___

In the coming weeks of Advent let’s not be distracted by or fixated with

sinful attraction to the material things of the world.

Now, again: there’s nothing bad about buying and giving gifts, or receiving gifts.

In fact, it is a season of appreciating gifts.

But there is something wrong when we make those focus of our lives,

and especially in Advent.

The gifts we should primarily appreciate are the spiritual gifts God gives to us.

And more importantly, it’s a time to allow those spiritual gifts

to help us to turn away from the love of things,

and turn us toward the person who gives us everything:

Jesus Christ.

 

____

As we continue with this Holy Mass,

let us pray that this Advent will be a time of true and profound conversion

for each of us.

And that that conversion will begin right now:

that our eyes and hearts may be open to recognize Him coming to us

as we turn toward the Lord descending upon this altar

and entering into us in Communion,

And once fixed upon our Lord in this miraculous gift

may we never again turn our eyes or hearts away from him again.

 

Come: “Be watchful! Be alert!”

TEXT: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 26, 2017

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 26, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

There seems to be some basic human instinct that makes each of us

long for a savior,

someone to save us from the troubles and hardships of life.

We see it throughout history.

For example, in ancient societies

peoples looked to their king, or the birth of a new prince,

as the hope for the well-being of the entire nation.

 

And we see it in modern American history as well:

every election, especially presidential elections,

has a certain tinge of this.

No matter who our candidate is,

there’s always an exaggeration of his qualifications,

and a downplaying of his faults,

in the hope he will bring a better life.

 

People seem to primordially seek a messiah.

But there is no earthly Messiah.

In the end, all fall radically short

 

We see this particularly in Judeo-Christian history.

3000 years ago, the people of Israel, were ruled by 12 “judges,”

but demanded that God give them an earthly king.

God warned them what would happen:

any worldly king would wind up disappointing

and even oppressing them.

Still, they persisted, and God gave them King Saul

—who wound up disappointing and oppressing them.

As did every single earthly king and governor, to a greater or lesser extent,

who ruled over Israel for the next 1000 years.

Still, Israel clung to the hope that a great Messiah-King

would come to take away all their worldly problems.

 

The thing is, when the true Messiah-King finally did come, He told them,

much to their dismay: “my kingdom is not of this world.”

He did not come to free us from the oppression of unjust worldly kings,

or establish a perfect earthly government,

but to save us from the most basic and worst kind of oppression:

the oppression of sin and it’s terrible consequences.

 

And make no mistake, sin is the great oppressor of mankind

—the sins of others, the sins the devil tempts us towards,

and our own personal sins and temptations to sins.

 

Remember what St. Paul writes:

“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

…. making me captive to the law of sin.”

Think how sin takes charge of so much in your lives,

so that no matter how hard you try you wind up doing

“the evil [you] do not want.”

For example,

you begin by simply wanting to earn a decent living to support your family,

and you wind up trapped in your greed and envy,

dedicated not to your family but keeping up with the family next door.

Or maybe you really want to be a kind and helpful son or daughter,

but you wind up constantly fighting with your parents.

 

Sin—you don’t want to do it, but like a prison you just can’t seem to get out.

 

But you can get out!

That’s what Christ the King came to vanquish,

and the purpose of His kingdom.

Not a kingdom of the world, but a kingdom in the world,

in which we are free from sin—freed by His grace and by His truth.

 

____

To modern Americans, living in a democratic-republic,

this seems somewhat ironic: a king who gives true freedom.

After all, we fought a war 240 years ago to free us from the tyranny of kings.

But this king is different from all earthly kings

—and all presidents, prime ministers, or governors.

This is a king who comes to us first and foremost as a servant,

as He says:

“the Son of man came not to be served but to serve.”

 

And His greatest service to us is to give a share of His own kingship.

In our Baptism He gave us a share in His own life

—we were grafted, as it were, onto His own body,

and so share in everything He has:

in His one Sonship to the Father,

in His power or grace,

in His eternal life,

…and in His kingship.

 

And with the power of His kingship in us, His grace,

we are no longer slaves of sin or oppressed by the devil.

We are truly free, not to do whatever we feel like,

but to become who were created to be in the beginning:

creatures created in the image of Christ the King,

to freely serve and to love God and our neighbor.

So as St. Paul says:

“you were called to freedom, …

only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,

but through love be servants of one another.”

 

__

Imagine if we would truly accept this freedom.

If we were truly free from greed, avarice, lust, pride, hate, sloth, and gluttony.

If we were truly free from selfishness,

and selflessly lived like servants, like Christ the King.

Imagine for a moment how great life would be

if the whole world accepted this freedom.

But now remember how life usually is

—as men continue to embrace slavery to sin.

 

_____

And so, in today’s Gospel Christ reminds us that when

“he comes in his glory, …all the nations will be assembled before him.”

And He will say to those who have accepted His gift

of freedom and lived as true servants:

“Come,…Inherit the kingdom

For I was hungry and you gave me food,

…thirsty and you gave me drink….”

 

But He will say to those who rejected his Kingship,

and freely chose to remain slaves of selfishness:

“Depart from me…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil

….For I was hungry and you gave me no food,

…thirsty and you gave me no drink….”

 

This is what happens when we live in the freedom of Christ the King, or reject it:

we share in His joy, or we share in the devil’s torment.

 

But this text also reminds us of something else:

not only is Christ our only Savior,

but also, the personal freedom Christ brings us

also brings personal responsibility to serve our neighbor.

So not only should we never look to any earthly kings or institutions

to be our Saviour and solve all our problems,

but we should also hesitate to delegate

our own responsibility to serve our neighbor to anyone else,

including the government or other organizations.

 

Now, government serves a hugely important role in helping those in need,

as do so many worthwhile charitable organizations.

But think how easy it is to see a problem and say,

well, the government or Catholic Charities or the parish

can take care of that.

Granted, sometimes they have greater resources than we do individually,

but not always.

And every time we delegate away our service we run the risk of

rejecting a personal invitation from Christ

to personally love our neighbor as we should.

 

Also, we can wind up delegating our responsibility

to people who may not be acting in true service and love,

especially in bureaucracies that can be easily manipulated

by individuals with bad intentions.

 

And it also leads to problem related to delegating through monetary support.

While it’s a necessary and good thing

to use our earthly treasure to help good causes,

including the parish

Jesus says: “I was in prison and you visited me”

—money can never replace person to person acts of love.

 

And giving money can lead to still other problems:

For example, some say paying taxes is an act of loving your neighbor,

so many people think they’ve fulfilled their duty to love

by paying their taxes.

But it’s not love if someone says, “pay or go to jail.”

Love is something freely given, not something coerced.

 

And beyond all this, remember that the greatest needs man has

are not physical or financial, but spiritual.

Governments can’t do much at all to meet these needs.

And while some organizations, like parishes for example,

rightly exist for this purpose,

there is no replacement for personal action—your action.

How many people hunger for Christ, but do not know him?

You feed them by teaching them.

How many are imprisoned by their sinful lifestyles,

and long for Christ to come to them?

You bring him to them.

How many are plagued by the sickness of sins?

Let the great physician, Jesus Christ,

use you to pour his healing grace upon them.

 

____

It is clear that man and mankind not only longs for but needs a savior.

But it is equally clear that no earthly person or thing

—not a president or a government or a charitable organization—

can truly bring the salvation we long for:

freedom from sin, and freedom to love.

As we continue with this holy Mass,

let us pray for all those who lead us in this world.

But let us also ask the Good Lord to fix in our hearts and minds

that He alone is our Saviour and our hope.

 

Praised be Jesus Christ our King.

 

TEXT: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 19, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

As you know, every first and third Friday of the month

I offer a very different form of the Mass than I offer today,

that is, the Extraordinary Form Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass.

The Ordinary Form of Mass, that I’m saying today, is very much like it,

but also, very different in many ways.

And nowhere is the difference more keenly perceived than in

the sung Extraordinary Form’s Requiem Mass

—the Old Rite’s Funeral Mass, or “Mass for the Dead.”

 

It’s hard to describe the sung Requiem Mass to someone who’s never been to it.

The words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading come to mind:

“let us not sleep as the rest do,

but let us stay alert and sober.”

Besides the black vestments and the gravely worded prayers,

the music and chant are very sobering,

at the same time both dramatic and somber.

Especially as right in the middle of the Mass everything pauses

as the choir chants a cappella the Dies Irae— “Day of Wrath”,

the long sequence warning of the coming of the Lord

on the Last day:

“O what fear man’s bosom rends,

When from Heaven the Judge descends,

On whose sentence all depends!”

 

This all comes together to make us “sober and alert”:

the power and finality of death hangs in the air

like the black vestments hang on the priest.

And we can’t help but call to mind the reality that Jesus talks about

in today’s Gospel:

“the master of those servants came back

and settled accounts with them.”

 

Of course, this is very different from what we’re used to

nowadays in the New Mass, especially the typical funeral Mass.

In comparison to the Old Requiem,

the mood of everything in the New Funeral Mass is almost upbeat,

focused on the Resurrection and heaven.

 

Of course, these are important things to think of,

since this is what Christ came and died for.

Still, it seems we’ve lost something in the translation, so to speak.

We have the idea of death and heaven,

but we sometimes seem to forget

that death brings first the judgment of Christ,

and then that that judgment can lead not just to heaven,

but also to purgatory

or even to hell.

 

And if we forget about these, we have a huge problem,

because they really do exist.

Christ does judge us, sending the imperfect to purgatory

and the wicked to hell.

 

___

But we don’t like thinking about that, for several reasons.

First, frankly, grief overwhelms us, and we want to concentrate

on our hope in Christ and the goodness of our beloved dead.

That, again, is well and good.

But there are other reasons that are not so good.

 

For example, we don’t much like the idea of judgment nowadays

—not only are we told not to judge others,

but we’re taught that all judgments of good and evil

are subjective, and unfair.

But worse than this is when we take hope

and twist it into a very selfish thing.

Sometimes we simply can’t bring ourselves to face the fact

that our loved one was imperfect

and could be in purgatory, or even in hell.

Or even worse, we refuse to face the fact that one day

we will also have to “settle accounts” with Christ

—and that He might say to us:

“you wicked, lazy …useless servant.”

But what a terribly destructive attitude:

not only does it lead us not to pray for the dead who need our help,

but it also leads us not to face the consequences of our own sins.

 

___

Now, some say, but Jesus said:

“I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

Yes, but He immediately went on to say:

“He who rejects me …has a judge;

the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”

In other words, the first time He came to save,

but when He comes the second time,

whether when we meet Him when we die,

or when He comes back to earth at the end of time, His “second coming,”

He will come to judge.

So, today we read that:

“After a long time the master of those servants came back

and settled accounts with them.”

And elsewhere Jesus says:

“the Father …has granted the Son …. authority to execute judgment

…those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,

and those who have done evil,

to the resurrection of judgment.”

 

This is the teaching of the Christ and the Apostles

and the constant Dogma of the Church:

either when we die, or if we’re alive at the end of the world,

all of us will face the judgment of the One Just Judge: Jesus.

And like the servants in today’s gospel He will give us either

our eternal reward or eternal punishment.

 

_____

And there will be an eternal reward

for those who love and follow the way of the Lord Jesus;

to the ones who use His gifts wisely He will say

“Come, share your master’s joy.’

The good news, folks, is that there really is a heaven.

 

Sometimes people say, but that’s so far in the future, I want to enjoy myself now.

Or, what’s so great about heaven?

eternal happiness sounds kind of like endless boredom.

 

But think about this.

Imagine the happiest moments of your life:

the moments of your greatest thrill, accomplishment, and fulfillment.

Remember scoring your first touchdown or goal,

or solving your first really tough problem in science or math,

or riding your first roller coaster,

or kissing your first love.

Remember the consolation of your mamma’s hugs,

or the warmth of your baby’s kiss good night.

Take all these, put them all together,

and take away any superficiality, or fear of loosing them,

and then think about experiencing something that wonderful always.

Would that be boring?

Would that be worth working and waiting your whole life for?

And that’s only a shadow of how wonderful heaven will be.

 

_____

And, in God’s mercy, heaven isn’t reserved for just the folks

who live like saints on earth.

When the just Judge comes He will distinguish between unrepented mortal sins

and unrepented venial or small sins and other like imperfections.

And in His mercy, He won’t deny heaven to those

who have repented their mortal sins,

but rather He will purify and perfect them in Purgatory.

God loves us so much

that He doesn’t hesitate to purify us in death in order to bring us to heaven.

 

____

But His love is so true and great that He also respects our free choices,

even when we choose the way of darkness and death

—unrepented mortal sins.

For these there will be eternal punishment.

 

Friends, it is the clear teaching of Jesus Christ that there is a Hell.

While the Gospels show Him constantly talking about heaven,

it also shows Him repeatedly warning us about hell.

As He tells us today:

“throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

 

This verse reminds of several truths about hell.

First, hell really does exist.

It’s not just something made up in the middle ages,

or the imagination of nightmares or the mentally ill.

It’s as real as it gets.

Second, Hell is horribly painful:

the souls in hell “weep” and “wail” and “grind” their “teeth.”

As Jesus tells us elsewhere, it’s like their “burn[ing] with unquenchable fire.”

And as the Book of Revelation tells us, the souls there

“will be tormented day and night.”

 

Now, a moment ago I asked you to think of the most wonderful moments in your life so you could get some idea about heaven.

Now imagine the absolute worst moments of your life.

Imagine the most horrible pain you’ve ever endured—physical or emotional.

Think of the darkest moments, the moments of most fear, the most anxious moments, the most depressed moments.

Take  all those together, and they don’t even begin to compare to the terrible pain of hel.

And it is forever.

 

And that leads us to the third important fact about Hell,

it is eternal—forever without end.

Revelation tells us, the souls of the wicked are thrown into

“the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….

And they will go away into eternal punishment.”

 

And finally: the essential quality that makes hell so terrible

is that it is the complete absence of God:

it is the “darkness outside,” of Christ’s presence,

Christ who is Himself the light of the world.

And as the complete absence of God who is love,

it is the complete absence of love itself.

Consider life without any love whatsoever.

Not even the slightest form of love, no respect, no goodwill,

not even dull politeness.

And not even the comfort of hoping for love.

It’s not that God or your friends stop loving you,

it’s that you can’t experience that love

and you have no hope of ever experiencing that love

in any way shape or form.

Remember the story of the rich man and the poor Lazarus:

the rich man asks Abraham to console him just a little,

and Abraham responds: there is an abyss between us,

and no one can cross over.

In hell you are truly eternally completely outside in the darkness.

___

Some say, okay, but it’s really hard to go to hell,

only people like Adoph Hitler go to hell.

and, most people go to heaven, at least through purgatory, right?

 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As Jesus says elsewhere:

“the gate is wide …that leads to destruction,

and those who enter by it are many.

…the gate is narrow …that leads to life,

and those who find it are few.”

In other words, Jesus says many go to hell, few go to heaven.

_

But the thing is God doesn’t send us to hell unless we freely choose to go to hell.

Think about the choices we make, the gates we choose to enter,

that Jesus says will lead us to hell or heaven.

 

Today, the master accuses the wicked servant, saying: “you knew”.

He knew what he his master wanted, but he ignored it.

Think of the times he accuses the ones who knew the scriptures best

and should have welcomed Him as their messiah:

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees…

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

And think of how he chastised the cities where he had

taught and performed great miracles:

they knew of his power, both in word and deed,

but still didn’t accept Him:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! …Beth-saida! … Capernaum, …

I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment

for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Remember, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

with fire and brimstone raining down from the sky.

 

The servant in today’s parable knew “how demanding” his master was.

Think how demanding Jesus is with us:

Remember what he said we “shall not” do:

“You have heard that it was said …, ‘You shall not kill;

…But I say to you that … whoever says,

‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

“You have heard …it …said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

And it’s not only what we “shall not” do, but also what we must do.

For example, Jesus says:

“Depart from me, you cursed,

into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

for I was hungry and you gave me no food,

…thirsty and you gave me no drink ….”

 

And think of what he says today to the servant

who buried the one thing the master gave him:

“You wicked, lazy servant!

…Should you not …have put my money in the bank

so that I could have got it back with interest …?”

Christ gives us Catholics so many gifts

—the teachings of the Scripture and the Church,

the sacraments and his grace—

and we’re either too lazy or too afraid to put them to good use

and we bury them so that they bear no fruit.

 

____

Now, some may not like this kind of “fire and brimstone” homily.

I don’t blame you—I don’t like it either.

But it needs to be said, because it’s the truth.

 

Some don’t like me even mentioning the word “hell.”

Well, to quote St. Thomas More:

“It’s not a likeable word. It’s not a likeable thing!”

And if we don’t face this unlikeable thing here and now,

where and when will we face it?

God forbid, not at judgment.

_____

One of the advantages of the old Requiem Mass

was to dramatically remind us to “stay sober and alert”

when we thought about death,

to face the fullness and profundity of its meaning.

While it’s absolutely necessary to keep our eye and hope fixed on heaven,

and to think well of the dead,

it’s foolish and even selfish to forget about judgment, purgatory and hell.

 

As we enter into this holy Mass, the heavenly mystery of the Eucharist,

as the saints and angels surround Christ descending to this altar,

let us remember and love the souls in purgatory by praying for them.

And let us pray for one another and for ourselves,

that we may stay sober and alert about the reality of our own death.

So that on the day of judgment, the Dies Irae,

our divine master will say to us not:

“You wicked, lazy …useless servant,”

be cast “into the darkness outside,”

but rather:

“Well done, my good and faithful servant….

Come, share your master’s joy.”

TEXT: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 12, 2017

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 12, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Most of us don’t like to think about death—it’s too sad and depressing.

But in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us we have to think about death, He says:

“stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour!!”

We have to think about death, but we have to think about it as it really is.

So St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading:

“We do not want you to be unaware

about those who have fallen asleep,

so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”

 

In other words, as Christians we should have hope in the promise Jesus makes

in today’s Gospel that

“those who [are] ready” when he comes

will go “into the wedding feast with him.”

The source of our hope in the face of death

is Jesus’ promise of heaven to those who love him

At the beginning of this Month, on All Saints’ Day we recalled this promise

as we remembered the dead who are already in heaven,

and saw in them the fulfillment of the promise given to us.

But hope also requires an understanding

of the feast we celebrated on the day after that

—on All Souls Day

when we remembered the promise of Purgatory.

 

Most people probably don’t think of Purgatory

          as a “promise” or a source of hope like heaven is.

Some Christians today even go as far as

rejecting the whole concept of Purgatory

as a remnant of medieval superstition

or preoccupation with sin and punishment.

But the origins of this dogma are found right in Scripture itself.

For example, the second book of the Maccabees tells us that

2 centuries before the birth of Jesus Jewish soldiers prayed for the dead,

[quote] “beseeching that the sin they had committed

might be wholly blotted out.”

And it concludes:

“to pray for the dead…was a holy and pious thing.”

 

Other people just can’t understand why Purgatory would exist in the first place

—they think if you’re good, when you die you go to heaven,

and if you’re bad you go to hell.

But perhaps we can begin to understand the “necessity” of Purgatory

if we recall a passage from the book of Revelation,

where St. John’s tells us that:

(quote) “Nothing unclean will enter heaven.”

 

So let’s think about this.

Let’s take 2 people–Mother Theresa of Calcutta

and a common ordinary sinner like, say, me.

The spiritual differences between her and I

are in many ways like the differences between day and night.

She was so pure and holy, so unattached to things of this world,

to even the most venial and small sins.

When Mother Theresa died, she was extremely ready to enter heaven:

she indeed seemed to have nothing unclean about her.

Which is why she’s a canonized Saint now.

But if I were to die today,

there’s no way that I would even try to argue the same about myself.

I don’t claim to be the worst sinner in the world,

but am still very much attached to things,

and I commit venial sins all the time:

I’m impatient, lazy, prideful, and on and on.

So it would seem that I’m in big trouble if I die today,

because according to St. John:

Nothing unclean will enter heaven.”

 

But there’s good news: St. John also tells us elsewhere in scripture:

“There is sin which is deadly [mortal]…

but there is sin which is not deadly [mortal].”

In other words: some sins don’t cause us to lose eternal life!

But since nothing unclean can enter heaven,

somehow between my imperfect life on earth

and my entrance into to the perfection of eternal life in heaven,

something must happen to transform me

                   and make me perfectly purified.

As St. Paul says elsewhere, somehow, I’ll be purified “like gold in a fire.”

And Purgatory—the place of purgation, or purification—is that “somehow.”

 

The teaching on Purgatory then, essentially reflects the great mercy of God.

Because God could simply say that anyone

not perfectly living out his will on earth cannot enter into heaven.

So, maybe Mother Theresa could go to heaven,

but most of us in this room would never have a chance.

But that’s not God’s way: He is Our Father who loves us so much that,

unless we cut ourselves off from Him by a willful act of serious sin,

a mortal sin,

He will bring us to his heavenly banquet.

But like a loving Father He first washes us–purifies us—

before we sit down with the family for the banquet.

 

______

Some who believe in Purgatory fear it as a place of terrible torture and despair.

There is pain in Purgatory, there seems no doubt about that:

that is also the constant teaching of the Church.

But there is nothing to be frightened of

if we understand what the Church teaches about the pain of Purgatory.

 

First, it’s like the pain associated with any change.

When we die we have to change from being attached to the things of this world

—we have to let go of our bad habits and sinfulness.

And this kind of change is hard: like an athlete getting himself into shape,

the practice and exercising are painful.

Or more common, it’s like trying to cure some deadly illness, like cancer:

the treatment can be terribly uncomfortable, even terribly painful.

 

But also, the pain of Purgatory is fundamentally the pain of deprivation:

in other words, in Purgatory the souls are so keenly aware

that they’re so close and yet still so far

from the perfect and complete happiness of heaven.

It’s like the person in today’s psalm who prays:

” O God, …for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts

like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.                                                                                                               Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see … your glory.”

Purgatory is painful, but both these understandings of pain

also show us how these souls also experience intense spiritual joy.

Like athletes preparing for the contest who find

that the exercise is making them stronger and faster,

making them more and more ready to when the contest.

Or like the cancer patient who rejoices that the painful treatment is working,

that they are being cured, that they are going to live!

In a similar way, the souls in Purgatory also experience joy

as they become more and more the perfect creatures

God created them to be,

as they are strengthen, and cured from their sins, vices and faults.

 

But most importantly, they experience the anticipation of the joy of heaven itself,

because they are absolutely sure of their salvation.

You and I only hope to go to heaven,

but they know and have no doubt that they will be in heaven very soon.

 

As St. Catherine of Genoa wrote:

“I do not believe it would be possible to find any joy comparable to that

of a soul in Purgatory, except the joy of the Blessed in Paradise.

For every sight, however little, that can be gained of God

exceeds every pain and every joy that man can conceive without it.”

 

_____

Some say that nowadays Purgatory is irrelevant or unimportant to us.

But in reality, the opposite is true.

First of all, it can be a tremendous source of hope and consolation.

As St. Paul says in today’s second reading:

console one another with these words.”

We all know people who can’t fathom how they could ever get to heaven

given the terrible sins they know or think they’ve committed:

the idea of Purgatory makes real sense to them,

giving them hope that God really can love them

and that heaven is in their reach.

 

Or think of the families who mourn their departed family members.

So often, especially as they deal with the immediate grief that comes with death

–they speak about the dead as if they were living saints

who went straight to heaven.

But when the immediate pain of loss subsides often the reality overcomes them

that their mother or father or spouse or child

wasn’t really as perfect as the eulogies said.

Or they realize that they themselves were somehow negligent

in showing their love for them when they were alive

–and they become overwhelmed by guilt.

Purgatory is a perspective on God’s love that gives them hope.

It makes it possible to understand that

not only Mother Theresa’s can go to heaven,

but that even a common sinner like you or I, or our moms and dads,

can also.

And it makes it possible to keep giving to them after they’ve gone,

by giving our love through our constant prayers for them.

 

And this is the greatest reason Purgatory is relevant and important to each of us:

they need our prayers!

Because if the souls enduring the cleansing fire are our brothers and sisters

we must love them enough to pray for them

–to assist them during their purification:

when one member of the body of Christ suffers in any way,

we all suffer and we must respond.

 

You loved your mother or sister or son or friend when they were with us on earth.

And I’m sure you prayed for them, especially if they were sick,

because you knew that you were so limited in how you could help them,

and the best you could do to help them, was to ask Amlighty God to help them.

Now that they’re dead you still love them,

so you still have to pray for them, to help them in their suffering.

 

You might so, Oh no, Father, my parents are in heaven.

That kind of thinking might make you feel good,

but if they’re in Purgatory it doesn’t make them feel good.

My mother was the most perfect person I ever knew, and I think she’s in heaven.

On the other hand, my father wasn’t the most perfect person I ever knew,

as he would be the first to tell you.

He was a great, loving, courageous and holy man,

but he lived a very hard life

that led him to be imperfect in some obvious ways.

And he knew that, and counted on Purgatory.

And I know and understand that if he’s there

he is happier than he ever was on earth

as he is finally becoming the perfect man he always longed to be.

I hope he’s in heaven with my mother,

but I pray for them both every day,

because I dread the thought of them suffering in Purgatory

even one moment longer than necessary

simply because I was too selfish to simply pray for them,

to help them on their way to heaven.

__

If we love them, we can’t just forget about them: we have to pray for them.

Which is why the Church dedicates this entire month of November

as a month for praying for the Poor Souls, the Holy Souls, in Purgatory.

Especially at Holy Mass, and by offering Masses for them.

We do this because the Mass is the greatest prayer we could offer for the dead,

since it’s simultaneously the sacrificial prayer of Christ on his Cross,

and the prayer of the Resurrected and Ascended Christ

at the right hand of the Father.

And to this perfect prayer Christ unites and perfects the prayers of each of us, and His entire Church.

____

It’s very easy to be afraid of dying and to avoid thinking about it.

But for a Christian, death should not be the source of fear, but the object of hope.

Because we know that even as Jesus warns us that we must:

“stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour”

when death will come,

He also reminds us that in facing death we have no reason to

“grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”

The promise of the perfect life of heaven is the source of our hope,

and the promise of Purgatory keeps that hope alive

                   in imperfect Christians like you and me.

V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God,

rest in peace. Amen.

TEXT: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 5, 2017

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today’s readings are difficult for a priest to hear.

In the first reading, from Malachi in the Old Testament,

God calls out the Jewish temple priests, saying:

“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:

“If you do not listen…. of your blessing I will make a curse.”

And in the gospel Jesus similarly goes after the Jewish leaders of His day:

the Pharisees and their scribes.

He repeatedly derides them, saying things like:

“do not follow their example.

For they preach but they do not practice.”

 

__

It’s important to realize here that in Malachi, God is not criticizing the priesthood,

He’s not against priests as priests.

He’s against BAD priests.

And how does he define a “bad priest”?

“You have turned aside from the way,

and have caused many to falter by your instruction;

…you have made void the covenant of Levi

…. you do not keep my ways,

…. violating the covenant of our fathers…”

 

They’re bad priests because although they’ve been given so much,

they abuse and waste it all.

They are the custodians of all the treasures of God’s revelation

handed down through the teaching of Moses and the prophets,

but they don’t hand it on to the people, and they don’t live by it themselves.

Instead they lead the people into sin by their bad example,

so contrary to the covenant.

 

They’ve abused the blessing of the priesthood,

and now the priesthood will become a curse for them

—they will be punished for being bad priests.

 

__

And in the Gospel Jesus does the same thing to the Pharisees and scribes.

 

Now, as a backdrop,

remember that the chief priests of the Jewish temple during Jesus’ time

were Sadducees, not Pharisees.

But the Sadducees didn’t believe in the whole Old Testament, just parts of it,

and so they were not very faithful to “the covenant of their fathers”

–they weren’t very good Jews, much less good priests.

 

Which is why the pagan Romans put them in charge of the Temple.

So when Jesus says that it’s the Pharisees who

“have taken their seat on the chair of Moses,”

He is indirectly, but clearly, criticizing the Sadducee priests

for being the same kind of bad priests that we find criticized in Malachi.

 

So then He turns to the Pharisees as the only orthodox Jews around,

and recognizes them as the de facto leaders of Israel

—just as the priests should be.

But then He criticizes them for being bad leaders.

He says:

“They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

They love …seats of honor in synagogues…

and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’

 

Now, a phylactery is a tiny box that held a tiny piece of scripture in it.

And pious Jews would wear this on their foreheads or wrists

to show that they were obedient to the covenant.

Nothing wrong with that in itself—it’s like wearing a crucifix around your neck:

it was a public witness to their faith in God.

 

And tassels were nothing horrible either.

Pious Jews would wear them on the hems of their garments

as a sign of their faith that God had called them to be his very own people.

In fact, in the book of Numbers God tells them to do this:

“…make tassels on the corners of [your] garments

…that you may look upon it

and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them.”

Which is probably why Jesus himself wore tassels on his garment,

as the Gospel tells us in 4 different places.

 

The problem with the Pharisees and their phylacteries and tassels,

was not that they wore them, but that they made a big deal of them

and then didn’t live up to what they symbolized.

He’s calling them hypocrites:

they only pretend keep the covenant in an outstanding way,

when in fact they don’t.

 

Again, like the priests of Malachi’s time and Jesus’ time,

the Pharisees hold a treasure in their hands, but they abuse it,

using it to make themselves look good,

and leading their people to hell by their bad example.

They had received many blessings,

but now their blessings would become a curse.

 

_____

Nowadays we have the same problem in the Church.

For the last few decades we’ve seen too many priests

abuse their blessings as priests.

Most notably we saw this a few years ago with all the stories

of priests who abused their position of authority and trust

as spiritual fathers, to sexually abuse their children.

Despicable!

As Jesus says elsewhere of the hypocritical Pharisees:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers!

How will you escape the sentence of hell?”

 

But there has also been a less publicized way

in which priests abused their blessings,

a way that was, in an important sense, just as bad as those sexual cases.

 

Catholic priests are the custodians of all the riches of our Catholic faith,

handed down through the apostles and their successors,

and clarified by the great theologian saints through the centuries.

Truly what can be called, in the words of Malachi, “the covenant of our fathers.”

 

But all too often in the last few decades

too many Catholic priests have abused that blessing.

Like Malachi’s priests, they abandoned the covenant of our fathers.

Like Jesus’ Pharisees they made a big deal about their importance as teachers,

pridefully loving public attention, and being called experts, and visionaries.

These Catholic priests widened their metaphorical phylacteries,

pointing to all their special learning and knowledge of things

their predecessors didn’t understand.

And they lengthened their tassels, claiming to be the truly special ones,

chosen by God to enlighten the Church with new teachings that

the apostles, fathers and saints of ages past would have never recognized.

They exalted themselves, and humbled our fathers in the faith, priests like

St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis de Sales.

These modern priests knew more, they knew better.

This used to be called the heresy of Gnosticism,

but today these modern Pharisee-priests call it enlightened “discernment.”

 

____

Sadly, in the last few years, this type of priest has come to the forefront again,

using the blessings of their priesthood

not to serve but to master faithful Catholics.

They lay new burdens on people’s shoulders

which they themselves refuse to carry,

telling us we must accept the new things they teach,

even if we find it confusing or heretical,

while they themselves are so unaccepting of old things

that priests like St. Matthew, and even St. John Paul II, taught.

[In effect, they preach, what St. Paul called “a human word,”

and reject “the word of God.”]

 

So many priests—including bishops and cardinals—have abused their blessings.

And so, their blessing has become a curse.

Because of the sex abuse scandal, the Catholic priesthood itself

is demeaned and even the best of priests held suspect.

And because of the teaching abuse of bad priests,

the teaching of all priests is ridiculed as being “personal opinion,”

even when they are merely directly quoting from Holy Scripture itself.

 

_____

In today’s Gospel Jesus derides the Pharisees for taking pride

in being called “Rabbi”—or “teacher”—or “Father,”

reminding us that we have one Teacher, one Father–God.

But Jesus isn’t saying you can never call people “teacher” or “father”

—what else would you call that person who teaches you in school

or that man married to your mother?

And it’s right to call priests “teacher” and “father,”

and for priests to love to hear that,

as long you and they never forget that all authority comes from God alone,

and any priest who uses the authority given him from God

in a way contrary to God’s fatherly teaching is not a true teacher or father

—but a hypocritical Pharisee.

 

____

Now, no priest is exempt from abusing his position, his blessings as a priest.

No priest is perfect.

But even while the smallest abuse is wrong,

these grave abuses are contemptable and condemnable.

 

So this is the challenge to priests today:

to hold tight to the covenant God made with our fathers,

to humbly teach what has been handed down to us,

to lead our flocks with a servant’s heart,

and to practice what we preach.

 

It is a great thing to be a priest.

What a blessing to have all these gifts and graces.

And what an abomination and curse to abuse this blessing,

especially by not teaching what has been handed on to us.

 

We don’t need priests like that.

But we do need good and faithful priests.

 

We need this of the men already ordained

—so pray for your priests,

and encourage them to be faithful to the covenant of our fathers.

 

__

But we also need this of the men who will be ordained

—and we need men to come forward to accept this blessing,

of the vocation to the holy priesthood.

 

The priestly life is hard sometimes, but it’s not much harder than the life of any father.

We have to worry about keeping the house warm and the lights on,

and paying the bills and saving for the future.

Sometimes we have to get up in the middle of the night to take care of our children.

And sometimes we have to tell them hard things or tell them “no”

even that makes them angry with us, or say things like “I hate you.”

 

But there also so many blessings to be a priest.

To be loved and respected by so many,

because they see us as their fathers,

and believe WE sit in the seat of Moses.

To be custodians of all the treasures of God’s revelation,

and to share it with his children, our children,

to lead them to happiness and heaven.

To be so close to Christ as we stand in persona Christi,

especially in the confessional, and most sublimely at the altar.

 

___

So, with all these blessings, why don’t we have more vocations to the priesthood.

To a large part, I’m afraid, it’s because

the abuse of the blessings of the priesthood

has become a curse on priestly vocations.

Young men have seen the example of too many bad priests

who were not faithful to the covenant of our fathers.

Who would want to give up their whole life for that?

 

I know I didn’t, when I was younger, and saw the example of those bad priests.

Until much later,

when I realized that there were a lot of great priests I knew about,

especially Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Maybe I could be different, maybe I could be a good priest.

May God forgive me for my failures.

 

____

So we need more good priests.

Priests who will be strong and brave in the face of persecution and insult,

who will be fathers who bear the sword of truth,

and serve their children and their wife

—Holy Mother Church—

by laying down their lives to protect them

from all who would harm or lie to them.

Priests that who will not make the blessings of the priesthood

serve their selfishness,

but who will be faithful to the covenant of our fathers, in Christ.

 

So to all unmarried men and boys, I say:

have you ever thought or prayed about being this kind of priest?

You should.

And you should talk to your parents, and maybe to a good priest you know.

And pray for the courage and love to do God’s will.

 

Because we need you

—if God is calling you, and you want to be a good and faithful priest.

 

_

And if you’re a mom or dad, or a brother or sister,

who wants their son or brother

to have all the blessings God has in mind for him,

have you considered if those might include the blessing of priesthood?

—and have you encouraged and prayed for him in that?

 

And all the rest of you, you also need to pray for these men and boys,

and to encourage them.

Because we all need good priests.

 

_____

“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:

If you do not listen… of your blessing I will make a curse.”

As we enter more deeply into this holy Mass,

let us all [turn toward the Lord together and]

pray for all the priests of the Church,

and all those men and boys who are being called to join them.

That, by the grace of Christ, especially poured out in the Eucharist,

they may answer and always be truly worthy of the blessings of

their holy calling.

May they be courageous leaders and humble servants.

And may they always be faithful to the covenant of our fathers.