TEXT: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 3, 2018

 Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 3, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Imagine that you’re sitting at dinner with your best friends.

Suddenly one stands up takes a piece of food and says: “This is my body, eat it.”

I don’t care how good a friend he is,

all of us would think he was either kidding or crazy.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened one night to the 12 apostles,

as they sat at supper with their dear friend Jesus.

He took a piece of bread and a cup of wine and said

“Take and eat this, this is my body…take and drink this, this is my blood…”

But instead of thinking he had gone mad, and trying to get Him under control,

they quietly took the bread and the cup and ate and drank.

 

Did  the apostles understand what Jesus  was doing?

They may not have known exactly what He meant,

but they knew that this was the same man

who had fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread

—on 2 different occasions;

who had walked across the water and calmed the storm at sea;

who had raised 3 people, including their friend Lazarus, from the dead;

who was transfigured standing with Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor;

and who had said “I have come… to bear witness to the truth.”

 

They might not have known exactly what Jesus meant,

but they remembered all He had done,

that they had come to believe in Him.

And so they took it and ate and drank.

 

This was a night of remembering: it was the night of the Passover.

The apostles remembered how God had saved Israel from slavery

on that 1st Passover, 1300 years earlier,

by the blood of the sacrificed lamb  that they sprinkled on their doors.

They remembered how at the base of Mt. Sinai

God and his people entered a covenant

sealed by a sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling

of the blood of the sacrifice on the people,

as Moses said: “This is the blood of the covenant.”

They remembered all this as they heard  the  Son of God say to them:

“This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant.”

 

They also remembered how during that Exodus out of Egypt

God gave His people bread from heaven –manna.

And they remembered that just a few months before Jesus had said:

I am the living bread come down from heaven….

The bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world. ”

They remembered how so many of His disciples had left HIm that day, saying:

“This is a hard saying who can listen to it.”

And they remembered that in response Jesus didn’t chase after them saying,

“no, no, you misunderstood me: I was just speaking symbolically…..”

But instead He simply turned to the apostles and asked them:

“will you also leave me?”

And they remembered the sublime words of faith of St. Peter, in response:

“Lord,…You have the words of eternal life;

we have come to know and to believe,

that you are the Holy One of God.”

They remembered all this as they heard  the “Holy One of God” say the words:

“This is my body.”

 

They heard Him, they may not have completely understood,

but they believed because He said it.

And they ate and drank as he commanded.

 

And beginning with the fundamental faith in the words

“this is my body…this is my blood”

and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit,

remembering the words and actions of the Old Covenant,

and all Jesus had said and done

during His life, death and resurrection,

especially His great love for us,

a love so great He reminded them at the last supper:

“no greater love has a man than this,

to lay down his life for his friends”,

a love so great He promised as He ascended to heaven:

“behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.”

…remembering all this they very quickly began to understand

the profound meaning of the Eucharist.

The belief that the under the appearance of bread and wine

the one sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us

in the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ

truly, substantially and really present to us,

even until the end of time.

 

____

How deeply do we believe our Lord’s words, “this is my body”?

Well, think, how do you prepare before Mass?

For example, a little thing: how do you dress for Mass?

If you were going to the White House to meet the President,

I guarantee you that you wouldn’t come in shorts and a tee shirt.

Now, nobody look around—

there are lots of good reasons someone

might be dressing down a bit at Mass.

But how many times do we not have a good reason?

 

Or when you’re at Mass, how do you prepare before Communion?

Do you examine your conscience to see if you’ve committed a mortal sin that

the Church teaches you must confess before you receive Communion?

Are you living a life style, or publicly promoting teachings

that are gravely contrary to the teachings of the Church?

How can you receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion,

when you’re not in Communion with the Body-of-Christ-the-Church?

 

And how do you come up to receive Holy Communion?

Do you do you rush up, looking around,

letting yourself be distracted the whole time,

or do you come up with love for your God, Jesus,

focusing on Him and nothing but Him,

receiving Him with reverence and profound humility,

rejoicing that the all-powerful God

who died on the cross for love of you,

is coming now personally to you.

 

____

Another strong self-test of our belief in the real presence

of Christ in the Eucharist

is found in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament

outside of the celebration of Mass

–as His body is reserved in the Tabernacle,

or exposed on the altar for adoration.

Some people tell me that it’s not so important to adore Christ in the Eucharist,

as much as it is to serve Christ in one another.

But while it’s important and true that we should see and serve Christ in others,

you have to admit Christ

is present in a way completely different and unique in the Eucharist.

 

If Jesus came down from heaven right now, and walked right into this room,

the difference between His Real Presence in this room

versus His presence in any one of us

would not only be obvious, it would be overwhelming,

and would compel us to fall to our knees.

The reverence due to God Himself is always different than

that we  give to any creature–even an angel.

In the book of Revelation St. John tells us

that when he fell down on his knees before the angel,

the angel scolded him:

“You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you….

Worship God.”

Yet over and over again St. John tells us in that same Book of Revelation

that in heaven everyone falls down on their faces

to worship the Lamb that was slain, Jesus Christ.

 

 

Sometimes people tell me that since the Eucharist is food,

that it’s meant to be eaten, not worshipped.

But as St. Augustine  wrote in the 4th century:

No one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . .

we would sin if we did not do so.”

 

 

And so the Church strongly recommends that all of us

regularly spend time praying before the Eucharist in adoration.

 

Our parish is blessed to be able to leave our church doors open

for over 14 hours every day

so that anyone who wants to can come and pray before and adore

Christ in the Tabernacle.

And every Wednesday and Friday we expose the Body of Christ on the altar,

from 8:30am until 7:00pm on Wednesday and 3pm on Friday.

And while many people do take advantage of these opportunities,

it amazes and saddens me, that so many, the vast majority of us, don’t.

It reminds me of what a Protestant friend once told me:

“Father, if you Catholics really believed Jesus

is really physically there in the Eucharist,

why aren’t Catholic Churches packed day and night

—why don’t Catholics act like Jesus is there?”

Indeed; why don’t we?

 

 

Still many very good Catholics wonder:

“what do I do when I pray before our Lord in the Eucharist.”

Do what you would do if Christ walked into the room right now!

Fall down in adoration as John did in His vision recorded in Revelation.

Fall down on your faces as Peter, James and John did at the Transfiguration,

–worshipping in praise and thanksgiving His magnificent glory.

Fall down at His feet like Mary Magdalene so often did

–in repentance of your sins.

Or, simply sit at His feet quietly as Magdalene did in her home in Bethany

–listening with love to what he has to say to you.

 

Kneel or if you want, sit there,

pray any prayer you want, the rosary or prayers form the heart;

read the Bible or a spiritual book

–all the time in the loving presence of our Lord

–talking to Him or listening to Him.

And by meditating and praying before the Blessed Sacrament,

you’ll be drawn right back to the sacrificial meal of the Mass

because you’ll develop a deeper, more sincere hunger

to worthily receive in Holy Communion the Lamb who was slain.

Not only to receive Him in our mouth,

but in doing that receive Him with our hearts.

 

____

Today and every day the Church calls us to go before Christ

and humble ourselves by kneeling in front of what looks like

a little piece of Bread.

To some this seems irrational and foolish; but not to us.

Because while difficult to understand,

it is nevertheless eminently reasonable to us.

Because we remember and make our own the words of St. Peter:

“Lord, …You have the words of eternal life…”

So, for us it would be irrational and foolish not to believe,

as we remember and believe in the words of Jesus Himself:

“THIS IS MY BODY.”

TEXT: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, May 27, 2018

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

May 27, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday.

celebrating a magnificent mystery of God and of our Catholic Faith.

But as I say, it is a “mystery,”

meaning that we only know about it because Jesus revealed it to us,

and we will never really understand it completely.

 

I mean, it’s really next to impossible to adequately explain the Trinity,

to try to explain the very essence of God Himself—His inner most being.

After all who can explain the inner most being of another human being,

much less the inner most being

of the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe?

To say the least, it is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand.

 

First of all, what does this dogma of the Trinity hold?

We believe there is one God, who is three persons.

They share the same divine nature,

but each is God, whole and entire.

They are really distinct from one another—not simply different modes of being

–you can’t say, as some try to,

that we call God “Father” when He’s creating the world,

but we call Him “the Son” when He’s on the Cross,

and we call Him “the Spirit” when He dwells in us.

No: God the Son is a different person than God the Father

who is a different person than God the Holy Spirit

—but they are still one God.

In particular they are seen in relationship to one another:

relating as Father to Son, a son who is eternally begotten from the Father,

and the Spirit of the two that proceeds forth from them both,

some say the personification the love between the Father and Son.

Still, one God, three persons.

 

So all that’s clear.

No—it’s still difficult to explain and to understand.

And it always has been.

2000 years ago it was hard for the Jews to believe.

After all, the central dogma of Old Testament Judaism

is that there is only one God.

As we read in today’s first reading:

“Fix in your heart, that the LORD is God…

and that there is no other.”

But they kept hearing Jesus say things like: “the Father and I are one”

–so they called Him a blasphemer and tried to kill Him,

and eventually succeeded.

 

And it was hard for many wannabe Christians in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries,

heretics like the Gnostics: they couldn’t and didn’t believe it.

 

And it was hard for the rich Arab merchant who searched for the true God

and apparently found Him in Christianity, but rejected Him

because he could not accept the truth

that God is one, but 3 persons.

And so Muhammad made up his own religion, to suit his unbelief.

 

It is very difficult to understand, and, so, difficult to believe.

And yet we do believe.

But why?

 

Very simple: because we believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the one sent by God.”

And Jesus taught us the dogma of the Trinity.

For example, on the one hand,

Jesus Himself proclaimed the central dogma of Judaism:

“The LORD our God is one.”

And yet, He called God His “Father,” and says:

“the Father and I are one.”

Now, some might say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically,

but as we read in John, chapter 10,

when the Jews accused Him of “making himself God”

and tried to stone Him,

instead of saying, ‘no no, you misunderstood,’

He said to them:

“I am the Son of God….

know and understand

that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

 

And He kept on insisting on this.

Who can forget the last supper,

when He went on and on about His unity with the Father.

Particularly in His rebuke of St. Philip, who asked “show us the father”.

Jesus responds:

“Have I been with you so long,

and still you do not know me…?

He who has seen me has seen the Father;

how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?

Do you not believe that

I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

 

And not only did Jesus insist that He was one God with His father,

He insisted that the Holy Spirit was one God with them also.

He promised His apostles:

I shall send to you …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”

but also promises:

“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”

Both the Father and the Son send the Spirit.

And why?

Because while Jesus calls him: “the Spirit of the Father”

St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit not only

“the Spirit of God” but also “the spirit of Jesus Christ”,

All the while insisting “there is one Spirit.”

 

We believe, because Jesus said it,

and because the apostles taught it

and handed it down from generation to generation,

both in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition.

And so the Church has always accepted it

as not simply an interesting bit of trivia,

but as the first tenet of the Christian Faith:

if you do not believe in the Trinity,

you are NOT a Christian.

 

This has been so important to the Church

that the earliest summaries of the Christian faith, like the Apostles Creed,

which some say the apostles themselves wrote at the first Pentecost,

are centered around the Trinity.

And at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD,

when all the bishops of the world could all come together

for the first time since the death of the apostles,

the most important thing they did was give us

a more elaborate formulation of the Trinitarian Creed:

the Creed we say at every Sunday Mass—the Nicene Creed:

“I believe in one God, the Father….the Son… the Holy Spirit.”

 

The Trinity is the First Dogma of Christianity,

because the whole Church comes out of,

revolves around and moves toward this mystery.

Heaven is sharing in the communion of life and love of the Trinity.

The whole incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Christ are Trinitarian:

the Father gives His Son, the Son offers Himself to the Father.

The Pentecost is Trinitarian:

the Father and Son send the Spirit so they can dwell in us,

and we can be one with them.

 

The Sacraments are Trinitarian:

in Baptism we are baptized

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

and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls,

and where the Holy Spirit is there also are the Father and Son,

and so we begin our sharing in life of the Trinity.

And in the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit

Christ makes us one with Him and presents us to His Father.

[We see this reflected in the whole Mass: the Mass itself is Trinitarian:

we begin and end the Mass in the name of

“the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”;

and throughout the Mass, listen carefully to the triple repetitions,

subtly reminding us we are praying to a Trinitarian God:

“Holy, Holy, Holy,”

“through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,”

the triple “Agnus Dei,”

“this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”.….]

 

The Church itself is Trinitarian:

it is one, because the Trinity is one,

and it is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Spirit to praise the Father.

Creation itself is Trinitarian:

God created man in His own image so He could invite us

to live and love in the life and love of the Trinity.

 

This is what we believe.

Still, all this is difficult to understand.

 

Does this make us stupid, or naïve or irrational?

No, because it would be stupid, naïve, irrational and the height of arrogance

to think that we could ever really understand everything about God

—especially about His inner most being.

 

Do you understand how God created the universe?

No; but you believe it, and it is very rational to do so.

Do you understand how God can love each one of us uniquely and totally,

even though you and I are like mere specks of dust in this huge universe?

Do you understand how God could become a man and die on the Cross,

and still be completely God?

Do you understand how God could truly come to us,

body, blood, soul and divinity,

under the appearance of a piece of bread we could eat?

No; you have some inkling of an understanding of these things,

but you don’t understand any of them completely.

But still, you believe them.

 

Think about it: It would be so much easier for the Church

to proclaim the Gospel without the Trinity

—who would make something so difficult to understand

the central tenet of their religion?

But some things we don’t understand,

we still believe because Jesus has revealed them to us.

These are what we call mysteries of the faith.

And by that we don’t mean just accepting it blindly and without understanding.

But rather, mysteries are truths that are hidden in God,

things too big or magnificent for us to understand,

and which we could never begin to know anything about,

unless they are revealed by God.

 

As Scripture reminds us:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

…and weighed the mountains in scales? …” like God has.

 

And if we can’t understand something like creation, or the incarnation,

how can we really hope to ever completely fathom

the dogma of the Trinity?

After all, this dogma is a peek into the very inner most life

of the eternal boundless God.

To believe this dogma is not to be foolish, but to accept a wondrous gift

—to know God in His deepest self,

to know something of the boundless and eternal

intimate love and life that the Three Divine Persons

share so perfectly and completely,

and of an invitation to us to share in that

relationship of divine, eternal and boundless love and life,

imperfectly in this world, and perfectly and forever in the next.

 

___

As we continue with this Holy Mass,

let us turn to the Trinitarian mystery of the Eucharist,

the sacrifice of the Son to His Father

made present by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And by these sacred mysteries

may we now be lifted up

into the wondrous and intimate mystery of

the eternal life and boundless love that is the Holy Communion

of the Most Holy Trinity.

TEXT: Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday

May 20, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today, as at every Sunday Mass, right after this homily

we’ll all join together to make our Profession of Faith

by praying the “Creed.”

By saying the Creed we proclaim publicly to the world

the very basic truths we believe about God.

Near the end of the Creed, after we’ve professed our belief

in God the Father and God the Son—Jesus

–we begin our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit.

Most of us have probably said these words hundreds or even thousands of times.

But how many times have we stopped to think about

the meaning behind these words?

In particular, what does it mean when we say:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

 

Sacred Scripture is full of wonderful and mysterious surprises

–like a treasure chest full of precious jewels and gems.

And one of these gems is found as we consider the small word “Spirit.”

The English word “spirit” is used to translate the original Hebrew word “ruah“,

which primarily means “wind” or “breath”.

And so whenever we see references in Scripture to “wind” or “breath”

we see the subtle connection to the “Spirit”.

And this connection isn’t accidental because it’s the Holy Spirit himself

who is truly the author of every word of Scripture.

 

This symbolism of breath and wind appears throughout Scripture, sort of a code,

or sign to indicate the activity of the Spirit in the history of Salvation.

For example, in the first reading today we see that on the first Christian Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with a loud gust of wind,

and in the Gospel we hear that Jesus

breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture

is one which often goes unnoticed.

It comes in the second verse of the Bible, in Genesis 1’s story of creation:

“the earth was a formless wasteland…

while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”

Soon thereafter, as God creates man,

He forms man from the dust of the earth and then blows,

“into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”

So here, right “in the beginning” of Scripture it is revealed to us

that it is the Spirit, the ruah, who is “the Lord, the giver of life.”

 

In the New Testament the Holy Spirit continues His life-giving work.

The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that

Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary

“by the Spirit.”

So, the human life of Jesus Christ Himself, is the gift of the Spirit.

But this natural human life which the Spirit gives

is only the beginning of his life-giving work with Jesus.

In a key passage of St. John’s Gospel,

Jesus tells us that unless a man be born again,

of water and the spirit, he cannot have eternal life.

In that same passage, Jesus also reveals the mysterious connection

between His being “lifted up” on the Cross

and man’s rebirth into “eternal life”.

This mystery only becomes understandable

as we come to Calvary and Christ’s very last moments on the Cross.

As St. Luke tells us: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice,

`Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;’

and when He had said this He breathed his last.”

 

With these and many other symbolic references to the Spirit,

Scripture tells us of a wonderful mystery.

In the beginning, He gave natural life to man.

In the fullness of time, he acted in History giving natural human life

to the Eternal God the Son.

 

Then as Christ gives up his spirit and breathes his last,

the life-giving Spirit is active even still in Christ’s death.

For in his death Christ gives up the natural human life

the Spirit gave him in the womb of Mary,

in order that he might rise again

and send the Holy Spirit to brings us eternal life

–the life of God Himself.

 

In the 2nd chapter of Genesis

it tells us that God created Adam by first building a physical human body.

And today’s second reading reminds us that the Church is the body of Christ.

When Christ was in the world He prepared a physical body for His Church.

Just like God created a physical body for Adam

that had all the various parts to do different tasks,

Jesus also created a body that had various members

who would do different tasks.

And just like Adam’s body which was made out of the common dust of the earth,

the body Jesus built for His Church was made out of

the most common of human beings–fishermen, tax collectors, sinners.

And just like Adam’s lifeless body,

the disciples that gathered on that Pentecost day

gathered as the body of Christ–but as a lifeless body.

They were still afraid and hiding, waiting for God to do something.

For only God can turn a group of weak and frightened sinners

into the living Body of Christ.

Only God can give life!

 

And God does give life!

God created the human race by breathing the life-giving Spirit

into the lifeless body of Adam.

Once again, at the Pentecost, we read

that: “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind.”

The ruah, the breath of God blows the life-giving Spirit

into the house where the disciples are gathered in waiting,

and changes these frightened disciples

into the vigorous living mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

As the psalm tells us today:

“If you take their breath they perish,

but send forth your spirit and they are created!”

 

 

At that 1st Christian Pentecost the Church was created

by the breath of the Holy Spirit within her.

But there are some believers today

who try to separate the Spirit from the Church.

They claim that if the Spirit is acting in you, you don’t need the Church.

But as we see in today’s

Scriptures, you can’t separate the Spirit from the Church.

When Christ sends the Spirit into the world

He sends Him for His expressed purpose to give life to His Body the Church.

 

Others would claim that the Church

is merely the assembly of those who believe in Christ,

and so the most important thing about the Church are its members.

But while the members are very important, the most important thing about the Church

is that it is the Body of Christ given life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As today’s second reading points out,

there are many gifts and ministries, but only one Spirit.

And the gifts and ministries given each person

are for the common good of the one Body.

There is one Body given one divine life by the one Spirit.

 

 

The Holy Spirit blew into that room on Pentecost

and in a dramatically active way gave life to the Church.

That same Spirit remains actively giving and sustaining this life in the Church

even to this day.

We see this activity as we read Sacred Scripture.

We see it in the Sacred Tradition of the Church

which the Spirit has sustained and kept free from error.

We see it in the various gifts He gives to the various members of the Body.

We see it in prayer as He draws us ever deeper into sharing the life of God.

And we see it in the Magisterium and apostolic hierarchy

–as St. John reminds us in today’s Gospel,

when Jesus appeared to the apostles on Easter He

breathed on them and said:

`Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them;

if you hold them bound, they are held bound.'”

 

But this life-giving and life-sustaining activity of the Holy Spirit

is encountered most dramatically in the Sacramental life of the Church.

For example, in Baptism, where we are recreated into the new life in Christ

as members of His Church by the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls.

Or in Penance, where,

by the power of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles on Easter,

the priest forgives men’s sins,

the Spirit acting to restore them to life in Christ.

Or in Confirmation where we receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit

so that we can imitate the Church at Pentecost

and bravely proclaim Christ to all the world.

 

But most especially we encounter this life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit

in the Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In today’s Mass, and in every Mass celebrated around the world

we invoke the action of the Holy Spirit.

In particular in the Eucharistic Prayer

–at the Epiclesis, when he extends his hands,

the priest recalls and requests the action of the Holy Spirit

to transform ordinary bread and wine

into the real life-giving Body and Blood of Christ

–the very same Body which received life in the womb of Mary

by the action of the Holy Spirit

and gave up that life on the Cross

in order to give us eternal life through the Holy Spirit.

 

In a few moments we will pray the Creed.

Today, on the Feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit,

we remember that it’s through the Holy Spirit that

all natural life comes into creation.

And through that same Spirit, as He blows into the heart of the Church

and the hearts of its members,

human beings are given a share in the supernatural divine life

of God himself.

And we proclaim with renewed fervor and love:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

TEXT: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Sunday May 13, 2018

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Sunday May 13, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven,

meaning the real historical fact that 2000 years ago Jesus,

who was born in Bethlehem,

and was Crucified and Rose from the dead in Jerusalem,

at the end of 40 days after the Resurrection,

physically rose in His body up in the air,

and went up into the sky into heaven.

It really happened.

 

But it’s more than historic fact—it didn’t just happen and it’s over.

Rather it happened 2000 years ago, but it continues to happen now,

in the sense that Jesus is still in heaven, in His body,

seated, in some way, on His throne next to God the Father

ruling over the universe.

 

This is all, of course, very hard to understand.

How did Jesus, in effect, fly up to heaven in His body?

And where is heaven, and is it a physical place, and is it a physical throne?

—it must be somehow, someway, since His real body is there.

Even so, we don’t understand how.

But the thing is, it’s not terribly important whether we understand how,

as long as He understands how.

 

What it is important for us to understand, however, is why.

 

Now, with God, we never understand every reason why He does what He does.

There are so many mysteries

—divine truths we know about and understand somewhat,

because Jesus has told us,

but at the same time things we can never understand completely,

because they are so profound, so complicated.

After all, they come from the mind and life of God, not man.

 

This is the way with the mystery of the Ascension

—it has so many meanings, and ramifications,

most of which we only begin to scratch the surface of understanding.

 

But let’s try.

To begin with, very simply put,

Jesus Ascended into heaven because that’s where He belongs.

Remember how the Gospels tell us that

God the Father “sent His only Son into the world,”

and that Jesus said repeated that He had “come down from heaven.”

God the Son belongs in heaven because that’s where He is from.

The unusual thing is that He was on earth at all!

It was a great blessing for us to have Him for as long as we did,

but He came to redeem us, and when He had accomplished that,

He returned to His place beside His Father.

 

Again, it is fitting, because that is where He is from and where He belongs.

But it is also fitting because from there He can rule over the whole universe,

all creation,

not sitting at a campfire in Judea ruling over 12 apostles,

or even in a huge stadium ruling over 100,000 people.

But in heaven looking over all of us, guiding and protecting us,

and being worshipped and adored

by all the angels and saints and all believers.

 

_____

And that leads to another reason for the Ascension

God the Son returns to heaven WITH His human nature.

As amazing as it is that God came down to earth,

more amazing still is that he was here as one of us:

God the Son became a man

—keeping His divinity, but united it to our humanity;

the Creator of all things became one of His creatures.

God entered into the nitty gritty of every part of everyday human life,

including sin–ours not His own.

 

This is the mystery of the Incarnation,

and what we sometimes call the hypostatic union:

that God the Son united His divine nature to a human nature,

so that He was one person with two natures,

completely God and completely Man.

Again, we don’t completely understand it,

but what we do understand is awesome and beautiful.

 

And now His divinity has taken His humanity into heaven,

where it is truly sitting next to, or standing before, God the Father.

Now we can say, that a man truly sits on the throne of God,

reigning over the universe, heaven and earth.

 

Think of that.

He is still the God who created everything out of nothing,

but now He returns to heaven as also Man.

And not just “a man,” but, in a sense, “Man” or “mankind,”

as He represents all of us.

Showing us that we, mankind, all and each of us,

are created with this capacity to be like God, and to share in His Divinity.

Not grasping at being God’s equal or replacement like Adam and Eve did.

Not opposing God, but obeying God.

Not rivaling God but loving God.

Not trying to seize God’s power, but to accept His free gift of sharing in His life.

Not to be above Him or against Him, but to be one with Him.

 

And so, Jesus as the Eternal Creator God the Son

and as the Crucified and Risen Man, sits next to God His Father forever.

And there He is our priest, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us,

Jesus always lives to intercede for” us before His Father.

Not only as the only Son of God, but as one of us, a Son of Man,

who understands us not only as a Creator understands His creation,

but as Creator who lived the life of a creature.

As Hebrews goes on to say:

“we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,

…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize

with our weaknesses,

but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are

—yet he did not sin.”

 

And so, He pleads for us as God the Father’s only begotten Divine Son,

but also as one of us.

And the Father looks at Jesus standing before Him,

and then looks down at us.

And He sees and loves in us, what He sees and loves in His most beloved Son.

 

And Jesus not only intercedes for us,

but He also stands before His father and praises Him,

not only as the Divine Son, but as the representative of Man.

So that it is true, that:

“Through Him, and with Him, and in Him…all honor and glory is”

the Father’s “for ever and ever.”

 

_____

Think of all of that….

Then think of how we were created for this.

As divinity is united to humanity in Jesus,

our humanity was created to be united to His divinity,

so that where Jesus the Man has gone,

we men, male and female, hope to follow.

 

We were created to live with God in paradise.

But not just as soulless spirits: as Christ is bodily in heaven,

we are meant to be with Him in heaven in our bodies.

We profess this every Sunday, when we say:

“I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

And be believe not just the resurrection of the body,

but also the ascension of the body—our bodies.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere: [in 1 Thessalonians]:

“will be caught up together with them in the clouds

to meet the Lord in the air,

and so we will always be with the Lord.”

And as St. John tells us: “we know that when He appears we shall be like Him…”
Think about what this means for us,

for the nobility of being a human being,

for the dignity of the human body.

Of the excellence this brings to our earthly lives lived in the body

that is meant to live forever in heaven,

 

And think of how it is so contrary to our good,

to the meaning of human life

to abuse our bodies or other people’s bodies.

Think of how this offends and wounds the body of Jesus enthroned in heaven.

 

Of course, there’s sexual abuse of the body, that is so rampant today,

like of contraception, sex outside of marriage,

and especially pornography, and homosexual acts.

And also think of the other ways we abuse the body:

through drugs or alcohol or gluttony,

or through the mutilation of healthy bodies in sex-change procedures.

 

But also, think of how we abuse other people’s bodies,

when we selfishly refuse to assist those with true bodily needs:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

….thirsty and you gave me no drink,

….a stranger and you did not welcome me,

…naked and you did not clothe me,

sick …and you did not visit me….”

 

 

Think of all that, and think of Christ’s human body enthroned in heaven.

 

____

Now, I have said, it’s fitting that Jesus be in heaven, and it is.

But His being in heaven doesn’t keep Him from being with us on earth,

as He promised:

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So we remember how He explained to the apostles at the last supper:

“it is to your good that I go away, for if I do not go away,

the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.

But if I go, I will send him to you.…”

 

And so even has Jesus has bodily ascended into heaven,

His Holy Spirit has descended upon us

in the sacrament of Baptism, and dwells in our hearts.

And where Jesus’ Spirit is, there is Jesus, and His Father, as well.

So by the action of His Holy Spirit Jesus does remain in each of the Baptized

and in the Church, His body on earth.

And He remains in His Word handed down by the Apostles and their successors,

by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

And most sublimely, by the action of the Holy Spirit,

Jesus remains with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

—the Holy Eucharist.

Just as He ascended to heaven 2000 years ago, body, blood, soul and Divinity,

at every Mass He descends from heaven, body, blood, soul and Divinity,

to the altar.

And we worship Him,

first and foremost in His body Sacrificed once and for all on the Cross,

but also in His risen and gloriously Ascended Body.

He comes down to earth and we go up with Him into heaven.

As Hebrews says:

Since then we have a great high priest

who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,

let us …. then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace….”

 

____

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

let us turn to our Lord enthroned in Heaven,

begging Him to join our prayers, petitions and praise to His own,

and present them to His heavenly Father.

And as He descends to the altar with all His angels and saints,

to make us one with Him in Holy Communion,

transforming our human lives by His divine life,

let us accept this heavenly gift with exultation

and live the life He created us for and that He calls us to.

The life lived in this world, with a body and soul created for the glory of heaven.

TEXT: 6th Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The center of our faith, the reason we exist, is Love.

But not just any love: God’s love.

 

Scripture brings this home to us over and over again.

Today, St. John tells us: “God is love”.

And taking that central truth about who God is,

we remember that Genesis tells us that,

“In the beginning… God created man in His own image.”

So, we are a creature made in the image of a God who IS love.

Which means that we are created fundamentally, to live in the image of God

–to love as God loves.

 

But in order to know how to love as God loves–to be like God

–God first has to reveal Himself to us, and teach us to love as He does.

So in the Old Testament, when God gives Moses the 10 commandments

we find that they’re not just an arbitrary set of rules,

but a true revelation of who God is

–how He lives and loves,

and how He created us to live and love.

When Christ entered the world He completed the revelation of who God is,

not coming, as He tells us, “to abolish [the law] but to fulfill [it]. ….”

–not to throw it out, but to explain it.

And His explanation comes most sublimely in today’s Gospel.

First He tells us to obey the ten commandments

–“You will live in my love if you keep my commandments,

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in His love.”

Notice, to Jesus to love and to keep the commandments

are mutually inclusive.

And also notice that Jesus goes on to clarify the commandments of love,

by pointing to Himself who is the Law made flesh, Love made flesh:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another

as I have loved you.”

 

And Jesus Himself teaches us how to love by His own example,

first by keeping the 10 Commandments in His own life,

and then by His own ultimate act of love.

He tells us:

“Greater love has no man than this,

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

He has loved us by laying down His life for his friends–for us–on the Cross.

 

Loving as Christ loves is living not for ourselves, but for God and our neighbor.

And that is what the Cross is about: about sacrifice out of love.

To be who we are created to be,

we must live in His image, and love as God the Son loves.

We must lay down our lives of sin

–and rise up in the life of love lived out in the commandments.

 

—–

It’s easy to lose sight of all of this, nowadays.

In our world, “love” usually has very little to do with sacrifice:

love is usually reduced to a feeling that makes you happy.

And love is hardly ever at all equated with following the commandments

–on the contrary, love is usually seen as an uncontrollable impulse

that leads us to whatever attracts us

–and the commandments just get in the way of love.

 

But when you’re tempted to tell God, “who is love,”

that His definition of “love” is wrong,

or to tell the creator of man that He doesn’t know

what is natural to His own creature,

it’s time to lay down your own selfish pride, or your irrational logic.

 

——

Sadly, not only do we often confuse the irrational feelings we have

with true love,

sometimes we even confuse true love with hate.

So that all too often if you talk about the commandments

you’re accused of “hate-speech,

and even called “un-Christian.”

But the thing is, this isn’t hateful, and it certainly is not un-Christian.”

If anything, this is Christ-like.

Sometimes telling the truth, especially telling the truth about the commandments

is the most loving thing, the most Christ-like thing, to do.

 

Think about it: Jesus loved everyone,

even the scribes and Pharisees, which is why He said things like:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,

[you] hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”

That’s not hate-speech—that’s the language of love.

As Scripture tells us elsewhere:

“The Lord disciplines and him whom he loves

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 

——-

Of course, we need to be very charitable and prudent

when we talk about things the world doesn’t understand.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be passionate about it.

Yet so often when people disagree over something passionately,

especially when they strongly and forcefully argue and even fight

to defend what they believe is right,

they are called “hateful.”

Some people in the world we live in believe that all fighting is hateful.

But sometimes fighting—and even war itself—is about love:

love for one’s friends, one’s country,

or the defenseless, or the persecuted or one’s ideals.

How many have loved us by fighting with all their energy to defend us,

even by “laying down their lives for their friends” in time of war?

 

Some might say, but Father, Jesus said:

Love your enemies.”

But you can love a man and still fight him when he’s wrong or evil.

 

For some it’s hard to understand:

how can you love your enemy and still fight them?

One the best examples I’ve seen, where it was lived out vividly and dramatically,

was a story told about our soldiers in Iraq a few years back.

One of the imbedded reporters in the Iraq invasion, told the story of how

a company of US Soldiers had come to guard one of the

most sacred Muslim sites

but the crowd of Muslim civilians thought they’d come to capture the place,

and began to move to stop the GI’s.

Let me read what the reporter for Time wrote:

“These soldiers had just fought an all-night battle.

They were exhausted, tense,

and prepared to crush any riot with violence of their own.

But …when their battalion commander…ordered them to

take a knee, point their weapons to the ground, and start smiling,

that is exactly what they did….

          Since then, I have often wondered how we created an army of men

                   who could fight with ruthless savagery all night

                   and then respond so easily to an order to “smile”

                             while under impending threat.”

 

It is hard for people to understand all this,

it seems “natural” for a man who fights

to vent his anger and rage uncontrolled

–to let his feelings of anger dictate his actions.

That would be logical deduction of the “feel good” culture

our society is slipping into.

But thank God there remains a few remnants and effects

of the Christian culture we once were.

 

This, my friends, is loving your enemy par excellence.

They fought the enemy—for what they believed to be right and necessary—

with the most devastating of martial skill,

willing to lay down their lives for the defense of their country.

But when the time for fighting stopped they were not ruled by feelings,

–not by feelings of anger or even of fear,

as their own lives were still in danger.

But instead, even though it meant an added risk of laying down their lives,

they were ruled by the echo of the words of Love Incarnate:

“Love one another as I have loved you….Love [even] your enemies.”

 

If only our whole of our society could return to these Christian roots.

To understand that love is something more than feeling good,

but rather about being good and doing good for one another.

That love is not about doing as you please,

but doing what is pleasing to God: what is right and good,

and becoming like God, in whose image you were created.

That the greatest love involves sacrifice, laying down your life for your friends:

loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

 

——

As we read today’s Gospel and contemplate on

the meaning of Christ’s commandment of love,

we should remember that this text comes right in the middle

of Jesus’ prayer during the Last Supper.

A prayer for that perfect love be restored between God and man

by the perfect act of love between God and man: Christ’s death on the Cross.

Where God the Son laid down His life out of love for His friends,

but also for His enemies,

Caiaphas and Pilate and the Roman soldiers were His enemies,

but died for love of them too.

At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated that sacrifice

both in His prayer and His actions.

So that today, 2000 years later, we can come together,

and enter into the sacred mystery of that sacrificial love.

In this Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist

Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes into our bodies,

and fills us with the perfect love of the Cross.

Today, open your heart to be transformed by the love of the Cross.

Transformed into the person you were intended to be in the beginning

when man was created in the image of the God who is love.

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Most years we would celebrate today, April 29th,

as the feast of one of the greatest Saints of the Church.

But since today is Sunday, and a Sunday of Easter, the Lord’s Day takes priority,

so her feast is liturgically suppressed.

 

But nothing keeps us from talking about her, so we will.

She was a completely uneducated girl, a tiny wisp of a nun

who died over 600 years ago at the young age of 33.

But in her short life she was such a powerful instrument of God’s grace and love,

that she is now recognized as a great

teacher, foundress, healer, mystic, writer, diplomat,

spiritual counselor to peasants and popes,

and even proclaimed one of the 36 “Doctors of the Church.”

She was named Caterina Benincasa,

but we have come to know her as St. Catherine of Siena.

 

Yet with all the words that this great saint wrote none can really summarize her life

better than the words of her one true love, words she read–as we do today—

from St. John’s Gospel:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine was given the great gift to understand from the early age of 6

that there was no life, no love,

that could compare to the life and love of Jesus Christ.

And so she sought her whole life not to live her life, but to live his life:

to live in Him, and let Him live in her.

She realized that without Him she could do nothing.

Like a small vine withering in the heat of the sun

she had been born to the human race,

but in her baptism she had been grafted

onto the great strong vine who is Christ.

She had become part of Him, and she strove all of her life to remain part of Him

and to open her heart to receive from Him

every goodness he wanted to give her.

And like a vine pouring nutrition into its branches,

Christ poured His life and love into her.

And in that, she did not whither, but grew and bore tremendous, abundant fruit

that we still cherish today.

 

The first fruit in this life was her personal holiness and a closeness to God

that made her the natural instrument of His goodness to others.

St. Catherine never forgot our Lord’s promise that we find both in today’s Gospel

and today’s second reading, as we read:

“If you remain in me…

ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.”

When we look at the life of St. Catherine

we’re astounded by the amazing things she did,

or rather amazing things Jesus did in response to her prayers:

–spoke and read languages she had never been taught,

cured the sick, read the hearts of sinners,

converted notorious sinners, saw prophetic visions,

and brought peace to her country.

There’s even the story of how,

when she heard that her mother had died without confessing her sins,

St. Catherine spent the night in deep prayer–“laying siege to heaven”

–and in the morning found her mother restored to life, and perfect health.

 

How was it that S. Catherine lived in Christ so well

so that so much of what she asked of him was given her?

First of all, she had been grafted onto Christ by the gift of Baptism

–that great sacrament that marks the beginning of our life in Christ.

But the branch can easily whither on the Vine if it’s not properly cared for.

So St. Catherine constantly worked at keeping herself alive in Christ

by striving to follow the instruction of St. John in today’s 2nd reading:

“Those who keep His commandments remain in Him and he in them.”

So she strove to eliminate all personal sin from her life,

to do only “do what pleases him”

by serving God and her neighbor.

And having removed all obstacles between her and her beloved,

she entered into a life of such intimate and unitive prayer

that Our Lord granted her a share in His own five wounds of the cross

–the stigmata.

But also, in answer to her desperate prayer made out of deepest humility,

the agonizing wounds remained invisible to all but herself

until the moment of her death,

when they became clearly visible on her lifeless body.

 

St. Catherine truly depended on Christ the Vine for her whole life,

uniting herself completely to Him.

And just as she saw very vividly how in baptism she had become a small branch

grafted onto the strong life-giving Vine of Christ,

she also saw that the Vine poured its life into her

by the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity

under the appearance of earthly food–bread

–His life was poured into her Body and Soul.

So great was her love for the Our Lord in the Eucharist

and so deep her understanding

of her complete dependence on this sacrament for life,

that God granted her 2 very rare and special gifts.

First, when she would receive communion at Mass

she would fall into an ecstatic prayer

–in raptured joy, completely oblivious to any of her senses,

and sometimes even physically lifted into the air.

And second, and perhaps most remarkable of all the gifts Christ gave her,

from about the time she was in her late teens until her death at 33

St. Catherine ate no earthly food

other than the Body of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Vine fed His precious branch directly and only with the food of heaven.

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine is in heaven now, but she continues to produce abundant fruit

through her powerful intercession and shining example.

And her example reminds us that we too are called to live the same life she did:

not her life, but the life of Christ.

 

But do we answer this call?

Are we truly living in Him,

so that all H\his life and goodness can flow into our daily existence?

It’s difficult to do that, or even know how to start.

We’re probably not all going to be great saints like St. Catherine,

but we all have to start in the same place that she did.

First, by entering the life of Christ in Baptism.

Then also by nurturing and protecting that life by “keeping his commandments”

as St. John instructs us, freeing ourselves from our attachments to sin.

And then as the obstacles of sin begin to clear away,

we enter can enter a deeper relationship with our Lord

in prayer, prayer that opens us more and more to receive his life and love.

Finally, when we’ve removed the serious sins, and prepared ourselves in prayer,

we will still have no power to live, and no strength to love,

unless we receive the food pouring from the Vine into us His branches:

the food that is Christ Himself present in the Eucharist.

 

Not everyone in this room is called to be a St. Catherine of Seine.

But you may be surprised to realize that everyone of us

is called to a level of holiness comparable to hers.

I know I’m not anywhere near that level.

Through baptism, I am a branch attached to the Vine of Christ.

But if only I could be a branch abundant with fruit like St. Catherine was.

If only I my prayers could cure plagues, convert sinners, or restore life

in the name of Jesus.

If only I could love my God and my neighbor the way I should

–if only I could free myself from sin.

If only my prayers would lead me to such intimate union with Christ

that I would could see his blood flow from my hands.

If only I could approach the Eucharist and see with the eyes of perfect faith

the real presence of Jesus Christ,

and recognize more clearly that this is the food pouring out of the Vine

to give life to His branches.

If only I could live in Him and He in me, because apart from Him,

it is clear that I can do nothing.

 

Still, if a simple, tiny, uneducated, medieval girl

named Caterina Benincasa can do it,

why can’t you and I?

We have baptism; we have His commandments, we have His prayer,

and we His Body in the Eucharist.

We have Him.

He is the Vine, and we–just like St. Catherine of Siena–are the branches.

Why don’t we live in Him, and let Him live in us,

so that we may produce fruit abundantly?