TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 12, 2017

6th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 12, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, a day when the world celebrates lovers.

So let’s talk about love today.

But not “love” the way the world thinks of it, but love the way it truly is:

love the way God thinks of it.

 

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus continuing the same Sermon on the Mount

that we’ve been reading for the last 2 Sundays.

Today Jesus is talking specifically about the commandments.

Now, many people view the commandments as just a bunch of rules,

rules that we keep under fear of going to hell, or “Gehenna” if we don’t.

This was a conception of the commandments very common in Jesus day:

especially among some of the Pharisees and Scribes,

who held a very legalistic view of the commandments,

thinking that if they could keep just the literal meaning,

then they would be saved.

 

But Jesus had a very different view of the commandments.

Elsewhere, in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

There are some who’d like to believe that with this one “new” commandment,

Jesus abolished the 10 commandments of the old covenant.

But to Jesus, keeping his commandment of love

is the same as keeping his father’s 10 commandments.

He says, in John 15:

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments

and abide in his love….”

 

And so, as we read today in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.

I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law.”

Jesus doesn’t throw out the laws the Pharisees clung to,

but instead he reinforces even “the smallest part of the letter of the law”.

But he calls us not to be shallow and depend on

a merely technical legalistic interpretation of the law,

but to go deeper and let the law encompass

all of our lives and all of our actions.

He says:

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses

that of the scribes and Pharisees,

you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

He calls us to keep the commandments with all of our hearts, in love.

 

This week we’ll be reminded of “love” everywhere we go.

So let’s think about what happens when 2 people are in love.

When two people really love each other,

when they’re in the zenith of the romance

–they don’t think in terms of minimums, but of maximums.

They don’t just think what’s the least amount of this love that I can get by with,

but they want and allow their love to seep into everything they do and think.

So they don’t want to hurt each other in any way:

and so they don’t just agree not to beat each other,

rather the very thought of inflicting even the slightest pain

–physical or emotional

–is unimaginable.

And so Jesus says, if you love me and mine

–not only “Don’t kill them,”

but, as he says:

“whoever is angry with his brother

…and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’

and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.

In other words, “don’t show others contempt or hatred in any way,

don’t even think about hurting the one you love, or that Christ loves.”

 

Also, two people in love give themselves to each other in every way they can

–they give their time, their emotions

and their physical presence to each other,

and they can’t begin to think about giving themselves

in the same way to someone else.

They don’t want to stay late at work, or to be with their friends

when they could be at home or on a date with their beloved,

This is especially seen in love of spouses,

which is so beautifully experienced

in the complete gift of their bodies to one another.

In light of this, Jesus tells us to respect the awesome meaning

of spousal love expressed in this gift.

And so he says, if you love me and mine, not only don’t commit adultery,

but also don’t even look at [someone] with lust”

because that’s the same as

“committing adultery with [them] in your heart.”

 

When you love somebody you make promises to them

and there is nothing more important than  keeping those promises

–those commitments.

When you make a date, you show up;

when you promise to be at the Church at 3:00 for a wedding ceremony

you show up.

And so Jesus says, when you make a commitment in love in marriage,

you can’t put aside that commitment

by signing a piece of paper that says you’re divorced

–no court on earth can separate what you and God have joined.

You’ve given yourself and you can’t take yourself back,

and if you try to not only take yourself back,

and also try to give yourself again in a commitment

to a different person,

you don’t marry that different person, you commit adultery.

 

And when you fall in love, you talk, and you talk all the time.

You talk about deep secrets, profound thoughts,

and even the most silly dreams and nonsense.

And as you talk you share yourself, and you become deeper and closer

in love through trust.

You don’t lie to someone when you’re in love

–and if you do, your relationship will soon die like week old roses.

So Jesus says, if you love me and mine, not only:

“Do not take a false oath… But I say to you, ….

but also:

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’

Anything more is from the evil one.”

Lying is completely inconsistent with love.

 

____

If you want true love, keep the “rules” of love,

but not as a bunch of legalistic constructs

–don’t obey the rules like a lawyer, but like a true lover.

If you follow the commandments this way, your love will be returned to you,

and you’ll know what it means when we read:

“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and nor has it

entered the human heart,

what God has prepared for those who love him,”

On the other hand, if you don’t follow the commandments as a lover,

then you will lose the one you love above all others

–you will lose God.

And those of you who have loved deeply and lost their beloved,

or come close to losing them,

you know that the loss of your beloved

can be more painful than the burning of the hottest fire,

and more confining and hopeless

than the chains of the darkest prison.

And so Christ says, if you do not follow the commandments with love,

“you will be thrown into prison.”

AND   “[You] will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”

 

____

When we leave here today we’ll be surrounded by Valentine’s Day,

as the world celebrates its understanding of love.

But the world’s notion of love is very radically different

from the love of God, of Jesus.

Most of us are at least effected by the world’s notion of love in important ways.

We find it in our schools, in the media, in entertainment.

We hear it from our teachers, from our political leaders,

and even, unfortunately, from our clergy.

St. Paul warns us in today’s second reading

that we are not to conform to this false worldly notion:

“We speak…not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age…

Rather, we speak God’s wisdom.”

The worlds’ wisdom tells us that our moral norms

must constantly be changed and adapted

to be modern, up-to date, relative or relevant

But in the Gospel, Christ gives us very specific, clear and unchanging norms,

as do Sts. Paul and Peter and John elsewhere in the New Testament,

using hard words like “unless you do this you will not enter the Kingdom”

and “Anything more is from the evil one.”

As St. Paul tells us today:

“God’s wisdom [is] mysterious, hidden,

which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,

and which none of the rulers of this age knew.”

[The rulers in governments, or Hollywood, or Wall Street, or in the media.]

 

____

Today, Scripture tells us:

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;

if you trust in God, you too shall live”

On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a day when the world looks for love,

and places before us its false and shallow notion of love,

let us pray that we may choose to follow the way of true love,

in the fullness of the law of love of Christ.

Let us follow the commandments not as lawyers, but as lovers.

And let us love as the great and perfect lover shows us,

not with fear of loosing our beloved,

but in the joy of our Beloved’s promise to his bride, and to each of us:

“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,

and nor has it entered the human heart,

what God has prepared for those who love him,”

TEXT: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 29, 2017

4th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 29, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew

is one of the most beautiful texts in all of Scripture:

the wonderful “Beatitudes” of Jesus.

“Beautiful” is perhaps the best word to describe these beatitudes

because the words “beautiful” and “beatitude”

come from the same Latin word:

“beati”, which means, blessed–as in “blessed are they.”

But some people like to think that the word “beatitude”

is related to the word “attitude”

–that the beattitudes are so called

because they describe the way our attitudes should be.

Frankly both perspectives work for me:

the beatitudes teach us an attitude

that make us “blessed” or “beautiful” in the eyes of God.

 

___

Because the 8 beatitudes are so beautiful and positive and simple,

sometimes people tend to misunderstand them as somehow in contrast

to the more negatively worded and strident 10 commandments.

But that’s really the opposite of what they are.

Rather than contrast with the commandments, they instead illuminate them.

Instead of making the Christian life simpler and easier,

in some ways they make it even more difficult and demanding.

 

____

The beatitudes are the first part of Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount”.

With these beautiful words and promises he draws his audience in,

and shows them the riches of his kingdom.

But just a few verses after them

Jesus goes on to place them in their proper context:

“Think not [He says]

that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets;

I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

 

The beatitudes take the commandments and “fulfill them”

–make them deeper, richer and more profound.

With them Jesus tells us that the law of God

isn’t just what you do with your outward actions, as important as they are,

–it also has to do with your thoughts and feelings

–with your whole heart and mind: with your ATTITUDE.

So, as he continues with his “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus tells his disciples,

for example:

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

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

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

“Again you have heard…it…said……., ‘You shall not swear falsely….’

But I say to you, ….Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’;

anything more than this comes from the devil.’”

 

In Jesus’ time, many of his fellow Jews

were being overly simplistic about the law of Moses,

especially some of the scribes and Pharisees that he calls

snakes” and “hypocrites

–an attitude that if we just avoid

doing a few particular narrowly defined things

we can avoid condemnation.

But in doing that, they lost sight of the fact that the law was there to teach them

a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of loving.

Follow the law, yes, absolutely;

but follow it with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

 

And so, he gives them the beatitudes, as not something that “you shall not” do,

but rather as something you shall do;

and not as something very narrowly defined,

but a permeating attitude with wide ranging effects;

and not something merely to avoid condemnation,

but something to gain the greatest reward:

to become blessed– beautiful–in the eyes of God.

 

____

So we hear: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Who arethe poor in spirit?

The poor here aren’t simply the physically or financially poor

–you can be dirt poor and be the most terrible person alive

–with absolutely nothing “Blessed” about you.

Jesus is talking about “the poor in SPIRIT

–the spirit is that capacity we have to be open

to having a loving relationship with God.

“The poor in spirit” are the ones who have no treasure, no possession,

not even another person,

which is more important to them, in the depths of their hearts,

than their love for God, and his love for them.

They’re the ones who hear the commandment:

“I am the LORD your God:  you shall not have strange gods before me.”

and think not simply, “I better not go to a pagan temple,”

but more importantly,

they resolve to radically change their whole attitude

and put God above all things and possessions and persons.

 

And who are “they who mourn?”

There’s nothing terribly wonderful about mourning or suffering.

When Jesus speaks about “those who mourn”

he’s talking about those who, like himself,

endure suffering patiently, accepting it as the will of God,

as somehow part of God’s plan for their ultimate benefit.

These are the ones who hear:

“Honor your father and your mother,”

and don’t just think about listening to or calling their parents

only when it’s convenient.

Instead, as children they obey their parents,

or as adults they go out of their way to be helpful to their parents,

especially as they grow older,

even if being obedient or helpful causes them real inconvenience

or even genuine suffering.

 

And who are “the Meek?”

Sometimes we think of meek persons as sort of sniveling cowards,

or people who simply keep their mouths shut.

But how can cowardice be seen at all as part of the life of Christ

who so bravely gave his life for us on the Cross?

And what man or woman could be blessed by keeping quiet,

for example, in the face of injustice?

No, to be “meek” means to recognize and accept

that God has a plan and a calling for each one of us individually:

His plan for you is a little different from your neighbor.

To be meek then, means to happily accept the different role each of us

has to play in God’s plan for the world.

And so, to Christ, the meek person hears, for example:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods”

and thinks not just about the stuff his neighbor owns,

but, more deeply, the meek person

is not jealous or envious of anything

any gift, physical, emotional or spiritual,

God has given his neighbor,

or any task God has called his neighbor to do.

So, the mother or father of a large family

doesn’t try to live like a single person with no commitments,

and the priest who is called to muddle through as a simple parish priest

doesn’t get upset that he won’t ever become a bishop.

 

____

“Blessed are the merciful…[and] the peacemakers”

–”You shall not kill.”

“Blessed are the clean of heart”

–”You shall not commit adultery.”

You can go through each of the beatitudes and, with the heart and mind of Christ,

hear the echo of the commandments.

And you can go through each of the commandments

and hear the echoes of the beautiful promises of the beatitudes.

 

But without going through all the combinations here,

let’s sum up by looking at the last and greatest of the beatitudes:

“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you

and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

In this beatitude

Jesus essentially lays out the depth of the demands of all the beatitudes,

in the same way he does when he tells us about the greatest commandment

–the words of the Old Testament that summarize all ten commandments:

“you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,

and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

Those who are blessed are those who give themselves completely in love

— in all aspects and at all times in their lives—

to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Those who hear the call to love God

not merely as a request for warm feelings and sentiment,

but of committed and sacrificial love

–love that endures even when others tell you that it’s foolish,

and even when it causes you

to lose everything else in your life that’s valuable to you:

money, home, friends, family

—even to lose your physical life itself.

 

_____

Sometimes, we can be like the scribes and Pharisees

–the “snakes” and “hypocrites.”

We can be overly simplistic, looking for loopholes,

in our understanding of what it means to love God and follow him.

But the promise of beatitude, of becoming truly beautiful in the eyes of the Lord

and living the most beautiful life–both now and forever

–involves much more than only avoiding simple technical violations

of the commandments.

It demands a whole-hearted attitude that permeates everything we do and think.

It is a complete commitment and sacrifice of our entire self to love God.

And in this beautiful attitude of complete love we will find the truth of the promise “Blessed are you.”

And we find the reason that the beatitudes close with the command to

“Rejoice and be glad.”

TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 22, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

“Make America Great again.”

We’ve heard this a lot lately.

But is it just a political slogan,

or is it truly a call for genuine reform of our nation?

And if it’s a call for reform,

is it a call for Americans to dedicate ourselves to becoming

a people governed by great administrators,

or a people who live great lives,

individually and as together as one nation.

 

The answer to these questions depends largely on what it means to be “great.”

Perhaps that depends largely on the word that follows it in the slogan: “again.”

It seems for many, especially those who make this their political motto today,

that to be great again means a return to a level of national

power, prosperity and peace that we have experienced in the past,

but which seems to have slipped out of our grasp in the last decade,

or decades.

 

Of course, some say our nation was never “great,”

pointing to certain moral injustices perpetrated or sustained

by our government or culture.

Others say America doesn’t have to become great again

because they think we’re already greater than we’ve ever been.

I would disagree with both of these.

I do think America has been great in the past, in spite of her imperfections,

as terrible as some have been.

And, sadly, I hang my head in sorrow and shame to admit to myself

that America today is clearly not as great as it once was.

And while I agree that power, prosperity and peace

are reasonable measures of “greatness” of a nation,

I would disagree with those who might tend to think these are enough

to give a full measure of greatness.

Rather, I believe that our nation is at its greatest

only when it is morally and spiritually great.

That’s not to say, morally and spiritually perfect, but morally and spiritually great:

when we strive to be a great nation in every way,

while at the same time recognizing our moral and spiritual

imperfections, flaws and sins, and try to overcome them.

 

And so, I believe that America was great when it fought for liberty

and established a nation based on “self-evident” “truths,”

the moral principles found in

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God

that “all men are created equal”

and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

 

And I believe that as it grew in the greatness of prosperity and power

it showed its true greatness by entering a bloody civil war

to end the horrible injustice of slavery.

And as it grew exponentially to lead the world in the Industrial Age,

on the way to becoming the greatest economic power on earth,

it recognized the greed and avarice that was taking hold,

and instituted laws to make sure that free enterprise capitalism

lived up to its just potential.

And as it has met every new challenge,

every temptation to abuse our great power, prosperity and peace,

we’ve seen time and time again the morality of our great nation rise up

to make sure we kept our moral greatness survived and flourished.

 

____

But where does this moral greatness come from?

Some argue that it comes from European philosophers of the enlightenment.

Certainly, it owes some of its political sense to these philosophers,

but in reality it is overwhelmingly rooted

in the morality of the religion espoused by almost all Americans

from our founding until the last few decades:

that is, Christianity.

 

____

Christian values and morals have made us truly great.

So that even in those times when we gave into sin

—whether the evil of greed, avarice, lust, envy, anger, sloth or pride—

the teachings of Christ have pulled us back toward greatness.

 

In today’s first reading we hear:

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali;

but in the end he has glorified [them] …”

And then it goes on to say,

“Anguish has taken wing….

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

In today’s Gospel St. Matthew tells us that this is a prophesy fulfilled in Jesus,

who is, as we read elsewhere in the Gospels,

the “light shining in the darkness,” “the light of the world.”

 

Sometimes America has had to slide to very low points

before we realized our failing, our great societal sins,

but “in the end” the light of Christ has always brought us back to greatness.

 

___

The light of Christ shines on Christians in so many ways,

but most basically in his teachings revealed in Scripture and Tradition.

I could stand here all day and go through all those teachings,

but they all begin with one word.

As St. Matthew tells us today, as Jesus began his public teaching,

“From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

 

“Repent.”

Christ’s fundamental teaching to repent

—to listen to all the rest of his teachings and follow them,

turning from sin to follow righteousness.

This has always been the key to American greatness.

Repenting slavery.

Repenting the greed and avarice of the overzealous materialism

of the industrial revolution.

Repent the sexual decadence of the roaring twenties.

Repent, repent, repent.

And make America great again.

 

_____

Friday, we inaugurated a new president.

Many see President Trump as a kind of savior.

He is not, no more than President Obama was the savior so many sought

when he came to power 8 years ago.

 

Our only savior is Jesus Christ.

He is the light of the world, and of our nation.

 

But in the last few years darkness has fallen over our nation,

as so many Americans have turned their back on Jesus and his teachings.

You know the list:

the normalization of sexual promiscuousness, depravity and perversion;

the degradation of the family and marriage;

the continued assault on the dignity of human life, especially by abortion;

and the attack on Christianity, especially the religious liberty of Christians,

particularly Catholics, like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And worst of all, our government, our president, led the way.

 

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali;

but in the end he has glorified [them] …

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

 

The light is not Donald Trump, or his movement.

The light is Jesus Christ.

And in the last election it wasn’t so much Trump

that so many of his Christian supporters voted for

—rather, they voted for “Repentance.”

 

_____

Will our new president allow our nation, even lead our nation, to repent?

Maybe not because he believes,

but at least because he was elected by those who do believe?

The events of the next few weeks will tell if those Christians chose well.

And we begin those weeks today,

we remember that 44 years ago today, on January 22,1973,

the Supreme Court of the United States

really started our latest radical departure from greatest

by inventing a false right to kill unborn babies

in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

Word is that today our new president will sign an executive order

denying federal funding for abortion to international groups.

Please God.

And he has repeatedly promised, and rumors continue to confirm this,

that in the next week or two he will appoint

a strong pro-life, pro-Christian, Justice to the Supreme Court.

We shall see.

And we shall pray.

 

But we don’t have to just wait and see and pray.

The light of Christ shines not just on our nation,

but also on each of us as individuals.

And the call to “repent” is not some vague impersonal appeal,

but a personal call to you and me.

As we read in today’s Gospel,

Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew and James and John:

“‘Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’

[and] At once they left their nets and followed him.”

 

So as we begin this new year, and this new political era,

let us leave our nets behind and follow Jesus.

Nets filled with typical American sins,

like greed, avarice, lust, envy, anger, sloth and pride,

typical human sins that are destroying ourselves, our families

and our nation.

Leave those nets behind and follow Christ.

And not just follow him, but like Peter and Andrew and James and John,

by the grace of Jesus Christ become “fishers of men”

—beginning with your family, and then with all your friends and neighbors

at home, at work, in school and at play.

And by our repentance, our following Christ and our fishing for Him,

we can help lead our whole nation back to Jesus

and the moral principles that have always

made our nation the greatest it can be.

 

So… Today, let us pray for our nation’s new leaders,

especially our new President,

that the light of Christ may shine on them,

and they may lead us in the light.

But whatever they do,

let us join together, united to Jesus Christ, and in His grace,

to lead ourselves, our family and friends, and our whole nation

to repent and follow Christ.

So that with Jesus, we will “make America great again”!

 

God bless America, and Praised be Jesus Christ!

TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, January 8, 2017

Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord

January 8, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The very first verses of the Bible, in Chapter 1 of Genesis, tell us:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….

Then … God said: Let there be light, and there was light.”

Think about this: “God said…and there was light”

God’s mere word brought forth light.

 

Eons later, drawing on this opening passage of Genesis

St. John the Apostle tells us in the opening passage of his gospel,

that we read at Mass on Christmas Day

In the beginning was the Word,

…and the Word was God….

All things came to be through him….”

And then he adds: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

 

For St. John when he reads Genesis and sees God speaking the word to create,

he recognizes that creative Word as God’s only Son

acting right from the beginning with the Father.

The Son, the word who became flesh and dwelt among us: Jesus.

 

And what is the first thing that is created by the Word

who would become Jesus?

“Let there be light, and there was light.”

And so, St. John would go on to write:

“What came to be through him was life,

and this life was the light of the human race;

the light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

The birth of the baby Jesus is the dawning of the light of God in the world.

So that the grown man Jesus tells us about himself later:

I am the light of the world;

he who follows me will not walk in darkness,

but will have the light of life.”

 

____

My friends, the world is divided into light and darkness.

Not merely the light of day

but more importantly the interior or spiritual light that allows us

to see clearly things as they are, to not be afraid of the unknown.

And not merely the darkness of night,

but more importantly the interior or spiritual darkness that causes us

to be blind to the truth

to stumble over obstacles unseen,

to be in constant fear of the unknown evil lurking in the shadows

The world is divided into  the light of Christ,

and the darkness of the world without Christ.

 

 

And we, as Christians are called to live with Christ, to live in his light.

To see things in light of his truth.

To see the reality of his presence and grace in our lives

so that we need never fear a thing or feel alone or abandoned.

The light of Christ that illuminates the darkness

so we can see and recognize love, good, beauty and forgiveness.

The light of Christ, that shines on even as the darkness of sin surrounds us,

like little children gathered around a campfire

that keeps us warm

and chases away the wild animals that would harm us

 

________

But so many all over the world live in darkness.

Searching for light to see in,

groping around in the night,

wearing blinders of sin and ignorance

or empty ideologies or false religions.

And so they chase after anything that sparkles,

giving some imitation of light,

something to ease the fear and emptiness, and confusion,

They scurry after and hold tight to things like

feel-good philosophies or false prophets,

or to wealth or fame or power,

or sex or drugs or alcohol.

But while these things may glitter for one satisfying moment,

they quickly fizzle into cold gloom.

And so they go from one false light to another,

sinking deeper and deeper into darkness.

 

________

But man was created to live in true light, and so he continues to search.

 

In today’s gospel we find such men, searching for the light.

Scripture calls them “Magi”—or learned men, wise men.

Men from the east who were clearly well versed in the science of the stars

as well as the theology of various religions,

including the writings of the Jewish prophets

that foretold the coming of a star in the sky

that would indicate the birth of the savior of the world.

These were not foolish superstitious men, but scientists.

But they were also human beings, and used their vast knowledge

to search for the light.

 

And they found it.

They saw a strange new beautiful light in the sky,

and that small light, that new star,

led them to the fullness of light.

“And behold, the star that they had seen

…stopped over the place where the child was.

and on entering the house

they saw the child with Mary his mother.

They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”

 

________

Today billions of people continue this search.

Billions of Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists, animists, agnostics and atheists,

long for the true light, cling to the flickers of light they find,

but still do not possess it.

 

But we do.

Just as the magi found Christ in “the house” with His Mother Mary,

Christ remains in the house he built,

living with His Mother Mary and the rest of His family,

you and I, his brothers and sisters.

The house which is His Holy Church on earth.

And so the light of Christ continues to shine in the Church,

and in each one of us who lives in his house of light.

 

Unfortunately, all too often we ignore that light.

We prefer the glitter that fizzles out.

We shield or eyes and even put on blinders,

or even run away from the light into the darkness.

 

Why do we do that?

 

Well, for one reason, sometimes light can be frightening—at least at first.

When the light of truth shines in our lives when we really allow it to.

We see the evil that surrounds us, but also the evil in our own lives,

the things that we do. That can be very frightening

when the light shines on that and we see what we have to contend with.

Imagine you’re in a dark room and you hear all a frightening noise close by.

You know, you kind of get under the covers and pull the covers over your eyes.

You like the darkness and think the darkness somehow shields you.

But then suddenly a light comes on and you see a snarling wolf

staring you in the face;

and you’re so focused on the wolf just a few feet away

that you don’t notice that he’s is chained to a stake and can’t move;

and you don’t see he’s been shot and is bleeding to death,

shot by the great big hunter standing at your side with a big smoking gun,

still read to fire again to protect you;

and you don’t notice your mother standing on your other side

smiling at you, with her arm around you.

The light of truth can sometimes be scary at first,

but the fear fades if only we have the patience

to take in the fullness of what the light shows us.

 

So as the angel said to the shepherds: “be not afraid.”

And like the magi do not be afraid to open your eyes

and see all things in the light of Christ.

 

________

And don’t keep that light to yourself,

when billions of people all over the world are searching for it.

When your neighbor next door, and your own children, parents and spouses

long for it.

 

As Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospels:

“men [do not] light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand….

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works

and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

 

First let the light of Christ that entered the world on Christmas Day,

and that entered your life at your Baptism,

and that is rekindled in Confession,

and magnified in the Eucharist,

let that light shine in your life so you can see clearly the difference

between good works and bad works.

And then avoid the bad works and do the good works

so that everyone can see the light of Christ

shining through that goodness.

 

And when I say “good works”, I don’t just mean “be nice.”

After all, right after Jesus tells the crowds to

“let the light shine through your good works”

he immediately launches into a sermon

about keeping the 10 commandments.

 

And it’s not just through your good works that you shine the light of Christ.

Remember, Christ the Light is the Word made flesh.

God spoke, and there was light.

And so you must also speak to others about Christ,

shining the light of Christ telling them about the Word of God.

 

________

My friends, as we continue with this holy Mass,

the light of Christ reveals to the eyes of faith

the great mystery of Christmas coming into our presence:

the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us,

the Body and Blood of God the Son on the altar.

In His presence we follow the example of three Magi,

who “prostrated themselves and did him homage.”

And as he comes to us in Holy Communion,

we pray that he will illuminate our hearts,

so that in His light we may see and live according to his word,

making our lives become like bright stars

shining in the darkness of the cold winter night of the world,

leading all those who are wise and seek the light of truth

to the Babe in manger in Bethlehem

and his dwelling among us in His Holy Church.

TEXT: Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of the Mary, the Holy Mother of God

January 1, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Last night

at the stroke of midnight

the whole world celebrated the passing of the year 2016

and the start of the year 2017.

2,016 years have passed, but 2,016 years since what?

Or 2016 years of what?

It’s amazing to watch TV or the internet and see people around world celebrating

– especially since so many had no clue what they were celebrating.

Because the celebration only has meaning when we remember

that it’s the celebration of the beginning of the 2017th Anno Domini

–2017th year of Lord Jesus Christ in the world.

 

But the world doesn’t even begin to understand this:

that it’s the celebration of 2017 years since

the Word became flesh and began to dwell among us.

2017 years since God united himself completely to man,

and in doing so changed mankind forever.

 

But as various media experts asked intense questions

of various military, political, economic, and science experts

about what the next year holds for mankind,

there was not one mention of the babe born in Bethlehem,

whose birth marks the very starting point for counting time.

And no one seems to even think to ask Jesus or his Church

what the future holds.

 

Instead we hear talk about prosperity and jobs,

about health care and energy,

and of course, about war and peace.

But what kind of prosperity and peace can we expect in the year 2017,

if that prosperity and peace is based on

essentially the same merely human wisdom, ideologies and political power

that caused all the problems last year, and all the years before,

if all that still dominates society.

Oh sure, there will be big changes in 2017, no doubt.

But not fundamentally.

 

How will there be true and lasting peace or justice, or prosperity or health

when we can’t even agree on the dignity of individual human life,

or the importance of the basic unit of human social life—the family?

When babies are killed in their mothers’ wombs,

and children abandon their parents when they become a burden.

When medical science sees life as a business to be profited from,

not a gift to be treasured.

When human beings make every choice based

first on their own individual pleasure or selfish fulfillment.

 

And when fanatical followers of a religion founded 1400 years ago

by a man who spread his new faith

with the edge of a sword and the point of a knife

try to imitate his bloody ways today.

 

I’ll tell you what the year 2017 will hold: a lot more of the same.

I don’t mean to be negative or discouraging,

but there will be a continued degradation of the value placed

on human life and the human family,

a continued emphasis on selfishness and self-satisfaction.

And every human life will suffer as a consequence.

 

____

UNLESS……

Unless in the new year 2017

we begin to re-center our lives on the fact that

the Word became flesh and still dwells among us.

Unless the world begins to recognize that this year and every year

is truly meant to be an

“Anno Domini”—a year of the Lord—the Lord Jesus Christ.

If this happens—if the world turns to Christ, beginning with you and me

this can and will be the most glorious and joyous of years.

Because as the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary on the day of the Incarnation:

“with God, nothing will be impossible.”

 

2017 years ago, God became man,

and ever since then the world has been trying to deny the fact.

Modern atheists and skeptics try it today,

But the denial goes back even further:

for example, in the 7th century the false prophet Mohammed

took the teachings of Christ,

minus the divinity of Christ

and anything else he found to difficult to believe

and used that as a basis for his false and flawed religion.

 

But even Mohammed found inspiration in another earlier false prophet.

Because Mohammed’s took his understanding of Christianity

from the condemned teachings of heretical Catholic priest,

named Nestorius, who had died around 200 years earlier.

You see, Nestorius, who was actually the Archbishop of Constantinople,

had taught that God the Son wasn’t really born of the Virgin Mary

—only the human being Jesus was born of Mary,

and then later God the Son entered and took over his body.

But in doing so Nestorius rejected the central mystery of our faith:

that God really became one of us to save us:

that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

 

So in the year 431 A.D. all the bishops of the Church came together at Ephesus

to condemn Nestorianism and to proclaim

that Jesus—the Baby conceived and born of the Virgin Mary—

was fully man and fully the eternal God.

This is the origin of the feast we celebrate today:

in defining as dogma about the divinity of Jesus,

the council also, with great love and tender affection,

proclaimed the dogma that Mary, the mother of Jesus,

is, therefore, the Mother of God.

 

____

Now some might say, “so what Father? today we’re celebrating the New Year!”

But the thing is, for us today, this dogma is absolutely essential

to understand the meaning and the prospects of the year 2017.

At the center of our faith is the fact that

at a specific point in historical time God the Word became flesh.

But also, right next to that central event is the reality that

this came about only with the cooperation and acceptance of

—the free choice of—the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And so, Mary, a young girl in the small town of Nazareth,

stands up for all humanity

as the angel Gabriel, sent from God, asked her, in effect:

will you accept your Saviour?

Accept him not just as a promise

or as words in a book

or as vaguely present in the temple,

but as a real person, in the flesh,

coming to live with and love you?

Will you love him as your very own,

and let him shape every moment of your life forevermore?”

And that most holy young girl,

full of grace, full of faith, hope and love for her God,

replied without hesitation:

“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord;

let it be done unto me according to your word.”

She said: “YES!”

And this “yes” of Mary, the Mother of God, is a yes made for all of us,

so that by her acceptance of the Saviour,

he would come to us too,

and she would become his mother, and our mother.

 

This is the “yes” of Mary and all of her sons and daughters in faith

who try to follow Christ with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength.

This is the “yes” which all mankind must make its own:

whether they live in year 1 A.D., or in the year 2017 A.D.

 

Today we celebrate the fact that

2,017 years ago the fruit of Mary’s “yes” entered the world.

But as St. John tells us:

“He was in the world, …yet the world knew him not.

He came to his own, and his own received him not.”

For all these years the world has still not accepted Jesus Christ.

And even those of us who have accepted him,

have so often done so haltingly or only partially:

sometimes we say “yes” to him, and sometimes we say “no,”

and sometimes, even we say “yes” to him we really mean “no.”

 

____

Today, it is right and holy—and even necessary

for us to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Because the key to true peace and true prosperity in the New Year

is very simple:

there must be a kind of incarnation

of Mary’s unequivocal and whole-hearted “yes” to Jesus

in our hearts.

Turning to the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of God and our mother,

we look to her for help, for intercession and for instruction

—to mediate to us the grace of her Son

and to teach us how to say “yes” to him,

and to let that “yes” take on flesh, or come to life,

in everything we do with our bodies,

feel with our hearts

and think with our minds.

 

_____

What will the year 2017 hold for humanity?

On its own, mankind will surely continue to stumble forward

with hatred, violence, sickness, poverty, selfishness and despair.

But if we accept Jesus Christ – truly accept him —

as the center of the universe

and the explanation of what it means to be a human being,

the year 2017 will truly become

the beginning of heaven on earth.

 

____

May Mary, the Mother of God, protect her children on earth,

and help us to accept her Son, Jesus Christ, the

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace.”

So that by the will of the Father,

the grace of the Son,

and the power of the Holy Spirit,

this year of 2017, and every year ahead of us,

will be truly

“Anno Domini”—“the Year of our Lord!”

 

Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

 

TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas, December 25, 2016

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas

December 25, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Merry Christmas!

What a great day.

So many wonderful things going on

—the family, the food, the gifts, so many things.

But of course, one of the things that makes it different from every other day is

all the great memories of Christmases past

that make this day seem bigger than life.

 

I’m sure all of you have those memories.

I know I do.

Memories of my childhood Christmases with my Mom and Dad

and brothers and sisters.

Christmases when I was a young man, having a great time with all my friends.

Christmases as a priest in the various parishes

—and spending the rest of the day with my sister and cousin,

and especially with my nieces and nephews.

 

Memories filled with warmth, kindness, generosity, and love.

 

But if I’m honest with myself, there are other memories too.

Memories that are not so happy, some even terribly sad.

Christmases without my family, when I was away from home.

Christmases with my family, that ended in arguments and hurt feelings.

Not to mention the Christmas my Mom died.

 

Christmases in parishes where the parishioners didn’t really want me there.

And even Christmases as a child when things went bad

—I still remember a Christmas when I was about 5 years old

when I ruined everyone’s day by complaining

because I didn’t get the pony I asked for.

 

Of course, these not-so-happy memories are usually easily pushed aside

by the happy ones.

But still, they’re there.

Because that’s human life.

And the sadness of these Christmas celebrations reminds us

that celebrations founded simply on human sentiment and affection

—as wonderful as they can be—

always fall short of what we wish they could be.

And the only way to make the celebration truly what it should be

is to center it on and fill it with the one whose feast it is,

the one who transforms passing human happiness

to everlasting divine joy: Jesus Christ.

 

Which is why we come here today, to this Mass.

For me, my favorite memories of Christmas always come back to Mass.

Because no matter what else happens at Mass,

even if the music isn’t up to par, or the preaching is weak,

or if the church is too cold.

Jesus always comes to us in the flesh,

just as he did as a Baby on the first Christmas morning.

 

Perhaps my favorite memory of a Christmas Mass goes back 32 years ago.

It was a Mass that changed my life.

I was about 24 at the time, about 7 years before I went to the seminary,

and really wasn’t practicing my faith—I hadn’t been to Mass in months.

So, on Christmas Eve I found myself at a party with some friends,

and let’s just say it wasn’t the kind of party I’d go today.

Not terribly scandalous, but not very Christian.

But at about 11, I left the party to join some of my family

in doing something very different—going to Midnight Mass.

Now, at the time I viewed Midnight Mass like I viewed

the Christmas Tree, presents, eggnog, and the Nutcracker

—not as something holy, but just another Christmas tradition –

it’s what we did.

 

But when I was at Mass, for some reason, all that changed.

Of course, the Christmas hymns helped some, and a decent homily helped too.

But it was at the consecration that a light went on.

The priest lifted up the host and said,

“This is my Body, which will be given up for you.”

 

That started my mind going, as it struck me: this is Christmas:

God the Son giving himself to us in a Body;

the Creator coming to us in a body, to love us, to even die for us.

And here he is, doing all this, in the Eucharist, on Christmas Night.

 

And suddenly Christmas wasn’t just about the gifts and good cheer,

but about the Creator of the Universe coming down to earth

as a vulnerable little Baby to love us and save us

—and all the profound meaning that comes with that.

 

These thoughts kept turning over in my head as Mass went on.

And then suddenly something terrible happened:

people started to go to Communion.

And instead of casually joining them as I usually did

in my infrequent visits to Mass,

I was frozen in my pew.

I wasn’t a horrible person,

but in reality, my whole life was a casual and gradual rejection of Christ,

and my celebration of Christmas had very little to do

with the love that shines from face of the Baby Jesus.

How could I go up and pretend I was in Communion with him?

 

And all that, as I say, changed my life.

And here I am.

Not perfect, as you well know, but happier than I have ever been,

in communion with Christ.

 

_____

Nowhere can we understand Christmas better than we can here at Mass.

That’s why we call it “Christmas”—it literally means “Christ’s Mass.”

Because at every Mass we come face to face with Jesus.

Although the Eucharist is first and foremost the sacrifice of the Cross,

it is also clearly the same body born in Bethlehem.

The same body that wasa given to us in Bethlehem,

that is given to us in the Eucharist.

 

The tie between Christmas and the Eucharist is very clear.

Jesus was born in “Bethlehem,” which is Hebrew for “house of Bread,”

and the Eucharist is the “Bread of Life.”

A manger is something you lay food in for animals,

and Jesus is laid in a manger to become food for us in the Eucharist.

The presence of shepherds reminds us of their sheep,

which were probably the lambs kept, even in the winter,

to be sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem, just 3 miles away.

And Jesus is the Lamb of God,

who would become the new sacrifice 33 years later in Jerusalem

—the same sacrifice re-presented at every Mass.

 

In both the Nativity and the Eucharist Christ the Lord comes to us bodily,

but in a hidden way:

as he comes neither

in the glory of the eternal Creator of the Universe,

nor covered with blood and wounds of the Cross,

but hidden,

at Christmas as a humble vulnerable Baby,

and in the Eucharist as simple food to sustain us.

At Christmas he comes to us in his Body,

vulnerable to the effects of

a cold winter and the betrayal of sinful men, like King Herod,

and in the Eucharist He comes to us in his Body

vulnerable to the effects of

cold hearts and the betrayal of sinful people, like me and you.

 

And just as he comes to us and gives himself to us

in both the Nativity and the Eucharist,

he also requires a response from us to both.

Do we respond by reducing them to mere sentimental traditions,

celebrating Christmas and going to Mass or Communion

simply because we’ve always done it or because it makes us feel good?

Or do we respond by believing He is here, He has come to love us,

and by loving Him in return?

 

____

He does come to us today

in the remembrance of Christmas

and in his real presence in the Eucharist.

At this Christmas Eucharist He says to us:

I come to you, will you receive me?

I come to free you from your sins,

to give you a life not of passing sentimental feelings

but of true love, of real and enduring happiness and peace of heart.

I come not just as a cute baby,

but as a babe who grew into a man

who taught you how to love and live as I created you to.

I come to show you how much I love you

by laying down my divine life in heaven to come as a sweet lovable baby,

who went on to lay down my human life on earth

as the suffering Crucified one.

 

One day, He says, I will die for you, but today, Christmas, I come to live for you.

Today I hide both my heavenly glory and my bloody suffering

so you can look at me and just see simple innocent, open and tender love.

So you will not run fearfully from my power or my suffering,

but run merrily to the open arms of my infant embrace.

 

He says:

In my birth as a newborn babe I show you

I have come for a rebirth for all mankind,

to make all things new.

To restore lost innocence.

To replace vice with virtue, fear with peace.

To give you my life and love to share in, if only you will accept it and follow me.

 

He says:

Maybe you don’t love me, but l love you,

and gave up so much to come to you.

Because no matter how many parties you go to,

no matter how many gifts you open,

no matter how many friends and family surround you

—they will all, eventually pass away.

But I will never pass away.

Behold, I am here with you always.

—not only in the remembrance of Christmas,

but in my word, my Church, my grace,

and, yes, in the Eucharist.

 

____

This is what he says to us at this Christmas Eucharist.

Again, how do we respond to him?

Do we respond to him like Mary, saying,

“let it be done to me according to your word”?

Or like the Kings who came to worship Him and give him gifts?

Or do we respond like the innkeepers who had no room for him?

Or like King Herod who set out to destroy this rival to his own authority?

 

It’s easy to reject Jesus today

—after all, he’s just a little Baby, and he comes to us

looking like a piece of Bread.

But why would you want to reject him?

 

____

Go on with your parties and dinners today.

Go on and open your presents and enjoy good food and drink.

And most of all, go on and bathe in the warmth

of the affection of family and friends.

All those are good things—enjoy!

But remember, all of them, every single good thing you experience today,

is a gift from the Baby Jesus on his birthday.

All that happiness is just a taste of the perfect Joy that Jesus wants to give you,

if only you will let him.

 

____

Memories of Christmases past help transform every new Christmas

into something bigger than life.

I hope you leave here today

and have the most wonderful Christmas you’ve ever had,

making new and great memories to cherish forever.

But more than that, I pray that through the mystery and grace

of this Christmas Eucharist—this “Christ’s Mass”—

and through the words of Jesus,

“this is my Body which will be given up for you,”

you will forever remember today as not only

the day you rediscovered His great gift to you,

but also the day you accepted that gift,

and gave yourself to him in return.

 

May you have a blessed and holy and truly merry Christmas.