TEXT: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 1, 2019

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 1, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Today’s readings clearly center on the theme of humility.

But I think there’s something more here that we can look at:

something the Lord is telling us

about the role of humility in what we’ve come here today to do:

that humility is at the heart of the proper worship of God,

especially when we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist.

 

The book of Genesis tells us that it was Adam’s sin of pride

that cost all mankind eternal life with God.

Adam and Eve believed the serpent’s lie

that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

then they would be like God.

This is the epitome of pride,

and it is the antithesis of worship–they said in effect:

“I will not worship God; I will worship myself.”

 

What a radically different picture we find in Christ

–whom St. Paul calls the “new Adam.”

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul writes:

“though he was in the form of God,

Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at,

rather … He humbled Himself …. even unto death, death on a cross.”

 

It is the humility of Jesus to worship the Father

that defeats the effects of Adam’s pride,

and brings about our salvation.

And it is the Cross which is the ultimate act of His humility.

And because of the Cross, Philippians goes on to say:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him

…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

 

_____

In today’s first reading from the book of Sirach,

God the Father tells His only begotten Son, Jesus:

“My son, conduct your affairs with humility.”

In today’s Gospel Jesus passes this instruction on to us:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,

do not recline at table in the place of honor.

Rather, …take the lowest place

so that when the host comes to you he may say,

‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’”

 

Jesus lived out His father’s instruction, and His own, perfectly,

so that by taking “the lowest place”

–humbly accepting death on the Cross

–His Father came to Him and said

“My friend, move up to a higher position”,

raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in glory.

 

____

In the Mass we come to worship God

but we do it in the context of the mystery of the Eucharist,

in which we truly come face to face with the sacrifice of the Cross.

And it’s through this mystery of Christ’s own humility in the Cross,

that we can join Him in His heavenly glory.

 

So, essential to our participation in this mystery of worship,

the Eucharist, the Mass,

essential to our being united with Christ crucified and glorified,

is the absolute necessity, on our part,

of an overwhelming disposition of personal humility.

 

The readings today reflect this very eloquently.

The Gospel begins by saying:

“On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine” or “to eat a meal.”

But at that meal, Jesus points to another very special type of meal,

as He tells the parable of the wedding feast,

which, in the language of Scripture, is nothing less than heaven itself:

the wedding banquet of Christ and his bride the Church.

 

Today is the Sabbath, and today we also come to a meal.

But this meal is also no ordinary meal,

because as we find ourselves in the presence

of the mystery of the humility of Christ on the Cross,

we also find ourselves somehow mystically present

at glorious wedding banquet of heaven.

And Jesus reminds us that to worthily enter into this banquet

we must “not sit in the place of honor…but in the lowest place”

–we must enter into this banquet in humility.

 

And so, the Mass is full of prayers and signs

calling us to and expressing humility.

Think about it…

 

We begin the Mass with the Penitential Act,

recalling humbly that we are sinners.

One reason I almost always use the Confiteor, the “I confess”,

is because if we say it sincerely we’re making a great act of humility:

humility before God and before our neighbor,

“I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters

that I have greatly sinned…

And then the beautiful and radically humbling triple “through my fault,”

as we strike our breasts as a sign of humility.

 

And after the prayer of penance, we go the Gloria, as if to say,

while we are humble sinners, you are the Lord God and heavenly king,

and so we first beat our breasts, but then,

“We praise you, bless you…adore you…glorify you, [and] give you thanks …”

You alone are the Holy one”—not us.

 

Then we go into the Liturgy of the Word, and again we express our humility

–this time not in what we say,

but by not saying anything, and instead humbly listening,

listening to God speaking to us through the Scriptures

and in the Homily.

The first reading from the book of Sirach today anticipates this liturgical humility:

“conduct your affairs with humility, …

an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.”

 

The Mass proceeds and we come to the offertory,

as we offer our humble gifts of bread and wine,

which symbolize the gifts of ourselves.

Just simple bread and wine, symbolic of the fact that we know

nothing we have and nothing about us

is truly worthy to offer the Lord.

And so we ask Him to change them into the only worthy gift:

Jesus Himself, given on the Cross.

And the priest bows down in humility and prays in a low voice,

right before he washes his hands,

“With humble spirit and contrite heart

may we be accepted by you, O Lord,

and may our sacrifice … be pleasing to you, Lord God.”

 

Then we come to the Eucharistic Prayer, the heart of the Mass.

