Third Sunday In Ordinary Time

Impeachment. I write this on Wednesday as the Senate Impeachment Trial of President
Donald John Trump has just gotten underway. How long will it last? Should it take place
at all? What will be the verdict and the outcome? Where will it take us as a nation? How
will history look back on it? These are questions yet to be answered. But one thing we
know for sure, no impeachment trial of a president, whether of a guilty or innocent man,
is good for the nation. Let us pray that God will guide the events of this trial and its
aftermath, and that His will be done. God bless the Senate. God bless the President. And
God bless America.
Vacation. Did I ever tell you I’m allergic to winter? Or so it seems, because the cold
weather really does a number on my sinuses. Maybe it’s the cold, maybe it’s the
barometric pressure, but I usually have some minor congestion, cough, sinus infection all
winter. Because of that I spend an inordinate amount of time indoors during the winter,
which means I tend to get less exercise and I am more easily depressed. Not a great
Of course, I grew up in South Texas and never had this severe of a problem in
winter until I moved up here 29 years ago. Thanks be to God, about 17 or so agp years it
occurred to me that I should take a vacation after Christmas and go south for a week, to
provide a respite and cure for my maladies. So every year me and my priest-friends
headed to Myrtle Beach, SC, for a week of golf in January. Until 6 years ago when it
snowed at Myrtle Beach, the day before we arrived. So for the last 5 years we’ve headed
down to Orlando, FL.
That’s where I was from the 9 th to the 16 th . I understand the weather was nice here,
but it was great in Florida: mid-80s every afternoon, sunny skies, a cooling breeze, every
day. That, 5 days of fun golf, good food and the price of our room (free! we stay at a one
of the priest’s family’s resort timeshare) made it a very refreshing getaway.
And then 2 days back in Virginia it’s 23° and snowing. But I was ready for
that—and for the rest of a cold winter. Thanks be to God!

Pope-Emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Sarah versus Pope Francis? Or so some in the
media have been saying the last week or so, in response to a new book co-authored by the
former pope and the current head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship.
Of course, Benedict and Sarah are not challenging or placing themselves “versus”
Pope Francis. Their new book is merely a passionate defense of the Church’s discipline
of priestly celibacy, largely in response to many who have been trying (especially at
October’s “Amazon Synod”) to convince Pope Francis to abandon or make optional this
apostolic discipline. In response to those who see the book as a challenge to Pope
Francis, Vatican Press Office Director Matteo Bruni reminded us this week of Pope
Francis’ comments on January 28, 2019, in which he said “personally, I think that
celibacy is a gift to the Church. I would say that I do not agree with allowing optional
celibacy, no.” Although Pope Francis went on to add, as Bruni paraphrased, “there is
room to consider some exceptions for married clergy in the Latin rite “when there is a
pastoral necessity” in remote locations due to lack of priests, such as in the Pacific
Islands.” Bruni also noted Francis’ quotation of the words of St. Pope Paul VI: “I prefer
to give my life before changing the law of celibacy.”
So where is the fuss coming from? Be careful what you read in the media.
The book is entitled “From the Depths of our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the
Crisis of the Catholic Church.” and is scheduled to be released in English on March 12. I
look forward to reading it, as I have all of Benedict XVI’s and Cardinal Sarah’s books.
Mass Attendance Count. Over the weekends of this last October we took our annual
Mass attendance count required by the Bishop. I forgot to share the results with you, but
am reminded of this as I received the report from the chancery this week which
summarizes the results of the whole diocese.
While the Diocese as a whole saw a 1.3% decline in attendance from the prior
year, I’m happy to report St. Raymond’s saw a slight increase in attendance of .8%.
Moreover, while the Diocese as a whole saw 29.3% of all registered parishioners
attending Mass, 40.5% of St. Raymond’s all registered parishioners attended Mass.
Specifically, sampling 3 weeks in October, St. Raymond’s averaged 2,362 in
attendance every week. The breakdown by Mass is as follows: 5pm Saturday = 399; 7am
Sunday = 231.; 8:45 am Sunday = 332; 10:30 am Sunday = 606; 12:15 pm Sunday =
405.; 5pm Sunday = 389.
Now you know.
Sunday Confessions. One thing I really like about our parish is the Sunday morning
Confessions. But, please remember that we have only 2 priests assigned to the parish, and
usually one of them is offering Mass, and sometimes the other is unavailable due to
illness, vacation, etc.. Also, sometimes a priest will start confessions late (less than 30
minutes before Mass) because his other obligations have detained him (including greeting
parishioners after Mass, which I consider very important). In any case, even when
confessions start late, confessions should normally end once Mass has begun (the priest
may extend this, but that should not be taken for granted, and they should never go later

than the start of the Gospel).
Also, while all are welcome, these confession times are provided specifically to
meet the genuine needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days, especially for
those who have a specific need to go to confession before Sunday Mass. This means you
should not plan to go to confession on Sunday merely because it is more convenient than
some other day/time, or to make merely a devotional confession. Parents, in particular, if
you follow the admirable practice of monthly family confessions, please do this on
Saturdays or Wednesdays, but not on Sunday mornings. And little children, in particular,
would probably not have a genuine need to go to confession at this time. Of course, if the
line is short on Sunday, then certainly anyone should feel free to take advantage, but if
the line is longer, be considerate of others with a genuine need.
Thank you for your patience, and for going to confession!
VOLUNTEER! I know everybody’s busy, and many of you are already serving the Lord
in many ways outside of the parish. But I beg you to think and pray seriously about the
specific ways you can volunteer in our parish. We need your help. To jog your thoughts
here, see the insert in this bulletin for list of the various parish committees/activities that
need your help. Please, look over the insert, and ask God to show you where He wants
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Friday, January 24 four busloads of St.
Raymond parishioners will drive down to the Mall to
proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Life, including the
Lord’s call to all of us to love our neighbor, even if our
neighbor is a tiny unborn baby. Sign-up sheets for the bus
are located in the narthex of the Church today. Please join
us for the March for Life in Washington.
I was on vacation this last week, so I thought I’d let
a Saint take over my column today. I’ve printed it here
before, but it is such an important text, we should revisit it
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles
Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)
Pope John Paul II
March 25, 1995
62. The more recent Papal Magisterium has vigorously
reaffirmed this common doctrine. Pius XI in particular, in
his Encyclical Casti Connubii, rejected the specious
justifications of abortion.[65] Pius XII excluded all direct
abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy human
life in the womb “whether such destruction is intended as an
end or only as a means to an end”.[66] John XXIII
reaffirmed that human life is sacred because “from its very
beginning it directly involves God’s creative activity”.[67]
The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly
condemned abortion: “From the moment of its conception
life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion
and infanticide are unspeakable crimes”.[68]….
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and
disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to
declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable.
[72] Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon
Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops–
who on various occasions have condemned abortion and
who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed
throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement
concerning this doctrine–I declare that direct abortion, that
is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always
constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate
killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based
upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is
transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the
ordinary and universal Magisterium.[73]
No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever
can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since
it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every
human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by
the Church….99. In transforming culture so that it supports life, women
occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and
decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism”
which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male
domination”, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true
genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and
overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.
Making my own the words of the concluding
message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women
this urgent appeal: “Reconcile people with life”.[133] You
are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of
that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are
present in a special way in the relationship of husband and
wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every other
interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood
makes you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same
time, confers on you a particular task: “Motherhood involves
a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops
in the woman’s womb . . . This unique contact with the new
human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude
towards human beings not only towards her own child, but
every human being, which profoundly marks the woman’s
personality”.[134] A mother welcomes and carries in herself
another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it
room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and
then teach others that human relations are authentic if they
are open to accepting the other person: a person who is
recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes
from being a person and not from other considerations, such
as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is
the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity
expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite
for an authentic cultural change.
I would now like to say a special word to women
who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many
factors which may have influenced your decision, and she
does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even
shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet
have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains
terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do
not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and
face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give
yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The
Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and
His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same
Father and His mercy you can with sure hope entrust your
child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other
people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you
can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right
to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by
accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and
caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them,
you will become promoters of a new way of looking at
human life.

Trail Life Mulch and Topsoil Fundraiser

Troop VA-0683 Mulch Fundraiser
Think Spring! Support Trail Life Troop VA-0683
Buy top-quality mulch and topsoil for your yard and garden!
Our Trail Life troop (Troop VA-0683) is pairing with Silverbrook Nursery and Landscaping to sell quality mulch and topsoil as its one and only fundraiser!

Just $4.50 for a 3-cubic-foot bag of double-shredded hardwood mulch.

Just $3.50 for a 1-cubic-foot bag of topsoil.

Pick up your order in the church parking lot March 13th (4–7 pm) or March 14th (8 am–noon)!

This is Troop 0683’s only fundraising activity. Your support will help our young and growing troop buy equipment, advancement and recognition badges, and instructional material.

Part of your purchase price is tax deductible!

Support tomorrow’s leaders today

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Last year we had online payment through paypal, this year we are using Faith Direct.

Click here to order now.
Thank you very mulch!

Questions? Email

If you prefer not to order online – print out and mail in order by clicking here.

Volunteers Needed for March For Life Chili Dinner

MFL-POSTER-01_ResizedSupport those that March for Life: Your prayers, mass attendance, adoration time, and, yes! crock pot specialties are all needed to support those who will visibly stand for life in D.C. on Friday, January 24th. We need 25 crock pots to feed the 4 busloads of parishioners attending the event. Please sign up to drop off a labeled pot of chili, soup, or pan of mac & cheese to the parish hall before/after the 10:30 Mass or at 3:00 pm on the date of the march to help welcome home the marchers. Then join them for dinner at 4:30 and hear about their experiences witnessing for life. If you cannot stay, please pick up your crock pot by 7:00 p.m. Rolls, cookies, and fruit are also needed. Remember, you don’t have to march to support the March for Life! Kitchen helpers are needed too! Please sign up with your specialty via easy to use Signup Genius link go to

or contact Sheri Burns at to let her know how you can help.

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Christmas Ends, But… Today we end the season of Christmas. But as this special liturgical celebration of Christmas ends, the celebration of the essence and meaning of Christmas must continue. By that I don’t mean the secular or sentimental celebration of Christmas, but rather the celebration of the fact that the eternal God the Son condescended to be born a vulnerable baby, in order that He may enter fully into our human life, and by His human life, death and resurrection transform that life. Christ came to change us, so let’s allow Him to change our lives, and go into this new year recommitted to truly love Him and our neighbor as He taught and showed us, to live the life of grace, hope, faith and love. The life of Jesus Christ, who came to us on Christmas day to change us and to remain with us throughout the year, and all our lives.

March for Life. On Friday, January 24, hundreds of thousands of Christians and other people of goodwill will participate in the 47th annual “March for Life” on the Mall in Washington, commemorating the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade creating the so-called “right to abortion.” Perhaps no court decision or legislation has so directly and fundamentally had such a wide and terrible effect on our nation. And not only in the devastation of 60 million or so babies it has killed, or the millions of mothers whose lives it has ruined. But also in its shaping of our American culture into a culture that degrades human life more and more every day, transforming human beings from persons whose lives have value and meaning in themselves into things that have value and meaning only to the extent other persons who have power over them chose to give them.
Some people tell us we should not talk about this, or at least not talk about it so much, or so loudly or so vehemently. But how can we be silent, when we remember that it is all intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love and His commandment to love our neighbor.
On January 24 four busloads of St. Raymond parishioners will drive down to the Mall to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Life, including the Lord’s call to all of us to love our neighbor, even if our neighbor is a tiny unborn baby. Please join us. Sign-up sheets for the bus are located in the narthex of the Church today.

Snow Team: HELP! We need some strong, able-bodied folks to help us clean up during snow season. The Snow Team works with Tom Browne, our Plant Manager, to clear and de-ice the sidewalks and paved walkways around the property during ice and snow events. Equipment is provided; sidewalks and aprons must be cleared no less than 30 minutes before the first Mass of the day (and as needed thereafter). This is a paid position, but we will also happily accept volunteers. For more information or to apply, please contact Tom Browne at the Parish Office.

Parish Volunteers. I’ve always said that one of the best ways to grow in your Catholic faith is to become active in some parish group or committee. It may not be as essential as receiving the Sacraments or reading the Scriptures or studying the Catechism, but getting involved in parish activities can be a great way to discover the meaning of Christian service, as well as the support of your fellow parishioners. I know when I was a 20-something year-old Catholic lay man that was an important factor contributing to the deepening my faith. Sometimes the Church, and even the parish, can seem so huge and impersonal. But by being involved in a particular small group or activity of the parish you can really become involved in the life of the whole parish. Not only does this create a personal and familial sense of belonging, but it also draws you deeper into the life of the whole parish and the whole Church—you meet more people, make more good Catholic friends and you learn about more opportunities to serve and to be served.
So, once again, I encourage you to resolve to take a more active part in the life of our parish, and to do so as did the Lord Jesus, who “came to serve, not to be served.” Resolve to become a committed volunteer for one or more activities or groups in the parish.
Many St. Raymond parishioners have a strong history of committed volunteerism (God bless you!). Sometimes, however, this causes others (especially newcomers) to think that their help isn’t needed. But the reality is just the opposite: we constantly need fresh ideas, younger muscles, new voices, etc.. And we can’t grow or improve if we don’t have more help! So I encourage folks who aren’t committed to some volunteer parish activity now to do so in 2020, especially those who are newer to our parish. And I encourage those of you who are volunteers already to invite other parishioners you meet to join you!
I know everybody’s busy, and many of you are already serving the Lord in many ways outside of the parish. But as we begin this New Year, I beg you to think and pray seriously about the specific ways you can volunteer in our parish.

Flu Season and the Sign of Peace. Flu and cold season is heavily upon us, so I encourage all of you to be very careful in taking precautions not to catch or spread germs. In this regard, I remind you of our parish policy regarding the exchange of the Sign of Peace, and encourage you to practice at all times, but especially during this hazardous season. The description of the exchange of the Sign of Peace is found in the inside cover of the missalettes, but, briefly:
When the priest says, “Let us offer each other the Sign of Peace,” rather than exchange a handshake or a hug, each congregant is asked to: turn only to the person on their immediate left and right (so, only 2 people), perhaps with folded hands, and give a slight bow of the head or shoulders (much like the servers and priests bow to each so often at the altar). Remember to wait for the other person to turn to you, so you can bow to each other. Although all are asked to cooperate, charity rules, so no one should be criticized if they chose not to adopt this form.

Christmas Food Containers at the Rectory. Thanks again to all those who brought food (cookies, candies, etc.) to the rectory over Christmas. Many of you brought these to us in very nice containers that you may want back. If that includes you, please come by the rectory office this week to claim your container.

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord

Epiphany. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit and adoration of the Magi to Christ in Bethlehem. It has historically been celebrated on January 6th since at least the 3rd century, but is celebrated in the U.S. on the Sunday falling between January 2nd and January 8th (inclusive). In the Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches it also, effectively, celebrates the birth of Our Lord, i.e., Christmas.
The visit of the Magi is rich in symbolic meanings for Christians, in particular those relating to the revealing (“epiphany”) of the Christ to the gentile world. As we think about this, it reminds us that that the Church is the Body of Christ on Earth, and so is called to continue the Christmas/Epiphany revelation of the coming of the Messiah to the world. But this is not just a responsibility for the Pope, bishops and priests: each is baptized into Christ and members of Christ’s Body, and so each is called to go out to the gentiles of today—those who do not share our Christian and Catholic faith—and reveal Christ to them. This can take various forms, but it begins with living our lives as if we believe in Jesus ourselves. So we live lives in keeping with the moral teaching of Christ, especially when it comes to chastity and charity. But we also must speak to others about Jesus, and His Church. Again, this can take various forms, considering prudence, our own particular talents, and the particular opportunities the Lord gives us to share our faith. How is Jesus calling you to reveal Him to the world you live in this year?

Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort. This coming Tuesday, January 7, is the feast of our parish Patron. I invite all of you celebrate his feast at our special solemn Mass (with music) on Tuesday at 7pm.
For those of you who don’t know much about St. Raymond, I invite you to read the 32-page biography we published a few years ago. If you don’t have one, they are available in the parish office.
As a brief reminder…Raymond was born of a noble family, near Barcelona, in 1175. At the age of 20 he became professor of canon law. In 1210 he left teaching to complete his studies in civil and canon law at the University of Bologna. He went on to hold a chair of canon law at that university for three years. (The date of his priestly ordination is uncertain, but it would seem to be around 1195).
On August 1, 1218 Raymond received a heavenly vision in which the Blessed Mother (“Our Lady of Ransom”) instructed him to help St. Peter Nolasco found the Order of Mercedarians, which would be devoted to the ransom of Christians taken captive by the Moors (Spanish Muslims) (a scene depicted in our new mural). Raymond did not, however, join that order but rather entered the Order of Preachers (“Dominicans”) in Barcelona in 1222. As a Dominican, Raymond continued to teach and preach, and devoted considerable effort working to convert Moors and Jews, coaxing St. Thomas Aquinas to write his Summa Contra Gentiles to help in his efforts.
At the request of his superiors, Raymond published the Summa Casuum, a book on cases of conscience for the guidance of confessors and moralists, the first guide of its kind. This work eventually led to his appointment as confessor and theologian to Pope Gregory IX in 1230. The Pope soon directed Raymond to re-arrange and codify the canons (juridical laws) of the Church, which required him to rewrite and condense centuries of Church decrees. The Pope published Raymond’s work in 1231, and commanded that it alone should be considered authoritative. From then on St. Raymond would be known as the “Father of canon law.”
In 1238 he was elected Master General of the Dominican Order, the second successor to St. Dominic, but he resigned two years later, claiming that at 63 years old he was too old for the job. He continued his writing, preaching and pastoral work, as well many important responsibilities entrusted to him by various popes, for another 37 years until his death in Barcelona on January 6, 1275, at the age of 100.
But St. Raymond had one last great miracle to perform. Six years before his death, King James of Aragon invited him to come to Majorca with him to preach to the Muslim inhabitants. But when he arrived on the island the saint discovered that King James had brought his mistress along. Raymond demanded he send her away, and when the King refused, Raymond went searching for a ship to go back to Spain. When he discovered that the King had forbidden any ship to let him board, Raymond simply bowed his head in prayer, made the sign of the cross, and, by the grace of God, sailed 160 miles back to Spain using just his great cape as both a skiff and a sail as depicted in our other mural.
He is the patron saint of lawyers, both canon and civil. And our patron as well! St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us!

My “Black Eye.” On Thursday, December 19, several parishioners and I drove 4 carloads of gifts gathered from our “giving tree” out to Our Lady of the Blue Ridge in Madison, VA. As I was unloading one of the trucks, carrying a large box in both hands, suddenly, out of nowhere, I was attacked by a vicious black bear. Not really. Actually, I tripped over a parking curb. I tried to keep from dropping box, but wound up dropping myself, face first, onto the concrete. I fell pretty hard, but, thanks be to God, there was no serious damage: no broken bones, and only a few scratches and a relatively small laceration on my face. It looked much worse than it was, with all the swelling and discoloring. Very little pain. The worst part was a minor concussion which has slowed me down since then. But I’ve been able to get lots of rest, and I’m almost totally mended.
Thanks to all who have expressed concern and sympathy. And thanks especially to folks who took me to the hospital in Culpeper, and drove me and my car home (separately) from Madison. God bless you for your kindness.

Interruption at Mass. Last Sunday someone interrupted my homily with a shouted outburst of protest. Both the “shouter” and I apologize for the fear this may have brought to anyone present, especially little children. Such interruptions of Mass are always unacceptable, but it seems to me that in these times of heightened fear of violence in churches, they are … especially uncharitable.

Happy New Year 2020 Anno Domini. As we continue the Christmas Season in this New Year of the Lord 2020, I pray that the Christ Child will shower you with His graces, and that His Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and St. Raymond will keep you in their care. Blessed and Merry Christmas, and a Holy and Happy New Year!

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Merry Christmas! I hope that your Christmas Day was wonderful and filled with holiness and good cheer, and that you were all able to spend time with your family and friends. And as the Octave of Christmas continues, I wish you all a Blessed, Holy and Merry Christmas.

Thanks. I’d like to say “thanks” all those who worked so hard to make Advent and Christmas so special this year. In particular, Elisabeth Turco and the choir, cantors, and musicians (especially Denise Anezin) for all the beautiful music. All the volunteers, young and not so young, for their work on Breakfast with Santa, Lessons and Carols and the Senior Lunch (particularly the American Heritage Girls and Trail Life boys). The Knights of Columbus for all they did in so many ways. Nena Brennan and her family, and all the other sacristans, for all their work in preparing the sanctuary. Julie Mullen and her family and the rest of the flower committee, for decorating the church so beautifully. To the ushers who helped make everything run so smoothly, especially Patrick O’Brien. To all those who contributed so much in time and treasure to the Giving Tree. To all those who assisted in special ways at the Mass, especially the altar boys, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Also thanks to our custodial workers from Spring Cleaning, Luis Tapia and Dania Ochoa, for keeping the church so clean. A special thanks to the rest of our dedicated parish staff, Tom Browne, Mary Butler, Vince Drouillard, Eva Radel, Mary Salmon, Jeanne Sause, and Kirsti Tyson, who all work very hard during Advent. And finally, to my brother priests, Fr. Jordan Willard and Fr. Jerry Daly, as well as Fr. Robert Rippy, for their dedicated service to the parish. I know I’ve left out lots of groups and names; my apologies. Thank you all, and God bless you all.

New Year’s. I look forward seeing all of you on New Year’s Eve or Day, to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (a holy day of obligation). Maybe I’ll see some of you at Midnight Mass: we keep things simple at this Mass, but it’s the perfect way to bring in the New Year. May the Christ Child bless you in the New Year, and may His Blessed Mother keep you in her care. Blessed and Merry Christmas, and Holy and Happy New Year!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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Pope Francis, Homily of Midnight Mass, December 2013
Tuesday, 24 December 2013
1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).
This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.
Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey, which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which He would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to His covenant and to His promises. Because He is faithful, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.
In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11). A people who walk, but as a pilgrim people who do not want to go astray.
2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).
The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; He has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In Him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom; He is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.
3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. The pilgrim is bound by duty to keep watch and the shepherds did just that. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of His fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich, and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.
On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, He so loves us that He gave us His Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). As the angels said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid!”. And I also repeat to all of you: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, He loves us, He gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is mercy: our Father always forgives us. He is our peace. Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

GAUDETE SUNDAY. Today is “Gaudete Sunday,” or “Rejoice Sunday” (from the first words of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudéte in Dómino semper”— “Rejoice in the Lord always”). This reminds us that Advent is a season of “expectant joy” as our anticipation of the great joy of Christmas builds everyday as we draw closer to it. This is symbolized in the “rose” colored vestments the priests may where today, “rose” being a shade of advent violet that is brighter than the normal violets of Advent, as if the brightness of Christmas joy is shining through the subdued preparation of Advent.
I hope we all experience this building joy during Advent. First and foremost, we should experience this spiritually, in our prayers and meditation on the mystery of Christmas, and in reception of the sacraments. In this regard, I encourage you to go to confession this week—we rejoice because Christ was born to save us from our sins, and He pours out this salvation in this holy sacrament—there’s nothing like the joy experienced in having our sins forgiven. Remember, we have will have 3 priests hearing confessions every evening this week, Monday through Friday. I also encourage you to attend daily Mass: remember this week we have an additional Mass on Friday evening at 7pm, in the Extraordinary Form (it’s a beautiful way of experiencing the Mass.)
I also encourage you to join us this Thursday December 19, from 7pm to 8pm, for our Advent Holy Hour of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We’ll begin with Exposition, then I’ll give a half-hour talk (the 3rd and final of my “Advent Series”), followed by praying the Rosary and then Benediction. This year my topic is “The Christmas Visitors: Angels, Shepherds and Kings,” and this Thursday I will talk about the Kings/Magi who visited the Baby Jesus. Please join us.
Decorations. Of course, this growing spiritual joy also overflows into our practical lives during this season, and expresses itself in many of the customs of this season, many of which illustrate how this joy gradually builds as we approach the source of our joy, Christmas. We see this, for example, in how the decoration of our homes get more and more “Christmassy” as the days of Advent pass.
Many have observed how I don’t put Christmas decorations in the church for Advent. One reason for this is because so many decorations abound outside the church, often lacking any sense of gradualness or progression, that I think it’s important to show a contrast in our liturgies—to remind us that Christ is not here yet, that we are waiting and preparing for Him.
Even so, we do incorporate this progression in the church in several ways, including the Advent wreath, the selection of hymns, and the rose vestments. And this year we’ve put out part of our creche/nativity scene a little early—but not all of it—to be a sign that we are waiting for the Savior. “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near” (Num. 24:17).
New Creche/Nativity Scene. I’m sure you notice that we have new statues for our “Christmas creche” this year. Sadly, the old set was very old, and in need of lots of costly repairs. So, with the generous support of 3 parishioners (thanks!) I decided to purchase the new statues. Although not as large as the old figures, the new figures are more colorful and finely detailed. I hope that you like this creche as much as I do and that it will be a welcome part of many joyful Advents and Christmases for years to come.
Lessons and Carols. Another important way I like to express this gradual progression is by celebrating “Lessons and Carols,” as we did last Sunday. It was another amazing evening of music and meditation: the choir was amazing. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco and all the musicians and choir members; and to Eva Radel for organizing the children’s choir for their debut performance. Thanks also to the lectors, and to all who provided an elegant reception afterwards, especially the volunteers from Angelus Academy.
Advent and Christmas Giving. Still another practical way we experience this progressive joy is through acts of generosity. I’m sure all of you have been showing special charity to those around you, through ordinary acts of kindness revealing the joy of Christ in your hearts. But we also experience this in a special way through gift-giving. We need to be careful, though, to make the Christmas gifts we buy in some way a genuine reflection of our Christian joy. Perhaps we can do this by giving religious gifts, e.g., Bibles, rosaries, Catholic books, etc., or just being careful to give wholesome gifts that are consistent with Christian values.
This is also a time to make donations to worthy Catholic groups who will receive them with the joy of Christ. A few of the groups that I would recommend, are Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, House of Mercy, Angelus Academy, and, my personal favorite, St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, the wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily. And you can always make an extra gift to St. Raymond’s.
And Finally, Speaking of Anticipated Joy… I’m sure all of you are looking forward to the “second mural” taking its place opposite the mural of “The Sailing Saint Raymond.” Well, our waiting should come to an end this week, as the second mural of “Our Lady of Ransom Appearing to St. Raymond” should be in place before next Sunday. So say a little prayer to St. Raymond that all goes well, and hopefully….
Many people, especially newer parishioners, ask me about the story behind this mural. As you may know, in the 13th century Moorish (Muslim) pirates used to capture ships from Christian countries sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. These captured Christians were then either held for ransom, or forced to convert to Islam, and/or sold into slavery. This was the state of things when, on the evening August 1, 1218, the Blessed Mother appeared separately to three very different men in Barcelona, Spain: to St. Peter Nolasco, the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant and veteran of various battles against the Moors (Muslims) occupying much of southern Spain; to King James I of Aragon; and to our own beloved patron, St. Raymond of Peñafort, who was Peter’s confessor. Our Lady told each of them that St. Peter was to found a religious order that would dedicate itself to the ransom of Christian captives of Muslims. The members of this new order would take a vow to offer themselves personally/bodily, when necessary, as ransom or as security for the freedom their fellow Christians. St. Peter obeyed Our Lady, and with the political and financial support of the King and under the wise guidance of St. Raymond, the order, commonly called “the Mercedarians,” was founded and proceeded in its mission. This mural portrays Our Lady of Ransom (or “of Mercy”) appearing to St. Raymond.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles