TEXT: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 20, 2016

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

November 20, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

To many people, being in a positon of authority

—whether it’s the absolute authority of some kings or emperors,

or the limited authority of presidents, governors, senators,

or even pastors—

to many it’s all about having personal power over others.

Even when he uses the power to do what he thinks is good for them,

—it’s about what he thinks is good for them, not what necessarily truly is good for them, or what they think is good for themselves.

It’s about his power to impose his will on them.

 

But that’s not what we celebrate today on this feast of Christ the King.

Of course, Christ is the all-powerful King of the Universe.

But for the omnipotent Jesus, Kingship is not about mere domination,

but about generosity.

It’s not about imposing his will on us,

but offering us, if we want it, everything that is good for us.

Even giving us, generously, the power to choose to take it or not.

And he not only offers us everything we need,

but also, whatever he gives us is infinitely more generous and wonderful

than anything we could dream of.

 

Perhaps one of the most striking yet simple examples of this is found in today’s Gospel

as the good thief asks his King:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “”Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The thief asks only to be “remembered”,

but Christ promises him not only that, but “paradise today”.

 

God’s generosity to man begins in the very beginning.

After creating the whole universe

God, as sovereign Lord of the universe,

first gave life to man,

but then gave all his creation over to man as a gift.

 

But even this wasn’t enough for him to give—he wanted to give us something more:

to give us a share of his own life and love, to live and love with him forever.

But he also gave us free will, as the story of Adam and Eve tells us.

And in that free will God allowed them and us

to choose to reject his most generous offer.

 

Even so, God never took back the offer.

Instead, he set about a plan to help us to come back and accept the gift.

And so he eventually established Israel as his own people,

the doorway he would eventually enter through to give us another chance.

 

Now, when God first established the nation of Israel, he established it without a king.

They were governed by Judges, and local rulers.

God told them that the only King that they should have was Him

–God was their true king.

And what better king could they have?

 

But as time went on the people demanded a human King.

God warned them that a human king

would fall prey to the temptations of worldly power

imposing his will on Israel, and, in effect, make them into “his slaves.”

But in spite of his warning they continued to insist,

so, God, in his amazing generosity, gave them their first human King: King Saul.

 

And it didn’t take long for Saul to do what God warned against:

caught up in his pride and lust for power,

Saul began to, in effect, enslave his people.

So, God removed Saul, and replaced him with King David.

But David also fell victim to the temptations of power:

we all know the story of Bathsheba.

 

So, then God made a promise to Israel:

one day a descendant of David would come and rule over not just Israel

but over the whole world as well.

But this king would be different

–perfectly just and not falling to the temptations of the world,

and ruling forever.

Not only would he be David’s son, but he would also be God’s Son, telling David:

“I will raise up your offspring after you,

…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

I will be his father, and he shall be my son.”

 

For a thousand years, through various terrible kings, and wars and exiles,

even as their kingdom was destroyed, and their human kings were replaced

with puppet rulers who ruled under the authority of foreign kings

like Alexander the Great and the Caesars of Rome,

the Israelites clung to their hope in God’s promise for this King,

the Son of God and son of David.

They waited for the one who would be anointed King by God himself

–the one they referred to as the “anointed one,”

or in Hebrew, the “Messiah,” or in Greek, the “Christus”–or “Christ”.

 

Unfortunately, the King that most of them hoped for was a merely human King

who would come with a human army

and re-establish a human Kingdom, a Kingdom of this world.

A King who would impose his personal power on their enemies.

Of course, such a king would also wind up imposing his power on the Jews as well.

 

But that was not the King that the prophets foretold;

as Isaiah told them, their King would be:

“despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

…he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

 

In the fullness of time God kept his promise:

he sent his Son born of a virgin of the house of David.

As St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading,

he was a king whose kingdom was not of this world,

but rather a kingdom that consists of, as Paul says,

“all things in heaven and on earth…, the visible and invisible.”

A king whose gift to his people is not limited

to his power over worldly goods or economic prosperity, but

to his power to give eternal “redemption, [and] the forgiveness of sins.”

A king who conquered not by making war with the blood of a sword, but by

“making peace by the blood of his cross.”

 

This king would not be a king who would enslave his people,

but free them.

And he would not be tempted to seek personal satisfaction

in the perks of earthly wealth.

Though worthy of a life of gold, frankincense and myrrh and the adoration of kings,

he was born in a stable and first visited by poor shepherds.

Though worthy of a golden throne covered in jewels

at the right hand of his heavenly Father,

his only thrones in this world would be of wood:

the throne of a wooden manger covered with hay,

and the throne of a wooden cross covered with his own blood.

 

And so, it was, as we read in today’s Gospel,

that as he hung upon the cross, twice someone said to him:

“let him save himself if he is …the Christ…the King.”

Once this was the voice of the leaders of the people gathered at his feet,

and once it was the voice of the unrepentant criminal crucified next to him.

They didn’t recognize their king,

even though Pilate had placed above his head the sign that said:

“THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Only one spoke up to recognize the king.

Only one…. the one who was suffering with him,

the repentant thief who hanged upon his own cross

recognized that this king did not want to come down from the cross,

because he had no desire to use his divine power to impose his will,

but instead generously offered his own life to free them from their sins,

and to give them a new chance to accept his love, or reject it.

Only one spoke up to recognize his Kingly generosity, and to accept it:

“remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 

Christ is King.

But like so many of the people of his day,

we also often don’t recognize him or his kingdom.

Like them we often want him to rule by fulfilling all of our dreams and wishes

and taking away all of our burdens and sufferings

–and sometimes we doubt he is King when he refuses to obey us.

 

And sometimes we try to replace him as king.

Think about it: who or what is your real king?

Who or what rules your life?

Do you look to the world for your King, and so become a slave to the world?

Is your king worldly power? or money? or fancy toys? or worldly respect? or some worldly ideology?

If so, haven’t they wound up imposing their power on you?

Have you become a slave of sex or drugs or alcohol;

are you ruled by hatred or violence or pride?

Are you a slave of other people’s opinion,

or are you ruled by fear of being unpopular?

Or is your joy and happiness–even the daily joys of this earthly life

–rooted in and transformed by your citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?

 

But a kingdom based solely in power and imposition of that power on others

ultimately leads to slavery

–slavery to kings of this world or to things of this world.

Christ our King, although infinitely more powerful than any human king could ever be,

is also infinitely more generous than any human king could ever be.

And while we can truly begin to enjoy the wonders of his Kingdom

even as we live in this world,

his is not a kingdom of the world,

and so, his generosity isn’t limited to the passing and petty

joys and pleasures of this world:

the true gift of his kingship is a paradise full of treasures beyond all imagining,

a paradise that begins even today in this world as we share in his life and love,

in his grace and power.

 

So today, and everyday, let us come to come to our Lord,

offering him the praise and adoration

due the King of “heaven and …earth…, the visible and invisible,”

Let us thank him for the many gifts he’s already given us,

but also, let us bring to him all of our sufferings and troubles

–all the crosses of our lives

–not looking so much for worldly relief, and saying with the unrepentant thief,

if you are king, save yourself and us,”

but rather, accepting our crosses, and as humble repentant sinners, asking only:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And let us rejoice in the boundless generosity of Christ the King,

confident that he will reply,

“I assure you: today you will be with me in paradise.”

TEXT: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 13, 2016

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 13, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This weekend I am preaching at all the Masses about a subject

that I don’t like to preach about: money,

specifically, the money you give to St. Raymond’s.

The last time I did this was 2 years ago

and that was the only other time I’ve done this.

My job is to get you to heaven,

by teaching you, giving you grace, and being a good spiritual father.

That’s why I became a priest—not to be a fundraiser.

But I’ve discovered, especially as a pastor,

spending money wisely helps me to do a better job

of fulfilling my priestly responsibilities.

 

Now, some of you may have been expecting me to preach

about the elections last Tuesday

—some may be disappointed and some may be relieved that I’m not.

But in a way, I am preaching about the election.

Because the election, and the campaign that proceeded it,

were a graphic display of the challenges that face the Church today

in the midst of an increasingly hostile

secularized and paganized nation.

 

My friends, the good Lord has given us so much,

as individuals, as families, as Americans (citizens and non-citizens),

as Catholics, and as a parish.

But it can all be so easily taken away from us.

At any time a good part of your money can be taken away,

through higher taxes or economic downturns.

But we also see how in a more subtle way the culture and even the government

is, in a certain real way, already trying to take your family from you

—inculcating your children, whether in school or as adults,

with values in direct opposition to the ones you taught them.

And we see our rights being slowly eroded:

especially our rights to speak and even think freely,

the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit,

and the right to freely practice our religion.

 

This loss of God’s gifts to us is nothing new, especially for Christians

—it’s happened throughout history.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is preaching in the temple when he stops and says,

“All that you see here–

the days will come when there will not be left

a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

 

That prophecy was fulfilled about 40 years later in the year 70 AD

when the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem with it.

 

The same thing has happened to Christians throughout the ages.

In the Gospel today Jesus speaks of a time of terrible catastrophes for the Church:

“Nation will rise against nation,

…. they will seize and persecute you…because of my name.”

But he adds:

“See that you not be deceived, …it will not immediately be the end.”

And so we see how, from time to time throughout history,

Christians have been persecuted, and the Church has survived.

 

Think of all the Churches that were destroyed or stolen

when the Muslims invaded

first Catholic northern Africa in the 7th century,

then Catholic Spain, and then Constantinople.

Or how the French atheists confiscated the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral

during the French revolution and turned it into the “Temple of Reason.”

Or the churches in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea or Viet Nam

confiscated by the Communists.

And think of how the Islamist armies are doing the same thing

in Iraq and Syria today.

 

We hate to think of it, but the same thing could happen us.

How far are we American Catholics from becoming so politically incorrect,

so ostracized as “bigots,”

that someone won’t try to close us down

as being centers of “hate-speech”?

 

But the destruction and confiscation of the great Church buildings

throughout history are only symptoms of a greater threat:

the Muslims, atheists, and communists

didn’t care about the buildings so much,

but used them to destroy and coerce

the Church of Jesus Christ itself, our faith.

And a similar effort is surely well underway already in our nation today.

 

____

But we must not give in to these attacks.

We must fight them.

Never with hatred and bitterness, but always with love and truth.

Our weapons are not guns and bombs,

but every single peaceful means we have at our disposal.

So we use argument, reason, compassion, mercy, good example,

and prayer.

Everything we have—including our money.

 

So we come to money.

 

There is an old joke told about the pastor who stood in the pulpit

and told his people:

“I have good news and bad news;

the good news is that the parish is flush with cash.

the bad news is, it’s still in your pockets.”

 

We do have lots of money.

But God gave it to you, not to me or the parish

—either by giving you so called “good luck,”

or giving you the talents or opportunities that enabled you to earn it.

But He didn’t give you that money just to sit in your pockets,

but to be used wisely in his plan for our salvation.

First he wants you to use it to take good care of your family,

but that includes includes, first and foremost,

bringing them closer to Christ and His Church,

and equipping them to be able to fight the good fight

against what St. Paul calls “this present darkness.”

 

And second, Jesus also calls you to “love your neighbor as yourself,”

and so, in some real way to use the wealth he’s given you

for the true good of those around you.

 

Our parish exists for both of those purposes:

to help you and your family, and to help all the families in the parish.

But we cannot do that without your help.

 

In these very troubled times I have spent a lot of time praying and thinking about

my role in the parish, and in your lives.

And what I keep coming back to is that God has sent me, like all parish priests,

to prepare, strengthen and lead you all in the spiritual battle.

 

And so my parish, your parish,

works hard to make sure you are prepared for this fight

by teaching you the truth of our faith and the love of Christ.

First from this pulpit and altar, but also through CCD, the Youth Apostolate,

scouting programs, RCIA, Bible Study, lecture series, conferences

and guest speakers.

And also in our bulletin, website, the library and giftshop,

and through things like the booklet on the life of St. Raymond.

All to prepare you for the times we live in,

to flourish in and defend the Catholic faith.

 

And the parish strengthens you.

First, by dispensing the grace of God through the sacraments,

but also providing a prayerful and reverent atmosphere

through beautiful music, vestments, vessels, flowers,

well-trained ministers, and a comfortable and clean environment,

so that you can be most open to all those graces.

Graces you absolutely need to fight the good fight.

 

And the parish leads.

A pastor’s leadership isn’t meant to be like a dictator, or a business manager,

but as a loving father in service of his family.

And so we strive to lead in such a way that we

provide an organized structure for our family

within which we can truly serve each other in peace,

with opportunities to learn and receive God’s grace,

as well as meet in fellowship to support each other as a parish family.

 

But we can’t do any of this without your support.

That support must first come in prayer and then in volunteerism.

—which many of you provide very generously.

 

But after that, we need your financial support.

We can’t do any of the preparing, strengthening or leading without money.

We can’t use this church or the classrooms or parish hall

if we can’t turn on the lights, microphones, Air Conditioner or heating

—and we can’t do that if we don’t pay the power company.

We can’t organize parish events or teach your children

or take them to Workcamp or retreats and conferences

if we don’t pay someone a living wage to organize that,

and then spend money on providing books and other resources.

We can’t provide good sacred music, or even keep the church clean and safe,

if we don’t have money.

And we can’t pay off the debt without money.

 

There’s almost nothing we do that doesn’t cost money.

 

____

Now, I’m exaggerating a bit: we can do a lot without money.

I can fire staff, turn down the heat, and even default on our loan,

and we’d get by.

 

But why would I do that?

Why, when all the things we’re doing are bearing such good fruit?

And why, when between all of us we have lots of money in our pockets?

 

Don’t get me wrong—so many of you do contribute very generously.

Look at this church—you built it with your money.

Look at all the things the parish does—you pay for it all.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

But sometimes we do a need a reminder of all our parish needs,

and why we have those needs.

And a reminder of God’s call to each of us to support those needs

–and to prayerfully consider if we should or could give a little more.

 

___

My dear sons and daughters,

the good Lord has been very generous with his gifts to us.

But the greatest gift he gives us is our faith.

But just like Christians of days gone by

there are many today who would try to take that faith away from us.

It has always been this way, and always will be.

But in the end, Jesus promises us:

“not a hair on your head will be destroyed.

By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

 

Let us, then, persevere in our Catholic faith in Jesus Christ.

And let us fight the good fight with love and truth,

and with every gift the Lord has given us.

And let us be generous in sharing those gifts with our parish family

to help each other be prepared, strengthened and led forward

in this great fight that is the Christian life.

TEXT: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 6, 2016

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 6, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s first reading from the second book of Maccabees,

tells us of the execution—the martyrdom—of seven brothers

during what was called “Maccabean Revolt” during the 2nd century BC.

The Maccabees were part of a Jewish movement that fought attempts

by their Greek rulers and Pro-Greek Jews, called Hellenists,

to destroy the beliefs and practices of Judaism,

by forcing them to adopt the Greek beliefs and practices

–really, trying to secularize Judaism.

 

By Jesus’ time the successors of this Maccabean movement

were called “Pharisees,”

and the successors of Hellenist-Jews were called the “Sadducees.”

Like the Maccabees before them,

the Pharisees held tightly to all the teachings of the Old Testament,

and its traditional interpretation handed down by the rabbis and priests,

including a strong belief in the dignity of the human body,

which was reflected in their belief in the resurrection of the dead.

And remember what Jesus said about them:

“The Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;

therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it…”

The problem was, too often the Pharisees didn’t live according to what they taught,

so Jesus added,

“but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

 

The Sadducees, on the other hand, had a very different view of things.

Like their Hellenist predecessors,

they didn’t accept most of the Old Testament books,

and largely rejected Traditional Jewish teaching.

They were also heavily influenced by some Greek philosophers,

especially the ones who saw the body

as merely a temporary vessel used by the soul, really a prison for the soul,

and so something that was bad and so could never share

in something like the glory of the resurrection.

 

So we see why, in Matthew’s account of today’s gospel text,

Jesus tells the Sadducees frankly:

“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures

nor the power of God.”

 

And we can see why there’s a constant struggle between

the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and Jesus, in the Gospels.

 

But all this really goes back to around 170 BC

when the Greeks and Jewish Hellenists

started to criminalize traditional Jewish practices,

and finally erected a statue of the pagan god Zeus in the Jewish Temple.

And in response, a Jewish priest named Judas Maccabee rose up in revolt,

–and the brothers killed in today’s first reading joined him in that revolt.

 

___

All this, sadly, sounds very familiar, and finds clear parallels today.

The Christian West is more and more divided between,

on the one hand, Christians who,

sort of like modern Maccabees and Pharisees,

hold tight to their faith in Christ and Christian Scripture and Tradition;

and on the other hand, folks who,

sort of like the Hellenists and Sadducees

have either given up their Christian faith altogether

or at least compromised their Christian faith by embracing values

of secular leaders and movements.

 

So, today’s neo-Sadducees,

throw out the bible and traditional Christian teaching,

replacing them with a twisted set of teachings

warped by the influence of strange modern philosophies,

like, for example, Marxism and different forms of relativism.

So, for example, like the ancient Sadducees the neo-Sadducees of our time

don’t respect the dignity of the human body,

arguing that we can kill it when it is still in the womb,

or that we can experiment on it when it’s a tiny embryo,

or that we can use bodies as mere objects of sexual pleasure,

or even that bodies have nothing to tell us about the meaning of sex

or even, most bizarrely, that male and female bodies

have nothing to tell us about whether

we are actually really male or female.

 

____

How do faithful Christians respond to this?

How did faithful Jews respond 2200 years ago?

They rose up and fought it, even to the point of dying for their faith.

And so the seven brothers were captured while fighting with the Maccabees,

and tortured and executed for refusing to break the rules

of the Old Testament.

Now, you might say, the rule they refused to break was not to eat pork,

not a hugely important rule, and one that Jesus eventually abrogated.

But it was still what God had told them in the Old Testament,

so they refused to disobey it.

And were executed for it.

But notice, they didn’t die thinking that life in the body didn’t matter,

but that by God’s grace life would go on after death

and the body would eventually be fully restored and glorified.

If only they were faithful to God’s teachings and laws.

God was more important, and powerful, than any human king or law or culture.

 

____

Again, how do we respond to modern neo-Sadducees, neo Hellenists,

the secularists and secularized Christians?

Look at the culture, look at our country.

For decades, we’ve been rolling over to secularist values,

compromising left and right, thinking if we just be nice to them,

or give-in a little bit here and there,

they’ll leave us alone—or better yet, they’ll like us, praise us, promote us.

 

But it hasn’t worked.

They’re taking over the schools and even our government,

forcing us to accept their values that are directly opposed

to the teaching of Christ and His Church, and even common sense.

 

But think of the Maccabees and their martyrs.

And think of the feast we celebrated last Tuesday, All Saints,

which began as the Feast of “All Martyrs”.

Think of all the Christian martyrs who have died

rather than compromise their faith:

St. Peter and St. Paul, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,

St. Charles Lwanga, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, St. Andrew Dung-Lac,

and on and on.

The Maccabees died rather than eat pork.

St. Thomas More died rather than give in to the King’s divorce and remarriage.

What will you do when they tell you you must embrace secular values?

Whether it’s about abortion, contraception, sexual promiscuity,

the definition of marriage, the definition of male and female,

and on and on.

 

How will you respond?

I hope….by holding tight

to what Christ and His Church and common sense tell you.

And by fighting for that.

 

Now, there may come a day when Christians, like the Maccabees,

will have to defend our rights with arms and weapons

–but clearly that point has not come, at least not in America.

The first inclination of every Christian is to do as Jesus taught and did

—turn the other cheek.

But remember how Jesus showed us how this “turning the other cheek” works:

at his trial before the Sadducee High Priest Annas

when the guard actually struck him on the cheek

Jesus didn’t strike him back

but he didn’t role over either, but confronted him:

“If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong;

but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

 

And so we defend ourselves with words and truth, not with swords and guns.

We do it with prudence and charity, but also with courage and persistence.

As we read a few weeks ago, St Paul reminds us:

“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;

convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”

Whether at work, at home, in school, on the playground,

or in the voting booth.

 

____

And fight by living holy lives, setting a good example

of what Christianity is all about—that is hard for our enemies to beat.

Don’t be like the Pharisees who knew what was right,

but did “not practice what they preach.”

For example, last year when Archbishop Cordileone was here

he told us the best way to defend marriage today

is for Christian married couples to show everyone how great marriage is

by actually loving each other the way Christian spouses should.

 

And remember, as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“we are not contending [merely] against flesh and blood,

but against …the powers…of this present darkness, against evil spirits…..

So fight the devil also by living holy lives,

keeping the commandments in all their fullness,

and so staying on the side of Christ at all times.

 

____

And finally, fight by praying.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul says:

“pray …. that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people,

“…the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you

and guard you from the evil one.”

 

As we read just a few weeks ago, Jesus teaches us to,

“pray always without becoming weary.”

Again, whether at work, at home, in school, on the playground,

or in the voting booth.

 

And most especially pray here at Mass—the greatest form of prayer.

 

As we now enter into more deeply into this Holy Mass,

we remember that this is Christ’s offering of his Body—his whole self

—on the Cross for us.

Like the 7 Maccabean brothers, Jesus on the Cross was at war with evil,

and gave his life out of obedience to God the Father.

And like those brothers Jesus saw his death in the light of the resurrection.

But unlike the Maccabees,

who lost their war against the evil of the worldly Hellenists,

Jesus’ death won the war against all the evil of the world

—beginning by conquering death itself by His Resurrection.

 

It is true, the battles wage on, but Christ’s victory is assured.

And by our offering our bodies, ourselves,

to him today in this Mass we share in that victory.

And by the Communion of our bodies with His we share in his power.

And in that power, we leave here today to go out to fight the fight,

and win the victory, with Jesus.

TEXT: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 30, 2016

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 30, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Monday/Tomorrow is, of course, Halloween.

I’m afraid it’s been years since I’ve enjoyed this “holiday”

–mainly because it’s a day that the evil one and his followers

have turned into an un-holy-day

—a day the worshippers of the devil treat

as their most special day of the year.

 

But I also know that most people don’t realize this,

and most people—especially children—

simply see it as a day to dress up in costumes

and pretend they’re somebody they’re not.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially for children.

I’m not a big fan of children pretending to be evil things

—monsters, vampires, killers, devils—

but pretending itself isn’t bad.

So you can say I sort of tolerate Halloween with a smile.

 

It’s interesting though, while little kids get to dress up as Spiderman,

or a fairy-princess,

Halloween also dresses itself up, pretending to be something it’s not.

Because Halloween is actually “All Hallow’s Eve”—or All Saints Eve—

the vigil of All Saints Day,

which is one of the Holy Days of the Catholic Church.

Actually, I think this is really at the heart of my dislike

of the secular celebration of Halloween—

this vigil of a Catholic holy day–All Saints Eve—

has been dressed up as a celebration of the secular and even of evil.

 

The celebration of All Saints Day goes back to at least to the late 3rd century.

As we all know the first 3 centuries of the Church

were a time of on-again-off-again persecution

and thousands of Christians were killed–martyred–for their faith.

It was the custom of the Church to celebrate as liturgical feasts the anniversary

of the death of some of the better known or more heroic martyrs.

But by the end of the 3rd century,

the number of heroic martyrs had become so great

that they couldn’t find enough days to set aside for each,

and so they began to celebrate one day of the year as the

“feast of all martyrs.”

which soon spread throughout the Church as the “Feast of All Saints.”

 

But all this is directly opposite of what Halloween has become.

And not only in the context of the celebration of evil that it’s become for many,

but even in its celebration as a day of pretending.

Because the Martyrs were put to death because they refused to pretend:

they refused to be someone, or even act like someone, they were not.

In the days of the Roman persecutions,

the judges would offer Christians complete pardons

if only they would burn a little incense in front of a statue of a pagan god.

All they had to do was pretend to believe in that god, and they’d be spared.

But because they refused to pretend,

because they would not deny who they were and who they really worshiped,

they were put to death.

 

Because they wouldn’t pretend we can say of them,

borrowing the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading:

“the name of our Lord Jesus [was] glorified in [them],and [they] in him…”

These are the ones who will be “assembled with him”

at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
All Saint’s—or All Hallows—is a day honoring not pretending,

but standing up for who you are as Christians.

And so should All Hallow’s Eve.

 

____

Still, from time to time, we all pretend to be someone we’re not.

Sometimes this is in relatively harmless ways.

Sometimes, for example,

we try to give the impression that we’re more important than we are,

maybe to impress parents, or girlfriends, or our children or our friends.

Or sometimes we pretend as part of a harmless joke,

or to surprise someone with a gift.

 

And sometimes we pretend to be something we’re not

because we want to be better than we are

—so pretending can be motivated by good intentions.

 

But sometimes pretending crosses a line of willful deception and becomes sinful

—even gravely sinful.

Sometimes we use pretending to hide our sins to deceive others,

and sometimes we pretend in order to deceive ourselves.

 

Take for example, Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel.

Zacchaeus is a tax collector for the Romans,

and so a collaborator and a cheat against his brother Jews:

he is a notorious public sinner.

And it seems he uses his ill-gotten wealth and high government position

–he was the “chief tax collector” —

to pretend he was a great man, maybe even a good Jew.

Until he meets Jesus.

But after that, when they accuse him of his sins, he stops pretending,

and does public penance:

“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.”

And he doesn’t even pretend that his wealth isn’t ill-gotten, saying:

“if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

And Jesus responds: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

 

Sometimes we pretend to be good and devout Christians,

and yet we don’t love the Lord with all our hearts, soul and strength;

we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves,

and we don’t keep the commandments.

We pretend to be good parents, but we don’t spend time with our kids,

or we don’t take time to discipline them

or teach them right from wrong, or about Jesus, as we should.

Or maybe you pretend to be a good spouse,

but  you let your eye or your mind rove to other men or women,

or you yell at or nag your spouse.

Or maybe you pretend to be a good worker, but you cheat on your overtime.

Or maybe you pretend to be a good student,

but you talk when your teacher leaves the room, or you cheat on tests,

or you bully your classmates.

 

This kind of sinful pretending, a form of lying, happens every day in our lives,

in small and large ways.

Unfortunately it also extends throughout our society

—and this pretending hurts not one or two people, but the whole society.

So, for example, scientists and doctors pretend to be ethicists,

trying to explain in convoluted il-logic

how their experiments using the stem cells of embryonic human beings

are really for the greater good,

even if they involve killing those tiniest babies in the process.

And feminists and pro-abortion advocates pretend to be pro-woman,

but then support abortion, which always causes severe emotional wounds

—and sometimes even physical wounds—to women.

And men pretend to be women, and homosexuals pretend to be married.

 

And during this election season we see how

some of the biggest pretenders in our society are politicians.

We’ve seen that played out over and over again in the last few months.

 

But political pretending isn’t limited to politicians:

it extends to “we, the people of the United Sates of America.”

Typically, less than 50% of those eligible to vote actually take the time to do so.

We pretend to be patriots,

but we refuse to even take a few minutes every few years and vote.

 

Perhaps, though, the most troubling form of pretending,

are people who pretend to be Catholic.

For example, candidates for public office who pretend to be Catholics,

but publicly advocate for abortion and same sex marriage

–not to mention the pretend-Catholics who happily vote for them.

 

And if you would allow me one more “worse case”

worse than even pretending politicians and patriots

and pretending Catholics.

These are bishops and priests who pretend to be something they are not.

And in particular the pretending

of too many priests and bishops who   mislead their sheep

regarding the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church

by tickling their ears with false

but pleasing and easy doctrines,

or by remaining silent as the wolves’ circle,

and the devils lead their children astray.

They are the worst pretenders of all, because they pretend to be shepherds,

when they are wolves disguised in shepherd’s clothing.

 

___

For some, Halloween has become a time for sin and even worshiping the evil one

–we must pray for them, and protect our children from them.

For most though, it is simply a time of pretending

—to enjoy being something you’re not.

It’s natural to want to become someone you’re not

—if that someone is a better you.

And it’s natural to have heroes we want to be like.

But our heroes should lead us to be the best we can be

—the best God created us to be.

Our true Heroes should not be fantasy characters

—but all the saints

who gave their lives to loving God and their neighbor.

The great saints

like the martyrs who refused to pretend to worship false gods

or like the penitent sinners, like Zacchaeus,

who stopped pretending the treasures of the world

could make them great men.

 

In the coming days, do not pretend to love God—truly love him.

Do not pretend to obey God—truly obey him.

Do not pretend to be Catholic

—truly be Catholics

and think and live and act and pray like Catholics,

and, yes, vote like Catholics.

So that one day we too will be counted among All the Saints

who are “assembled” together

at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

TEXT: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 23, 2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 23, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

As most of you know,

I was born, bred, schooled and gainfully employed until the age of 31

in the Great State of Texas.

Texas is a unique state, with a unique geography, tradition and, above all history

–a history filled with colorful characters and dramatic events.

Perhaps the best known of these is the story of its war for independence,

especially the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio, my home town,

and its great heroes:

James Bowie, William Travis, Davy Crockett and Sam Houston.

 

So, as you can see, I am a proud Texan.

But when I moved to Virginia 25 years ago to study for the priesthood,

I had to admit I had come to a state with an even more remarkable heritage.

In all honesty,

Texas’s colorful history pales in comparison

to the illustrious history of Virginia,

and Crockett and Houston are midgets in comparison

to the giants of Virginia, like

Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson,

and, of course, George Washington.

 

______

Virginia has been a tremendously important state in the history of our nation,

and therefore in the history of the whole world.

And there can be no doubt that individual Virginians

have profoundly changed and shaped that history.

But Virginia and Virginians

also have a terrible stain on their record:

200 years ago they supported an institution so horrible

that today we Virginians, and all Americans, still feel the guilt:

the despicable institution of slavery:

the treatment of a human being

as less than human

and so without any basic human rights or dignity.

 

How could such a great state with great statesmen

ever support this inhumane institution?

Well, you can come up with lots of explanations:

different times, the effects of culture, the economics, etc.

And you can argue that while Jefferson and Washington

seemed to truly want to eliminate slavery, they found it impossible to do so

without ripping the fragile Union of States apart

losing their historic chance to establish

a government truly of “We the people.”

 

But then…why did they continue to own their own slaves

—Washington only freeing his in his will, Jefferson not even doing that?

Of course, again, there are lots of reasons,

and I’m well aware of them so please don’t come to me after Mass

to educate me.

And understand me: I am not trying to knock down these giants

—their great and noble historical achievements stand for themselves.

 

But no matter how we look at it, no reasons and no historical anomalies

eradicate the fact that slavery is—and always has been

a grave moral evil.

And as great as these men were, no one could convince me that in 2016

Virginians would ever elect a Thomas Jefferson or George Washington

if they were around today

and still supported slavery.

 

____

As we know that one stain was not isolated in its effects,

as it corrupted the whole society of the first part of the 19th century,

warping the economic, social and political systems,

eventually leading to over 500,000 dead in a bloody civil war,

which was followed by another 100 years

of the hatred and oppression of racism

that we bear the scars of even to this day.

 

All because certain states and even certain great men in those states

refused to recognize a particular class of persons as human beings

with basic human rights.

 

______

In 2 weeks Virginians, along with all American citizens,

will vote in our national election.

But sadly, this year’s election has been so marred by inexcusable failings

of both major party, presidential candidates

that many folks are very confused about who to vote for,

and may not vote at all.

Both candidates are grossly flawed, as I said last week:

“A plague on both [their] houses.”

 

But let’s try to put this in perspective.

First, the last election that wasn’t plagued

by negative campaigning was the election of George Washington,

who ran unopposed, and was universally revered.

But when Jefferson ran against John Adams in 1800,

you’d be shocked to read the accusations of crimes and gross immorality

that were publicly thrown around by both parties.

 

But more importantly, whether we like it or not,

one of this year’s deeply flawed candidates will be our next president.

And so, we have to find some way to determine, really,

who is not as bad as the other.

 

Now, we could go through each issue, and each scandal, trying to figure that out.

But in this election, that’s so hard to do,

since the scandals on both sides are so horrible

and it’s difficult to tell exactly where the parties stand on the issues,

and which issues are more important than others.

 

But what if there was one issue that we could see

exactly where both parties stood,

an issue that almost by definition outweighed all other issues put together?

For example, what if one of the candidates

seemed to have all the right answers,

but one day came out saying

that a certain group of people are inferior to others,

not fully human beings with fundamental human rights.

Who in their right mind would vote for him or her,

even if he or she was the 2nd coming of George Washington himself?

 

The thing is, there are candidates around today who say this very thing,

and not just in the presidential race, but also our congressional races.

But this time the group they target is not people of African decent,

but people of every color and ethnicity

who have only one fatal defect:

they are simply unborn baby human beings.

 

The issue is, of course, abortion.

 

Imagine if a Candidate came out and said black people were not persons

and defended a white man’s right to choose

to treat a black man as his property…or to lynch a black man.

The whole country would be in an uproar,

and no one would vote for that candidate.

 

Why don’t we have the same reaction to a candidate who says

that unborn babies are not persons with rights,

and that pregnant women have the right to

treat them as their property and even the “right to choose” to abort them?

 

Yet, that is what one candidate is saying in the presidential election

–and what her running mate

and all the candidates from her party running for congress in Virginia

are saying as well.

 

At last week’s debate, she even defended her vote in the Senate

supporting partial birth abortion

—in other words she thinks it’s okay to abort a healthy baby

who is 9 months full term,

as it is coming out of the mother’s birth canal,

She stood there and defended this barbarism!

 

While her opponent, amazingly cogently for a change,

defended the dignity and right to life of unborn babies,

and promised to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices

 

How ironic:

the Democratic party that once supported slavery,

now supports abortion,

while the Republican party that was founded to end slavery

is now committed to end abortion.

Is it “ironic”—or merely “fitting”?

 

______

Jefferson and Washington were great men,

and they gave birth to a great state and a great nation.

But what made them great was the founding principle,

carved into the foundation of our history by Jefferson himself, as he wrote:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,

that all Men are created equal,

that they are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty,

and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

 

But in denying those self-evident truths as applying

to Africans and their descendants, those otherwise great Virginians

undermined the very thing that made for greatness,

and led our nation, our state, to disaster.

And the same stands true today as candidates present themselves to Virginians

denying the self-evident truth—the “unalienable right…to Life

when it comes to unborn babies.

How can you vote for them?

And how can you stay home and not vote against them?

 

______

In today’s gospel, we encounter the self-righteous Pharisee.

Now, the Pharisee seems, in many ways, a very good man:

he was not “greedy, dishonest, [or] adulterous”

and he fasted twice a week, and paid tithes on all his income.

But he was also guilty of the sin of pride,

and blinded by that pride he couldn’t see the other sins he was guilty of,

unlike the penitent tax collector who, humbly saw himself as he truly was.

 

How many otherwise good Christians in the 18th and 19th century

were blinded by either

their noble ambitions for our nation

or simply by greed

or by a prideful sense of both a moral and natural superiority

over the black race,

and so defended the practice of slavery.

How blind were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington,

to the great inhumanity called slavery?

 

How blind are we Virginians today to the great inhumanity called abortion?

 

______

Virginia is a state with rich traditions of noble courage,

and great heroic figures that forged our great nation.

Even so, too many Virginians of times passed, including our greatest heroes,

were blinded by their times, culture, and fears,

and, yes, even blinded by their hopes for the future of America.

But, as time would tell, their hopes could never be fulfilled until

all men” were truly treated as “created equal,”

and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

 

On Tuesday, November 8, I pray that we Virginians

will live up to what was best in our forefathers.

But I pray also that, by the grace of Jesus Christ,

we may see what they were so unpardonably blinded to.

I pray that we will all be true heroes, authentic moral giants,

defending the unalienable rights of all human beings,

especially their right to life.

TEXT: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 16, 2016

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 16, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

These words echo over the last 2000 years,

reverberating in each age from then till now.

Every generation of the church has caused us to repeat this question,

as we’ve seen persecutions, schisms, heresies, laxity and immorality

plague the Church

Not to mention periods where decadence and ignorance

dominated the life of Christian societies.

 

This is our history: the history of Christianity and Christians.

And today is no exception, in fact it seems, to many, to be the worst of all.

We see Christian societies racing to abandon Christ at every turn.

And we see so many blaming Christianity for their problems.

On and on.

 

But what troubles me more than anything

is supposedly faithful Catholics and Protestants participating in all this.

We’re all sinners, but more and more Christians

are embracing sins and infidelity to Christ as normal.

We allow others to degrade our religion and faith, to call us bigots,

to take away our rights and liberty.

We allow government officials to tell us we can’t even teach

our values to our children in our schools.

We allow them to threaten churches and Christians with reprisals

for following their faith in Christ.

And we nominate a presidential candidate who says:

Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will.

And deep-seated …religious beliefs … have to be changed.”

 

And we allow ourselves and our children

to be immersed in this and even accept this

without recognizing and opposing the injustice and lies of it all.

 

Are we surprised that Jesus asks:

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

____

Okay, so what to do?

First, we have to strengthen our own faith.

Faith itself is believing in something.

As St. Paul tells us today:

“Remain faithful to what you have learned…!”

So we have to learn: go to talks, read the Catechism and good books.

But above all read the Bible: as St. Paul continues today:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation,

for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

 

Then you have to be righteousinternalize what you learn and live your faith:

you learn your faith, in part, so you can be, as St. Paul says,

“equipped for every good work.”

“Good works” meaning not just acts of charity,

but doing good by being just and keeping the commandments.

But to really make all this come together, we have to pray.

Even if you memorize every word of the Bible,

you can’t really know God if you refuse to listen to Him or talk to Him

—and that’s what prayer is.

Which is why, in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples about:

“the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”

So we pray, we talk and listen to God all the time

—he’s here, with us, he loves us, and has not abandoned us,

so turn to him and recognize that…always.

 

And tell him your problems, and ask for his help:

he wants you to ask so he can respond and show you his love.

Think of the power of prayer.

Look at Moses in today’s first reading.

He lifted his hands in prayer all day long for victory in battle,

and God responded with power, as it says:

“And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people.”

And look at Jesus’ parable today.

If the unjust judge responds to the pleading of the widow just to shut her up,

won’t God, who is the just judge who loves us,

also respond to our prayers?

And is this not especially true when we pray for defense against persecution?

As Jesus says today:

“Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones

who call out to him day and night?

 

And finally, we need to be faithful by proclaiming our faith openly,

first in our families, in our parishes and in our communities.

Even when it’s embarrassing or even painful to do:

“proclaim the word,” St. Paul tells us today,

“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;

convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”

 

We must remain faithful, even while others don’t.

Even when like the widow nagging the unjust judge,

our neighbors and friends keep nagging us,

trying to wear us down to be unfaithful.

 

___

Now, speaking of the unjust judge,

a lot of the unfaithfulness surrounding us today

comes through the work of similar unjust public officials today.

All the corruption is pushed forward by leaders

leading us to injustice and away from faith.

 

But they are not just leading, they are also being led:

they are a reflection of the culture and people.

 

There’s that old saying: societies get the leaders they deserve.

If you look around at our society,

is there any surprise we often have such poor leadership?

And don’t just look around: look at yourself, and myself.

Have we been faithful as we should?

Are these the faithless leaders we deserve?

 

I can’t help but look at our current presidential election.

Both of the major candidates are nearly a perfect reflection of our society.

The lies, greed, sexual immorality and degradation….

 

And yet…. we have to choose one to lead and represent us.

But when we vote, we must remember the words

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Will we vote like faithful Catholics?

 

Ah… There’s the problem for many Catholics.

They ask, how can you vote for either of these two candidates?

Many people say they just can’t vote for either.

I get that, and they might be right.

 

But, one of these two will be chosen, whether we vote or not.

And if we vote for another candidate, by the way, one of the smaller party

candidates, still, one of these two will be chosen.

So the question is:

as revoltingly reflective of the ills of our faithless society as they are,

is one of these in some way worse or better than the other?

And if by my vote I can, in a small but important and real way,

suppress the worse and promote the better,

shouldn’t I?

 

Now, we can argue about who would be marginally better or worse,

going through it issue by issue, or even fault by fault.

But this October, Respect Life Month,

we remember we must always consider that the most important issue

is always the right to life,

because if you don’t have life, you automatically lose all your other rights.

And so the Catholic Church has persistently,

whether it is convenient or inconvenient,

taught, in the words of the Great St. John Paul II:

“the right to life [is] the most basic and fundamental right

and the condition for all other human rights…

[which must be] defended with maximum determination.”.”

And along with that right comes the first subsequent right,

as Pope Francis has stated:

“Children have a right to grow up in a family with

a father and a mother….”

 

And so as Pope Benedict wrote in 2007:

“…respect for human life…from conception to natural death,

[and] the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman…

These values are not negotiable.”

 

The right to life, and traditional marriage: not negotiable.

 

____

If it is true that we get the leaders we deserve,

then it seems to me that our country would deserve bad leaders

because we have sinned greatly.

But when I look at the political landscape I see one group who has not sinned,

who definitely does not deserve bad leaders.

Our unborn babies.

We have sinned, either by active participation in or complacent acceptance of

the decline of our faithless society.

But unborn babies are innocent!

And they are sign of hope for innocence for all of us.

And we must protect their right to life.

And we must protect their right to live

as part of a family with their married mom and dad.

 

____

Unfortunately, these rights now rest largely in the hands of public officials.

So when we look at our choices in any election, we have to ask ourselves,

who will protect these “most basic and fundamental” rights?

 

As I look at our dismal choices this year,

the words of Shakespeare’s Mercutio come to mind:

“A plague on both your houses.”

But in trying to figure if there is any good that can be brought from this mess

we can ask:

who has promised to defend life,

and who has promised to kill babies?

 

Which brings us back to our unjust judge in today’s gospel.

As I’ve said before, the Judges, or Justices, on our Supreme Court

are now, in many ways, the most powerful people in our government.

It was the vote of one Judge (on a 5 to 4 vote),

that established a right to “same-sex marriage”

and for decades it has been the vote of one Judge

who has kept abortion as a fundamental right.

The next President will select up to 4 members of the Supreme Court,

including the replacement for the good Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia,

who died last February.

And one of the candidates for President has repeatedly and forcefully promised:

“I want a Supreme Court that will

stick with …a woman’s right to choose [i.e., abortion],

and …marriage equality [i.e., “same-sex marriage”].

The other candidate, however, has repeatedly promised

to appoint pro-life and pro-marriage judges.

 

___

There’s a lot of talk about certain issues

completely disqualifying either candidate from the presidency.

But given the moral state of our nation, I have a hard time understanding that,

except when it comes to the right to life and marriage:

how in the world can someone who is determined

to defend and fund the killing of innocent human beings

—a million sweet little babies every year—

how is that person not absolutely disqualified

from the presidency?

If they are not disqualified, no one is.

 

____

Our presidential alternatives reflect the decadence in our society.

But perhaps they also present the glimmer of God’s mercy shining through,

offering faithful Christians, and all people of goodwill,

the possibility of bringing some good out of all this mess,

by defending these most basic rights of man.

___

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I pray that he does.

But in this depraved and faithless time in history,

what are we doing, with his grace, to make that happen?

Are we “remain[ing] faithful to what [we] have learned and believed”,

especially the teaching on life and marriage?

Are we praying “always without becoming weary”,

especially, are we praying that God will

give us the leaders we need, and not that we deserve?

Are we “proclaim[ing] the word” persistently

“whether it is convenient or inconvenient”,

whether in our homes, workplace, playgrounds—or in the voting booth.

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”