TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 17, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For the second Sunday in a row the gospel reading is about St. John the Baptist.

John is one of the greatest figures in the Scriptures,

given the office of being the prophet

sent to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus into public life.

In fact, Jesus tells us elsewhere that,

“among those born of women none is greater than John.”

 

Now, when Jesus says that, He’s actually using a little hyperbole,

innocent exaggeration, to emphasize how important John is.

After all, as John himself tells us today:

“there is…one who is coming after me,

whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

 

John is great, because he has a great responsibility

to prepare the way of the one who is even greater, Jesus, into public life.

But before John came on the scene there were two others

who the Church believes were even greater than John

because they had an even greater responsibility

to prepare the way of the Lord into the world.

The greatest, would actually be the Blessed Mother, Mary.

And after her is the 3rd great figure sent to prepare the way of the Lord

—St. Joseph.

 

___

We don’t know a lot about St. Joseph, but from Scripture and tradition,

and centuries of study, reasoning and debate,

and we can piece together a pretty good picture of him.

Scripture tells us he was a descendant of David,

who lived at various times in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

We know he was a carpenter—not dirt poor,

but a working man in the days when there was no real “middle class.”

 

Some say he was an old man when he married Mary,

some even say he was a widower with children.

But most theologians have for centuries concluded he was a young man,

young and strong enough to work hard to provide a decent living

for Mary and Jesus.

And he had to be young and strong enough to protect and provide for them

as they fled from Herod, travelling all the way to Egypt, and back again.

Plus, Scripture indicates he lived well past Jesus’s 12th birthday.

So, he was probably a young man, many guess about 20 years old.

 

Which leads us to something else very important that he know about him:

he was the husband of Mary.

Some wonder if he really was a true husband to Mary.

After all, the Church teaching infallibly that Mary was a perpetual Virgin:

she and Joseph never physically consummated the marriage,

and so they say, how can that be a real marriage?

In fact, for centuries, after concluding that Joseph

was not an old widower with children,

most theologians have concluded that Joseph himself

was also a perpetual virgin,

and the Church seems to imply or assume this it’s official teaching.

 

So, was it a real marriage?

Absolutely.

Following St. Augustine in the 4th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th,

the Church teaches Mary and Joseph were truly married,

even before the Annunciation.

Augustine points out how Scripture insists that they are married.

St. Luke and St. Matthew both specifically call them “husband” and “wife,”

as does the Angel Gabriel himself.

The thing is, physical intimacy is not the key to marriage

—it is only one expression of the self-gift of marriage,

albeit an important and beautiful one.

But as Jesus Himself tells us, in heaven it’s not that way

—in heaven married couples will love, He says, “like the angels,”

and angels have no bodies.

Marriage is about total mutual self-gift,

and Mary and Joseph truly gave themselves totally to each other.

 

Some ask, but doesn’t marriage have to be open to the gift of children?

Yes, it does.

And the marriage of Mary and Joseph was open to the gift of children:

they cooperated with God and His specific and unique plan for them

to receive the gift of the Baby Jesus.

Just as Mary received Jesus in her womb as a virgin,

so, did Joseph receive Jesus into his family as a virgin.

 

__

And so we come to most important fact we know about Joseph:

he was the father of Jesus.

Clearly not in the same way that God the Father was the Father of Jesus,

God is the natural and eternal father of Jesus.

But in some real way we do say that Joseph is a true father to Jesus.

A little bit like an adoptive father, but also very different from that

—much more like and equal to a natural father:

not adopting through another set of parents,

but receiving Jesus directly from God

into his marriage as husband of Mary.

Not cooperating with God through any fatherly physical act or aspect

of producing a child,

but cooperating with God through the fatherly moral act

of receiving a child.

 

So Augustine points out, again, that while

Scripture makes it clear that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus as a virgin,

and that God is directly His Father,

Scripture also specifically calls Joseph His “father”.

The Angel Gabriel insists on this, as do St. Luke and St. Matthew.

And most importantly Mary herself does,

telling the 12-year-old Jesus when she and Joseph find him in the temple:

“Think, what anguish of mind your father and I have endured,

searching for you….”

 

And so, the Church teaches that while

God is truly and directly the natural and eternal father of Jesus,

Joseph in some way, in God’s will, is also truly a father to Jesus.

 

____

Given all that, we know something else about St. Joseph.

St. Luke tells us that he was a “just man.”

To be “just,” as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is,

“to give each person what is due to them.”

What is due to God is to love Him with all your heart mind soul and strength,

and what is due to our neighbor is to love him as yourself,

and even to love him as Jesus has loved us.

So this is St. Joseph, the truly just man,

who loved God totally, and loved his neighbor completely.

And so even though St. Joseph was conceived with original sin like all of us,

except for Jesus and Mary,

and so was internally tempted by the confusion of soul

that we call concupiscence,

even so, over the centuries the Church has commonly taught,

that he never committed either mortal sin or a deliberate venial sin.

Beyond that, many great saints and theologians have concluded

that he never committed even in indeliberate venial sin.

And many have even concluded he was actually purified from original sin,

essentially receiving the grace of Baptism, while still in his mother’s womb.

 

And so we see the prayer of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading already fulfilled

in St. Joseph:

“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy

and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,

be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

___

So this is St. Joseph, the man who God entrusted with His principle treasures,

His Son, Jesus, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Son of David, a young, strong carpenter, virginal husband and father,

and just man.

 

And so the Church teaches that

while Mary is incomparable in her greatness before God and man,

St. Joseph follows close after her,

above John the Baptism, and even above the angels themselves.

 

As St. John Paul II wrote in 1989:

“there can be no doubt but that Joseph

approached as no other person ever could

that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God

towers above all creatures.

 

And so we perhaps we see something of a prophesy of Joseph and Mary

in the words of today’s first reading from Isaiah:

“He has …wrapped me in a mantle of justice,

like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,

like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”

 

____

This is the St. Joseph who prepared the way of the Lord,

especially in the last days before His birth.

And who we should entrust ourselves to in a special way

in these last days before we celebrate His birth.

 

Imagine…what was Joseph doing 7 days before the first Christmas?

Imagine him just about ready to set out with Mary

on his journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

—or perhaps they had even started.

Imagine the careful preparation Joseph would have made,

busily packing all their necessities,

arranging for a donkey for Mary to ride on,

and closing down his carpenter shop.

And then imagine his natural anxiety as he gently and tenderly

cared for Mary and her unborn child,

without any concern for his own safety or well-being or comfort,

as they traversed the unpaved rocky roads

up and down through the hills and valleys,

winding around bends, narrowly skirting cliffs,

wading through deep or violent streams,

assaulted by the cold wind, rain and snow of December.

Imagine how he arrived in Bethlehem,

and then anxiously but patiently going from door to door, inn to inn,

perhaps even house to house,

begging for a room, a space, a corner

where his young wife could rest and soon give birth.

Then, in finding the stable,

imagine how he quickly and vigorously cleaned the stalls and the manger

of all the muck and waste, and brought in fresh hay, and lit a warm fire.

And then how he stood guard, waiting with profound anticipation,

with, as we say, great “expectant joy,”

for the birth of the Savior of the world, their Baby, Jesus.

 

And imagine his ultimate joy when at last He came.

 

In these last days of Advent, let us walk and prepare and wait

with the great St. Joseph.

Like Joseph on the road to Bethlehem,

in the ups and downs, twists and turns, storms and floods,

temptations and graces, joys and sorrows of our lives,

let us walk with him in purity and holiness,

filled with faith, hope and, above all, charity,

expressed in patience, kindness and generosity.

As we go from door to door, house to house, store to store, this week,

let us make Joseph our constant companion,

remembering that like him our goal is not some selfish gain or comfort,

but to give ourselves in loving service of Jesus.

And as we prepare our souls to be worthy to receive Our Lord on Christmas day,

let us ask Joseph to help us to clean all the muck and filth,

all the sin and malice, from our hearts.

And as we wait in with profound anticipation,

let us think of Joseph’s tender and faithful fatherly heart,

and open our hearts with him

to receive the greatest joy ever given to man—Jesus Christ the Lord!

 

____

Praised be Jesus Christ….now and forever.

St. Joseph….pray for us.

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Over almost 30 years of teaching people about our Catholic faith,

one of the questions that people most frequently ask me,

especially Protestants and fallen away Catholics,

is why Catholics believe    we have to go priest to receive God’s grace.

For example, why do we have to go to Mass

to receive the Eucharist through the priest,

or why we have to go to confession to a priest to have our sins forgiven.

 

The more knowledgeable folks will quote to me passage

from St. Paul’s first letter to St. Timothy, that says:

“there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

But the problem is that while Jesus is

the only way to the Father and the only Mediator,

it is clear elsewhere in Scripture that

it is the will of God the Father and Jesus

that other human beings participate in this mediation.

 

From the very beginning of God’s revelation of Himself to the Hebrews

3,800 years ago,

God has chosen individual human beings to act as His instruments

to communicate His will to the world.

People like Abraham, Moses and David, Elijah, Samuel, and Isaiah.

These people were sent to Israel to deliver God’s message, or to do His work

—to be His mediator.

 

And so today we find the Prophet Isaiah

acting as a mediator between God and man

in giving us one of the most important messages

ever given to man by God.

“Prepare the way of the Lord…make straight His paths.”

 

In fact, the message of God which Isaiah mediates to Israel

also tells the people that

there will be another great prophet

who would come to declare this message again to Israel

–a voice crying out in the desert

–a voice mediating between the Messiah and the people of Israel.

In today’s Gospel, St. Mark tells us that this long-promised mediator

who comes out of the desert

is the prophet, St. John the Baptist.

 

Still, why does God send mediators?

And why would we need any more mediators after Jesus

—after all, like Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets,

John came before Jesus?

 

_____

Advent is a season of preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world

—coming as one of us: a human being.

At the heart of this mystery of Christmas is the fact that God became one of us

to communicate with us more clearly and completely

—through His human bodily actions and words.

And so we read in the Mass of Christmas day, from the Gospel of St. John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God…

And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us,”

In His person, through His incarnation in the flesh

and His bodily entering into the world,

Jesus, the Word, is the great and perfect mediator

bringing God to man and man to God.

As St. John tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

          “That which …we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,

…and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life….”

 

But Jesus took His body with Him when He ascended into heaven.

On the other hand, in a real sense He is still here in His body.

Of course, He’s here in His body which is the Eucharist.

But He’s also here in His body which is His Church,

which lives and acts through all and each of us.

—we are here, in our bodies,

still speaking with human words,

hearing with human ears, and seeing with human eyes.

And by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism,

Jesus lives in us, and acts in us and through us.

 

And so He continues to send human beings into the world

to mediate His message through the body:

through proclaiming and hearing the word;

by the symbols we see and touch,

and the sacraments we receive.

So that all of us are called to mediate God to the world in some way

–just as it’s been throughout all Salvation History.

Some are called to be great public prophets, like Isaiah and St. John the Baptist.

Some are called to be apostles like St. Peter and St. Mark and their successors

–the pope and the bishops.

 

And some are called to be pastors, or priests.

And in this great mystery of the priesthood

–through the mediation of a human being sent by God—

Christ can come to us, and we can come to Christ.

By the priests’ proclamation of the Gospel,

and by the sacramental signs they administer

and that we hear and feel and see and taste,

Jesus Christ comes to us in a most unique and clear way.

Not so much because of the priest himself,

but because of Christ who acts through them.

 

______

The Gospel today tells us that 2000 years ago the great mediator

St. John the Baptist, proclaimed

“a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

And in response, as Scripture says,

“People of the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem

were going out to [John]
…as they acknowledged their sins.”
Today, we do much the same thing as we go to the sacrament of penance
and acknowledge, or confess, our sins before God’s appointed mediators.

But when we hear those mediators say, “I absolve you from your sins”

we hear in their human voices,

them mediating not the voice of St. John,

but them mediating the voice

of THE ONE TRUE mediator between God and man:

Jesus himself.

The voice Isaiah talks about today when he says:

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her

that …. her guilt is expiated…

Comfort, give comfort to my people.”

 

___

Priests have this role as mediators in this special way

—and it’s a great gift to the whole Church.

But as I said before, by your baptism in water and the Holy Spirit

all of you were also made to be mediators of Christ.

Like ordained priests, you are all called to “prepare the way of the Lord,”

by proclaiming to your family and friends and coworkers,

by your words and your good example,

the joyful news of Christ’s coming into the world 2000 years ago

to bring merciful forgiveness for those who repent their sins,

to dwell with all His power and peace in those who will accept Him;

to tenderly comfort all who are prepared to welcome Him.

 

For many devout Christians, this Advent season is a time when

this call can elicit a very strong emotional response from us.

We hear: “prepare the way of the Lord”

and our hearts are moved to respond, “yes Lord.”

 

But then most of us stop on that emotional level:

we don’t really try very hard to carry it out.

 

Sometimes we don’t try because of we we’re afraid.

Sometimes we don’t try because

we’ve tried before and nothing seemed to happen.

And sometimes we don’t try because

we really don’t know how to prepare the way.

 

But no matter what our reason is for holding back,

God still calls us.

 

If your excuse is that you’re afraid, remember that Isaiah tells us today:

Fear not to cry out and say…`Here is your God'”.

 

And if your excuse is that you’ve tried before with so little or no results,

remember that you are only the messenger, the mediator.

Jesus is the one working through you.

And as St. Peter reminds us today in the 2nd reading:

“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,

and a thousand years is like one day.”

It may seem like your efforts are fruitless, but your effort is only instrumental

–you prepare the way only by doing your best

to allow God to act through you,

and then you wait to see how God finishes the work without you.

Remember that even the great mediator of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist,

recognized that his work was incomplete and only an opening for the Lord:

“One who is more powerful is to come after me.”

And as the all-powerful Jesus Christ acts through you,

don’t worry about seeing results

–be patient, as St. Peter tells us:

The Lord does not delay…though some consider it delay.”

 

And finally, if your excuse is that you just don’t know how to prepare His way,

remember that the best place to start preparing is with yourself.

As you attempt to: “Clear a straight path for the Lord”,

let it first be a clear path to your own heart.

And begin doing that by following the message of the Baptizer

–confess and repent of your sins: big and small;

–renounce your vices, your bad habits;

–remove any obstacles that might lay on the road between God and you;

–and open your heart to the word of God

proclaimed in Scripture and the teaching of the Church.

 

_____

It is God’s will and God’s plan

that the human mediation of God to man

did not end when Christ ascended into heaven.

Few of us are called to be public figures

mediating like Isaiah or St. John the Baptist.

And not all of us are called to be ordained priests.

But every single one of us is called to—in some way—

go out into the world and prepare the world to receive Jesus Christ.

And this is especially the case

during the season of preparation for the coming of Christ:

this season of Advent.

 

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

as the Lord Jesus descends to this altar

and becomes truly present in his real Body,

and then comes to you in Holy Communion, and abides in you,

His very Body dwelling in your very body,

hear with your heart and with the ears of your body,

as He calls on you,

through the mediation of St. John the Baptizer, and of your priest,

to go out into the world this Advent and,

“Prepare the way of the Lord…[and] make straight his paths.”

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

8/9 days ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, millions of Americans

crowded the malls and stores all across the country,

or went online to Amazon and other sites

to be the first to take advantage of sales and specials,

and get that perfect gift at the perfect price.

All in the name of the so-called the beginning of the “Christmas Season.”

Of course, it wasn’t the Christmas Season—that begins on December 25th.

And it wasn’t even the beginning of the Advent Season—that begins today.

 

In any case, what does all this frenetic fixation on buying and selling

have to do with Christmas or Advent?

Not much.

And yet it is an example of what will go on for many people

throughout Advent: a fixation on material things

all in the name of preparing for Christmas.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong: buying presents isn’t a sin.

In fact, it can be a very good part of Christmas—

they can be an important way of sharing God’s love.

But making presents and other things

the main focus of Advent and Christmas can become a sin.

And to a greater or lesser extent,

it’s a sin that tends to effect most of us every year, in one way or another.

So that the words of Isaiah in today’s 1st reading apply to us:

“we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.”

 

___

According to St. Augustine, sin is a

turning away from the Creator [God]

and turning toward the creature,” the things created by God.

Whether that “creature” is a new 60” plasma flat screen television,

or the latest Xbox,

or even a human being we see as a mere thing, or object, to use,

sin always relates to loving the things God created,

more than we love God.

 

Advent is a time to turn away from sin, and re-turn toward loving God.

And this idea of “turning to God” is at the heart of today’s Gospel text,

where 4 times Jesus tells his disciples to “watch”.

Watch for God, watch for Jesus.

To keep our eyes searching for him,

and once we find him, keep our eyes fixed on him.

 

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is what usually happens:

these weeks before Christmas have become a time when it’s so easy

to allow our eyes to stray,

searching after and fixing on the material gifts of Christmas.

 

But to help counter being distracted by material gifts,

perhaps we can allow ourselves to be attracted

by the spiritual gifts that Christ has given us.

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

“I give thanks ….for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,

…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

 

_____

Think about how in the next few weeks you’ll bring out

so many Christmas decorations

and even the Christmas-y clothes

that you’ve received as gifts on past Christmases.

Like the Christmas tree ornaments your children made for you

when they were little,

or the special Santa Claus sweater Mom gave you

before she passed away,

or the diamond earrings your husband gave you

on your first Christmas together.

Good. Do that.

 

But why shouldn’t we also take out the even greater gifts

we’ve received through past Christmases?

–the graces brought to us through the birth of the Christ child

2000 years ago?

The sacramental grace made possible by that Christmas

and given to you in your baptism

and renewed every time you received Holy Communion,

and in each of the other sacraments.

The grace of hearing God’s word,

of being a member of His Body, the Church

and sharing in His life.

The particular graces He’s given you whenever you asked for His help

to be strong and righteous.

All made possible by the first Christmas, and so all gifts of Christmas past.

 

Bring out these gifts now also.

And allow them to help you to “watch” for the coming of Christ.

 

__

Think of the most precious material gifts you’ve received for past Christmases

—the gifts you really “loved” the most,

and either remember most vividly

and in one way or another—physically or in memory—

take out every year at this time.

But ask yourself:

is it the gift itself, or the person behind the gift

that makes the gift so special?

Ladies, those diamond earrings—is it diamonds,

or the love of your husband they represent that means more to you?

Dads, are those tree ornaments all that beautiful,

or is it your memory of your darling children who gave them to you?

Sons and daughters, young or old,

was that first bike you ever got so awesome,

or is it your memories of mom or dad giving it to

and teaching you how to ride

that means so much?

 

St. Paul tells us today:

“you were called to fellowship with …Jesus Christ our Lord.”

As with all gifts, this is the key to the spiritual gifts God has given us:

not the gift itself, as wonderful as it is,

but the person who gives the gift.

The Giver not the gift, the Creator not the creature.

 

So this season of Advent must be a season

of turning away from fixated on material things,

and turning toward Christ

through the things that bring us close to him—the spiritual gifts.

 

____

In Latin, the word for “turn toward” is “convertio”—or conversion.

And that’s what I’m challenging you to today: conversion.

This Advent convert to Jesus Christ:

take out all the spiritual gifts Christ has given you in the past,

and let them bring you closer to Christ

and deeper fellowship, or communion, with him.

 

For example, the spiritual gift of Holy Mass.

When you come to Mass take to heart the Gospel message today:

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

It is true, we don’t have any idea when Jesus

will come again in his glorified body to judge the living and the dead.

But we do know the exact time he first came to earth in the flesh,

the year 1 at the first Christmas.

And we do know that he continues to come to us, in the flesh,

at every single Mass:

precisely at the moment of the miracle of the consecration

and at the moment of the intimacy of

receiving Holy Communion.

So today, be watchful and alert.

Watch for him to come: turn your eyes and minds and hearts to the Altar

as the Word made flesh descends as the priest says, “this is my body.”

And as you come to receive don’t be looking this way and that for who you know

or what they’re wearing—don’t even look at the priest:

these are all just creatures.

Rather let your hearts shout the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”

And watch and turn your eyes and heart and mind–and body—

to your Creator as He comes down to you in Communion.

 

And do this at every Mass during Advent.

And don’t let that happen only once a week.

At St. Raymond’s we have Mass twice every weekday

3 times on Wednesday and on the first and third Fridays!

So, come. And watch, and turn toward the Lord.

 

___

Another important spiritual gift aiding our conversion this Advent is Confession.

To come to Christ through his representative, the priest.

To admit that we are sinful: to admit our avarice and greed and lust and hate.

And turn our hearts away from inordinate love of creatures,

and toward loving the Creator.

And then to receive more spiritual gifts:

the graces of forgiveness and to overcome sin.

 

And there are countless other spiritual gifts:

coming to worship our Lord in adoration on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Or coming to Lessons and Carols next Sunday,

or to my talk on St. Joseph the Thursday after that.

Or any one of the many spiritual events scheduled in the parish

—you can find a full schedule on the insert in today’s bulletin.

 

And taking time for personal prayer

—the Rosary, or reading scripture or other good spiritual books.

I can’t even begin to list them all: all the other spiritual gifts like this

packed away just waiting for you to take them out and use them.

 

And these are just sort of the external spiritual gifts:

we also know about those graces Jesus places in our hearts

to keep us turned toward Him and following him in everyday life,

The grace, the strength, courage, wisdom and love

to obey his commandments,

and to be alert for opportunities to serve our neighbor,

with the love of Jesus himself.

He has given you all these—they are inside of you waiting for you use them.

 

 

___

In the coming weeks of Advent let’s not be distracted by or fixated with

sinful attraction to the material things of the world.

Now, again: there’s nothing bad about buying and giving gifts, or receiving gifts.

In fact, it is a season of appreciating gifts.

But there is something wrong when we make those focus of our lives,

and especially in Advent.

The gifts we should primarily appreciate are the spiritual gifts God gives to us.

And more importantly, it’s a time to allow those spiritual gifts

to help us to turn away from the love of things,

and turn us toward the person who gives us everything:

Jesus Christ.

 

____

As we continue with this Holy Mass,

let us pray that this Advent will be a time of true and profound conversion

for each of us.

And that that conversion will begin right now:

that our eyes and hearts may be open to recognize Him coming to us

as we turn toward the Lord descending upon this altar

and entering into us in Communion,

And once fixed upon our Lord in this miraculous gift

may we never again turn our eyes or hearts away from him again.

 

Come: “Be watchful! Be alert!”

TEXT: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 26, 2017

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 26, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

There seems to be some basic human instinct that makes each of us

long for a savior,

someone to save us from the troubles and hardships of life.

We see it throughout history.

For example, in ancient societies

peoples looked to their king, or the birth of a new prince,

as the hope for the well-being of the entire nation.

 

And we see it in modern American history as well:

every election, especially presidential elections,

has a certain tinge of this.

No matter who our candidate is,

there’s always an exaggeration of his qualifications,

and a downplaying of his faults,

in the hope he will bring a better life.

 

People seem to primordially seek a messiah.

But there is no earthly Messiah.

In the end, all fall radically short

 

We see this particularly in Judeo-Christian history.

3000 years ago, the people of Israel, were ruled by 12 “judges,”

but demanded that God give them an earthly king.

God warned them what would happen:

any worldly king would wind up disappointing

and even oppressing them.

Still, they persisted, and God gave them King Saul

—who wound up disappointing and oppressing them.

As did every single earthly king and governor, to a greater or lesser extent,

who ruled over Israel for the next 1000 years.

Still, Israel clung to the hope that a great Messiah-King

would come to take away all their worldly problems.

 

The thing is, when the true Messiah-King finally did come, He told them,

much to their dismay: “my kingdom is not of this world.”

He did not come to free us from the oppression of unjust worldly kings,

or establish a perfect earthly government,

but to save us from the most basic and worst kind of oppression:

the oppression of sin and it’s terrible consequences.

 

And make no mistake, sin is the great oppressor of mankind

—the sins of others, the sins the devil tempts us towards,

and our own personal sins and temptations to sins.

 

Remember what St. Paul writes:

“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

…. making me captive to the law of sin.”

Think how sin takes charge of so much in your lives,

so that no matter how hard you try you wind up doing

“the evil [you] do not want.”

For example,

you begin by simply wanting to earn a decent living to support your family,

and you wind up trapped in your greed and envy,

dedicated not to your family but keeping up with the family next door.

Or maybe you really want to be a kind and helpful son or daughter,

but you wind up constantly fighting with your parents.

 

Sin—you don’t want to do it, but like a prison you just can’t seem to get out.

 

But you can get out!

That’s what Christ the King came to vanquish,

and the purpose of His kingdom.

Not a kingdom of the world, but a kingdom in the world,

in which we are free from sin—freed by His grace and by His truth.

 

____

To modern Americans, living in a democratic-republic,

this seems somewhat ironic: a king who gives true freedom.

After all, we fought a war 240 years ago to free us from the tyranny of kings.

But this king is different from all earthly kings

—and all presidents, prime ministers, or governors.

This is a king who comes to us first and foremost as a servant,

as He says:

“the Son of man came not to be served but to serve.”

 

And His greatest service to us is to give a share of His own kingship.

In our Baptism He gave us a share in His own life

—we were grafted, as it were, onto His own body,

and so share in everything He has:

in His one Sonship to the Father,

in His power or grace,

in His eternal life,

…and in His kingship.

 

And with the power of His kingship in us, His grace,

we are no longer slaves of sin or oppressed by the devil.

We are truly free, not to do whatever we feel like,

but to become who were created to be in the beginning:

creatures created in the image of Christ the King,

to freely serve and to love God and our neighbor.

So as St. Paul says:

“you were called to freedom, …

only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,

but through love be servants of one another.”

 

__

Imagine if we would truly accept this freedom.

If we were truly free from greed, avarice, lust, pride, hate, sloth, and gluttony.

If we were truly free from selfishness,

and selflessly lived like servants, like Christ the King.

Imagine for a moment how great life would be

if the whole world accepted this freedom.

But now remember how life usually is

—as men continue to embrace slavery to sin.

 

_____

And so, in today’s Gospel Christ reminds us that when

“he comes in his glory, …all the nations will be assembled before him.”

And He will say to those who have accepted His gift

of freedom and lived as true servants:

“Come,…Inherit the kingdom

For I was hungry and you gave me food,

…thirsty and you gave me drink….”

 

But He will say to those who rejected his Kingship,

and freely chose to remain slaves of selfishness:

“Depart from me…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil

….For I was hungry and you gave me no food,

…thirsty and you gave me no drink….”

 

This is what happens when we live in the freedom of Christ the King, or reject it:

we share in His joy, or we share in the devil’s torment.

 

But this text also reminds us of something else:

not only is Christ our only Savior,

but also, the personal freedom Christ brings us

also brings personal responsibility to serve our neighbor.

So not only should we never look to any earthly kings or institutions

to be our Saviour and solve all our problems,

but we should also hesitate to delegate

our own responsibility to serve our neighbor to anyone else,

including the government or other organizations.

 

Now, government serves a hugely important role in helping those in need,

as do so many worthwhile charitable organizations.

But think how easy it is to see a problem and say,

well, the government or Catholic Charities or the parish

can take care of that.

Granted, sometimes they have greater resources than we do individually,

but not always.

And every time we delegate away our service we run the risk of

rejecting a personal invitation from Christ

to personally love our neighbor as we should.

 

Also, we can wind up delegating our responsibility

to people who may not be acting in true service and love,

especially in bureaucracies that can be easily manipulated

by individuals with bad intentions.

 

And it also leads to problem related to delegating through monetary support.

While it’s a necessary and good thing

to use our earthly treasure to help good causes,

including the parish

Jesus says: “I was in prison and you visited me”

—money can never replace person to person acts of love.

 

And giving money can lead to still other problems:

For example, some say paying taxes is an act of loving your neighbor,

so many people think they’ve fulfilled their duty to love

by paying their taxes.

But it’s not love if someone says, “pay or go to jail.”

Love is something freely given, not something coerced.

 

And beyond all this, remember that the greatest needs man has

are not physical or financial, but spiritual.

Governments can’t do much at all to meet these needs.

And while some organizations, like parishes for example,

rightly exist for this purpose,

there is no replacement for personal action—your action.

How many people hunger for Christ, but do not know him?

You feed them by teaching them.

How many are imprisoned by their sinful lifestyles,

and long for Christ to come to them?

You bring him to them.

How many are plagued by the sickness of sins?

Let the great physician, Jesus Christ,

use you to pour his healing grace upon them.

 

____

It is clear that man and mankind not only longs for but needs a savior.

But it is equally clear that no earthly person or thing

—not a president or a government or a charitable organization—

can truly bring the salvation we long for:

freedom from sin, and freedom to love.

As we continue with this holy Mass,

let us pray for all those who lead us in this world.

But let us also ask the Good Lord to fix in our hearts and minds

that He alone is our Saviour and our hope.

 

Praised be Jesus Christ our King.

 

TEXT: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 19, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

As you know, every first and third Friday of the month

I offer a very different form of the Mass than I offer today,

that is, the Extraordinary Form Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass.

The Ordinary Form of Mass, that I’m saying today, is very much like it,

but also, very different in many ways.

And nowhere is the difference more keenly perceived than in

the sung Extraordinary Form’s Requiem Mass

—the Old Rite’s Funeral Mass, or “Mass for the Dead.”

 

It’s hard to describe the sung Requiem Mass to someone who’s never been to it.

The words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading come to mind:

“let us not sleep as the rest do,

but let us stay alert and sober.”

Besides the black vestments and the gravely worded prayers,

the music and chant are very sobering,

at the same time both dramatic and somber.

Especially as right in the middle of the Mass everything pauses

as the choir chants a cappella the Dies Irae— “Day of Wrath”,

the long sequence warning of the coming of the Lord

on the Last day:

“O what fear man’s bosom rends,

When from Heaven the Judge descends,

On whose sentence all depends!”

 

This all comes together to make us “sober and alert”:

the power and finality of death hangs in the air

like the black vestments hang on the priest.

And we can’t help but call to mind the reality that Jesus talks about

in today’s Gospel:

“the master of those servants came back

and settled accounts with them.”

 

Of course, this is very different from what we’re used to

nowadays in the New Mass, especially the typical funeral Mass.

In comparison to the Old Requiem,

the mood of everything in the New Funeral Mass is almost upbeat,

focused on the Resurrection and heaven.

 

Of course, these are important things to think of,

since this is what Christ came and died for.

Still, it seems we’ve lost something in the translation, so to speak.

We have the idea of death and heaven,

but we sometimes seem to forget

that death brings first the judgment of Christ,

and then that that judgment can lead not just to heaven,

but also to purgatory

or even to hell.

 

And if we forget about these, we have a huge problem,

because they really do exist.

Christ does judge us, sending the imperfect to purgatory

and the wicked to hell.

 

___

But we don’t like thinking about that, for several reasons.

First, frankly, grief overwhelms us, and we want to concentrate

on our hope in Christ and the goodness of our beloved dead.

That, again, is well and good.

But there are other reasons that are not so good.

 

For example, we don’t much like the idea of judgment nowadays

—not only are we told not to judge others,

but we’re taught that all judgments of good and evil

are subjective, and unfair.

But worse than this is when we take hope

and twist it into a very selfish thing.

Sometimes we simply can’t bring ourselves to face the fact

that our loved one was imperfect

and could be in purgatory, or even in hell.

Or even worse, we refuse to face the fact that one day

we will also have to “settle accounts” with Christ

—and that He might say to us:

“you wicked, lazy …useless servant.”

But what a terribly destructive attitude:

not only does it lead us not to pray for the dead who need our help,

but it also leads us not to face the consequences of our own sins.

 

___

Now, some say, but Jesus said:

“I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”

Yes, but He immediately went on to say:

“He who rejects me …has a judge;

the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”

In other words, the first time He came to save,

but when He comes the second time,

whether when we meet Him when we die,

or when He comes back to earth at the end of time, His “second coming,”

He will come to judge.

So, today we read that:

“After a long time the master of those servants came back

and settled accounts with them.”

And elsewhere Jesus says:

“the Father …has granted the Son …. authority to execute judgment

…those who have done good, to the resurrection of life,

and those who have done evil,

to the resurrection of judgment.”

 

This is the teaching of the Christ and the Apostles

and the constant Dogma of the Church:

either when we die, or if we’re alive at the end of the world,

all of us will face the judgment of the One Just Judge: Jesus.

And like the servants in today’s gospel He will give us either

our eternal reward or eternal punishment.

 

_____

And there will be an eternal reward

for those who love and follow the way of the Lord Jesus;

to the ones who use His gifts wisely He will say

“Come, share your master’s joy.’

The good news, folks, is that there really is a heaven.

 

Sometimes people say, but that’s so far in the future, I want to enjoy myself now.

Or, what’s so great about heaven?

eternal happiness sounds kind of like endless boredom.

 

But think about this.

Imagine the happiest moments of your life:

the moments of your greatest thrill, accomplishment, and fulfillment.

Remember scoring your first touchdown or goal,

or solving your first really tough problem in science or math,

or riding your first roller coaster,

or kissing your first love.

Remember the consolation of your mamma’s hugs,

or the warmth of your baby’s kiss good night.

Take all these, put them all together,

and take away any superficiality, or fear of loosing them,

and then think about experiencing something that wonderful always.

Would that be boring?

Would that be worth working and waiting your whole life for?

And that’s only a shadow of how wonderful heaven will be.

 

_____

And, in God’s mercy, heaven isn’t reserved for just the folks

who live like saints on earth.

When the just Judge comes He will distinguish between unrepented mortal sins

and unrepented venial or small sins and other like imperfections.

And in His mercy, He won’t deny heaven to those

who have repented their mortal sins,

but rather He will purify and perfect them in Purgatory.

God loves us so much

that He doesn’t hesitate to purify us in death in order to bring us to heaven.

 

____

But His love is so true and great that He also respects our free choices,

even when we choose the way of darkness and death

—unrepented mortal sins.

For these there will be eternal punishment.

 

Friends, it is the clear teaching of Jesus Christ that there is a Hell.

While the Gospels show Him constantly talking about heaven,

it also shows Him repeatedly warning us about hell.

As He tells us today:

“throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,

where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

 

This verse reminds of several truths about hell.

First, hell really does exist.

It’s not just something made up in the middle ages,

or the imagination of nightmares or the mentally ill.

It’s as real as it gets.

Second, Hell is horribly painful:

the souls in hell “weep” and “wail” and “grind” their “teeth.”

As Jesus tells us elsewhere, it’s like their “burn[ing] with unquenchable fire.”

And as the Book of Revelation tells us, the souls there

“will be tormented day and night.”

 

Now, a moment ago I asked you to think of the most wonderful moments in your life so you could get some idea about heaven.

Now imagine the absolute worst moments of your life.

Imagine the most horrible pain you’ve ever endured—physical or emotional.

Think of the darkest moments, the moments of most fear, the most anxious moments, the most depressed moments.

Take  all those together, and they don’t even begin to compare to the terrible pain of hel.

And it is forever.

 

And that leads us to the third important fact about Hell,

it is eternal—forever without end.

Revelation tells us, the souls of the wicked are thrown into

“the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….

And they will go away into eternal punishment.”

 

And finally: the essential quality that makes hell so terrible

is that it is the complete absence of God:

it is the “darkness outside,” of Christ’s presence,

Christ who is Himself the light of the world.

And as the complete absence of God who is love,

it is the complete absence of love itself.

Consider life without any love whatsoever.

Not even the slightest form of love, no respect, no goodwill,

not even dull politeness.

And not even the comfort of hoping for love.

It’s not that God or your friends stop loving you,

it’s that you can’t experience that love

and you have no hope of ever experiencing that love

in any way shape or form.

Remember the story of the rich man and the poor Lazarus:

the rich man asks Abraham to console him just a little,

and Abraham responds: there is an abyss between us,

and no one can cross over.

In hell you are truly eternally completely outside in the darkness.

___

Some say, okay, but it’s really hard to go to hell,

only people like Adoph Hitler go to hell.

and, most people go to heaven, at least through purgatory, right?

 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As Jesus says elsewhere:

“the gate is wide …that leads to destruction,

and those who enter by it are many.

…the gate is narrow …that leads to life,

and those who find it are few.”

In other words, Jesus says many go to hell, few go to heaven.

_

But the thing is God doesn’t send us to hell unless we freely choose to go to hell.

Think about the choices we make, the gates we choose to enter,

that Jesus says will lead us to hell or heaven.

 

Today, the master accuses the wicked servant, saying: “you knew”.

He knew what he his master wanted, but he ignored it.

Think of the times he accuses the ones who knew the scriptures best

and should have welcomed Him as their messiah:

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees…

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

And think of how he chastised the cities where he had

taught and performed great miracles:

they knew of his power, both in word and deed,

but still didn’t accept Him:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! …Beth-saida! … Capernaum, …

I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment

for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Remember, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

with fire and brimstone raining down from the sky.

 

The servant in today’s parable knew “how demanding” his master was.

Think how demanding Jesus is with us:

Remember what he said we “shall not” do:

“You have heard that it was said …, ‘You shall not kill;

…But I say to you that … whoever says,

‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

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

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

And it’s not only what we “shall not” do, but also what we must do.

For example, Jesus says:

“Depart from me, you cursed,

into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

for I was hungry and you gave me no food,

…thirsty and you gave me no drink ….”

 

And think of what he says today to the servant

who buried the one thing the master gave him:

“You wicked, lazy servant!

…Should you not …have put my money in the bank

so that I could have got it back with interest …?”

Christ gives us Catholics so many gifts

—the teachings of the Scripture and the Church,

the sacraments and his grace—

and we’re either too lazy or too afraid to put them to good use

and we bury them so that they bear no fruit.

 

____

Now, some may not like this kind of “fire and brimstone” homily.

I don’t blame you—I don’t like it either.

But it needs to be said, because it’s the truth.

 

Some don’t like me even mentioning the word “hell.”

Well, to quote St. Thomas More:

“It’s not a likeable word. It’s not a likeable thing!”

And if we don’t face this unlikeable thing here and now,

where and when will we face it?

God forbid, not at judgment.

_____

One of the advantages of the old Requiem Mass

was to dramatically remind us to “stay sober and alert”

when we thought about death,

to face the fullness and profundity of its meaning.

While it’s absolutely necessary to keep our eye and hope fixed on heaven,

and to think well of the dead,

it’s foolish and even selfish to forget about judgment, purgatory and hell.

 

As we enter into this holy Mass, the heavenly mystery of the Eucharist,

as the saints and angels surround Christ descending to this altar,

let us remember and love the souls in purgatory by praying for them.

And let us pray for one another and for ourselves,

that we may stay sober and alert about the reality of our own death.

So that on the day of judgment, the Dies Irae,

our divine master will say to us not:

“You wicked, lazy …useless servant,”

be cast “into the darkness outside,”

but rather:

“Well done, my good and faithful servant….

Come, share your master’s joy.”