July 3, 2011

On this Fourth of July weekend, let us pray for our beloved nation and our nation’s leaders.

Prayer for Government
by Archbishop John Carroll,
first bishop and archbishop of Baltimore,
and of the United States

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his Excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

First Prayer of the Continental Congress, September 7th, 1774
Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.

St. Paul’s First letter to St. Timothy, 2:1-4.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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

June 26, 2011

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi. In most of the world the feast is celebrated on the following Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but in the United States it is celebrated on the following Sunday. The feast calls us to remember the munificent gift God gives us in the Blessed Sacrament, in particular the gift of Christ’s Real Presence that begins as the bread and wine are transformed—by the words of Jesus spoken by the priest at Mass—into the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, and continues until the appearances of bread and wine disappear, e.g., after they are digested in one’s stomach. Which means, of course, the consecrated Hosts that are not consumed at Mass and are reposed in the tabernacle remain the true presence of Christ in our church.

How often we fail to remember this, or to truly accept and believe this. Imagine if at every Mass Jesus—the Crucified, Risen and Ascended Christ, Son of God, God the Son, Eternal Word, Lord of the Universe through whom all things were made and continue in existence—descended down from heaven and stood on the altar. What would you do? How would you respond? Hopefully you’d fall on your knees, like the saints and angels do in heaven when they’re in the presence of Jesus: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17), “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (Rev. 4:8).

Yet we so easily forget that Christ actually does descend from heaven in the Eucharist at every Mass, and enters into us in Communion, and remains in the tabernacle even when we leave. You’ve probably heard the story, of how a Protestant who was told by his Catholic friend what we believe about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and simply scoffed in response, saying: “you don’t really believe that; if you did you’d never leave the church and you’d be on your knees before the tabernacle all day long.” As cliché as that story has become, similar incidents have happened to many Catholics—myself included, repeatedly.

Do you believe? I do, though not as perfectly as I should. But I do believe. Not simply because I understand the theological explanations, or the historical details of the Church’s faith in this doctrine. But I believe, most fundamentally because of two things: first, Jesus said so: “This is my body…this is the cup of my blood,” and second, the Church has always believed He really, literally meant what He said.

Do you believe? If we believe, why don’t we act like it? Why do we leave our Lord alone in the tabernacle so many hours? Of course he’s not lonely, but why aren’t we lonely for him, why aren’t we desperate to be with him? When a soldier comes home from war, his whole family rushes to greet him and then won’t leave his presence for hours after he’s home. How much more wonderful is it to have Jesus come to us? Perhaps we believe, but we take Him for granted. How terribly sad, and shameful.

Why don’t we at least spend some time during the week visiting Him in the Church, kneeling before the tabernacle, even for a few minutes? He’s there, waiting for you. Come! Why are there so few people in the Church when we expose the Blessed Sacrament on the altar (“Exposition” or “Eucharistic Adoration”), placing Him in the monstrance so we can actually see Him “in” the Host, every Wednesday (9:30am to 7pm) and Friday (9:30am to 3pm)?

And why is it that so many times we completely fail to show the proper adoration and reverence to Him when we receive Him in Holy Communion? We come up to Communion looking around to see if we recognize any of our friends, and then casually stick a hand out to receive the Host, and walk away thinking about how fast we can get out of the parking lot after Mass. Why don’t we instead approach the sanctuary praying to Him and preparing our hearts to receive Him? Why don’t we show some sign of recognition and reverence when we see Him in the priest’s hands—why don’t we at least bow our heads or our bodies, or genuflect or kneel, to the One the angels and patriarchs and apostles in heaven fall down on their faces in front of? Why do we grab at the Host, or stick one hand out like we’re getting change back from a dollar? Rather, why don’t we receive Him reverently on the tongue (as is the norm for the Universal Church: this is no ordinary food to received in an ordinary way!), or at least follow the ancient tradition, articulated by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d.386) and commended to us by the popes today: “When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost.”

I know, the appearance of bread and wine can fool us—but what would we prefer: should He come to us to eat Him under the appearance of His a bloody crucified body? Even though your senses— your eyes, taste, touch—might say otherwise, have faith in the word of Jesus: “this is my body”; and as the Tantum Ergo, the beautiful hymn composed for this feast by St. Thomas Aquinas, reminds us: “praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui”—“faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble sense fail.”

What a glorious thing, that Christ Our Lord would come to us remain with us, truly and really, in this Most Blessed Sacrament. Let us kneel before Him in adoration, awe and praise. And let us receive Him with the most true and devout love.

Eucharistic Procession. Today, after the 12:15 Mass, we will have our Corpus Christi Eucharistic Procession. Processing with the Eucharist outside of the church building is an ancient practice, dating back at least to the early 12th century. By bringing the Eucharist outside of the church building and walking through the streets (or, as we do here, the parking lot) with the Blessed Sacrament, believers give witness to their faith in Jesus Christ in general, and in His Real Presence in the Eucharist in particular. Moreover, such processions remind us that having received Christ in Communion at Mass we are sent out with Him in us, to bring Him to the world we live in—the streets, the house, the businesses, and, yes, the parking lots. Please join us in this ancient and eloquent witness to our faith in and love of our Eucharistic Lord.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

June 19, 2011

Today, June 19, is, of course, “Fathers’ Day.” In a way, it is quite remarkable that our nation still celebrates this holiday, given the concerted effort over recent years to reduce or to denigrate the importance of fatherhood. Among other interest groups, the radical feminist movement made this a particular target of its efforts to change our culture in the ’60s and ’70s, as it labored to convince women to think of men as not necessary to their happiness. Women could “have it all,” even a home with children, without men figuring into the picture. At the same time, the rise of the use of contraception, especially “the pill,” also contributed to this problem, as it gave women more “control” over choosing motherhood, and so giving men even less control over choosing fatherhood. In the end, female contraceptives, as well as the rise in “a woman’s right to choose” abortion, had the effect of causing society, and men in particular, to largely view pregnancy and childrearing as a “female issue,” and so caused fatherhood to be understood less and less as an essential societal vocation and more a simple one-time biological function. This was only aggravated by the emphasis on financial/economic independence of women, rendering even the role of family bread winner obsolete for fathers. And as new forms of in vitro fertilization have developed and become more popular, even the “one-time biological function” meaning of fatherhood is being diminished; and technology such as cloning may render it completely meaningless to many in our society.

While the “feminist movement,” as such, at least in its radical and overt form, is largely a thing of the past, its historical effects remain with us today, having devastated the family and the lives of women and men, mothers and fathers. And related ideological movements, such as the “gay rights movement,” continue and reinforce its efforts.

To Christians, and to all men and women with common sense, this reconfiguration and redefinition of family and fatherhood cannot be accepted. Consider just a few statistics of the effect of this perverse understanding: 63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway children, and 85% of youths in prisons grew up in fatherless homes.

In the beginning, God made man “male and female” and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply”—to be father and mother. So essential is fatherhood to the well-being of the human race, and to understanding human nature, that God himself identifies himself as “Father” to us. This in no way diminishes the dignity and importance of women and motherhood, but it does remind us that if we continue to diminish the importance and essentialness of fatherhood, we do so at our own peril.

Restoration of respect for fatherhood is a task for all of us, mothers and children, the Church and society; but most of all, it is a task for men and fathers. Fathers, be who God created you to be, what your nature intends you to be! And do not settle for, much less seek, a diminished role in your children’s lives. You are not just a breadwinner, or a playmate, or a babysitter. You are those things, yes, but you are also: teacher, protector, guide, exemplar, boundary setter, disciplinarian, and much more. And above all these, and in all these, you must love them, even as Christ loved us: you must be willing to die for them, give up everything, for their good. And all this is understood not just in terms of material well-being, but above all in spiritual well-being. Their ultimate goal is heaven, and it is your great and solemn responsibility and privilege to lead them there.
To be a good father is to be a great man.

Children and mothers, young or old, today, remember all this as you honor your fathers and husbands. Remember what great things they have done for you, and how important they are to you, to your family, to society and to God Himself. Honor them personally, and honor them by your own commitment to respecting and encouraging respect for the dignity of fatherhood in society in general.

And for those of you whose father has abandoned, neglected or abused you or his fatherhood, know that God is the perfect father and He is always your father in the most perfect, personal and loving way. Pray for your fathers, that God might have mercy on them for their sins and mistakes, and try your best to have mercy on them yourselves. And pray for our culture and society, that all fathers will live up to their obligations, and that society will respect and foster the true meaning and importance of fatherhood.

