Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pro-Life Rally at South County. Last week I wrote about Springfield State Delegate
Kathy Tran’s barbaric proposed legislation which would have essentially legalized
abortion on demand up to full term. After I wrote that on Wednesday, the folks at the
Susan B. Anthony Foundation (SBA) sent out the word that Tran had scheduled a
Townhall meeting for that Saturday. Long story short, the word got around and pretty
soon it seems so many pro-lifers would be there that Tran cancelled the meeting
(although she said it was for safety and security reasons, as if pro-lifers are a risk to
safety). In any case, SBA went on with the press conference they had scheduled before
the townhall, and between 700 and 1000 pro-lifers showed up, standing outside the
school in freezing temperatures for almost an hour, to support them and speakers from
various other pro-life organizations in the Commonwealth. Thanks to all the St. Raymond
parishoners who showed up. We cannot back down from our defense of life against of the
radical agenda of so many of the extremists in Richmond and Washington.

Northam Troubles. Of course last week I also wrote about how our governor had made
a gruesome statement about what happens when a late-term abortion fails, and the baby is
born alive. How he basically said the decision to let it live outside the womb was up to
the mother—which is pretty much an endorsement of infanticide.
But soon after that, news came out of a picture in his medical school year book
supposedly depicting him as wearing “black face” or a KKK costume. Of course, in the
eyes of the leftist media a 30-year-old horribly racist joke is much worse than last week’s
endorsement of killing a baby on the operating table, so that latter story took over the
news, pushing infanticide to the side.
It seems unnecessary, except in these hypercritical times, for me to state the
obvious: this kind of racist activity, whether joking or serious, is disgusting and
unequivocally unchristian, and to remind you that racism is a sin, and often a mortal sin.
And a racist should not be given a place in modern representative government.
But it does worry me a bit that a sin or mistake someone committed 30 years ago,
is used so readily as a bludgeon to attack any politician. I recall that when former Senator
Harry Byrd died in 2010 he was treated as a venerable statesman, even though he had
been an actual leader of the KKK in West Virginia in the 1950s. In this case, he had
repented long ago, and his sin had largely been forgiven by virtually everyone. Which
goes to show that people change over time—I know I have. And when that change shows
in the way they live, I think they deserve some credit for that, and forgiveness of the old
sin.
That is not to say that I am minimizing Northam’s bad behavior of 30 years ago.
Rather, I am simply encouraging us all to consider that people can change. I am certainly
not supporting him, especially considering his embrace of abortion and infanticide. In
fact, it occurs to me that his indifference to the dignity of some human life may have,
over time, simply switched over time from targeting African Americans to targeting
another vulnerable group: unborn babies.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. With calls for Governor Northam’s resignation

pouring in from all sides, especially from his own Democratic Party, attention shifted to
the possibility of Lt. Gov. Fairfax stepping up to take his place. But then it came out that
Fairfax has been accused of sexually assaulting a woman 15 years ago, when he was a
young lawyer and Democratic Party operative. It’s interesting to compare that case to
another similar case: when Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused of a similar offense that
had happened 35 years ago, when he was an 18-year-old. Both charges are leveled by
very credible women, both college professors, but it is strange how the leaders of the
Democratic party have responded so differently to the 2 allegations. In Kavanaugh’s case
we kept hearing senators and congressmen say, “I believe the accuser,” even before
hearing any evidence or testimony. But in Fairfax’s case, we hear nothing like that.
Instead, the Democratic Party of Virginia issued a statement saying only that the
allegation against Fairfax, should be "taken with profound gravity….We will continue to
evaluate the situation regarding Lieutenant Governor Fairfax.”
Why would they be treated so differently? Could it be their different stands on
abortion? Clearly that was why they attacked Kavanaugh so severely. Perhaps the
opposite is true with Fairfax, who is a strong supporter of abortion and in 2016 served as
the board vice-chair of the Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington Action Fund.

Altar Rail and Pulpit. I want to reiterate my request for comments about my proposal to
install a permanent altar rail and replace the current pulpit with a smaller but beautiful
new one. See last weeks column for more details. But I really would like your comments
and advice. My mind is not made up, and I want to know what your thinking, email me at
fr.decelles@gmail.com.

Vestments. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be discussing the vestments of the
priest at Mass. Today I’d like to discuss the amice.
The amice is the first vestment the priest puts on for Mass. It is a piece of linen or
cotton cloth, about 30” by 20”, that is draped over the shoulders and wrapped around the
neck, usually tucked in to cover the collar. It is then tied in place by two attached
cords/ribbons that wrap around the back and tie in front of the chest.
The origins of the amice date at least to the 10 th century, and various sources
propose that it was introduced either to cover the regular clothing of the priest, to protect
the costlier vestments from the perspiration of the face or neck, or as a winter muffler
protecting the throat of those who had to take care of their voices for singing the Mass.
These are all still part of its practical purpose.
From the middle ages the amice was also often ample enough to be used to cover
the head of priest at certain points of the Mass like a hood (later this would normally be
replaced by the biretta) or a helmet. This practice is still in place in some religious orders.
From this it derives its spiritual symbolism as a spiritual helmet of the “armor of God.”
Today this is seen in the custom of the priest to lay the amice first over the head before
sliding it to his shoulders, as he prays, the prayer, “"Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam
salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus" –Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of
salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil.”

Note the amice is required, unless the alb is designed to “completely cover the
ordinary clothing at the neck” (i.e., the black and white “roman collar” of the priest’s
normal shirt or cassock should not be visible).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Never Let Up the Pro-Life Fight. The last few days have been a reminder to all of us that we can never stop fighting the good fight to defend the right to life, especially for unborn children.
New York. On January 23rd, one day after the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will allow unborn babies to be aborted at any stage of the pregnancy, even just before full-term birth. It also allows non-doctors to perform abortions, redefines a “person” as “a human being who has been born and is alive,” and describes abortion as a “fundamental right.”
One of the side-effects of the law is that it will no longer be a crime for someone to kill an unborn child even if the mother is not seeking an abortion, e.g., if unborn baby dies as the result of an assault on 40-week pregnant woman, the baby’s death is not a crime.
This is nothing short of barbarism. Think of this: a healthy unborn baby, who comes to full term, one day before his mother would normally give birth, may be killed with the state’s approval. One day later, that same baby, now born, is a human being and killing it is the crime of murder. One day. Nonsense.
Cuomo, a baptized Catholic, went on to brag about his barbarity, and to mock his Catholic faith: “The Catholic Church doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose…I understand their religious view…I’m not here to represent a religion.” Let’s rephrase that for him properly (my own rephrasing): “The Catholic Church doesn’t believe that anyone has a right to kill an unborn human being,…I understand their rational human view…but I’m not here to represent rational humans.” Killing babies, born or unborn, is wrong because they are human beings, “persons”, no matter what the law of New York says. It is not simply a religious view, it is the scientifically informed rational truth. And Cuomo is a bloody barbarian, and he should be excommunicated, for his own good and the good of God’s people.
Virginia, and Springfield. Then comes the news this week that our very own state Delegate from Springfield, Kathy Tran, freshman Democrat, has introduced a bill similar to the one in New York, HB2491. It would allow abortion up to 40 weeks (including outpatient late term abortions), repeal informed consent and abdominal ultrasound requirements, eliminate the 24-hour waiting period, allow abortionists to self-certify third trimester abortions, and exempt abortion clinics from health and safety standards.
This is just sickening. Consider this back-and-forth between Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert and Tran on the House floor last week:
Gilbert: “So how late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?”…
Tran: “I mean, through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.”…
Gilbert: “So where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth, she has physical signs that she’s about give birth, would that still be a point at which she could still request an abortion if she was so certified? [pause] She’s dilating?…
Tran: “My bill would allow that, yes.”

We must stop this. Did you vote in the state elections in November 2017? Or did you stay at home? Did you vote for this woman who thinks it’s okay, a right, to kill a baby when it’s ready to be born? Who even wants to do away with all common-sense medical protections for the mother’s physical health?
Please contact Delegate Kathy Tran to voice your rejection of this abhorrent bill. Contact info:
Richmond: Pocahontas Building, 900 E. Main St, Richmond, Virginia 23219; Phone: (804) 698-1042.
Springfield: P.O. Box 2731, Springfield, Virginia 22152; Phone: (703) 828-7173.
Email Address:DelKTran@house.virginia.gov

Thanks be to God, the small pro-life majority in the House of Delegates will most certainly not pass this bill. But our narrow advantage could easily be wiped out in the state elections this coming November. If we don’t stop them. Peacefully, with charity and reason, but also forthrightly, with clarity and truth. And with speaking out in the public square, to our friends and in the voting booth!

March for Life—Thanks. Thanks to all parishioners and friends who participated in this year’s March for Life on the Washington Mall on January 18. Once again it was a great success for us, as we took 4 bus loads to the March, and were joined by dozens of other parishioners who drove or “metroed” in. Not to mention all who participated at home, work or in church, by praying, and all those who prepared a wonderful chili dinner for the marchers in the parish hall afterwards. Special thanks to Liz Hildebrand and Sherri Burns for all their hard work in organizing things.

New Altar Rail and Pulpit. Over the last few months I have been approached by many parishioners asking me to make the altar rail more permanent. So I’ve asked a church designer to come up with some proposals. We would most likely install a marble rail, and extend the sanctuary out a few feet to where the current wooden rails are now. To ease the flow of traffic a bit, we would probably remove the first row in front of the sanctuary (this would eliminate only 10 – 12 seats, which would only affect us on Christmas and Easter). I’m also thinking of installing altar rails in front of the statues of Mary and Joseph, so that folks sitting in the side transepts could also make use of the altar rail. If I do that, I will also replace the carpeting in front of those statues with marble, so as to make that area more a part of the sanctuary (while still allowing access to the votive candles).
Also, I am considering replacing our pulpit. Unfortunately, our current pulpit presents several problems: 1) it is not constructed very well (as you can see if you actually stand near or especially at the pulpit); 2) it is oversized and does not fit aesthetically with the rest of our sanctuary; 3) its size tends to unnecessarily block the view of the sanctuary from the pews on the “Mary”-side transept; 4) although large on the “outside”, it is actually rather narrow for someone standing inside of it (and so uncomfortable for larger readers and priests).
So I’m thinking of commissioning a local marble worker to design and craft a new smaller but beautiful pulpit.
I’m not sure when we would do the work on this in the church, but I would hope it would happen this summer. Also, before that we would have to raise the money from a special fund drive/capital campaign.
But it’s just in the planning and thinking stage now. Nothing is final. I want your input. Always with charity and respect. But tell me what you think—email, write or call me. I’ll report back to you in a few weeks when I have a better feel for what the parishioners are thinking, and what the designers, etc. are proposing.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shutdown Troubles? I encourage all of you to pray for a just end to the federal partial shutdown, and for all those directly affected by the shutdown. Please be aware if that if any parishioner directly affected by the shutdown needs financial help, even a short-term loan, the parish can help. Just contact me or Eva in the parish office.

Gillette Commercial. I must say something about Gillette’s new commercial lecturing men about what it refers to as “toxic masculinity.” While perhaps in some ways well intentioned, Gillette has clearly bought in to the popular and false ideological notion behind the term “toxic masculinity.” That is, first of all, that all traits that we traditionally have defined as being clearly masculine (or feminine) are actually merely culturally or socially conditioned (i.e., learned, not genetic/natural). Second, it is held that certain “learned masculine” traits are inherently destructive and must be suppressed, including aggression/violence, hypersexuality, competitiveness, and suppression of emotions/feelings.
It is well documented that males and females are very different physically, mentally, and emotionally, and this is rooted in their male or female genetics—they were born this way. I commend you to the work of anthropologist Lionel Tiger (The Decline of Males and Men in Groups) and philosopher Christina Hoff Summers (Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys). And I would argue that each of these so-called “learned” “toxic masculine” qualities are rooted in good healthy masculine traits which are defined in male genetics.
For example, aggression/violence. Although this trait is often discussed in a negative-pejorative sense, no one thinks it evil when a security guard aggressively disarms a crazed school shooter by force (i.e., “violence”) When we see little boys playfully wrestling with each other or pretending to shoot at each other using their fingers as guns, that is not toxic. Rather, it is an expression of a natural and good masculine trait.
The key is understanding that they gifted with this violent/aggressive tendency not in order to hurt innocent people, but rather to readily defend self, family and community. This is a good and natural thing. And it is the corruption of this good trait that is the problem. Which is why Jesus and His Catholic Church have never rejected aggressiveness or violence, but rather promoted self-discipline and self-control, to govern these traits with reason and with love. This has been one of the great contributions Christianity has brought to the world, and it is the loss of this Christian perspective that have led to the abuse of these traits.
So while men should exercise self-control in reason and charity, especially in their treatment of women—in particular by following the teachings of Jesus—but they should not be ashamed of being masculinity.

Covington Catholic Boys. By now you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding the boys from Covington Catholic High School (Covington, Kentucky) at the March for Life on January 18. While it was first reported that the boys were insulting to an old Indigenous American Indian, the facts eventually proved they were innocent, and were in fact themselves the victims of abuse by two different radical groups.
Of course, everyone ran with the original false story of the boys abusing the old man, and condemnations rained down on them from all over the place. Most despicable was the almost immediate condemnation by their school and by the spokesperson for their Diocese of Covington, and so by their own Bishop.
This makes me ill. Isn’t this a form of “child abuse”? Why are Church officials increasingly so quick to blame or condemn their own, even our children, before the facts are known. It seems sometimes they are too afraid of being blamed for the bad behavior of others. Isn’t that a big part of the reason for the cover up of sexual abuse—officials trying to avoid looking bad?
Of course, fortunately, not all of our leaders are this way. But let us pray that all Catholic leaders will always have the courage and integrity it takes to apply true justice to all entrusted to their care. And let’s pray for the boys from Covington.

News you might have missed. Due to the snow on January 12-13 you might have missed these topics covered in my column that day. I want to re-publish them (abridged) for your benefit today:
Update on Lighting and Murals Project. I just wanted to let you know that our lighting project, which was complete in August, is completely paid for and came in under budget. The total actual costs were $363,831.80 (including the millwork and initial costs for the paintings), compared to our budget of $372,207.90. The only thing that remains to be paid for is the murals themselves and their installation, which is fixed at a cost of $67,200.00.
Offertory Collection. I want to thank all of you for giving so generously to various collections over the last few weeks, and for your special year-end donations to the parish.
But I’m a little concerned too. Because for the last few months I’ve been watching our collections and other donations very carefully and, unfortunately, they’ve been going down. For the six months ended December 31, 2018, we’ve seen a decline in “revenue” of $93,000, or down 8% from last year at this time. That’s a lot of money.
Now, frankly, I have been expecting something like this for years: I figured once the building loan was paid off some of you would stop seeing the need to give as much.
But there is probably another factor affecting this: the abuse-coverup scandal. A lot of people think the only way to get the bishops and the pope to do something is to hit them in their pocketbooks, so they’ve decided not to give to the Church, or not to give as much as before.
I understand that. But only 8% of the parish offertory collection (we call it the “cathedraticum tax”) goes to the Bishop for diocesan expenses. So by decreasing your donations to the parish you are affecting the parish much more than you are affecting the Bishop/Diocese. So if this a concern, please reconsider. And remember, contributions to the Maintenance Fund or to the parish separately from the Offertory Collection are not subject to the cathedraticum tax, and 100% goes to the parish. [To be clear: I am not in any way expressing support for withholding donations to the Bishop].
The thing is, we will survive and be okay with the decline in contributions. But we will be limited in our planning for the future, and in what we can do today. And I don’t want the parish to be just “okay,” even financially. I want us to flourish.
So I once again thank you all for your generosity. And I just ask you to please prayerfully consider the level of your giving, and give what you think is right to the parish.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Snow and Vacation. It looks like the parish weathered last weekend’s snow pretty well. No damage to the church or facilities, and no severe damage or injuries reported by parishioners. Praised be Jesus Christ.
If you couldn’t get to Mass last Sunday due to the weather—whether from being snowed in, or out of serious fear of maneuvering in the snow or ice—be assured that no sin was involved. On the other hand, for those of you who did make it to Mass, I want to tell you how proud I am of your effort. I know God will give you a little extra grace for that.
And I’m sorry I couldn’t be here with you to endure/enjoy the snow and cold. Unfortunately, I was in Florida, golfing in 80 degree and sunny weather.

Parish Volunteers. As we begin a new year we all make certain “new year’s resolutions.” I hope this applies to us especially when it comes to resolutions about growing in our Catholic Faith.
One of the best ways to grow in your Catholic faith is to become active in one or more parish groups or committee. It may not be as essential as receiving the Sacraments, reading the Scriptures or studying the Catechism, but getting involved in parish activities can be an important means of discovering the meaning of Christian service, as well as the support of your fellow parishioners. Moreover, it can lead you to discover other opportunities the parish provides for spiritual growth.
I know when I was a 20-something year-old Catholic lay man that was an important factor contributing to the deepening my faith. Sometimes the Church, and even the parish, can seem so huge and impersonal. But by being involved in a particular small group or activity of the parish you can really become involved in the life of the whole parish. Not only does this create a personal and familial sense of belonging, but it also draws you deeper into the life of the whole parish and the whole Church—you meet more people and make more good Catholic friends who help and encourage you in your spiritual and moral growth.
So this year I encourage you to resolve to take a more active part in the life of our parish, and to do so as did the Lord Jesus, who “came to serve, not to be served.” Resolve to become a committed volunteer for one or more activities or groups in the parish.
Many St. Raymond parishioners have a strong history of committed volunteerism (God bless you!). Sometimes, however, this causes others (especially newcomers) to think that their help isn’t needed. But the reality is just the opposite: we constantly need fresh ideas, younger muscles, new voices, etc. And, frankly, some of our volunteers are stepping back due to age, and others are just worn out because they don’t get the help they need!
Moreover, we can’t grow or improve, much less keep current services going, if we don’t have more help, and new help! So I encourage folks who aren’t committed to some volunteer parish activity now to do so in 2019, especially those who are newer to our parish. And I encourage those of you who are volunteers already to invite other parishioners you meet to join you!
I know everybody’s busy, and many of you are already serving the Lord in many ways outside of the parish. But I beg you to think and pray seriously about the specific ways you can volunteer in our parish. We need your help. To jog your thoughts here, see the insert in this bulletin for list of the various parish committees/activities that need your help.
In particular, I know of immediate needs among the Ushers, the Choir, and the Knights of Columbus. But, look over the insert, and ask God to show you where He wants you.

The Maniple. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the vestments the priest wears at Mass. But one priestly vestment that you may not even be aware of is the “maniple.” This vestment is about a yard long and 3-5 inches wide and is worn over the priest’s left forearm.
Historically, the maniple probably derives from the small towel or handkerchief, a “mappula,” than ancient Romans wore on their left arms to wipe away sweat or tears. The use of this as a liturgical vestment dates at least to the 6th century in Rome, and very early on came to symbolize the tears and sweat related to the toils of the priest. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us that it, “was introduced for the purpose of wiping away the tears of devotion that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continuously during the celebration of the Mass,” (The Dignity and Duties of the Priest). Other symbolic meanings are often attached to it as well, such as relating it to the ropes or chains that bound Jesus during His Passion.
If you’re not familiar with this vestment, don’t worry—it is hardly ever used anymore. In 1967 the Vatican allowed that, “The maniple is no longer required,” (Tres Abhinc Annos, 25), and when the new Roman Missal was published in 1970 the maniple was omitted from the list of required vestments for the “Novus Ordo Missae” (New Order of Mass) or the “Ordinary Form of Mass.”
However, it continued to be worn by priests celebrating the “Extraordinary Form of Mass” using the Roman Missal of 1962, or the “Old Latin Mass.” Because of this, some priests have asked Vatican officials if the maniple may still be worn even in the Ordinary Form. In response to this and other questions about vestments, in 2010 the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff issued an explanation of the vestments worn at Mass, in which it reminded us that the maniple was never forbidden and so is still a legitimate vestment in the Ordinary Form: “It fell into disuse in the years of the post-conciliar reform, even though it was never abrogated.” (See “Liturgical Vestments and the Vesting Prayers,” http://www.vatican.va/).
As a priest who celebrates both the Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form of Mass I have often thought of wearing the maniple during the Ordinary Form, i.e., our regular Sunday Mass. One reason it fell into disuse is that it is a bit cumbersome/awkward having a long piece of cloth tied to your forearm during Mass. But to me this awkwardness serves as a constant reminder both that priestly ministry involves the hard work and suffering (sweat and tears), and that I must say Mass with profound reverence and devotion (i.e., St. Alphonsus’ “tears of devotion”).
So, I’ve decided to wear the maniple, at least at some of my Sunday Masses. We’ll see how it goes. But I thought you’d like to know what was on my mind in doing this.

Oremus pro invicem, Fr. De Celles

The Baptism of the Lord

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

March for Life. This Friday, January 18, hundreds of thousands of Christians and other people of goodwill will participate in the 46th annual “March for Life” on the Mall in Washington, commemorating the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade creating the so-called “right to abortion.” Perhaps no court decision or legislation has so directly and fundamentally had such a wide and terrible effect on our nation. And not only in the devastation of 60 million or so babies it has killed, or the millions of mothers whose lives it has ruined. But also in its shaping of our American culture into a culture that degrades human life more and more every day, transforming human beings from persons whose lives have value and meaning in themselves into things that have value and meaning only to the extent other persons who have power over them chose to give them.
Some people tell us we should not talk about this, or at least not talk about it so much, or so loudly or so vehemently. But how can we be silent, when we remember that it is all intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love and His commandment to love our neighbor.
On Friday four busloads of St. Raymond parishioners will drive down to the Mall to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Life, including the Lord’s call to all of us to love our neighbor, even if our neighbor is a tiny unborn baby. Please join us. Sign-up sheets for the bus are located in the narthex of the Church today.

Update on Lighting and Murals Project. I just wanted to let you know that our lighting project, which was finished in August, is completely paid for and came in under budget. The total actual costs were $363,831.80 (including the millwork and initial costs for the paintings), compared to our budget of $372,207.90. The only thing that remains to be paid for is the murals themselves and their installation, which is fixed at a cost of $67,200.00.

Offertory Collection. I want to thank all of you for giving so generously to various collections over the last few weeks, and for your special year-end donations to the parish.

But I’m a little concerned too. Just a little. Because for the last few months I’ve been watching our Offertory collection very carefully and, unfortunately, it has been going down. For the six months ended December 31, 2018, it has declined by $139,000 compared to the same period last year. Happily, this has been partially offset by an increase in our Maintenance Fund (formerly “Building Loan”) collection and other Donations by $45,000, but that still leaves a decline of $93,000, or down 8% from last year at this time. That’s a lot of money.
Now, frankly, I have been expecting something like this for years: I figured once the building loan was paid off some of you would stop seeing the need to give as much.
But there is probably another factor affecting this: the abuse-coverup scandal. A lot of people think the only way to get the bishops and the pope to do something is to hit them in their pocketbooks, so they’ve decided not to give to the Church, or not to give as much as before.
I understand that. The thing is, though, of the parish offertory collection, only 8% (we call it the “cathedraticum tax”) goes to the Bishop for diocesan expenses, and none of it goes to “Rome.” So by decreasing your donations to the parish you are affecting the parish much more than you are affecting the Bishop/Diocese. So if this a concern, please reconsider. And remember, contributions to the Maintenance Fund or to the parish separately from the Offertory Collection are not subject to the cathedraticum tax, and 100% goes to the parish.
The thing is, we will survive and be okay with the decline in contributions. But we will be limited in our planning for the future, and in what we can do today. And I don’t want the parish to be just “okay,” even financially. I want us to flourish.
I know that sometime in the next few months, someone from the Diocesan staff will call and tell me I have to do a hard sell campaign to get you to increase donations. That is something I do not want to do, first of all, because it’s your money, not “ours”, but also I just don’t think that’s right during this time of confusion and scandal.
So I once again thank you all for your generosity. And I just ask you to please prayerfully consider the level of your giving, and give what you think is right to the parish.

Rest in Peace. Last week we heard the sad news that long-time parishioner, Cathy Conway, had passed away. Cathy and her family joined St. Raymond’s in 2004, and she was active in the parish, especially with our Special Needs Apostolate and the youth group, for many years. She also served on our Finance Committee for many years, including as chairman under both Fr. Gould and me. She was a great help to me in my first year at the parish. Please keep her and her family in your prayers. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Pope St. John Paul II
Homily, Epiphany, 6 January 1979

“Arise (Jerusalem), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you”, the Prophet Isaiah cries out (60:1), in the eighth century before Christ, and we listen to his words today in the 20th century A.D. and admire, really admire, the great light that comes from these words. Through the centuries, Isaiah addresses Jerusalem, which was to become the city of the Great Anointed, of the Messiah: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising… your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms… A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (60:3-4; 6).
We have before our eyes these three—so tradition says—three Magi Kings who come on pilgrimage from afar with camels and bring with them not only gold and incense, but also myrrh: the symbolic gifts with which they went to meet the Messiah who was awaited also beyond the frontiers of Israel. We are not surprised, therefore, when Isaiah, in his prophetic dialogue with Jerusalem, carried out through the centuries, says at a certain point: “your heart shall thrill and rejoice” (60:5). He speaks to the city as if it were a living man.
“Your heart shall thrill and rejoice”. On Christmas Eve, finding myself together with those participating in the eucharistic liturgy at midnight here in this Basilica, I asked everyone to be, in mind and heart, more there than here; more in Bethlehem, at the birthplace of Christ, in that stable-cave in which “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). And today I ask the same of you. Because the Magi Kings, those strange pilgrims from the East, came just there, to that place, south of Jerusalem. They passed through Jerusalem. They were led by a mysterious star, the star, an exterior light that moved in the firmament. But they were led even more by faith, the inner light. They were not surprised by what they found: neither by the poverty, nor the stable, nor the fact that the Child lay in a manger. They arrived and they fell down “and worshipped him”. Then they opened their caskets and offered the Child Jesus gold and incense, of which Isaiah speaks, but also myrrh. And after having done all that, they returned to their country.
Because of this pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the Magi Kings from the East became the beginning and the symbol of all those who, through faith, reach Jesus, the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, the Saviour nailed to the cross, he who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb at the foot of Calvary, rose again on the third day. These very men, the Magi Kings, three according to tradition, from the East, became the beginning and the prefiguration of all those who, from beyond the frontiers of the Chosen People of the Old Covenant, have reached and still reach Christ by means of faith.
“Your heart shall thrill and rejoice”, Isaiah says to Jerusalem. In fact the heart of the People of God had to dilate in order to contain the new men, the new peoples. This very cry of the Prophet is the keyword of the Epiphany. It was necessary to dilate the heart of the Church continually, when more and more new men entered it; when, following in the steps of the shepherds and the Magi Kings, from the East new peoples kept arriving in Bethlehem. Now, too, it is always necessary to dilate this heart according to the needs of men and peoples, ages and times.
The Epiphany is the feast of the vitality of the Church. The Church lives her awareness of God’s mission, which is carried out through her. The Second Vatican Council helped us to realize that the “mission” is the proper name of the Church, and in a certain sense defines her. The Church becomes herself when she carries out her mission. The Church is herself, when men—such as the shepherds and the Magi Kings from the East—reach Jesus Christ by means of faith. When in the Christ-Man and through Christ they find God again.
The Epiphany, therefore, is the great feast of faith. Both those who have already arrived at faith, and those who are on the way to arrive at it, take part in this feast. They take part, rendering thanks for the gift of faith, just as the Magi Kings, full of gratitude, knelt before the Child. The Church, which becomes more aware of the vastness of her mission every year, takes part in this feast. To how many men it is still necessary to bring faith! How many men must be won back to the faith, which they have lost, and that is sometimes more difficult than the first conversion to faith! But the Church, aware of that great gift, the gift of the incarnation of God, can never stop, can never tire. She must continually seek access to Bethlehem for every man and for every period. The Epiphany is the feast of God’s challenge….
Once more, therefore, I borrow the words of Isaiah to express the wishes “Urbi et Orbi” and say: “Arise! Your heart shall thrill and rejoice!” Arise and sow the strength of your faith! May Christ enlighten you continually! May men and Peoples walk in this light. Amen.”

Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort. Tomorrow, January 7, is the feast of our parish Patron. For those of you who don’t know much about St. Raymond, I invite you to read the 32-page biography we published about 3 years ago. If you don’t have one, come by the parish gift shop or the office and pick one up.
As a brief reminder…Raymond was born in 1175, and at a young age he was named a professor of civil and canon law and at the University of Bologna. On August 1, 1218 Raymond received a heavenly vision from our Blessed Mother (“Our Lady of Ransom”). In 1222 he entered the Order of Preachers (“Dominicans”), and published the Summa Casuum, a book guiding confessors and moralists. In 1230 he was appointed confessor and theologian to Pope Gregory IX, who also assigned him the daunting task of codifying the entirety of the juridical laws of the Church. In 1238 he was elected Master General of the Dominican Order. He resigned after 3 years, but continued his writing, preaching and pastoral work for another 37 years until his death on January 6, 1275, at the age of 100. He is the patron saint of lawyers, both canon and civil.

St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us!

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

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

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

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

Pope Saint John Paul II, Homily for Solemnity of the Holy Family, December 31, 1978, (the first of his papacy)
The Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, that is, the present Sunday, unites, in the liturgy, the solemn memory of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The birth of a child always gives rise to a family. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem gave rise to this unique and exceptional Family in the history of mankind. In this Family there came into the world, grew and was brought up the Son of God, conceived and born of the Virgin-Mother, and at the same time entrusted, from the beginning, to the truly fatherly care of Joseph. The latter, a carpenter of Nazareth, who vis-à-vis Jewish law was Mary’s husband, and vis-à-vis the Holy Spirit was her worthy spouse and the guardian, really in a fatherly way, of the maternal mystery of his Bride.
The family of Nazareth, which the Church, especially in today’s liturgy, puts before the eyes of all families, really constitutes that culminating point of reference for the holiness of every human family. The history of this Family is described very concisely in the pages of the Gospel. We get to know only a few events in its life. However what we learn is sufficient to be able to involve the fundamental moments in the life of every family, and to show that dimension, to which all men who live a family life are called: fathers, mothers, parents, children….
The deepest human problems are connected with the family. It constitutes the primary, fundamental and irreplaceable community for man. “The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself”, the Second Vatican Council affirms. (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11). The Church wishes to bear a particular witness to that too during the Octave of Christmas, by means of the feast of the Holy Family. She wishes to recall that the fundamental values, which cannot be violated without incalculable harm of a moral nature, are bound up with the family. Material perspectives and the “economico-social” point of view often prevail over the principles of Christian and even human morality. It is not enough, then, to express only regret. It is necessary to defend these fundamental values tenaciously and firmly, because their violation does incalculable harm to society and, in the last analysis, to man. no experience of the different nations in the history of mankind, as well as our contemporary experience, can serve as an argument to reaffirm this painful truth, that is, that it is easy, in the fundamental sphere of human existence in which the role of the family is decisive, to destroy essential values, while it is very difficult to reconstruct these values.
What are these values? If we had to answer this question adequately, it would be necessary to indicate the whole hierarchy and the set of values which define and condition one another. But trying to express ourself concisely, let us say that here it is a question of two fundamental values which fall strictly into the context of what we call “conjugal love”. The first of them is the value of the person which is expressed in absolute mutual faithfulness until death: the faithfulness of the husband to his wife and of the wife to her husband. The consequence of this affirmation of the value of the person, which is expressed in the mutual relationship between husband and wife, must also be respect for the personal value of the new life, that is, of the child, from the first moment of his conception.
The Church can never dispense herself from the obligation of guarding these two fundamental values, connected with the vocation of the family. Custody of them was entrusted to the Church by Christ, in such a way as leaves no doubt. At the same time, the self-evidence of these values—humanly understood— is such that the Church, defending them, sees herself as the spokesman of true human dignity: of the good of the person, of the family, of the nations.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Forth Sunday of Advent

The Lord is Near. We are now in the very last hours of Advent, the final time to prepare
for Christmas. I know there’s an awful lot going on in the next few days: last minute
shopping, wrapping and mailing presents, travelling. But don’t let all that busyness
distract you from what’s most important: we are preparing to celebrate the day awaited
from almost the beginning of the creation of man, when God first promised that “the
woman” would bring forth a son who would crush the serpent’s head. The day when God
the Son, Creator of the Universe, to whom all angels bowed in worship, having been
conceived in the womb of His mother Mary, entered the world as a poor, defenseless,
vulnerable baby, to save mankind from sin and to offer us a share in His eternal life and
love.
 
So rather than allowing all the busyness to distract you in the next few days, try to make
real time to prepare yourself for this celebration. Avoid all sin. Try to show charity and
compassion to your neighbor, especially your family members, at every moment—be
helpful, not harmful, to family peace. And love God above everything and with
everything. Take time to pray, and in your prayer place yourself in the company and care
of Mary and Joseph. Imagine them travelling on the rocky roads of Galilee and Judea,
from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, walking all that way or, perhaps, aided by a donkey.
Imagine the cold and even freezing weather over the several days’ journey. Perhaps
today, just 2 days before the birth, they were almost at the end of their journey, just a few
miles away from Bethlehem. Imagine how tired! And every day they were a little closer,
and a little colder and more tired. Think of their struggle, but also their joy. For they were
not traveling alone: their Savior was with them in Mary’s womb. Travel with them these
next few days in prayer. Stop from time to time at work, and wonder, “where are your
now, Mary and Joseph, and Baby Jesus?” Come to church for a quiet visit, and think,
“perhaps you are stopping to rest now—let me rest with you.” Accompany them on their
journey—and do not get too distracted by the busyness of the season.
 
Advent Series. Thanks to all who attended and participated in our Advent Series on
“Looking at the Nativity.” We had an excellent turnout every week, but if you were
unable to attend we’ve posted the audio of two of the sessions and handouts from all
three on the parish website.
 
Giving Tree. Thanks to all of you who gave so generously to the “Giving Tree”. Because
of your kindness over 32 families and 177 people (the most we’ve ever helped), will have
a little merrier Christmas this year.
 
Christmas Schedule: Please take time today to revisit our schedule for this week—found
below in this bulletin—especially the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Sunday
schedules.
 
Let me extend a particular invitation to the Christmas Midnight Mass. I have preached
several times about how such a Midnight Mass many years ago was the occasion of an

important moment in my own personal spiritual life. There is something very special
about that Mass, which begins with the placing of the “Baby Jesus” in the Manger, as we
remember that Christ was born in the “Holy Night.” The choir sings so beautifully, all the
altar servers are so reverent, and we usually get a large (not too large, though) and devout
crowd. Think about joining us this year. (Just a fatherly word of caution: it can be a little
tough on the very little ones, that late; so parents, please be prudent).
 
Volunteer Dinner. Mark your calendars: January 5 is the day for our annual reception in
appreciation for all those who volunteer their time to support the activities of the parish.
Keep your eyes on the bulletin for details, or contact your committee chairman.
 
Accused Priest, Part 2. Last week I wrote about a priest of the Diocese who was placed
on “administrative leave” for “boundary violations” (not “abuse”) “involving a minor and
adults.” This last week, in a surprisingly quick turn of events, the Loudoun County
Sheriff's Office announced that their “investigation has concluded, and there are no
criminal charges.” However, in an abundance of caution Diocesan officials stated,
“Having received this news, the diocese will conduct an investigation of matters that
pertain to its Code of Conduct for Clergy and report its findings in a timely way.”
I can’t say strongly enough how I feel about the absolute need to clean the filth out
of the Church and punish abusive and lying clerics. But good and innocent priests need to
be protected as well. Pray for all concerned in this case, and for a quick resolution by
Diocesan officials.
 
[ Please Don’t Read This Until Christmas!:
My dear and beloved spiritual children in the Lord Jesus:
Blessings and peace to you all as we celebrate the Birthday of Jesus Christ, Son of
God and son of Mary, the Lord and Savior of the Universe! May Christmas be a day of
joy greater than you have ever known. May it renew your faith and hope, that even in this
troubled and fallen world, Christ has come to save us from sin and evil, from want and
oppression, from hate and fear, to fill us with His light and grace and lead us to perfect
happiness and peace. And may you rediscover, in the tiny Babe’s sweet smile, God’s
boundless love for you and yours.
If you are traveling, may the angels carry you on your journeys and return you
safely to us. If you are staying “in town”, I look forward to greeting you at Mass on
Christmas Eve or Day.
On behalf of Fr. Smith, Fr. Daly, the parish staff, and myself, may I extend our
warmest wishes that you and your families have a Blessed and Merry Christmas Day,
Octave and Season! May the Baby Jesus bless you and fill you with His grace, may His
Mother Mary keep you in her tender embrace, and may St. Joseph protect you all the
days of your life!]
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Third Sunday of Advent

Good News. Bishop Burbidge writes about his recent surgery: “I am pleased to report
that, upon meeting with my surgeon yesterday, I received a clear pathology report…”
Praised be Jesus Christ, and keep the Bishop in your prayers as he continues to recover.
 
3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Today is “Gaudete,” or “Rejoice,” Sunday, as
we look forward to the joy of Christmas and heaven. Last week we celebrated the
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These
feasts remind us that as this holy season of preparation and expectant joy continues we
follow the example of she who was first prepared for the birth of Jesus, and who has
always found the most joy in it, is His Blessed Mother, Mary.
Of course, in a certain sense Mary was prepared from all time for the coming of
Jesus, as God promised in the Garden of Eden that He would send “the woman,” free
from sin, who would bear a Son, also free from sin, who would crush the devil and free
us from sin. In fulfillment of that promise Mary was then conceived in her mother’s
womb without the stain of original sin, and was filled with grace all her life, so that she
never committed any actual sin herself. Thus prepared for Jesus’ birth, she was to be the
perfect Mother for the Divine Son. In imitation of Mary we should be preparing for
Christmas by ridding ourselves of sins, and accepting the grace the Lord pours out on us
in this holy season.
But besides preparing ourselves we must also help others prepare. When Mary had
heard the news of the Incarnation she “departed in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth,
and so truly bringing the tiny Baby Jesus in her womb to Elizabeth, who responded with
exuberant joy. Similarly, when the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico
in 1531 she appeared to him as a pregnant young woman, again bringing Christ to all of
Mexico, Latin America, and, in a sense, to all the “New World.” Our Advent preparation
must also include this: imitating Mary by bringing Christ to those around us. We do this
first by, as I wrote above, eliminating sin our lives, and so live in charity and justice with
our neighbors. But we must also be more pro-active: we must proclaim to all who will
hear, a clear invitation to receive the Lord who came to us first at Christmas.
There are a thousand ways we can do this: giving presents that effectively
communicate the Christian message (Bibles, Hand Missals, Rosaries, Catholic spiritual
classic books, etc.); putting up Manger scenes (crèches); praying and singing holy
Christmas songs with our families; talking about Christ and sharing our belief in and love
of Him; and especially, bringing others (our children, fallen away family members,
interested friends and co-workers) to church with us—to Mass, to Confession, to
adoration, etc..
As Advent continues let us turn to our Blessed Mother to help us to prepare in joy
for Christmas, by her example and through her intercession.
 
Giving. At the first Christmas, God gave Himself to us by stripping Himself of the glory
of heaven, and becoming a baby born into poverty. So I encourage you to consider
carefully what you will give to those in need this Advent, whether individuals you know
or charitable organizations that continue Jesus’ work on earth.

When you give to charitable groups, make sure the group is solidly in line with the
teaching of Christ’s Church so that your money isn’t diverted to unworthy uses. Let me
recommend a just few organizations (there are many more organizations worthy of your
help): the Little Sisters of the Poor, Catholic Charities of Arlington, House of Mercy,
Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, Mary’s Shelter (in Fredericksburg),
the Poor Clares, Angelus Academy, and St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, VA (the
wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily). And of course, St.
Raymond’s itself is a charitable organization—special Christmas donations to the parish
are greatly appreciated.
 
Confessions. As I noted above, one of the best tools to help us to overcome sin is the
Sacrament of Confession. First, the confession/admission of our sins to the Church and to
God (through the priest) helps us to identify the sins we must overcome, to take personal
responsibility for them and to affirmatively reject them. Second, the grace of the
sacrament repairs the rupture sin causes between us and God, especially if there are
mortal sins, and strengthens us to resist those sins in the future. So… go to confession
this week. Monday through Friday this week we will have 3 priests hearing confessions
every evening at 6:15.
 
Lessons and Carols Last Sunday. We had another amazing Lessons and Carols last
Sunday, as over 400 people could attest. Wow. The choir was amazing—I just can’t get
over how a parish our size and location could have such a great choir, the best in any
parish in the Diocese, I’m sure. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco and all the musicians and
choir members. And thanks to the lectors, and to all who provided an elegant reception
afterwards, especially the volunteers from Angelus Academy and Eva Radel, who
coordinated everything.
 
Seniors Luncheon. The seniors also had a very special lunch last Saturday. Thanks to the
leaders and scouts from our Trail Life and American Heritage Girls troops for making
everything come together, and to Christine Gloninger and her culinary students at
Annandale High School for preparing most of the food.
 
Advent Series: Looking at the Nativity. I invite you all to my last session of the Advent
Series this Thursday, December 20, at 7:30pm, when I will be going through St. Luke’s
account of the Nativity. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you there.
Accused Priest. Last week a priest of the Diocese was suspended for “boundary
violations” “involving a minor and adults.” (He was never assigned or in residence here).
The Diocese gave no further details, but told the Washington Post “that the alleged
behavior…was …‘a boundary violation,’ not ‘abuse.’” Now, that seems to me a very
important distinction, although I’m not sure exactly what boundary violation could
warrant such a strong response.
I have assured you before that our Diocese will not cover up abuse: accused priests

nowadays are immediately suspended if the accusation is at least “credible.” But a
“credible accusation” does not mean he is guilty, only that they can’t yet say that he is not
guilty. So, to “be safe,” they suspend him, pending police investigation. Let me be clear:
if a priest is guilty he deserves the punishment he gets. But if he is not guilty, and later
exonerated, the process itself can be devastating on the priest, not to mention ruin his
reputation.
So in mercy and justice, I ask you to pray for all involved here, including the
accusers and the accused, and those who are investigating.
 
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Second Sunday of Advent

CATHOLIC ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS. This time of year is filled with all sorts of traditions. Unfortunately, many of us have lost sight of the Catholic origins of many of the traditions that dominate the secular celebration of Christmas and Advent.
Consider the Christmas tree. There are many different efforts to explain the origins of the Christmas tree, including many that try to separate it completely from Christianity. For example, some try to say that since many different ancient non-Christian cultures used evergreens as a sign of life or health that therefore evergreen “Christmas” trees are not “Christian,” or that Christians “stole” the symbol from the pagans. But there is no conflict or stealing here. Since Christianity converted many ancient pagan cultures it was natural for those new Christians to keep the symbols that had meaningfully expressed their long held spiritual desires that were ultimately answered only in Christianity. So, if an evergreen tree expressed a pagan culture’s desires for eternal life, it was natural for them to carry that symbol into Christianity, which is fine with the Church.
The specific Christianization and “Christmas-ization” of the evergreen tree can be traced at least to the early 8th century in Germany. It seems one Christmas Eve the great missionary St. Boniface and his companions came upon a group of pagans gathered around their sacred tree, the “Oak of Geismar” (“Donar’s Oak”) to worship their god, Thor, and to sacrifice a little child to please him. Horrified by what he had found, Boniface struck the Oak, which the people believed to be indestructible, and suddenly a great wind came and blew the tree over, tearing it out of the ground by its roots and into four pieces. When the tree fell it revealed a small evergreen tree that had grown behind it. St. Boniface then told the people: “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of the fir. It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” The people then took the tree to the great hall of their village and decorated it with candles, as Boniface told the story of the Baby Jesus. The whole village, including the pagan priest, were converted that Christmas Eve. (For a beautiful retelling of this tale see The First Christmas Tree, by Henry van Dyke).
This seems to be the oldest story of the Christmas tree, and stands as the inspiration for later developments in its use. It was popularized later in the middle ages through the German “Paradise Play” depicting the creation of man, with the evergreen decorated with apples to symbolize both Eden’s Tree of Life (evergreen) and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (apples). When the play was performed in churches the Paradeisbaum (Paradise Tree) was surrounded by candles. Eventually the Paradeisbaum made its way into homes and the rest is history.
Santa Claus. Another tradition of the secular celebration of this season is Santa Claus, if its correct to call a real man a “tradition.” Once again, we often forget the Catholic origins of Santa Claus, who is none other than Saint Nicklaus (“Santa Claus” derived from the Dutch for “St. Nicholas”). Again many will argue about non-Christian or pagan predecessors, but it is clear that our Santa is St. Nicklaus. One reason for the two seem to be disconnected in America is because of the English Protestant and Puritan origins of our nation—after the “Reformation” the English downplayed the reference to Saint Nicholas as sounding too Catholic (in England Santa is still called “Father Christmas”).
But Catholics remember the wonderful stories about St. Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) in the early 300s. The story of how he rescued three sisters from being sold into slavery by dropping three bags of gold through their window at night. And how he raised three little boys from the dead after they had been murdered. Not to mention the many stories of his other amazing miracles—he is called Thaumaturgus, or Wonderworker. And we should not forget that after being tortured for his faith in the last Roman persecution, he attended the Council of Nicaea where he boldly defended the divinity of Christ, and Mary’s status as “Mother of God” against the arch-heretic Arias. Add all this to his reputation for giving treats to the children he met in the streets and you see the same man who is now the beloved and saintly giver of gifts on Christmas.
Now, so that no one misunderstands me, especially little children, what I am saying is that Santa Claus is real, and is also known as St. Nicholas. Although the Bishop St. Nicholas went to heaven on December 6, 343, Catholics know that as a saint he now has eternal life. And then it seems that God sent him back to us to be the great gift-giver of Christmas. This doesn’t mean that other stories that we read or see on TV about Santa Claus are not true or bad—I think they’re interesting and sometimes amusing, and even touching. It just means that WE know the REAL story, the rest of the, story.
Which reminds me: make sure you come to say hello to Santa Claus/St. Nicholas next Saturday morning, at our traditional parish “Breakfast with Santa.”
Lessons and Carols. Tonight (Sunday, December 9) at 7:00pm, we celebrate another Advent tradition: a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings called, “Lessons and Carols.” Taking prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, our parish lectors lay out God’s amazing plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir then adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular Advent songs and a few more complicated choral pieces, reminding us of the angels singing over Bethlehem. This “tradition” is rather new, especially to Catholics, originally introduced by the Anglican Church at Cambridge’s King’s College in 1918, but it has recently become very popular in Catholic circles. I first experienced it almost 30 years ago as a layman at a Catholic parish of Anglican converts in San Antonio. I’m happy to say it’s become an Advent tradition at St. Raymond’s. Please join us, and stay for light reception afterwards!

Don’t Forget. Go to confession during Advent—we have confessions every single day of Advent, except Christmas Eve. And come to my Advent Series, “Looking at the Nativity,” this Thursday at 7:30pm. And don’t forget to stop by the “Giving Tree” in the narthex today, and help to make Christmas a little merrier for some folks who are having a rough time this year—families of our parish and Our Lady of the Blue Ridge parish in Madison.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles