TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2017

2nd  Sunday of Lent

March 12, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

It may seem a little strange to read the Gospel of the Transfiguration during Lent:

the joy of the Transfiguration seems to stand in stark contrast

to the sorrow that usually marks this season of penance.

But this Gospel really is a window into the true meaning of Lent,

which is a season about stark contrasts.

Like Peter James and John, during Lent we also go away with Christ

to be alone with him, and in the mystery of contrast we begin to

discover more about who he really is, and who we really are,

and who we have become, and who we can become.

 

See what happened on that mountain 2000 years ago.

The apostles saw, for the first time, just how different Christ really was from them

—and not just in appearance, but in their lives and hearts:

the start contrast between his holiness and their sinfulness.

They saw Jesus standing and talking to Moses,

—the giver of the Commandments of God.

And they saw Him standing with the prophet Elijah,

the greatest of all the prophets who called Israel to repent their sins

and promised a Redeemer who would save them from their sins.

And then they heard the voice from heaven say:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
And suddenly, in the presence of the eternal God the Father and His only Son,

and reproached by giver of the Law of God

and the warnings of all the Prophets of God,

just as they thought “it is good that we are here,”

they were also, in contrast, “very much afraid,”

as they came face to face with their own sinfulness.

 

Think of this contrast: Lent is a season of joy,

but it can only a season of true joy to the extent

that we allow it to first be a season of true sorrow.

A season of recognizing that, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus:

“he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”

The joy and glory of the resurrection

comes only through his contrasting suffering and death on the cross,

and the cross comes only because of

the contrast between His love and our sins.

 

In short, what joy can be there if we don’t first feel sorrow for our sins?

The thing is, thoughfor a Christian, sorrow for sins

should never lead to hopelessness or despair,

rather it should the first step on the road to glory and the joy

of sharing in the love of Christ.

 

What is a sin, after all?

St. Augustine tells us that sin

is a turning away from the Creator toward the creature,

loving the things God created more than we love God himself.

To put it another way, sin is about not loving God the way we should.

That’s why the very first commandment is

“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

 

But we do this all the time.

Sometimes we put things in front of God: money, power, popularity.

Sometimes we put people in front of God,

letting other people tell us what’s good or bad, right or wrong.

 

The most common person we put before God is ourselves.

So often we know what God tells in the Bible or the teaching of His Church;

that God says I shouldn’t do this or that,

but then we ignore all that, and do what we want:

I know better…THAN GOD.

 

Sometimes we hear people say, I love Jesus and my neighbor,

so the commandments aren’t that important.

But the thing is, Moses himself summed up the 10 Commandments by saying:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, …soul, and …strength.”

And on the night before he died, Jesus himself said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments….”

The commandments are not opposed to love,

they do not stand in contrast to love,

they are God’s explanation of how to love.

 

And yet, everyday most of us break the commandments,

in large ways or small.

Remember, for example, how Jesus explained the 5th commandment:

“You have heard …it …said …., ‘You shall not kill…’

…But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother

… [or] whoever says, ‘You fool!’

shall be liable to the hell of fire..”

 

That person cuts you off in traffic, you don’t get angry?

Your friend somehow hurts your feelings,

and you don’t think or even say, “that fool” or worse?

 

We do this all the time—we fail to love: love contrasts with sin.

 

Most of the time it’s in small ways.

Sometimes, though, we sin in more serious ways.

Little Children hit their siblings, or scream at their parents,

or bully other kids in school.

Teenagers lie to their parents,

or get all caught up in the vanity of how they look or dress,

or what other kids think of them

Parents spoil their children with every material thing they can afford,

or they neglect them by not showing affection, or giving them discipline,

or failing to give them the Catholic faith.

 

Spouses act like they’re married to their careers or hobbies,

they abuse each other with ugly words or actions, or even infidelity.

And single adults

don’t even bother to call their parents even once in a while just to say hi;

and so often selfishness replaces commitment,

greed replaces charity, lust replaces love.

 

Older folks also… some allow loneliness to turn to bitterness,

or physical disability to lead them to selfishness or despair.

 

And priests…

some spend more time working on their golf game than their homilies.

They preach more about things that make parishioners feel good,

than the hard truth of the Gospel—including things like the reality of sin.

Not to mention, of course, the other terrible sins we’ve read about.

 

And that’s why Lent is so great:

in the light of the Cross and Resurrection

we’re able recognize the contrast between Christ’s love

and our failure to love.

Not to drag us into despair, but to lift us from sin to love.

To see the contrast between the despair and sorrow caused by sin

and the hope and joy caused by the love of Jesus.

 

_____

Now, one of the hallmarks of Lent is the practice of acts of “penance,”

especially prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving

—you should do something in each of these three areas during Lent.

But the question is: what do these penances actually have to do with sin?

Or put another way: how does giving up chocolate help me love God.

 

Before we get to chocolate, though, let’s begin with the penance of prayer.

Prayer is essentially a conversation with God,

or with someone whose love for God is so perfect they are in heaven

—Mary, and the saints and angels.

Prayer makes us realize that God and our heavenly family

are actually and really there: always with us, always loving us.

 

In prayer we go to God in love, and count on His love to his help us.

We go to praise and thank him, and to tell him we’re sorry—all in love.

Prayer is the first essential step in knowing God’s love,

loving him back, and growing in love.

 

Second, the penance of almsgiving.

“Almsgiving” is just another word for “giving to those in need.”

So it’s not just giving money to charity or the poor,

as important as that might be.

Every day people come to you in need that has nothing to do with money.

Children, your parents come home from work tired:

they need you to help set the table, and not to fight with each other.

Parents, your kids need you to provide a roof and food,

but they also need you to take time to talk to them,

to teach the right from wrong,

and about Jesus and our Catholic faith,

and to pray with them.

And your spouses need you, your adult parents need you,

and your friends at work need you—in large ways or small.

Think of all the people you know

who desperately need to know about the love of Christ.

Who might even need you to point out that sins are not loving.

 

When you respond to any these genuine needs you are giving alms.

And you are replacing sin with love, saying that loving God and neighbor

are more important than money or time and effort, or even pride.

 

And finally, the penance of sacrifices.

How does giving up chocolate help you love God?

 

First, like almsgiving, it helps us to love God by recognizing that nothing

is more important than God.

Every time I look at that piece of chocolate in Lent I say,

“I love God more than anything, including this chocolate.”

 

Also like almsgiving, sacrifice helps you recognize the sufferings of others:

every time your stomach rumbles or you crave that piece of cake,

you remember all the people who go hungry or suffer in any way:

the poor, the lonely, the oppressed, the ignorant.

And you hear the voice of Christ saying:

“whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

 

Beyond that is the aspect of self-discipline:

in the same way an athlete practices and exercises relentlessly,

when we practice self-denial we exercise our will,

and strengthen our ability

to choose and do good even when it’s so difficult,

and to persevere against evil even when it’s so tempting.

 

____ Also, sacrifice helps us to recognize that our sins

are in fact worthy of punishment.

Christ pays ultimate redeeming price for our sins,

but acceptance of self-punishment helps us to

realize and express a true desire to make atonement,

and to recognize the depth of the wrong we have done.

 

Finally, and most importantly,

the penance of sacrifice helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ.

Every small pain or hardship coming from our sacrifices

reminds us how much he loved us,

that he would endure so much more for us:

the scourging, the mocking and spit, the crown of thorns,

the heavy cross, and the nails.

Yes, a simple sacrifice of giving up meat or chocolate or TV or video games

can, and should, remind us of all this.

 

______

But in the end, no matter what acts of penance we do,

it’s all useless if they don’t open our hearts to the power of his love.

As St. Paul reminds us:

“He …called us to a holy life, not according to our works

but according to …the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.”

And nowhere do we find this grace bestowed more clearly and powerfully

than in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance.

 

Every time we confess our sins in the sacrament of Penance,

the Precious Blood of Christ Crucified pours out on us,

washing away our sins, and strengthening us

to love him and one another just as he has loved us on the Cross.

And washed clean in his love,

we go up the mountain with the Lord at every Mass,

not to see his glory in the light radiating from His Transfiguration,

but to see his glory incarnate in His Passion,

and so to join our sacrifices to His,

and be taken up into his great and glorious love,

in Holy Communion.

 

During Lent we go away to be with the Lord

just as Peter, James and John once did,

and like them we are stunned by the contrast between

the magnificence of his love for us,

and the miserableness of our failure to love him.

In this holy season the Lord calls us to recognize our sinfulness,

not so that we will wallow in self-loathing,

but to move us to change our hearts

and open our lives to his infinite grace,

so that we may be transfigured, transformed, by love.

 

Today, in the presence of our Eucharist Lord,

we imitate the apostles at the Transfiguration

and we fall prostrate before his glory.

And though frightened by what our sinful choices have done to us,

we see the Lord coming to us and saying

“do not be afraid” to accept and return his love.

And we give thanks to the Lord for the gift of this Holy Season of Lent,

saying with St. Peter: “it is good that we are here.”

AUDIO: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke’s March 24th Talk on “Saint Raymond of Peñafort: The Inseparable Bond between Doctrine and Discipline.”

burke image

 

Listen to the FULL audio of His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke’s Talk on “Saint Raymond of Peñafort: The Inseparable Bond between Doctrine and Discipline.” on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 7:00pm, here.

 

 

 

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Prefect Emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura, and a member of several Vatican Congregations. He is widely held to be one of the Church’s foremost authorities on canon law, and is known for his passionate defense of Catholic doctrine.

A native of Wisconsin, he studied for the priesthood in Rome, where he was ordained in 1975 by Pope Paul VI for the Diocese of La Crosse (Wisconsin). After ordination, he served as assistant rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman and taught high school religion in La Crosse. After earning his doctorate in canon law in Rome, he returned to La Crosse to serve in various diocesan posts. In 1989 he was called to Rome to take the position of Defender of the Bond of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

In 1995 he was ordained a bishop by Pope St. John Paul II and appointed bishop of La Crosse. In 2004 he was appointed Archbishop of St. Louis, MO, where he served until 2008 when Pope Benedict XVI called him to Rome to serve as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (essentially the “Chief Justice” of the Church’s “Supreme Court”). Pope Benedict named him a Cardinal in 2010. In 2014 Pope Francis appointed him to his current position as Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

His Eminence’s academic achievements are many, including: from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome: Doctorate in Canon Law (1984), Diploma in Latin Letters, (1983), Licentiate in Canon Law (1982), Master of Arts in Theology (1975), Bachelor of Sacred Theology (1974); from the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC: Master of Arts in Philosophy (1971), Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (1970).

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Lent, March 5, 2017

1st  Sunday of Lent

February 26, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This week we began 40 days and nights of Lent, in imitation of Christ

who, as we read in today’s Gospel, began his road to the cross

by going out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

But why did Jesus do this in the first place—why did he go out into the desert?

It may surprise us to find that Scripture tells us:

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

 

Why did Jesus choose to be tempted?

Today’s 2nd reading reminds us that:

“just as through the disobedience of the one man

the many were made sinners,

so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

So we remember that Jesus came to reverse the sin of Adam and Eve.

And to do that he sets himself up to do the exact opposite of what Adam and Eve

did in the beginning.

So we go back to today’s 1st reading from the beginning of Genesis, Chapter 3

where we recall that original sin.

There we see the clear contrast between what Adam and Eve

did in the beginning,

and what Jesus did in the desert, at the beginning of his ministry.

 

For example, first, Eve is tempted by the devil and gives in,

whereas Jesus is tempted and refuses to give in.

Second, Eve is living in perfect paradise that God created for man,

whereas Jesus is in the desert:

symbolic of the desolation that sin created for man.

And third, we see the obvious but often unspoken:

Eve is a female, and Christ is a male.

 

Now, before you start getting all defensive….I’m not going to pick on Eve.

Think of this: where is Adam when Eve is being tempted?

In the beginning Adam doesn’t defend his wife against the devil,

but Jesus comes to rid his bride, God’s people, of the attacks of the devil,

and will never abandon his bride to his temptations.

And even as Adam freely chooses to follow his wife into sin,

Jesus refuses to join his bride in sin,

but rather comes to save her from sins.

And so it can be said, as St. Paul does today:

“through …one man the many were made sinners,

so, through … one, the many will be made righteous.”

 

We’ll talk about more of these parallels later, but the point is,

Christ came into the world to undo everything Adam, with Eve, did that day.

The victory was completed on the Cross on Good Friday,

but the battle was begun in the desert, where

like David his ancestor who went out to meet Goliath in battle,

Jesus also goes out to meet the devil in the battle to end all battles.

 

So as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter Sunday,

we begin by not only

joining Jesus in his 40 days and nights of praying and fasting,

but also joining him in all out war with our sins and temptations.

 

But what exactly is temptation?

It’s very simple, actually.

Temptation is when something bad appears to us to be good.

Think about it: we never do bad things because we think of them as bad

—we do them because they seem at the time to be good.

For example, when a diabetic gives in and eats a piece of chocolate cake,

he doesn’t do it because he says to himself,

“O goodie, if I eat this I’ll feel really bad”;

he eats it because he says to himself, “If eat this it will taste good!”

Or when that person cuts you off in traffic,

you don’t think

“I really want to do an evil thing right now”;

no, you think: “it would really feel good to yell at him!”

 

We see this in today’s 1st reading:

the devil doesn’t point out the terrible consequences of disobeying God.

No, he tells Eve:

“You certainly will not die!

No…your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods“!!

He manipulates the truth, making the evil seem to be good.

 

This is temptation, but there are also 2 basic sources of temptation:

internal temptation and external—temptation from within and from without.

Again, we see both of these in the 1st reading.

For example, we see the external temptation of the devil

—notice how it’s the devil who initiates the conversation—it says:

“The serpent asked the woman.”

 

But the temptation of the devil isn’t the only kind of external temptation:

external temptation also comes from other human beings.

And so Scripture tells us:

“[Eve] also gave some [of the fruit] to her husband, …and he ate it.”

Sometimes this kind of temptation is willful and intended,

but sometimes you don’t even know your tempting someone.

Eve might have talked Adam into it,

or he might just have followed her bad example.

Still, the fact is, Adam was tempted by Eve—from the outside.

 

And we also see internal temptation in this reading, but a bit more subtly.

Scripture tells us that before they sin everything is perfect in paradise,

but after the sin everything falls apart.

Before they sin they’re happy and share themselves completely with each other

—Scripture tells us:

“they bec[a]me one flesh. [they] were both naked,

and were not ashamed.”

But after the sin the harmony is gone, as we read:

“they realized that they were naked…

and made loincloths for themselves.”

It’s as if now they couldn’t decide, “is this good, or bad?”

 

So, while before the original sin Adam and Eve

are only tempted from the outside, by the devil,

after they’ve sinned the confusion also starts to come

from inside themselves.

Traditionally we call this internal confusion between good and evil

–caused by the original sin–

“concupiscence”.

 

All of us have this internal temptation, this concupiscence,  because of the first

sin, and so St. Paul tells us today:

“through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”

Only Adam and Eve began life without this internal source of temptation.

that is, until Jesus—and his Mother Mary—came along.

So notice how Jesus—who is without concupiscence, just like Adam and  Eve

were at first—  He is only tempted from the outside, just like Adam and

Eve were before their sin.

And so Jesus comes, to begin everything new,

in the same moral place as Adam and Eve,

so that he can resist the temptation of the devil as they failed to do,

and reverse the sin that they committed.

 

Nowadays, some people say there is no devil,

or that there may be an evil force in the world,

but there is no personal evil, no person who is the devil.

But for Catholics, and for all Christians,

it would be foolish to deny or ignore his existence.

Jesus didn’t: he knew him personally and went out to meet him and fight him.

And the devil hated Jesus and the devil hates us.

He tempted Jesus, and he still tempts us.

 

But the devil is not all-powerful: only God is all powerful – Jesus is all powerful.

And so Jesus beat the devil in the desert and he conquered him on the cross.

So when we face the fact of the devil’s temptations

and join Jesus in the desert this Lent and at the cross this Good Friday,

Jesus can and will save us from the devil’s temptation,

and protect us from the evil he tries to spread in our lives.

 

As I said, many people deny the existence of the devil, much to their sorrow,

because then they deny his temptations.

But not many deny the fact that people often tempt each other.

The problem is we usually don’t take it very seriously.

So during Lent we need to consider carefully the extent this kind of temptation

is present in our lives.

 

First, we have to consider how other people tempt us

—whether they mean to or not.

Consider the friends we have, and perhaps the bad influence they have on us.

Or consider the heroes we have, or the examples we follow:

—why someone like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber,

is more important to young people than someone like

Mother Theresa, or Maria Goretti, or Francis of Assisi?

 

And while we have to consider carefully how others tempt us,

we also have to consider how we tempt others.

For example: do we gossip at work, and lead others into gossip.

Do parents fight in front of their children,

teaching their children to fight and bicker with each other?

What about tempting others in impurity—again, even unintentionally.

Now, eyes front!—no casting of judgmental eyes at your neighbors.

Think about the way you dress:

for example: ladies, do you realize that guys really do think differently

about the female body than you do?

 

That’s external temptation.

Then there is the internal temptation.

While baptism is like a medicine

that washes and heals the open wound of original sin,

concupiscence remains behind like a scar on our hearts.

And  as it confuses our own internal desires, we, in effect, battle ourselves.

More often than not, that little voice telling you,

“go ahead, no one will know,”

it’s not the devil talking,

but you confusing good and evil all by yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need anyone to tempt me

to eat chocolate cake,

no one needs to tell me “it’s good for you”

—I can do that all by myself.

 

Lent is a battle with all these temptations—internal and external.

And like any enemy, temptations come at us from all different angles

and try to turn our weaknesses against us.

Again, we see this as the devil tries to attack Jesus by appealing

to 4 common human weaknesses

—where concupiscence is particular prevalent.

 

First, he attacks the senses and the appetites:

— the Gospel tells us that Jesus “was hungry.”

and so the devil tempts him to

“command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

This Lent then, do something to mortify and discipline the senses and appetites.

For example, sacrifice a favorite food, or a favorite television show.

 

Second, the devil preys on our weakness to presume God’s mercy.

And so he tempts Jesus:

“throw yourself down…[and God] will command his angels …

[to] support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

How many sins do we commit every day thinking,

“well, it’s okay, God will forgive me.”

So during Lent, we make it a point to go to confession

to admit our sins to God, to the priest and to ourselves.

 

Then the devil appeals to our desire to possess things

—to our greed, avarice and lust.

So he “showed [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world …

and said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you,

if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.’”

And so in lent we work on not wanting to posses things by

sacrificing things we like and giving our things to the poor.

 

Finally, the devil preys on our greatest weakness: pride.

And so he badgers Jesus saying:

If you are the Son of God.”

And so in Lent, we practice humility,

trying to imitate God by become servants to each other,

performing good works and accepting the humiliation that life brings.

 

Today as we continue to imitate Christ’s 40 days and nights in the desert

we have to remember why he did all this:

that he went out “into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

–to face the same temptation that Adam and Eve had,

and to conquer it.

So this Lent,

let’s also go out with Jesus to do battle with our own temptations

—whether from the devil, from our neighbors, or from ourselves.

Not thinking we can defeat them on our own,

but remembering that Christ has gone before us

and is still with us today

giving us his mighty grace

to wage and win the battle.

 

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man

the many were made sinners,

so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

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

8th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 26, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

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

 

I suppose there are several reasons for that:

–first, I’m a priest not salesman;

–and it’s difficult:

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

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

hanging in the back of my mind,

the words of Jesus that we read today:

You cannot serve [both] God and mammon.”

 

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

is so tempting, so alluring…

And it so easily leads us away from God.

 

Now, its true, we need money to live.

So fathers and mothers work hard to provide enough

and carefully spend or save for their families.

 

But money and riches are seductive:

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

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

And so too often money winds up corrupting the family.

Some folks spend so much time making money for their family

they wind up neglecting to spending time with their family.

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

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

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

but also spoil their children rotten.

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

 

The same thing happens in nations.

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

But now we have huge debt and deficits,

and even with that, we still have huge expectations

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

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

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

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

 

And the same thing happens in the Church.

Pastors can get so caught up in money,

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

lest the collection go down.

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

than at saving souls.

In any case fundraising has concrete and measurable results

that people can look at and praise:

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

or paid down a huge debt.”

Not a lot of folks come and tell you:

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

 

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

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

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

I remember a few years ago

I was talking to someone intimately involved in the BLA,

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

they got all excited said, basically,

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

by giving their Mammon to the Church.”

 

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

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

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

can too easily become more and more about the money,

and less and less about God.

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

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

“Thus should one regard us:

as servants of Christ

and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

 

And as Jesus reminds us today:

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

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

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

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

 

“You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

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

It’s all too easy to get confused,

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

even God’s problems;

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

the difference between serving God and serving Mammon.

 

You need money to live, and for your family,

so work hard and spend and save carefully.

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

And your Diocesan Church needs money

to provide for so many worthwhile projects

—so please give generously to the BLA.

But remember what Jesus goes on to say today:

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

…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given you besides.”

And never forget:

No one can serve two masters….

You cannot serve God and mammon.”

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

7th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes one of the

most radically challenging demands in Scripture:

” I say to you, love your enemies,

and pray for those who persecute you.”

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

 

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

love your enemies.

Plus, it seems an impossible task,

because sometimes it seems we’re surrounded by enemies

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

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

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

 

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

because they think that by calling someone an “enemy

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

But that’s not necessarily true.

 

After all, what is an enemy?

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

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

So we can love our enemy,

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

 

Which leads us to the two reasons

why we need to recognize an enemy as an enemy.

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

And the second is that to deal with other people effectively

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

how can you be in a real relationship with someone

if you refuse to acknowledge who they really are?

 

So who are our enemies today?

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

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

or looks or sounds different than us

with someone who hates us or wants to injure us

—someone who simply disagrees with us

is not our enemy.

 

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

Some are flagrant in their attacks:

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

Some are not so flagrant, but are still obvious:

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

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

 

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

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

or cloaked in nice words and half-truths.

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

through the media, internet and even schools

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

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

Or those who degrade the very fabric of our culture

by undermining the foundations of the family and religious freedom,

through rules and rulings made by unelected bureaucrats and judges.

 

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

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

 

At the last Supper Jesus told His apostles:

“Greater love has no man than this,

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

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

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

—as St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God

by the death of his Son.”

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

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

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

 

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

blind foolishness, or some sort of perverse divine masochism,

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

–friends and enemies—

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

 

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

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

and so He commands us:

“offer no resistance to one who is evil.”

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

and so he commands us:

“Should anyone press you into service for one mile,

go for two miles.”

They stripped Him of His clothes

and he commands us:

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

hand over your cloak as well.”

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

and he commands us:

“When someone strikes you on your right cheek,

turn the other one as well.”

And as He looked down from the Cross He prayed:

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

and He commands us:

pray for those who persecute you,

that you may be children of your heavenly Father.

 

These demands are hard to understand.

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

What Christ is demanding in these radical sayings

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

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

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

should always be patience and forbearance,

even while elsewhere he acknowledges that sometimes—in love

we have to respond in other ways.

 

Sometimes love requires standing quietly while our enemies attack us,

as Jesus did when the Romans scourged and mocked Him.

But sometimes love requires walking away from our enemies,

as Jesus did when he walked through the crowd in Nazareth

that was trying to throw Him from the cliff.

Sometimes love requires us to correct our enemy

as Jesus did when He bravely told the Temple guard

who struck Him at His trial:

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

Sometimes it requires raising our voice in righteous anger

          toward our enemies, as Jesus did when he said:

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

You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

Sometimes, it may even require us to resort to violence

as Jesus did when He made a whip

and drove the moneychangers from the temple.

 

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

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

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

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

—but he continues playing.

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

“John Christopher, you come here this instant!”

—but he ignores her.

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

and even spanks his little bottom.

And he never ever does that again.

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

And only what was necessary, and no more.

 

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

when he could have struck them dead

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

In love, there was forbearance and mercy.

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

we must still love our enemy,

and so war is our last resort,

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

 

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

how do you love someone attacking your country,

or mocking your marriage, or corrupting your children.

But as Jesus tells his apostles in another passage:

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

 

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

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

We have become not only His friends or even family,

but members of  His Body.

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

as he calls us to take our sacrifices made in love

–the times we’ve turned the other cheek,

or even risked our safety or comfort

to correct an enemy in love

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

so that they and we can be transformed

by the love of His Cross,

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

even to “be perfect,

just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

 

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

and devastatingly difficult.

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

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

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

let us ask Jesus to unite us to Himself,

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

that by His grace we may have

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