TEXT: 5th Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

5th  Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

One of the most important figures in the Gospels

is a great saint most people don’t think about very much,

and if they do, many have a very confused understanding of her.

But hopefully you know the truth about her, since she’s my favorite saint,

and I talk about her quite frequently: St. Mary Magdalene.

 

I say she’s important because, for example,

she’s mentioned by name more often in the Gospels

than most of the Apostles,

she was at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother,

when all the Apostles but St. John weren’t,

and, of course she was the first to see the Risen Christ on Easter,

and He sent her to tell the news to the Apostles.

For this, the Church sometimes calls her, “the apostle to the Apostles.”

 

Sadly, if you read a lot of modern so-called scholars,

you might think that she was actually even more important than that

—that she was actually an Apostle herself,

and some even say, bizarrely, that she was actually Jesus’ wife.

She was important, but not that important: those are lies, or sloppy scholarship.

 

____

Now, there is clearly more to the life story of the Magdalene

than what’s explicitly in the Bible.

In fact, in the Catholic tradition the story of Mary Magdalene

has always been commonly thought to include the story

of the woman Scripture calls the “sinful woman,”

the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears

at the home of Simon the Pharisee—that was the Magdalene.

Tradition also considers Magdalene

to be the same person known as “Mary of Bethany”

—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

But unlike other modern portrayals of Magdalene,

all this Catholic tradition is based on or at least consistent with Sacred Scripture,

and handed down by centuries of faithful Catholic scholars and saints.

 

____

The thing is, there is also an ancient Catholic tradition, less widely accepted,

but reasonable and pretty widespread,

that the woman in today’s Gospel— “the woman caught in adultery”—

is also Mary Magdalene.

 

But this ancient tradition poses a problem for some people today.

For some, it’s a problem because it’s not explicitly in Scripture.

To them I say, “relax,” because we Catholics, along with most secular scholars,

have a long history of respecting oral and extra-biblical traditions,

as long as they come from credible sources,

and don’t contradict the teachings of Scripture or the Church.

 

But to others, this tradition proposes a completely different and huge problem.

They say that portraying Magdalene as a sinner

demeans her and deprives her of her rightful high stature in the Church.

The really radical ones claim

that this is a prime example of the anti-woman male-dominated Church,

trying to oppress all women by portraying the heroines of Christ’s life

in some sort of negative light.

 

___

These people couldn’t be more wrong.

Jesus tells us:

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And of the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears He says:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

Anyone who thinks that calling a Christian a “repentant sinner”

is an insult or degrading, misses the whole point of the entire Gospel.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”

For me, to say that the Magdalene was a terrible sinner,

but a sinner who has been forgiven and repented and reformed

and loved the Lord so much that His death seems to crush her with grief

–to say this is to give the greatest praise,

and recount the most noble achievement.

Magdalene, especially understood as the adulterous woman in today’s gospel,

is the ultimate rags to riches story:

from terrible sinner to magnificent saint,

from the depths of despair and wretchedness

to the heights of sublime and perfect bliss

.

 

To repent and be saved—that’s not demeaning, it’s exalting.

And it’s the center of the life and the love of Jesus—

the reason and meaning of His suffering and death and resurrection.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

“he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;

….and with his wounds we are healed…”

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die,

and all because He loved and wanted to save sinners.

 

____

The woman in today’s Gospel stands condemned

by God’s law, called Law of Moses

—and under that Law she deserves to be stoned.

And Jesus, God the Son, knew that law very well:

1300 years before His Incarnation in the womb of Mary,

it was He, the Eternal Word of God, who gave that Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

 

But Jesus surprises the crowd, in the way he applies that law

by doing exactly what his Father sent him into the world to do:

“not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Some people think that this means that Jesus rejects the old Law,

or even all notions of sin and punishment.

If that’s the case, you can see why they can’t understand why

Magdalene’s sins can be important to Christians.

Of course they forget Jesus makes it very clear elsewhere in the Gospel

that he’s going to come back some day to judge the living and the dead,

and then he will condemn unrepentant sinners, as he says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory

…Then he will say to those at his left,

….depart from me into the eternal fire…”

 

In today’s gospel Jesus does not deny this woman’s sin, or her guilt,

or even that she deserves punishment.

He simply gives her a second chance—it’s not time for him to condemn, yet:

he wants to save her.

But it is time for her to repent, so he commands her: “go and sin no more.”

 

____

And if you notice: Jesus doesn’t actually say, “your sins are forgiven.”

He just tells her he doesn’t “condemn” her—or pass final judgment on her—

and to stop sinning.

In other words, “repent.”

It seems to me, that Jesus knows she’s not completely sorry for her sins—yet.

She’s not ready to repent: right now she’s in shock,

and overwhelmed by Jesus’ mercy.

 

And so she leaves and ponders his instructions: “go and sin no more.”

To me, this is part one of the story completed later in part two

when she comes back as the so called “sinful woman”

and approaches Jesus at Simon’s house

and falls at his feet, washing them with her tears.

She wasn’t ready in today’s gospel, but when she comes back later,

then she’s ready, and her tears tell us what words cannot

of the depth of her sorrow for her sins.

And then, after she has so lovingly and heartfeltly repented,

Jesus not only forgives her, but he praises her:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

____

It seems to me that we need this story, and the great figure of St. Mary Magdalene,

penitent saint, now more than ever.

In the end, those who want to rewrite the Gospels

actually want to glorify women by what they call “liberating their sexuality.”

But sexual liberation has been tried for over 50 years

and it’s led not to the enhancement or liberation of women,

but to their further enslavement to the lusts of men,

and to the myopic expectations of radical feminist ideologues.

Just look around at the explosion of

pornography, contraception, abortion, and divorce,

not to mention out-of-wedlock births and the poverty that comes with them.

Who are the ones who suffer the most as a result of all this?

Women!

 

__

Jesus Christ is the only true liberator of women, their only Savior.

He is the Savior of the woman caught in adultery, the Magdalene,

and every single woman before and since

who has been burdened by the weight of sin

—either their own sin, or the sins of others against them.

What a glorious promise to women weighed down

with the guilt of a past abortion.

What a sign of hope to the women today who are told over and over

that careers are more important than loving babies or husbands.

What a blessing to a young woman

who thinks she has to torture or demean herself

to look like a supermodel or a porn star,

so that some undeserving man will love her.

Now, more than ever, women need to know that Christ loves them,

and can make all things new.

 

­­­____

But of course, this story isn’t just about women, or sex.

Jesus also tells the men who brought her to Him

“let he among you without sin, cast the first stone.”
Ultimately, this story is about all of us: men, women, boys, girls

–none of us is “without sin.”

Whether our sin is adultery and lust in its many forms,

or the sin of pride, or avarice, envy, anger, gluttony, or sloth,

or the sin of self-righteousness.

Whether we sin in large ways, or small ways.

Whether we’ve been caught in the act, or hide our sins in secret.

We are all sinners—and Christ is speaking to us.

 

And He invites us, especially during this season of Lent,

like the woman caught in adultery,

first, to be dramatically confronted by our sins

and the fact that they are worthy of punishment,

and then, to recognize that Christ wants to save us from all that!

If only we will mourn our sins, and repent, and change

and accept his love and love him in return, from the depths of our hearts,

like the repentant Magdalene washing his feet with her tears,

who, even though “her sins… [were] many,” was “forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

____

As we enter this Passiontide, these last days of Lent,

let us walk hand in hand with the great Saint Mary Magdalene,

and let us kneel with her, once again weeping at Jesus’ feet,

but this time as he hangs upon the Cross.

And let us ask her to teach us what these days are all about.

And through her example and intercession,

let us discover that there is no greater privilege or honor in heaven or earth,

than to be a repentant and forgiven sinner.

And there is no greater blessing than to be made new

by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

poured out from the wounds of his suffering and death.

And there are no more sublime or loving words

than the words Jesus once said to Magdalen, and today says to all of us:

“neither do I condemn you…go, and sin no more.”

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019

4th  Sunday of Lent

March 31, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel story is usually referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

But the story isn’t just about the one prodigal son;

it’s actually about a father and his three sons.

 

So let’s look at each of these, one at a time.

Let’s begin with the so called “prodigal son”—the youngest brother.

Jesus firsts tells us he goes to his father and says:

“give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”

As if he can’t wait for His father to die.

As if he’s entitled to his father’s generosity, as if a gift is really a debt.

 

We do the same thing everyday.

We all want what belongs to God

—in particular, we want His power

and especially His authority to say this is right, or this is wrong.

To say, “I know what God says, but this is the way I think it should me.”

 

And we all treat the gifts God gives us as if they are owed to us,

as if the creator of the universe must give us whatever we want.

O sure, we pray: “please Lord,” and “thy will be done,”

but in our heart of hearts all too often we mean “give me what I want.”

 

And even if we do get what we want, we quickly forget that He gave it to us.

We don’t bother to thank Him, or tell others how generous He’s been.

We even think it a burden to spend an hour once a week

thanking Him publicly at Mass for His generosity.

 

We’re especially ungrateful for the gifts He gives us most personally,

like a strong intellect or good health or courage:

we say things like “I worked for everything I have.”

I understand the importance of hard work, but think about:

how did you work to be naturally smart?

 

And all too often, having received all these gifts,

how many of us fall into the sins of greed, avarice and envy

—we can never get enough.

 

____

Jesus tells us the youngest son “set off to a distant country”

Notice, he not only takes what belongs to his father,

but now he abandons his father.

He doesn’t even talk or listen to him anymore.

 

How many of people today do the same thing to God.

He gives us everything, and we abandon Him, and neither talk or listen to Him.

And I’m not just talking about atheists.

Think of all the people, including us sometimes, who believe in God,

but neglect praying to Him or listening to His word,

at least until they want something from Him again.

Think of all those who go to church every Sunday,

but abandon God for the other 6 days of the week,

never mentioning His name in the world they live in.

 

____

And then Jesus says the youngest son:

squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

 

In one way or another, isn’t this the way with most of us.

All the gifts God gives us, and then so often we waste or abuse them.

 

Think of the great intellectual gifts God gives us.

But instead of using those gifts to give glory to God and serve mankind

all too often we squander them on foolish and even evil pursuits.

Science has done many wonderful things,

but it’s also given us sex-change operations,

and the ability for strangers to stalk and abuse our kids online.

Think of all the intelligence wasted on philosophies that shun the notion of truth.

Think of all the talented artists who waste their gifts producing

books, movies, plays and music

that wallow in senseless violence, lust and perversion.

 

And think about all the times you participate in these abuses, even if indirectly:

how many senseless movies or videos you watch?

Or how you personally waste your God-given reason and imagination

in the selfish pursuit of greed, lust or revenge.

 

____

Jesus goes on to say that the prodigal son

“swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

This reminds us that nowadays, there is no greater gift wasted

than the gift of sexuality.

What phenomenal gift

—it not only expresses the total self-gift between husband and wife

but also contains in it the very gift of human life.

And yet we so often treat it as a way to control or demean others,

or simply to satisfy our most venal desires.

And wedded with the gift of technology, internet pornography

wastes the self-gift of sexuality by turning it toward radical selfishness.

 

I could go on and on.

Jesus tells us: “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

This is the life of the prodigal son,

but it is also all too often, in large ways or small, our lives as well.

 

____

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jesus tells us that eventually the prodigal son “[came] to his senses”

and went back to his father’s house confessing and repenting

his wasteful life, his sins,

and begging forgiveness.

Lent is a time when we should do the same.

And we can do that in most wonderful way, again,

through one of our Father’s most generous gifts:

the sacrament of confession,

There, like the father in today’s story, our heavenly Father

meets us, listens to our confession and sorrow for our sins,

and them embraces us with His grace, and restores us to His household.

—if only we are truly sorry and desire to leave our sins behind

and come back into His home.

 

What a fantastic gift

—but how often it’s wasted by his children who refuse to go to confession.

 

Some think, well confession’s only for really terrible sinners

—and I haven’t done anything that bad.

This reminds me of the 2nd son in today’s story

—the older brother who stays behind.

The son who “became angry, and …refused to enter the house”

because his father was throwing a banquet for his bad brother!

But the thing is, the banquet wasn’t just for the younger son

—it was for the whole household, including this older son.

And he refused the gift.

 

The sacrament of penance is also for everyone

who lives in the household of God,

even the ones who seem to the most faithful.

How can apparently steadfast sons and daughters reject such a gift?

 

Sometimes it’s simply because they think they don’t need that gift.

But by saying “no” to God’s generosity they waste the gift

of His divine power to be even better sons and daughters,

to be stronger, braver, happier and closer to Our Father.

 

Also, sometimes the most faithful Catholics set themselves up for big trouble,

because they become complacent and prideful:

like the prodigal’s brother, they take their father’s gifts for granted.

And that complacency led this “good son” to fall into the terrible sin of jealousy

and then separating himself from his father by refusing to enter his house

–just like the prodigal son had done earlier.

No friends, confession is for all of us

—just as God the Father’s gift of love and mercy is for all of us.

 

__

Others reject the gift of confession because they say:

I don’t have to go to confession:

I go straight to God and He forgives my sins?

There they go again, being just like the prodigal.

Jesus gives us this phenomenal gift of the forgiveness of sins,

and they say, I like the gift, but not the way you give it.

 

And they want not only the forgiveness,

but also the authority of their heavenly Father.

They know Jesus established the sacrament of penance

when He told the apostles:

“receive the holy spirit…who’s sins you forgive are forgiven”

yet still they say, “but I want to do it my way, not Jesus’ way.”

 

And finally, they presume that they somehow

have a right to the gift of forgiveness:

you ask for it, and God automatically has to give it to you.

But that’s not what Jesus taught, as He went on to tell His apostles:

“and who’s sins you hold bound are held bound.”

 

_____

Now, I don’t know if you noticed it,

but I mentioned earlier that this is a story of a father and three sons.

Yet, in the story, Jesus only mentions two sons.

But reading between the lines we see that in telling the story, Jesus,

shows Himself to be the 3rd Son, humbly pointing to His father’s mercy,

even as He tells the story in response to Pharisees’ anger

with Him, Jesus, for showing mercy to sinners:

He is saying, “like Father, like Son—me!”

 

So Jesus is the oldest Son, the first born of the Father,

who is all-loving and truly faithful like His Father,

never betraying His Father like the other sons.

He is the Son who eternally reminds the Father

what a perfectly loving Son is,

so that even when His other sons waste His gifts,

the Father always sees them in the light of the love of His perfect first born.

And He is the brother who,

gives His whole life, holding nothing back,

to His father and to his brothers,

by dying on the cross for his brothers’ sins.

 

And if we look very closely, with the 20/20 hindsight of faith,

we see that Jesus is actually mentioned, in the story;

in fact He’s the crescendo of the story:

he is the brother who reconciles Father and sons,

in the Banquet, HE is the Banquet, the Eucharistic Feast,

that seals and strengthens the unity, the Communion, of God’s family.

And so we read that the father not only invited his sons

but he “pleaded with” them,

to come to the banquet—the Eucharist, Christ Himself.

 

____

Today, we sons and daughters of the Most High God

should feel the most profound sorrow

for our ungrateful squandering of the gifts our Father has given us.

And we should feel heartrending grief for the price our brother Jesus

paid for our sins.

And yet we should also feel overpowering joy

that we have a Father who forgives us so easily

and a Brother who would die so willingly for our sins.

So let us now go to the heavenly banquet that Jesus has prepared for

repentant sinners,

and let our Divine Brother lead us home to the mercy and joy

of Communion with our Heavenly Father.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Halfway Through Lent. Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Lent, the traditional midpoint of the 40 days of the penitential season. But some point out that there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (inclusive). The thing is, the counting of the 40 days has never included the 6 Sundays of Lent, because, historically, the 40 days were always days of modified fasting, and Sunday was never a day of fast since it is the Lord’s Day. Moreover, though Good Friday and Holy Saturday are not technically “Lent” but the “Triduum”, even so, the Triduum retains the penitential character of Lent, so there are still 40 penitential days. Confused? Sorry.

That being said, this is the midpoint Sunday of Lent, and is called “Laetare Sunday,” “laetare” meaning “rejoice.” It is considered sort of a slight lifting of the austerity and somberness of Lent as we remember to lift our gaze to see that beyond the Cross is the Resurrection; in the midst of our sorrow for our lives of sin, we also rejoice in the forgiveness and new life won by the Paschal Mystery. The Rose Vestments symbolize this: the dark purple of repentance and sorrow mingled with the light of forgiveness and joy.

 

“For Your Penance, Say One Hail Mary.”  In order to be forgiven our sins in the Sacrament of Penance three things are required of every sinner/penitent: 1) contrition, 2) confession of our sins, and 3) satisfaction. Most of us understand contrition (being sorry) and confessing our sins, but you may not be familiar with the term “satisfaction” in this context. “Satisfaction” here refers to the real effort to make up for our sins, and comes in two ways: “reparation” and “expiation” Let’s look a little closer at this. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches [1459-1460]:

“Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much.” This is called ‘making reparation.’

“But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins.” This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.

“The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.”

Many people wonder how something as small and simple as “saying three Hail Marys” can serve as an adequate penance. But remember, we could never do enough penance to pay for all our sins—only Jesus can do this, and does so, on the Cross. But the penance after confession is an important personal effort at trying to make amends. Moreover a simple and clear penance, such as some short prayers, makes a good practical penance because: 1) if done devoutly they can be an important first step forward toward God, 2) they are more likely to be done immediately, so that the penance won’t be forgotten and the penitent can immediately renew the life of grace, and 3) they avoid the confusion of more ambiguous or ambitious penances, so the penitent won’t be wondering, “did I do enough?” “did I do too much?” “did I do it right?”.

 

St. Peter Chrysologus. In the office of Readings. this last Tuesday, the second reading was from a sermon (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320, 322) by Saint Peter Chrysologus, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, who died in 433. I thought this might help you this week.

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

            “When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

            “Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

            “Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

“Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

            “Offer your soul to God, make Him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give Him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

            “To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

“When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

 

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 24, 2019

3rd  Sunday of Lent

March 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds the crowd of 2 incidents

where large groups of Jews had suffered terrible calamity.

As was common in those days, and still among some people today,

everyone assumed God was punishing these people

because they were terrible sinners.

But Jesus shows the crowd how they’re using this as an excuse

for thinking they themselves are not sinners,

as if they’re saying,

‘well as long as a building doesn’t fall on me, I must be holy.’

But Jesus says to them:

“I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
____

The other day someone showed me a picture they had taken of me recently.

I saw the picture and said to myself: “who is that old man?

It’s easy to look at other people and see their imperfections, and their sins,

but it’s much harder to look at ourselves and see ours.

And if we can’t see them, we can’t change them

—we can’t repent, which is what Lent is all about.

 

So today, let’s think about one way we can sin everyday.

Probably the most common thing we do every day is see

–we see our neighbor, ourselves, the world.

The gift of vision is one of God’s most generous gifts to us

but at the same time one of the most taken for granted and abused.

Most of us seldom think about how wonderful it is until we start to loose it.

 

Think about it.

So much of what we learn, and understand, and enjoy;

so much of what inspires and motivates us,

comes to us from through our vision.

We read with our vision,

we look at beautiful art, we watch entertaining plays or movies,

we look at our smartphones and computers,

we look at the way people act and at the way they smile, or frown.

All day long we’re looking and seeing.

 

And we can’t confine ourselves to physical vision:

there is also the mind’s eye

—the imagination, where we see images of lots of things.

So that even when we close our eyes, we continue to see.

 

But like all good gifts, the gift of sight can be used for good or evil.

What is it we look at, what do we see?

What kind of books and papers do we read,

what kind of television and movies do we watch?

Where do my eyes go on the internet?

And where do I let my mind’s eye wander?

 

And how do we look at others

—either with the physical eye, or with the mind’s eye?

Do we see them as persons created in the image of God?

Or do we see them as something to use and abuse

—an object for our hatred, greed, pride, envy, or lust?

 

And also, how do others see us, and how do we try to make others see us?

We shouldn’t go around doing things just for people to see and praise us,

but when do things that people do see, they should be seeing good things.

We should be showing good examples.

We should even be aware of how we dress

—to help others see something good or to avoid seeing something evil.

For example, some people wear uniforms to remind people of their job

and that they’re available to help them.

And on the other hand, some people wear clothes to call attention to themselves,

in order some to brag about their wealth or status,

or to boast about their personal holiness or piety,

or to tempt or excite others.

So many of women’s fashions are designed specifically

to catch and tempt men’s eyes.

 

______

The power of vision is awesome.

This is all, of course, no secret.

Teachers and artists and authors have always known this.

And Hollywood, television executives, advertisers, webmasters, software writers,

and fashion designers know this.

And they use it, for good or evil,

to draw us in to what they want us to learn or buy or understand.

To manipulate us.

 

And unfortunately, the devil also knows this.

The devil must have had a great time

leading people to Siloam to look at the fallen tower,

so he could whisper to them,

‘look those people are bad, but no tower fell on  you.’

Do you think he doesn’t see us,

giving dirty looks to the person who angers us,

or when we simply refuse to look at the poor or sick?

Or looking at another person and seeing them an object of envy or lust?

 

_____

On the one hand, this can be kind of frightening and intimidating,

and it makes us stop to look carefully at our lives

and the way we use our vision.

On the other hand, there is no real need to be frightened, or intimidated.

Because just as we can see all this, God sees it too.

 

He’s seen it from the beginning when he created the universe,

and “saw everything he had made, and [beheld that] it was very good.”

He saw it when he made himself known to Moses in the burning bush;

as Moses says in today’s 1st reading:

“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”
And he understood it when he came among us,

as Jesus Christ, in a body we could see!

 

Last Sunday we read about the Transfiguration,

when Christ took Peter, James and John up a mountain

where he let them see his glorified body, standing with Moses and Elijah.

He did this to strengthen them, because he knew that in a few weeks

they would see the horrible vision of him beaten and nailed to a cross.

 

Jesus understands better than anyone the power of sight.

And so time after time He let people see His power—think of all the miracles,

imagine the effect on the people of seeing him

walking on water and the raising of dead.

But He didn’t do those miracle only for the people 2000 years ago

—He also did them for us.

He knew about our minds eye, how we see so clearly with our imagination.

 

And knowing about our imagination

He not only gave His followers physical signs to see,

but also told them parables with powerful for the minds eye to gaze upon

–taking complex ideas and letting us see them in very clear images.

Next week He uses the image of the prodigal son,

who winds up working in a pig pen.

This week He uses the image of a fruitless fig tree in a garden,

using the very descriptive language of cultivating and fertilizing

and even cutting it down.

It doesn’t take a farmer or a gardener to see these images

as clear as high def tv screen.

And it doesn’t take a priest to understand the imminent need

to repent and bear fruit.

 

_____

In His wisdom, Christ has passed this appreciation of the power of vision

to His Church.

We see it in the sacred art of the church that lead us

to understand the mysteries of the life of Christ and his saints.

We see it in the beautiful churches that draw us to worship.

We see it in the different vestments and the sacred vessels we use,

and the candles and images that adorn the altar.

 

We especially see this in the special seasons of the year.

In Lent we begin seeing it in the ashes of Ash Wednesday,

and we continue to see it in the sparseness of decorations in the Church,

and in the stark violet everywhere.

We see it as we visit the stations of the cross,

and as we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.

And we see it in the pageantry of Holy Week:

the Palms and procession of Palm Sunday,

the washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday,

the kissing of the Cross on Good Friday.

And we see it in books and movies that lay before us images of

the Christ’s Passion,

inviting us to see with our own eyes

—even if only the eyes of imagination enlightened by the eyes of faith—

the depth of His love pouring out in the blood

from the scourges to His back,

the thorns in His head,

the nails in His hands and feet,

and the sword in His side.

To see with our own eyes the fact that by his wounds we are healed.

 

And all year long we see it in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church.

We especially see it in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,

where we see him as he is, but under the veil of the appearance of bread.

And all of this of course leads us here—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,

where all the holy things we’ve seen come together,

and what we see with our physical eyes is understood with the mind’s eye

and the eyes of faith,

as we look upon the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord.

 

____

The gift of vision is one of the most beautiful gifts God gives us.

But like all good gifts,

we human beings, with our free wills, can use our vision very badly.

Lent is a time to consider how we use God’s gifts badly—sinfully.

A time to see clearly that we can be just as bad a sinner as anyone else.

A time to look at our lives and see all the ways we fail to appreciate God’s gifts,

the way we sin.

This year, look especially at the way you fail to appreciate the gift of sight

—both physically and in the mind.

See how powerful this gift is—for good and for evil.

And remove any image you see which leads you or others away from Jesus

and replace it with a vision that leads all people to him.

Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ.

Third Sunday of Lent

GO SEE THE MOVIE “UNPLANNED.” Back in October of 2013 our Respect Life Committee brought Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Texas, to speak to us about her conversion from being part of the abortion industry to becoming a pro-life activist Catholic. She gave an amazing talk, and explained how “everything changed” when she was asked to assist in an abortion and saw the live ultrasound images of a baby being killed in an abortion. She wrote a book about her story, and now that book has been made into a major motion picture, “Unplanned,” which will be released this Friday, March 29, and will be showing at Regal Kingstowne, AMC Potomac Mills and AMC Hoffman.

We talked about organizing a special parish showing of the film, but thought it might be better to show support by all of us going separately, and paying to see it. You know how this works: if there aren’t a lot of ticket sales in the first weeks of release, the film stops showing. Don’t let this happen: people have to see this movie. Even if you’re already pro-life you should still see it, and bring your friends, as it will remind you, “why we fight.”

The Hollywood establishment doesn’t want this film to succeed, because they know how dangerous it will be to the pro-abortion movement. So, they have figured a way to rate it “R”! Imagine, movies with graphic and gratuitous sex, nudity, violence, gore and bad language get PG-13 ratings, but this good Christian movie is, “Rated R: Restricted – under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.” Actually, there is one violent scene, and one bloody scene. As Abby writes to parents:

“So why the R rating? For two scenes.…The first is a CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) recreation of what I saw on the ultrasound screen when I assisted in the abortion procedure that convinced me of the humanity of the unborn. …You will see the abortion instrument…like a dark line on the ultrasound, introduced onto the screen. You will see the baby struggle against it. You will see the baby first slowly, then quickly disappear into the instrument as it does what it is designed to do…[T]his was a CGI recreation and NOT footage from a real abortion….No one will be able to see this scene and then say they “don’t know” the truth about abortion.

“The second scene …re-creates my awful experience with the abortion pill. …I won’t lie to you; that scene shows some blood. In real life I hemorrhaged so badly I thought I was going to die. The movie captures that without being gratuitous or gory.…”

            See you at the movies!!!!

 

Third Sunday of Lent. As Lent continues I encourage you all to let yourself enter more fully into the holiness of this season. Some of you may not have really turned your full attention to the penitence of the season yet, and some of you may be starting to wane in your sincere efforts. All that is understandable, but we must not let this great opportunity to draw closer to Christ slip away.

In this regard I urge you to pause every night before you go to bed and briefly examine your consciences, thinking both of your sins and of God’s blessings of the day. Also take a moment to consider how you well you “kept Lent” that day.

I also encourage you to carefully review the Lenten Schedule we distributed two weeks ago (go to straymonds.org and click “Lenten Schedule” at the top of the home page) and think about which of the various Lenten liturgies and activities you should take part in—and resolve to make it happen.

Looking over the schedule, I see the daily confessions—have you been yet? And the Friday Stations of the Cross—such a simple but profound devotion (and maybe you could come at 5pm and join in good Catholic fellowship at our Soup Supper). And the Thursday night Holy Hour and with my half-hour meditation on “The Agony in the Garden”—Christ’s final preparation for His Passion. Or maybe you can come to Exposition and Adoration on Wednesday or Friday. Or how about waking up early once a week to come to morning Mass before work or school. Or go to Mass at another church during lunch. Or maybe come to Wednesday Mass at 7pm—you could come early to go to confession, spend time in Adoration, and go to Mass—what a great Lenten evening!

Don’t let this opportunity to grow in holiness, pass you by. Keep the love of Christ Crucified before your eyes at all times, so that your hearts may be transformed every day in Lent.

 

RCIA and RCIC. Please keep in prayer those adults and children who are preparing to enter the Catholic Church and/or be baptized, confirmed and receive First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil. For the last few months they have been preparing diligently for that great day. Let us pray that they persevere in faith, and be open to all the graces God has in store for them. And may they be an example to the rest of us, reminding each us of our own continuing need for personal conversion in the love of Christ.

 

St. Patrick’s Dinner. It was good to see so many of you at last Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Dinner. I don’t have the final numbers, but somewhere between 200 and 250 parishioners and friends enjoyed good food, good music, good fellowship and the performance of some excellent Irish dancers. These kinds of social events are so important to the life of a vibrant Catholic parish, as opportunities to share the love and joy of Christ together, and to get to know each other better so as to live and work together as the Body of Christ in Springfield. Thanks for all who worked so hard to make the evening a success, especially the Knights of Columbus and Chef Christine Gloninger. May St. Patrick watch over you and keep you in his care.

 

A Note About Parish Dinners/Events. I am always amazed at the efforts folks make to organize, prepare and present parish events like the St. Patrick’s Dinner, Oktoberfest, and the Italian Dinner. But I’m afraid that we are relying more and more on a smaller and smaller group of people to make these things happen, and that in turn produces burnout. It’s a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun, as long as you have adequate help. So once again, I’m calling on volunteers to help with these dinners and other events. A lot of these are sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, so if you’re a Knight, are you helping out? But even if you’re not a Knight, you can still help—Christine Gloninger organized the cooking for the St. Patrick’s Dinner last week, and ladies can’t be Knights! Please help us, keep these dinners/events going by volunteering to help. If you don’t know who to contact to volunteer, just call/email the parish office.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles