TEXT: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 15, 2017

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 15, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somehow everyday we could go to heaven,

and not have to die?

If we could be with our friends and family one minute,

and then with God in heaven the next?

And then back with our family again the next?


But the thing is, we can do that—and we do do that

every time we come here to enter into the mystery of the Mass.


In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king

who gave a wedding feast for his son.”

Throughout the Old Testament one of the primary symbols

God uses to explain his relationship with Israel is the image of marriage:

over and over again God calls Himself the Bridegroom,

and Israel His Bride,

using the image of husband and wife to explain

His deep and undying love for His people.

In fact, there are two Old Testament books

that are almost entirely dedicated to this theme:

the Song of Songs and the book of the prophet Hosea.


So, we can see that even your average pious Jew listening to Jesus

would have clearly recognized something very important

in the parable in today’s Gospel.

For months they’d been hearing Jesus specifically calling God his “Father”,

and Himself “the son of the father”.

And now they hear Him say:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king

who gave a wedding feast for his son.”

Not only would they understand that God was the father in the story,

and that Jesus was the son,

but also that Jesus was making Himself

the Bridegroom at the heavenly wedding feast.

And to the pious Jew, the Bridegroom of heaven was God!

–so what they hear is Jesus calling Himself God!!



This imagery of the Bridegroom and Bride continues to show up

in the Gospel and the rest of the New Testament.

Two important examples are found

in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and St. John’s Book of Revelation.


In Ephesians St. Paul tells husbands:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church

and gave himself up for her.”

At every wedding the groom is supposed to give himself to his bride completely,

to enter into an attitude of loving her that is at its heart self-sacrificing.

On a daily basis he’s supposed to sacrifice his whole life,

giving himself even bodily

–in his physical work for her, and in his physical love for her

and even in being willing to literally die to protect her.

St. Paul tells us that this is what Christ does for His Bride, the Church:

He gave Himself entirely up for and to His Bride, the Church,

when He laid down His life, body and soul,

in the Sacrifice of the Cross.


In the Book of Revelation

St. John picks up on this theme of the Bridegroom’s sacrifice,

and ties it back to Jesus’ theme of the wedding feast.

In his vision of heaven,

John tells us that he sees Jesus in heaven standing as

“a Lamb who was slain.”

a reference to the fact that Jesus offered his sacrifice on the Cross

on the very same day as the Jews were offering

the most important sacrifice of the Old Testament:

the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb.

But John also sees a heavenly banquet,

recalling to mind the passage from Isaiah that we read today,

that in heaven:

“the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples

a feast of rich food and choice wines.”

But this is no ordinary banquet: it is, as St. John tells us:

“the wedding feast of the Lamb” and His Bride the Church.


In all this we see the sacrifice of the Cross,

as the total self gift of love of Jesus to and for his Bride,

and the “heavenly wedding feast” as our participation

in that gift of Jesus’ love:

in other words,

our sharing in every good thing God can give us.


But the thing is, we don’t have to wait to die to go to this wedding feast.

Because we begin to share in that feast right here on earth,

as we come to participate in the Eucharist.

We remember that on the night before his sacrifice on the Cross,

while He was eating the passover meal with his apostles,

He replaced the sacrificed Lamb of the Jewish Passover meal

with the Bread that he assured his apostles

was his very own Body.

And so every time we come to Holy Mass

and offer and consume the sacrificed lamb of the Cross,

“the lamb of God,”

it’s as if time is suspended,

and heaven opens up, and we’re swept up into the mystery of

the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb

—the great gift of love between Christ and his Church.



The thing is, this marital love is not a one-way street:

as Christ gives himself to his Bride,

the Church is also called to give herself completely to her Husband

—to dedicate her whole life to loving him.

And Jesus tells us how to love Him at the last supper.

Just minutes before He gave us the Eucharist,

and only hours before He went to the Cross,

He tells the apostles the secret to loving Him:

          “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

So that Jesus makes it absolutely clear:

His bride must keep the commandments if she is to be His loving bride,

if she is to enter into the wedding feast

—in heaven and in the Eucharist.


Now, one of the problems with the wedding analogy

is that it applies to the Church as whole—one bride–

so that individuals might have a hard time easily relating to it.

It’s true we can say each Christian is part of the Bride,

and in a certain way each one of us is a Bride of Christ.

But it’s not the easiest analogy to relate to—especially for men.


It seems to me that Jesus, who knows everything, understood this,

and because He wanted to make the point

that the invitation to the wedding feast

extends to each and every individual human being,

He added the twist of the “invited guests.

And this works, because each guest at the feast

is invited to join in the love of the couple

and share in all the good things that flow from that love–the feast.



In today’s Gospel we read how at the wedding feast of heaven

the Father sends His servants out saying:

“The feast is ready…. Invite…whomever you find.’

The servants …gathered all they found, bad and good alike.”

This reminds us how generous the Lord is

to invite both the righteous and sinners to come to His kingdom.

Unfortunately, sometimes we can delude ourselves with this passage,

thinking that since God invites everyone to heaven and to Mass,

that everyone should actually enter heaven

and receive Holy Communion.

But according to the parable,

not everyone who is invited to the wedding,

gets to stay for supper.

Jesus goes on to explain that when the king discovered a guest

“not dressed in a wedding garment”

he had him bound and “cast him into the darkness outside.”

And He concludes: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”


God invites all of us to His Son’s wedding banquet,

both in heaven, and in the Eucharist.

But He also tells us to prepare ourselves for the banquet

—and if we’re not prepared, He will not let us take part in, or eat, the feast.



Consider how the parable tells us how God judges who is prepared:

he looks at his wedding garment.


What is the wedding garment?

In the Book of Revelation, St. John tells us that the saints in heaven

wear white robes, as an angel explains:

“they have washed their robes and made them white

in the blood of the Lamb.”

Because of this, at our baptism, each of us was physically clothed in white,

symbolizing that we had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

And that’s why the priest and the servers wear white garments:

to symbolize their baptism,

and to symbolize that at Mass they are standing with the saints in heaven,

clothed in white at the wedding feast of the Lamb.


These outward white garments are only symbols,

but they remind us of how all of who wish to partake

of the wedding feast of heaven

—either when we die, or right here at Holy Mass—

must prepare beforehand, and present ourselves cleaned from sin,

especially the grotesque stains of mortal sins.


So How do you prepare yourself for Heaven and for Mass?

Is your spiritual garment the glorious white robe of the saints—unstained by sin?


Now, most of come here with at least some, if not many,

venial, or small, sins on our souls

–like specks of dirt or lent or crumbs, they don’t ruin the garment completely,

but we need to brush them off so we can be presentable.

And so we ask the Lord to forgive them all through the Mass,

especially in prayers like the Confiteor,

or the “Lord I am not worthy…” right before Communion.

And like a friend who puts the final touches

on the bride’s gown or the groom’s suit right before the wedding,

Christ will forgive them.


Sadly, though, sometimes we come to Mass with unrepented mortal sins,

which so disfigure the wedding garment that it’s not fit to be worn to the feast.

Like a white suit or dress that’s been rolled in the mud

and needs to go to a dry cleaner, and maybe even to a seamstress,

this garment has to go through the special cleaning and repair process

–given to us by Jesus Himself–

of a confessing and repenting before a priest, and being absolved by him,

in the Sacrament of Penance.

Otherwise, it really isn’t a wedding garment,

it looks nothing like the white robes of the saints at the heavenly feast.


Most of us would never go to a wedding

dressed in anything less than our absolutely best clothes.

But all too many Catholics expect to come and eat

at the wedding feast of the Lamb,

wearing the spiritually and morally tattered rags that are their mortal sins.



In a few minutes I will hold up the Body of Jesus Christ for all to see

and proclaim:

“Behold the Lamb of God,

behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.

Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

–a direct reference to the heavenly wedding feast

come down to this altar.

Think carefully, and search your soul, and ask yourself:

have I prepared well for the wedding feast,

have I been living the life of love

in truly keeping with the Commandments,

have I been purified of mortal sins by the sacrament of Confession,

and do I now repent all my venial sins?

Do I present myself in the wedding garment of the saints,

or I clothed in the rags of sin.



The Lord Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king

who gave a wedding feast for his son”

But he also says of those who are not prepared for the feast:

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

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

this foretaste of heavenly wedding feast,

let us rejoice and give thanks for this invitation

to share in the Love of the Bridegroom and His Bride.

But let us also examine ourselves with all truth and humility.

May we never either be emboldened by our sins so as to ignore them,

or be discouraged by our sins so as to allow them

to keep us from preparing for the feast.

May all receive the Lord Jesus worthily, at every Mass, and for eternity in Heaven.

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

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 8, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


October, has, for years,

been designated by the Catholic Bishops in America

as “Respect Life Month.”

So, as I have for the last 22 years,

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

specifically, on the evil of abortion.


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

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

proclaiming the Gospel of Life

so many Catholics still don’t understand

that abortion is destroying not only

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

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


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

“he sent his servants to the tenants ….

But … one they beat,

another they killed,

and a third they stoned.

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


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

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

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

continue to either support or to vote for those who support

the killing of the most innocent human beings in abortion.


Why don’t Catholics get it?

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

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

to have a mixed or ambiguous meaning

that winds up confusing Catholics

regarding the fundamental issues and priorities involved.


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


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

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

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

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

every rational human being should understand

that the life of every human being demands respect.


But how far do the demands of respect go?

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

I can’t defend myself,

even if they’re trying to kill me?

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


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

even if their attacked or fight to liberate the oppressed?

Does it mean that we can never punish a criminal,

or deny immigration to an alien?

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

before you provide for a stranger?


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

But there are limitations.

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

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

For example:

we place duty to family ahead of duty to strangers,

we respect individual responsibility and free will,

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

because they are contrary to human dignity.


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

of respecting human life.

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

—the most basic and important principles

set the priority and order of everything that follows.


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

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

“thou shall not kill.”

If we look carefully at Scripture

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

one can never ever intentionally and directly

kill an innocent human being.

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

This is the most fundamental principle of respecting human life.

And so it is absolute and without exception.


And as we sort of move away from situations

where this fundamental principle directly applies

we see that all the other demands of respect for life

come from it and relate back to it,

even as they become more subtle,

allowing for different non-absolute responses.


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

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

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

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

but not at the cost of your own innocent life:

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


Or take another step.

You’re driving at a normal speed

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

Respect for life requires you to try not to hit him

—but if it’s unavoidable,

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


Walk way down that road now.

Say a man comes to you demanding money for food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

And the flipside of this is equally important:

if we don’t observe the fundamental rule,

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



Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus talks about:

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

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

And in today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us:

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

The cornerstone of respecting human life

is the absolute right to life of innocent human beings.

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

the whole house will fall.


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

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

for example, feed the hungry,

even when they truly cannot help themselves?

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

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

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

principle of respect for innocent life.



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

the most innocent and defenseless of human beings.

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

especially just one month before state elections.


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

But what can be more important than the systematic promotion

of the abuse of most fundamental moral principle,

attacking the most fundamentally innocent?

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

and millions more to come?


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

lots of other smaller issues combine to outweigh it.

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

the end of the death penalty,

health care for the uninsured,

prosperity for the poor and middle classes,

and for the rights of immigrants.

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

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

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

the Church officially teaches that sometimes

the death penalty is allowed and even necessary.

But what sense do these lesser issues make

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

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

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

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

when he rejects the cornerstone issue?

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

before you lay the foundation

—they’ll either blow away in the wind

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


For example, how can we trust a politician

with making the right decision about health care rights

—a decision that embodies a true respect for life—

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

exists only when it has life,

that health without life is literally meaningless.


Some argue that we need to fix our immigration policy:

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

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

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

good Catholics can disagree with on this issue,

and question each other’s judgments,

but why would we think politicians

who enthusiastically embrace unquestionably unjust attacks

on the most defenseless and innocent members

of our own society—the unborn—

would avoid unjustly harming immigrants in the future?

It’s like voting for a member of the Klan

because he claims to support minority voting rights.


Some even argue that current economic issues require us

to ignore abortion in order to fix our fiscal house

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

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

How do you weigh on a scale

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

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

Sounds a bit like Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver

for betraying the perfectly innocent one.

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


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

anyone who’s moral system,

whose sense of respecting human life,

promotes and defends the death of even one innocent human life

in order to achieve some perceived good of many others

is a fool and a reprobate.

This logic is nothing new:

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

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

than the whole nation perish.”

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

that Jesus was talking to in today’s Gospel.



Speaking of priests,

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

Friends, frankly, I agree with you.

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

for rejecting the prophets—and him!

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

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

and crush the plague of abortion in this country,

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

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

respect for the truth, and respect for human life.



But priests are not the only servants He sends.

Each of you is also His servant.

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

and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

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

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

respect for the life of the innocent and defenseless unborn.

And make that demand known wherever God sends you

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

and in the voting booth.



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

And He has taught us to recognize that common sense dictates

we must respect every human being

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

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

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

If we would not reject Christ the cornerstone,

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


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

26th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 1, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


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

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

and just goofing off.

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

and just relax and refresh.


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

On a global scale,

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

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

On a national level, we have the problems of

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

and economic hardship,

not to mention the political confusion in Washington.

On a cultural level we have attacks against

freedom of speech, conscience and religion,

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

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

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

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

And then we have increasing problems in the Church,

as confusion spreads over teaching and the papal authority.


Today, the American Bishops call us to reflect on

one of the most terrible problems in a particular way:

today is “Respect Life Sunday,”

and the beginning of “Respect Life Month,”

reminding us of a fundamental problem

that is both a symptom and a cause

of so many of our other terrible cultural problems today:

that is, the scourge of abortion,

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


Think about it.

Abortion erodes the fundamental respect

for the dignity and worth of every human life.

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

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

—without life, no other rights exist!

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

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

or being a family?


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

as society has for thousands of years,

that marriage and sex are largely about having and protecting babies

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

gain any meaning from them,

so sex and marriage have nothing to do with

the reproductive union of male and female,

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

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

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


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

what could be wrong with killing unborn Black babies:

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

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


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

of many of the other terrible problems today:

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

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

religious persecution,

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



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

But the same things that cause abortion

also cause most of our most terrible problems

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

So, abortion doesn’t cause terrorism,

but abortion and terrorism are both caused by

the same profound lack of respect for innocent human life.


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

of why human life is so important.

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

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

human life is different, better, higher

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

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

life corrupted by willful evil choices:

it’s natural, common sense, to think that

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


But why is that—why is human life special?

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

tell us it’s because God made us different

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sadly, the world had lost sight of both

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

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

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

we have today

coincides with the rise the rejection of traditional Christianity,

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


Man has turned away from God,

or perhaps turned toward a different kind of god.


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

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

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

and even the God of the Declaration of Independence,

and turning toward other false gods.

The false gods of wealth, pleasure and selfishness.

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

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

And most especially, the false gods of popular opinion,

or our own personal opinion.


And so more and more we turn away from God

and toward ourselves, as a group or as individuals.

But we are not God—and so disaster.



How do we fix this?

Well, we begin by turning back to God.

Specifically, we Christians turn back to Christ

and invite everyone we know to join us.


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

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

Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself…coming in human likeness;

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


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

when it was time for Him to humbly obey His Father

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


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

pretend to be equal to God.



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

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

But it can change.


In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of

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

and obeyed his father.

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

and be saved.


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

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

and does what is right and just,

he shall preserve his life;

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


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

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

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

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

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

—either individually or as a society or community—

and take on the same attitude as Jesus,

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

but rather humbling ourselves, becoming obedient,

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

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


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

turn toward God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ,

at whose name

“every knee should bend, …

in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”



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

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

is to revive the centuries old tradition

of the Church of turning toward the Lord at Mass.

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

turning together to face the same direction

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

through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

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

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

Cardinal Robert Sarah,

have called us to this practice.


In doing so they have repeatedly pointed out

that the overemphasis on the priest turning to face the people

during the Mass

reflects our overemphasis on turning toward each other

to find the answer to our problems.

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

in humility, in obedience,

can help us to regain the proper attitude of Christ,

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

Symbolically recognizing that all of us, including the priest,

need to, as Ezekiel reminds us today,

turn from the wickedness we have committed.

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



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

where after the Prayer of the Faithful,

during the most important prayers of the Mass,

including the offering of the sacrifice and the Consecration,

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

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

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

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


There are lots of reasons for doing this,

but I think this counterculture symbolism I’ve just discussed

may be the most important

—at least the most powerful on a practical level.

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

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

with the priest facing the people.

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

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

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

to solve our problems.

Yes, we need to work together,

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



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

to killing our own unborn babies.

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

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

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

where Jesus once

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

even death on a cross.”

And so let us turn together toward the Lord,

either physically, or metaphorically.

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

always turning toward the Lord,

by taking on the attitude of Jesus,

not clinging to some false equality with God,

but humbling ourselves and becoming obedient to Him.

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

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

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

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

but where tolerance means not merely putting up with evil,

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

A time when “charity” is defined as

never saying anything that might offend someone else,

no matter how destructive we know their behavior to be.

A time when it sometimes seems

the only sin is recognizing someone else’s sins.

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

unless, of course we judge them as being guilty

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

political correctness,

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

it’s okay to be intolerant of these people.

We see this all around us:

from the school that recently punished a first grader

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

when he wanted to be called a little girl,

to radical groups suppressing free speech on campuses.

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

as various churchmen urge us to refrain

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

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


We sometimes call this “political correctness,”

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

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

often through violent coercion.



But all this runs directly against the complete message of Scripture

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

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

only God does that

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

including in the actions of other people.


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

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

the wicked shall die for his guilt,

but I will hold you responsible for his death.”

Here and elsewhere Scripture makes it very clear

that we have to recognize sins around us,

and that we cannot merely silently tolerate or accept them.


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

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

One of the most common examples is pointing out that

Jesus ate and drank with all sorts of people,

even the “Gentiles and tax collectors”,

and they try to use this to convince us that Jesus

was always accepting of the sins of sinners.

But they forget that when the pious Jews complained to Jesus

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

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

Jesus didn’t rebuke them for being intolerant,

telling them that they should “get over it,”

but instead he said:

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

sick people do.

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

Christ judged the tax collectors to be sinners

—and He compared them to sick people

–there was something wrong with them

that needed to be cured.


Some are confused by this: and they point to texts

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

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

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ”

Love does no evil to the neighbor;

hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

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

and loving is all that really matters.


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

or avoiding making them feel bad.

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

if the alternative feels better.

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

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

it’s not loving to kill or steal

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


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

Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus tells us:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

… sick and …you did not visit me.’

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

you did it not to me.’

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


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

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


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

An intentional “sin of omission.”

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

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

even if he doesn’t want to hear it!


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

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

“go and tell him his fault.”

Not with hate or contempt or self-righteousness,

but with genuine compassion and patience and a depth of love

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

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

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

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

“speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,

… trying to turn him from his way”

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

We must obey Jesus, who is love Himself,

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

but tells us, if you love your brother:

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



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

that what their doing is seriously wrong or evil.

And so, Jesus goes on to tell us:

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

take one or two others along with you.”

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

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

And so, Jesus goes on to tell us:

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

If he refuses to listen even to the church,

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


The Church sometimes teaches things that are very unpopular

—unpopular but true—

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

and “warning” His children, Her children.

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

gently, but firmly, and clearly.

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

by being very strong and strict with them:

and sometimes She is even forced to cut them off

from full communion with the Church.

For example,

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

especially public sinners who

publicly obstinately persist in grave manifest sin,

such as pro-abortion Catholic politicians,

divorced and civilly remarried Catholics,

and Catholics in so called same-sex marriages.

She even sometimes excommunicates some of her children,

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

or someone involved in the abortion of an unborn baby.

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

according to Jesus’ own specific instructions,

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

—as outcast from the community.

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

“a Gentile or a tax collector”

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

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

to receive his wonderful forgiveness and reconciliation

—with Himself and with His Bride, the Church.



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

But we must not to be misled by people

who quote one or two lines of Scripture out of context

or twist common sense beyond all recognition.

Instead, we must not be afraid or intimidated into forsaking

the truth and the complete message of revelation.

In a culture that is more and more confused about

the true meaning of love and tolerance,

we must always love our neighbor enough

to never confuse

love with the silent toleration of evil.

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

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

He tells us very simply:

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

I will hold you responsible for his death.”

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