March 11, 2012

LENT. At 21⁄2 weeks into Lent this is just about the time many of us begin to slip a little in keeping up the penances we promised to do. That’s understandable: you’ve been doing a good job, so you think, “I deserve a break.” Much as it would have been understandable if Christ would have stopped the Roman soldier after a couple of lashes with the whip: “that’s enough I get the point.” Or maybe after sitting there a few moments with the thorns on His head, He would have taken it off, saying: “This doesn’t fit; do have something in jewel-encrusted gold?” Or maybe after walking a few hundred feet with the Cross, He would have laid it down and taken a drink from an angel, while watching St. Michael and His angels hold the Roman’s at bay. Or on the Cross, as the crowd shouted out: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” maybe He should have come down saying, “you know, you’re right, I don’t deserve this.”

Yes, but He didn’t. Instead, out of love for us and in payment for our sins, He endured excruciating suffering and death. Remember, each strike of the lash across His back, each thorn driven into His head, every ounce of that heavy cross, and every moment hanging on that Cross is one of our sins. Out of love for us. So, pick up your cross and follow Him. Out of love for Him, and as reparation for your sins, renew today your commitment to keep your penances of prayer, sacrifice and charity. Love Him as He has loved you.

Strange World. Two very strange things happened in the last week or so. First, we heard a student at a Catholic university complain before Congress that the Catholic Church, refuses to pay for contraception for her and other students. What’s wrong with this picture? They chose the school freely. They knew it was Catholic. They manage somehow to pay $64,000 in tuition etc.. But she wants the Catholic Church to provide them free contraception, something that the Church fundamentally opposes.

Second, the front page of the Washington Post gave the one-sided account of a practicing lesbian, who, while attending her mother’s funeral, introduced her lover to the priest, and then was subsequently denied Communion by that priest. I’m sure we all sympathize with her over the loss of her mother. And while there is some disagreement on some of the facts of the story, and while one may question Father’s decision, one has to ask: what was she thinking? Even if the priest was wrong to deny her Communion (depending on the clarification of disputed facts he may have been absolutely required to do so by canon law), why did she think she could live a life directly and gravely contrary to the fundamental moral teachings of the Church, and still come forward to receive our Lord in Communion? Was it ignorance or contempt?

Both of these women want to be free to conduct their lives as they see fit, while at the same time they deny the Church’s freedom to practice its faith as it deems morally necessary. And in both cases the media turns reality upside down, making it seem as if the Church is the one who has instigated the an aggressive attack against these women, instead of the Church being the one under attack.

Where is respect for our religious liberty? Where is respect for facts? But perhaps even more importantly, how did we ever get to a place where even Catholics are so ignorant or disrespectful of fundamental Catholic moral doctrines?

Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception, and the Catholic Church. With that in mind, next Saturday, March 17, St. Raymond’s will be teaming up with the Couple to Couple League (CCL) of Northern VA to cosponsor a conference addressing the president’s “contraception mandate.”

Samuel B. Casey will speak on religious liberty and the law. Mr. Casey has argued several religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, and was the founding chairman of the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization defending religious liberty in the public square and the courts. He has served as the Dean of the Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, CA, and on the board of directors of the Christian Legal Society and Advocates International, and currently serves on the Board of Visitors for the Regent University Law School. He holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a law degree (Juris Doctor) from the University of San Francisco, where he was Articles Editor of the Law Review. He is currently Managing Director & General Counsel of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life project.

Our own Fr. Mark Pilon will be explaining the Church’s teaching on contraception. Sometimes we take for granted what a treasure we have in Fr. Pilon. He is, of course, the former Chairman of Systematic Theology Department at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, and has also been an associate professor at Christendom College and its Notre Dame Graduate School (currently), and visiting professor at Catholic University of America (CUA). He has also served as a pastor (St. Ambrose, Annandale) and High School Chaplain and Vice Principal (Bishop O’Connell, Arlington). He has a B.A. from the Univ. of Detroit, an M.A. from CUA, a Sacred Theological Licentiate from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family (Rome), and a Sacred Theological Doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome). Prior to his ordination to the priesthood in 1975, he was assistant publisher and a contributing editor of Triumph Catholic Magazine. Father is the author of Magnum Mysterium: The Sacrament of Matrimony.

Finally, our own parishioners Bob and Gerri Laird will be addressing the practical response of the laity. After serving in the Army for 22 years, Bob served for many years as the Arlington Diocese’s Director for Family Life, and then as executive director of Divine Mercy Care. He has also served as assistant professor of Nuclear Engineering at the United States Military Academy (USMA). A graduate of the USMA, he and holds two Masters (Physics and Nuclear Engineering) from Penn State. He is currently president of the Cabrini Center for Catholic Health Care. Gerri was the founding director of Project Rachel and Gabriel Project and served for many years as Coordinator of Education and Training in the Office for Family Life in the Arlington Diocese. She assisted the late Rev. Richard M. Hogan in writing and editing the current CCL materials on Natural Family Planning (NFP). Bob and Gerri have taught NFP for over 28 years, and currently serve on the CCL board. They have five children and seven grandchildren, and have been married for over 41 years.

I am very excited about this conference and invite all of you, and your friends, to attend. (Caveat: Parents, the explicit nature of the talks on sexuality may not be appropriate for children). See below for more details.

March 4, 2012

There you go again. In last week’s column I addressed the “statistical” lie repeated over and over again by the defenders of the President’s “contraception mandate” to Catholics and other communities of faith: “98 percent of Catholic women use birth control.” I described how the “Fact Checker” of the Washington Post had debunked that claim, and then I went on to try to enhance that debunking. But, you just can’t keep a bad lie down: last week the self- proclaimed “ardent, practicing Catholic” Rep. Nancy Pelosi told a crowd at Texas A&M University: “Ninety-eight percent of women in childbearing age that are Catholic use contraception.”

There’s that lie again. But then she immediately went on to add: “So, in practice the church has not enforced this and now they want the federal government and private insurance to enforce it. It just isn’t consistent to me.” This is a very interesting statement. On the one hand, it’s another lie to say the Church wants the government or private insurance companies to “enforce” our teaching on contraception. The Church simply doesn’t want the government to force her to directly act contrary Catholic morals.

But there is a grain of truth in something she says here: “in practice the Church has not enforced this … It just isn’t consistent to me.” As I pointed out in my homily last week, for over 40 years we Catholics haven’t been at all “consistent” with practicing or preaching the Church’s doctrine on sexuality as a whole and contraception in particular. It is a fact that many Catholics have at one time or another disregarded the Church’s doctrine on these issues. And all too often priests (myself included) and bishops have been much too silent—many never speaking of it, and some even openly voicing dissent. And the same can be said of the laity as well.

And in my opinion, that is the sin the Lord is most calling us to repent this Lent: our silence, especially on the part of priests and bishops, regarding the Church’s beautiful teaching on the meaning of sexuality and how contraception directly contradicts that meaning and degrades the couple and children. So Pelosi is dead on in calling us “inconsistent,” and she is partially correct in saying that “in practice the Church has not enforced this” doctrine. I say she is “partially correct” because of the ambiguity of the term “enforce.” How do we “enforce” any moral teaching? Unlike the federal government the Church doesn’t have almost unlimited ability to enforce our teachings through fine, imprisonment, confiscation of property, etc.. It is true, we could deny certain things to Catholic individuals or institutions who opening flaunted their use, provision or support of contraception; perhaps we could deny the sacraments, including Holy Communion to these individual Catholics, or even excommunicate some of the more egregious promoters of dissent, or we could strip Catholic institutions of their Catholic status. But we can’t arrest them, or confiscate their bank accounts like the feds can. (And to be clear, no one wants them to be arrested etc.).

But to the extent Pelosi was simply trying to say that faithful Catholics have failed to forthrightly teach or aggressively defend the doctrine, or that priests and bishops have failed to adequately correct, admonish or punish even the most outspoken and notorious public dissenters, who have aggressively led their fellow Catholics astray….she is correct. And it’s because of this sin of silence that we are in the mess we are today: if all 77.7 million Catholics in American understood and embraced this teaching, no one would dare try to force us to do what the President is trying to force us to do.

And Pelosi knows of what she speaks, because she is among the most aggressive and notorious supporters of contraception—among other things—of any Catholic in public life, and with rare exception she has seldom been publicly corrected by priests or bishops, and she has never been publicly punished.

Now, I do not presume to tell bishops or priests how or if they should punish her or any other public dissenter. But I do call all Catholics, lay and cleric, to repent the sin of silence, and to boldly, clearly and charitably proclaim the truth about our beautiful and apostolic teaching. As Pope Benedict XVI told us in this year’s “Message for Lent” (see last week’s column): “We must not remain silent before evil. …[A]lways moved by love and mercy, and …genuine concern for the good of the other … it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness…”

Even so, it doesn’t matter how many Catholics in America proclaim or embrace this teaching: the President still has no right to try to “enforce” his values by coercing the Catholic Church to compromise our religious beliefs. Remember to go to www.usccb.org/conscience for updates and click “TAKE ACTION: Personalize your message to Congress now!” to tell our senators and representatives to defend our God-given and constitutionally protected right to religious liberty.

March 17th Conference. In an effort to end the silence St. Raymond’s Parish will co-sponsor a conference that will address these issues on Saturday, March 17th. See the announcement in this bulletin for more details. Please join us, and spread the word to your friends!

On a happier “note”—we need more choir members! I’m sure you all agree that our choir makes a magnificent contribution to the liturgical life of the parish. But they are always striving to enhance their efforts, and one way to do that is to add more enthusiastic voices to their numbers. Lent is an excellent time to join the choir, since there is so much beautiful Lenten and Easter music to learn and sing. And if you think this might be the thing for you, but you’re afraid or think it might be too much work, then Lent is a excellent time on that “score” too: do what God is asking, and offer the “cost” to Him as penance! Please contact our Music Director, Elizabeth Turco, at turcoe@aol.com, or call the parish office for more information.

Will I ever live this down? In my column on February 19, I inadvertently made an important typo. As has been announced at Mass the last 2 weekends, that column indicated that we abstain from “meat and milk” on Fridays of Lent. This is a mistake: we abstain only from meat, NOT milk. Now, will you pleeease stop sending me emails to point this out? I’m embarrassed enough as it is.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

February 26, 2012

As we begin the season of Lent let me commend to you a short excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s “Message for Lent 2012”:

“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters… The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15)….The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other…In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness…”

“LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS.” In discussions about the administration’s attack on religious liberty we keep hearing supporters of the administration say some variation of the line: “98 percent of Catholic women use birth control.” Well, surprise! It turns out that’s a lie. And, amazingly, even Glenn Kessler, the “Fact Checker” at the Washington Post agreed with me, in an article in last Sunday’s paper headlined “The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul.” [I will put his text in italics, with underlining indicating my emphasis].

Ever since the battle erupted between Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over providing free contraception coverage as part of health plans for workers, a striking figure has appeared in the news — that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives Kessler quotes Nancy Pelosi, National Public Radio, The New York Times, and The Washington Post itself referring to this statistic.

…But what does this figure really mean and where does it come from? The 98-percent figure first appeared in an April 2011 study written by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke of the Guttmacher Institute, which…promotes reproductive health and had started as an arm of Planned Parenthood. The study is titled “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.”

So the study was done by an offshoot of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of “reproductive health,” i.e., abortion, contraception and sterilization. Maybe a little bias involved here? One wonders how much one should trust a group who makes it’s living off of radical support for the abortion industry.

The study drew on data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, which relied on in-person interviews with 7,356 females from the ages of 15 to 44…

In other words, the survey group represents not 100% of “Catholic women,” but only about 49% of “Catholic women” (the percentage of women, Catholic or not, in the 15 to 44 age group, according to the 2010 U.S. Census).

The Guttmacher Institute, citing “confusion” over the statistic, on Wednesday posted the actual data behind it. It turns out it was based on a question that asked self-identified Catholic women who have had sex if they have ever used one of 12 methods of birth control….

First of all, I’m no expert, but this doesn’t seem to be a very scientific survey. I wonder how many good Catholic women would simply refuse to take part in a study conducted by the abortion industry? And how “Catholic” are the women who did participate–do they hold to the teaching Church on other matters, or feel free to pick and chose?

More importantly, the survey excludes women who have never had sex in calculating the “98%”. A closer look at the survey reveals that 53% Catholic women of child bearing age are not married, and that 31% of those have never had sex, so that roughly 16.4% of all Catholic women of child bearing age were excluded from the survey. Which leaves us with a survey of only 41% of “Catholic women”—not 100%, and not even 50%.

In other words, a woman may have sex only once, or she may have had a partner who only used a condom once, and then she would be placed in the 98 percent category. Jones said the correct way to describe the results of the research is this: “Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives.”

So, among the 41% of Catholic women included in the survey, the “98%” includes women and girls who may have had sex (and used contraception) only one time in their whole lifetime. Newsflash: I would guess at least 98% of the Catholic women in this study also failed to honor their parents at least once in their lifetimes. From that fact, should we infer that that “98% of Catholic women” think dishonoring one’s parents is okay and that the Church is wrong to call it a sin?

… But…the media has gotten it wrong. The journalistic shorthand has been that “98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.” But that is incorrect, according to the research.

Let this be a lesson learned. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear from the “main stream media” and other supporters of religious oppression. Well, at least not 98% of the time.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

February 19, 2012

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. This is a wonderful time of year, a time to reflect on God’s mercy and love, a love so great and unfathomable that it would lead Him to die for our sins. And so it is also a time to reflect on our failure to love Him in return: to consider our sins and to work to overcome them, by our commitment and His grace.

To this end, Lent brings a much busier liturgical schedule (See bulletin insert!). On Ash Wednesday we will distribute ashes at all the regular Masses (6:30am, 9am and 7pm) plus an additional 12 noon. Ashes may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. Also, we will be adding a 7pm Mass to every weekday in Lent, with confessions heard before those Masses beginning at 6pm.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence. The law of abstinence requires that no meat (or milk) may be eaten on these two days, as well every Friday in Lent, binding all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Even though these rules do not bind all age groups, all are encouraged to follow them to the extent possible. Children in particular learn the importance of penance from following the practice of their older family members. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.

Also during Lent, all are encouraged to adopt personal acts of penance, traditionally of three types: almsgiving (including acts of charity), sacrifice (what you “give up”), and prayer. Please choose your penances carefully, considering your health and state in life. Challenge yourself, but pick things you can actually do, rather than things that are lofty but are too hard to do. Offer all this in atonement for your sins and as acts of love for the God who, out of love, died on the Cross for your sins.

The Herald This Week. This week’s Arlington Catholic Herald features a parish profile on St. Raymond’s. As of this writing (Wednesday, 2/15) I have not seen the article, but the reporter interviewed me and several of our staff and parishioners. I’m sure it will be an interesting read for all of us. If you have not received a copy of the Herald in the mail, extra copies are available near the church doors, and you can always go online to read. I’ll make sure a link is put on the parish website.

The Herald Last Week. Last week’s Herald had an excellent article on Bob and Bev Ward, well known to many of you as long-time parishioners, our former DREs, and current leaders of RCIA and Adult Bible Studies. It is an article about a truly Catholic marriage, one of romance but also deeply rooted in the true love of Christ. If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. I’ve posted a link to the online article on our website.

Altar Servers for the Extraordinary Form Mass. Fr. John Lovell has graciously agreed to train boys to serve the EF Mass. It will be more challenging than the regular “ordinary form” Mass the boys normally serve, so it requires a real commitment. Even so, it is not that hard to learn and it will be an exciting challenge. Any boys interested should contact me in the next 2 weeks at the parish office, by phone or email.

“Accommodating” Religious Liberty. On Friday, February 10, President Obama announced an “accommodation” regarding the HHS regulations requiring all health insurance policies to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. The media is presenting it as a great compromise—but it’s nothing of the sort. As Bishop Loverde has said: “Make no mistake: this ‘accommodation,’ as described, is no accommodation at all, but rather remains a direct violation to our right to religious liberty.” (See His entire statement in the bulletin insert.)

The President really didn’t change anything of substance—just played a little shell game. He says he won’t make religious institutions, like hospitals, buy insurance to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion. Instead he’ll make the insurance company provide those “services” “free” of charge. Does he really think that insurance companies will do that for free? There is no law in this land that can force them to do that. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch—inevitably the overall premiums will simply go up, and the Church, or individual Catholics, will wind up paying for it one way or another.
But even if somehow the laws of economics would be suspended, it’s not really about the money, it’s about providing immoral services. Think about this: the policy before forced church institutions to buy insurance policies that provide contraception, sterilization and abortion; the policy after forces church institutions to buy an insurance policies that provide contraception, sterilization and abortion. Nothing’s changed.

Beyond that, the president’s accommodation applies only to “religious organizations.” It does nothing for the individual Catholics who buy insurance for themselves, or the Catholic business man or woman who buy insurance for their employees. What about their right to free exercise of religion?

The Bishops have rejected the President’s proposal for these and other reasons, and have called for the HHS regulation to be withdrawn or for congressional action to override it. I have been extremely proud of the bishops’ courage and wisdom. But like all of us, bishops can fall, especially under the tremendous pressure that they are under. So they need our continued uncompromising support, especially our prayers. Pray for them, and for priests. And pray for our President, for his safety and conversion.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

February 12, 2012

“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Last Sunday we read a letter from Bishop Loverde and Bishop DiLorenzo (Richmond) addressing the President’s new regulations requiring the Church and individual Catholics to purchase medical insurance that covers sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, thereby casting aside the 1st Amendment and our freedom of religion and conscience. Kudos to our Bishop for taking a courageous stand: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Wow. At several Masses the congregations broke into loud applause. Although I’m not generally a fan of applause at Mass (following Pope Benedict’s lead), sometimes, in extraordinary situations, spontaneous and heartfelt applause seems appropriate—so at one Mass I joined in the applause for the Bishop. Let’s all keep in our prayers Bishop Loverde and all the bishops, that they may have the wisdom, faith and courage to see this through to the glory of Christ and the good of His Church.

I mentioned at several of the Masses a very troubling development in this saga: during the preceding week the Army Chief of Chaplains ordered the Army chaplain-priests under his command not to read from the pulpit a similarly courageous letter that their bishop, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, had given them. In other words, an Army Major General ordered Catholic priests to disobey their bishop—directly contrary to the vows they took at ordination, not to mention the oath they swore as officers to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” After some back and forth, the Army relented, and allowed the letter to be read. But this was apparently only after the Archbishop told the chaplains to be ready to face military discipline, and promised legal support. Kudos to Ab. Broglio! And shame on the Army Chief of Chaplains, who is, himself, a Catholic priest: Father Donald L. Rutherford! Pray for bishops and chaplains, and all priests.

What will be the outcome of all this? It seems to me that in the end the Church will not back down, but the president probably will—if only because of the unified opposition of Catholics, who make up about 27% of the electorate. But even if we “win” this issue, we have to ask ourselves: what does this say about this president that he would so blatantly ignore the constitution and willfully discriminate against Catholics. Was it simply a “faux pas,” or a “misunderstanding,” as some say? Or was it a fundamental lack of respect for the basic human right of religious liberty; or retribution for opposition to his pro-abortion, pro-gay, anti-marriage agenda; or both? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

For more information on this topic, and for suggestions for what you can do to help defend the Church and religious liberty, please go to this excellent website: www.usccb.org/conscience

Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Many of you may have followed the story of how the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which raises money to find a cure for breast cancer, decided first to end it’s funding for Planned Parenthood (PP) and then reversed that decision after coming under scathing attack from pro-abortion leaders.

Komen’s efforts to cure cancer are noble indeed, and many good people have supported them in various ways, including running in the “Race for the Cure.” Moreover, Komen has restricted it’s funding to PP for use in breast cancer screenings. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t mean much in when it comes to PP. As you know, PP is the leading provider of abortion in America, not to mention one of the leading providers of contraception.

We need to remember is that cash is “fungible.” For example, let’s say you’re at a ball game and you want to buy a hot dog for $10 and a coke for $5, but all you have is $10 dollars. So you decide to go hungry and just buy the coke, when suddenly your friend gives you $5 to pay for the coke. Guess what? He also made it possible for you to spend $10 on the hot dog. Same thing with Komen and PP: if Komen gives PP $600,000 for breast cancer screenings that frees up the rest of PP’s funds for other things, like abortion (and contraception). Which is why the loudest attacks against Komen came from the pro- abortion crowd.

Because of Komen’s well-known good intentions and “restrictions” on funding, and the indirect nature of the connection between contributions to Komen and abortion (and contraception) funding for PP, many people have thought it morally acceptable to support Komen. Now, however, after Komen has willingly becoming identified with pro-abortion crowd, things have changed. All the facts aren’t completely clear, but if things continue to work out along these lines, it would seem to me it’s time to for serious Catholics to end support for Komen in any form. That’s a shame, because they were, and are, trying to do good and important work. But you can’t dance with the devil and not get burned.

Proposed Mass Time Change. I’m considering changing the Monday to Saturday morning Mass time from 9am Mass to 8:30am. (No change to the time for the 6:30am Mass). Many people have asked for this for various reasons, including that it makes it possible to “start the day” a little earlier. But I am interested in hearing what you have to say about this. So if you have any input that might be helpful, please email me or call the office and leave a message. Please don’t just say “yes” or “no”; rather, please give me reasons why it should be “yes” or “no” that will help me make my decision.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

January 29, 2012

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment.

As was mentioned at most of the Masses last Sunday, the Obama Administration has announced plans to require that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all employer provided health care insurance plans, including those provided by most Catholic charitable and educational organizations. This is a direct frontal assault on the religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and it cannot be allowed to stand. In the weeks ahead I will be advising you on opportunities to let your voice be heard on this matter. In the meantime let me draw your attention to some important statements made by the Catholic hierarchy in the last few days. Please also visit our parish website (http://www.straymonds.org/), where links to these and other important statements are available. I also invite you to read Fr. Pilon’s excellent homily on the subject available on the parish website. My homily is also available on the website.

Statement of Bishop Paul Loverde, Diocese of Arlington

The decision by the Department of Health and Human Services is a direct attack against religious liberty. This ill-considered policy comprises a truly radical break with the liberties that have underpinned our nation since its founding. I have just returned from Rome, where I and my brother U.S. bishops discussed with Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials the vital importance of religious liberty to human freedom and the proper functioning of a just society. While there, I was deeply troubled to learn of this terrible lapse in judgment by our civil leadership here at home.

I am absolutely convinced that an unprecedented and very dangerous line has been crossed that goes to the heart of the freedom of religion, and that this action does intolerable violence to our First Amendment rights. Catholic hospitals, charitable organizations, colleges and other Church-affiliated entities, as well as individual Catholic employers who seek to follow their consciences in the provision of healthcare to their employees, will be required to cover sterilizations and artificial contraception, including abortifacients, in insurance plans, violating the clear teachings of the Church. The meager religious exemption grudgingly allowed by the Obama Administration is structured so narrowly that any Church institution that serves a considerable number of non-Catholics would not be protected, directly harming our various ministries throughout the community.

I will speak out consistently in the weeks and months ahead on this gravely important struggle for the freedom to practice our faith as full citizens of this great nation. I urge the faithful of Northern Virginia and all citizens of good will to understand what is at stake in this unavoidable confrontation, which has been thrust upon us, and to be prepared to engage in a strong defense in the civil arena of the basic human right of religious liberty. I have been gratified to see the strong reaction so far against this outrageous decision in newspapers and among Americans of all faiths. For now, we should all be united in prayer that President Obama and Secretary Sebelius will reconsider the action they have taken.

Transcript of Video Statement of Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB
Religious liberty is certainly front and center in conversations these days. And that’s very good. Some days ago so many Americans of all creeds, or none at all, cheered a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court, remember?

The court ruled that churches have the fundamental freedom to choose their own ministers without government interference. Nothing could be truer. All nine justices of the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s incredibly narrow and unprecedented interpretation of religious liberty in that celebrated case. The court’s decision was a homerun for the 1st Amendment and for our democracy.
But I am afraid the administration is on the wrong side of the Constitution again. Now it has ordered almost every employer and insurer in the country to provide sterilizations and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans. And it is requiring almost all Americans, even those with ethical and religious objections, to pay for this coverage.

The administration offered a very narrow religious exemption to some employers such as churches, but the government will still require most Americans to pay for this coverage even if it violates their consciences. That’s a foul ball by any standard. Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.

This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights. How about letting our elected leaders know that we want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and the administration’s mandate rescinded? We can’t afford to strike out on this one.

The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand. The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.

Pope Benedict XVI, Address to American Bishops in Rome, January 19, 2012 [excerpt]

“The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation….[I]n is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience….Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well- formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society….”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

p.s. Thanks to all who participated in the March of Life last Monday. Especially to Liz Hildebrand who organized 3 parish buses, Kirsten Smith who led almost 40 of our youth and chaperones (bringing an official parish attendance to around 200!), Diane Spinelli who led prayers in the church before the March, and Julie Bailey who organized the delicious chili dinner afterwards.

January 22, 2012

Idiosyncrasies. All of us have our little idiosyncrasies—little habits, tendencies, etc., that people notice and wonder, “why does he do that?” Well, I guess I’ve got more than my share of these. For example, people ask me about the funny black hat I wear sometimes, called a “biretta”: “A square cap with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface,” (Catholic Encyclopedia at newadvent.org). Although it’s origins go back at least to the 13th century as the hat worn by those awarded advanced academic degrees (the origin of the “mortar board” caps worn by graduates today), the biretta has been a standard part of the diocesan priest’s clothing (and some religious priests’) since the 16th century. Symbolically it represents the teaching role of the priest. Although it is not strictly a liturgical garment, it was required to be worn during parts of the Mass up until 1965, and may be still be worn at Mass today. Even so, nowadays priests don’t wear it very often, although bishops and cardinals wear it regularly (it is the cardinals’ “red hat”). That being the case, people ask me why I wear it. The answer is very simple: I’m bald and if I don’t wear a hat in the winter I catch a cold. I wear several hats depending on just how cold it is, but the biretta is the only hat I own that is actually proper to wear with the cassock (the long black robe), i.e., it’s part of the “uniform.”

Another idiosyncrasy of mine is that occasionally when I preach about something that is near to my heart I can become very emotional; my priest-friends kindly refer to this as my being “passionate.” Fortunately, the topics which can sometimes rouse my emotions to their peak are rather limited and specific: abortion, the Blessed Mother, the priesthood, the Eucharist, and a few others. But sometimes when my “passion” gets the best of me as I preach about these subjects, it manifests itself in an awkward way: weeping. Sometimes this manifestation is delayed a bit, e.g., I may preach calmly about the Eucharist in the homily, and then tear up during the consecration. Some who witness this idiosyncrasy of mine think it is a good thing in that it shows my passion for my topic, particularly for the Eucharist. Others find it foolish and unmanly, and I tend to agree with them. My doctor assures me there is nothing unhealthy in this, and reminds me it runs in my family: my father and his father were the same way. In any case, it is embarrassing and distracting, and I apologize. When it does happen, please forgive me and simply try to ignore it as one of my many idiosyncrasies.

Sunday Confessions. Like many of you I am very pleased that St. Raymond’s is able to offer so many opportunities for parishioners to receive the Sacrament of Penance. Even so, some have asked me to expand these opportunities on Sunday morning between Masses. I appreciate this request, but, as I explained in a previous column, while I am happy to offer Sunday confessions before 3 Masses (no other parish in the area does this), my main intention in doing so is to make the sacrament available to those who truly cannot make it to confessions earlier in the week as well as those in immediate need of the sacrament. Now, of course, all are welcome on Sunday, but I would ask and strongly recommend that those who can come to confession earlier in the week do so, and leave Sunday morning for those who can not.

One of my concerns in this regard is that we have become a people that does everything based on convenience. Now, I love convenience as much as anyone, but I think we have to be very careful not to let this attitude seep into our relationship with God. Which is why I encourage you to make Sunday about worshipping God at Mass, and make another day of the week your day of reconciling with God at confession. In particular, I recommend Saturday confession (for generations the traditional day of confession), and I try to encourage this practice by providing ample confession times every Saturday morning and afternoon. In that regard, if you don’t like waiting in long lines for confession, come at about 4pm on Saturday when 4 priests are hearing and there’s usually no waiting.

Day of Penance and Prayer, and the March for Life. In remembrance of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the abominable Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in America, the U.S. Bishops have declared tomorrow, Monday, January 23, a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. To this end, three buses of St. Raymond parishioners will be driving over to join in the annual March for Life on the Mall in Washington. If you didn’t sign up for the buses, I still encourage any of you who can, especially those who work downtown, to join us on the Mall as hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers from all over the country march and pray for the end of the Culture of Death. For those who can’t make it to the March I invite you to join us at the parish at 10:30 for Holy Mass before the buses depart, and then to remain after Mass in the church praying the rosary and other pro-life prayers (until about noon). And if you can’t make any of these “events,” I strongly urge you to join in “remotely,” by praying the rosary sometime during the day—at your desk, in your home, wherever—and offering various acts of penance. (You are also invited to join us for a chili dinner in the parish hall after the March, at about 4:30 or 5pm).

May God save America from the scourge of abortion. And May God forgive us.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro vitam. Fr. De Celles

January 8, 2012

Epiphany and the End of the Christmas Season. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit and adoration of the magi to Christ in Bethlehem. It has historically been celebrated on January 6th since at least the 3rd century, but is celebrated in the U.S. on the Sunday falling between January 2nd and January 8th (inclusive). In the Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches it also, effectively, celebrates the birth of Our Lord, i.e., Christmas. The visit of the magi is rich in symbolic meanings for Christians, first of which is as the revealing (“epiphany”) of the Christ to the gentile world, as even foreign wise men travel great distances to adore their new heaven-sent King. Thus it is fitting that this year it marks the end of the Season of Christmas, as we remember the Savior came not just for us to celebrate His birth but for us to reveal Him to the nations.

Generosity of Our Parishioners. I am constantly overwhelmed by the generosity of all of you. First of all, relating to the Giving Tree, because of your kindness we were able to help 25 families (42 adults and 86 children) celebrate Christmas: 13 families from Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, and 12 local families. In addition the parish provided funds (from your “family assistance” donations) for Christmas gifts and other necessities for at least 15 other families with 21 adults and 34 children, bringing our grand total to 40 families with 183 people.

Also, I join parishioner Zac Iseman in thanking all those who assisted him in his Eagle Scout Project, by donating non-food items for the Lorton Community Action Center on December 17 and 18. “I had to make 3 full car load trips….All 3 trips combined came to 800 pounds from St. Raymond parishioners….”

Finally, I have to thank you for coming through on the Christmas collections. As I noted a few weeks ago, with Christmas falling on Sunday this year many pastors were afraid we’d effectively “lose” either the Christmas or Sunday collection. In the end I had no reason to worry: the combined collections for Christmas and Sunday were down only 10% from last year. This is truly amazing-I was worried we’d see a drop of between 50% and 30%. I should have known better, with my incredibly generous parishioners. God bless you all.

One More Christmas “Thank You.” Last week I had a long list of “thank you’s” for Christmas support in the parish, and I noted that I would forget someone. But one “thank you” I shouldn’t have forgotten was 6 year old Kateri Mantooth who was very brave and helpful to me at Midnight Mass as she carried the statue of the Baby Jesus in procession for the Blessing of the Christmas Crèche. So, thanks, Kateri!

Old Hand Missals. With the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, many parishioners have asked me what they should do with their old “daily missals”? Even if such a missal was not blessed by a priest, since it was used as an integral part of your worship at Mass, and contains the Word of God and the prayers of Mass, it should not normally be simply thrown in the trash. If you don’t want to keep your old missal in your library as a keepsake for posterity I would suggest that you either burn it, disposing of the ashes in some respectful place, or bury it in a similar place. If you like, you can bring it by the rectory for me, and I will dispose of it. By the way, similar care should be taken of any blessed objects, which I will also gladly accept for reverent disposal.

Holy Name of Jesus. Finally, a word about a feast we celebrated this last Tuesday, January 3: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Knowing a person’s name is usually very important in establishing a relationship with them-if we don’t know a person’s name it often indicates we’re not very close to them, or don’t care much about them, or that they don’t care much about us (pastors of large suburban parishes excepted, of course). This is very important in Scripture, especially when it comes to the Name of God. When God appears in the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3:13-14), the revelation of the Divine Name, “Yahweh” or “I am (who am)” is a huge step forward in God’s relationship with His people Israel. The same is true for the revelation of the Name of the Savior, a name chose by God for Himself, and revealed to both Mary and Joseph through the angel Gabriel: “Jesus” (“Yeshua” in Hebrew), which means “Yahweh saves.”

But note the stark difference in the way Israel treated the Name “Yahweh” and the way Catholics treat the Name “Jesus.” Israel considered that Name so Holy that they would never even say it: in Scripture once the Holy Name is revealed in Exodus any other reference to it is replaced by the word(s) “(the) Lord,” (“Adonai” in Hebrew). Just as they would not make any paintings or statues depicting God, because that would be seen to be reducing God to a mere human-like image, so they would not make use of His Name,

lest they even think of Him as merely human-like. But all that changed in the incarnation when God became man, so that from the earliest days of the Church His image is recreated all about us and His Name is shouted from the rooftops and invoked powerfully in prayer (see John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23; and Mark 16:17). Even so, it is also never to be taken in vain and always to be reverenced; as St. Paul tells us: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Although many people don’t seem to know it, the Church incorporates this Pauline admonition in the gestures of Holy Mass by requiring priest and laity alike to bow their heads whenever the Name “Jesus” is said at Mass (recognizing the impracticality of constant repetitive genuflection). Note this not a simply a suggestion, but has been a requirement of liturgical law for centuries, even since Vatican II. Just as we are required to kneel during the Eucharist Prayer we are also required to bow our heads at every mention of the Name “Jesus.” (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 275. a); Note: there are other head bows required at Mass, but I’ll leave that for another column).

Perhaps during this time of adapting to the new words of so many of the prayers at Mass, we can also take the opportunity to more carefully observe this ancient law, as beautifully meaningful act of love for Jesus and His most Holy Name.

Merry Christmas!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

December 18, 2011

As we enter the final week before Christmas, the fourth week of Advent, it is my sincere hope and prayer that this may be a truly holy and joyful week for each of you. The Lord Jesus wishes to shower many graces on you and your families this week-I exhort you to be open to them, and to Him. But there will also be many distractions and temptations that might lead you away from these graces. Please, do not let that happen. Stay close to Him who was born in a manger for love of you-love Him in return. Take every moment as an opportunity to serve Him, either directly in prayer and worship, or indirectly in serving His brothers and sisters, your neighbors, friends and family. See in every custom and sign of the season a symbol of our hope in Christ: in the Christmas tree see His promise of everlasting life, in the smile on your child’s lips see the angels rejoicing in heaven. And when you make your last minute practical preparations for the day, remember to make your last minute spiritual preparation-pray, confess your sins, and turn your heart to Christ.

To help you in this regard, may I remind you of this week’s special schedule in the parish. For your convenience it is printed on the next page of this bulletin.

Christmas Generosity. The celebration of Christmas is never only spiritual-the Word became flesh because His people live in the flesh. So I encourage you to be aware of those around you who may be in need of your kindness and generosity. Remember the Babe born in a cold stable, and laid in a manger, and what He told us when he grew up: “I was hungry and you gave me food, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink… As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Moreover, let me ask that if you know anyone who is truly in need of financial assistance this week, especially parishioners and families with children, please encourage them to call the parish office. We stand ready and willing to assist any of our brothers and sisters who are in genuine need.

Christmas Collection. Along the same lines, I would be remiss as Father of this parish family if I forgot our family’s practical needs this Christmas. In particular, since Christmas this year falls on a Sunday, it might be easy to forget to give your regular Christmas Day donation to the parish in addition to your regular weekly donation for Sunday, December 25-there aren’t 2 separate days for 2 separate collections. But I can assure you, this family cannot afford to lose it’s “Christmas collection,” which averages out to be about 3% of our total annual collection: practically speaking, it pays our electrical bill for the year. So please remember to drop your donations for both Christmas and for Sunday in the first collection on December 24th/25th.

Thanks. I can’t forget to thank all those who participated in last Sunday’s Lessons and Carols, especially the lectors who read so reverently and the members of our choir who sung so beautifully. If you weren’t there, you missed something truly special.

Finally, below you will find a note I received this week from the new parents of our Baby Sofi (aka, Baby Mary Madeleine). They asked me to pass it along to you.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

December 13, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

Words cannot begin to express our sincere gratitude for the wonderful birthday celebration you hosted for our daughter Sofi. Thank you so much for your generosity and kindness in helping us to celebrate Sofi’s first year of life. Our family was deeply touched by your gift of kindness and your presence in sharing our joy at Sofi’s birthday.

From the very start of her life until today we want to thank you for all you’ve done for Sofi. Our greatest treasure is the prayers you say and continue to say for our daughter. We are blessed by your prayers and petitions to our Lord. What more could we ask than our daughter be surrounded by faithful men and women of God.

From the very start of Sofi’s life you all have played such an important role in her life. We want you to know how very important your parish is to our family. We thank God that St. Raymond’s was chosen to be the place where Sofi was discovered. For the prayers and attention you gave her on that first day of life we are eternally grateful. I want you all to know that St. Raymond’s will always be a special place to Sofi as it is where we know her story began. I am sure as she grows she’ll have questions and want to know more about the day she was discovered. St. Raymond’s is the closest thing our little girl has to a family of origin. Our thankfulness abounds and we look forward to having St. Raymond’s join us in celebrating all of Sofi’s life.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

All our love and gratitude, Mark, Jennifer, and Sofi Hills

December 4, 2012

Thoughts on the New Translation. Well, after all the hoopla and preparation, we finally used the New Translation of the Mass last Sunday. I don‟t know what you thought, but so far all the feedback I‟ve gotten from parishioners has been overwhelmingly positive. For my part, I can say it was a unique experience, one I will not soon forget. First of all, I was stunned and amazed how everyone seemed not only to carefully give the new responses and pray the newly worded prayers, but also how vigorously and enthusiastically they did so. I was especially impressed with the strong rendition given of the Creed, a long proclamation that could easily have been a disaster. But not last Sunday. It was beautiful to witness.

Then there were the times of silence, or when I was praying a prayer alone as the priest. I don‟t think I‟d never heard the church so quiet, as it seemed everyone was hanging on every word, very carefully trying to follow along, to understand and take in the meaning of the prayers.

Finally, from my own perspective, praying these prayers with you and for you for the first time took me back to my first Mass as a newly ordained priest. Although every Mass is the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross and the Heavenly Banquet, whether said in Latin, Spanish or English, there was something wonderful about praying it in this more beautiful form. Most especially I found the Eucharistic Prayer almost overwhelming, with its new deepened sense of transcendence, and reverence, and at the same time intimacy and immanence. Phrases like, “he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands,” “this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim,” “be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance,” and so many others, drew me to a more profound awareness of the miraculous event before me. And, again, by the silence I heard from the congregation, I sensed you had a similar experience.

In all this I think I saw in you, and personally experienced, a renewed “full, conscious and active participation” in the Mass. Of course, some of this was simply due to necessity—we had to pay extra attention. But even if that was all it was, alleluia! So many times we rush through the Mass without really thinking about what we‟re doing or saying. There was no way we could do that last Sunday, or in the weeks ahead.

Some might say, “but we were more concerned with saying the right words than understanding and internalizing what they meant.” Maybe. But the words themselves are powerful, and it was hard not to be effected by them. Even if it was simply wondering, “what the heck does „consubstantial‟ mean again?” the words made you stop and think—and maybe relearn a profound dogma of the faith.

And as the weeks go on, I hope we will grow in understanding and internalize the meaning of the new prayers. So that this will be a new beginning of a more intense appreciation of the mystery of the Holy Mass—at long last, the renewal of the liturgy so long and diligently sought by both Bd. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. So that we may not only say the words and do the gestures, but allow those words and gestures to penetrate our spirits, and then reflect back the deepened devotion of our spirits in what we say and do at Mass.

What a great time to be a Catholic! What a wonderful Advent lays before us!

Comparison of This Week’s Prayers. In the coming weeks I will try to include a brief comparison of (and perhaps some comments on) the old and new translations of one of the “proper” prayers for that Sunday (the unique prayers that change every Sunday). Let‟s begin by looking at the today‟s “Opening Prayer,” or the “Collect,” as it is now called. I will forego comments this week, and leave it to you to consider how the “new” (closer translation of the Latin) is quite different from the “old.”

Old: God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may become one with him when he comes in glory.

New: Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company.

Advent Schedule. It‟s very easy to get all caught up in the commercialized and secular quasi- Christmas celebrations (prematurely) going on all around us right now, losing sight of Advent, a time of spiritual preparation for both the celebration of Christmas and the Second Coming of Christ. In that regard, I would like to call your attention to the Advent Schedule that was in last week‟s bulletin, and is now available on the parish website. We have added many extra evening Masses and confessions during the week, and I encourage you to take advantage of these as part of your Advent spiritual exercises.

Also, note the other special events on the calendar, including the popular “Breakfast with Santa” (with the Children‟s Choir performing) on Saturday, December 17th. I also invite you to join me on next Sunday, December 11, at 6:30pm as the choir and lectors present “Lessons and Carols,” a program of beautiful sacred music and Scripture readings focused on preparing us for Christmas. Last year all who came were enthralled—you will be too if you join us!

Baby Mary Madeleine. Our beautiful foundling, whose real name is “Sofi,” celebrated her 1st birthday on November 14. In honor of that occasion Sofi and her new adoptive parents joined us for a birthday party here on Sunday, November 20. All were delighted by her charming presence, as she ran around making scores of new friends among her brothers and sisters at St. Raymond‟s. She is a miracle to behold. Literally. Praised be Jesus Christ!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles