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

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

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

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

God calls out the Jewish temple priests, saying:

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

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

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

the Pharisees and their scribes.

He repeatedly derides them, saying things like:

“do not follow their example.

For they preach but they do not practice.”

 

__

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

He’s not against priests as priests.

He’s against BAD priests.

And how does he define a “bad priest”?

“You have turned aside from the way,

and have caused many to falter by your instruction;

…you have made void the covenant of Levi

…. you do not keep my ways,

…. violating the covenant of our fathers…”

 

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

they abuse and waste it all.

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

handed down through the teaching of Moses and the prophets,

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

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

so contrary to the covenant.

 

They’ve abused the blessing of the priesthood,

and now the priesthood will become a curse for them

—they will be punished for being bad priests.

 

__

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

 

Now, as a backdrop,

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

were Sadducees, not Pharisees.

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

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

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

 

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

So when Jesus says that it’s the Pharisees who

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

He is indirectly, but clearly, criticizing the Sadducee priests

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

 

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

and recognizes them as the de facto leaders of Israel

—just as the priests should be.

But then He criticizes them for being bad leaders.

He says:

“They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

They love …seats of honor in synagogues…

and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’

 

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

And pious Jews would wear this on their foreheads or wrists

to show that they were obedient to the covenant.

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

it was a public witness to their faith in God.

 

And tassels were nothing horrible either.

Pious Jews would wear them on the hems of their garments

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

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

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

…that you may look upon it

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

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

as the Gospel tells us in 4 different places.

 

The problem with the Pharisees and their phylacteries and tassels,

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

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

He’s calling them hypocrites:

they only pretend keep the covenant in an outstanding way,

when in fact they don’t.

 

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

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

using it to make themselves look good,

and leading their people to hell by their bad example.

They had received many blessings,

but now their blessings would become a curse.

 

_____

Nowadays we have the same problem in the Church.

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

abuse their blessings as priests.

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

of priests who abused their position of authority and trust

as spiritual fathers, to sexually abuse their children.

Despicable!

As Jesus says elsewhere of the hypocritical Pharisees:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers!

How will you escape the sentence of hell?”

 

But there has also been a less publicized way

in which priests abused their blessings,

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

 

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

handed down through the apostles and their successors,

and clarified by the great theologian saints through the centuries.

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

 

But all too often in the last few decades

too many Catholic priests have abused that blessing.

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

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

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

These Catholic priests widened their metaphorical phylacteries,

pointing to all their special learning and knowledge of things

their predecessors didn’t understand.

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

chosen by God to enlighten the Church with new teachings that

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

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

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

These modern priests knew more, they knew better.

This used to be called the heresy of Gnosticism,

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

 

____

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

using the blessings of their priesthood

not to serve but to master faithful Catholics.

They lay new burdens on people’s shoulders

which they themselves refuse to carry,

telling us we must accept the new things they teach,

even if we find it confusing or heretical,

while they themselves are so unaccepting of old things

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

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

and reject “the word of God.”]

 

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

And so, their blessing has become a curse.

Because of the sex abuse scandal, the Catholic priesthood itself

is demeaned and even the best of priests held suspect.

And because of the teaching abuse of bad priests,

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

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

 

_____

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

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

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

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

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

or that man married to your mother?

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

and for priests to love to hear that,

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

and any priest who uses the authority given him from God

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

—but a hypocritical Pharisee.

 

____

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

No priest is perfect.

But even while the smallest abuse is wrong,

these grave abuses are contemptable and condemnable.

 

So this is the challenge to priests today:

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

to humbly teach what has been handed down to us,

to lead our flocks with a servant’s heart,

and to practice what we preach.

 

It is a great thing to be a priest.

What a blessing to have all these gifts and graces.

And what an abomination and curse to abuse this blessing,

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

 

We don’t need priests like that.

But we do need good and faithful priests.

 

We need this of the men already ordained

—so pray for your priests,

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

 

__

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

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

of the vocation to the holy priesthood.

 

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

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

and paying the bills and saving for the future.

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

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

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

 

But there also so many blessings to be a priest.

To be loved and respected by so many,

because they see us as their fathers,

and believe WE sit in the seat of Moses.

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

and to share it with his children, our children,

to lead them to happiness and heaven.

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

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

 

___

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

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

the abuse of the blessings of the priesthood

has become a curse on priestly vocations.

Young men have seen the example of too many bad priests

who were not faithful to the covenant of our fathers.

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

 

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

Until much later,

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

especially Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

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

May God forgive me for my failures.

 

____

So we need more good priests.

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

who will be fathers who bear the sword of truth,

and serve their children and their wife

—Holy Mother Church—

by laying down their lives to protect them

from all who would harm or lie to them.

Priests that who will not make the blessings of the priesthood

serve their selfishness,

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

 

So to all unmarried men and boys, I say:

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

You should.

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

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

 

Because we need you

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

 

_

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

who wants their son or brother

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

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

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

 

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

and to encourage them.

Because we all need good priests.

 

_____

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

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

As we enter more deeply into this holy Mass,

let us all [turn toward the Lord together and]

pray for all the priests of the Church,

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

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

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

their holy calling.

May they be courageous leaders and humble servants.

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

TEXT: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 29, 2017

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

One of the most important things to keep in mind

in order to find happiness in this life and the life to come

is the idea of keeping our priorities straight.

And using these priorities to shape and focus everything else in life.

This is the only way to make life both more understandable and peaceful:

remove or reduce everything that doesn’t fit with your priorities.

 

We might say: put first things first.

 

That’s what today’s Gospel is about.

A Pharisee scholar asks Jesus:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

In other words: “what’s the priority?”

“Which commandment helps us understand all the rest?”

And Jesus doesn’t skip a beat, but responds immediately:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,… soul, and …mind.

This is the greatest and …first commandment.

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

 

What He’s done is lay out priorities, or principles.

And the most basic first priority or first principle is:

“love God totally.”

And from that it naturally follows:

“if you love God, you have to love your neighbor,

because God loves them.”

That’s pretty much common sense, at least to Christians.

And these are the first and second priorities or principles

that govern every human life.

 

But these 2 principles aren’t anything new with Jesus.

Because He’s actually quoting the Old Testament

in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19,

where we find these 2 “great commandments”

laid out to explain and summarize the TEN Commandments.

So what we have here is a first principle,

“Love God with everything”

which is explained by the 2nd principle of

“love your neighbor”

and both are explained more particularly in these

10 sub-principles, the 10 commandments.

So that the 10 Commandments can only be understood

as how you love God and neighbor,

and the next level of fundamental principles

that govern all other practical choices in life.

 

_____

Many seem to think that loving God and our neighbor

override or even abolish, the 10 Commandments,

Of course, Jesus rejects that idea, saying elsewhere:

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets;

I have come not to abolish them …but to fulfill them.”

And He says: “If you love me you will keep my commandments…”

And, when the rich young man, asks Him:

“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus tells him:

“…keep the commandments:

‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, ….” etc.

In other words, first things first, follow the 10 commandments… of love.

 

____

Still, many people  have some very strange ideas of the meaning of “love”

ideas that radically contradict these principles.

One of the most bizarre of these is the notion

that 2 men, or 2 women,

can love each other the same way a man and a woman, husband and wife,

love each other.

 

Some even say, the Bible doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with this.

Please.

That little commandment #6, right after “You shall not kill”

the one that tells us “You shall not commit adultery.”

What do they think “adultery” is?

Again, going back to Leviticus, chapter 20,

God gives us a list of the acts that He includes

under the broad category of “adultery.”

And there we find listed, right after incest and before bestiality, this:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman,

both of them have committed an abomination;

they shall be put to death.”

[Now, Christians would interpret this to mean “eternal death,

in other words, it’s a deadly, or “mortal” sin

—let’s not be stoning people for there sins!].

But in other words, homosexual acts are against the 6th Commandments,

and therefore are contrary to God’s definition

of loving your neighbor.

 

_____

Now some might say, well, you can believe what you want,

but we can’t make laws just based on what the Bible says.

But the thing is in the case of these fundamental principles

the Bible only clearly states what every human society has always believed

and what any rational human bein should recognize as self-evident in nature.

This is what is called the “law of nature” or the “natural law.”

 

_____

Another bizarre notion of love today, is that if we love women,

we will respect a woman’s right to choose to abort their babies.

But this is neither love or respect.

The very first commandment Jesus quotes to the rich young man is:

“you shall not kill.”

We need to remember that in every abortion there are at least two victims.

Most people don’t think about how the woman is victimized in abortion.

The mother, who by her very nature loves the baby in her womb,

but is so often she is coerced by others

into believing her only choice is to kill the one she loves.

Words can’t describe the deep wounds she suffers from her choice,

wounds that will fester for years to come.

True love and respect demand that

we not lie to our mothers, sisters and daughters any longer.

 

But of course, even more than that,

love and respect demand that we not allow doctors

to kill any more of our unborn babies.

The commandment “you shall not kill” is the fundamental principle

protecting innocent human life:

you cannot love God or your neighbor

if you intentionally kill innocent people.

And, again, this not just a matter of Scripture:

it is a basic principle of the natural law that all men should understand.

 

____

In less than 2 weeks Virginians will elect a new Governor and other state officials.

In every race in this area one candidate is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage,

and the other candidate is pro-abortion and pro-“gay agenda.”

How should Catholics, and other rational Virginians, cut through the confusion

to make these decisions?

 

Simple: put first things first.

The first principle to “love your neighbor”,

must be central to political choices and actions.

And certainly the commandments not to kill or commit adultery must be as well.

 

These, then, are the first principles of our political choices,

and all choices we make must be consistent with them,

flow from them, and protect them.

 

And in the coming state elections

we have clear choice when we apply these principles,

particularly when it comes to 2 issues:

abortion and so called “gay rights.”

 

____

So, how should we choose who to vote for?

 

First things first.

What are our priorities?

What are the priorities of the candidates?

Are they in line with the principles of Christ and nature,

or do they oppose them?

First things first:

Love God,

love our neighbor,

do not kill innocent human life,

do not commit adultery in homosexual acts.

 

How can we vote for candidates who reject the most fundamental human principles,

and hold the direct opposite priorities?

I can’t even begin to think of how anyone can do that.

 

_____

Some would say, but Father there are other issues we have to consider.

What about the economy and jobs?

And what about health care, immigration, discrimination, the environment ….

Don’t those involve those same principles?

Loving God and neighbor, and the Commandments?

 

Yes–but not as directly or with the same priority or in the same order

as abortion and the gay agenda.

For one thing, for all of these other problems

there is not one clear objectively determined solution.

As long as at every step along the always we strive to love our neighbor

and protect his life and health…

people of goodwill can differ on our practical solutions to these problems.

 

In the end it goes back to “first things first.”

Under the principle that “you shall not intentionally kill an innocent life”

is the sub-principle that we must also not

even intentionally injure or harm our neighbor.

And under that comes a lesser sub-sub-principle

that we should also try to take care of our neighbor in need:

to feed him when he’s hungry, to clothe him when he’s naked.

But first things first:

if innocent people don’t have the right to life,

they lose the right not to be injured,

and of course the right to be helped in need.

You don’t have a right not to be injured or to be helped when you’re dead.

 

Or look at it another way: which is most important, or fundament?

If you had the choice between someone killing you

Or someone hurting you or “oppressing” you, which would you choose?

Or if you had the choice between someone

beating you up or simply not giving you food,

which would you choose?

Better to be alive with a black eye and an empty stomach, than to be dead.

 

So first, don’t kill innocent people.

Then, don’t hurt them either.

Then, do what you can to get them a job, or give them health care, or whatever.

First things first: priorities and principles.

 

For example, take the issue of illegal immigration.

In the first reading today, God commands us:

“You shall not molest or oppress an alien.”

But what if that alien breaks the law, what if he steals something,

or even murders somebody?

Alien or natural born citizen, you break the law, you can be punished

—in the Old Testament God is very clear

in commanding punishment for various crimes.

And he’s also very clear in explaining that just punishment is consistent with love

toward both the law-breaker and the victims of his offenses.

God doesn’t stop loving when he punishes,

just as parents doesn’t stop loving their kids when they punish them.

So, in the case of illegal immigrants,

we must strive to love them,

and, of course, we must not kill them, or physically or emotionally abuse them,

and we must care for their genuine needs,

but we can disagree on whether or not

we should arrest them and deport them

or let them stay here and give them a path to citizenship.

 

But comparing that issue, as some try to do,

with abortion or even same-sex marriage,

is a case of equating first principles to merely personal opinions:

it makes no sense.

And equating them is not the teaching of the Church,

no matter what any priest or bishop might say.

We can disagree, and still respect and love each other.

 

____

As we continue with this holy Mass,

let us pray that in the hectic confusion of our daily lives

the Lord may grant us the grace to always remember His priorities,

and make truly them our own:

the most basic principles

of loving God and neighbor, and keeping the commandments,

taught by Christ and his Church

and by nature and reason.

And let us pray that in the coming days Our Merciful Lord will give us

not the leaders we deserve, but the leaders we need.

May Virginians, and all Americans, always remember: put first things first.

TEXT: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 22, 2017

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

This is a very interesting text to read less than 3 weeks before the elections

Some try to use this text to tell the Church to mind it’s own business

and stay out of public affairs, especially elections

Others, however, use it to promote the Church’s involvement in politics.

So what is the meaning of Christ’s dichotomy between Caesar and God?

 

Like most texts in Scripture, this one has multiple layers and facets.

First, Jesus is talking about relationship between the Church and the state.

Historically, the Old Testament tells us that

when God established Israel as a great nation

He made Moses it’s absolute ruler, as well as prophet and priest:

a true theocracy.

And it would continue as a theocracy for 700 years

until Israel was conquered and ruled for another 700 years

by a series of foreign pagan kings.

 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.

Here we see 2 groups who were deeply involved in the political struggles of Israel.

The Herodians who were the “pro-Caesar” Jews

and had no interest at all in a return to a Jewish religious monarchy.

And the Pharisees, devout Jews who longed for the coming of the Messiah

who would reestablish the Jewish religious state.

And into their midst walks Jesus, who seems to be the messiah,

which is why the Herodians feared Him.

But he’s not the kind of messiah the Pharisees were hoping for,

which is why they feared Him.

 

And so they joined forces to force Jesus to take sides in their political debate,

so that one or the other can have Him arrested and executed.

 

But He does not take sides.

He simply says:

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

 

He’s not terribly concerned about the state or creating an earthly kingdom,

but about the conversion of individual hearts and lives.

So in this short and pithy saying he rejects both

the wall of separation and the religious monarchy.

 

___

But He also means something more.

Remember what He says later to Pontius Pilate:

“You would have no power over me

unless it had been given you from above.”

And then remember the words from today’s 1st reading from Isaiah,

as God says to Cyrus the Persian,

one of the foreign pagan kings who ruled over Israel:

“For the sake ….of Israel…

I have called you by your name, giving you a title….”

But then He adds: “I am the LORD and there is no other.”

 

Now we see more clearly what Jesus meant:

civil authorities have their own proper authority,

but in the end that and all legitimate authority comes from God.

 

____

Now, some people today might say that teaching is un-American.

But to me it seems to echo in the words of our nation’s founding document:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,

that all Men ….are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable rights

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

 

Here the founder’s based our nation’s whole existence on God—the Creator—

and hold that our government exists only

to protect what God has given to man.

This seems to be very close to what Jesus told the Herodians.

 

Now, it is true that over the centuries the Church has often become

more involved in secular government than Christ would seem to have preferred:

sometimes for good and noble reasons,

but also, sometimes for the bad intentions of certain men in the Church.

In my opinion, the more closely the church directly has involved itself in secular government,

the more likely it was to be involved in calamities.

 

Eventually western society rejected the interweaving of the state and religion.

And this rejection came most radically

in the form of 2 great 18th century revolutions.

 

In one of these revolutions—the French Revolution—

the revolutionaries tried to eradicate the Church altogether,

killing or exiling 10’s of 1000’s of Frenchmen

who simply wanted to practice their Catholic faith.

In the end this was not a separation of Church and state

but merely a new example of the old problem:

a new state persecuting the Church.

 

But the other revolution was very different.

That was the American revolution.

It did not seek to banish God or Christ, or Christians from its shores.

In fact the founding fathers saw religion

not only as a fundament human right,

but also as essential to the success of the American experiment.

They believed that the only way America could have

a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people.

And they believed that religion was essential for this to happen.

As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,

religion and morality are indispensable supports….”

And he warned us that:

“reason and experience both forbid us to expect

that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

 

And here we come back to Jesus’ teaching about Caesar and God.

Yes, the government has a legitimate autonomy from the Church.

But no government can ever usurp God’s authority,

whether by suppressing the rights God has given to the people,

or by redefining good as evil, or truth and lies.

 

Granted, Churchmen have sometimes failed to recognize

the legitimate authority of the secular governments.

But when Churchmen have simply stuck

to teaching the truth and morality passed on to us by Christ

–of reminding Caesar exactly what it is that belongs to God–

they have fulfilled their God-given mission

and advanced the good of all mankind.

 

Of course, some today continue to vehemently disagree

even with this indirect “interference” by the Church.

They say, if people follow their Churches’ moral teaching when they vote

that would be imposing one denomination’s morals on the whole society?

 

The thing is, some basic moral principles transcend denominational teaching

—they are not merely the teaching of “the Church” but

part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,”

or what the Declaration of Independence calls

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

Moral principles so basic that any rational human being

should be able to figure them out all on their own without a priest teaching them.

For example, any rational thinking person can figure out

that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent people.

 

Unfortunately, though, all too often we don’t think rationally

—we let our passions, like hatred or greed, or envy or lust, lead us in our actions.

And sometimes we just don’t have time to sit and think things through,

as if we were all professional philosophers.

So it’s important for someone—like the Church–to call us to task,

to think, and to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”

—the Natural Law.

 

Because without that governments will inevitably enact laws

that are contrary to both human reason

and the good that our Creator intended:

and all we will have is codified confusion, legalized injustice.

For example, they might enact laws that deny the natural God-given

right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”;

or the God-given freedom of religion or speech.

 

Clearly, no merely “Human Law” can be “good” or just or even binding

if it contravenes “Natural Law.”

 

And so we see a 2nd facet of Christ’s saying today:

we must obey Caesar only as long as

Caesar is consistent with the truth that God imprints

in the hearts and reason of all men, religious or not.

Even if man needs to be reminded of these truths from time to time,

by the Church, or by amateur philosophers like the founders of our great nation.

 

___

But how do we apply Christ’s teaching about Caesar and God in 2017?

In today’s Gospel the Herodians come to Jesus with flattering words:

“we know … that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

…you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.”

But Jesus does not respond so sweetly.

Instead he calls them what they are: “hypocrites,”

because they don’t really want the truth from Jesus;

and they don’t really want him to “teach” them “the way of God”;

the pro-Roman “Jews”

they have chosen to render to Caesar what belongs to God alone.

 

Today millions of Catholics do the same thing.

44 years ago Human Law discovered something in our constitution

that no one ever knew was there: a false right to kill unborn babies.

“False” because it is directly in opposition to the natural law

that prohibits us from killing innocent human life,

and to particularly protect the lives of children.

But ever since the false right to abortion was discovered,

all sorts of other new false rights have followed,

like the right to force others pay for your medical costs,

like contraception, even when they consider them grossly immoral,

or the right for two men or two women to marry each other,

even though that is so obviously contrary to the natural law

that no society in the history of the world has ever recognized it.

 

The thing is, if we reject one part, or three parts of the Natural Law,

how do have a claim on the rest of it?

How can we say that God gives us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,

if we don’t believe that God has established any rights or duties at all

—natural law?

 

And yet, for 44 years isn’t this exactly what Americans have been doing

in the voting booth?

Any candidate who says he stands for human rights

but supports government policies that override

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,”

that candidate, like the Herodians,

has given Caesar authority over the things of God

and, like them, is also nothing less than a hypocrite.

 

And, frankly, any Catholic who supports or votes for that candidate

is an even worse hypocrite.

Because while Jesus calls the Herodians “hypocrites” once in today’s Gospel,

in the very next chapter of Matthew Christ turns on the Pharisees

and calls them hypocrites 6 times.

They’re worse than the Herodians

because they know the law of God

and should know better than to play games with it.

And Catholics know the Church teaches infallibly that

abortion, contraception and homosexual acts are grave moral evils,

as is forcing Christians to support these immoral acts.

But even so, millions of Catholics still give more credit

to public opinion polls, or to the opinion of the media or a political party,

than to the truth taught by the Church.

They should listen to the warning Christ reserves for Pharisees:

“”Woe to you, …Pharisees, hypocrites!

…You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

 

_____

Finally, some say,

“I vote for the candidate that will give me money, or help me pay my bills,”

and some say, “I vote for the candidate who won’t take my money in taxes,

and will allow me to make more money in a freer market.”

I am very sympathetic to economic concerns we all have.

But in today’s Gospel, what does Jesus have in his hand that belongs to Caesar?

A Roman coin: money.

This reveals a 3rd facet of this text: money isn’t that important to Jesus.

 

After all, who was it that gave you all you have

—or the money and skills, the health and the breaks, to get what you have?

Was it Caesar, or was it God?

And at night is it Caesar you pray to

or do you pray to God to bring us back from the precipice?

Can the government really guarantee your health and wealth?

Or can it, by itself protect us from the evil that might destroy us,

whether war, hurricanes, disease, old age…whatever?

Remember what Jesus says elsewhere:

“….seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,

and all these things shall be yours as well.”

 

___

Two weeks from now Virginians face some very important decisions.

But as you make those decisions, ask yourself: how will I explain this to Jesus?

How will you explain it to him if you rendered unto Caesar what really belonged to God?

What will you say to Christ?

And what will Christ say to you?

Let us pray that it will not be those 2 terrible words

He once spoke to both the Herodians and Pharisee’s:

                        “you hypocrite.”

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.