TEXT: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 8, 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 8, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

Thus begins today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom.

Intriguing words: Who can know what God is thinking, or what He intends?

 

Nowadays we hear something like this almost every day.

We especially hear it from people who reject moral teachings

that Christianity or Judaism has traditionally taught for 3,000.

“how do you know what’s right or wrong—are you God?”

 

That seems to be what the Book of Wisdom is saying:

‘Who can know God’s counsel,

or who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

 

But is it really?

 

Because the reading goes on to say:

“who ever knew your counsel,

except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?

 

Think of this: this reading is from the “book of Wisdom.”

And it is only a short example of how God did in fact

reveal His counsel and tell us what He intends

in the Old Testament: the Word of God Himself.

And in then there’s the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament

which reveal how Jesus is the Word of God made flesh,

the Wisdom of God made flesh,

and who is completely one with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus reveals perfectly the counsel of God and intention.

 

And after sharing all that with His Church,

He promised to send the Holy Spirit,

who would fill the disciples with the gift of God’s wisdom.

And He fulfilled that promise at Pentecost.

 

Jesus also promised that wisdom and Holy Spirit

in a special way to His 12 apostles, promising them:

“the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things,

and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…”

So that He could promise St. Peter, and his successors, the popes:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,

and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,

and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,

and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 

So we have the Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition

—the doctrines of Christ handed down to us

by His apostles and their successors, the popes and bishops.

And through the Holy Spirit He has guided His Church,

to deepen its understanding of those doctrines

and apply them to the developments of history.

 

So that now we have a vast wealth, a treasury of Catholic doctrine

that tells us today, the counsel of God and His intentions.

And as the first reading today concludes:

“And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.”

 

“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

The Catholic Church can–and does.

 

But not totally.

And by that I mean, while the doctrine of the Church teaches

all the fundamental truths that we need to live as God calls us to,

knowing how to apply that doctrine to everyday life,

in large issues and small,

is not so easy.

From the small choices, like “what clothes should I wear today?”

to the large life-changing, or even world-changing, choices.

In those times, we probably all ask ourselves:

“who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

 

But then we remember that we do know what He fundamentally intends.

And, the Holy Spirit who has guided His Church to understand those doctrines,

isn’t exclusive to the popes and bishops

—that same Holy Spirit is active in guiding the life of every Christian,

especially those of us who have received

the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.

 

And on top of that, every human being, being created in the image of God,

has the gift of reason, the ability to think rationally, to figure things out.

Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel:

“Which of you wishing to construct a tower

          does not first sit down and calculate the cost…?”

 

And so when we face the choices of life—big and small—

as Catholics we take all that treasury of doctrine

and compare those to the facts at hand,

and then use reason and the grace of the Holy Spirit God,

to make the very best judgment we can, and follow that.

 

This process of obediently applying the doctrine of the Church,

through the use of grace and reason

to the particular facts at hand

is called “following our consciences.”

And this choice we make is called a “prudential judgment.”

 

Even so, there are a lot of variables here.

First, do we know and understand

what the Church doctrine is that applies to a particular issue?

Then, do we know all the facts, and do we see them clearly?

And sometimes facts can be seen from different angles.

And then sometimes our reason fails us;

some of us are more rational, or wiser or emotional than others

—all this can affect our reason.

And then there’s the Holy Spirit—sometimes we listen, and sometimes we don’t.

 

“Who can conceive what the LORD intends?”

 

We know a lot, but sometimes it’s confusing.

 

Because of that, in many cases human reason can lead different people

—even truly good Catholics—

to reach different conclusions and choices in particular situations.

 

Let me give you an example of this, something very controversial in our time.

 

As you may know, our Holy Father, Pope Francis,

has voiced his strong support for those who say

man is largely to blame for climate change,

and that man can correct it by changing his way of life.

Two of the Church’s doctrines he sees applying to this are

first, that we should not abuse the gifts that God has given us,

and second, that we should love our neighbor,

and so not harm our neighbor

by our neglect or abuse of the environment.

 

Okay, so far so good.

That is where we begin.

But then comes the hard part: applying doctrines to facts, with reason and grace,

and making a prudential judgment.

 

All of us, including the pope, bring different factors to this choice,

and our minds process it differently.

We approach it from different perspectives and biases,

we have different information, know different facts,

or see certain facts as more important than others,

or interpret them differently than each other.

I mean, even different scientists say different things.

So that even when we do our best, we can be right or wrong

when we make our prudential judgment—even the Pope can be wrong.

 

And so, when it comes to matters of prudential judgment,

as Pope Benedict XVI once wrote:

“…There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion”

even if it means “a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father.”

 

Thus, while there are important doctrines involved here,

our response to claims of climate change, and mankind’s blame for it,

is, clearly, a matter of prudential judgment left to each individual.

 

 

____

Now, let me make sure we’re clear.

Some people try to argue that all choices and decisions

are a matter of prudential justice.

They are terribly wrong.

Catholic doctrine unambiguously holds that some things

are always wrong in themselves, “intrinsically evil,”

including things like murder, abortion contraception and homosexual acts.

So, for example, just like it is always evil to kill someone

simply because they are in the U.S. illegally,

it is also always evil to kill someone

simply because they are in their mommy’s wombs and unwanted.

No arguments to make, no prudential judgment involved,

just well settled doctrine.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to accept this:

that doctrine is not up to our particular judgment.

But if you want to cling to your own opinions

as if they are your most valuable possessions,

rather than embrace the clear doctrine of Christ and his Church,

Jesus says: “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions

cannot be my disciple.”

 

___

Now, some of you may think that I disagree with the Pope on climate change.

Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.

Actually, I hope I’ve been careful not to interject

my own prudential judgment here.

 

Even so, sometimes a priest—whether he’s a Pope, Bishop or Pastor—

finds it necessary to share his judgment with his flock,

just as Pope Francis has done with climate change.

The problem is, sometimes people mistake

sharing prudential judgment with teaching doctrine.

 

And that’s a very dangerous mistake.

Because if Catholics don’t see the difference between doctrines and judgments, some Catholics might hear some really stupid judgment of a foolish priest

and rightly reject it as foolish,

but then think they can reject everything the foolish priest says,

even if it’s divinely inspired Church doctrine.

It happens all the time.

 

So when the Pope thinks he needs to intervene to stop climate change,

he’s going to use passionate language to communicate his zeal.

But, the thing is, he’s making a passionate plea

based on his own best prudential judgment

—not giving a catechesis on doctrine.

 

____

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

let us pray that,

following the truth revealed by Christ in the doctrines of His Holy Church,

and using right reason and the grace of the Holy Spirit,

[that] each of us, and our nation as a whole,

may be a true instrument of His will that God intends us to be.

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

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 1, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

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

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

something the Lord is telling us

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

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

especially when we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist.

 

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

that cost all mankind eternal life with God.

Adam and Eve believed the serpent’s lie

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

then they would be like God.

This is the epitome of pride,

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

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

 

What a radically different picture we find in Christ

–whom St. Paul calls the “new Adam.”

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul writes:

“though he was in the form of God,

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

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

 

It is the humility of Jesus to worship the Father

that defeats the effects of Adam’s pride,

and brings about our salvation.

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

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

“Therefore God has highly exalted him

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

in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

 

_____

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

God the Father tells His only begotten Son, Jesus:

“My son, conduct your affairs with humility.”

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

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

do not recline at table in the place of honor.

Rather, …take the lowest place

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

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

 

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

so that by taking “the lowest place”

–humbly accepting death on the Cross

–His Father came to Him and said

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

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

 

____

In the Mass we come to worship God

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

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

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

that we can join Him in His heavenly glory.

 

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

the Eucharist, the Mass,

essential to our being united with Christ crucified and glorified,

is the absolute necessity, on our part,

of an overwhelming disposition of personal humility.

 

The readings today reflect this very eloquently.

The Gospel begins by saying:

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

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

as He tells the parable of the wedding feast,

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

the wedding banquet of Christ and his bride the Church.

 

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

But this meal is also no ordinary meal,

because as we find ourselves in the presence

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

we also find ourselves somehow mystically present

at glorious wedding banquet of heaven.

And Jesus reminds us that to worthily enter into this banquet

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

–we must enter into this banquet in humility.

 

And so, the Mass is full of prayers and signs

calling us to and expressing humility.

Think about it…

 

We begin the Mass with the Penitential Act,

recalling humbly that we are sinners.

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

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

humility before God and before our neighbor,

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

that I have greatly sinned…

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

as we strike our breasts as a sign of humility.

 

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

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

and so we first beat our breasts, but then,

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

You alone are the Holy one”—not us.

 

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

–this time not in what we say,

but by not saying anything, and instead humbly listening,

listening to God speaking to us through the Scriptures

and in the Homily.

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

“conduct your affairs with humility, …

an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.”

 

The Mass proceeds and we come to the offertory,

as we offer our humble gifts of bread and wine,

which symbolize the gifts of ourselves.

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

nothing we have and nothing about us

is truly worthy to offer the Lord.

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

Jesus Himself, given on the Cross.

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

right before he washes his hands,

“With humble spirit and contrite heart

may we be accepted by you, O Lord,

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

 

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

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

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

“you have approached Mount Zion…the heavenly Jerusalem,

and countless angels in festal gathering,

and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven…”

As we begin this Eucharistic Prayer

in which we are truly drawing nearer and nearer every moment

to the coming of heaven to earth in the Eucharist,

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

as they sing their song of praise:

“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

 

But the letter to the Hebrews most especially points out

that in this heavenly Jerusalem we:

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

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

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

the blood of the new covenant.”

And we finally are present with all of glorious heaven,

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

 

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

to become humble before the Lord and with one another.

We bow our heads at the name of Jesus,

we bow to the altar as a symbol of Christ,

we strike our breasts three times in the Confiteor.

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

we show our greatest outward sign of humility.

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

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

he tells us that the angels and saints

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

As Christ personally and physically enters into our Liturgy,

present under the appearance of the Eucharistic bread and wine,

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

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

saying in all humility:

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

And notice, the priest joins us in this:

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

and right before the “Lord I am not worthy”

the priest genuflects in humble adoration,

remembering that although honored to stand in persona Christi

during the Mass,

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

 

Finally, after preparing ourselves to approach this heavenly wedding banquet

with truly humble hearts,

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

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

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

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

 

_____

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

and to die on the Cross,

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

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

under the form of simple bread and wine,

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

But its only to the extent that we prepare ourselves

and open our hearts to share in His humility

that we can truly enter into the mystery of the gift

of His Cross and His glory.

 

____

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

let us conduct our lives with holy humility.

And let us begin that humility at this Mass.

Having listened with an attentive ear

let us now approach…”the heavenly Jerusalem,”

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.

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

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

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

so that when the Lord approaches you he will say,

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

For he “who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 25, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

How many of you have been in some social situation,

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

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

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

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

we just take different roads to get to Him.”

 

We hear things like this all time.

And it has a certain attraction to it.

 

But then we run into some problems,

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

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,

for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter

but will not be strong enough.”

 

In this phrase Jesus is saying that

there really are NOT many different roads to God,

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

We see this especially when we remember other sayings of Jesus

we find elsewhere in the Gospels,

for example:

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

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

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

…is a thief and a robber….

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

 

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

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

that is Jesus,

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

 

Some argue:

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

“I know their works and their thoughts,

and I come to gather nations of every language;

they shall come and see my glory.”

Doesn’t that mean that all peoples

—even non-Christian peoples—will go to heaven

no matter what their religious beliefs?

The thing is, the text goes on to say:

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

…to Jerusalem, my holy mountain

just as the Israelites bring their offering

to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.”

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

and bring all nations to come to worship HIM

in the way that HE would tell them to.

 

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

the incarnation of the God of the Jews,

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

He said:

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

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

And He told his apostles:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them…,

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

 

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

that’s’ good enough.

Again, we turn to Christ’s own words:

Speaking to Simon Peter:

“And I tell you, you are Rock,

and on this rock I will build my church…”

Or speaking to all his disciples:

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

you have no life in you.”

Or to His Father:

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

The only religion we find that follows these teachings of

the primacy of Peter, the centrality of the Eucharist

and the unity of the Church

is in the Catholic Church.

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

 

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

and even many people who aren’t even Christian,

try every day to enter the narrow gate.

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

they have not been able to come to know Jesus Christ

or the fullness of his teachings in the Catholic Church.

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

as best they can come to understand it,

of course God won’t deny them salvation.

 

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

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

that Christ has entrusted to his Catholic Church.

So that, in fact, as Jesus says elsewhere:

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

and those who find it are few.”

 

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

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

and God will overlook the fact that

you don’t really keep His commandments,

or are indifferent to what He’s taught us.

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

 

Unfortunately, this is sometimes where many Catholics find themselves:

Just because you’re outwardly a Catholic

doesn’t mean you’re going to heaven.

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

and even if you come to Mass every Sunday and

eat the flesh of the Son of Man”,

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

that Christ and His Church has taught you

you really haven’t entered the narrow gate.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says to these Catholics:

“then will you stand outside …saying, …

‘We ate …in your company

and you taught in our streets.’

Then he will say to you,

‘I do not know where you are from.’”

 

As we read last week:

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

And as Jesus says this week:

“some are first who will be last.”

 

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

including too many priests,

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

And instead of recognizing this about themselves,

they blame the Church for being too narrow-minded,

out of step with the real world.

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

 

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

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

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

But is even that enough?

 

By telling us to “enter the narrow gate”

Jesus isn’t calling us to become

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

His rules and doctrine are essential:

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

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

that the narrow gate is first and foremost a person,

and in fact one particular person.

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

 

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

—even if we make them up for ourselves.

That’s relatively easy.

But it’s a whole lot harder

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

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

every person is unique, specific and demanding.

 

And so it is true that the gate is narrow:

you must give your life to the particular person

who is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.

And you must truly love Him and His Father and Spirit

with all your heart, mind soul and strength.

 

____

Today hear the voice of Jesus calling to you:

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

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

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

enter the narrow gate.

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

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

to the infinitely boundless, and yet particularly personal,

love of Jesus Christ.

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

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 18, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

It is one of the great comforts of our faith

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

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

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

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

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

But today we hear something very different

from the Prince of Peace:

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

No, I tell you, but rather division.”

 

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

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

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

How can Christ promise peace and unity,

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

but the sword and division?

There’s only one way that makes sense

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

 

Christ does come to bring peace

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

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

rather, unity with Him, and His heavenly Father.

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

to those who follow Him in love,

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

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

 

The division is clear and spectacularly simple;

elsewhere in Scripture He tells His apostles:

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

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

when the prophet Simeon told his mother in the temple:

“This child is destined to be

the downfall and the rise of many in Israel,

a sign that will be opposed.”

It was even promised almost from the beginning of time,

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

as God promised the serpent in the garden of Eden:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your seed and her seed…”

 

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

that by placing yourself with Him

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

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

requiring great sacrifice.

 

This opposition, sometimes even violent opposition,

means that we are in a battle,

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

because this is a battle involving Christ.

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

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

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

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

And unlike any merely human battle,

the promise of peace and unity is still experienced

–even in the heat of conflict—

by all who, as St. Paul says,

“keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.”

 

_____

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

He calls us not to be afraid,

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

the fire so vividly seen on Pentecost

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

That fire still burns in the Church,

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

 

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

so that, living in the world, you truly live

“as a sign that will be opposed.”

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

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

or in opposition to the rest of the world?

 

____

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

Sometimes you even find yourself opposed by your own family,

as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel.

I know many of you have experience this.

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

to teach them your values—the values of Christ.

Sometimes it seems you’re fighting a losing battle,

with the media and the schools

teaching your kids a completely opposite set of values.

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

then his favorite athlete is arrested

for trashing his hotel room and resisting arrest.

You try to teach your daughter to dress modestly

with true respect for herself and her body,

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

and besides, all her friends dress like that.

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

of the beauty of marriage

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

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

or even that all of that is “hate.”

 

Or you have older children

who’ve stopped going to church,

or who are cohabiting with their boyfriend or girlfriend,

or who have married outside the laws of the church.

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

 

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

to live clean and sober and in chastity,

but your friends make fun of you

and pressure you to abuse alcohol or drugs or sex.

Sometimes it even comes from your parents:

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

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

and people look at you like your crazy.

 

____

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

and the life of the world we live in.

But the divisions don’t end there:

there’s still another troubling division

that exists in the life of everyday Christians

–the very real state of division that exists

in the separation of Orthodox and Protestant Churches

from fullness of unity with the Catholic Church.

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

opposed by the world,

but at the same time they place themselves in opposition

to the fullness of grace, truth and faith

that Christ gave to His apostles and their successors

to be protected and shared with His people.

 

And again the division don’t stop here:

Everyday we see painful divisions among Catholics.

Sometimes we suffer more from fellow Catholics

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

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

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

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

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

hadn’t been in such a state of division:

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

 

____

Very really and sad divisions exist,

and they can be a terrible source of discouragement.

But, you must not let division’s

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

lead you to give up on what you believe,

to compromise God’s eternal truth

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

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

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

the leader and perfecter of faith…”

who “endured the cross,”

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

“Consider,” St. Paul continues,

“how He endured such opposition from sinners,

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

 

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

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

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

Let His fire purify your intentions, and spread from you

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

 

___

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

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

let us pray for ourselves and one another,

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

and never place ourselves in opposition to Him.

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

that Christ may heal all divisions,

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

Let us pray for all Catholics,

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

and for those divided from the Church entirely.

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

transforming us into one consuming blaze

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

from the perfect unity and peace of Jesus Christ.