Sixth Sunday of Easter

Graduations. Congratulations to all our new college graduates! You should be very proud of your accomplishment, and I pray for your many successes in the years to come. But I also hope that you remember to thank the Lord Jesus for all He has done for you these last few years, and I encourage you to trust in Him and His plans as you go forward. Stay close to Him and to His Mother Mary and they will stay close to you. God bless you all!

 

Memorial Day. For many people Memorial Day has become a holiday marking the beginning of the Summer. But let us not forget it’s true meaning: to honor all the brave men and women who have died serving in the military of our beloved country. May we honor them tomorrow, and keep them in our prayers always. And may God reward them in eternity for their sacrifices on earth.

 

Save the dates for “Fortnight for Freedom.” Beginning Saturday June 21 and running through July 4 (Independence Day), St. Raymond’s will join Catholics across the country in keeping the Third Annual “Fortnight for Freedom” to pray and fast for the protection of Religious Liberty, especially with regarding the so called “contraceptive mandate” of Obamacare regulations, and challenges to traditional marriage. In addition to praying special prayers at home we will again have Eucharistic Holy Hours every day during the fortnight. We’ll have a schedule insert in the bulletin in the next few weeks with more details.

 

As part of this year’s Fortnight the Diocese of Arlington will sponsor a special morning of talks and prayer on Saturday, June 28, 2014, 9:00 a.m. to noon, at St. Joseph’s Church, 750 Peachtree, St. in Herndon. Bishop Loverde, Jeanne Monahan (President, The March for Life Education and Defense Fund) and Dr. John Garvey, (President, The Catholic University of America) will be speakers.

 

Save the date for the “March for Marriage.” This year the parish will be chartering a bus to attend this year’s “March for Marriage” on the Capitol Grounds in Washington. The March is sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, partnering with other pro-family groups, churches and other people of goodwill to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The March will begin with a rally at the Capitol and then proceed to the Supreme Court.  Our bus will leave St. Raymond’s at 9:00 a.m. and return by 3:30 p.m. Please join us! Contact blaird48@gmail.com for more information and to reserve your seats on the bus (please give name, number of seats, and contact phone and email).

 

Women’s Apostolate to Youth. Last week you may have noticed I was missing from several of the weekend Masses. I’m sorry, but it couldn’t be helped, as I had to give a few talks and offer Masses at the annual retreat for the Women’s Apostolate to Youth (WAY). I’m honored to serve as the chaplain of this “lay association of Christ’s faithful” for Catholic women in the Diocese of Arlington. The mission of WAY is to promote the spiritual well-being of children and youth and to provide spiritual formation and moral support for women who are called to work in dedication to this end, whether as mothers, teachers and catechists, etc.. One of the key works/apostolates of WAY is Angelus Academy. Another of the works is sponsoring the excellent “Daystar” Mother-Daughter Retreats (for girls in grades 7-9), which are held here at St. Raymond’s in the fall and winter. It’s always a treat for me to work with these good women, especially to assist at this annual retreat—I’m sure it does me more good than it does them. If anyone is interested in more information about this excellent group or its apostolates please contact Melissa Manaker at manakerm@gmail.com or 703-350-5015.

 

Ordination Anniversaries. For many years the third Saturday of May was the day for ordaining priests in the Diocese of Arlington. Consequently, most of the priests of the Diocese celebrated their ordination anniversaries in the last week or so. Last Sunday I celebrated the 18th anniversary of my ordination. I have to say it seems like yesterday that I knelt before Bishop John Keating (may he rest in peace) as he laid hands on my head and then anointed my hands with the sacred chrism. Then again, it seems like I’ve been a priest forever. Most of you know I had a career as an accountant before entering the seminary in 1991. As amazed as I continue to be that God called me to the priesthood, I can’t imagine doing anything else. There are times when it has not been so easy, times when it’s been downright overwhelming, and the responsibilities of being a parish vicar, administrator and pastor have been extremely challenging, to say the least. All too often I have not lived up to His expectations, or to my people’s hopes and needs, and every day I pray and wish I were a better priest and pastor. But in the last 18 years there has not been one day, not even one moment, that I have ever regretted, even in the slightest, answering the call to the priesthood. Despite my many failings and failures, my many weaknesses and sins, I love being a priest and thank the Lord every day that he allows me to serve Him and His Church—including all of you—in this most amazing vocation.

 

Because of that I can heartily encourage all the boys and young men of our parish to prayerfully consider if God is calling you to join me in this great vocation—and all parents of boys and young men to join me in this encouragement. And I ask you all to pray for your priests, and for the seminarians training to be your future priests (especially Jacob McCrumb and James Waalkes from our parish), and for all the boys and young men of St. Raymond’s who have not yet discerned the call that is theirs. Pray for us, that we may be the servants, the fathers and the shepherds God created and calls us to be for you. And join me in thanking God for this wonderful gift.

 

“Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love… Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods … Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.” (St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of parish priests).

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Pro-Life Essays. Last weekend we announced the winners of our Pro-Life Essay contest commemorating the canonization of St. John Paul II. Thanks to all twenty young parishioners who submitted such excellent papers. And thanks to the Respect Life Committee and Knights of Columbus for sponsoring the contest.

 

Caroline Burns and  Grace Forbes won first and second prizes in the 10-12 grade category answering the question, “How do you envision a Pro Life America and what can you do to make it that way?”  Bentleigh Bogacki and Maeve Randall  won first and second prizes in grades 7-9 addressing the question,  “By what authority does the Catholic Church claim that all human life is sacred?”  Lewis Bliss and Sean Carley won first and second prizes answering the question, “How can you live in a way to show God and others that you respect the gift of human life?” The first place essays are on display in the narthex—I encourage you stop by and look them over.

On earth Pope Saint John Paul II was a relentless champion of the sanctity of human life.  He also loved young people, and they loved him in return. In heaven, I’m sure that he is very proud of the work submitted by our kids. And I’m sure he is interceding for all them, to help them as they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Life, and to reward them for their good work.

 

Bishop’s Lenten Appeal. Thanks to all of you who contributed to the BLA. Once again you came through to beat the goal the Bishop set for us, donating over $294,000, or 104% of our goal of $282,000, with 38% of our households participating. God bless you all for your generosity. (If you haven’t done so, it’s not too late to contribute).

 

First Communion and Confirmation. Congratulations to the little children and teenagers who received the Sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. May the Lord continue to fill you with His graces through these sacraments. Thanks to all who had a hand in this, particularly Maria Ammirati and Patti Eckels, the catechists and teachers, and most especially the parents who are passing on the faith to their children. Thanks also to Bishop Loverde for coming to the parish for Confirmation.

 

Legion of Mary. May is the month of Mary and I encourage all to remember this in some special way. This Sunday members of the Legion of Mary will be in the Narthex distributing free rosaries. Please stop by if you or a friend needs a rosary, and to find out more about the good work done by the Legion.

 

Silence: Who Exactly was Kidnapped, and Why? By now most of us have heard the shocking news about the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the group “Boko Haram.” Hopefully by the time you read this the situation will be moving toward some positive resolution. But in the meantime one has to wonder why have the media and governments almost completely failed to mention that this is an act of religious persecution: the girls are almost all Christians, and were kidnapped by a vicious Islamist terror group that has repeatedly and violently targeted Christians in Nigeria. I reprint, in part, an article from The Christian Post published last week.

 

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Most of Boko Haram Kidnapped Schoolgirls Are Christians, Nigerian Evangelist Says

By Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian Post

May 6, 2014|10:35 am

 

A Nigerian evangelist said that most of the 200 plus schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram are Christians, which he says is further evidence of the militant Islamists’ specific targeting of followers of Christ.

 

“Chibok local government is 90% Christian. Majority of the girls abducted are Christian! Why did Boko Haram visit Chibok local government? Why didn’t they visit so many other local government girls secondary schools in Borno State?” asked Evangelist Matthew Owojaiye of the Old Time Revival Hour Church in Kaduna, who compiled a list of 180 kidnapped girls who have been identified, International Christian Concern shared. Of those, Owojaiye identified that 163 are Christian girls, and 15 are Muslims.

 

On Monday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau admitted that his group is responsible for the kidnapping of over 200 girls from Chibok, Borno State last month, and said that he plans to have them sold on the market. “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” Shekau, said in the video translated by CNN. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”

 

The mass schoolgirls kidnapping has sparked outrage in the international community, with a number of political leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledging that “everything possible” will be done to rescue the girls. “This is an outrage and a tragedy and we are doing what we can to assist the Nigerian government to support its efforts to find and free the young women who were abducted,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday.

 

With reports that the girls are being sold as brides to the Islamic militants for $12.00 each, the parents and Christian groups have called on the Nigerian military and the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to do all they can to find the girls….

 

The terrorist organization has been bombing government buildings and shooting at entire congregations for the past five years now, waging war on Nigeria’s Christian population in its mission to establish Islamic rule. ICC said that an estimated 2,500 people have been killed in 2014 alone by Boko Haram, many from known Christian communities.

 

“Boko Haram’s deliberate targeting of Christian students for sale into domestic slavery and forced marriage once again illustrates the group’s limitless repertoire of evil and its willingness to unleash that evil in pursuit of a separate Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. While ICC continues to join the international community in calling for a return to a peace in northern Nigeria, we cannot refuse to recognize the Nigerian State’s inability to provide the security necessary to ensure prosperous living for the nation’s Christians and other minority religions, especially in the increasingly lawless northern regions,” said William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager.

 

“If the Nigerian state and international community continue to fail to respond to Boko Haram effectively, 230 innocent school girls could be lost to a lifetime of suffering and oppression at the hands of these Islamic militants,” he added.

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Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering in Africa, and throughout the world. And let us pray for the conversion of those who are persecuting them.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Confirmation. This last week was a big week for our parish, especially for our children. On Wednesday Bishop Loverde was here to give the Sacrament of Confirmation to 64 of our teenagers, mostly eighth graders. What an important night for these young men and women, receiving the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, giving them the grace they need to face the adult challenges they are facing more and more every day.

 

I wonder if we really appreciate this sacrament. Consider that this sacrament brings about the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was given to the apostles and the early Church on the first Pentecost.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language…” [Acts 2: 1-7].

 

Of course, there was no mighty wind in the church on Wednesday, and no tongues of fire, and no one speaking in languages they did not know. Those unique and dramatic outward signs of the first Pentecost showed the newness of the great gift Christ had given then. Now that gift is no longer new, having been continuously poured out on the Baptized for 2000 years. Even so, the gift of the Holy Spirit is renewed in each  Confirmation, and has the same dramatic and new internal effect on the confirmandi, as they receive the same grace that emboldened Peter and the other disciples to go into the world proclaiming the Gospel to an often hostile world.

 

Consider the effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1303-5). Fundamentally Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Specifically this means it:

— roots us more deeply in the divine filiation (sonship);

— unites us more firmly to Christ;

— increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us (specifically the “Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgment (counsel) and courage (fortitude), knowledge, reverence, and piety);

— renders our bond with the Church more perfect;

— gives us a special strength to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ.

 

This is the great gift given to our eighth graders this week, and the gift that most of the adults of our parish have possessed for years. But what do we do with this gift, or gifts? Do we use them to proclaim the Gospel as the apostles did, even in the face of persecution? Do we even recognize that they abide in us?

 

Let’s pray for our newly confirmed today that they may be open to and cooperate with the graces they received in Confirmation. But let us also pray for ourselves that we may do the same.

 

First Holy Communion. This week was also a big week for 64 of our second graders as well, as yesterday (Saturday) they received Our Lord in First Holy Communion. What a great thing for these children, to receive our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; to have the Lord come to them in the flesh, and join them to Himself in this miracle. And what a beautiful thing to see these little ones receive with such innocence and faith. If only we adults could receive with the simple faith so many of these little ones have, and recognize the miracle of the love we receive in this sacrament, our intimate holy Communion with Jesus. The Lord tells us “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Does this not refer, in a particular way, to the Eucharist, which is Christ Himself, who is the kingdom? The children believe simply because they follow a very simple logic we present to them: God is all-powerful and can do anything but lie; Jesus is God; Jesus says “This is my Body”; therefore, the Eucharist is truly the Body of Christ. And so they believe. So simple. Do we believe in the same way? If not, why not?

 

Let us pray for our little ones today, that they may always believe as they do today, and receive this sacrament with the same devotion. But let us also pray for ourselves—that we may become like our little children.

 

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine. This last week saw the passing from this life of two people who were very dear to many of us. First, last Saturday Fr. Richard Martin, pastor of our neighboring parish of Nativity, died of complications from diabetes. Many of our parishioners were members of Nativity under Fr. Martin before joining our parish—particularly before our church was built. So many of you knew him and loved him, as he cared for your spiritual needs. I am truly sorry for your loss, and you are in my prayers in special way this week.

 

Then on Tuesday we also lost a beloved member of our own parish, as Janet Twyman finally lost her long battle with cancer. She was truly a dear friend to so many of us, myself included, and she will be sorely missed. But more than a friend, she was an inspiration. In all my years as a priest I have seldom seen a person so much in love with Jesus and His Church, and so devoted to loving her neighbor. In short, it seems to me we’ve seen the passing of a saint—I can’t help but think that she is, this day, with her beloved Jesus in Paradise. So that even as my heart is heavy for our loss, my heart also rejoices in the thought of Janet living in the joy and glory of heaven today—and praying for all of us. Even so, Janet would be the first to scold us for presuming she was so holy, and not in need of our prayers to help her on her way to heaven. And so, in faith, hope and love, we pray for her soul. And we also pray for her good and dedicated husband, Calvin, and their daughter, Christina, that the Lord may comfort them in their mourning.  Janet’s funeral will be at Saint Raymond’s on Monday, May 12th at 11:30am.

 

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Third Sunday of Easter

Busy. Many of you who have been trying to get hold of or schedule meetings with me know that during Lent I was running in about ten directions at the same time. Unfortunately, this caused me to postpone a lot of work that would normally get done until after Easter. Then Easter passed, and I took a couple days to rest before facing up to all the work postponed. But somehow something always comes up to complicate the weeks after Easter. This week we have the annual convocation where the priests of the diocese get together (overnight) for two and a half days of meetings and fellowship. To complicate matters more, this weekend I’m officiating at my niece’s wedding and hosting out-of-town family—which is all good, but the work continues pile up. So, my apologies for not being as available as I should be. Next week, I promise… Which reminds me of an anecdote about Pope St. John XXIII. Supposedly a reporter asked the Pope how he slept at night, and St. John responded: “I sleep very well. Before I go to bed I tell the Holy Spirit, I was in charge all day, now it’s your turn.” So ask the Holy Spirit to help me do a better job of managing my responsibilities, and to trust Him to make up for my deficiencies. Oremus pro invicem, Fr. De Celles

 

Pope Francis, General Audience

Wednesday of Holy Week, April 23, 2014

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

This week is the week of joy: we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a true and deep joy founded on the certainty that the Risen Christ shall never die again; rather, he is alive and at work in the Church and in the world. This certainty has abided in the hearts of believers since that first Easter morning, when the women went to Jesus’ tomb and the angels asked them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”. These words are like a milestone in history; but are also like a “stumbling block” if we do not open ourselves to the Good News, if we think that a dead Jesus is less bothersome that a Jesus who is alive! Yet how many times along our daily journey do we need to hear it said: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”. How often do we search for life among inert things, among things that cannot give life, among things that are here today and gone tomorrow, among the things that pass away … “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”.

We need this when we shut ourselves in any form of selfishness or self-complacency; when we allow ourselves to be seduced by worldly powers and by the things of this world, forgetting God and neighbor; when we place our hope in worldly vanities, in money, in success. Then the Word of God says to us: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”. Why are you searching there? That thing cannot give you life! Yes, perhaps it will cheer you up for a moment, for a day, for a week, for a month … and then? “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”. This phrase must enter into our hearts and we need to repeat it. Shall we repeat it three times together? Shall we make the effort? Everyone: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”. [He repeats it with the crowd]. Today when we return home let us say it from the heart in silence and let us ask ourselves this question: why in life do I seek the living among the dead? It will do us good.

It is not easy to be open to Jesus. Nor is it a given that we shall accept the life of the Risen One and his presence among us. The Gospel shows us different reactions: that of the Apostle Thomas, that of Mary Magdalene and that of the two disciples of Emmaus: it does us good to compare ourselves with them. Thomas places a condition on belief, he asks to touch the evidence, the wounds; Mary Magdalene weeps, she sees him but she does not recognize him, she only realizes that it is Jesus when he calls her by name; the disciples of Emmaus, who are depressed and feeling defeated, attain an encounter with Jesus by allowing that mysterious wayfarer to accompany them. Each one on a different path! They were seeking the living among the dead and it was the Lord himself who redirected their course. And what do I do? What route do I take to encounter the living Christ? He will always be close to us to correct our course if we have strayed.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). This question enables us to overcome the temptation to look back, to what was yesterday, and it spurs us on to the future. Jesus is not in the sepulchre, he is Risen! He is the Living One, the One who always renews his body, which is the Church, and enables it to walk by drawing it towards Him. “Yesterday” is the tomb of Jesus and the tomb of the Church, the tomb of truth and justice; “today” is the perennial Resurrection to which the Holy Spirit impels us, bestowing on us full freedom.

Today this question is also addressed to us. You, why do seek the living among the dead, you who withdraw into yourself after a failure, and you who no longer have the strength to pray? Why do you seek the living among the dead, you who feel alone, abandoned by friends and perhaps also by God? Why do you seek the living among the dead, you who have lost hope and you who feel imprisoned by your sins? Why do you seek the living among the dead, you who aspire to beauty, to spiritual perfection, to justice and to peace?

We need to hear ourselves repeat and to remind one other of the angels’ admonition! This admonition: “Why do you seek the living among the dead” helps us leave behind our empty sadness and opens us to the horizons of joy and hope. That hope which rolls back the stones from tombs and encourages one to proclaim the Good News, capable of generating new life for others. Let us repeat the Angels’ phrase in order to keep it in our hearts and in our memory, and then let everyone respond in silence: “Why do you seek the living among the dead”… Behold, brothers and sisters, He is alive, He is with us! Do not go to the many tombs that today promise you something, beauty, and then give you nothing! He is alive! Let us not seek the living among the dead! Thank you.

Second Sunday of Easter

HE IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN! On this Octave day of Easter, I thank God for a truly blessed Lent, Holy Week, Triduum and Easter Sunday. I was once again overwhelmed not only by the size of the crowds on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Holy Saturday liturgies, but also by the devotion and piety of all present. I also want to thank so many people who helped make things so special this year. First, thanks Elisabeth Turco, Denise Anezin, and all our choir members for their hard and beautiful work! Also, thanks to our Altar Servers for their devotedness and reverence, with a special thanks to Mark Arbeen, our Master of Ceremonies. Also thanks to the ushers, headed by Paul DeRosa; to Nena Brennan (sacristan) and her family who spent so many hours preparing things behind the scenes; to Julie Mullen and Rosario Méndez and their many helpers who decorated the sanctuary so beautifully with flowers; to Phil Bettwy and Barbara Aldridge who organized the lectors and extraordinary ministers; to Bob and Bev Ward and  Mike Malachowski for their work with the RCIA; to Jeanne Sause and our Youth Group for their inspiring Living Stations of the Cross; and to the parish staff who worked so hard all throughout Lent and Holy Week. Last but not least, thanks to Fr. Kenna for his dedication, and to Fr. Nguyen, Fr. Scalia and Fr. Daly for their assistance.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention a lot of folks, so please forgive me. Thanks and God bless you all.

NEW SAINTS! Today in Rome Pope Francis will declare two Popes to be Saints of the Catholic Church: surely sharing in glory of heaven, worthy intercessors and heroic examples to all of us of the Catholic life.

St. John XXIII, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was born in 1881 in northern Italy, the fourth child of fourteen, a sharecropper’s son. Completing seminary in Rome he was ordained for his home diocese of Bergamo in 1905. As a new priest he served as secretary to his bishop and taught in the seminary. During World War I he was drafted and served as a sergeant in the medical corps of the Italian army. Afterwards he returned to the seminary until 1921 when he was called to serve in the Roman Curia. In 1925 he was ordained a bishop and named as Apostolic Visitator (later Apostolic Delegate) to Bulgaria, going on to serve as Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, and Greece, and eventually Nuncio to France during World War II. In 1953 he was named Patriarch Archbishop of Venice, and raised to the cardinalate. In 1958, at the age of 76 he was elected Pope.

Succeeding Pope Pius XII, who seemed so very aristocratic and formal, Pope John XXIII’s smiling and amiable style captured the hearts of people around the world, and earned him the nickname “Good Pope John.” Elected as a comprise candidate, essentially to be a caretaker pope, Pope John stunned the Catholic world in January 1959 by announcing an ecumenical council—a gathering of all the bishops of the world—to update (“aggiornamento”) the Church’s methods of sharing our faith and teachings with the modern world. Sadly, Pope John was not able to see the completion of this work at the Second Vatican Council, or “Vatican II,” as he died on June 3, 1963, before 16 of the Council’s 17 documents were issued.

St. John Paul II, Karol Jozef Wojtyla, was born in Wadowice, Poland on June 20,  1920, one of three children, the son of a retired army officer. Young Wojtyla’s university studies and were interrupted by the German invasion of Poland in 1939, and he spent the next few years in forced quarry labor, until he entered the underground seminary. He was ordained a priest on November 1, 1946, and immediately went on to earn his doctorate in theology in Rome and his doctorate in philosophy in Lublin (Poland). He then served as a parish priest, university chaplain, and seminary and university professor. He was ordained auxiliary bishop of  Krakow on September 28, 1958, named Archbishop of Krakow (at age 43) in 1964 and became a cardinal in 1967. As a bishop and archbishop he took an active role at the Second Vatican Council. As the popular young Cardinal-Archbishop of Krakow he became the nemesis of the Communist government of Poland.

During his years as a professor was dearly loved by his students. He also developed a unique approach to explain the Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person, his relationship to God and the meaning of family, marriage and sexuality. This later came to be known as the “Theology of the Body,” which he shared with the whole Church when he was elected Pope on October 16, 1978.

Being elected after the sudden death of Pope John Paul I (who reigned for only 30 days), along with being the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years, as well as his obvious physical vigor, keen intellect, and personal magnetism made him the instant focus of the world’s fascination. This fascination would continue throughout his 27 year pontificate which was marked by innumerable amazing accomplishments and historical events, including: miraculously surviving an assassin’s bullet (1981); being a critical figure in the fall of Soviet Communism; pastoral visits to 129 countries; clarification of Church doctrine in his many speeches and writings (including 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters, and 5 books); promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; complete revision of the Code of Canon Law; reform of the liturgy; establishment of World Youth Day; reorganization of the Roman Curia; beatification of 1,338 blesseds and canonization of 482 saints. His example of personal holiness and prayer was inspiring to all, as was his faithful endurance of years of suffering before his death on April 2, 2005. But perhaps the most amazing accomplishment was attracting millions of young people to devoutly embrace Catholicism: they loved him as he spoke the truth to them, in love.

There is not enough space here to explain what a great Pope he was. Suffice it to say that at the end of his funeral four million mourners gathered in Rome shouted out spontaneously, “Santo subito!”—“a saint right now!”

Beyond the fact that I now have 2 more patron saints (“Saints John”), I have many reasons to be personally delighted today. Born in 1960 during the pontificate of Pope John, my parents named me after him. As for John Paul II, not only was I formed by his theology and spirituality, I know I would not be a priest today had he not been pope.  I cherish my memory of concelebrating Mass with him in his private chapel in May of 1997, and speaking with him afterwards.

Blessed and Happy Easter to you all! St. John and St. John Paul pray for us!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Holy Week begins Today. One of the keys to Lent is meditation on our Lord’s Sacred Passion. This week we do this in a particularly intense way, as we spiritually place ourselves with Our Lord as he suffers in his last hours: as he agonizes in the garden, is scourged, spat upon, mocked, and crowned with thorns; as he carries the cross, is nailed to it and hung upon it for three hours to die an excruciating death. We look upon Jesus enduring all this, and remember that He did this all out of love for His Father and, most amazingly, out of love for us: to pay for our sins (our failures to love God and our neighbor), to save us from eternal damnation, and to enable us to share in His own glorious life. He suffered all this not in spite of the fact that we don’t love Him as we should, but because of that fact: He loves us and wants to save us from our lack of love.

 

Who can look at this and not be overwhelmed, not simply with grief for His suffering, but also with love for Him who has loved us so much? How can we not open our hearts to Him, and see that our sins are not worth causing Him this pain, not worth walking away from the One who loves us so incredibly?  How can we not ask ourselves why we love our sins so much, when we should be loving Him instead?  How can we see His love and not recognize that the way we love Him and each other falls so far short of this standard? How can we see all this and not open our hearts to grace that flows from His sacred wounds to help us to love as we should?

 

For almost 40 days we’ve been trying to grow in love through Christ’s grace and our Lenten penances. Most of us have met with mixed results. But we have one more week: let’s resolve to make it a truly “holy” week centered on Jesus’ suffering and ineffable love.

 

We can do this in many ways, beginning with redoubling our personal efforts of Lenten prayers, sacrifices and acts of charity. But we also do so in a wonderful way by joining in the works of the Church, especially by coming together for the special liturgies of this Holy Week.

 

We have begun this today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion. Perhaps you can continue this by attending the outdoor Stations of the Cross performed by our youth this evening (Sunday) after the 5:00 pm Mass.

 

Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! I know it can be inconvenient for you, but so was the scouring at the pillar. And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from His side on the Cross.

 

On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral (all the priests and the Bishop celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood). But in the evening join us here in the parish as we celebrate The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood. The ritual includes the ceremonial washing of the feet, and procession of the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray,” as he once invited his apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

Then comes Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence as we share in the suffering of the Lord. We should keep the day with quiet, reflection, and charity—even at work—especially from noon to three. There is no Mass; instead we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. I beg you not to miss it, even if it means leaving work early! This is the highpoint of Lent, the holiest hour of the year—come and be with the Church to worship Christ at the foot of His Cross, at the hour of His death; what in the world could be more important than this?!

 

During this liturgy everyone comes forward to personally venerate the Cross—by a kiss, or some other gesture—as the choir masterfully leads the singing of beautiful hymns contemplating God’s powerful yet tender love. No wonder the church has been so packed these last two years, even as we moved to venerating only one cross instead of the three once allowed (the Pope and bishops changed the rules).  I am always a little worried that folks might think this takes too long, but the last two years everyone seemed to be truly caught up in the powerful symbolic meaning of kissing the “one cross,” even if it meant waiting awhile—after all, they are waiting with the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross.

 

(Last year, we took a bit longer than necessary, as the two lines fell into approaching the cross one person at a time, instead of two at a time, one line venerating the right arm, the other the left. This year we will take meaningful steps to reduce this unnecessary delay).

 

After veneration, the priests distribute Communion from hosts brought from the sacristy. After the liturgy is over, the Cross will remain in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Later in the evening, at 7:00 pm Stations of the Cross are solemnly prayed with the priest.

 

On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood, as the Church strongly encourages us to voluntarily continue to fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday.  Mass is never offered during the day on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30 pm (after sunset) the celebration of Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. It is the “Mother” of all liturgies with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing and presentation of the Easter Candle; the chanting of the Exsultet; a greatly extended Liturgy of the Word; and Baptism, reception into the Church, and Confirmation for adults. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).

 

This is a wondrous week, the holiest week of the year. Let’s not squander this opportunity to change our lives so bereft of true love, to get caught up in the awesomeness of the Love of Christ Jesus.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Passiontide Column Fifth Sunday in Lent

Passiontide. Today we enter into that part of the season of Lent called “Passiontide,” a time when we more intently and somberly focus our attention on Christ’s Passion. We try, in effect, to take ourselves 2000 years back in time and walk with Jesus in those last days before Good Friday. We mark this in a very dramatic way by covering the statues and crucifixes in our churches: Good Friday has not yet happened, so there is no cross yet; Easter has not happened, so no saints are in heaven. Keep this in mind in the coming days: “I’m walking with Jesus, and Peter and the apostles…With Judas. With John, and Mary Magdalene… Walking toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany, going to the temple….I’m in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper…In the house of Caiaphas…In the palace of Pilate…Standing with Blessed Mary as they scourge her little boy….”

 

The bodily/physical reminders of these days are so important to our experiencing the meaning of the season—Jesus created us in bodies, and came and spoke to us and suffered and died in His body. Which is why it’s so important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” One way we do this is through the physical acts of penance we give ourselves: the minor suffering of our personal Lenten sacrifices (giving up sweets or video games, or fasting or abstaining from meat on Fridays) because they remind us of the sufferings of Christ, and His love for us.

 

But another very important way we experience this in the flesh is through the outward signs of our liturgical and prayer practices. So, please, come to the church and physically take part in the various sacraments, liturgies and other pious activities of the Church and parish in the next few weeks.

 

I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra confession times (we’ll have at least 2 priests hearing at most times, and sometimes 3 or 4). Please note a change from the original Lenten schedule: weekday confessions will begin at 6:00 pm (not 6:30 pm). I also encourage you to go to one or more weekday Masses and spend time in Adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, especially during hours of Exposition on Wednesday and Friday. In particular, please participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church—you can do so either privately or on Friday evening at 6:30 with other parishioners led by a priest.

 

I also strongly encourage you to attend next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, April 13) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00 pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather! If not, we will be in the Parish Hall). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

 

Also next Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, April 13, please consider coming to the 8:45 Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, process outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take about 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email (straychrch@aol.com) the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 8:45 Mass you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall.

 

Holy Week. Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is, of course, the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will include a schedule for Holy Week in the bulletin, but I ask you now to plan ahead today. These are the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, marked by special and unique liturgies, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the washing of the feet and the solemn procession and silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight—“can you not watch one hour with me?” Then there’s Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, with the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion, which begins at 3pm—the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening.

 

As your spiritual father I beg you to try to participate in all of these liturgies that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend that you attend the 3:00 pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. The last three years I have been amazed and moved to see standing-room-only crowds. Last year well-over a 1100 people stood in line patiently, many in tears, to venerate the cross of Christ. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”

 

And finally, I remind you that on Holy Saturday afternoon—a day which is supposed to be marked by the quiet somberness of Good Friday—we will once again be showing Mel Gibson’s incredible film “The Passion of the Christ” in the Parish Hall, beginning with a short talk by myself. This powerful movie is so helpful in reminding us what Holy Saturday is all about. I especially encourage those of you who began Lent by watching the movie “Mary of Nazareth” with us, to join us again for this moving film. (Note: Parents should use their discretion in bringing children to this graphic movie).

 

Blessed Relief in the “Family Room.” As was announced last weekend, we have a new heating and air-conditioning system in the Family/“Cry” Room. Because of some unique aspects of the church’s huge HVAC system, this room is usually too hot or too cold, and so very uncomfortable for families. After struggling to find a solution we decided to install a separate ductless system dedicated just to this room. Judging from comments from parishioners after Masses last weekend, I think we’ve solved the problem. So, moms and dads, I encourage you to make use of the Family Room, as often as you need it, without “feeling like you’re in Purgatory.”

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles