Feast Of The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

 

We are all creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way, and we just go on doing it that way without thinking about it. This can serve an important purpose, i.e., after carefully making a certain decision we can stick with it without wasting time second-guessing or reinventing the wheel every day. But even then it’s a good idea to reassess our choices, from time to time, lest we become unwitting slaves of outdated habits.

One thing that can easily become a habit is the way we contribute to the parish’s weekly offertory. It’s easy to fall into the habit of giving a certain amount every week, year after year, without ever stopping to reassess that amount. But frequent reassessment is important. For example, over time your own ability to donate may increase or decrease: maybe you’ve been giving $5 a week since the kids were little, even though they’ve all grown up, and so has your salary. Or maybe the needs of your family and/or the parish have changed. Or maybe you’ve grown in your  understanding/appreciation of God’s generosity, or of the importance of supporting your parish family, or of the greater purpose God has for the gifts he’s given you.

So over the next few weeks, through the mail and at various Sunday Masses, I will be asking you  to prayerfully reconsider the amount of support you give to our parish, and to commit to a certain level of support going forward. That level will be entirely up to you—I will try to offer some guidance for those interested, but your gift is entirely, 100%, up to you.

I have to laugh as I do this today, as I read today’s Gospel, the story of Jesus driving the moneychangers from the Temple. This “coincidence” is clearly God’s sense of humor: I swear, this very text rings in my ears whenever I think about asking you for money for any reason. I am keenly aware that money can easily corrupt us—that parishes and pastors can get so caught up in bringing in more and more money that they become distracted from serving Christ and proclaiming the fullness of the Gospel. As St. John reminds us, it was Judas who kept the purse for Jesus. So every time I ask you to contribute to one of the many good causes we support, there’s a voice in my head saying, “remember the moneychangers….”

As a result, while I have asked you pointedly many times to give to special collections, from the BLA to the ECHO coat drive, I have very seldom even mentioned the offertory collections. In fact, it’s been seven years since St. Raymond’s has had an offertory appeal, one of the very few parishes in the Diocese that’s gone that long without one, as I’m often reminded by the Diocesan finance folks.

So, about the “moneychangers”…They were running an actual for-profit business in the temple. We are not—we’re running a parish, part of the family of God. And just as your family needs money to survive and flourish, so does our parish family. Remember, even as Jesus warned against the corrupting influence of money (Mt. 6:24), He also paid the Temple tax (Mt. 17:24ff), and had donors who provided for His fiscal needs (Lk. 8:3).

So let’s not love money—whether it’s in your pockets and bank accounts, or in the parish collection baskets. But rather let us recognize 1) all the many good things God has given each of us, 2) that we should be grateful for those gifts, and 3) that He has given them to be used for good purposes—His purposes. The first of these good purposes, for most of you, is providing for the wellbeing of your families. Now I ask you to think about the good purpose of providing for the wellbeing of your parish family.

Please pray about all this as you think about this appeal over the next few weeks. Pray the Rosary, at Mass, over Scripture, at adoration, at home as a family…. Pray sincerely and devoutly, asking the Lord and the Blessed Mother to guide you. And then give as you choose.

+ + + + +

Your Generosity to the Poor. Speaking of special collections, thanks to all who contributed to the Food Drive for Catholic Charities on October 25/26: an amazing 1,241.03 lbs. (plus $200.00 cash) was collected, well over last year’s 723 lbs. Thanks also to those who donated to last weekend’s Winter Coat Collection for ECHO. We collected 193 coats, almost all of which were in excellent condition. A special thanks to parishioner Lynn O’Connor for coordinating this and all our activities with ECHO.

 

Filipino Archbishop Here This Sunday. I remind you that retired Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan, from the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao (Philippines) will offer our regularly scheduled 5pm Mass this evening, Sunday, November 9. There will be a second collection at that Mass to aid the elderly and sick priests of his Archdiocese.

 

Election. Well, another election is over. It seems that there was good news for Catholics, as many politicians were elected who claim to support the right to life, traditional marriage and religious freedom. Let us thank the Lord for that. But as Psalm 146 reminds us: “Put not your trust in princes.” So let us redouble our efforts to work for the true good of our great nation, and let us trust in the Lord’s mercy and grace: may God bless America.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls), November 2, 2014

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls), November 2, 2014 Homily by Fr. John De Celles St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church Springfield, VA We come together today as the Church of Jesus Christ. At the same time we know that the gathering of the people we see here isn’t the entire Church. Still, we believe that in some mysterious way this and every Mass places us in a mystical communion with the whole Church: not only those present here, or even just those in other places throughout the world, but also the members of the Church already in glory –the saints in heaven– and the Church in purification–the souls in Purgatory. Today we remember in a special way All the Souls in Purgatory. This is confusing to a lot of Catholics. On the one hand, some fear Purgatory as a place of terrible torture and despair, like a prison. And on the other hand, others simply ignore or reject the teaching all together, thinking of it as the result of some early pagan superstition, or medieval preoccupation with sin and punishment. But Purgatory is none of these things. First of all it’s not the result of pagan superstition or medieval fears, but of Biblical faith. For example, the second book of the Maccabees tells us that Judas Maccabbees, 2 centuries before the birth of Jesus, prayed for the dead, [quote] “beseeching that the sin which [they] had been committed might be wholly blotted out.” And it goes on to tell us: “to pray for the dead…was a holy and pious [thing].” The thing is, if the souls of the dead who die in sin are in heaven, they have no need of prayers, and if they are in hell the prayers would be useless. And so this passage from 2nd Maccabees reflects the ancient Jewish belief in a third place, or state, or whatever you want to call it, where the dead who die in sin go from which they can still go from there to heaven —a place where prayers for them will make a difference. But Purgatory is not a terrible place of torture and despair. While St. Paul speaks of a cleansing fire, the Church has taught that the pain of purgatory can be understood in at least 3 ways. First, its like the pain associated with any change. When we die we have to change from being attached to the things of this world —we have to let go of our bad habits and sinfulness. And this kind of change is hard: like an athlete getting himself into shape, the practice and exercizing is painful; or like giving up some bad habit, smoking or overeating —this can be agonizing. The second way of understanding the pain of purgatory is as primarily the pain of loss, In purgatory the souls are so keenly aware that they are so close and yet still deprived from the perfect and complete happiness of heaven. Finally , there’s the pain of a perfect realization of every single sin that they committed in life —and the terrible pain that these sins have caused to God, and to their neighbor. On the other hand, these souls also experience intense spiritual joy. Like the athlete preparing for the contest, the practice itself, the self betterment, is a rewarding thing —the soul in purgatory experiences the joy of becoming more and more like God created him to be. But also, the joy is found in the fact that the souls are absolutely sure of their salvation –they know that they will soon live forever with God. So as St. Catherine of Genoa wrote: “I do not believe it would be possible to find any joy comparable to that of a soul in Purgatory, except the joy of the Blessed in Paradise. For every sight, however little, that can be gained of God exceeds every pain and every joy that man can conceive without it.” To understand Purgatory is difficult, but perhaps we can begin with a key phrase from St. John’s Book of Revelation that “[N]othing unclean will enter [heaven].” This text makes sense because God is the all-perfect one, so there can’t be even the slightest imperfection in heaven. Think about this. Let’s take 2 people–Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and a common ordinary sinner like, say, me. The spiritual differences between him and I are in many ways like the differences between day and night. He seems holy, so unattached to things of this world, to even the most venial and small sins. I on the other hand–although I hope I’m not the worst sinner in the world –am still very much attached to things, and I commit venial sins all the time: I’m impatient, lazy, prideful. If Pope Benedict were to die today he seems to me to be extremely ready to enter heaven: he indeed seems to have nothing unclean about him: like a bright lamp shining light of Christ in some of the darkest corners of the earth. But if I were to die today, there’s no way that I would even try to argue that I am as pure and clean in the eyes of God as he was: any shine about me is dulled and dimmed by my imperfections and sins. So it seems that even though I may never do anything seriously evil, even if I’m just a common venial sinner, according to St. John’s teaching I’m in big trouble if I die today, because he says: “[N]othing unclean will enter [heaven].” But on the other hand, Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” So if both of these two concepts are true, I’m not in big trouble, because somehow between death and heaven I can be transformed and become perfectly purified. As St. Paul says elsewhere, somehow I “will be saved, but only as through fire.” Purified like gold in a fire. The teaching on Purgatory then, is essentially a teaching reflecting the great mercy of God. Because God could simply say that anyone not perfectly living out his will and free from all inordinate attachments to the world cannot enter into heaven. So Pope Benedict perhaps could go, but many of us in this room would never have a chance. But that’s not God’s way: he is Our Father who loves us so much that, unless we cut ourselves off from him by an act of unrepented grave sin, he will bring us to his heavenly banquet. But like a loving Father he first washes us–purifies us— before we sit down with the family for the banquet. Some say that purgatory is irrelevant or unimportant to us. And some would say that a loving God would never make us go through all this. But the thing is, this is exactly what a loving God would do: he would extend his perfect love even to those who have loved him imperfectly. And so we come to see that purgatory is of great relevance and importance to us. First of all, it can be a tremendous source of hope and consolation. For example, I know people–and you probably do too— who can’t fathom how they could ever get to heaven given the terrible sins they know or think they’ve committed: the idea of purgatory makes sense to them, and gives them hope that God really can love them and that heaven is in their reach. Or think of the families who mourn their departed family members. So often–especially as they try to deal with the immediate grief that comes with death –they speak about the dead as if they were living saints who went straight to heaven. But when the grief of loss subsides often the reality overcomes them that their mother or father or spouse or child wasn’t really as perfect as the eulogies said. Or they realize that they themselves were somehow negligent in showing their love for them when they were alive –and guilt understandably overwhelms them. Purgatory is a perspective on God’s love that gives them hope. It makes it possible to understand that not only people like Pope Benedict can go to heaven, but that even a common sinner like you or me, or our moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters can also go to heaven. And it makes it possible to keep giving to them after they’ve gone, by giving our love by our constant prayers for them. And this is the greatest reason purgatory is relevant and important to each of us: they need our prayers! Because if the souls in Purgatory are our brothers and sisters we must love them enough to pray for them –to help them during their purification. How sad it is that so many Catholics hesitate to pray for their beloved dead. Some think it dishonors the dead to assume that they’re in Purgatory. And some think their loved one was too holy—they simply have to be in heaven. But if they were that holy then they would be the first to tell us to pray for them. My Mother died about 12 years ago. She was the holiest, best Catholic I ever knew. And so I really think she’s in Heaven, so I pray to her every day. But I also pray for her in case she’s in Purgatory, because she was so humble she used tell all the time, that if I didn’t pray for her when she was dead she’d come back and spank me. My worst fear is getting to Purgatory and finding her still waiting there because I didn’t pray for her —and her spanking me then. Or take St. Monica mother of the great St. Augustine, who told him on her death bed in the year 387: “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.” Or as St. Theresa of Avila, the great mystic and doctor of the Church, told her followers on her death-bed 1200 years later: “don’t let them call me a saint when I’ve died —then they won’t pray for me!” If we love them, we must pray for the dead. That’s what we do for people we love—we prayed for them in life, we have to pray for them in death. Because prayer is an act of love —it is the greatest act of love we can do for someone, because it asks God who is all powerful to help them. Now, God doesn’t need our prayers—even for the living: he knows what every one needs before we asks, and he loves them even more that we do. The thing is, he wants us to pray for them because he wants us to love them, and show that love by our actions —our prayers; and to bring him into that love, to recognize his love and power, and that in the end all things depend on his love. And the greatest of prayers we can offer for them is the Mass. Because the Mass is simultaneously the actual re-presentation of the great prayer of Christ on his Cross, and the prayer of the Resurrected Christ at the right hand of the Father. And to this perfect prayer Christ unites and perfects the prayers of His Church. So at this Mass of All Souls Day —as at every Mass— let us join in the prayer of the whole Church of Christ –the pilgrim Church on earth, the glorified Church in heaven and the Church being purified in purgatory –as it becomes the perfect worship of God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, and the perfect prayer for both the living and the dead. And our prayers of intercession become prayers of thanksgiving as we rejoice in confidence that although “[N]othing unclean will enter [heaven],” the merciful Jesus also promises us that: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, …and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God …rest in peace. Amen.

Commemoration of All Souls Day

A lot going on this weekend and this week. First, today, November 2, is the Commemoration of All Souls. The purpose of this feast is mainly to pray for the dead. This prayer is directed not for those who are in Heaven already, as they do not need prayers; and certainly not for those who are in Hell, since prayers would be useless. Rather, we pray for those in Purgatory, who are being prepared for their entrance into Heaven.

Many Catholics nowadays wrongly think Purgatory is an outdated remnant from the Middle Ages, even though Christian belief in Purgatory is rooted in Jewish doctrine (2 Maccabees 12), and was well established in the early Church. Many other Catholics, in their grief, prefer to think of their departed loved ones as already being in Heaven, and can’t bear the thought that they might be in Purgatory.

But the doctrine of Purgatory is not something to fear or avoid, because it is a doctrine of God’s love and mercy, and reflects the reality that none of us is perfect. All of us sin or cling to things of this world—however small or seemingly insignificant. But Scripture tells us “nothing imperfect [or “impure”] shall enter” into Heaven (Rev. 21:27)—and rightly so, since Heaven is about perfect happiness, perfect love, etc… Given this, and confident in Our Lord’s mercy and His desire for all to be with Him in Heaven, Christians have always believed that between death and Heaven we pass through a state of purification, or purgation, where we’re cleansed from all imperfections, i.e., made perfect. This state, or “place,” we call Purgatory.

Now, we must remember that Purgatory is NOT anything like Hell, and all the Souls in Purgatory are good and “worthy” of eternal joy in Heaven—we call them the “Holy Souls.” So thinking of them as in Purgatory is not an insult but praise. Moreover, these Souls are certain they are going to Heaven, so they are filled with a joy beyond anything experienced on earth.

But we must also remember that there is suffering in Purgatory. The simplest way for many of us to understand this is to think of the suffering related to change. All change is difficult. Consider the person who is trying to lose weight, or exercising for an athletic competition. The effort involved in change is painful, but as you see progress you are also invigorated and happy, seeing your goal approach.

Even so, since 1) Purgatory involves pain, and 2) we want our beloved dead to swiftly enter the joys of Heaven, we should never neglect praying for them. Yes, in our grief we may be inclined to deny their imperfections, but in our love for them we remember that they deserve our prayers. And if they are already in Heaven, no prayer is wasted, since every prayer is an act of love, and they hear each prayer as telling how much we love them.

So in love, let us pray for our beloved dead today. And let us also remember all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us pray especially for those “most abandoned,” the individual souls who no one else remembers to pray for.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithful departed, especially the most abandoned, rest in peace.

 

Today is also “Vocation Awareness Sunday,” and Mr. Blaise Radel, one of our Arlington seminarians (Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio) will be speaking at the end of all the Masses to promote vocations. I have known Blaise since he was a little boy, and he has served many Extraordinary Form Masses here at St. Raymond’s, so I am very happy to welcome him back to our parish.

God is calling many of our young men and women—members of our families—to the special vocations of priesthood or religious life. It is so easy to resist this call; I know, I did that until I was 31 years old. But there is nothing to fear. Yes, it can be a demanding life, but no more demanding than the life of a spouse and parent, and there are so many rewards in this life and the life to come. And there is nothing better than to live one’s life knowing that you are doing what God has called you to do.

I encourage all of our young people to pray and consider if God is calling you to one of these special vocations. And I strongly encourage all families, especially parents, to help their children or siblings in pursuing this call. It is a great blessing to have a priest or friar or a nun in the family. And if you love them, and wants what’s best for them, help them to accept God’s plan for them. Don’t push, just encourage and support.

Let us pray for all those discerning a vocation to priesthood or religious life, especially those in our own families and our parish. Remember particularly our parishioners who are already in formation, including Teri Tolpa (Sisters for Life), and Jacob McCrumb and James Waalkes (Arlington seminarians); and don’t forget Blaise Radel.

 

Pro-Life “Thank Yous.” A quick but heartfelt thanks to all those who participated in “40 Days for Life”—and there were so many of you! Another quick “thanks” to Noelle Zorzi, a student at Robinson High School, who participated in a “Pro Life Day Of Silent Solidarity” in honor of the babies who never received a voice. She was silent throughout the whole school day, and carried a card explaining why. God bless you, Noelle, and any others who joined in, for your great courage to be a witness to life for your peers.

 

Filipino Archbishop Here Next Sunday. I am delighted to announce that retired Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan, from the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao (Philippines) will offer our regularly scheduled 5pm Mass next Sunday, November 9. There will be a second collection at that Mass to aid the elderly and sick priests of his Archdiocese.

 

Constant Contact. In the last few months the parish office has been using the service Constant Contact to send mass-emails out to all parishioners to remind of them of important events. It is my intent to send these out very sparingly, maybe once or twice a month. If you haven’t received several of these emails from us please either check your computer’s settings that might be blocking them, or send us your current correct email address to make sure you are on our list. Email us at: straychrch@aol.com.

 

Election. In the last month I have preached and written about the importance of the election this Tuesday, November 4. Catholics can disagree on many issues, but not on the key issues of defending the right to life, traditional marriage and religious liberty. So remember your solemn and grave duty to vote this Tuesday and to vote like a Catholic.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

High Schoolers! Do Not Miss Father De Celles Talk Tonight!

Father De Celles is offering a series of four talks for high school students. These talks will take place in St. Raymond’s parish hall on Sunday evenings from 6:30pm to 7:45pm. All high school students are invited and encouraged to take part in these talks which are scheduled for:

  • October 26 (TONIGHT)
  • December 7
  • February 8
  • April 19

Parents are free to sit in on these classes if they choose, although this is not expected or preferred. The information given and discussed during these talks will be based on the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Topics for these discussions will include abortion, contraception, marriage, and homosexuality.

Although Father intends to be as discreet as possible, respecting the modesty of your child(ren), these topics will necessarily involve some very direct language. It is with this in mind, that mandatory written parental consent is required for students planning to attend each of these talks. A separate permission slip will be sent out prior to each talk.   The topic for discussion on October 26 will be abortion (this will also include some discussion of contraception).

Please complete permission slip (located under high school events under the Youth Apostolate on this site) and have your child(ren) bring it with them to the talk.

For those interested, we will be having a high school only bon-fire social directly following the talk tomorrow evening, from 7:45-8:30pm. Feel free to bring some fix-in’s for s’more makin’!!

If you do not attend the talk, you are expected to go to Religious Education class during your regularly scheduled time.

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Extraordinary Synod on the family ended last week by disappointing the media and those within the Church who are unhappy with the teaching of Christ on marriage and sexuality handed down to us through 2000 years of His Church teaching. The Synod’s final report, or relatio, completely rejected the approach of the preliminary report, with its confusing, muddled and potentially errant language, and instead reported in straightforward language the authentic concerns of faithful Catholic families and Catholic teaching. While addressing each topic with charity and sensitivity, the Bishops rejected the proposals to allow “divorced and remarried” Catholics to receive Holy Communion and the preliminary report’s very confused language regarding those with same-sex attraction. This final relatio/report is given to the Holy Father for his consideration, and is now the starting point for next year’s (October 2015) Ordinary Synod of Bishops which will  further consider these topics.

In the end, the only “news” to come out of the Synod was the public revelation that several of the Cardinals and Bishops of the Church still have an incomplete understanding of the Church’s teaching on marriage, family and sexuality, some still clinging to approaches discredited and rejected not only throughout the history of the Church, but also specifically by Blessed Pope Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Although this does not come as a surprise to me, it is still amazing to me, especially after 35 years of the absolutely unambiguous teaching by St. John Paul and Pope Benedict. One of the greatest of the many gifts St. John Paul gave to the Church was his rich explanation and defense of the ancient teaching on these matters in what is commonly called his “Theology of the Body.” Instead of building on this beautiful foundation, there seems to be many cardinals and bishops, some in powerful positions, who wish to discard all that and replace it with an erroneous theology built on poor scholarship, false mercy, and secular ideology.

In sum, nothing has changed, except that now the dangerously confused views of some cardinals and bishops have been revealed. Oh, and one other thing has changed: many of the Catholic faithful are more confused than they were a month ago. Let us pray, through the intercession of St. John Paul and St. Raymond, that these cardinals and bishops may see the error of their ways and work to defend the true teaching of Christ and His Church.

 

“60+ parking”. You may have noticed that next to the Handicap Parking near the Groveland Drive entrance to the church, we’ve added a special parking space reserved for “60+ Parking.” We will be adding several similar parking spaces next to it in the coming days. No law mandates these spaces, but a parishioner suggested we reserve them for folks who are 60 years of age and older who, although not officially “handicapped” or disabled, might find them helpful. There will be no policing of these spaces, only the law of charity binds you. (Note: under the “law of charity,” I have no problem with someone younger than 60 but with a real need—maybe an expectant mother with a difficult pregnancy—slipping into one of the spaces.) In any case, I encourage those who need them to make use of them, and those who don’t need them to charitably respect their reserved status.

 

FOCUS, Daniel Paris. A few weeks ago I reminded you of one of our (former) parishioners, Daniel Paris who spent the last 2 years evangelizing on college campuses with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, with many of you providing the financial support to sustain him. This year Daniel has joined the headquarters staff of FOCUS in Denver, but he is still depending on donor support. Daniel will be in the Narthex after most Masses this weekend. Please stop by to chat with him, and to consider lending him your financial support.

ALL SAINTS DAY. Next Saturday, November 1, is the Solemnity of All Saints, when we remember all the Saints in Heaven, especially those who are not “canonized” (maybe your grandmother or a beloved child). It also reminds us that each of us is called to one day be a saint in Heaven, by living a faithful and holy life here on Earth. However, because it falls on a Saturday this year, it is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation this year. Even so, I encourage you all to attend either the regular 9am Mass, or the special 12noon Mass.

 

ALL SOULS DAY. Next Sunday, November 2, is the Commemoration of All Souls, when we pray for all the souls who are awaiting entrance into Heaven as they are being purified in Purgatory. I invite you all to pray for the dead every day, but especially on this day and throughout the month of November. Because of the special love the Church has for her dead, the Mass for All Souls will be celebrated throughout the Church next Sunday, in place of the regular 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time.

 

Halloween. Of course the day before these, Wednesday October 31, is “Halloween.” I’ve written before about my concerns about this day, especially with rise of paganism and Satanism in our country, concerns confirmed earlier this year by the Satanic “Black Masses” celebrated at the Oklahoma City Civic Center and scheduled but canceled at Harvard. Please remember that this week should be mainly about the Saints and Holy Souls, and not evil, satanic or witchy things. Please, remind your children that “Halloween” means “Holy Eve,” or “All Saints’ Eve,” and that the candy they  receive is only a small foretaste of the sweet delights shared by those who love the Lord, obey His commandments and enter into Heaven.

 

Novena Prayers for the Election. The election is only 9 days away. I ask that all of St. Raymond’s parishioners lift up the elections to the Lord Jesus’ care. Specifically, I propose that for nine days, beginning today, Sunday, October 26 and ending Monday, November 3, all parishioners join in praying one or more of the following each day: 1) the Rosary; 2) the Novena to St. Thomas More; and/or 3) the Prayer for Religious Freedom. I also propose that we each offer up some small sacrifice, perhaps skipping a meal, giving up meat or beef or sweets.

Also, at end of all Masses, before the customary Hail Mary and Prayer to St. Michael, we will pray together the Prayer for Religious Freedom.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 19, 2014

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 19, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,

and to God what belongs to God.”

This is a very interesting text to read less than 3 weeks before the elections

Some try to use this text to tell the Church to mind it’s own business

and stay out of public affairs, especially elections

Others, however, use it to promote the Church’s involvement in politics.

So what is the meaning of Christ’s dichotomy between Caesar and God?

 

Like most texts in Scripture, this one has multiple layers and facets.

First, Jesus is talking about relationship between the Church and the state.

Historically, the Old Testament reveals that

when God established Israel as a great nation

he made Moses it’s absolute ruler, as well as prophet and priest:

a true theocracy.

And it would continue as a theocracy for 700 years

until Israel was conquered and ruled for another 700 years

by a series of foreign pagan kings.

 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.

Here we see 2 groups who were deeply involved in the political struggles of Israel.

The Herodians who were the “pro-Caesar” Jews

and had no interest at all in a return to a Jewish religious monarchy.

And the Pharisees, devout Jews who longed for the coming of the Messiah

who would reestablishing the Jewish religious state.

And into their midst walks Jesus, who seems to be the messiah,

which is why the Herodians feared him.

But he’s not the kind of messiah the Pharisees were hoping for,

which is why they feared him.

 

And so they joined forces to force Jesus to take sides in their political debate,

so that one or the other can have him arrested and executed.

 

But he does not take sides.

He simply says:

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,

and to God what belongs to God.”

 

He’s is not terribly concerned about the state or creating an earthly kingdom,

but about the conversion of individual hearts and lives.

So in this short and pithy saying he rejects both

the wall of separation and the religious monarchy.

 

But he also means something more.

Remember what he says later to Pontius Pilate:

“You would have no power over me

unless it had been given you from above.”

And then remember the words from today’s 1st reading from Isaiah,

as God says to Cyrus the Persian,

one of the foreign pagan kings who ruled over Israel:

“For the sake ….of Israel…

I have called you by your name, giving you a title….”

But then he adds: “I am the LORD and there is no other.”

 

Now we see more clearly what Jesus meant:

civil authorities have their own proper authority,

but in the end that and all legitimate authority comes from God.

 

 

Now, some people today might say that teaching is un-American.

But to me it seems to echo in the words of our nation’s founding document:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,

that all Men ….are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable rights

That to secure these Rights,

Governments are instituted among Men.”

 

Here the founder’s based our nation’s whole existence on God—the Creator—

and hold that our government exists only

to protect what God has given to man.

This seems to be very close to what Jesus told the Herodians.

 

Now, it is true that over the centuries the Church has often become

more involved in secular government than Christ would seem to have preferred:

sometimes good and for noble reasons,

but also, sometimes for the bad intentions of certain Churchmen.

In my opinion, the more closely the church directly involved itself in secular government,

the more likely it was to be involved in calamities.

 

Eventually western society rejected the interweaving of the state and religion.

And this rejection came most radically

in the form of 2 great 18th century revolutions.

 

In one of these revolutions—the French Revolution—

the revolutionaries tried to eradicate the Church altogether,

killing or exiling 10’s of 1000’s of Frenchmen

who simply wanted to practice their Catholic faith.

In the end this was not a separation of Church and state

but merely a new example of the old problem:

a new state persecuting the Church.

 

But the other revolution was very different.

That was the American revolution.

It did not seek to banish God or Christ, or Christians from its shores.

In fact the founding fathers saw religion

not only as a fundament human right,

but also as essential to the success of the American experiment.

They believed that the only way America could have

a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people.

And they believed that religion was essential for this to happen.

As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,

religion and morality are indispensable supports….”

And he warned us that:

“reason and experience both forbid us to expect

that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

 

And here we come back to Jesus’ teaching about Caesar and God.

Yes, the government has a legitimate autonomy from the Church.

But no government can ever usurp God’s authority,

whether by suppressing the rights God has given to the people,

or by redefining good as evil, or truth and lies.

 

Granted, Churchmen have sometimes failed to recognize

the legitimate authority of the secular governments.

But when Churchmen have simply stuck

to teaching the truth and morality passed on to us by Christ

–of reminding Caesar exactly what it is that belongs to God–

they have fulfilled their God-given mission

and advanced the good of all mankind.

 

Of course, some today continue to vehemently disagree

even with this indirect “interference” by the Church.

They say, if people follow their Churches’ moral teaching when they vote

that would be imposing one denomination’s morals on the whole society?

 

The thing is, some basic moral principles transcend denominational teaching

—they are not merely the teaching of “the Church” but

part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,”

or what the Declaration of Independence calls

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

Moral principles so basic that any rational human being

should figure them out all on their own without a priest teaching them.

For example, any rational thinking person can figure out

that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent people.

 

Unfortunately, though, all too often we don’t think rationally

—we let our passions, like hatred or greed, or envy or lust, lead us in our actions.

And sometimes we just don’t have time to sit and think things through,

as if we were all professional philosophers.

So it’s important for someone—like the Church–to call us to task,

to think, and to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”

—the Natural Law.

 

Because without that governments will inevitably enact laws

that are contrary to both human reason

and the good that our creator intended:

all we will have is codified confusion, legalized injustice.

For example, they might enact laws that deny the natural God-given

right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”;

or the God-given freedom of religion or speech.

Clearly, no merely “Human Law” can be “good” or just or even binding

if it contravenes “Natural Law.”

 

And so we see a 2nd facet of Christ’s saying today:

we must obey Caesar only as long as

Caesar is consistent with the truth that God imprints

in the hearts and reason of all men, religious or not.

Even if man needs to be reminded of these truths from time to time,

by the Church, or by amateur philosophers like the founders of our great nation.

 

 

But how do we apply Christ’s teaching about Caesar and God in 2014?

In today’s Gospel the Herodians come to Jesus with flattering words:

“we know … that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

…you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.”

But Jesus does not respond so sweetly.

Instead he calls them what they are: “hypocrites,”

because they don’t really want the truth from Jesus;

and they don’t really want him to “teach” them “the way of God”;

and while they call themselves “Jews”

they have chosen to render to Caesar what belongs to God alone.

 

 

Today millions of Catholics do the same thing.

41 years ago Human Law discovered in our constitution

a false right to kill unborn babies,

“false” because it is directly in opposition to the natural law

that prohibits us from killing innocent human life,

and to particularly protect the lives of children.

But ever since the false right to abortion was discovered,

all sorts of other new false rights have followed,

like the right to force others pay for your medical procedures,

like contraception, even when they consider them grossly immoral,

or the right for two men or two women to marry each other,

even though that is so obviously contrary to the natural law

that no society in the history of the world has ever recognized it.

 

The thing is, if we reject one part, or three parts of the Natural Law,

how do have a claim on the rest of it?

How can we say that God gives us the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,

if we don’t believe that God has established any rights or duties at all

—natural law?

 

And yet, for 41 years isn’t’ this exactly what Americans have been doing

in the voting booth?

Any candidate who says he stands for human rights

but supports government policies that override

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

that candidate, like the Herodians,

has given Caesar authority over the things of God

and, like them, is also nothing less than a hypocrite.

 

And, frankly, any Catholic who supports or votes for that candidate

is an even worse hypocrite.

Because while Jesus calls the Herodians “hypocrites” once in today’s Gospel,

in the very next chapter of Matthew Christ turns on the Pharisees

and calls them hypocrites 6 times.

They’re worse than the Herodians

because they should know better than to play games with God’s law.

And Catholics know the Church teaches infallibly that

abortion, contraception and homosexual acts are grave moral evils,

as is forcing Christians to support these immoral acts.

But even so, millions of Catholics still give more credit

to public opinion polls, or to the opinion of the media or a political party,

than to the truth taught by the Church.

They should listen to the warning Christ reserves for Pharisees:

“”Woe to you, …Pharisees, hypocrites!

…You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

 

 

Finally, some say,

“I vote for the candidate that will give me money, or help me pay my bills,”

and some say, “I vote for the candidate who won’t take my money in taxes,

and will allow me to make more money in a freer market.”

I am very sympathetic to economic concerns we all have.

But in today’s Gospel, what does Jesus have in his hand that belongs to Caesar?

A Roman coin: money.

This reveals a 3rd facet of this text: money isn’t that important to Jesus.

 

After all, who was it that gave you all you have

—or the money and skills, the health and the breaks, to get what you have?

Was it Caesar, or was it God?

And at night is it Caesar you pray to

or do you pray to God to bring us back from the precipice?

Can the government really guarantee your health and wealth?

Or can it, by itself protect us from the evil that might destroy us,

whether war, disease, old age…whatever?

Remember what Jesus says elsewhere:

“….seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,

and all these things shall be yours as well.”

 

 

In the coming weeks, we face some very important decisions.

But as you make those decisions, ask yourself: how will I explain this to Jesus?

How will you explain it to him if you rendered unto Caesar what really belonged to God?

What will you say to Christ?

And what will Christ say to you?

Let us pray that it will not be those 2 terrible words

he once spoke to both the Herodians and Pharisee’s:

                        “you hypocrite.”

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Extraordinary Synod of Bishops. This last week, as 200 bishops from around the world gathered at the Vatican for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops discussing family and evangelization, the press was all abuzz about a supposedly new report from “the Vatican.” They acted almost as if the Church was about to set aside its ancient teaching on sexuality, marriage and family in favor of a more 21st century and worldly approach to divorce, remarriage, cohabitation and “gay marriage.”

 

The real story is that at the midpoint of every Bishops’ Synod a very small committee of bishops produces a brief report summarizing the open discussions (mainly speeches) of the Synod so far. This report is then distributed as a working document to help the Bishops during the second half of the Synod as they gather privately in small groups to intensify their discussions and work out specifics of final conclusions. At the end of those small group discussions, their conclusions will be summarized in a final report which will then be voted on by all 200 bishops in the Synod. If that document is approved (as I understand it, approval requires a two thirds majority of the bishops) it will then be sent on to the Pope as the Synod’s official recommendations. In this case, with this Extraordinary Synod, the Pope has announced that he will not issue the usual papal teaching document that follows a Synod (an “apostolic exhortation”). Rather he will forward this report to another Ordinary Synod of Bishops that is gathering this time next year (October 2015) to discuss “the vocation and the mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.”

 

In other words, the document released this week was the equivalent of an “internal memo” not actually drafted or approved by the bishops themselves. It is meant to be used to facilitate internal discussions, not to teach, much less to change anything in the Church. It has no authority whatsoever, magisterially or disciplinary. These kinds of documents are so unimportant almost no one outside of the bishops gathered in Synods ever bothers to read them. Only the ignorant and biased press would place such great importance on them.

 

Moreover, many of the Synod bishops, seeing the outrageous press coverage, have publicly denounced both the press reports and the preliminary report as not only not accurately or fully reflecting the actual discussions of the Synod, but also being filled with theological and doctrinal ambiguity and errors, and to remind us that even the final report from the Synod has no teaching or disciplinary authority on its own since it only represents the suggestions of only 200 bishops (or even only two-thirds of those).

 

All this reminds me of the manipulation that took place during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), or “Vatican II.” It is well documented how certain factions of bishops and theologians at Vatican II used the press to manipulate public expectations and understanding of the Council and its documents. This “spin” led to the wide-acceptance of what Pope Benedict XVI called an erroneous “hermeneutic of discontinuity”—as if Vatican II changed everything about the Church. Both St. John Paul and Benedict, who as young men had played important roles at Vatican II, spent their whole pontificates trying to undo this gravely erroneous understanding. The same thing seems to be happing with this Synod, except this time the press is much more often a co-conspirator. I pray that this current manipulation will not cause the same kind of terrible confusion that happened after Vatican II.

 

Because of the almost total unimportance of the “preliminary report” I will not comment on either the content of the report itself or the particular claims in the media. Besides, they are already completely outdated, because as I write this column, the Synod bishops are meeting to work out their actual final recommendations to the Pope. And as you read this they would have most surely finished that process, and perhaps even voted on the final report to His Holiness. So let us pray that the Holy Spirit may save the Church from the terrible confusion that comes not from God but from weak and sinful men. And I encourage you to remember two things. First, whatever comes from this Synod, remember to be very careful in interpreting what you hear in the biased and/or ignorant press about Catholicism. And second, understand everything in the days ahead in the “hermeneutic of continuity”—there is one Catholic Church, before and after this Synod, and everything taught today and tomorrow must be understood only in the light of and as being consistent with the Catholic teaching of the past two millennia.

 

Annual Parish Financial Report. Today’s bulletin includes an insert providing a summary of our financial results for the fiscal year June 30, 2014. While the previous year saw a slight increase in collections, this year saw a 5% decrease, in the amount of $102,000. Moreover this year also saw a 5% increase in operating expenses of $87,000. As a result net income of $469,628, was down from the previous year by 33%, or $230,000. Increases in expenses were largely budgeted and attributable to additional paid staff and unusual maintenance and construction expenses (including cry room improvements, refinishing exterior doors, a new church boiler, and new rectory hvac units). The decrease in collections, however, was not expected, especially since there was a 3% increase in registered parishioners.

 

During the year we paid down our bank loan by $497,628, leaving us $1,687,143 in debt. Our cash balance at year end was a strong $1,193,697.

 

If there are any questions about this report or any other financial matters do not hesitate to contact me. I once again thank you for your continued generosity, and let us all thank Almighty God for his continuing munificence.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles