Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sacrament of Confirmation. This Thursday evening, May 25, Archbishop Timothy Broglio (Archdiocese for the Military Services) will administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to our 8th graders and a few others. Congratulations to them all! The sacrament, however is not a “graduation.” Rather, it is the beginning of a new stage in the Christian life, as they receive the strengthening of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, along with His seven-fold gifts, to participate more fully in the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Many people are confused about this sacrament. The key, it seems to me, to understanding this sacrament is to understand the word “confirm.” Webster’s gives two basic definitions for the word: “1:  to give approval to:  ratify 2 :  to make firm or firmer:  strengthen…” It is the second definition that defines our sacramental use of the word: Confirmation is about the Holy Spirit strengthening us.

Some think, for example, that the word “confirmation” means that the sacrament is the opportunity for the young person to publicly “ratify” their faith in Christ and His Catholic Church (i.e., the first definition of the word in Webster’s), which they couldn’t do when they were baptized as babies. But that is not the case, and anyway, they do that every Sunday when they proclaim the Creed (I believe in God…). Remember, a sacrament is something God does, not something we do. As the Catechism (1308) teaches: “we must not…forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need “ratification” to become effective…”

Others think the sacrament is when the child “becomes an adult.” Again, a misunderstanding. As the Catechism tells us: “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the “sacrament of Christian maturity,” we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth…” Confirmation does give us the grace we need to live out our faith as adults, but the grace does not make someone who is a child into an adult—it only gives a child who is growing into an adult about to face difficult adult decisions etc. with the fullness of grace they will need.

Still others think that because Confirmation is usually the last of the “Sacraments of Initiation” (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) to be received that it therefore makes us “full members of the Church.” To be absolutely clear: we become full members of the Church at Baptism. However, Confirmation and the Eucharist strengthen our bond with Christ and His Church, and enable us to live out our part in the Church’s mission more perfectly. So, Confirmation, “renders our bond with the Church more perfect” (CCC 1303).

A much more appropriate short description of the sacrament is that, “it makes us soldiers for Christ.” However incomplete it is, it still communicates the strength of the sacrament and the gifts given for determined (though peaceful) proclamation of the Gospel and defense of the Church.

But let’s consider the more full and comprehensive description given by the Catechism:

1303 …. Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation [sonship] which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;

– it unites us more firmly to Christ;

– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;

– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;

– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross: “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence…” [St. Ambrose].

1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.

1305 This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi Ex officio).”

 

The Ascension. Next Sunday is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. As you know, most of the Church throughout the world celebrates this feast on Thursday as a Holy Day of Obligation— “Ascension Thursday”—since Scripture (Acts 1:3) tells us that Jesus ascended to heaven on the 40th day of the Resurrection. However, since many Catholics are unable to attend Mass in the middle of the week, our Bishop, and the Bishops of the neighboring Dioceses, think it best to move the celebration of the Solemnity/feast to Sunday so that all Catholics would be more able to celebrate this very important mystery of our Faith. So, to be clear: this Thursday is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation. However, I am delighted that this year our 8th graders will be Confirmed on the day (this Thursday) when most of the Church celebrates the Lord’s Ascension into Heaven—and the beginning of the 9 days the Apostles, Mary and the rest of the early Church prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (the first Confirmation).

 

Welcome Back College Students and Grads. It’s been great to see all the familiar faces coming home from college for the summer in the last few weeks. I hope you will all have productive and restful summers—either working, studying, or vacationing. I also hope to see you all at Mass and in the confessional! Also, I extend a special “congratulations” to all the new college graduates in our midst. I pray that your futures will be bright and successful, and that you continue to be close to the Lord and follow His will for your lives—that is where your true happiness lies. God bless you.

 

Washington: Confusion, but Some Good News. I don’t trust the press at all, the political parties are a mess, and I’ve never been a big fan of Donald Trump. But Mr. Trump is our President, so we need to pray for him, and our nation. And in spite of all the troubles, confusion and acrimony we hear about, there has been some great news in the last few weeks, with the President making important moves to protect religious liberty and the right to life. Just last week the Associated Press reported: “President Donald Trump is moving forward with a plan to massively expand a ban on federal dollars going to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information…To receive funding, health organizations must pledge not to provide abortions or abortion information or provide support to any groups that do.…Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the news, saying in a statement that ‘…we have officially ceased exporting abortion to foreign nations.’”

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

MOTHER’S DAY. Of course, today is Mother’s Day. While this is a secular holiday, how can Catholics not enthusiastically join in the celebration? After all, who celebrates motherhood with more joy and reverence than the Catholic Church? Who else sees motherhood as a uniquely holy and dignified vocation, and mothers as specially lifted up by God himself for our respect, honor and love?

Of course, all human beings have a natural inclination toward a deep affection for their own mothers. But in spite of this, western culture has gradually been subtly degrading the dignity of motherhood and mothers, discouraging motherhood by pushing contraception, sterilization and, of course, abortion, and stressing “careers” over maternity. And now we have the new efforts of gay and transgender activists challenging the very notion and dignity of womanhood, and therefore motherhood.

Against all this stands the Catholic Church, which recognizes motherhood as a holy vocation, and mothers as the heart of the family. We recognize this dignity in all women, even before their first tiny baby rests in their wombs—women are created with this great gift written into their nature, with this tremendous capacity and potentiality to give life and love not only to their children and families, but to the world itself. Moreover, we give special praise, care and defense of mothers from the very first moment their tiny babies are conceived in their bodies.

Furthermore, the Church sees in motherhood the model for her own relationship with God’s children: “she” is the bride of Christ, and so also “Holy Mother Church.” From motherhood the Church takes its lead in giving eternal life and love to the baptized, and with a mother’s heart she looks on the unbaptized throughout the world, longing to take them into her embrace and bring them to Christ.

And finally, the Church recognizes that one of the greatest gifts Our Lord Jesus has given to us is His own Blessed Mother, Mary, to be our Mother: “Son behold your Mother!” Who is more dear to us than her, who tenderly comforts her children in their times of sadness, fear and loneliness? Who teaches and protects women as they learn the true meaning of motherhood? Who draws children and husbands to show a deeper love and respect for mothers, wives and all women? And who more forthrightly brings us to her son, and teaches us “to do whatever He tells you?

Today we honor all mothers, living and dead. And we especially try our best to show our own mothers, in various ways, just how deeply we appreciate all they do for us, and how much we truly cherish and love them. But the best thing we can do for our mothers is to pray for them: to commend them to the care of our Blessed Mother, and to the love of her son, Jesus, who loves our moms even more than we do.

 

Spring and Summer. Spring has sprung, which means we will begin again to experience two things at Mass: more noise and less clothes. Understandably so: as they become more active outside little ones seem to tend to be more active inside also, and as it becomes warmer outside, all of us tend to wear less clothing.

 

The only dress code we have St. Raymond’s is to use common sense, as well as Christian modesty, chastity and charity. Growing up in Texas, I understand all about dressing for the heat. But let’s remember two things. First, please try not to dress like you’re going to the pool when you’re coming to Mass. As an accountant, for 10 years I used to wear a coat and tie to work every day in the San Antonio summer heat, to show respect for my work and my client. You don’t have to do that for Mass, but you should dress in nice clothes. Imagine if you were going to meet the Pope or the President—what would you wear? Jesus is here, and you should dress like it. Not only for His sake, but to remind yourself and your family and friends how important He and Mass is. On the other hand, if someone does come to Mass in a t-shirt and shorts let’s charitably assume they have an important reason for doing so.

The second thing to remember is that the more skin we show the more likely we are to be a “near occasion of sin” to others. Some say, “it’s not my fault if someone sees my skin and has bad thoughts.” Well, that’s not entirely true: we always have to try to be prudent with our words and actions, lest we tempt someone to sin, even unwittingly. The key is charity: think, “could I dress a little more prudently, modestly, chastely, so that I can help others from sinning?” So I ask all of you, wherever you are this summer—whether on the beach, on a date, or at Mass—please consider the spiritual well-being of others.

Also, we love to have little children at Mass. But all of us (including their parents) would also prefer if they would be peaceful and quiet at Mass. But that isn’t always the way it is—especially at this time of year. So once again I encourage all of you, in charity, to be patient and supportive of parents and children (especially on this Mother’s Day). On the other hand, parents, please remember to do what you can, and when a child continues to make noise or gets really out of hand at Mass, please consider moving to the “Family Room” or the narthex until they quiet down. God bless you parents and your little ones!

 

Ordination Anniversaries. For decades the third Saturday of May was the day for ordaining priests in the Diocese of Arlington. Consequently, most of the priests of the Diocese celebrate(d) their ordination anniversaries last week or in the coming days. I’m sure I speak for almost all of my brother priests when I say that I thank God with all my heart for this great gift.

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

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Fourth Sunday Of Easter

FIRST HOLY COMMUNION. Congratulations to all the children who received First Holy Communion yesterday! May the Lord Jesus bless you and keep you in His care, especially through the Holy Eucharist, all the days of your life.

 

MONTH OF MARY. Since the Church sets May aside as a month of particular devotion to the Blessed Mother, we begin this month with the traditional “Crowning of the Blessed Mother,” or “May Crowning.” Please join us and many of our First Holy Communicants for this short richly symbolic ceremony immediately following the 12:15 Mass. If you go to another Mass, come back for this!

Also in observance of this special month, I thought I’d review what are called the Marian Dogmas with you today. A “dogma” is a doctrine (a teaching) that is revealed by God, either in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. There are four dogmas about Mary that have been formally declared as infallibly held as such by the Church. There are many other Marian doctrines that are also infallibly held by the Church, even if not formally declared as such.

Mother of God. The first Marian Dogma to be formally declared by the Church was the declaration by the Council of Ephesus, in 431, that Mary is “Theotokos” (in Greek), or “Mother of God. This was part of the Council’s condemnation of the Nestorian heresy which denied the full divinity of Jesus: in declaring that Jesus was truly always fully God, they also declared that, therefore, Mary was truly the Mother of God. Directly related to this dogma is the doctrine of the “Queenship of Mary, that she is “Queen of Heaven and Earth” (and Queen of Apostles, Saints, Peace, Priests, etc.….). After all, if she is the Mother of God/Jesus, she is the surely the mother of the King/Jesus, which makes her the Queen.

The Perpetual Virginity. The second Marian Dogma to be formally declared is her perpetual Virginity (Second Council of Constantinople, (553), and also the First Lateran Council (649), the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), and the Second Council of Lyons (1274)). The Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin: she is called “ever-virgin Mary.” This means she was a virgin all her life: “ante-partu, in-partu, et post-partu.” So, she was a virgin before the birth of Jesus (“ante-partu”) so that Jesus was conceived by the singularly miraculous act of the Holy Spirit and no act of man. Moreover, she remained a virgin after His birth (“post-partu”) until the end of her life on earth. Finally, Mary was a virgin during the birth of Jesus (“in-partu”). The Church has always used the term “virginity” to mean not just “never having sexual intercourse,” but also to mean that the “bodily integrity” of the female remains intact. In Mary’s case, her virginity in-partu means that the actual physical act of giving birth to Jesus did not occur in the same way as every other human birth. He did not pass from the Mary’s womb physically in the same way all other babies pass from their mothers’ womb, so that Mary’s body was not damaged, altered or “defiled” in any way, and she incurred no birthing pains whatsoever, so that the birth itself was somehow miraculous. We do not know the details of how this happened, and the Church has strongly discouraged too much speculation on this, out of reverence for our Blessed Mother’s modesty. Even so, we do have recourse to quoting St. Thomas Aquinas (ST III, 28, 2) quoting St. Augustine (Sup. Joan. Tract. 121): “To the substance of a body in which was the Godhead closed doors were no obstacle. For truly He had power to enter in by doors not open, in Whose Birth His Mother’s virginity remained inviolate.”

Immaculate Conception. In 1854 Pope Pius IX, in Ineffabilis Deus, solemnly declared the Dogma that Mary from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother (Ann), Mary had never been tainted by the stain or effects of the original sin of Adam and Eve, as all other human beings have been (except, of course, for Jesus). Although in centuries past some had questioned whether and how this was possible, nevertheless, this doctrine was taught consistently in the Church back to antiquity. The reason God gave this singular gift to Mary was to prepare her to be the Mother of Jesus, i.e., so that no sin would touch Baby Jesus and so that Mary might be the very best and holiest mother to Jesus possible. All this in fulfillment of God’s ancient promise to the devil (Genesis 3): “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Moreover, a related Marian doctrine has always been taught clearly throughout the Church: that Mary never committed even the slightest act of personal sin: her perpetual sinlessness.

The Assumption. The dogma of the Assumption of Mary was formally proclaimed in 1950 by Pope Pius X (Munificentissimus Deus). Rather than formally ending any historical theological debate or question, this formal declaration was more of an act of honoring the Blessed Mother by declaring something that had always been held by the whole Church without debate. The only question that had ever been raised was whether Mary actually died or if she just sort of fell asleep (“the Dormition”). Pope Pius deftly refused to settle that debate, as he taught: “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” So now, Mary is enthroned in Heaven with her Resurrected Son, body and soul, the first of the faithful to experience the Resurrection of the Dead, which we all believe in hope to experience at the end of time.

 

Knights of Columbus. A tip of the biretta (my funny looking hat) to the Knights for the exceptionally good work they’ve been doing for the parish this year under the leadership of Grand Knight Phil Fick. I encourage all the men of the parish to consider joining the Knights, and I encourage all those who are Knights to become more active with them. They are the “go-to guys” when we need volunteers or other help in the parish. So join!

Unfortunately, sometimes they can get too busy and overworked, especially since many of the same guys do most of the work—although, again, that’s gotten a lot better this year. I think that was particularly the case this year with the Italian Dinner, which was scheduled for May 13, but we had to cancel (see the Knights’ note below): a smallish group of dedicated Knights worked so hard on other projects they lost focus on the last big project of the year. I don’t blame anyone for this, I just want more of you men to step up so we can continue to the Lord’s work, and provide lots of opportunities for good Catholic fellowship for all our parishioners. I know you will step up, and I thank you for that.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Third Sunday Of Easter

Post-Lent: Rest, Catch-Up, and More. Lent and Easter are a very busy time for all of us, but especially for priests. Unfortunately, with all the attention given to the special activities of Lent and the Triduum, some things of ordinary “business” get postponed or overlooked by the priest and parish staff. That is especially the case this year, with the reshuffling of our offices at the beginning of Lent, and then Cardinal Burke’s visit in March.

 

Because of this, I, for one, am playing catch up, going back and discovering all the things I didn’t do during Lent. At the same time, I find it necessary to take some time to rest a bit. So, for example, last week I took off to Williamsburg for a few days of golf with some priest-friends, and in a couple of weeks Fr. Smith will be gone on retreat. In between, this coming week, the Bishop calls all the priests of the diocese to come together for our annual convocation: half the priests will go the first 2 ½ days this week, and half the second.

So, once again, I ask you for your patience with us, especially with me. If I owe you a phone call or email from Lent, please remind me. And thanks for your continuing patient kindness.

 

Month of May. The thing is, there are a lot of other special activities in May in the parish. One very important event is next Saturday, May 6: First Holy Communion for the 2nd graders. Please keep these little ones in your prayers, as this is a huge day in their lives. Pray that they may prepare worthily and understand what they are doing and Who they are receiving. Pray that it will be a truly happy, holy and memorable day for them, and that it will lead them and their families to a long life of intimacy and fidelity with Jesus.

Later in May, on Thursday the 25th, about 60 of our 8th graders will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I ask you to keep them in your prayers also, as they prepare to be strengthened (“confirmed”) in their baptismal graces and receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Surely they will need these graces as they enter a world that is more and more hostile to Christians. So, pray for them, and encourage them, that they may receive this sacrament worthily and efficaciously.

Mary’s Month. Now, of course, the entire month of May is “Mary’s Month,” dedicated to honoring and renewing our filial devotion to and love for the Mother of Jesus. Some are confused by the way Catholics honor the Blessed Mother. The simplest, clearest response to this is: shouldn’t we all try to love Jesus’s Mother as much as Jesus loves her? After all, on the Cross He gave her to us to be our Mother also: “son, behold your mother.”

So we will mark this month of Marian piety next Sunday, May 7, with the “May Crowning” after the 12:15 Mass. Many of (all?) the First Communion children will be there in their white dresses and veils and coats and ties to thank Our Lord for their First Communion by paying homage to His Blessed Mother. I encourage you to join us for this short but moving celebration. As the Congregation for Divine Worship wrote of this pious custom in 1987:

 

The queen symbol was attributed to Mary because she was a perfect follower of Christ, who is the absolute ‘crown’ of creation. She is the Mother of the Son of God, who is the messianic King. Mary is the Mother of Christ, the Word Incarnate … ‘He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Elizabeth greeted the Blessed Virgin, pregnant with Jesus, as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ Mary is the perfect follower of Christ. The maid of Nazareth consented to God’s plan; she journeyed on the pilgrimage of faith; she listened to God’s Word and kept it in her heart; she remained steadfastly in close union with her Son, all the way to the foot of the Cross; she persevered in prayer with the Church. Thus, in an eminent way, she won the ‘crown of righteousness,’ ‘the crown of life,’ ‘the crown of glory’ that is promised to those who follow Christ.”

I also encourage all of you to keep this Marian month by praying the Rosary—even every day in May. I especially encourage all families to pray the Rosary together at least once a week. As St. John Paul II once wrote: “The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 41).

This May is a very special time to honor Mary, in that May 13 marks the 100th anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima. As you probably know, the Virgin Mary appeared six times to three little shepherd children (Lucia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto) near the town of Fatima, Portugal, between May 13 and October 13, 1917. The Blessed Mother told them to pray the Rosary daily, to wear the Brown Scapular and perform acts of reparation for sins. She also requested prayers for the conversion of Russia (then undergoing the Communist/Bolshevik revolution) and requested the solemn public Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart by the Pope. She also introduced a new devotion of reparation on the first Saturday of five consecutive months (“The Five First Saturdays”). She also revealed to the children what has come to be called the “Secret” of Fatima, which has three parts, including a frightening vision of hell, encouragement of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a prophesy of the Second World War, the prediction of the immense damage that Russia and Communism would do to humanity, and the great suffering that would come to the Church (via Russia) if her warnings were not heeded. The final apparition on October 13 concluded with the “Miracle of the Sun” as tens of thousands of witnesses maintain that the Sun seemed to dance in the sky and then, for a few moments, to be falling to earth.

The apparitions of Fatima are private revelations, and need not be believed by the faithful, although after lengthy and thorough investigation they have been held by the Church to be worthy of belief—we can believe if we chose to. While they may differ on interpreting the events and prophecies surrounding the apparitions, most pious Catholics have come to accept and embrace the overall message of Fatima: to pray the rosary, do acts of reparation, and pray for sinners.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere! Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! He is risen! He is risen indeed! What a glorious day—the Lord has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death, and has crushed the head of the ancient serpent. Alleluia! The world has been redeemed, salvation has been won for all mankind—if only we will accept this infinitely generous gift of Our Risen Lord Jesus.

Thanks to all who worked so hard to help make this such a blessed Lent, Holy Week, Triduum and Easter Sunday. And remember, today is just the beginning of this new Season of Easter, as we continue to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection for 50 days—until Pentecost. We begin with the 8 days of the Octave of Easter, celebrating each day as if it were Easter Day.

On behalf of myself, Fr. Smith, and Fr. Daly (and Fr. Scalia), may I wish you all a Blessed, Holy and Happy Easter and Easter Season! May the Risen Lord Jesus shower you with His grace, and may His Blessed Mother Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, and St. John and all the holy women, disciples and apostles who saw the risen Lord that first Easter Day keep you in their care in this Glorious Season!

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Francis

EASTER SUNDAY, March 27, 2016

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God’s mercy, out of love for us, died on the cross, and out of love he rose again from the dead.  That is why we proclaim today: Jesus is Lord!

His resurrection fulfils the prophecy of the Psalm: God’s mercy endures for ever; it never dies.  We can trust him completely, and we thank him because for our sake he descended into the depths of the abyss.

Before the spiritual and moral abysses of mankind, before the chasms that open up in hearts and provoke hatred and death, only an infinite mercy can bring us salvation.  Only God can fill those chasms with his love, prevent us from falling into them and help us to continue our journey together towards the land of freedom and life.

The glorious Easter message, that Jesus, who was crucified is not here but risen (cf. Mt 28:5-6), offers us the comforting assurance that the abyss of death has been bridged and, with it, all mourning, lamentation and pain (cf. Rev 21:4).  The Lord, who suffered abandonment by his disciples, the burden of an unjust condemnation and shame of an ignominious death, now makes us sharers of his immortal life and enables us to see with his eyes of love and compassion those who hunger and thirst, strangers and prisoners, the marginalized and the outcast, the victims of oppression and violence.  Our world is full of persons suffering in body and spirit, even as the daily news is full of stories of brutal crimes which often take place within homes, and large-scale armed conflicts which cause indescribable suffering to entire peoples.

The risen Christ points out paths of hope to beloved Syria, a country torn by a lengthy conflict, with its sad wake of destruction, death, contempt for humanitarian law and the breakdown of civil concord…. May the message of life, proclaimed by the Angel beside the overturned stone of the tomb, overcome hardened hearts and promote a fruitful encounter of peoples and cultures in other areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Yemen and Libya.  May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, favor concord between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land, as well as patience, openness and daily commitment to laying the foundations of a just and lasting peace through direct and sincere negotiations.  May the Lord of life also accompany efforts to attain a definitive solution to the war in Ukraine, inspiring and sustaining initiatives of humanitarian aid, including the liberation of those who are detained.

The Lord Jesus, our peace (Eph 2:14), by his resurrection triumphed over evil and sin. May he draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world….  May he water the seeds of hope and prospects for peace in Africa; I think in particular of Burundi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, marked by political and social tensions.

With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death.  His son Jesus is the door of mercy wide open to all.  May his Easter message be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all.  May efforts be made everywhere to promote the culture of counter, justice and reciprocal respect, which alone can guarantee the spiritual and material welfare of all people.

The Easter message of the risen Christ, a message of life for all humanity, echoes down the ages and invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees – including many children – fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice.  All too often, these brothers and sisters of ours meet along the way with death or, in any event, rejection by those who could offer them welcome and assistance…

Along with our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and their fidelity to the name of Christ, and before the evil that seems to have the upper hand in the life of so many people, let us hear once again the comforting words of the Lord: “Take courage; I have conquered the world! (Jn 16:33).  Today is the radiant day of this victory, for Christ has trampled death and destruction underfoot.  By his resurrection he has brought life and immortality to light (cf. 2 Tim 1:10).  “He has made us pass from enslavement to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to jubilation, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption.  Therefore let us acclaim in his presence: Alleluia!” (Melito of Sardis, Easter Homily).

To those in our society who have lost all hope and joy in life, to the elderly who struggle alone and feel their strength waning, to young people who seem to have no future, to all I once more address the words of the Risen One: “See, I am making all things new… To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:5-6).  May this comforting message of Jesus help each of us to set out anew with greater courage to blaze trails of reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters.

 

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

 

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

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

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

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

We have begun this today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion.

Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! I know it can be inconvenient for you, but so was the scourging at the pillar for Our Lord. And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—Our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from His side on the Cross. We have confessions every day (except Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday) with extra priests all week. (Please see the schedule on the opposite page of this bulletin for all the special events and liturgies of this week.)

On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral (all the priests and the Bishop celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood). But in the evening join us here in the parish as Lent officially ends and the Triduum (“three days”) begins with The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as we celebrate The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood, and afterward walk with the Lord to the Garden of Gethsemane as we walk in procession with the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with Me…watch and pray,” for at least a few minutes or until midnight.

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

We begin as the priest silently enters the bare sanctuary (all decoration is removed and the tabernacle is empty) and prostrates himself before the altar, and all join him by kneeling. We then read the Passion in narrative/dialogue form, from the Gospel of John. After the readings, the priest prays ten ancient ritual intercessions, calling down our Lord’s mercy on the Church and the world.

Then the priest brings a large crucifix to the sanctuary, and the people come forward to personally venerate the Cross, by a genuflection, kiss, or some other gesture.  While this ritual veneration can take some time to complete, I’m always amazed and moved how everyone seems to embrace this, as the beautiful strains of our choir and the solemn atmosphere of the church help us to place ourselves for a few minutes next to the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene who waited for three hours at the foot of the Cross. After veneration, the priests bring the Blessed Sacrament (consecrated at Mass the night before) from the sacristy and the faithful receive Holy Communion. Afterwards the Cross is left in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Stations of the Cross are prayed at 7:00 pm.

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

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

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fifth Sunday Of Lent

Cardinal Burke’s Visit. What a great evening our parish experienced on Friday, March 24, as we were blessed by long anticipated visit and lecture by Cardinal Raymond Burke. Both the Cardinal and I were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and the size of the crowd—standing room only (so well over 900 people), by far the largest crowd for a speaker we’ve had in my term here.

His Eminence spoke for about 50 minutes. He began with a tribute to our patron, St. Raymond of Peñafort, as a great moral theologian, confessor and pastor, as well as a great Canon Lawyer. He then used St. Raymond’s life and work as a launching point to discuss how the disciplines of the Church (Canon Law, liturgical norms, parish policies, etc.) must always reflect the doctrines of the Church, and how the doctrines are put to practical application through the discipline. He emphasized how neither discipline nor doctrine interferes with freedom, but rather, rightly understood, they enhance our freedom. Doctrine is the “truth”, and so it frees us to become who we were created to be. Discipline enhances our freedom by allowing us to live together in peace with each other, and to practically live out the requirements of the doctrine of Christ in everyday life.

His talk was profound, and although sometimes I was concerned it might strike some as a bit esoteric, most of it was very accessible and helpful to all present: I spoke to several of the young people in attendance, and they were all able to enthusiastically tell me about key aspects of his talk.

A 30-minute Question and Answer session followed, during which I read about 10 or so questions to His Eminence (out of about 50 submitted by the crowd, and chosen for their general interest and clarity). To many, this was the most interesting part of the evening, as he answered with stunning frankness and clarity.

For example, his impassioned discussion of the liturgy and liturgical reform, and of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s claim that “the smoke of Satan has entered into the sanctuaries of the Church.” Particularly interesting was his blunt answer to one questioner’s concern about the appearance of noted pro-abortion and population control advocate Paul Ehrlich at a recent Vatican conference: “I’m scandalized by it, and I don’t see how any good Catholic wouldn’t be scandalized by it.”

Perhaps most interesting was his response to questions about the “Five Dubia” he and three other distinguished cardinals submitted to Pope Francis regarding erroneous interpretations some cardinals and bishops have given to His Holiness’s letter, Amoris Laetitia (about divorce, “remarriage” and Holy Communion). He carefully explained that this is the normal way these kind of confusing issues are addressed, and there is absolutely nothing unusual, disrespectful or disobedient about it. With regard to criticism from some prelates for making the “Dubia” public, he responded: “We judged it necessary …because so many of the faithful were approaching us, …saying, ‘well, what’s wrong? We have these questions and it seems like, that none of the cardinals who have a great responsibility to assist the holy father has these questions.’ And so…we published them…” He went on to clarify what he has previously said, that if the Holy Father does not clarify the confusion, “Then we simply will have to correct the situation, again, in a respectful way, that simply can say, to draw the response to the questions from the constant teachings of the Church and to make that known for the good of souls.” By this I took him to clearly mean that the four cardinals will not be “correcting the Pope,” as some suggest, but rather correcting those who propose erroneous interpretations of the Pope’s statements, by simply reiterating the clear and “constant teachings of the Church.”

To listen to the audio of his talk and the question and answer session, go to: http://straymonds.org/raymond-leo-cardinal-burke/.

Thanks. I give thanks to Almighty God for this great gift of the Cardinal’s visit. I also thank our patron, St. Raymond, for his intercession in bringing this about so successfully. Also, thanks to Fr. Smith, my parish staff (especially Eva Radel) and key volunteers (the Ushers, the Religious Liberty and Marriage Committee, the Gift Shop and the Altar Servers; and particularly Chef Christine Gloninger). And thanks to all who came to the talk and welcomed His Eminence so kindly.

 

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

Jesus created us in bodies, and came and spoke to us and suffered and died in His body. Which is why it’s so important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” One way we do this is through the physical acts of penance we give ourselves: the minor sufferings our personal Lenten sacrifices remind us of the sufferings of Christ, and his love for us.

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

Beginning tomorrow, Monday, evening confessions will go from 6pm until 7pm, and beginning this Tuesday we will have 2 confessors available (if necessary). If you have not been to confession this Lent please try to go before Easter, remembering that during Holy Week (beginning next Sunday) the confession lines are very long. So, if you haven’t been to confession this Lent, PLEASE COME THIS WEEK, and avoid the longest lines.

 

Palm Sunday, Procession. Next Sunday, April 9, is Palm/Passion Sunday.  Please consider coming to the 8:45 Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. If you’d like to join the procession gather with me in the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, we will process outside, and enter the church from the front, and you can take your pew as usual. (This takes about 10 minutes). If you attend the 8:45 Mass you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall.

 

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

 

 

The Fourth Sunday Of Lent

Laetare Sunday and Counting the Days. Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Lent, “Laetare Sunday,” the traditional midpoint of the penitential season. Now, we usually speak of Lent as being 40 days. But the calendar indicates that there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (inclusive). However, the counting of the 40 days has never included the 6 Sundays of Lent, because, historically, the 40 days were always days of modified fasting, and Sunday was never a day of fast since it is the Lord’s Day.

However, that count of 40 days is thrown off if we remember that Lent actually doesn’t end on Easter Sunday, but on Holy Thursday evening when the Season of the Triduum begins, the three days “touched” by the Lord’s Passion and Death (Holy Thursday evening, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). That leaves us with 38 days, if we count Holy Thursday in calculating the days of Lent (which we do). Even so, the Triduum retains the penitential character of Lent, so there are still the 40 penitential days. Confused? Sorry.

Laetare Sunday is, as I noted above, the “traditional midpoint” of Lent. But, again, if you look at the numbers, there are 25 days before and 20 days after the 4th Sunday of Lent, counting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, as above (25 + 20 + 1 for today = 46). So last Thursday at Midnight was, strictly speaking, the actual midpoint. However, up until the 7th century Lent began not on Ash Wednesday, but on what today is called the “1st Sunday of Lent.” Since there were 41 days from the 1st Sunday of Lent to Holy Saturday (inclusive), there were 20 days of Lent both before and after the 4th Sunday of Lent—which made it the midpoint of Lent by that calculation. Sometime in the 6th and 7th century the beginning of Lent was moved to Ash Wednesday in order to have 40 full days of fasting (the 46 calendar days – the 6 Sundays = 40). However, over time (centuries ago) the custom developed to continue to celebrate the 4th Sunday as the midpoint, with certain special liturgical recognition.

Whew. That being said, this midpoint is celebrated as “Laetare Sunday,” “laetare” meaning “rejoice.” It is considered a sort of a pause in the austerity and somberness of Lent as we remember to slightly shift our gaze to look beyond the Cross and see the Resurrection it led to; we pause in our sorrow for our lives of sin and rejoice in the forgiveness and new life won by the Paschal Mystery. The Rose Vestments symbolize this: the dark purple of repentance and sorrow mingled with the light of forgiveness and joy.

 

What Must We Do to be Forgiven?  In order to be forgiven our sins the Church teaches that three things are required of every sinner/penitent: 1) contrition, 2) confession of our sins, and 3) satisfaction. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches [1452-1460]:

 

Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again… When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect”… Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.” Note, since it is practically impossible to be certain if we have such “perfect contrition,” so we should not presume it, and are still required to receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion if we are aware of an unconfessed mortal sin.

Most of the time contrition is usually not “perfect,“ so it is called “imperfect” (or “attrition”).” Imperfect contrition is born not from pure love of God “above all else” but “of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner…. Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.”

Confession of sins “even from a simply human point of view, facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church ….Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: ‘All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret…’ [T]hose who …knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest,” and the absolution of the priest is not effective, no sins are forgiven.

“Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.”

Satisfaction is the real effort to make up for our sins. “Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much.” This is called ‘making reparation.’

“But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’

“The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.”

 

Islam-ist Terrorists. Every once in a while, someone objects to a petition in our Prayer of the Faithful at Sunday Mass that God protect us from “Islamic terrorists,” because, they say, “not everyone who is ‘Islamic’ is a terrorist.” The fact is, however, that such a petition has never been read at our Masses. Listen carefully: we pray that God protect us from “Islam-ist terrorists.” “Islamic” refers to all things Muslim, while “Islam-ist” commonly refers to a particular ideology of some “fundamentalist” Muslims that endorses terrorism. And I’m sure you would agree, we definitely need to pray for God’s protection from their attacks.

 

Oremus pro Invicem. Fr. De Celles