TEXT: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017

8th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 26, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

You know, I don’t really like talking about money, especially asking for money,        especially from the pulpit.

 

I suppose there are several reasons for that:

–first, I’m a priest not salesman;

–and it’s difficult:

I’m trying to get you to give away something you’ve worked hard for.

But mainly, I’m reluctant because there’s always,

hanging in the back of my mind,

the words of Jesus that we read today:

You cannot serve [both] God and mammon.”

 

The thing is, “mammon” or money, riches, and wealth,

is so tempting, so alluring…

And it so easily leads us away from God.

 

Now, its true, we need money to live.

So fathers and mothers work hard to provide enough

and carefully spend or save for their families.

 

But money and riches are seductive:

it’s all too easy to forget money is raised for the good of the family

—that it’s a means to an end, not a goal in itself.

And so too often money winds up corrupting the family.

Some folks spend so much time making money for their family

they wind up neglecting to spending time with their family.

Maybe they worry so much about having a beautiful house or the best schools        that they go way into debt and never have a moment’s peace.

Maybe money just comes easy to them—maybe they inherited a huge estate—

but even then, it can not only lead them into all sorts of sinful habits,

but also spoil their children rotten.

In so many ways, love of money can ruin the family.

 

The same thing happens in nations.

For decades America has been known as the wealthiest nation on earth.

But now we have huge debt and deficits,

and even with that, we still have huge expectations

of the material well-being we’re each entitled to have.

Again, money is necessary, and free enterprising capitalism is good

—but maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the line,

we forgot: “you cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

 

And the same thing happens in the Church.

Pastors can get so caught up in money,

they become afraid to preach the hard teachings about faith or morals,

lest the collection go down.

Other pastors find it much easier to succeed at fundraising and spending

than at saving souls.

In any case fundraising has concrete and measurable results

that people can look at and praise:

“gee what a great pastor Father is, he built a beautiful church,

or paid down a huge debt.”

Not a lot of folks come and tell you:

“gee Father, your people are so moral and so faithful to the magisterium.”

 

I’m going to be very honest with you now,

so please, let’s just keep this between us.

The same thing can happen with the “Bishop’s Lenten Appeal.”

I remember a few years ago

I was talking to someone intimately involved in the BLA,

and when I mentioned the theme of today’s Gospel,

they got all excited said, basically,

“that’s great, you can tell them to serve God

by giving their Mammon to the Church.”

 

Well, they meant well, and I suppose there’s something to that.

But there’s also a problem: working hard, and devoting lots of time and energy

all to raise money to serve God, as it were,

can too easily become more and more about the money,

and less and less about God.

And even as important as it is to be good stewards of the wealth God gives us,

if we’re not careful we’ll forget what St. Paul tells us in today’s first reading:

“Thus should one regard us:

as servants of Christ

and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

 

And as Jesus reminds us today:

“Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
What good is it to give food to a hungry man,

if you leave him starving for the eternal Word of God.

What good is it if you pay to educate 100s of seminaries toward the priesthood,

if once they’re ordained you ignore them when they preach the Gospel?

 

“You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

I hope you see why I don’t like to ask for money—especially from here, the pulpit.

It’s all too easy to get confused,

to think that money is the answer to all our problems,

even God’s problems;

and from there it’s a short step to not even recognizing

the difference between serving God and serving Mammon.

 

You need money to live, and for your family,

so work hard and spend and save carefully.

And your parish needs money to keep pay for heating, salaries and the debt.

And your Diocesan Church needs money

to provide for so many worthwhile projects

—so please give generously to the BLA.

But remember what Jesus goes on to say today:

“do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ ….or ‘What are we to wear?’

…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given you besides.”

And never forget:

No one can serve two masters….

You cannot serve God and mammon.”

TEXT: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017

7th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes one of the

most radically challenging demands in Scripture:

” I say to you, love your enemies,

and pray for those who persecute you.”

If we’re honest with ourselves, this passage should be very intimidating.

 

It’s intimidating, first of all,  because it seems oxymoronic to say

love your enemies.

Plus, it seems an impossible task,

because sometimes it seems we’re surrounded by enemies

who really don’t care if we love them or not.

And all this is complicated by the fact that good-hearted people

really don’t want to think of other people as their enemies.

 

Some people don’t like to admit that we all have enemies,

because they think that by calling someone an “enemy

we take a hostile attitude toward them–a hateful attitude.

But that’s not necessarily true.

 

After all, what is an enemy?

For a Christian, it is not someone we hate or oppose or want to injure,

but rather, it’s someone who hates or opposes or wants to injure us.

So we can love our enemy,

even while he remains our enemy because he does not love us.

 

Which leads us to the two reasons

why we need to recognize an enemy as an enemy.

The first is to protect ourselves and our loved ones from injury.

And the second is that to deal with other people effectively

you have to know who they are and what their attitude is toward you:

how can you be in a real relationship with someone

if you refuse to acknowledge who they really are?

 

So who are our enemies today?

We have to be careful: we can’t be paranoid or irrational;

and we can’t confuse someone who simply disagrees with us,

or looks or sounds different than us

with someone who hates us or wants to injure us

—someone who simply disagrees with us

is not our enemy.

 

Still, we have no problem identifying some of our enemies.

Some are flagrant in their attacks:

al-Qaeda and their terrorist friends are clearly our enemies.

Some are not so flagrant, but are still obvious:

the guy at work who wants your job and will do anything to get it;

the kid in school who mercilessly picks on you, or bullies you.

 

But there are some enemies we have a harder time recognizing,

because their efforts against us are more subtle, hidden from view

or cloaked in nice words and half-truths.

For example, those who would corrupt our children by teaching them

through the media, internet and even schools

bizarre and twisted notions of right and wrong, and good and evil,

replacing moral principles and logic, with political correctness and feelings.

Or those who degrade the very fabric of our culture

by undermining the foundations of the family and religious freedom,

through rules and rulings made by unelected bureaucrats and judges.

 

However….in all of these cases, Jesus commands us:

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
This is, indeed, a daunting task.

 

At the last Supper Jesus told His apostles:

“Greater love has no man than this,

that a man lay down his life for his friends”.

Jesus lived out this teaching the very next day on the Cross.

But He didn’t die just for His friends, He died also for His enemies

—as St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God

by the death of his Son.”

In His death Jesus invites all mankind, even his enemies,

to be not only His friends, but also His brothers and sisters

                   —as he says in today’s Gospel, “children of [his] heavenly Father.”

 

So His command to love our enemies isn’t built on

blind foolishness, or some sort of perverse divine masochism,

but on the fact that Christ loves all of us and died for us all

–friends and enemies—

and invites all of us to share in His sacrificial love.

 

So, he silently offered no resistance as they unjustly arrested and led Him

to rigged trial, presenting perjuring witnesses in the middle of the night;

and so He commands us:

“offer no resistance to one who is evil.”

They made Him carry His cross up that long road to the hill of Calvary,

and so he commands us:

“Should anyone press you into service for one mile,

go for two miles.”

They stripped Him of His clothes

and he commands us:

“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,

hand over your cloak as well.”

They struck and scourged His entire body over and over again,

and he commands us:

“When someone strikes you on your right cheek,

turn the other one as well.”

And as He looked down from the Cross He prayed:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”

and He commands us:

pray for those who persecute you,

that you may be children of your heavenly Father.

 

These demands are hard to understand.

But we can understand them better if we put them in context.

What Christ is demanding in these radical sayings

is that all of our actions should always be made in the context of love,

even if it means we have to suffer, or sacrifice.

He’s saying that the our fundamental attitude and first response to an enemy

should always be patience and forbearance,

even while elsewhere he acknowledges that sometimes—in love

we have to respond in other ways.

 

Sometimes love requires standing quietly while our enemies attack us,

as Jesus did when the Romans scourged and mocked Him.

But sometimes love requires walking away from our enemies,

as Jesus did when he walked through the crowd in Nazareth

that was trying to throw Him from the cliff.

Sometimes love requires us to correct our enemy

as Jesus did when He bravely told the Temple guard

who struck Him at His trial:

“if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

Sometimes it requires raising our voice in righteous anger

          toward our enemies, as Jesus did when he said:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …

You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

Sometimes, it may even require us to resort to violence

as Jesus did when He made a whip

and drove the moneychangers from the temple.

 

Now, some might wonder, how can we love our enemies when we fight them,

as Jesus did in shouting at the Pharisees and whipping the moneychangers.

But think of the loving mother who suddenly sees her little child playing in traffic.

She raises her voice to sweetly call him to come to her: “come here Johnny”

—but he continues playing.

So she raises her voice again, but now in anger:

“John Christopher, you come here this instant!”

—but he ignores her.

And so finally, she races into traffic and violently yanks him out to the curb

and even spanks his little bottom.

And he never ever does that again.

But none of this out of hate, but out of radical love.

And only what was necessary, and no more.

 

Just so, Christ only took a whip to the moneychangers,

when he could have struck them dead

as he once cursed the fruitless fig tree, and it withered and died.

In love, there was forbearance and mercy.

The same with us—even, for example, when we go war,

we must still love our enemy,

and so war is our last resort,

and we cease fire when he is defeated, and we bind his wounds.

 

To most of us, it seems impossible to love our enemies:

how do you love someone attacking your country,

or mocking your marriage, or corrupting your children.

But as Jesus tells his apostles in another passage:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

Think now: by our baptism we have been born again into a  new life

which is a participation in the very life of Jesus himself.

We have become not only His friends or even family,

but members of  His Body.

And in the Eucharist we are present once again at the sacrifice of the Cross

as he calls us to take our sacrifices made in love

–the times we’ve turned the other cheek,

or even risked our safety or comfort

to correct an enemy in love

–and to offer these to be united with his own sacrifice

so that they and we can be transformed

by the love of His Cross,

and we can receive the power to live as Christ lives,

even to “be perfect,

just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

Jesus’ call to “love our enemies” is at one and the same time stunningly sublime,

and devastatingly difficult.

But if the Cross is ponderous, so also is it wondrous

as the act of perfect love that leads us to the Resurrection and eternal life.

As we now begin to enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist

let us ask Jesus to unite us to Himself,

our sacrifices to His sacrifice, our love to His love,

that by His grace we may have

the wisdom to recognize our enemies, and the strength to love them.