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

November 27, 2011

Today is the first day of Advent, as we begin to prepare for both the celebration of the first coming of Jesus 2000 years ago at Christmas and His second coming at the end of time. As such, it’s also the beginning of a new liturgical year in the life of the Church.

Every Advent is an exciting time to be a Catholic, especially as our focus is directed toward Christmas. We look back on Advents and Christmases past, with their many memories of family, friends, decorations, traditions, and gifts. And we also look forward with hope, especially to celebrating Christmas, and making new cherished memories.

We have to admit, however, that while these memories and hopes have a strong pull on our heart strings, in the grand scheme of things they pale in comparison to the true meaning of the Christmas we prepare for and anticipate with joy. As Christians we believe that the first Christmas, 2000 years ago, radically changed the world, as God became man and dwelt among us. Without His birth, Christ could not reveal the depth of God’s love for us, and there would have been no Cross or resurrection, and the font of grace and the gates of heaven would remained closed to us.

This Advent, then, must be more than a time to buy presents, decorate trees, and spend time with loved ones. All that is fine and good, but our true focus must be preparing to celebrate the Birth of Christ, and to meet Him when He comes again in glory.

This necessarily means Advent must be a time of increased awareness of our sins, and repentance. While the birth of Christ is joyful news, that joy is soured by the reality of our sins: God humbles Himself to become a vulnerable baby in order to save us from sin, how can we come to him without humbly repenting our many sins against Him.

It must also be a time of increased self-giving. And by this I don’t mean merely giving presents, or even giving to the poor—although that cannot be overlooked. God the Son came at the first Christmas to give us Himself. We in turn must give ourselves to Him. This, of course, begins with our avoidance of sin, but it must also manifest itself in our sincere love for others: “as you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.” So Advent must be a time of kindness and patience with everyone we meet—whether friend, stranger, or enemy—seeing each of them as one who Christ loves as much as He loves us. This is often very difficult, but by the grace of Christ we can and must love one another as He has loved us—humbling ourselves before each other as He humbled Himself in the manger.

And above all, Advent must also be time of increased prayer: St. John reminds us that “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Jesus came to speak to us—and to listen to us. Do we talk to Him, do we listen to Him? That is what prayer is—conversation with God. What will you do in this regard in the next few weeks? Will you come to Mass, confession, or Eucharistic Adoration more frequently? Will you pray the Rosary or read Scripture or holy books more often, perhaps as a family?

All this—repentance, self-giving love, and prayer—are essential to having a truly Catholic Advent. And all of these find their ultimate perfect expression in Holy Mass. Because the Mass is the framework, if you will, that holds in place and time the miraculous and eternal event of the actual life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, made present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here Christ becomes truly, really and bodily present: the Word becomes flesh, and dwells among us. Is this not the mystery of Christmas?

Here we repent our sins (“I confess…that I have sinned….” “Lamb of God …have mercy on us”). Here we talk to Him and praise him, and listen to Him; we shower him with adoration as He showers us with grace. Here we give ourselves to Him and, through Him, to His Father. And He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion, where we receive the grace to give His love and our love to others.

How fitting that on this first day of Advent, the beginning of new liturgical year, we introduce a new Translation of the Mass. I know that many of us will struggle with this translation. But perhaps some of this struggle will come from focusing on memories of the past that have to do more with our personal comfort than with our true worship of Christ—not unlike the way our attention in Advent is too often focused on traditions that make us feel good, here and now, and not on truly striving to draw closer to Christ. We have been “saying” Mass a certain way, and we’re comfortable with it. But now the Church offers us something objectively better: the same prayers we’re used to, but now in a more accurate translation that will correspond more closely to the prayers said in different languages by 100s of millions of Catholics throughout the world. And more than that, a new translation that reveals a richer meaning and clearer awareness of the mystery we celebrate.

St. Paul tells us: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, …; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I’m sure all of our families have enduring Christmas traditions that have matured over the years: a child wants his parents to give him lots of toys for Christmas, an adult is happy just to be with his parents at Christmas. Traditions stay, but they can still evolve, becoming better, richer, and more meaningful.

Today, the Church gives us an early Christmas gift: the same cherished tradition, with new richer texts. Let’s not cling to the past just because it makes us comfortable, but let us accept this “new” and wonderful gift, trusting that it will bring us a new appreciation of the Mass we have so long cherished. And in this Advent season may these changes remind us of our constant need to focus less on what makes us feel good for a little while, and focus more on the mystery of Christ’s everlasting love.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

November 20, 2011

Next Sunday: Use of the New Translation. At the Vigil Mass next Saturday evening, November 26, all Masses said in English in the United States will begin to use the entire text of the New Translation of the Roman Missal. It will be an historical day in the life of the Church in America. It will also be the beginning of a very difficult adjustment, but I am confident that if we all approach this with open hearts and minds—positively trusting in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of this Church in this important change—it will be the beginning of a period of tremendous growth in understanding of the Mass that will yield immeasurable spiritual fruit. To prepare for all this, I recommend you read over the new Mass prayers contained in the 2 booklets I mailed you several weeks ago, (also available through links on the parish website). And remember: “The Lord be with you”…“And with your spirit.”

Consecration to the Sacred Heart. Today Bishop Paul Loverde will be consecrating the entire Diocese of Arlington to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the priests throughout the diocese will be consecrating their parishes as well. In today’s bulletin you will find a special insert, a picture of the Sacred Heart, which I invite you to place in a prominent place in your home as your recite the prayer on the back consecrating your home and family to the Sacred Heart. To help you to understand this consecration and the importance the devotion to the Sacred Heart, Bishop Loverde has issued a special Pastoral Letter to the diocese. Below follows a lengthy excerpt from the beginning of that letter. A limited number of copies of the entire Letter can be found at the church exits today, or you may view it by following the link at the top of St. Raymond’s website.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fountain of Life, Fire of Love
By Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington

There is a deep longing in the human heart for enduring love, and because God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), this deep longing is really a longing for God. God alone can ultimately fulfill this longing of the human heart because He Himself created us with this innermost desire for Him, although so often we do not consciously realize its true source.

No doubt, you and I have heard this truth expressed many times. But, in point of fact, do we really allow ourselves to be caught up into the wonder and power of this reality, which is not crafted by human imagination or ingenuity but which has been inserted into our innermost being by God Himself? Knowing how difficult it is for us to understand and to accept this amazing reality — almost too good to be true — God is relentless in the many ways by which He tangibly reveals this absolute truth, especially in ways which we can more easily grasp. One very tangible and humanly understandable way is the image of the Heart of Jesus, the symbol of God’s ever-faithful love.

“Behold This Heart.” A few years ago, I was privileged to accompany a group of pilgrims to various shrines of France. Among these was Paray-le-Monial, a city in the southeastern part of France and known worldwide as the site of the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to a cloistered Visitation nun, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque…

The well-known appearances of the Lord Jesus in which He revealed His Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary began on the night of December 27, 1673. In this first appearance, the Lord spoke of the immensity of His love for all people and showed her His Heart, “like a sun, ablaze with a dazzling light,” as Saint Margaret Mary was later to record it…. In this same appearance, Jesus mourned the world’s ingratitude, indifference and coldness and asked Saint Margaret Mary for a Communion of reparation on the first Friday of each month.

In 1674, although the exact date is uncertain, Jesus again appeared to Saint Margaret Mary. Later, she wrote down what she heard and saw: “The divine Heart was represented to me as upon a throne of fire and flames. It shed rays on every side brighter than the sun and transparent as crystal. The wound which he received on the cross appeared there visibly. A crown of thorns encircled the divine Heart, and it was surmounted by a cross” …. Once more, Jesus spoke of His burning and pure love for humanity.

The third and most famous apparition took place in June 1675. As Saint Margaret Mary knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus exposed His Sacred Heart again and spoke these words to her: “Behold this Heart which has loved mankind so much that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love.” Christ then asked that the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be set apart as a special feast day in honor of His Sacred Heart — “a day on which to receive me in Holy Communion and make a solemn act of reparation for the indignities I have received in the Blessed Sacrament while exposed on the altars of the world.” The Lord then said, “I promise you, too, that I shall open my Heart to all who honor me in this way, and who get others to do the same; they will feel in all its fullness the power of my love” ….

By the time of Saint Margaret Mary’s death on October 17, 1690, devotion to the Sacred Heart was well established in the Visitation community and the areas surrounding Paray-le-Monial. Over the succeeding centuries, thanks also to the efforts of Saint Claude La Colombière and the Society of Jesus, devotion to the Sacred Heart spread throughout the world, culminating in the consecration of the whole human race to the Sacred Heart by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

Reflecting upon the message and the meaning of the apparitions of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary, we can see that through the symbol of His Heart, Jesus Christ desired (and still desires) to show us the depth of His divine love — a love that is faithful, a love that is redemptive, a love that is merciful; in short, a love that seeks out each one of us and calls us to a vital communion with Him…

November 13, 2011

Baby Mary Madeleine: Sofi. A year ago this coming Monday, November 14, is the first birthday of the baby girl I’ve been calling “Baby Mary Madeleine.” It is also the 1 year anniversary of the day a parishioner found her left in the parking lot of our church. That was a miraculous day. And we continue to give praise to the Lord Jesus for saving her life and entrusting us, if ever so briefly, with her young life.

When the police and EMS arrived to take her to the hospital she immediately became a ward of the County. Since then, officials have been rightly protective of her privacy. They have, however, kindly allowed me to keep in touch with her, while at the same time keeping me under a complete “gag-order.”

Well the gag-order has ended, as she has been legally adopted by the wonderful couple who have been her foster parents for this last year. Even though we want to continue protecting her privacy, her parents now want to bring her “home” and introduce her to her many brothers and sisters in Christ at St. Raymond’s.

So, next Sunday, Nov. 20, after the 12:15 Mass, all St. Raymond parishioners are invited to a birthday party in our Parish Hall for little Anna Sofia Rae, or “Sofi,” aka “Baby Mary Madeleine,” and her parents. This is a “private” party, parishioners only—no press, and I ask you not to publicize this in any way.

Sofi is a beautiful, sweet and vivacious child. And God has placed her with two kind and loving parents, whom I would like to thank for opening their generous hearts to God and Sofi, and also to me over this last year. And now they extend that generosity in a particular way to all of us at St. Raymond’s.

Consecration to the Sacred Heart. Next Sunday is also a special day for our whole diocese as Bishop Loverde will be consecrating the diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Moreover, he has asked all the pastors to consecrate their parishes in like manner. So at every Mass next Sunday the priest will say the very short prayer marking this consecration.

The devotion is to the Sacred Heart, which is as old as the Church, but became more particularly developed after a series of apparitions of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673. All this is beautifully explained in Bishop Loverde’s new Pastoral Letter, Fountain of Life, Fire of Love, (a link to the letter is on the parish website). In his letter the Bishop quotes Pope Pius XII:

“…Christ our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times”

The Bishop goes on to write: “I invite families to make a family act of consecration, together with an enthronement of the Sacred Heart — that is, the placement of an image of the Sacred Heart in a prominent place in the home — as a reminder that Christ should be the center of the family, the domestic church. In addition, the Lord promised that where the image of His Heart is honored, He would bring peace to the home, unite families, bless them with all the graces necessary for their state in life and be a secure refuge in life and death.”

NEW TRANSLATION OF THE MASS, continued. After a brief hiatus, let’s turn to the prayers/responses of the people after the Eucharistic Prayer. The first prayer would be the Our Father, which, fortunately, is not changed at all, since the old translation (OT) used a very ancient traditional translation. The doxology afterward (“For the kingdom…”) also remains unchanged.

The next part for the people comes when the priest lifts up and shows the Eucharist to the people and proclaims:

OT: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
NT: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

The phrase “This is” has been replaced with “Behold,” precisely translating the Latin, “Ecce.” Although “behold” is not used in every day English, it used very frequently in most translations of Scripture, particularly in translating John 1:29, from which this acclamation is taken: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” This is, of course, the prophet St. John the Baptist’s acclamation after he baptized Jesus, not only recognizing Him as the Messiah, but as the Lamb who would be sacrificed for our salvation. Also, notice how “Behold” is repeated in the Mass’s version, as if to emphasize the marvel before us: “Look!…Look!” But this second “behold” is not in John 1:29. Its inclusion in the Mass’s version may point to John 1:36, where the Baptist repeats, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” this time to two men who go on to become the first Apostles, Ss. Andrew and John. Here we see the priest as prophet, calling us to recognize that what we behold before us is truly God in the flesh, the Sacrificed Lamb of the New Covenant. And then we are called, like Andrew and John, to follow him.

The priest continues:

OT: Happy are those who are called to his supper;
NT: Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

In the NT we are not merely “happy” but “blessed” (Latin: “beati), a word Scripture uses to describe those who receive the fullness of God’s gifts (“happiness” being only one of those). We are reminded of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are…” and the incredible promises they make, including, “the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” It also ties us directly to the Scriptural source of this saying, from John’s vision of heaven recorded in Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” So here the priest reminds us, again, that we are present at the heavenly wedding banquet, Christ the Bridegroom and His Church the Bride. A very different prayer in the NT than in the OT.

And then we respond:

OT: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
NT: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Here, thankfully, the NT corrects the OT and gives us the Latin’s actual words, quoting from Matthew 8:8, as the Roman centurion responds to Jesus’ agreeing to go to cure his servant: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Scripture tells us: “Jesus …marveled, and said …”not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In all this we see not merely the profound humility (“I am not worthy”) but also the faith that is necessary to receive the Eucharist. This is a call to believe, with the faith of the centurion, that the Eucharist is exactly what we have just heard Jesus say it is: “this is my body.”

The only difference between the prayer and Scripture is the phrase “my soul” replacing “my servant” (and “I” in the OT), which reminds us that this is not merely physical food, but also food for the “soul.” On the other hand, “under my roof” reminds us that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” so the spiritual food must have an effect on the way we live with our bodies: “So glorify God in your body” [1 Cor. 6:19, 20].

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

November 6, 2011

This Tuesday Virginians go to the polls to elect their state and local leaders. The right to vote is one of the greatest of our blessings as Americans, and one of our most solemn duties. And it is one of our proudest legacies as Virginians that this right, along with so many others, was originally secured by efforts of so many great Virginians—giants like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Mason, and Henry.

For them the dream that would become the United States of America was worth fighting and dying for. Is it for us? If so, why is it that so many of us won’t even take the time this Tuesday to defend the American blessing, the Virginian legacy, by simply taking time to vote.

There are many who want to change America and Virginia, to lead us away from our foundational beliefs. In particular, they would discard the sacred words penned by Virginian Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”

Today many attack this creed. They would have our laws deny the belief that 1) it is God, our creator, who gives us our inalienable rights; 2) governments exist primarily to secure the rights God has given; 3) first among all God-given rights is the right to life; and 4) God, not human courts or human laws, has created us all equal, whether we have lived 80 years outside our mother’s wombs, or only 80 minutes inside our mother’s womb.

We all know that there are people who would like to “get God out of government.” But, according the Declaration, that is un-American. This, of course, does not mean that we should elect a theocracy. It simply means that Americans should base their electoral decisions on a conscience formed by God’s laws, whether revealed to us in the very nature of man and creation, or revealed to us in our Christian faith. It was commonly understood by the Founding Fathers that religion was not only a fundament human right, but also essential to the success of the American experiment. They believed that the only way America could have a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people, and that religion was essential for this to happen. As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. … Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

The Catholic Church teaches that governments have a legitimate autonomy from the Church. But it also teaches, as does the Declaration of Independence, that no government can ever usurp God’s authority by suppressing the rights God has given to the people.

Some basic moral principles are part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,” or what the Declaration of Independence calls “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” These are moral principles that are so basic that any rational human being should be able to figure them out on their own. For example, any rational thinking person should be able to figure out that all men are equal in their rights before God, and that it is always wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being.

Unfortunately, all too often we don’t think rationally—we let our passions, like hatred or greed or fear, lead us in our actions. So it’s important for someone, like the Church, to remind us to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Because without that, governments will inevitably enact laws that are contrary to both human reason and the good that our Creator intended: we will be ruled by codified passions, not justice.

There is no right more basic than the right to life, and there is no societal norm more essential to the happiness of society than the family, as nature and nature’s God, establish it: one man and one woman. As Pope Benedict has taught us, “These values are not negotiable.” And these values cannot be promoted or defended without religious liberty.

Therefore, no good American, no good Virginian, no good Catholic can 1) neglect the right and duty to vote, or vote for a candidate who does not actively and unquestionably protect and defend: 2) the right to life of unborn children, 3) the dignity of traditional/natural marriage, and 4) the religious freedom of all Americans.

Some will argue, “but Father, I understand all that…but with the economy the way it is…. I have to vote for a candidate who will fix things.” We must all be sympathetic to the pain, confusion and fear the economy is causing people. But remember what the Founding Fathers wrote in the very last line of the Declaration: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

These men did not place their “fortunes” much less their “lives” ahead of defending God given human rights—why do we think we should? Especially when we read the words of Jesus Himself: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ ….But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

This Tuesday, VOTE! And vote only for men and women who defend the right to life, traditional marriage and the freedom of religion. In short, be a true American, a true Virginian, and a true Catholic.

October 30, 2011

I’ve been “on the road” a bit over the last 2 weeks, so today I’m taking a break from my discussion of the new translation of the Roman Missal, and running a column that is essentially a repeat of my column from the same week last year. Even so, it’s as timely today as it was then. We’ll go back to the translation next week.

Of course tomorrow (October 31) is Halloween. As big a deal as this has become in certain circles in the last few years, for Catholics its main importance should be to point to the two very special daysthat follow it: November 1, All Saint’s Day, and November 2, All Souls’ Day.

These days are particularly important because they remind us that the Church of Jesus Christ is more than just those folks we see when we come to Mass, and extends well beyond the 2 billion plus Christians we can count on Earth. Because billions of Christians have lived and died before us, and many of those are in Heaven, or on their way there.

This is what the Church means when it speaks of the “Communion of Saints”—here the word “saint” being used as it is most commonly used in Scripture, to refer to all Christians. So that we who worship Christ on Earth are one with those who worship Christ in Heaven and in Purgatory. The Church therefore refers to three states, or parts, of the Church: “The Pilgrim Church” (“The Church Militant”) i.e., all Christians on Earth; “The Church in Glory” (“The Church Triumphant”), all those in Heaven; and “The Church Being Purified” (“The Church Suffering”), all the souls in Purgatory.

All Saints’ Day reminds us of our unity with the Church in Heaven. Throughout the year we celebrate the feasts of particular persons whom, because of their manifestly holy and heroic lives on Earth, the Church officially recognize as now living in Heaven, i.e. the people we normally refer to as “saints” (or “canonized saints”). But on this ALL Saints’ Day we remember not only those “official” saints, but also ALL the other countless numbers of souls who have gone to Heaven. For example, many of our deceased mothers and fathers are in Heaven, and so many little children who have gone before us. This is their feast day! So we honor them, and in honoring them we honor God Himself, who has given them a share of His glory. And we pray to them, asking the whole multitude in Heaven to assist us on our way to join them.

All Souls’ Day remembers our unity with the Church in Purgatory. Unfortunately, nowadays even the idea of Purgatory isn’t very well received; it often triggers reactions of disbelief or even ridicule— even among Catholics. Yet this doctrine goes back to the Old Testament, as 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 makes very clear. Some see Purgatory as a place of horrible torture—sort of a mini-Hell—and the thought that their deceased loved ones could be there strikes them as disrespectful: they want to think of them as in Heaven.

But remember, St. John tells us in Rev. 21:27 that “nothing imperfect shall enter into” Heaven. The thing is, who do you know that is perfect? Almost all of us have at least some venial sin we cling to, or have some inordinate attachment to earthly things. Does that mean that all of us imperfect people will not enter Heaven, i.e., and so go to Hell? Not at all. Because of God’s great love for us, He will not let this happen. So in His mercy the Lord takes all of us who die in a state imperfection (assuming that before death we have properly repented of any mortal—“deadly”—sins) and He perfects, or purifies, us. Another word for purification is “purgation,” so this time/place/state of purification is called “Purgatory.”

It is true that Purgatory is a place of some suffering, hence it is referred to as the “Church Suffering.” Perhaps this suffering is best understood in the light of the suffering that comes with any change: when we try to get into better physical shape, it hurts. When we try to learn a new subject it’s difficult, “painful” (“no pain, no gain”). But the pain of becoming physically stronger or mentally smarter is not something we should shun—in fact, the pain becomes, in some ways, a source of joy, as we begin to recognize it as a sign of change to a better state.

So is it a surprise that the change from imperfect to perfect will be painful? And while those in Purgatory do suffer during their purification, is it a surprise that St. Catherine of Genoa, after receiving a vision of Purgatory from Our Lord, wrote: “I believe no happiness can be …compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise.” The souls in Purgatory suffer, but they rejoice as it brings them closer and closer to Heaven. And while on Earth we rejoice in our hope for Heaven, in Purgatory the souls rejoice because they definitely know they are going there.

Even so, we must pray for the Souls in Purgatory—because they do suffer. And just as we try to help those we love on Earth by praying for them, we don’t stop loving someone when they die, so we should continue to pray for them to help them on their way to perfection. Even if we know that they were very holy on Earth, we still owe them whatever help, in prayer, we can give them in death.

So, contrary to what many people think nowadays, praying for the dead is not an act of disrespect, but of love. It does not imply that they are not good enough for Heaven, but presumes that they were so good that they are now assured of their Heavenly reward, after God has perfected them.

Who cares about Halloween? What great days lie ahead on All Saints’ and All Souls’! In the love of Christ, and with faith and hope in His promises of Heaven, let us pray to the saints in glory for their help, and lend our help to suffering souls by praying for them.

Et, oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles