April 24, 2011

Father’s Letter April 24, 2011 – Easter

He is risen! He is truly risen!” What a glorious day when Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and opens paradise and eternal life to all those who follow him. I want to take this opportunity to personally, and on behalf of Fr. Pilon and Fr. Peter, wish all of you a glorious, joyful, holy and happy Easter. But this celebration is not ours alone. The joy of Easter is the joy of the whole Universal Church. So today, let’s hear from the pastor of the whole Church, Pope Benedict XVI:

“Et resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas – On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures”. …Every year, in the “Most Holy Triduum of the Crucified, dead and Risen Christ”, as St Augustine calls it, the Church relives the last events of Jesus’ earthly life in an atmosphere of prayer and penance: his condemnation to death, his ascent to Calvary carrying the Cross, his sacrifice for our salvation, being laid in the tomb. Then on the “third day” the Church relives his Resurrection: it is the Passover, Jesus’ passing from death to life in which the ancient prophecies were completely fulfilled. The entire liturgy of the Easter Season sings the certitude and joy of Christ’s Resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must constantly renew our adherence to Christ who died and rose for us: his Passover is also our Passover because in the Risen Christ we are given the certainty of our own resurrection. The news of his being raised from the dead never ages and Jesus is alive for ever; and his Gospel is alive. “The faith of Christians”, St Augustine observed, “is the Resurrection of Christ”. The Acts of the Apostles explain it clearly: “God has given assurance to all men by raising him [Jesus] from the dead” (17: 31). Indeed, his death did not suffice to demonstrate that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the awaited Messiah. How many people in the course of history devoted their lives to a cause they deemed right and died for it! And dead they remained. The Lord’s death reveals the immense love with which he loved us, to the point of sacrificing himself for us; but his Resurrection alone is our “assurance”, the certainty that what he said is the truth which also applies for us, for all times. In raising Jesus, the Father glorified him. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul wrote: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10: 9).

It is important to reaffirm this fundamental truth of our faith whose historical veracity is amply documented even if today, as in the past, there are many who in various ways cast doubt on it or even deny it. The enfeeblement of faith in the Resurrection of Jesus results in weakening the witness of believers. In fact, should the Church’s faith in the Resurrection weaken, everything will come to a halt, everything will disintegrate. On the contrary, the adherence of heart and mind to the dead and Risen Christ changes the life and brightens the entire existence of people and peoples. Is it not the certainty that Christ is risen which instills courage, prophetic daring and perseverance in martyrs of every epoch? Is it not the encounter with the living Jesus that converts and fascinates so many men and women who from the beginnings of Christianity have continued to leave all things to follow him and put their own lives at the service of the Gospel? “If Christ has not been raised”, the Apostle Paul said, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (I Cor 15: 14). But he was raised!

The proclamation we listen to constantly in these days is exactly this: Jesus is risen, he is the Living One and we can encounter him; just as the women who had gone to the tomb met him on the third day, the day after the Sabbath; just as the disciples encountered him, surprised and dismayed by what the women had told them; just as so many other witnesses met him during the days following his Resurrection. And after his Ascension, …[i]llumined by the Holy Spirit, the members of the early Church began to proclaim the announcement of Easter openly and fearlessly. And this announcement, passed on from one generation to the next, has come down to us and every year at Easter rings out with ever new power. (General Audience, March 26 2008)

OTHER BUSINESS…
Brent Society. I have the honor of being the Moderator of the Brent Society, which, as many of you may recall, last May honored Fr. Gould at its annual dinner with its “Bishop Thomas J. Welsh Distinguished Service Award.” This year this award will be going to Ken Cuccinelli, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, for his outstanding example of Catholicism in the public square. Please consider joining us on the evening of Monday, May 16, 2011.

Angelus Academy. St. Raymond’s parishioners have long-time close ties to Angelus Academy in Springfield–parish Masses were offered there for several years before the church was completed and approximately 40% of Angelus’ students are currently St. Raymond parishioners. In the coming months, Angelus will be moving to a new location much closer to our parish, as they plan to purchase their own free-standing building at 7644 Dynatech Court in Springfield, with lots of room for future growth. But Angelus is not a rich school with a huge endowment, so they need to raise a considerable sum of money from private donations. I encourage you to consider supporting this effort as generously as you can.

Father Peter. As you may have heard, Fr. Peter Odhiambo will be leaving the parish on May 9 after nearly two years. Having finished his STL course work at the John Paul II Institute Fr. Peter has decided to move to a more rural location to complete his dissertation—to St. John’s in Warrenton with Fr. Gould. I can’t say enough to thank Fr. Peter for all his hard work in the parish, and for his personal help to me these last nine months. I’ll have more to say about this in the next few weeks, but for now let me invite you all to join us in “farewell social” for Fr. Peter on Sunday, May 8th after the 12:15 Mass. More info will follow in next week’s bulletin.

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

April 17, 2011

Father’s Corner April 17, 2011

Today, we begin Holy Week, the most important days of the Christian year, days in which we spiritually, mentally and emotionally enter into the profundity of the mystery of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. We begin with “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion,” as the crowds in Jerusalem greet Jesus with great anticipation, hoping he is the Messiah, whom they think will raise an army to destroy their Roman occupiers, and restore their nation to greatness. But as the week moves on and Christ refuses to do anything of the sort, they move from Palm Sunday’s jubilant shouts of “Hosanna!” to Good Friday’s hateful shouts of “Crucify him!” From the laying of palm branches at his feet, to nailing him to the cross.

In some ways, this tells the story of most of our lives: one day we praise Jesus by our love, prayers and good works, and the next day we crucify him by our sins. Every Sunday at Mass (hopefully) we praise Jesus, singing “Hosanna in the highest.” But how long until we betray him, as Judas did, by throwing his commandments aside as we go about our daily lives? How long until we deny him as we fail to pray to him? How long until we join the soldiers in scourging him, whipping our brothers with the lash of words of ridicule or gossip? How long until we place the crown of thorns on his head with petty sins of selfishness, and pride—and press it down into his skull as we crush our neighbors’ faith by our scandalous behavior? How long after that will it take for us to drive the nails into his hands and feet and the spear into his side, as our mortal sins open the wounds that kill him?
This week, see in his wounds your sins. But also see in them His love for you—the ineffable love of God the Son who stripped himself of the glory of heaven to hang on a cross, bleeding and gasping for air unto death. How great a love is this—and for us, who have betrayed him, mocked him and nailed him to his cross. Mourn for your sins, grieve for his pain, but also let yourself be overwhelmed by his love.

This is Holy Week—make it truly “holy,” which really means “set apart.” Set it apart from other weeks and days of the year. Yes, go about your business, but do so in the company of Christ at every moment. Pausefromtimetotimeandask,whatwasJesusthinkingthismorningofthe4th daybeforethecross,or this3rd eveningbeforehisscourging?Washealreadyexperiencingtheagonyinhisheartthatflowedover in the garden of Gethsemane? Was he thinking of me? Was he forgiving me, and all of us sinners, for what we were about to do to Him?

Remember to pray, keep your Lenten penances and to avoid all sin—to love one another as Christ has loved you! To truly try, every moment, to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
And take advantage of the very special means the Church provides to help you move more deeply into these mysteries—to set the days apart. Go to daily Mass, or come to church when no one else is here and spend an hour watching with the Lord in the Tabernacle. Remember to join the Universal Church in doing penance by abstaining from meat and fasting on Good Friday (mandatory) and Holy Saturday (strongly encouraged). Most especially, come to the unique liturgies of the week: the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3 p.m. on Good Friday (take the afternoon off!), and even the 2-hour Easter vigil on Holy Saturday night to celebrate Jesus’ true triumph: over sin and death in the Resurrection. Make this truly a Holy Week.

A few words of thanks. I want to thank Teri Tolpa, who has done a wonderful job of chairing our Respect Life Committee these last two years—much of that time commuting 60 miles after moving to Front Royal. Teri will be leaving us this summer to go to graduate school in Denver. Our deepest thanks for a job extremely well done!

Also, thanks to Mairim Bartholomew who has been producing this bulletin for last 10 years. Unfortunately for us, the demands of a full-time job make it necessary for her to hand on the bulletin to someone else. Most of us don’t realize how difficult it is to put a parish bulletin together, having to coordinate deadlines and information coming from all over the place—and a pastor who is constantly late in turning in his column—it’s a tough job. God bless you, Mairim, and thank you for all your dedicated service.

Blessing of Easter Food Baskets. Remember the blessing of the Easter Food Baskets on Holy Saturday at 12 noon in the church. This blessing goes back to ancient customs in various cultures to bless the food that would be consumed in the Easter meal, especially food that had been traditionally given up during Lent: meats, dairy products, eggs, etc. Also, bread is blessed to remind us of the Bread of Life.

Have a truly Holy Week.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 8, 2011

During this holy season of Lent, there’s been a lot of talk sin and repentance. Some sins are more obvious than others, because their effect is readily seen. For example, family members see the sins they commit when they hurt each other. But this isn’t always the case, so we need to be able to identify, in an objective way, the kinds of actions that are usually or always sinful.
It occurred to me recently that one category of sins that often gets overlooked is sins against the Church. These sins often go unnoticed, either because we don’t see their direct bad effects or because we simply don’t think of them as sins.

Nowadays, it’s not at all uncommon to hear a Catholic say something like, “I don’t always agree with everything the Church teaches,” and then claim to be a “good Catholic.” Of course, some Church teaching is open to development or change, but until the Church, through the authority of the Pope, recognizes those developments, it is a sin for an individual Catholic to ignore them. And while some positions commonly called “teaching” are actually the Church’s official guidance on difficult questions, even so, too many people who have no expertise in theology ignore these “teachings” because they don’t fit the way they live. Even this is usually sinful: it is against right reason to ignore the advice of experts, especially those appointed by God.

Even so, many of the teachings that Catholics tend to disagree with today are not changeable. For some reason, too many Catholics forget that Jesus handed on the authority to teach in His name to the apostles and their successors, the bishops, and especially to St. Peter and his successors, the popes. He said to the apostles:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt 28: 19).

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt 10: 40).

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

And to Peter specifically:
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 16:18-19).

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?…Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep….” (John 21:15-17).

This authority was firmly recognized in the 1st and 2nd centuries as having passed on to bishops, the successors to the apostles, especially the bishops of Rome (popes) as successors to St. Peter: “where there is the bishop, there is the Church” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Smyrniots, c. 105AD).

“[regarding]…the … Church founded …at Rome by ….Peter and Paul;….it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority….” (St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus Haereses, III, 3, c. 175AD).

In the words of Christ, we are “bound” by the teaching of the Pope and bishops in union with him, especially when they indicate, either by constant and universal teaching over the centuries or by their specific words, that a particular teaching is to be definitely held.

Yet many of these definite teachings are the very ones many Catholics refer to when they say “sometimes I disagree with the Church.” A prime example of this is rejection of the teaching on the permanence of marriage and the grave sinfulness of divorce and remarriage (without annulment). While we should have genuine sympathy for those who find themselves in painful situations after ignoring this teaching, even so this Church teaching goes back to the apostolic teaching of Jesus’ own words (See: Mark 10:2-12; Matt 19:3-9; Matt 5:32).

Similar examples are found in the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and extra-marital sex, as well as the “Real Presence,” the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and the necessity of the sacramental of penance for the forgiveness of mortal sins. Even “controversial” teachings, such as the male-only priesthood, are definitive and unchangeable.

Dissent from these and other definitive teachings, publicly or privately, is usually grave matter, the stuff of mortal sins. Yet, so many otherwise good and even devout Catholics readily express this dissent. And while many will say “but that doesn’t make me a bad Catholic,” it most assuredly does, since a “bad Catholic” is one who sins gravely and without remorse.

As bad as sins of dissent are, there is still another kind of sin against the Church which can be equally deadly. One is called not only to accept Church teaching, but also to obey Church law, especially when the law is unambiguous and exceptionless, or rooted in Divine Law. This obedience is based on the 4th commandment to “honor your mother and father”: just as it is almost always sinful, and sometimes gravely sinful, for children to disobey their parents, willful disobedience of Church law is also often sinful, even gravely so.

Finally, there is another kind of sin against the Church: a sin against the love and unity of the Church. It is true, as Pope Benedict once said: “How much filth there is in the Church, …even among those…in the Priesthood…” But the Church is not just the priests, bishops, or even the Pope. It’s not just you and me, this parish, diocese, or the universal church on earth, in purgatory and in heaven. The Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. Ultimately, listening to her counsel, accepting her doctrine and obeying her laws must all be rooted in love – for Christ and His Bride. To the extent this love is half-hearted or perfunctory, or nonexistent, there is sin.

May the Lord Jesus grant us an honest and thorough examination of conscience this Lent, and the grace to repent all our sins.

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. De Celles

p.s. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the angel statues will be going up on the façade of the church. This was part of the original design, and commissioned by my beloved predecessor, Fr. Gould. Let us rejoice and pray that these statues will remind all who enter or pass our church that the angels dwell in this holy temple, God’s house!

Blessed Theodore de Celles

My column of August 1 was dedicated to all the great saints whose feasts are celebrated this month. But I left out one saint (actually, a “blessed”). He’s not very well known, in fact his feast is not even on the liturgical calendar. Even so, I keep his feast every year on August 18. He is the 13th century priest named Blessed Theodore de Celles, my ancestral uncle.

As a young cleric Bd. Theodore joined the Third Crusade, and in Jerusalem developed a profound devotion to the mystery of the Holy Cross of Jesus. A few years after returning to Belgium he founded the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross—“the Crosier Fathers”—and joined in a new crusade to preach to and convert the Albigensian heretics in southern France. There he worked alongside St. Dominic, founder of the “Order of Preachers”—the “Dominicans” (of which St. Raymond was a member and served as third Master General).

Bd. Theodore entered into paradise on August 18, 1236, but the Crosiers remain here on earth. In America they work mainly in Arizona and Minnesota, but in God’s providence the only Crosier Father on the east coast was my spiritual director when I was in seminary. Needless to say, Bd. Theodore is one of my primary patron saints, and I have commended my parish to his special care.

The Albigensian heresy Bd. Theodore fought in the 13th century included a very strange understanding of the human body, yielding a perverse set of sexual mores—especially with regard to marriage. The 21st century finds us fighting a new set a strange sexual mores, many of which were encapsulated in a decision by a Federal Judge on August 4, in which he ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to “marry.” According to him, for as far back in history as we can go, thousands of years, mankind has “irrationally” defined marriage. I addressed this topic in my homily last Sunday, which I have posted to the parish website. I hope you will read it and consider the ramifications of this disastrous ruling.

Another assault on marriage today is the growingly common practice of men and woman cohabiting—living together—before marriage. Not only is this a mortal sin against the sixth commandment (fornication), and thus the worst spiritual preparation for marriage, but it is also one of the worst ways to practically prepare for marriage: statistics show a dramatic increase in the probability of divorce for these couples—up to 100%.

Because of this, in all charity and sincere paternal concern for their well-being, I strongly exhort any cohabiting couples to change their living arrangements, practice chastity, and seek Christ’s merciful forgiveness and grace in the sacrament of penance. And I encourage anyone who knows a cohabiting couple to love them enough to encourage them to change, and to assist them in any way possible with the change.

With this in mind, I would make one plea and one policy with regard to couples who approach St. Raymond’s to marry. 1) The plea: Many couples feel trapped due to financial factors; therefore, I ask any parishioners who have a spare room to rent or lend to let me know, so that I can offer this alternative to couples. 2) The policy: in order to properly assist couples in their preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, and to make it absolutely clear that we can not condone or cooperate with this self-destructive behavior, from now on cohabiting couples wishing to be married at St. Raymond’s will be required to live separately at least 3 months prior to their wedding; couples who choose to remain cohabiting may still be married here in a “simple ceremony” (without a Mass, music, flowers, processions, etc.). This policy flows only from true pastoral love for these couples, and without any malice or condemnation; and I would be happy to discuss it with any concerned couple.

On this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, I pray for all of us, that through our Blessed Mother’s intercession and example we may live lives of true holiness, and so one day live in the glory and joy of heaven with her and her Divine Son.

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. De Celles