TEXT: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 22, 2018

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 22, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary time,

which means I should normally be wearing green, not white.

But don’t worry, the rules let me do this.

And the reason I’m doing so is that I designed this particular chasuble

to wear on the Feast of my favorite saint, St. Mary Magdalene,

which is today, July 22,

except that since it’s a Sunday we celebrate the Lord’s Day instead.

But this allows me to honor her in a special way today, so I hope you understand.

 

___

I know I’ve told you before, and I’m sorry to repeat myself,

but one of the reasons the Magdalene is so dear to me is that

16 years ago today, on her feast day,

I was miraculously and inexplicably cured as I was lying on death’s door.

Seriously: in the morning I was in a coma

and the doctors told us I would be dead by n the afternoon,

but in the afternoon I was sitting up, talking and eating

and pronounced cured—and no one could explain it.

And I am absolutely convinced it was through Magdalene’s intercession.

16 years ago today.

So I honor her to praise the Lord for the gift of Life He gave back to me that day.

 

___

I was dying from sepsis, an infection that started with one microscopic bacterium

that found its way into one of my teeth.

One tiny germ, that turned into a toothache, that turned into sepsis,

and then almost took my life.

 

This is really amazing.

How can a little bitty germ make us so sick or even kill

a full grown healthy man or woman?

 

But what happens isn’t that complicated, not fundamentally.

Our bodies are built to function a certain way naturally,

and when something, no matter how small, enters our bodies

and interferes with that normal or “natural” functioning of the body

problems start.

First the body’s natural defense mechanisms kick in to defend itself,

and so, for example, you feel a fever as the fight heats up.

But if that natural defense isn’t strong enough

eventually the body itself starts to act in ways

that are not normal, not natural, to it.

So it’s not just fever and pain or coughing,

but now there’s unconsciousness, paralysis, and organs shutting down.

And then the ultimate unnatural thing for the body: death.

 

And this happens not just to the human body, but also to the human mind.

The mind also works in a certain way by nature.

But then when something contrary to that nature affects the mind

—a frightening thought, or a traumatic experience;

or a drug or physical wound to the head—

terrible things can happen.

 

And this is really the same in the whole of the natural universe.

We see it writ large, for example, in the environment.

Nowadays, for example, people say that

certain human-generated “greenhouse gases” are causing global warming.

So that, kind of like when a germ conflicts with the natural function of the body,

these greenhouse gases conflict

with the natural functioning of the atmosphere.

All this has a cascading effect, they say,

as the upper atmosphere traps excessive heat

this leads to abnormal heat or cold on the ground,

which leads to droughts or floods

which lead to famines

which lead to deaths by starvation.

And eventually, some say, the whole planet may die.

 

Now, I know a lot of other people disagree.

[And I’m not taking sides here—just using this as an example.]

But let’s just assume they’re right.

After all, it is a fundamental scientific fact,

that when something interferes with the normal or “natural” functioning

of a natural ecological system,

bad things happen to it.

 

And yet…

When it comes to human nature, many people seem to reject science

when it is culturally inconvenient.

 

They see clearly that when a germ, or even too much fatty food,

enters the human body,

or some traumatic event affects the human mind,

illness follows.

So that they agree we must protect the natural functioning

of the human body and mind.

 

But at the same time

they often also accept and promote things directly contrary

to the nature of the human body and mind.

 

This is why Pope St. John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis

have each reminded us that like the environment around us,

man naturally functions a certain way

we have a “human ecology,” a “human nature.”

And harming that nature is much more dangerous

than harming the nature of the environment.

 

But no Pope was more prophetic in his warnings about protecting human nature

than Pope Paul VI,

when on July 25, 1968, 50 years ago this Wednesday,

he exposed one of the most important threats to human nature

in his courageous and historic encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

And that threat was the unnatural act of contraception.

 

[Now, to protect innocent ears, I will use the term “marital act” to refer to the act

          by which human beings procreate—whether inside or outside of marriage.]

 

As Pope Paul reminded us,

according to the nature of the body itself, and as science clearly testifies,

the marital act is clearly primarily and totally

designed as the sole way that human life is created in nature.

Procreation is fundamental to the nature of the marital act.

And yet, science shows

that contraception is specifically designed to act

directly contrary to the natural functioning of the body.

 

Why is it that a culture so concerned about the natural environment

thinks it a good thing to do something so contrary to nature

as contraception?

Especially when the most commonly used form of contraception [in the US]

is a pill that is specifically designed to force a healthy woman’s body

to do what it would not do naturally, force it to be unhealthy?

 

And for a culture that thinks that this or that man-made activity

causes global warming that will lead to worldwide famines and death,

why isn’t anyone concerned about the potential danger of

such an unnatural chemical attack on a woman’s body?

Especially when the World Health Organization classifies the pill

as a carcinogen, in the same category as cigarettes?

Have you ever listened to the legal disclosures in those TV ads for the pill:

does anyone listen when they conclude that the pill: “may cause death”?

 

____

But looking beyond the bodily unnaturalness of contraception,

Pope Paul reminded us of the effect on human nature in its totality.

The marital act is designed to create new human life

—there is no greater thing in the world,

nothing more important to human nature!

So that must make the marital act extremely important to human nature.

So that just as a human body is devastated by tiny little germs,

how can a practice so contrary to human nature as contraception

not be a catastrophe to human beings and human society?

 

Think about it: if you strip the marital act of its central meaning

as the natural font that creates human life,

what difference does it make what you do with it after that?

It’s like putting feces into food,

and then arguing about whether it would taste better with paprika or sugar.

Who cares! It’s ruined! What difference does it make after that?

 

And if this most sublime part of human nature

could be so easily treated so unnaturally,

why would you care about protecting the less important aspects

of human nature?

 

___

And so in 1968 Pope Paul warned us that contraception

would lead to terrible consequences to individuals, families and society.

He warned it would lead to greater “marital infidelity,”

to a “general lowering of morality,”

and to rampant promiscuity among the young, particularly young men;

 

He also warned that governments would eventually impose contraception

on their people to solve social problems.

 

And finally, Pope Paul said it would ultimately lead to

“the man, …. los[ing] respect for the woman and,

…considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,

and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

 

All these and more have come to fruition,

as divorce, abortion, pornography, child and wife abuse,

and out of wedlock births are at levels

no one in their worst nightmares would have dreamed possible

back in 1968.

And then there’s “gay marriage”

—people in 1968 would have thought you were crazy

if you told them that was going to happen.

In 50 years it’s almost become a different world.

But what do we expect when we introduce something so unnatural

into the human system?

 

___

So what do we do?

When we’re sick we go to a physician to bring the body back to its natural order.

Well, God is the Divine Physician.

The divine physician who not only heals and saves lives,

but who is the generous giver of life to begin with.

 

The Lord who is generous beyond all our dreams

wants us to be generous as well, especially when it comes to

sharing in His power to give life to babies.

But how are we to be generous?

 

For those who are married and still in your childbearing years,

God wants you to be generous toward Him

by being open to His plans for you,

and to be generous toward the children

that He may still be planning to give you.

 

Now, you don’t have to be foolish—just generous.

Some couples, I know, find themselves in difficult or challenging situations

and it doesn’t seem the wisest time to have a baby.

The Lord doesn’t tell you not to use your heads

when real problems seem to present themselves.

That would be contrary to your nature as a rational being.

 

So live according to your nature in reason,

but also live according to your nature in your sexuality.

If you think there’s a just reason for postponing the conception of a child right now,

consider using one of the very rational and scientific methods

of Natural Family Planning,

which cooperate with the nature of the marital act

and human nature itself.

 

Use the gift of your natural reason to plan,

but at the same time let your reason keep in your mind and heart

the scientific fact that the nature of the marital act

includes procreation.

So that if, contrary to your planning,

God should plan to generously give you a baby

you will rejoice in His generosity,

and in turn generously welcome that gift with open arms.

 

__

And for those who are single, or past your childbearing years,

you be generous by imitating Jesus, of who as today’s Gospel tells us,

“His heart was moved with pity for them,

…and He began to teach them many things.”

 

Go out and tell the world the truth about human nature

and Christ’s generous grace.

But do it with true wisdom:

learn about and share the Church’s teachings

and options like Natural Family Planning.

And do it with the true love that is at the heart of generosity,

and our human nature.

 

___

On this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I commend her to you all,

but especially to women and men who struggle

with the sin of contraception.

It is the ancient understanding of the Church that the Magdalene

is the exemplar of penitent saints

—of a person whose “sins were many,” but set all of them aside

through the grace of Jesus and for the love of Him.

The tradition particularly considered Magdalene to be guilty of sexual sins,

and to have been sexually abused by many men.

What greater patron can Our Generous Jesus

give men and women struggling with contraception,

than this great loving and compassionate saint.

 

____

It is a scientific fact that the world and everything in it

is created in a particular way:

whether the whole environment of earth,

or the human race

—everything has a specific nature.

And even the smallest act contrary to a thing’s nature can damage or even kill it.

This is just the way things are, this is the truth.

By the light of Christ and by His grace,

and through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene,

may we and our society grow in understanding and accepting this truth,        and so become the strong healthy creatures in body, mind and soul

that we are naturally meant to be.

TEXT: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 15, 2018

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 15, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we read a very familiar text of the Gospels:

Jesus sending out the 12 apostles

to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick and drive out demons.

I’m sure you’ve heard homilies addressing various aspects of this text,

but, and I may be wrong,

but I bet there’s one aspect you’ve never heard a homily about.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

 

The text tells us: “they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

We hear this and usually focus on the fact that the apostles cured the sick,

but we almost always overlook how they did it: they anointed with oil.”

 

Yet in these 4 words we find one of the great treasures of the Church:

one of only 7 sacraments of the Church,

the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

 

Now, a “sacrament” is defined as

“an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.”

It always amazes me when Christians

—specifically Protestants, but also many Catholics—

deny the existence or efficacy of the sacraments.

Because it seems very clear to me that Christ did in fact

give them to us for our sanctification.

 

For example, He told us that,

“unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit,

he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

And then we read how He supervised His apostles baptizing people,

and then commanded them as He ascended into heaven:

“go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them!”

 

Or take the Eucharist.

He tells His apostles,

“the bread which I shall give ….is My flesh

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man … you have no life in you.”

And then He took bread and said, “this is My body…Do this in memory of me.”

 

We are physical beings, and as such we communicate and understand and live

through physical realities.

We talk to each other by moving our tongues and then hear with our ears.

We comfort each other with the physical smiles of our mouths,

or with the physical embrace of our arms.

And Jesus knows this, because, as Creator, He made us this way.

And so to communicate His gospel, He doesn’t just send the Holy Spirit.

NO! First He comes in a body, to proclaim the gospel

with the words of His mouth,

and to suffer for our sins by the sacrifice of His body.

 

And to continue that communication after His bodily ascension into heaven,

He left us physical outward signs to communicate His grace.

On the one hand, we have the words He taught,

written down in scripture so that we can physically read and hear them.

On the other hand, we have the physical body of the Church,

the living family of Christ we can physically belong to and learn from.

Yes, the Spirit comes and works in us,

but first through and using these physical realities.

 

And the same thing with the sacraments, which Christ established

using physical outward signs to give grace,

to communicate what they symbolize.

So water symbolizes purification and life-giving, and so it’s used for baptism.

And bread symbolizes fundamental nourishment

necessary for sustaining and strengthening life,

and so it’s used for the Eucharist.

 

And in the ancient world oil was used as one of the most important medicines.

We still use it for that today.

But in the ancient world, oil was also used for many more things than that:

to give light, to cook, to clean, as a perfume, and on and on.

In fact, it was used for so many things that it became

a symbol of the generosity of all God’s gifts.

And so the ancient Jews used it as a religious symbol

of God giving someone a special gift.

For example, kings, and priests and prophets were anointed

to symbolize that God was giving them a gift of His special power.

 

So Christ took oil, this symbol of both healing and God’s abundant generosity,

and used it as the sign of the outpouring of His grace of healing.

 

___

You might say, but Father, that’s an awful lot to pull out of one short phrase.

True, but that is what the Church has always believed, right from the beginning.

And so we go back to Holy Scripture, to the letter written probably 20 years later

by the Apostles James, where he acknowledges this sacrament, writing:

“Is anyone sick among you?

Let him call for the presbyters (or priests) of the church;

and let them pray over him,

anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

and the prayer of faith shall save the sick person…

and if he has committed any sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

 

This was the belief and practice of the apostles:

this is the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

 

_____

So then, what exactly do we believe about this sacrament?

First of all it is a sacrament of healing.

But while this can certainly involve physical healing,

its primary effect and purpose is spiritual healing.

The Catechism summarizes the specific effects of the grace of sacrament, telling us:

— it unites the sick person to the passion of Christ;

— it spiritually strengthens them, giving them peace and courage;

— it imparts the forgiveness of sins,

if the sick person is not able to confess their sins;

— and it restores physical health, if that is part of God’s plan;

— and finally, it prepares the person to pass over to eternal life.

 

Now, it’s important to remember, physical healing is not the primary purpose

spiritual healing is.

So I’ve given the sacrament to many people,

and I’ve seen many physical healings,

sometimes spectacular and clearly miraculous.

But most of the times I don’t.

And that didn’t mean the sacrament didn’t work.

Because in almost every case, I’ve see a change in the disposition of the person

as they receive inner the strength to face their illness in faith and in peace.

The power of Christ to endure trial in peace, and even to allow it to purify them,

and draw them closer to Jesus.

 

___

The question then comes up, who can receive this powerful sacrament?

Contrary to a popular notion,

Anointing is not reserved to those who are on their death bed.

It is often rightly given on the death bed, and then as part of the Last Rites

we call it the “Last Anointing,” or from the Latin, “Extreme Unction.”

But it’s frustrating to me that sometimes

the first time I hear about a deadly illness

is when the family calls me to give the last rites.

I’m happy to give them, but I think, “if only you had called months before….”

Perhaps there could have been a physical healing,

but certainly their father or grandmother or spouse

would have been given the peace of spiritual healing.

 

On the other hand, the sacrament is not given

to those who have just any ailment or weakness, no matter how painful.

Rather, it is reserved for those who suffer from an ailment that causes them to

“begin to be in danger of death.”

In other words, generally speaking, unless your already dangerously weak,

if you have something like a bad cold or flu, back pains, or a broken arm,

you are not generally in “danger of death” and so we don’t anoint them.

However, if someone is in the early stages of cancer or heart disease,

or any other serious illness that truly does present a real danger of death,

even if only the “begin[ning]”, these persons may, and should, be anointed.

And if someone is truly weak due to “old age,”

then definition of danger of danger death might apply.

___

Also, Anointing can be repeated if the person gets worse

or has a relapse of the same illness, or comes down with another ailment.

 

It can even be given to someone who’s unconscious,

as long as they at least implicitly asked for it when they were able to

–in other words, for example, you go to Mass every Sunday,

so if you were in a coma I would assume that would want the sacrament.

 

There are however, some limitations on who the sacrament.

First, the priest can’t give it to someone who

“obstinately persists in a manifestly grave sin,” and refuses to repent.

 

Also, the sacrament can only be received by a Catholic who has

“reached the use of reason,” in other words, over, about, 7 years old,

essentially because before then a child can’t be guilty of sin,

and so, after Baptism, there’s in no need of the spiritual healing of Anointing.

Many argue, “but we want the physical healing of the sacrament.”

I get that, but that is simply not in God’s plan for the sacrament.

But remember, God is not limited by the sacraments, we are:

maybe I can’t anoint a person,

but God can heal anytime, anyplace, according to His Holy will and mercy.

 

___

Finally, one other important thing about this sacrament:

like all the sacraments, it can only be given to the living.

Nothing saddens me more than being called after a person has already died

—there’s not much I can do.

I remember one time, when I was newly ordained,

the hospital called at about 4 in the morning,

asking me to anoint a patient who had just died.

Now, I was young and foolish, and already been to the hospital twice that night.

So in my sleepiness and foolishness, I blurted out, “Right now? But he’s dead!”

Now this was stupid, and I knew it as soon as I said it.

So I went and prayed with family and blessed the body.

But I couldn’t give him the grace of the sacrament.

 

___

Now, understand, the Church and her priests

never want to deny the sacraments to those may receive them.

So we follow the rule:

If there is any doubt” whether the person

has reached the age of reason, or has a life-threatening illness,

or is unrepentant, or is dead,

we give the sacrament.

 

___

What a beautiful sacrament, what a great gift from Jesus.

And yet, like the short but powerful phrase in today’s gospel,

“they anointed with oil,”

it so often gets overlooked and forgotten.

 

Of course, this is probably because most of the time

we’re not suffering from life threatening illness,

so we don’t think about it or talk about it.

 

But now, I’ve talked about it, and now, you think about it.

If you or someone you love needs the sacrament, do NOT hesitate

to call me or Fr. Smith or any other priest, and we would be happy to help.

 

____

As we now move more deeply into the Mystery of the greatest Sacrament,

the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist,

as we prepare ourselves to receive Our Lord,

let us consider the great gift that this and each of the sacraments is:

that Jesus would so kindly give His little ones’ signs of His active love,

that He would literally show us His love

in such simple but understandable and powerful ways.

And let us pray for an ever-deepening appreciation of

these Divine and precious treasures,

especially the one revealed to us today:

“they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

TEXT: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 8, 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

In today’s Gospel we encounter 2 very disconcerting facts.

First, it tells us that the people in Jesus’ tiny home town of Nazareth

His old friends and even family, “Took offense at Him.”

Second, it tells us: “So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

 

Let’s look at these a little more carefully, beginning with the first one.

Why is it that the Nazoreans took offense at Jesus,

refusing to accept His teachings?

A lot of times we think,

“if only Jesus would come to me and speak to me

—that would strengthen me, and my faith, so much.”

So it’s kind of stunning to us

that even these people who knew Jesus so well, His own people,

who He came to and taught personally,

wouldn’t believe in Him.

 

But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising.

Jesus offended people all the time, saying a whole lot of things

that were hard for them to accept and believe.

For example, remember the Bread of Life discourse in John 6,

when He taught His disciples that He would give them

a bread that would really be His own body,

and they had to eat it to have eternal life?

Scripture tells us:

“Many of His disciples…said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

But Jesus, “Do you take offense at this? ….

…After this many of His disciples …no longer [followed] Him.”

 

Or remember Matthew’s chapter 19, where Jesus lays out 6 very hard sayings:

including the prohibition of divorce, and re-marriage after divorce;

and the teaching that some people are simply not capable of marriage

—their either born that way or made that way by others.

Scripture tells us the apostles,

“were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

In other words, even they had a hard time believing these hard sayings.

 

Why is this such a surprise that people in Jesus’ time

would take offense at his hard sayings?

—we see the exact same thing all throughout the last 2000 years,

and especially today.

The Church says: “no divorce and remarriage”;

and that “homosexuals just can’t marry each other,

whether they were born that way or made that way by others.”

Don’t people take offense at that?—and all it is, is the direct teaching of Jesus.

Even members of his Church take offense

—even sometimes bishops and priests—

“His own kin and in His own house,” as it were.

Why are we surprised that the people of Nazareth took offense?

 

Jesus can be offensive, if we cling to our sins, or refuse to have faith.

 

____

Which brings us to the 2nd disconcerting fact in today’s Gospel reading,

the fact that: “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

How can Jesus “not be able” to perform a miracle?

After all, He’s God, isn’t He?

 

But notice, in fact, Jesus is “able” to perform miracles in Nazareth.

The text goes on to say,

“apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them.”

So He did do miracles there.

 

To understand all this you have to remember

that Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:

either to show His power so that people would believe in Him,

or simply out of mercy to the afflicted.

 

The only thing that limits Jesus

is either His own divine nature or our human nature.

His divine nature limits him in the sense that,

for example, as God by nature He is not capable of doing any evil,

He is not capable of not loving.

And our human nature limits Him in the sense that

in His love for us He respects our free will

—and limits Himself according to our choices.

 

Here in Nazareth He is “amazed at their lack of faith.”

His own people are, in the words of today’s first reading:

“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”

There’s not a thing he can say or do to change their minds,

so there’s no reason to perform a great sign,

except out of mercy for “a few sick people.”

 

Think of all the times He performed great miracles,

and still the eyewitnesses didn’t believe in Him.

Again, go back to the Bread of Life discourse

—right before that

His disciples personally witnessed Him feed five thousand men,

“with five …loaves and two fish.”

And still many of them they left Him because His sayings about the Eucharist

were too hard to accept.

 

Same thing here in Nazareth, so He says, in effect,

“no miracles, believe or don’t, it’s up to you.”

The only thing limiting Him is His respect for their free will choice to reject Him

 

____

Of course, He faces the same problem today.

Through His holy Catholic Church He continues to proclaim the hard sayings,

and people still take offense because of a lack of faith.

Even His own people.

For example, Americans, 90% of whom were born into the Christian families,

but so many now reject Christ and His teachings.

And Europe, a civilization saturated in and founded on

Christian history and heritage,

and now the faithful are only a small minority.

And you and I—we also all too often take offense at His teachings

because all too often our faith is too weak.

 

Some people say, that’s why it would be great

if He’d show some great sign of His power.

But again, that didn’t work so well 2000 years ago:

remember the feeding of the 5 thousand.

And it really doesn’t work today.

In my opinion Christ has been performing an incredible mighty deed

for 2000 years—His Church.

The “miracle of the Church”—founded on the ministries

of men like St. Peter, a humble fisherman who denied Jesus 3 times.

Or St. Paul, who tells us in today’s 2nd reading that

he suffered from some unnamed weakness he describes as

“a thorn in the flesh …an angel of Satan.”

 

And for 2000 years it has been ruled by and filled with weak men and women,

even great sinners:

laymen, priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes.

And yet look at what she has done:

the Catholic Church has dramatically changed the world,

and still survives today as a strong dominant voice and force

for truth, worship and charity.

 

If that’s not a mighty deed of Jesus I don’t know what is.

And instead of inspiring awe and faith, it seems to draw only disrespect.

 

Of course, sometimes miracles can be helpful in strengthening faith.

But you know, sometimes God works more effectively

by not doing might deeds

—by remaining silent, or simply speaking in a quiet voice.

 

____

Let me give you a personal example.

I apologize if you’ve heard part of this story before,

and I’ll try to make a long story short.

29 years ago I was working at a moderately successful career

with one of the large international accounting firms.

But after a major restructuring in the firm, I decided to quit,

confident that I’d have my pick of jobs with other companies.

But it didn’t turn out that way, and days turned into weeks,

and weeks into months.

 

So I started to really get serious about my prayers.

And then I realized a couple of things:

first, what success I’d had, had really been a gift from God

—He had been doing mighty deeds for me all along.

And second, I realized that I was asking Him for a new mighty work

—“find me a great job”—

even though I had had very little faith in Him.

 

In short, by doing nothing, he forced me to my knees and to believe.

And then, He did do a mighty deed.

At first, it was a wonderful career opportunity.

But pretty soon it began to lead to where I am today.

 

___

Sometimes, it’s only when God holds back His might deeds

that we are able to see His mighty deeds

—because it is only when we realize how weak we are on our own

that we can begin to see Christ’s true might,

and how strong we could be with His grace.

 

For as Jesus told His apostles at the end of all the hard sayings in Matthew 19:

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

And as he said to St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

And so St. Paul summarizes: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

____

Now some will surely say that all this merely wishful thinking,

or a psychological self-deception.

“Of course,” they say, “when you’re weak you can become desperate,

so you cling to religion as a way to explain things.”

Maybe.

They can believe that if they want to.

 

But that’s not what we believe.

We believe there is an all-powerful God, who loves us.

We believe that He came into the world to teach us how to live and love,

and to save us from our weakness, by the power of His grace.

And we believe that it’s only when we humble ourselves

to recognize our weakness and sins,

and the power of his words and grace,

that we can become the truly good men and women He created us to be.

 

____

As we now move deeper into this Holy Mass,

let us have faith in Our Lord Jesus

and in everything He’s taught us,

even the sayings that are sometimes offensive

to our sinful and obstinate hearts.

And let us kneel before Him humbly

firm in faith that by the power of His grace

“when I am weak, then I am strong.”

TEXT: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 1, 2018

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 1, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People

to dissolve the Political bands which have connected them with another,

and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station

to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,

a decent respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

 

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal,

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….

 

These are the first sentences of the Declaration of Independence.

This week we celebrate the 242nd anniversary

of the signing of this extraordinary document,

which give birth to and form the foundation of

our beloved country.

 

This Declaration is a great and noble document.

This is true especially from our particular perspective as Christians,

because it expresses many ideals that are very Christian.

For instance:

–It affirms that there are, in fact, certain “self-evident…Truths”:

objective truths which are always valid

no matter what we think about them.

–and that the “Laws of nature” behind these truths derive from “God”,

and that these laws are the source of the rights which we cherish.

 

9 of the men who signed this declaration went on to die for these principles

in the American Revolution.

And for the last 2 ½ centuries many of our ancestors

—and maybe your yourself or members of your immediate family—

went to war for these same principles,

and some are at war right now.

These Americans have made many terrible but beautiful sacrifices

—some even the ultimate sacrifice of death.

 

This is a great country: one to die for.

And one to live for.

Capable of wondrous and noble achievements.

But unfortunately, also capable of terrible failures.

 

___

One of the most important—and Christian—ideals expressed

in the Declaration of Independence

is the notion of certain inalienable rights.

But when our forefathers enshrined these rights in the Declaration

they presumed 2 things:

first, that those rights were inalienable

precisely because they came from God, and not from governments;

and second, that those rights were inalienable only to the extent

they were used in conformity with their just and good purpose

as defined by that God who gave them to us.

They presumed, in other words, that those rights were subject

to the commonly accepted moral principles and structures

of the American people of 1776

—the basic principles of traditional Christian morality.

 

But in the last 50 years or so we seem to have forgotten some of that,

as those rights have sometimes taken on a whole new

and even perverse meaning.

Let’s think for a moment of the modern notions of

the rights called “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

Let’s start with liberty.

Liberty was critical to the founders because they wanted people

to be free to become the best they could be.

Freedom to become, not freedom to degenerate.

Freedom to accept all the good things God gives you,

to lift up yourself, your family and your community to be great.

Not freedom to waste your God given gifts and talents,

destroy your family or betray your community.

 

It is true that when we allow people the freedom to become,

we also give them great freedom to not become—or to become bad.

But that is not why God gives us freedom.

In today’s first reading from the book of Wisdom we read:

God fashioned all things that they might have being;

and the creatures of the world are wholesome,

and there is not a destructive drug among them.”

God creates us to be good.

And God gives us freedom to choose; as Moses tells us elsewhere:

“I have set before you life and death, …therefore choose life!”

God gives us the liberty to choose,

but not so we would choose what is evil,

but so we would choose what is good—and to be good!

 

This leads us to another right that is so terribly misunderstood today:

the right to “pursue happiness.”

To the signers of the Declaration of Independence,

the term “pursuit of happiness” had a well-developed meaning.

Now, it is true that there was some debate

over what exactly constituted “happiness” and the “pursuit” thereof,

but it was all within certain very narrow philosophical parameters.

For example, some maintained that happiness was basically equivalent

with living a virtuous life.

Others argued that happiness was about a sense of safety and security.

Still others argued it had to do with an overall sense of well-being.

But absolutely no one thought it meant what most people nowadays

seem to think means: the right to pursue pleasure.

Mix that with the false modern notion of “liberty”

and you have something no American had in mind 242 years:

freedom to do whatever makes you feel good.

 

By any standard, happiness and pleasure are not the same.

The immediate pleasures sought by a teenager

–in drugs or alcohol or sex or thrill seeking–

will never lead to the happiness of that same man or woman at 40.

The lonely old man or woman who cheated on their spouse

or neglected their children

or drank every other paycheck,

may have had a lot of fun, but no one calls them happy.

 

Pleasure is a cup gulped greedily and in haste,

but then all you have left is an empty cup.

As we read today:

“God formed man to be imperishable;

the image of His own nature He made him.”

To reach our full potential as the image of God–

–to fill the cup of life with His goodness

—this is true happiness.

 

____

And finally we think about the inalienable “right to life.”

As Scripture tells us today:

“God did not make death…

death entered the world… by the envy of the devil.”

Now this doesn’t mean that it’s always a sin kill a human being,

for example, in war:

over and over again God Himself led Israel into battle

and helped them kill their enemies.

Sometimes wars must be fought for just reasons.

 

Without addressing the right or wrong of any particular war,

if we look carefully at our approach to each we can see the effects of

the fundamental importance the founders placed on the right to life.

Most especially we see it in the way all Americans are so concerned about

the possible death of any innocents.

And this is the essence of our founders understanding of “the right to life.”

That a man, woman or child who is innocent of crimes or injustices,

has a right to live a life of liberty pursuing true happiness.

 

Still, it is amazing to me,

that we Americans can be so concerned—rightly—

about the right to life of innocent civilians in war,

while at the same time,

so many of Americans deny that same right to life

to the most innocent American civilians—unborn babies.

Thousands raise loud protests against soldiers accused of war atrocities,

but how many of those raise a cry against the doctors

who abort innocent babies,

or a scientist who destroys an embryo for experimentation,

or a politician who protects and funds them?

What about the inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness

of unborn babies?

 

 

We truly live in the greatest country on earth.

And yet sometimes we seem to have lost sight

of the meaning of the founding principles,

upon which this greatness was built.

What do we do?

 

We do what Jairus did in today’s Gospel:

we go to Jesus, plead for his help, bring him to our troubled nation,

and we believe that he will save us.

America needs Jesus.

It needs a new American Christian Revolution.

Not one based in violence or hatred,

but in truth and love.

Armed not with guns and bombs,

but with the simple principles of our founding

enlighten by the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Not forcing our religion on our countrymen,

but simply exercising that liberties which are

the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.

 

Friends, we must exercise our God given right to go out and declare the truth

about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We must invite our countrymen to live in the true freedom

that only the truth of Christ can give.

To live life in the love of Christ—to have life in abundance.

And to pursue the holiness of life

that will fulfill our true potential and true happiness

–in this world and the world to come.

 

____

Some say America is too far gone…it seems hopeless.

But it must have seemed  hopeless to Jairus when his friends told him:

“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”

To those who think our cause is hopeless you say, as Jesus did:

“Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”

Some will ridicule you, as they did Jesus.

Again, remember what Jesus said:

“do not be afraid; just have faith.”

 

Today we thank the Good Lord for the birth of a great nation

born to defend the God given rights of it’s citizens.

For 242 years brave men and women have bravely fought and died

to defend this nation and those rights.

But today as you rightly celebrate her greatness,

“do not be afraid” to recognize her failings,

and “do not be afraid” to bravely fight to save her.

Do not be afraid to proclaim the true meaning

of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Do not be afraid; just have faith”…in Jesus Christ.