TEXT: 4th Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 23, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This morning before the 8:45 Mass, at about 8:15,

the fire alarm went off in the church.

And after evacuating everyone, and having the fire department come and go,

and all the confusion in between,

before Mass in the sacristy I gathered the altar boys together for prayer,

and reminded them, “Let us place ourselves in the presence of God.”

 

Advent can sometimes be like a fire drill, with all the confusion of shopping and decorating and everything that goes with preparing for the cultural celebration of Christmas.

But then you come here to set things straights, to focus on the real meaning of Advent—to place yourself in the presence of God.

But really, all of Advent should be that way, continuously trying to place yourself in His presence.

And in these last few hours of Advent to help us with that, I encourage you

to also place yourselves in the presence of the 2 people

who understand what it means to prepare for the birth of Jesus

better than anyone: the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.

 

____

Not much is known about the early life of the Blessed Mother.

Scripture is silent about her childhood,

and for the most part, so are the early fathers of the Church.

Even so, Scripture and all the Fathers are unanimous

in their deep reverence and love for her,

and her unique grace and status in creation

is explicitly extolled from the earliest days.

 

And not all of the Fathers are silent about her childhood.

Some are very clear in their belief that she knew from a very early age

that God had a special mission for her in life.

Think about it: the Church teaches infallibly that

she was conceived in the womb of her mother

without the stain of original sin,

which means she never suffered from concupiscence:

she could see very clearly the difference between

the good and evil around her;

and she never once committed a personal sin.

This is, in part, what the angel Gabriel meant when he said to her:

“Hail, full of grace!”

 

This was no ordinary child.

So it’s no surprise that some of the fathers held

that when she was a very little girl

Mary made a vow of virginity to God:

consecrating and dedicating her whole life to Him.

Some say that from the age of about 3 years old she was

brought to the Temple where she was educated by the priests and scribes

until she was about 12.

Some talk about the fact that she would have had multiple experiences

of visions and inspirations from God.

 

In any case, between Mary’s

unique holiness, her clear intellect, and her complete love of the Lord,

combined with God’s unique love for her,

we can only imagine how splendidly she was prepared

to be His mother.

Think of God the Son, who existed from all eternity,

and imagine how sitting on His throne in heaven

He must have looked down with love and tenderness

on this young girl who He knew would one day become His mother.

Think of how He would

provide for her and protect her,

how He would send His angels to defend her,

how He would speak to her lovingly, even before He was born,

perhaps even more clearly and intimately

than He spoke to Moses and the prophets.

 

This is the girl, who, when the angel Gabriel came to her

and told her that she would be the Mother of God himself,

did not run and hide from her calling.

Instead she responded: “How can this be, since I know not man?”

–in other words, “I’m a virgin, what am I to do? tell me, and I’ll do it!”

This is something else we certainly know about this young girl:

she was a virgin.

The Gospels make it clear that she’s a virgin

because they want no doubt that that no mere man

is the father of this child, but that God alone is His true Father.

 

And when the angel told her this great news she responded:

“let it be done to me according to your word.”

Complete and utter faith, trust, and acceptance of God’s will.

 

This is the woman, who received her Lord in perfect faith and love.

Who held Him in her womb;

who cared for and worried for her baby

as only as an expectant mother could,

and waited for Him with joy and love beyond all telling.

_____

What about Joseph?

If we know little about Mary’s childhood, we know even less about Joseph’s.

We know that, like Mary, he was a direct descendant of King David,

and that he was perhaps born in Bethlehem,

but more likely born in Nazareth

where he lived and worked as a carpenter.

His relative obscurity in Scripture leads us to conclude that he was humble man,

who taught his son, Jesus, to be a humble man

—to serve, not to be served.

 

Some of the legends about him say

that he was an old man when he married Mary.

Some suggest this as a reason he was able to be celibate with the Virgin

—but that degrades both the gift of celibacy and the virtue of St. Joseph.

So, another strain of the tradition, running through the great Augustine and Aquinas

holds that he was a young man of marrying age.

But above all, we know he was a righteous man,

which, in the language of Scripture,

means a man who was an exceptionally holy man,

always following the will of God.

 

And so, it shouldn’t surprise us that it is the tradition of the Fathers,

and the “common teaching” of the Church,

that like Mary, he too was prepared from an early age

for his role in salvation history.

That Joseph, who unlike Mary, was not conceived without original sin,

nevertheless, like Mary never committed a personal sin in his life.

Indeed, some even believe that Joseph was purified from original sin

after his conception in his mother’s womb, before he was born.

All of this because he had been chosen to stand in, on earth,

for Jesus’ Father in heaven,

to adopt Jesus, and to be a true father to Hhim.

To teach Jesus, insofar as he was human, how to be a man, a righteous man.

 

It is this Joseph who is married to the Virgin Mary.

 

____

These are the Joseph and Mary that were prepared for the birth of Christ

from the earliest days of their lives

—chosen by God to prepare a place for Jesus in the world.

To welcome Him with open and loving arms.

To serve Him, even as He was to serve them.

To worship and adore Him, even as they corrected His childish mistakes.

 

This is the Mary and Joseph who traveled on the rocky mountainous roads

from Nazareth in the North of Israel, to Bethlehem in the south,

during the cold month of December.

This is the Mary and Joseph, dedicated to their baby and to each other,

who wandered the streets of Bethlehem

looking for a place to lay their heads.

This was the Mary and Joseph who hastily cleaned the stable,

sweeping the floor, washing the dirty manger and laying out fresh hay.

This was the Mary and Joseph who watched in awe

the miraculous birth of God the Son

—who were filled with the immeasurable joy

at the coming of the Messiah.

This was the Mary and Joseph who loved our Lord

as only a new mommy and daddy can

—more than you and I could ever begin to.

 

____

While the best Christmas present is always saved for Christmas morning,

most of us get a few Christmas presents in the days before Christmas.

As we make our last minute Christmas preparations this week,

let us remember to open the wonderful gifts God gives us today:

the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

Gifts He gives us to help us prepare for His greatest gift of Christmas—His Son.

Let us turn to them as examples,

and ask them, who prepared so perfectly for the coming of their son,

to show us how to prepare.

And as we a move into these last few days before the birth of their little baby,

let us stay close to them so that they may show us

the wonder, the awe, the joy and love that Christmas means.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 16, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

Gaudete Sunday

December 16, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is Gaudete Sunday: rejoice Sunday.

In one sense, with all the festive atmosphere around us at this time of year,

being joyful today makes a lot of sense.

But part of me struggles to rejoice today, because the fact is,

the world is becoming a crazy place, and there are troubles all around us.

I won’t go through the list, you know it too well,

and sometimes I feel like I talk about it too much.

We try to ignore it, but the reality is that in this world there is a lot of evil

and far from causing us to rejoice, it causes us a lot of fear and anxiety.

 

The outward festivities of this time of year help to lift or mitigate all this a bit.

But the problem is, that’s only temporary, and it only goes so far:

the Christmas trees, and lights and presents are wonderful,

and all the warm feelings and memories are beautiful,

but in the end, they just ease the pain for a little while,

while underneath the fears and anxiety are still there,

and in a few weeks when the season passes, the troubles will still be there.

 

Then again, as strange as it may seem,

this is actually exactly what Gaudete Sunday is all about.

And it’s exactly what Advent is all about.

It’s about the permanent, total solution to all of our problems.

About the irradiation of evil and pain.

About replacing anxiety with peace, and fear with joy!

Not just on the surface, but in the depth of our hearts.

And not just for a few days or weeks, but forever, both on earth and in heaven.

 

Our faith teaches us that there will be no real abiding justice in this world.

Because Man continues to perpetrate injustice against man,

and yet man continues to think

that man and man-made things and man-centered ideologies

are the solution.

 

But man is not the solution.

He can be part of the solution, but only when he—we–admits his role

in contributing to the evil in the world.

 

As scripture reminds us, in the beginning,

tempted by the devil and accepting his lies,

Adam and Eve chose to put themselves first, above God.

The creature rejected the Creator’s understanding and plan and design

of what He had created,

and man tried to make himself, not God, the center of all things.

And of course man failed, but in doing that,

he brought evil into all of creation

—both the moral evil of sin,

and the physical evil of sickness, natural catastrophes and death.

Man rejected God’s loving and perfectly ordered design,

and replaced it with the devil’s hateful confusion.

 

But God loved man too much to let it stay that way.

So He promised that He would send a savior, born of a woman,

who would crush the devil and all his offspring,

and save mankind from himself.

 

Friends, this is what Advent is all about.

Sometimes people get upset with me

because I fret too much about  the way our culture turns Advent

into an early celebration of Christmas

—and a secularized Christmas at that.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things—I get it.

Santa’s great, Christmas trees, and lights and all,

they have their special place.

It’s just not enough, in that it tends to the superficial,

and tends to ignore the enduring.

And that’s not Advent.

 

Advent is about really thinking through—contemplating—

the real meaning of Christmas

so you can celebrate for what it really is it when it comes.

Advent means asking:

“Why did God become a little baby?

What difference did it make?”

Advent means remembering that baby grew up

to teach us some very hard sayings,

and to die on the cross for our sins.

Advent means remembering that sin is in the world,

and man is not the solution, but part of that sin,

unless and until he accepts the fact that Christ is the only solution,

the wonderful and joyous news

that Christ came and did crush the serpent’s head,

He has conquered evil,

and brought His kingdom of justice, love and peace

to the world.

 

Of course, some say, well if Christ crushed evil,

why are there all these troubles today?

 

Why?

Because most people have not accepted Christ,

and not joined Him in HIS battle against evil.

They—we—all too often want to fight evil on our terms,

with our own solutions,

and many times we simply want to ignore it all together.

Because, in a sense, my friends,

people ignore the importance of something like Advent.

 

Advent is a season of expectant joy, but not to pretend that all is well.

A season of hope in Jesus, but not of simply dulling the pain with

hot butter-rum punch, or spiked eggnog.

A season not of ignoring evil, but rather of recognizing it,

but not so we can feel dejected or afraid,

so that we can truly rejoice that with Christ we can overcome it all.

Things can be as they should be:

there can be peace on earth, and goodwill among men,

and you and I can be the truly good persons,

the good fathers and mothers,

the good children and friends,

the good priests we long to be.

Because Advent is the season of mentally, spiritually, and morally

wrapping our minds and hearts around the fact

that God the Son came into the world 2000 years ago,

as a real human baby, and so

entered right into the middle of our anxiety-, fear- and despair-filled lives,

and conquered it all.

And it is the season of recognizing that that all too often

we simply reject His coming, and do not let it transform our lives.

 

_____

So Advent is a time when we should be like the crowds in today’s gospel,

asking John the Baptist: “what should we do?”

 

And a time to listen and take to heart John’s responses.

 

To the Crowd he says:

“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none….”

He calls us to be kind, charitable, patient.

To be generous, especially to those in need.

But most especially to be like Jesus who gave Himself to us on Christmas:

we need to be generous in giving of ourselves, self-giving.

So many of us focus on ourselves, but John says, focus on others,

beginning by focusing on Christ, placing Him at the center of everything,

and then that will always lead you to focus on your neighbor.

 

__

And to the tax collectors he said:

“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”

There is so much greed in the world, and dishonesty, and lying.

And we all get caught up in it, both the rich and the poor.

Especially, amazingly enough, at this time of year.

 

__

To the soldiers he says,

“Do not practice extortion…”

Or we might say, stop taking advantage of people when they’re vulnerable.

He says: “…do not falsely accuse anyone…”

How easily we blame others for our faults and sins—especially those we love.

He says: “…and be satisfied with your wages.”

Envy, or jealousy, eats away at so many,

especially in America, especially in Northern Virginia,

especially, again amazingly, at this time of year.

 

__

Today’s reading stops there,

but if we’d read on to the very next verses in the Gospel of Matthew

it tells us that John the Baptist also told King Herod

to stop committing adultery with his brother’s wife.

Today our society has practically elevated adultery and sexual depravity

to an Olympic sport.

Advent must be a time of renewed chastity and purity.

 

_____

All around us we see signs of the good cheer of the “holiday season,”

but we don’t  have to look to hard to see all the evil.

But during Advent Season we see this evil, and know its cause,

and we know that 2018 or so years ago,

Jesus Christ was born to save us from all that,

if only we will accept His coming.

 

And so even in the middle of all the troubles that surround us

today’s teaching from the prophet Isaiah still rings true:

“On that day, it shall be said …:

Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a mighty savior…”

“That day” is Christmas Day.

The day our mighty savior came to crush the serpents head.

So that today, on this 3rd Sunday in Advent, Isaiah insists:

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!

and St. Paul joins him telling us:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!

…Have no anxiety at all…”

“….The Lord is near.”

 

____

As we continue our Advent season,

let us do so filled with joyful expectation

that evil, in the world, or in our hearts, cannot triumph

against the power and love of our Savior.

So let us repent, and rejoice, for the Lord has come, Our Savior is in our midst.

And He can and will change us, and the whole world, if we let Him.

 

This is the meaning of Christmas,

and it is what we must contemplate and act upon

in this holy season of Advent.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

 

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018

Second Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

It’s kind of intimidating for a priest to preach during Advent:

we keep having to face up to the first great preacher of the Gospel:

St. John the Baptist.

Still, as the SVC told us:

“[P]riests, as co-workers with their bishops,

have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.”

You know as well as I do, that priest is limited in his ability to preach “to all”

–and I’m not talking about his competency,

or knowing exactly what to say on a particular Sunday

to a particular crowd.

What I mean is that a priest is limited in that he just can’t be everywhere all the time:

and there are some places he’ll never be.

 

But the thing is, the priest isn’t necessarily supposed to be and preach in those places

          –but maybe you are!

You– the lay people of the Church

–the vast majority of the members of the Body of Christ

–are called to go into the world you live in to proclaim the Gospel,

in your jobs, in your schools, and in your families.

As St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading:

“I pray always with joy …because of your partnership for the gospel

from the first day until now…”

And as St. Luke tells us, St. John the Baptist came preaching that we all must:

–“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

 

I’m called to proclaim this to you and to the whole world in a public way,

and you’re called to proclaim this to those you come in contact with everyday.

But before any of us can proclaim— or give— the word to others,

we must first listen to–or receive— the word of God ourselves.

Before the vocation to give is the vocation to receive:

–the primary vocation of each and every one of us is

“The Universal Call to Holiness”.

–preparing the way of the Lord to come into our own hearts.

The proclamation of the word begins with ourselves

–preach to yourself first: as Jesus reminds us,

“first take the log out of your own eye,

and then you will see clearly

to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye”

–listen when your wife…or your parents…or your children,

proclaim the word to you.

–listen to the words of Sacred Scripture

proclaimed in the midst of the Church assembled for Mass,

or in the privacy of your own home:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,”

–listen with open hearts to priests who have been called by Christ

to proclaim this message

–even if he’s not a very talented preacher,

or even if you don’t like him personally

–God has chosen him and made him an instrument of His grace

through the sacrament of holy orders:

somewhere— in even this muddled homily—

                             there’s something that God wants you to hear.

And finally, listen to the voice of God,

the whisper of the Holy Spirit, in your hearts in prayer.

 

_____

It’s so easy this time of the year that the secular world wrongly calls

the “Christmas season” not to listen.

–to loose track of the message of Christ in the hustle and bustle of things

–shopping, television specials, parties, music, families getting together

–or loneliness.

But this is the “Advent Season”–and this season is all about listening,

as St. Paul says:

“to discern what is of value.”

 

In today’s Gospel we’re reminded of how St. John the Baptist

rid himself of all distractions in order to listen.

He went into the desert to prepare for the coming of the Savior by listening

And as he listened, Scripture tells us that:

“the word of God came to John …in the desert.”

 

Of course, its not necessary to go out into the desert

to find a place to listen to the Lord.

As we come closer to Christmas we’re reminded of another person

who listened to God: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She listened in that quiet room in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel spoke to her.

And for nine months,

amid the commotion of

her visitation to St. Elizabeth at Ain Karim

and the long trip to Bethlehem with Joseph,

she prepared for Christ’s coming by listening to the will of God.

And after His coming, her listening to God continued:

listening to her Son, Jesus:

from his laughter as she held him in her arms as a tiny baby,

to listening to his final words  at the foot of his Cross.

 

_____

First we listen–we receive–and then we give–we proclaim.

But each of us is called to proclaim in different ways.

John listened, and boldly went out into the world

and loudly and publicly proclaimed the Gospel.

Mary listened and quietly went on with her life raising her family,

listening to Her son,

and later on proclaiming the Gospel in her own quiet way

at the wedding at Cana, at the foot of the Cross,

and in her private time with the apostles and the early Church.

 

How are you preparing the way of the Lord?

Are you proclaiming the word of the Lord?

 

Is your own heart prepared?

Are you listening to the word of the Lord?

How are you listening amidst the busyness of the secular celebration of Christmas?

 

There are many ways of listening.

Sometime you can do this as Mary did so often,

by simply living your daily life at work and home,

listening to Christ speak to in the events of your life

and in the lives of those around you.

But sometimes, like Mary’s cousin John the Baptist and her Son Jesus,

and surely Mary herself,

we need to find a quiet deserted place to contemplate…to listen.

 

This Advent there are lots of ways to get away to listen, especially here in church.

For example, every morning during the week we have 2 Masses you can attend

—at 6:30 and 8:00.

And Wednesday evenings we have 7:00 Mass.

And every Wednesday and Friday we have adoration and benediction.

Another powerful way to listen and prepare the way of the Lord,

especially to make “winding roads …straight, and the rough ways …smooth”

is to go to confession,

especially if you combine that a few minutes

in prayer before Our Lord in the Tabernacle.

We have confessions every single day of Advent,

but I especially encourage you to come on a weekday evening,

from 6:15 to 7pm.

And of course, this evening at “Lessons in Carols”

–a beautiful way to listen and to prepare.

Perhaps you might also be able to listen to the Lord as he speaks through me,

and come to my Thursday evening series on “Looking at the Nativity.”

Not to mention that the Church is open most days

from 6:00 in the morning to 9:00 or so in the evening.

— come here alone just to get away to a quiet place,

just you and Jesus in the Tabernacle.

 

There’s lots of ways to prepare…in this parish and all over the diocese.

Pick up a bulletin and you’ll find lots more.

Take advantage and prepare.

 

_____

As we continue our celebration of this Holy Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent,

having opened our ears to hear the proclamation of the Word of God,

let us continue to open our hearts

to prepare to receive Him into the depths of our being.

And as we go forth today from this Mass,

having received the message preparing us for the Coming of our Savior,

let us prepare to go boldly go into the world

to proclaim this message to all we meet,

–to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2018

First Sunday of Advent

December 2, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is first Sunday of Advent.

Nowadays that doesn’t mean much to a lot of people.

For some it just means there are less than 4 weeks left till Christmas

For most people it has no meaning at all.

Because secular world around us has reduced the 4 weeks before Christmas

into a four-week season celebrating consumerism and sentimentality,

stripping it almost entirely of its real meaning,

which is, of course spiritual and religious.

 

Now, I’ve always loved this time of year,

both the religious and all the cultural aspects of the season,

though as a young man, sadly, I sometimes neglected the religious

in favor of the cultural or secular.

But when I was very young, a little child,

the line between the two was very much blurred,

in that I understood it was all about preparing to celebrate

the birth of the Baby Jesus on Christmas Day,

and during the Christmas Season.

And all the cultural aspects of the weeks before Christmas, that is during Advent,

all the things like Christmas Trees, and lights, presents, eggnog, parties,

even Santa Claus,

all of this in my little child’s mind

were all part of the joyful preparation for the birth of our Savior.

 

But I will admit, somewhere along the way, that changed.

When I was a teenager up until a few years out of college,

I approached this time of year more and more

as most of the world does today:

enjoying the consumerism and the sentimentality

more than the true love of Christ.

Honestly, eventually,

there was virtually no preparation for Christ involved at all.

Until one Christmas when I was, I think, 25.

I had had a totally secular Advent, not really thinking of it as Advent at all,

but as most people do today, the “holiday season”.

I wasn’t going to Mass at the time,

and I was not what anyone would call a practicing Catholic.

 

But I had had a great time that holiday season.

I’d taken a few weeks off from work,

and just really enjoyed all the cultural fun, shopping,

going out with friends to plays, movies, and parties

And of course, decorating my new house and putting up my Christmas tree.

 

It was a great time.

 

But then it came to Christmas Eve.

And I was at another party with friends, and having a lot of fun.

But I left the party early to do what I had been doing since I was a boy:

to go to Midnight Mass with some old childhood friends.

 

Now, this was probably the first time I’d been to Mass since the last Christmas.

But, it had become part of my traditional celebration, so I was going.

But not so much because of Jesus,

but because of the sentimentality of going with my dear friends.

 

But when I got to Mass, I have to tell you, something changed.

I realized that with all the fun, all the gifts, all the lights,

all the good and warm feelings,

something was terribly missing.

It was as if I had been trying desperately to fill a huge hole in my life,

and doing a pretty good job of it.

But not quite.

And as the Mass went on and we got to the Eucharistic prayer,

it stuck me what it was that was missing: Jesus.

 

You see when I was little,

all the joy of the cultural celebration of the “holiday season,”

all the sentiment in my heart and memories,

in some way had always tied to, flowed from and flowed back to Jesus.

And to the great event of God the Son stripping Himself of the glory of heaven

to come among us, to be with us, to teach us, to form us,

and most of all, to suffer and die for us.

In other words, to love us as only our great God can

—beyond all understanding, beyond all limits.

 

Now, maybe I was kind of strange little boy.

But thanks to my dear and devout parents, that’s the way I was.

And that’s what Advent meant to me.

And so, for example, while I loved the Christmas tree and all its decorations,

it also always reminded me of Jesus:

the evergreen reminding me of the undying love of Christ,

the lights reminding me of His light shining in darkness,

the wood reminding me of the wood of the Cross,

the red bows and ornaments of His precious blood.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t a little saint.

I was as selfish as any child could get

—I was very upset and angry when I didn’t get the pony I was expecting.

But even so, even in my little sins, Jesus could not be separated from all the rest.

 

And so that Christmas Eve, when I was 25,

as I knelt there at Midnight Mass, listening to the words,

“this is my body… this is the cup of my blood…”

it dawned on me what had been missing.

Those words echoed in my mind and heart,

and I realized that in the depths of my soul, I believed them.

And as the Mass went on, and everyone else went to receive Communion,

I stayed in my pew because I realized I was completely unworthy,

completely unprepared

either to receive Jesus in Communion,

or to really celebrate His birth and salvation.

And frankly, my life began to slowly change after that.

 

Now, I’ve had a long time to think about that night, and that Christmas.

I couldn’t have articulated or explained it all then, but now I think I can.

I love Advent, but I can only really love,

and really experience the depth of hope and joy of the season,

it if I keep Christ and the mystery of His birth right at the middle of everything.

Only if I recognize that the many wonderful things that happen

during these Advent weeks,

including the cultural sites and sounds and celebrations,

are only truly wonderful if I understand them

as a foretaste of the joy of Christmas.

 

And that Christmas itself is only joyful if I realize

that it is a foretaste of the true and perfect joy

that Christ was born in Bethlehem to bring:

the joy of living with him in this world, every day, every moment.

And the perfection of that joy, when we are united to Him forever

in the glory of heaven

when we will look on the beautiful face of Jesus, face to face, forever.

In other words, the good things of Advent are a foretaste of Christmas,

and Christmas is a foretaste of heaven.

 

But the thing is, as I realized that night over 30 years ago,

I’m not ready for heaven.

And I am not really ready for a foretaste of heaven either.

So since then, the idea that Advent as a season of preparing for Christmas

has a whole different meaning for me.

 

Advent must be a time of preparing for heaven,

and for preparing to celebrate the opening of heaven to us,

the day 2000 years ago heaven came down to Earth,

as the almighty God the Son came down to earth as the Baby Jesus.

 

And so, as the world gets lost in all the hustle and bustle

and all the empty sentimentality of the secular celebration of the holidays,

let’s not let that happen to us.

Focus on heaven, focus on Christmas, focus on Jesus.

 

Let me be clear: please enjoy all the good things of the season,

of course with moderation and balance,

but let every happy sentiment, memory, party, light, and present

remind you of the true joy, the deep joy, the fullness of joy

that comes only from being and living with Christ.

And so let them remind you to strive to be worthy of that joy,

by preparing for Christmas

through repentance, prayer, sacrifice and a life of generous love, .

 

_____

When I was  a little boy I loved Advent.

But when I was a young man, ensconced in the secular world,

I merely enjoyed the trappings of the season.

 

And a Mass changed all that.

Christ coming down to earth, body, blood soul and divinity,

reminded me of what was missing.

 

Open your minds and hearts to Christ, at this Holy Mass,

and throughout this Holy Advent .

Place Him right at the center of every day of Advent,

and prepare yourself

for a worthy celebration of Christmas,

a worthy life of love with Christ on earth,

and a worthy entrance into the Glory of Christ in heaven.

 

TEXT: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 25, 2018

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 25, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.

In today’s Gospel when Pontius Pilate recognizes Jesus’ claim to kingship,

Jesus responds: “for this I was born and came into the world:

to bear witness to the truth.”

 

What, then, is the truth about Jesus’ Kingship?

First we can say, as Scripture reveals, that Jesus Christ,

the Son of God and God the Son,

is eternal absolute royal monarchial creator,

sustainer and ruler of the entire Universe,

heaven and earth, visible and invisible.

 

And given that, the truth is that as He rules over everything and everyone,

also everything and everyone must serve him:

He rules and we serve.

 

But there is more to the truth about His kingship than that.

As we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals His kingship to the world

just a few minutes after He has been scourged at the pillar,

and crowned with a crown of thorns,

and just a couple of hours before He is nailed to the cross.

Because, as He revealed elsewhere in scripture,

“the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,

and to give His life a ransom for many.”

And so we see, the incredible truth that

Jesus is a king who His subjects must serve as king,

but a king who also comes to serve and even to die for his subjects.

 

Which only makes him all the more worthy of our service and worship.

 

This is the truth about Christ the King.

 

But, again, that’s not all.

Scripture tells us that in baptism Christ sends His Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us,

and in that we come to share in the very life of Christ Himself.

And by sharing in the life of Christ we share in everything He has.

So, for example, even though Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father,

and we are merely His creatures,

since we share in the Son’s life we share in His Sonship,

and can call God our Father; as St. John tells us elsewhere:

“we are called children of God, for so indeed we are.”

And perhaps even more amazingly,

given a share in the life of Jesus Christ the King,

we also share in his Kingship.

 

Now, how do we share in His Kingship?

Clearly you and I are not sovereign Lords of the Universe.

But rather we share in His kingship in that, in the end,

we answer to no one but to the King Himself.

By our baptism we are set free from world:

we are not subjects of the devil, or sinful men, or any sin, ideology or vice.

 

You say, but Father, don’t we still have to obey other human beings

—our parents, our teachers, the laws of our governments.

That’s true: in God’s plan He places us under obedience to others

either for our own good or the common good

—so we can learn and grow and live in peace with others.

 

But on the other hand, it’s also true that

we never have to obey anyone who leads us away

from what is truly good and right, away from Christ.

So even though He commands us: “honor your mother and father”

he also warns us that for some Christians:

“they will be divided, father against son and son against father,

mother against daughter and daughter against her mother..”

 

And even though, He commands us “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,”

He goes on to command us to render “to God what belongs to God.”

And as He says to Pilate:

“You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above;”

 

The bottom line is that our kingship in Christ

frees us to choose what Christ wants us to do,

to live under His kingship and in His kingdom:

So that even as we justly obeying our parents, teachers and governments,

we are free to choose between good and evil in our day to day life:

by the power of Christ and with His grace

no evil can lay claim to our allegiance,

no vice can claim us as its vassal.

 

Now some might say, but Father, doesn’t that make us dependent on Christ,

do we really share in His kingship, or are we simply slaves to Christ

 

Friends, the truth is, He did create us, and He does sustain us.

Without Him we perish, both in this world and in the next.

He, and He alone is the King of heaven and earth.

 

But like a bride who marries a king, and shares in his royal life and power,

we can choose to really share in Christ’s kingship by sharing His life,

or we can choose to reject Him.

 

Of course, human beings have been rejecting Him ever since the beginning:        Adam and Eve challenged God’s unique authority,

and so they rejected His kingdom.

And when Christ the King finally entered the world, in the flesh,

His own people rejected Him, as did the Roman Pontius Pilate.

And it continues to this day.

We are all sinners, which means every day, in small ways or large,

we choose to reject his kingship and go our own way

But by rejecting His rule and His grace to help us govern our lives,

we inevitably become enslaved by something, or many things:

by our emotions or weaknesses,

by alcohol, drugs, porn, anger, lust, greed or envy,

or even by our work, our lifestyles, our government, our friends

or even our families.

 

____

Since the beginning of the Church Christians have been persecuted for our faith,

sometimes in subtle ways, but many times in publicly violent ways.

Some, including myself, say we are beginning to live through

a similar time of persecution of the Church in our own country.

But as terrible as that might be, before we address that threat,

we have to face an even more basic, and more terrible, threat.

And that is the threat that comes from us—Catholics and all Christians.

The truth is that we have rejected, in whole or in part,

the kingship of Christ for ourselves.

Even those of us who go to Mass,

how many of us really embrace the Kingship of Christ?

How many of us live our lives obedient to his laws?

How many allow Him to serve us,

by accepting his grace that gives us the strength to rule over ourselves,

and so to live in freedom from sin?

To think and choose for ourselves, and to live as we were created:

in true love for God and neighbor.

 

___

Over the centuries untold thousands of Christians have been killed or tortured

for their faith in Jesus Christ.

From St. Stephen, the first martyr in the year 33AD,

to martyrs of the 21st century, like

Fr. Ragheed Ganni, executed after saying Mass in Mosul, Iraq, in 2007,

or Pakistani Catholic cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti

assassinated in Islamabad in 2011,

or the 21 Coptic Christian construction workers beheaded in 2015

on a beach in Libya as they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus.

 

In a particular way, I think of the young 13 Mexican boy,

Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio,

who fought against the persecution of Catholics in Mexico in the 1920’s,

in what became known as the Cristero Rebellion.

He became a hero to his fellow Catholics,

but not for his fighting prowess, or the number of enemies he had defeated.

In fact, he was never allowed to even carry a gun.

No, he became beloved for his unwavering faith in Christ as his king.

The way he truly accepted the kingship of Christ, not as a dictator,

but as a beloved father.

And not out of cowering fear, but out of joyful love.

The way he lived his life in the freedom and grace of Christ,

rejecting all sin and living an exemplary life of holiness

in the midst of so much deprivation and violence.

And finally because, standing like Christ Himself before Pilate,

bloodied and broken after endless torture by the Mexican soldiers,

who offered him his freedom if only he would renounce

the kingship of Christ,

he would only smile and look to heaven say: “que Vivo Cristo Rey,”

“long live Christ the King.”

And so they killed him… and today the Church calls him “Saint Jose Luis.”

 

___

Think of all these who have suffered for Christ’s Kingship,

and think of how many of us deny the that kingship every single day?

And not after being tortured, or with the threat of execution.

But only because we’d simply rather do things our own way, than Christ’s.

Or because we’d rather be slaves to the opinion of our peers or family.

We’d rather be slaves to sin or to other people,

than be servants of the one who created us and sustains us,

the King who is our servant.

 

___

My friends, today Jesus tells us:

“for this I was born and came into the world: to bear witness to the truth.”

And the truth is that Our Lord Jesus Christ is King of the Universe,

and that in His kingship alone do we find true freedom.

 

What were born for—for the truth, or a lie?

To live as slaves, or to live as kings?

Will we follow the example of our peers and the secular culture all around us,

or the example of the St. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio?

Will we cower under yoke of slavery in sin,

or in freedom bear witness to the truth of the Kingship of Christ?

 

Que Viva Cristo Rey!

Praised by Jesus Christ the King—now and forever!