Today’s second reading is from the letter to the Hebrews

–the epistle that so beautifully explains this mystery as we read:

“you have approached Mount Zion…the heavenly Jerusalem,

and countless angels in festal gathering,

and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven…”

As we begin this Eucharistic Prayer

in which we are truly drawing nearer and nearer every moment

to the coming of heaven to earth in the Eucharist,

we begin by joining the angels and the saints assembled with us

as they sing their song of praise:

“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

 

But the letter to the Hebrews most especially points out

that in this heavenly Jerusalem we:

“have approached… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”

As we now reach the most holy part of the Mass we hear the words:

“this is my body…. this is the chalice of my blood,

the blood of the new covenant.”

And we finally are present with all of glorious heaven,

at the foot of the bloody cross of Christ’s humility.

 

All throughout the Mass we show external signs of our internal desire

to become humble before the Lord and with one another.

We bow our heads at the name of Jesus,

we bow to the altar as a symbol of Christ,

we strike our breasts three times in the Confiteor.

But now as we reach the summit of the Divine Liturgy,

we show our greatest outward sign of humility.

In St. John’s book of Revelation as he describes

his vision of the entrance of Christ into the heavenly liturgy,

he tells us that the angels and saints

“fell down and worshipped” “before the Lamb, who was slain.”

As Christ personally and physically enters into our Liturgy,

present under the appearance of the Eucharistic bread and wine,

we join the angels and saints and fall to our knees.

And we kneel again a few moments later before the Lamb of God,

saying in all humility:

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

And notice, the priest joins us in this:

right after both elevation of the Body and the Blood of Christ,

and right before the “Lord I am not worthy”

the priest genuflects in humble adoration,

remembering that although honored to stand in persona Christi

during the Mass,

the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself, and the priest merely his humble minister.

 

Finally, after preparing ourselves to approach this heavenly wedding banquet

with truly humble hearts,

Christ Himself, the host of the banquet approaches and says:

“my friend, move up to a higher position.”

And then we draw nearest to Christ, who takes us to the highest place,

as we come forward to receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

 

_____

It’s Christ’s humility that allowed Him to come to us in the form of a man

and to die on the Cross,

and it’s Christ’s humility that conquers Adam’s pride.

It’s Christ’s humility that allows Him to come to us

under the form of simple bread and wine,

and it’s Christ’s humility that brings us into His glory.

But its only to the extent that we prepare ourselves

and open our hearts to share in His humility

that we can truly enter into the mystery of the gift

of His Cross and His glory.

 

____

My brothers and sisters, taking the words of today’s Scriptures:

let us conduct our lives with holy humility.

And let us begin that humility at this Mass.

Having listened with an attentive ear

let us now approach…”the heavenly Jerusalem,”

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.

But do not seek honor at this the heavenly wedding feast,

instead go and sit in the lowest, most humble place,

not so much physically, but spiritually, in your heart and your disposition,

so that when the Lord approaches you he will say,

“My friend, move up to a higher position.”

For he “who humbles himself will be exalted.”

TEXT: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 25, 2019

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 25, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

How many of you have been in some social situation,

and the topic of religion came up in one way or another,

and someone in the group, perhaps trying to be friendly,

or maybe trying to be unfriendly, says, something like,

“what difference does it make? —we all believe in the same God,

we just take different roads to get to Him.”

 

We hear things like this all time.

And it has a certain attraction to it.

 

But then we run into some problems,

like when the one we believe to be “God” tells us:

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,

for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter

but will not be strong enough.”

 

In this phrase Jesus is saying that

there really are NOT many different roads to God,

at least not in the indifferent kind of sense people usually mean.

We see this especially when we remember other sayings of Jesus

we find elsewhere in the Gospels,

for example:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy,

that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

And: “Whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate

…is a thief and a robber….

Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

 

Sure, we all live different lives, and so in a certain sense we “take different roads.”

But in the end, we all have to stop when we come to that one narrow gate

that is Jesus,

and enter, and follow the one road, His one way, to the Father.

 

Some argue:

but look at texts like the one we find in today’s first reading, where it says:

“I know their works and their thoughts,

and I come to gather nations of every language;

they shall come and see my glory.”

Doesn’t that mean that all peoples

—even non-Christian peoples—will go to heaven

no matter what their religious beliefs?

The thing is, the text goes on to say:

“They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations

…to Jerusalem, my holy mountain

just as the Israelites bring their offering

to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.”

In other words, one day the God of the Jews will come to earth

and bring all nations to come to worship HIM

in the way that HE would tell them to.

 

(Now/And) as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is, in fact,

the incarnation of the God of the Jews,

and who did come to earth to tell all nations the way.

He said:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life;

no one comes to the Father, but by me. “

And He told his apostles:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them…,

teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

 

Some might argue, well then as long as someone’s a Christian,

that’s’ good enough.

Again, we turn to Christ’s own words:

Speaking to Simon Peter:

“And I tell you, you are Rock,

and on this rock I will build my church…”

Or speaking to all his disciples:

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,

you have no life in you.”

Or to His Father:

“I pray Father…. that they may become perfectly one.”

The only religion we find that follows these teachings of

the primacy of Peter, the centrality of the Eucharist

and the unity of the Church

is in the Catholic Church.

So, following Jesus is a narrow gate that leads through the Catholic Church.

 

Now, it’s true that many Christians who aren’t Catholic,

and even many people who aren’t even Christian,

try every day to enter the narrow gate.

They truly seek God even though, through no fault of their own,

they have not been able to come to know Jesus Christ

or the fullness of his teachings in the Catholic Church.

And if they truly believe and accept the way and truth of God,

as best they can come to understand it,

of course God won’t deny them salvation.

 

Still, it’s hard to know which gate to walk through

when you don’t share in the full teaching and instruments of grace

that Christ has entrusted to his Catholic Church.

So that, in fact, as Jesus says elsewhere:

“the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,

and those who find it are few.”

 

Kinda flies in the face of those who think either we’re all going to heaven.

Or who think if you’re basically a good person, it’s easy to heaven,

and God will overlook the fact that

you don’t really keep His commandments,

or are indifferent to what He’s taught us.

“The gate is narrow and the way is hard,…and those who find it are few.”

 

Unfortunately, this is sometimes where many Catholics find themselves:

Just because you’re outwardly a Catholic

doesn’t mean you’re going to heaven.

Even if you’ve memorized all the teachings of the Popes back to Peter,

and even if you come to Mass every Sunday and

eat the flesh of the Son of Man”,

if you do not follow the way, the truth and the life

that Christ and His Church has taught you

you really haven’t entered the narrow gate.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says to these Catholics:

“then will you stand outside …saying, …

‘We ate …in your company

and you taught in our streets.’

Then he will say to you,

‘I do not know where you are from.’”

 

As we read last week:

“to whomever much is given, of him much shall be required.”

And as Jesus says this week:

“some are first who will be last.”

 

The fact is many self-proclaimed “practicing” Catholics,

including too many priests,

choose the wide gate, the easy road, all the time.

And instead of recognizing this about themselves,

they blame the Church for being too narrow-minded,

out of step with the real world.

It needs to change its teachings and stop thinking it has the one truth faith.

 

Now, most of you, would probably never say these things.

You accept the Church’s teachings and you try to follow them.

That’s great, and I’m very proud and edified by you.

But is even that enough?

 

By telling us to “enter the narrow gate”

Jesus isn’t calling us to become

some sort of unthinking, unfeeling narrow-minded rule-bound bureaucrats.

His rules and doctrine are essential:

there is a particular way to go, truth to believe, and life to live.

But you can’t understand any of that if you don’t first understand

that the narrow gate is first and foremost a person,

and in fact one particular person.

I am the Gate,” Jesus says; “I am the way.”

 

All of us go through life with some sort of rules that determine how we live

—even if we make them up for ourselves.

That’s relatively easy.

But it’s a whole lot harder

to give and commit your life and love to another person.

Because no matter how wonderful and inclusive and multifaceted a person is,

every person is unique, specific and demanding.

 

And so it is true that the gate is narrow:

you must give your life to the particular person

who is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

And you must truly love Him and His Father and Spirit

with all your heart, mind soul and strength.

 

____

Today hear the voice of Jesus calling to you:

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

And as you approach the altar today to eat the flesh of the Lord,

as He enters into you, let yourself enter into Him:

enter the narrow gate.

And as you leave here today do not go back outside that gate,

but go forward on that road that opens wide your heart and mind

to the infinitely boundless, and yet particularly personal,

love of Jesus Christ.

TEXT: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 2019

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 18, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

It is one of the great comforts of our faith

to hear the wonderfully consoling words of Jesus in Sacred Scripture.

For example, at the Last Supper, as He prays for unity:

“that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…”

Or His words from the Last Supper that we hear at every Mass:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”

But today we hear something very different

from the Prince of Peace:

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?

No, I tell you, but rather division.”

 

The Gospels record Jesus saying things like this on several occasions.

For example, St. Matthew records Him saying something very similar, but even more harsh:

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

How can Christ promise peace and unity,

and also claim that He comes not to bring peace and unity,

but the sword and division?

There’s only one way that makes sense

–a way that is clearly consistent with the rest of Scripture.

 

Christ does come to bring peace

–but not the peace of the world, rather, His peace.

And He comes to bring unity–but not unity with the world,

rather, unity with Him, and His heavenly Father.

Jesus knows that just as surely as He brings unity and peace into the world

to those who follow Him in love,

He also brings division between Himself and His own on the one side,

and those who choose not to follow Him on the other.

 

The division is clear and spectacularly simple;

elsewhere in Scripture He tells His apostles:

“He who is not with me is against me.”

And we shouldn’t be surprised since it was predicted at His birth,

when the prophet Simeon told his mother in the temple:

“This child is destined to be

the downfall and the rise of many in Israel,

a sign that will be opposed.”

It was even promised almost from the beginning of time,

from the very first time man put Himself in opposition to God,

as God promised the serpent in the garden of Eden:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your seed and her seed…”

 

Jesus knew that He was calling for a radical change in His disciples,

that by placing yourself with Him

you will often discover yourself to be in opposition to the world.

And He knew that living this life would be a truly difficult struggle,

requiring great sacrifice.

 

This opposition, sometimes even violent opposition,

means that we are in a battle,

but not a battle in the sense the world normally fights battles,

because this is a battle involving Christ.

So it’s not a war inspired by hatred for the opposition

–but a war inspired by love for those who hate us.

It’s not a war that seeks to bring death to the enemy,

but a struggle to bring eternal life to the entire world.

And unlike any merely human battle,

the promise of peace and unity is still experienced

–even in the heat of conflict—

by all who, as St. Paul says,

“keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.”

 

_____

All of us are called to this radical new life in Christ.

He calls us not to be afraid,

but to allow our hearts to be ablaze with the fire He brings into the world:

the fire so vividly seen on Pentecost

as the Holy Spirit descended upon the first disciples–on his Church.

That fire still burns in the Church,

though, unfortunately, not so brightly in all her members.

 

Ask yourself: does the fire of Christ burn brightly in your life

so that, living in the world, you truly live

“as a sign that will be opposed.”

Do you live and love like you really believe in Christ and his Church?

Or do you live in fear of being seen as being different

or in opposition to the rest of the world?

 

____

It’s very hard to do this, to live as a “sign opposed”.

Sometimes you even find yourself opposed by your own family,

as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel.

I know many of you have experience this.

Some of you parents find it difficult to correct your children,

to teach them your values—the values of Christ.

Sometimes it seems you’re fighting a losing battle,

with the media and the schools

teaching your kids a completely opposite set of values.

You tell your son to respect authority and say “yes sir” and “no ma’am”,

then his favorite athlete is arrested

for trashing his hotel room and resisting arrest.

You try to teach your daughter to dress modestly

with true respect for herself and her body,

but her favorite website tells her if she does she’s a prude,

and besides, all her friends dress like that.

You try to teach them the truth about the dignity of sexuality,

of the beauty of marriage

and the amazing meaning of being created as male and female,

….and their schools teach them that none of that matters,

or even that all of that is “hate.”

 

Or you have older children

who’ve stopped going to church,

or who are cohabiting with their boyfriend or girlfriend,

or who have married outside the laws of the church.

Or a son or daughter who tells you they’re “gay.”

 

And kids, you really want to do the right thing,

to live clean and sober and in chastity,

but your friends make fun of you

and pressure you to abuse alcohol or drugs or sex.

Sometimes it even comes from your parents:

you want to go to Mass or confession, but your parents are too busy.

Or maybe your interested in being a priest or a nun,

and people look at you like your crazy.

 

____

There is a vast division between the life Christ has called us to

and the life of the world we live in.

But the divisions don’t end there:

there’s still another troubling division

that exists in the life of everyday Christians

–the very real state of division that exists

in the separation of Orthodox and Protestant Churches

from fullness of unity with the Catholic Church.

Many of these non-Catholic Christians truly stand for Christ,

opposed by the world,

but at the same time they place themselves in opposition

to the fullness of grace, truth and faith

that Christ gave to His apostles and their successors

to be protected and shared with His people.

 

And again the division don’t stop here:

Everyday we see painful divisions among Catholics.

Sometimes we suffer more from fellow Catholics

than we do from those who categorically and formally oppose the Church.

It was it was only 28 years ago tomorrow that I left my hometown of San Antonio

to move to Arlington to begin my studies for the priesthood.

I firmly believe that it was God Himself who led me here.

But I never would have left San Antonio if the Church there

hadn’t been in such a state of division:

priests and laity alike in open opposition to the teachings of the Church.

 

____

Very really and sad divisions exist,

and they can be a terrible source of discouragement.

But, you must not let division’s

—either in the family, or with the world, or in the Church—

lead you to give up on what you believe,

to compromise God’s eternal truth

for some false and passing unity in or of the world.

Rather, as St. Paul advises us in today’s 2nd reading:

” [let us] keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,

the leader and perfecter of faith…”

who “endured the cross,”

but then took, “his seat at the right of the throne of God.”

“Consider,” St. Paul continues,

“how He endured such opposition from sinners,

in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

 

Do not let opposition dampen your spirits or drown your faith,

but let the fire of Christ blaze, and strengthen your zeal.

Don’t let it be a fire of hatred of your enemies, but a fire of love for Christ.

Let His fire purify your intentions, and spread from you

to warm the hearts of those who are cold or luke-warm to Christ.

 

___

As we now enter more deeply into the Mystery of the Eucharist,

the sacrament of the Peace of Christ, and our Holy Communion with Him,

let us pray for ourselves and one another,

that we may truly live in communion with the Lord Jesus,

and never place ourselves in opposition to Him.

Let us pray also for our families, and our friends,

that Christ may heal all divisions,

and enliven the fire of His truth and love in us.

Let us pray for all Catholics,

and all Christians who are divided from the full unity with the Catholic faith,

and for those divided from the Church entirely.

Let us pray that the burning fire of the Holy Spirit may well up in His Church,

transforming us into one consuming blaze

that will spread into all the world, burning away all that divides us

from the perfect unity and peace of Jesus Christ.

TEXT: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2019

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 11, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

We live in the wealthiest county in the wealthiest country on earth.

Some of you have a pretty good share in that wealth

and most of the rest of you are hoping to share in it,

to a greater or lesser extent.

But then we hear the voice of Jesus echo over 2000 years and say to us:

“Sell your belongings …[for] an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
Now most of you probably work pretty hard to get all that you have,

some of you have made huge sacrifices.

But even with all that hard work,

how much of your success has been due to the “luck”

of having good parents, or particular natural talents

or simply being in the right place at the right time?

 

Well, personally, as a Christian, I don’t believe it luck.

Christians believe in providence:

God has a plan, and He provides for us according to that plan.

We believe that God created us for a reason,

and gave us our parents and our talents.

And He gave us lungs to breath

and free will to choose to be lazy or to work hard.

As St. Paul says elsewhere in scripture:

“What have you that you did not receive?

….why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”

Like the servant in today’s parable,

we have all been “entrusted with much.”

 

___

Of course, seeing things this way requires “faith.”

Note, this faith is not opposed to reason.

Rather faith is the light that shines on reason,

like a lamp shining on a book to make it readable and understandable.

 

And when we see the world in the light of faith

we see all the things we have as gifts

most of which pass away when we leave this world.

And we see that these things we work so hard for

—money, fame, pleasure, power, whatever—

mean nothing if we forget the one who gives them in the first place.

If we love the gift more than we love the giver, God Himself.

 

So you say, yes father, all that’s true, and faith and God are important to me,

but placing them above everything else—that’s hard.

Yes, it is.

But so is getting up every morning and going to work or school,

most everyday of your life.

But you do it.

Why is it so inconceivable to work as hard and make as many sacrifices

to place God in the center of your life?

Why aren’t we willing to do that now, and every day for the rest of our lives?

 

You say, yes, but when I go to work

I see the fruit of my work, the reward of my labor.

I get paid at the end of the week,

and over the years I rise up in my career.

It’s not that way with God—He doesn’t give me tangible results.

 

First of all, how many of your employers or clients

pay you up-front for the work you haven’t done yet?

Not many.

But God does.

He’s already given

every breath you take, every thought in your head, your job,

your very life itself!

Not to mention the grace that flows from His Cross and resurrection.

 

And how many of you work hard and wait for years to get promotions?

If you’re boss doesn’t promote you today,

or at least put the promise in writing today,

why would you risk working for years for the uncertain?

Unlike your boss or client, though,

God did put His promises of riches and promotion in writing.

It’s written down in scripture and affirmed every day

in the living breathing teaching of the Church.

We read it today in the Gospel as Jesus promises us:

“your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

 

You say, I have faith, Father,

but I ask God for things all the time,

and most of the time He doesn’t give me what I ask for.

True, but maybe you’re asking for the wrong things.

Imagine if you went into your boss’s office tomorrow

and demanded 6 month paid vacation.

Not many bosses would give in to that—in fact most bosses would fire you.

 

But God just sits there patiently listening to our requests for silly things,

things He knows won’t be good for us,

and then gives us what we really need.

How about a little oxygen in your lungs?

How about a job to come to tomorrow?

And how about I give you some of the really valuable stuff,

some of the treasures of heaven

How about a little charity or chastity or wisdom?

 

___

And I’m not just talking about people with jobs.

 

Students do the same thing.

We’re still 2 weeks away from the start of school,

but the kids in band and football are already starting to practice.

And when school starts you kids will be working hard,

maybe even staying up late at night working on your homework

or studying for tests, all for a grade no one will remember

5 years from now.

 

And mothers who stay at home, especially homeschooling.

You work hard to help your kids grow into fine adults,

but do you work hard at your faith?

And retired folks: you worked hard all your life building a financial nest egg

so you could retire comfortably,

but did you work hard to build up treasure in heaven?

Are you working hard at it now?

 

We work so hard for the things of this world,

and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.

And yet we expect so much from Him, including all the things we already have.

 

____

So, how do we work hard at having faith?

We begin with the basics.

If you’re a surgeon you have to obey the basic rules of medicine and science,

or you’ll work hard all day long

but not only will your patients die,

but you’ll die of starvation.

And if you’re a Christian,

you begin by working hard at keeping the basic rules of faith and love.

You keep the commandments:

you worship God,

you don’t kill, steal, or lie;

you love your family, and respect the gift of sexuality.

And you follow the beatitudes,

you embrace poverty of spirit, work for peace and show mercy;

and you accept persecution for standing up for your faith in Jesus.

It’s difficult, but you have to work hard at living the life God calls you to live.

 

And you spend time studying.

What professional doesn’t spend years studying

before he even begins to start his career?

And who survives in his profession if doesn’t do continuing education?

A Christian also has to study:

to read the Scriptures, the Catechism, the writings of the great Popes

and other holy books.

To listen to talks by orthodox experts or holy people

—to pay attention to the homilies at Mass.

It’s a fact that most Catholics stopped really learning bout their faith

when they were 14.

Imagine if an accountant had stopped learning about numbers when he was 14…

 

And you have to pray.

Prayer involves talking and listening to God.

This requires patience and time,

but imagine a lawyer who doesn’t talk and listen to his client.

Prayer also involves praising and thanking God:

what laborer does his work well when he doesn’t respect it or enjoy it?

What Christian can be a good Christian if he doesn’t praise his God.

 

And finally, you have to open your heart and choose to accept

the grace God gives you.

What fool goes to work but refuses to turn on the light in his office so he can see

or to pick up his shovel, or use the other tools his employer provides?

Who works hard all week and then refuses to cash or deposit his paycheck?

 

_____

Now, in every business or line of work, there’s always critical moments in time.

Maybe it’s a deadline, or an important make or break meeting.

At those moments all the hard work comes together and pays off

—either in the product or in the reward.

For Catholics, the most important moment is the time we spend at Mass.

 

Sometimes people tell me they don’t really get much out of Mass.

Well, maybe the problem isn’t so much what you’re not getting out of the Mass,

as it is what you’re not putting into the Mass.

 

Some people come to work late every day,

then waste time all day gossiping with friends,

distracting and entertaining themselves on the internet,

maybe occasionally answering the phone when it rings,

until they can manage to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the traffic.

They were at work, but they didn’t do work.

The didn’t put much into it, and they didn’t get much out of it that day,

and they aren’t going to get much out if on pay day, or promotion day.

 

Sounds like a lot of Catholics at Mass.

 

On the other hand, some people go to work early

and throw themselves into the job

—having spent the previous evening and the drive in preparing for the day.

I have a feeling that will all the money and power in this room today,

that represents a whole lot of you.

 

If you want to get something out of Mass, first put something into Mass,

both before you get here and while you’re here.

Prepare before you come, and when you get here early

examine your conscience:

think how you’ve kept the commandments this week;

and read the scriptures and studying what the Mass is about.

And during the Mass listen to the prayers, the readings and the homily carefully.

Maybe my homilies are too long and too boring,

but there’s something, even if it’s only one sentence,

that God wants you to hear in them.

 

And pray: the whole Mass is one long prayer:

listen and talk to God, sing his praises,

and thank him from the bottom of your heart for all he does for you!

And finally, open yourself up to the grace he gives you so generously

in this sacrament of the Eucharist.

 

___

Every good thing we have or want is, in one way or another, a gift from God.

But why do we work so hard to enjoy and even abuse

the lesser gifts God gives

and spend hardly any effort to enjoy His most profound gifts,

and the ones that last forever.

Remember:

“Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

…where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

TEXT: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 4, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

A few weeks back you may have heard about the sad situation

in our neighboring diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia,

as an investigation determined that their former Bishop, Michael Bransfield,

was guilty of years of sexual misconduct,

massive financial mismanagement,

and lavish spending of church money.

 

What might Jesus have to say to Bransfield today,

and to all bishops and priests?

Maybe,

“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich,

one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

 

Of course this passage from today’s gospel,

as well as the related texts in today’s 1st and 2nd readings,

applies to all of us,

but in a particular way it must apply to bishops and priests,

who are given a most precious gift in their ordination,

and in that gift are, as Jesus says today, “rich in what matters to God.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that the man who is a priest is himself necessarily holy,

as we see in too many cases, as with Bransfield, that is not the case.

But the gift of priesthood itself is holy, no matter what.

And while a priest’s sins do insult the gift of priesthood,

they do not take away from the gift itself:

a sinful priest still can offer a valid Mass, and forgive sins.

 

____

Even so, a priest should do everything he can to be worthy of this immense gift

and to worthily share it with the whole Church.

 

Of course, this is necessary for the good of his own soul

–remember the servant who buried the talent given to him,

of whom the Master said:

“cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness…”

Or as St. John Chrysostom put it so succinctly in the 4th century:

“hell is paved with the skulls of [bad] priests.”

 

But more important than that,

since the priesthood is meant not for the priest’s good,

but for the benefit of the whole Church,

the priest must strive for personal holiness for the good of the Church.

 

Think about it.

A priest is called to confect the Eucharist, to give the Body and Blood of Christ

to his people, and to forgive sins and administer all the sacraments.

But he’s also called to teach about the life of Christ the Eucharist brings to us.

And as Pope Paul VI once wrote:

“modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers…”

And so, the priest is called to be a witness to Christ by leading a holy life,

and so instruct and encourage others to be holy in their own lives.

 

And a holy priest is open to the fullness of the graces God has in store for him.

For example, by the power of the sacrament any priest, even a terrible man,

can forgive sins in confessional,

but holy priest will also be guided by the Lord

to know what to say to aid and convert the penitent.

He will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit

in preaching, teaching, counseling and consoling His people.

 

And finally, a holy priest offers more efficacious prayer for his people.

St. James writes in Scripture:

“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”

Imagine a truly holy priest, a saintly priest,

standing at the altar with the Body of Christ in his hands

—what greater human prayer could there be in the world?

 

____

One of the great examples of this sort of priest

is a saint whose feast we normally celebrate today, August 4,

although not this year not liturgically, since it’s Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

The priest who is the patron saint of parish priests, and of all priests,

known to many as the “Curé of Ars,” St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney.

 

John Vianney was born in 1786, into a family of devout Catholic farmers

in small town near Lyon, France.

When he was only 4 years old the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror

began to wreak havoc on the Church in France,

executing, imprisoning or deporting tens of thousands of priests and religious.

During those years of persecution many faithful priests went underground,

and pious families gave them shelter, including the Vianney family.

 

It’s no wonder that young John, inspired by these holy and courageous priests,

fixed his sights as a child on following them into the priesthood,

so that when the persecution finally ebbed,

by God’s grace he was ordained a priest at the age of 29.

And 3 years later was named the pastor, or “curé,” of the tiny hamlet of Ars.

 

Ars had never recovered from the revolution

and Catholicism and morals were in shambles:

very few people went to Sunday Mass,

and in a town of only 230 souls there were 4 taverns.

But the new curé was determined to change this,

as he told a young boy on the road who helped him find his way:

“You have shown me the way to Ars,

I will show you the way to heaven.”

 

He began small, but with great zeal.

He spent his own salary to repair his church

and buy beautiful vestments and vessels

for more fitting worship of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

He visited his parishioners, especially the sick.

He preached and taught catechism regularly.

He spent long hours in the church,

praying and waiting for his people to come to confession.

And he celebrated Holy Mass with profound reverence

—nothing was more important to him.

As he would say:

“All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass,

since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God”.

 

Eventually, witnessing his personal holy example and unrestrained love for Jesus,

people started to come, at first from Ars, and then from all over France.

It’s estimated that by 1855, his 27th year in Ars,

nearly 20,000 pilgrims would come to Ars annually

to see this simple priest.

 

Well, not so simple.

Reports soon spread of his miraculous healings

of the sick, the deaf, the blind and the lame.

Word spread of the regular vicious attacks he endured from the devil,

who would sometimes physically assault him at night.

But the most phenomenal reports came

with regard to his ability to read souls in confession:

as he would often remind penitents, in great detail,

of sins that they had neglected to confess.

 

All these, of course, were special graces from God,

but they came to St. John because he had made himself

completely open to them.

In short they came because he was a truly, deeply, HOLY priest:

 

But while those things tended to attract the crowds,

it was something much simpler that led them to actual conversion:

the example of holiness that exuded from St. John.

His love for his for Jesus and his people was manifest in every word and action,

His example of purest chastity led many a sinner to purity,

as they would say “he radiated chastity.”

His poverty of life and sacrifices showed them how to give all for God:

he gave literally everything he had to his parish or to the poor;

he would fast constantly,

eating only one daily meal of cold potato soup, if that;

he would sleep only 2 or 3 hours a night

so he would have time to keep his heavy schedule,

especially his 12 to 18 hour days in the confessional.

And his humility was a hallmark of his life:

once, early on, the neighboring priests signed a petition to his bishop

demanding the Cure of Ars be removed for his incompetence;

but the bishop rejected it when he saw that the last signature on the letter

was that of the humble John Vianney himself.

 

But all who knew him would say all this came from and led back to

his love and devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

His poverty of spirit showed in the torn cassock he wore constantly,

but covered during Mass with beautiful vestments, for the glory of God.

His love for his people was evident as he tenderly called them

to receive our Lord in Holy Communion:

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it.”

His chastity shown like a beacon, as they said:

“He gazed upon the Host with immense love”

showing them his single-hearted desire for God alone.

His self sacrifice for his people,

shown through when ever he would offer Mass so devoutly:

“What a good thing it is” he would say

“for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!”.

And his humility was nowhere more evident

than in the presence of his Eucharistic Lord:

“I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle” he wrote

“like a dog at the foot of his Master.”

 

This is the example of holy priesthood that Holy Mother Church holds out

to all priests, including bishops.

But also to you, as She reminds you not to be discouraged by bad priests,

but to praise God for the gift of the priesthood, and for good priests.

And to demand that all priests and bishops at least strive to understand this.

And to pray for your priests that they be open

to the fullness of the graces of the priesthood.

 

For in spite of all the scandals, we must remember, the greatness of the gift.

As the Holy Curé of Ars saw it so clearly and wrote:

“O, how great is the priest! …”

“Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”

“Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die:

not of fright, but of love…”

 

These are no words of vanity or exaggerated self-importance,

but words from the humblest of men,

who was overwhelmed with awe for the sacrament and its responsibilities.

As St. John would say:

“The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.

 

____

It was a year ago yesterday that I first preached about the scandal

of now-former cardinal McCarrick.

And now we have the Bransfield scandal, and I know there are more to come.

 

All this can lead us to great discouragement, both priests and laity alike.

But then we remember that Jesus knew

there would always be weak and sinful bishops and priests

like Judas in the beginning,

and McCarrick and Bransfield and their friends today.

And so Jesus gave us bishops and priests like St. John the Apostle,

who stood faithfully at the Cross,

and his namesake, St. John Vianney, who stood faithfully in Ars.

 

And we remember that for all the truly evil bishops and priests,

we also know so many priests who sincerely strive

to imitate the truly holy priests, like those two Saint Johns.

 

So, we must not be discouraged, but re-invigorated.

 

___

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

let us recognize the incredible gift that the priesthood is to us.

And recognize the abuses of that gift.

But also thank God for the gift,

and for the good priests who accept and embrace that gift for all its glory.

And pray for those priests, and all priests,

that they may always strive to imitate the many great and holy priests

that have come before them,

especially their patron, St. Jean-Marie Vianney.

 

And pray that all of us, laity, priests and bishops,

may “Take care to guard against all greed” and lust,

and strive to be “rich in what matters to God.”