TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2018

 

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

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

“Avoid giving offense, …just as I try to please everyone in every way…”

This is a very simple but important instruction,

but it is so often either ignored or misunderstood.

 

Nowadays it seems the people get offended much more easily than they used to.

And at the same time we have a phenomenon sometimes called

“political correctness,” which tries to regulate offensive speech or actions.

 

Now, some say what I call “political correctness”

is really just loving your neighbor.

But the thing is, it’s not really based on true love, but on arbitrary standards

–sometimes rooted in fear, sometimes on ideology–

that absolutely prohibit us from offending some groups

but permit us to offend others.

 

So it sometimes leads to utterly absurd results,

like when American government officials refuse to recognize

that an army of Muslim terrorists is, well, Muslim.

Or, consider how the media would never dream of saying a negative word about

the so called “gay community,”

but they wouldn’t hesitate to insult

tradition-minded Catholics Evangelical Christian.

 

It’s interesting how so many in the media claim “free speech”

when they say something offensive about Catholics or Evangelicals,

but if the Pope or an Evangelical preacher

says something which is a simple statement of our ancient faith

they call him a bigot, and his teaching “hate speech”.

No mention of “free speech” here, much less “freedom of religion.”

 

Some would say that on many issues,

Catholic priests, even the Pope, don’t following St. Paul’s advice to,

“Avoid giving offense …”

Unfortunately, they confuse “giving offense”

with charitably “giving good advice.”

 

Look at today’s readings again.

In the first reading God tells Moses that lepers should be

“declare[d] unclean,” and “shall dwell apart,” from the rest of the Jews.

On the other hand the Gospel tells that Jesus allowed the leper to “come to” him

and that Jesus was “moved with pity” and healed him.

Some would say that

the Old Testament seems judgmental and uncharitable to the leper,

while Jesus seems welcoming and charitable.

 

But the reality is that both attitudes reflect charity.

Moses didn’t have the power to heal lepers,

so all he could do, in charity,

was protect the community from being infected by leprosy

by requiring the lepers to dwell apart.

And notice that Christ does not rescind this law of Moses:

but since He does have the power to heal,

Jesus acts with particular charity for the leper and heals him.

And then, with charity for both the leper and the community,

Christ tells the man to obey the law and go to the priest

to reassure the community that the man is safe to associate with.

 

Also, notice what both the Old Testament and the New Testament do:

they both recognize leprosy for the terrible disease it is,

for both the person and the community.

Some people say that charity requires the Church

to be silent about some things it calls sins,

since some folks might be offended by what we say.

But that’s like saying that charity would require Jesus

to ignore the man’s leprosy.

That’s not charity, that’s simply political correctness at it’s most absurd.

 

But what about St. Paul’s instruction to, “Avoid giving offense…”?

Clearly what he’s talking about causing unnecessary offense.

Sometimes a life-saving surgery is painful, and that pain is necessary.

—but we still have the surgery,

and use anesthesia to avoid unnecessary pain.

 

Jesus Himself was constantly telling people their sins in order to save them.

Think of the story of the woman at the well.

Of course, this is the a great story of Jesus’ mercy and charity,

but when the woman runs to tell everyone about Jesus she doesn’t say

“come see a really nice guy”

but rather “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”

 

_____

Today’s gospel tells us that:

it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.”
It’s fascinating that both Jesus and the leper can’t enter town,

but for opposite reasons:

one is too popular, the other is too unpopular.

But in the end, Jesus will be as unpopular as a leper:

when the people figure out

that He didn’t come just to cure the sick,

but to preach about the true meaning of love and sin.

 

The Church is also popular when people see us

helping the sick and feeding the poor.

But when we exercise our freedom of speech and freedom of religion

to proclaim Christ’s teaching on love and sin,

the world also treats us lepers.

And they say we’re uncharitable.

 

_____

In charity we must always try to “avoid giving offense”,

trying always to be considerate of others.

But never be confused

between the charity of correcting moral evils,

and the foolishness of political correctness.

The Church—and all Christians—must always proclaim the truth

—true love, true charity, demands it.

Always following St. Paul’s instruction

not to give unnecessary offense to anyone,

but always keeping in mind first, as St. Paul also says:

“doing everything for the glory of God.”

TEXT: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Sometimes people like to pit what they call “the God of the Old Testament”

against “the God of the New Testament”

—as if there was a difference, or that somehow God changes,

gets kinder or mellows with age.

Of course, this is nonsense.

If we read carefully the pages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament,

we can see very clearly how God is consistent in both,

and how He fulfills his word and promises of the Old Testament

as He speaks to us in the New Testament,

and how the glory of Christ is foreshadowed in the Old Testament

for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

Today’s first reading and Gospel are prime examples of this.

 

In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy

Moses tells the people that one day God will send Israel

“a prophet like me.”

Now, what you have to understand is

that there had never been “a prophet like” Moses before

—and never would be again in all of Jewish history.

From the time of Abraham around the year 1700 BC

to the time of Moses around 1300 BC,

there was really no other prophet at all.

But then after 400 years of waiting

for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham

as they languished in slavery in Egypt,

suddenly God sent them Moses,

the great prophet who had actually seen and spoken to God

on Mount Horeb.

 

And with great signs and wonders

—the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea

–he shows that he is not only God’s messenger,

but that he is the instrument of God’s incomparable power!

Not only does Moses tell Pharaoh, “let them my people free,”

he himself frees them, with the power of God.

 

And then he takes them to Mount Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai,

where he goes up and receives the law from God Himself,

bringing it back to the people who accept it and renew the Covenant.

This time not with vague promises like those God made to Abraham,

but now with very specific promises and teachings: “the law.”

 

And God kept His promises,

and right at the center of everything Israel did for over 1200 years

was the law of Moses.

Of course, they didn’t always keep the law as they should.

So the Lord sent prophets like Elijah and Isaiah,

adding nothing really new,

but shedding light on Moses teaching,

—and warning the people when they strayed from it.

But, again, no other prophet ever compared to Moses.

Nowhere is this more evident in one important fact:

no one ever saw God as Moses had seen him on Mount Horeb

and even in some mysterious way in the Holy of Holies.

As the Book of Exodus tells us:

“the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,

as a man speaks to his friend.”

And it goes on to tell us that when Moses would encounter God like this,

“the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

And when …the people of Israel saw Moses, behold,

… they were afraid to come near him.”

 

They were frightened by Moses, because he had seen God.

But, they were also frightened because, in a very real way,

they had also seen God, if from a distance;

as Scripture tells us:

“when all the people perceived the thundering and the lightnings

…the people were afraid …

and they stood afar off, and said to Moses,

You speak to us, and we will hear;

but let not God speak to us, lest we die.””

The sight and sound of God in the thunder and lightning was

so magnificent that it scared the heck out of the people.

 

So when we read today how when Moses promises

that someday a prophet like him will come

he also promises that that prophet

will also be the intermediary between God and the people,

so they won’t have to see and be frightened by

the magnificence and holiness of God face to face:

As Moses says:

“This is exactly what you requested of the LORD…at Horeb.”

 

______

That’s the Old Testament.

Now see how it’s fulfilled in the New Testament, in today’s Gospel.

St. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Capernaum and went to the Synagogue

—reminding us that, like Moses before him, Jesus was a Jew,

coming to His “own kin,” just as Moses prophesied.

And then He teaches the assembly, just as Moses did.

And then it tells us:

“The people were astonished at his teaching,

for he taught them as one having authority

and not as the scribes.”

You see, the scribes and rabbis would teach

by strictly explaining what Moses had taught,

clarified by what the other lesser prophets had said.

They never proposed anything new on their own authority,

but only repeat and explained

what was handed down with Moses’ authority.

 

But then Jesus comes along and doesn’t contradict Moses,

but goes beyond him.

He doesn’t say “this is what Moses meant when he spoke to you,”

but rather “this is what God meant when he spoke to Moses.”

St. Matthew’s Gospel is full of examples of Jesus saying things like:

“You have heard it said, thou shall not kill…

…but I say to you… whoever says, ‘You fool!’

shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Or in another place:

Moses allowed you to divorce …,

but …I say to you: whoever divorces his wife…and marries another,

commits adultery.”

 

Back to today’s Gospel,

after this kind of new preaching, like Moses who parted the Red Sea,

Jesus shows the power of God,

driving a demon from a man right there in the synagogue.

And taking all this in, Scripture tells us:

All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?

A new teaching with authority.”

Elsewhere Mark records a similar event, and says:

“they were all amazed…, saying,

“We never saw anything like this!”

 

So the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled in Christ.

 

_____

But there is something more here.

As I explained before, the people in Moses’ time were afraid to see God.

 

To many today this might seem strange.

To some, this is because they try to recreate God in their own image,

to make him less awesome, less perfect, less radically different than us,

so that their own sins don’t look so back

when compared to their dumbed down image of God’s perfection.

 

But that’s not the way it was for Moses and his people:

they saw God as radically different—HOLY

and that they were radically unholy compared to him.

 

To others today, though, there is a more innocent explanation

of not being afraid of seeing God.

That’s because we have already seen God

—and not only survived, but flourished.

This is the gem right in the heart of these 2 passages of Scripture.

 

Because while Jesus was in fact a prophet “like” Moses

by revealing radically new things,

and changing the people and their covenant with God forever,

He was also like Moses in an even more important way:

like Moses he saw God face to face.

But unlike Moses he saw him not only on the Mountain or the Holy of Holies,

but all the time–constantly!

And not simply as Moses did, “as a man speaks to his friend”

but now as a Son speaks to His Father,

and even… as a man speaks to himself.

Because Jesus is not merely a human prophet like Moses,

but he is also the Son of God, and God the Son himself.

 

And also unlike with Moses,

with Jesus the people have no need to fear seeing God,

because in Jesus God comes to His people in a way that says

not, “behold my magnificence and holiness,”

but now “I am meek and humble of heart,”

“do not be afraid,”

and “peace be with you.”

He says, yes, I am glorious and all powerful,

but see that glory and power through the prism of my deep love for you.

Yes, you are sinners,

but I will pour my love out on you,

washing away your sins,

and joining you to myself,

so that you can be not simply God’s unworthy people,

but God’s own holy sons and daughters.

 

___

A few years ago, Pope Benedict explained this in a most beautiful way

in a Christmas homily.

He said: “from the time of Adam

[God] saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man….

Therefore God chose a new way.

He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.

Now – this God …says to us

you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

 

This began in His birth, but continued all through his life.

Do not be afraid, I come to heal you and drive the devil out of your life,

and to show you the way, the truth and the life of happiness.

Do not be afraid, I hang upon the cross, vulnerable, beaten and mocked,

so that my blood might wash your sins away.

Peace be with you, I have risen and conquered sin and death,

so that you may have eternal life.

Peace be with you, for behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.

 

God hasn’t changed, from the Old Testament to the New,

but in Christ He shows us first His humility and love,

and in this we see the true depths of His glory.

And so there is no reason to be afraid, only to love.

 

The Jews in Capernaum saw him this way 2000 years ago,

and we who love Him continue to see Him this way today.

We see and hear Him in the constant teaching and life

of His body on earth the Church.

And we hear Him every time His word is read in scripture.

And, most sublimely, we see Him every time we come to Mass,

and we touch Him every time we receive Him in holy Communion.

Again, He comes not in a fiery and thundering mountain top,

but in the least threatening way possible:

under the appearance of simple bread and wine.

And He says: “do not be afraid” …. “love me” “as I have loved you”…

“peace be with you.”

 

_____

Today the Old Testament and New come together,

as the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled:

the great prophet who not only teaches us about God

but brings us face to face with Him in His very being,

has spoken to us in His sacred word.

Continuing with this holy Mass let us open our eyes of faith

to recognize Him now as He comes to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us approach Him, not afraid that He will strike us down with lighting,

but only afraid that our sins may offend His Sacred Heart.

Let us remember that He is the Almighty God of Mt. Sinai,

and we are lowly sinners.

But let us rejoice and praise Him

because He gives us a new teaching with authority,

and comes to us in the form of bread, saying:

“do not be afraid,” “peace be with you.”

TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 21, 2018

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 21, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In the 242-year history of the United States

our nation has had some terribly dark days,

that both scarred and defined our nation for decades to come.

For example, one thinks of  April 12, 1861,

when rebel forces fired the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter;

or December 7, 1941, when Japanese Imperial forces

launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor;

or September 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda attacked

the Pentagon and the Twin Towers.

But tomorrow we remember another of the darkest days

in America’s history: January 22, 1973,

the day the Supreme Court, in a decision called Roe v. Wade,

ruled that women have a right to kill their unborn babies.

 

That day seemed only to immediately effect the life of one baby:

the so-called “baby Roe.”

But like Ft. Sumter, Pearl Harbor and 9/11

it would have far reaching deadly effects in America and the whole world,

as the harbinger of the death millions of other unborn babies.

It was the beginning of what the Popes have called

a “culture of death” in the western world.

 

Since 1973 there have been over 60 million abortions committed in America,

almost 60 times more than all the Americans killed in wars

in our entire history.

At least in war Americans have usually

had a fighting chance to defend themselves,

and were fighting for some just cause.

But where is the just cause that demands

the death of completely defenseless and totally innocent human beings,

tiny unborn babies that we should not be attacking but protecting?

 

__

How can a culture atone for this barbarism?

And how can a culture not be corrupted

by such depraved indifference to human life?

 

In fact, it has been corrupted.

In particular wide-scale acceptance of abortion has corrupted

4 important groups that are essential for the well-being of society:

 

First it corrupted the legal system, in the persons of judges and lawyers

whose primary purpose should be to protect and defend the innocent,

and assure “justice for all”

—for both the powerful and the weak.

Instead they have become the guarantors and apologists

for the slaughter of the weakest and most innocent of society.

 

And it effected the medical system, as doctors and nurses,

whose primary purpose should be

to foster and care for human life and health,

–to “first, do no harm” to human life—

by making these doctors and nurses

the executioners of the most vulnerable life,

and assailants of their own patients

–in both abortions, and euthanasia.

 

But most of all it corrupted motherhood,

that most wonderful of all gifts to the human family,

the heart of the family,

the school of love for all children

and thus, for all human beings everywhere.

Roe/Wade corrupted motherhood by trying,

and too often succeeding, to transform it

from being the epitome of selfless loving sacrifice,

to being the co-conspirator in death.

And in the end, these poor women,

whose lives have been destroyed by abortion and the lies that support it,

these 2nd victims of abortion are ignored and ridiculed

for expressing their pain and feelings of guilt.

 

And as even abortion became acceptable,

it lowered the bar and further corrupted motherhood

seeming to confirm the lie of radical feminist

that motherhood was something to be avoided,

and thereby making contraception the “responsible norm”

rather than the shameful aberration it had always been.

Motherhood became a disease,

and contraception was the antidote, and abortion the cure.

And stay at home moms were wasting their lives,

and large families—even families with only 3 or 4 kids—

suddenly became a drain on society.

 

___

And the corruption continues to grow—now even corrupting science.

For example, science continues to develop new procedures

that seem to be, in a sense, “pro-life”:

the amazing developments sometimes called

“in vitro fertilization.”

Unfortunately, this is also steeped in the culture of death.

First, it transforms the divine gift of procreation

from the result of the acts of love of two parents,

to the result of the mechanical skills of scientists and lab technicians:

babies are not conceived, they are manufactured.

But beyond that we also know that

all forms of in vitro fertilization require the making of multiple embryos.

After one of these embryos—tiny little babies—

is implanted in her mother’s womb, the other embryos

—other tiny babies of that same mother—

are usually “destroyed”, or killed,

although sometimes they are frozen, like a slab of inanimate meat.

 

Another example of the deadly effects of Roe/Wade is

“Embryonic Stem Cell Research.”

Doctors take the techniques they invented in in-vitro fertilization

and throw aside the false façade of trying to help families have babies,

and now brag about manufacturing babies

simply for the purpose of killing them and using their bodies

for experimentation and research.

The Nazi monster, Dr. Josef Mengele, would be proud of this ingenuity.

 

Finally, we see the issue of cloning coming forward.

Talk about the inhumanity of manufacturing people:

scientists seeking to produce children

without even the remote involvement of any parents at all!

 

We can go on and on.

All of it just shows how that day 45 years ago this Monday

changed America, and really the world,

and made both a more deadly place to live in.

It changed our whole way of thinking about human life, and not for the better.

 

___

But we are not without great signs of hope.

For example,

while our country has had to fight bloody violent wars

to end slavery, and to stop imperialist hegemony and defeat terrorism,

the battle against Roe v. Wade is being waged, and can be won,

without any violence at all:

we can elect presidents, congressmen and senators

to change laws, and approve sensible pro-life judges.

In fact, this past year has seen several events that prove this.

In particular, with the election of our current president, love him or hate him,

we have a new strongly pro-life Justice on the Supreme Court,

and 12 new pro-life Circuit Court judges.

And, whatever your politics or personal feelings about the man,

these judges were appointed by one of the most outspoken

pro-life president this country has had in the last 50 years,

a president, freely elected, without violence or coup.

 

And of course,

there is always that great sign of hope we saw last Friday

as for the 44th year in a row hundreds of thousands of people

marched on the Mall in peaceful protest, in the March for Life,

calling for an end of the culture of death once and for all.

 

____

Some say we are fighting a losing battle

—that in the end all these signs of hope are a mere flash in the pan.

But they said the same thing 42 years ago about Martin Luther King, Jr..

And yet this last Monday most of you had the day off in his honor.

And today a black man sits on the Supreme Court,

and for 8 years a black man was our president.

If racial equality can triumph,

why can’t the even more basic cause of life also triumph?

Not by violence, and not by anger

—but the blessings of living in this great free republic

informed by the truth of Jesus Christ.

 

____

Despite what some people say,

this nation was founded on Christian principles.

And although some would say that America is now in a post-Christian era,

that doesn’t mean that the truth of Jesus Christ cannot be re-discovered.

In today’s first reading we read how even

the depraved ancient city of Nineveh

repented and reformed when confronted by the prophet Jonah.

And as Jesus says elsewhere: “but you have one greater that Jonah here.”

 

We do have one greater than Jonah: we have Jesus himself.

And by the grace of Jesus Christ our country can change.

And like the Peter, Andrew, John, and James,

Jesus calls out to us today to help him bring that change about.

He says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He calls us to join him as he casts his net to draw all hearts and minds

from the dark confusion of the sea of death,

into the light of His Gospel of life.

 

_____

This week, then,

let us remember that dark day exactly 45 years ago

when the Supreme Court embraced a lie

to open the door to the culture of death that surrounds us today,

with its cold fingers strangling the institutions of

law, medicine, science and even motherhood itself.

But let us also remember

that by the grace of Jesus Christ,

we live in a nation where oppression and lies

can be overcome by truth and faith,

and that every day God gives us great signs

that he has not abandoned us.

 

Let us accept and spread the grace and truth of Jesus Christ,

let us defend the dignity of every innocent human life,

from conception until natural death.

TEXT: The Epiphany of the Lord, January 7, 2018

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 7, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord,

or the “manifestation” of the Lord;

the day the Lord Jesus Christ, showed Himself to the world for the first time.

The day when the 3 magi from the East,

after traveling over a 1000 miles following a star,

searching for the Christ,

found Him and fell at His feet to pay Him homage.

 

Who were these strangers from the East?

The custom and historical evidence seems to point toward

a class of well-educated pagan priests from Persia, and perhaps Arabia.

These men were well versed in the teachings and Holy books of the Jews,

as well the study of the stars

…sort of 1 part superstitious astrology, 1 part scientific astronomy.

So when they saw the new and magnificently bright star in the heavens,

they probably connected it to the old Testament prophesy

in the book of Numbers:

“A star shall rise out of Jacob

and a scepter shall spring up from Israel”

…and set out to investigate, hoping to find the Messiah

the Jews so often spoke about.

 

They were truly wise men, searching for the truth,

searching for the truth about God, searching for the Christ.

But they were only doing what men have been doing since the creation,

—whether they knew it or not, mankind has always searched for a God

who would save them the difficulties and sorrows of the world,

from their own deprivations and failures,

from meaningless and loveless existence,

from their own sins, and the sins of the world they lived in.

These three men from “the East” searched and found Him,

in Bethlehem, and His name was Jesus.

 

Over the centuries billions of others would continue

the searched for their Savior God.

Some would find Him–some would not.

Some who found Him would embrace Him—some would reject Him.

Some who embraced Him would follow Him to heaven

—some would abandon Him for hell.

 

One man who tried to find Him was another man from the East

—coming from the same area

that some say at least one of the magi came: Arabia

–but born about 570 years later than Christ.

His name was Muhammad.

He was a camel trader who became a wealthy business man,

but he was also given to long hours of prayer and fasting.

Like the 3 magi he was also searching for God,

sickened with the multiplicity of false gods worshipped by his people.

In his search he became acquainted and attracted to

the teachings of the Jews and Christians,

and came to believe in their God.

Unfortunately, he didn’t understand their teachings very well,

and so he wound up rejecting Judaism and Christianity as incomplete,

relegating Jesus to the status of a great and holy prophet.

 

____

The 3 magi found Jesus lying in a food trough for animals,

born of a people who had spent the last 550 years

in subjugation to foreign kings.

How easy it would have been to reject him

—but instead, as Matthew tells us:

They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts

of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

In this they showed that they were not only men of learning

—but also men of wisdom, God’s wisdom

and so it is fitting to call them, as we often do,

the 3 Wise Men of the East.

 

__

Unfortunately for the Arab born 570 years later,

he was not as wise a man as Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar:

he found Jesus, but did not prostrate himself.

We may never know why:

perhaps the faith was not explained to him very well,

perhaps he never had a true opportunity to see Jesus as He really was.

In any case, filled with great zeal and desire to see the Lord,

recognizing Him in the religion of Christians and Jews

but unable to accept Him, he founded a new religion, Islam,

based on some of the basic tenets of Catholicism,

but rejecting the most important: Jesus himself.

 

______

1400 years later, we live in a world

where 2.3 billion people have come to accept Christ,

at least nominally, as their Savior.

But 5 billion others do not accept him.

The epiphany of Christ to the world, though partly successful,

seems to have failed.

But it hasn’t really.

Because the Epiphany of the 3 magi was just the beginning

of Christ’s manifestation of Himself to the world.

He continued that manifestation as he traveled around Judea preaching.

And He ordered His apostles to continue it even after He ascended into heaven

commanding them:

“go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them,

in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

And it continues today, as He tells us to do the same.

 

There’s a lot of talk today about the good and bad attributes of Islam,

and need to the respect Muslims.

And much of this is very important.

But I hear very few people talk about Muslims as being in need of conversion.

Now, I don’t expect politicians to talk that way, that’s not their business.

But I don’t hear much from churchmen about this either

—whether it’s the bishops and priests, or people like you

—no one seems to even think about it.

 

Why is that?

Islam is not a religion equal in status to Christianity

first and foremost because it lacks the one essential thing

necessary for salvation: JESUS!

Now, don’t misunderstand me:

the Church teaches that though it seems very difficult,

it’s possible for anyone to go to heaven

—Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, pagan, secularist—

as long as they sincerely seek the truth about God,

and earnestly try to live according to the truth.

But that doesn’t mean all religions are the same

—or that salvation is found IN Islam.

Salvation comes from Jesus, and Jesus alone.

 

 _____

Is it fair to assume that just because someone might be able to go to heaven

without really knowing Jesus,

that we can leave them in their ignorance.

It’s hard to be a good person,

hard to figure out what’s good and bad, right and wrong,

even when you do know about Jesus and the things He taught.

Can we really leave people on their own to figure it out with nothing more than

a “good luck” and “I’ll pray for you.”

And why would you deprive them of the gift of knowing

Jesus’ love and peace and His grace, and loving Him back.

 

No, we’re obliged to go out and teach all nations, and baptize them.

It’s not a choice on our part, it’s a command on Jesus’ part.

If we love them, and if we respect them, we will introduce them to the Gospel.

 

__

Now, I’ve been speaking about Muslims and Islam.

But that’s really just a not so clever way of saying everyone has to be converted,

even those who seem most unlikely.

That’s exactly what God did in Bethlehem

—He invited the magi from a thousand miles away in Persia and Arabia

—people who would in no way be expected to come

to worship the “King of the Jews.”

And today He holds them out to us to tell us that

that He came to save, literally, the whole world.

 

__

In the days of Jesus’ birth, God put a bright new light–like a star–in the sky.

The star was real, but it also symbolized the fact that

Christ is the true light that entered the world on that first Christmas.

That light shines today brightly in the Church he founded,

which is the Catholic Church.

And that light must shine brightly in you and me,

because Christ entered our lives in our baptism.

We can hide that light under a basket, or we can hold it up high,

like a beacon—or a star—bringing in all those who are searching

for the truth, about God and themselves.

 

Each of us is called to do this in their own way in their own life.

I am called to do it primarily in the pulpit, lectors and the confessional.

But you have to do it in your offices, businesses, playing-fields, schools

and your homes.

And you have to spread it to everyone:

–the atheists or secularists who have no faith

–those of other faiths, like the Muslims.

–and to Jews, and also to the Protestants, who have faith,

but not all of the truth.

 

And you have to spread it to Catholics too

—too many Catholics wouldn’t recognize Jesus if He walked in here today

and laid Himself down in the manger or climbed up on that Cross.

Or if they do recognize Him they spend absolutely no time

prostrate in adoration before Him.

You have to help them to know Him

—talk to them, give them books, pray with them, bring them to Mass,

or to adoration.

 

And even before that, we have to make sure that we recognize Christ

—and that we pay Him homage and worship Him as we should.

To be like the magi, giving Him all the gifts we have,

laying them at His feet every day,

eager to do His will, to follow Him wherever He leads us.

 

______

Since creation man has searched for God

in the darkest days of an evil and cruel world.

2000 years ago 3 magi from the East

followed the bright light of a star shining in the sky

and found Him lying in manger in Bethlehem.

For 2000 years since then billions of people have found Him

not lying in a manger,

but lying in the heart of his Church

—the light of Christ still shining as it did in that ancient star.

But for 2000 years, billions of other people have also rejected Christ,

and billions have never even known him.

Whether it was that Arabian businessman 1400 years ago

who misunderstood the teachings He found,

or the Arab-American businessman down the block.

Whether it’s the “born again” protestant, who lives next door,

or your fallen away Catholic sister.

All search for him, whether they know it or not.

And all can find Him if we invite them and show them the way,

in the bright shining light of Jesus Christ.

TEXT: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, January 1, 2018

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

January 1, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Tonight/today we celebrate what is usually called

the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

It is very fitting that we do so

as we come to the close of the Octave of Christmas,

as well as the beginning of a New Year,

since the Blessed Mother is a big part of both:

she’s right at the center of the events of Christmas,

and she should be right at the center of events

in the New Year, at least for Catholics.

 

But to celebrate this feast properly

I’d like us to focus tonight on alternative title of this feast

used in many official sources:

the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

The mystery we celebrate is that Mary is both Mother and Virgin,

and how these together give her a unique relationship with God and us.

 

____

For centuries January 1, used to be celebrated as

the “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord,”

and still is in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass

—the Traditional Latin Mass.

But in 1974 Pope Paul VI changed it

saying that he wanted to re-emphasize Mary’s role

in the mystery of the birth of the Lord and our salvation.

While the whole Church was pleased to have this new feast of Mary,

I can only imagine that there were sighs of relief

in the rectories of the world:

the Circumcision is NOT the easiest mystery to preach about.

 

…. And yet, I’m going to try to now, for a moment,

because I think there’s something in the old feast

that helps us understand the new feast.

 

_____

Circumcision, as a Jewish ritual, dates back to Abraham,

the father of the Jewish faith.

It was demanded of him and all his male descendants as a sign

that they had accepted the covenant with God

—what we would come to call the Old Covenant.

Essentially, it was symbolic of sacrifice to the Lord.

You see, ancient peoples understood blood to be the source of life,

or at least to be symbolic of the person’s life

—after all, without blood you die.

So blood sacrifice

—whether the sacrifice of a Passover lamb, or the circumcisions of males—

became a symbol in Jewish law,

of giving one’s very life to God—one’s whole being.

And this is what it meant to enter the covenant:

God gave himself to you, and you gave yourself to God.

 

So we see how in Jesus’ circumcision he is symbolically offered to his Father,

and enters into the new Covenant as man.

Now, of course, as God, Jesus doesn’t need to do this:

He is in a perfect and eternal Covenant with His Father.

But as man He must do this: standing in for all mankind,

He must continuously give Himself to the Father,

in loving obedience giving Himself even unto death.

This self-gift, this self-sacrifice, of His entire life,

is brought to fulfillment on the Cross,

His ultimate and perfect “yes” to the Father.

But it, begins, at least symbolically and ritually, at His circumcision.

 

____

Now, what does this have to do with the Virgin Mother?

Think of this: she is a mere mortal human being

–yes, the greatest mere human being ever to walk the earth,

but still a mere creature.

As the Psalms say:

“O LORD, what is man that you …think of him?

Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”

And yet Mary becomes the Mother of the Eternal Most High God.

It’s sort of mind boggling, but true.

What a testimony not only to the dignity of this woman

but to the dignity of mankind in general,

that we have the capacity and dignity to receive our Creator.

 

But it also says something specific about

the dignity of women, and motherhood.

Because the Eternal Son of God does not just come to mankind,

but comes to us in the womb, body and life of His mother.

What a magnificent quality of women, the capacity for motherhood,

to receive and bear and to nurse and raise her Creator and Savior.

 

___

But this motherhood is not something passive:

it requires a total active commitment to the task at hand.

This is true for any mother,

but for the Blessed Mother it’s true in an even more profound way:

just on a natural level we can imagine the huge responsibility

she would feel and fulfill in raising the Savior of the world.

So that her “yes” to the angel Gabriel was a “yes”

to give her whole life over to God and to his will,

so that she would be open, available and immediately responsive

to whatever he asked of her:

“let it be done to me according to your word.”

 

And here we find the correlation to the Circumcision:

because in her “yes” to the angel,

and her acceptance of the tiny baby in her womb,

she sacrificed herself, gave herself,

her whole life, literally bodily and spiritually,

to God.

 

In a certain way we see this self-gift, this sacrifice, to our creator

every time a mother says “yes” to the gift of a child in her womb.

But Mary’s “yes” takes this natural “yes” to the creator,

and magnifies it with her pure and grace-filled “yes”

to be the mother of the creator himself.

 

Amazing.

_

But in Mary this dignity and mystery of self-sacrifice,

takes on an even richer meaning.

Because it is a dogma of the Church,

revealed in Scripture and held constantly in the Sacred Tradition,

that the Mother of God is also the EverVirgin Mother.

And by this we believe, dogmatically,

that Mary was and is a virgin, as we say,

ante-partu, in partu, and post-partu:

that is, before the birth of Jesus,

during His birth,

and after His birth,

and always.

 

__

Now, some say that somehow this demeans her marriage to St. Joseph,

or says that there’s something wrong with marriage, or marital relations.

 

Not at all.

The thing is, just as motherhood is a self-gift to God and to the child,

the marital act is an expression of total self-gift to one’s spouse.

But for those who consecrate themselves to virginity for the love of the kingdom,

they also give themselves completely:

a consecrated virgin gives herself, body and soul,

not to a human spouse but to God.

It’s truly a sacrificial gift, a total self-gift.

And one never offers God a sacrifice or a gift that is not good,

Scripture is very clear on this.

Which means the sacrifices involved in virginity,

including the giving up of marital relations,

is the offering up of a good thing.

 

So, “normal” brides—all those but Mary–are not demeaned by Mary’s virginity,

but rather the opposite is true:

consecrated virginity shows the dignity and worth of bodily self-gift:

if it is good to offer one’s body up to God as a gift,

what a beautiful and holy thing it is to give to one’s spouse.

 

And her Marriage to St. Joseph is also not demeaned:

St. Joseph joins her in giving himself to God completely in virginity,

so that together they are even more perfectly united in marriage

by their unique mutual total self-gift to God.

And their union with God, especially with their baby Jesus, God the Son,

makes them closer and more intimate with each other

than any other mere physical act could begin to do or express

—as good as it might be.

 

____

But something else is revealed here as well:

her virginal self-gift to God makes possible

her unique vocation as Mother of God:

only by giving herself to God completely

can she then become Mother of His Son.

And through the union of Virginal and Maternal self-gift in Mary

we see the self-gift of God himself enter the world,

as the human Baby Jesus.

Again, this self-sacrifice of Jesus is symbolized by his Circumcision,

but it began in His incarnation in his mother’s womb,

was revealed at Christmas,

and completed on the Cross.

 

But notice what precedes it: Mary’s virginal and maternal sacrifice

at the Annunciation and Christmas.

And notice what accompanies it in its completion:

Mary standing at the foot of the Cross,

sharing in his sacrifice, as Simeon once prophesied she would:

“and a sword will pierce your own heart as well.”

So that in the Cross, Mary’s own sacrifice, her self-gift to God, is perfected

by being united to the sacrificial life and death of her Divine Son.

 

___

But remember that the Cross is a sort of 2-pronged sacrifice for Christ:

He gave Himself to the Father, but for us,

and so, in way, we can say

he gave himself both to the Father and to us.

And then remember what happened as he did this:

on the Cross, He took Mary’s Virginal-Maternal gift of herself to God

and looks down and gives that gift to us:

“woman behold your son…son behold your mother.”

So that as Virgin Mother of God, she becomes Virgin Mother of the Church,

and Virgin Mother of each one of us.

Like her Son, she gives herself to God, and to us.

 

____

Personally, I’m delighted we celebrate this day

as the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

But lest we forget, this virginal motherhood has no meaning at all without Christ

and His self-gift, His sacrifice,

manifested in the Incarnation, Christmas and the Cross

—and in His Circumcision.

But, in the light of His Sacrifice,

the Virginal-Maternal self-gift of Mary is lifted up into the glory of heaven,

and reveals the dignity of

humanity, womanhood, motherhood and virginity.

And becomes a font of blessing for all of us, her children in Christ Jesus.