May God shower His blessings and grace on all our fathers today.

Special Thanks I want to thank so many of you for your participation in this year’s Bishop’s Lenten Appeal. Our goals this year were the participation of 35% of parishioners, and raising a total of $202,000. Well, we smashed both of those goals, achieving 40% participation and raising over $290,000—or 144% of our goal. That 144% was the highest in the diocese. So, thank you for your generosity, and thanks to all those who worked so hard to coordinate the BLA this year, especially Joe Cox and Kirsti Tyson. That’s the good news; the bad news is, guess what our $$ goal will be next year…

Also, a special word of thanks to Caterina Tiso, who has headed up our wonderful crew of lectors for more years than I will tell you. She has done such a great job of recruiting, training, scheduling, and caring for our lectors at Mass that most people don’t even think about what outstanding lectors we have—those things often only come to mind when there are complaints. But coordinating all that is a hard job and she had done it superlatively. But, as with all things, a time comes when we lay down our load, or pass it along to a worthy successor, and she now has decided to do so with this charge. Thanks to you, Caterina, for your long and superb service to Our Lord and to our parish.

Corpus Christi Procession. Next week we celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday. As is our custom, at the end of 12:15 Mass we will carry our Lord’s Eucharistic Body in procession. It is a great way to teach our children and grandchildren (and remind ourselves) of Jesus’ true and real presence in the Eucharist. Please join us in this ancient and moving ritual.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

June 12, 2011

Today is the Solemnity of the Pentecost, remembering the day, 10 days after Jesus’ glorious Ascension into Heaven, that the Holy Spirit descended upon the nascent Church, about 120 disciples gathered in the upper room waiting and praying. As the Acts of Apostles tells us:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language…. So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2: 1-6, 41).

Some call this the “Birthday of the Church” because, in a certain sense, it was the day the Church came to life. Of course, other days are also called the “Birthday of the Church,” for example, Christmas and Good Friday. Perhaps the best analogy here is to relate this “birth” back to the creation of Adam; as Genesis tells us: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2: 7). Now, the word “breathed” and “breath” here are translating two forms of the Hebrew words “ruah” which means “breath” or “wind”—or “spirit.” (Note that the Latin root word “spirare” forms the root of not only the word “spirit,” but also “respire” (“to breathe”) and “inspire.” So the “breath of God” or the “wind of God” also points to the Spirit of God. In a parallel to the creation of Adam, during His life on earth, Christ had built up a body for His Church, not from the “dust of the earth,” but from the simple human beings he had brought together under the leadership of the apostles. And in a certain sense it was like a lifeless body, as the disciples locked themselves in the upper room filled with fear (but also hope). Until the Pentecost, when the Lord breathed His Spirit, “like the rush of a mighty wind,” into that body and it came to life, as we see in the above passage.

That Spirit remains alive and well in the Church today, coming to individual members of the Church in vari- ous ways, but in particular through the Sacrament of Confirmation—which I wrote about in my column two weeks ago and which 90 of our parishioners (mostly our eighth graders) received last Wednesday. If only we would recognize and use with faith and confidence the gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive in that sacrament!

But the Holy Spirit remains with the Church in many other ways, as well, continuing to give it life and mak- ing it the true Body of Christ on earth. It remains acting in all the sacraments, and in the preaching of the Church, and in the love of Christians. And it remains in the Church, acting through its hierarchical structure established by Christ through His apostles.

Some ask, why don’t we experience the Holy Spirit like they did on that first Pentecost—with the tongues of fire, the sound of the wind and the speaking in foreign tongues. Many scholarly saints have proposed that in the very beginning the Trinity deigned to show Its power and presence in the Church in these extraordinary ways in order to draw attention to this new and world-changing phenomenon, and to found the Church with a dramatic event that would always be a sign to all generations that the Holy Spirit had entered the Church and world in a unique way that day.

But don’t we need that same kind of extraordinary and dramatic event/sign today? Perhaps. Then again, don’t we actually have such a sign? What about the “sign” of the presence of the living Body of Christ, the Church, still alive and vibrant 2000 years later, not having 120 members, or 3000 members, but over 1 billion mem- bers (actually, 2 billion when we count all Christians) living in almost every nation on earth. What other insti- tution, group or society has survived in any comparable way for so long, and with such an effect on human lives and human history? And considering all the frail and sinful human beings who have found a home in her over all these centuries—whether layman, priest, bishop or pope—to me it seems her survival and flourishing is the greatest sign we could imagine or hope for of the Holy Spirit’s continuing power and presence in the Church today.

Let us pray together that all Christians—Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox; layman, religious, priest or bishop—may be aware of and cooperate with the Spirit in all things, so that we can share in His work in bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ to the world we live in—beginning with ourselves. May the zealous fire of the Holy Spirit transform our lives so that at every moment and in every circumstance we may live and breathe our faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ.

Confirmation. Congrats again to our new confirmandi—let us keep them in our prayers. And thanks to all those who helped prepare them for the sacrament, especially their parents, Maria Ammirati and Janice Gorrie (in our Religious Education office), and their teachers: Sandi Draude, Mike Turk, Tom Quigley, Terry Rihl, Sue Smith and Julie Maimone. Thanks also to the choir, the altar servers, the Knights of Columbus and all who helped decorate the church and to prepare the reception afterwards. (Sorry if I left anyone out!)

Another New Priest in the Parish. Last Friday, Bishop Loverde gave permission for a priest from India, Fr. Joby Thomas, to reside in our parish and to assist me and Fr. Pilon in carrying out our pastoral responsibili- ties. I informed Fr. Thomas of this over the weekend (he was visiting friends in Houston) and the next thing I knew, he jumped on a plane and here he is! Father is a member of the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (MCBS), in Kerala, India. “Fr. Tony” Mannarkulam—whom many of you know— recommended him to me a few weeks back, as his friend and former student, as well as a good and faithful priest. Since Fr. Thomas will not be going to school while he is with us, I will be counting on him to be a big help to all of us. He will stay with us for the duration of the summer….and perhaps a while longer, God will- ing.

Please join me in welcoming Fr. Joby Thomas, as well as Fr. John Lovell (see last week’s column), to the parish.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

June 5, 2011

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. This commemorates the true historical event when Jesus of Nazareth, who had died on the cross and risen from the dead, ascended by His own power in His human body into heaven, where he is now present, bodily, in eternity. The importance of the mystery of the Ascension is often overlooked or forgotten by Christians, but it must not be, since it is critical to our understanding of Christ and ourselves. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes:

665 Christ’s Ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11); this humanity in the meantime hides him from the eyes of men (cf. Col 3:3).

666 Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him forever.

667 Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Christ‟s Ascension into heaven also reminds us that the human body is not a useless thing to be thrown away, some machine our souls sort of drive around in until we go to heaven. The body is part of who we are, the part that reveals and communicates ourselves to others, and vice versa: we speak, hear and act in the body. In this reality we discover that the body is essentially about love: we communicate with others in order to enter and strengthen our love with and for each other. But at the same time we discover that communicating hatred or disrespect through our bodies, or simply using our (or others‟) bodies as mere objects or toys for amusement, runs dramatically contrary to love and to the dignity of the human person.

Moreover, the Bodily Ascension reveals to us that even in heaven Our Lord remains both man and God, united with us and His Father, and so uniting us to His Father. And He reminds us that the things we do through, with and in our bodies have eternal effects—either leading us to heaven with Him, or to hell without Him.

Seniors Over the next few weeks, many of our teenagers will be graduating from high school. It is a noteworthy and important milestone and achievement in their lives, and we congratulate them and join them in celebrating. But as the ceremony for graduation usually indicates, it is not merely an ending, but a “commencement”—a new beginning of a new stage of their lives. May I be so bold as to offer some quick advice as they make this commencement? Or rather, may I simply point out the Lord‟s advice?

“What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:26).

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).

“And I tell you, 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, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19).

“So Jesus said to them, „Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;…For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6: 53-55).

“And he said to him, „You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-40).

“One came up to him, saying, „Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?‟ And he said to him, ….„If you would enter life, keep the commandments.‟ He said to him, „Which?‟ And Jesus said, „You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother…” (Matthew 19: 16-19).

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27). And finally:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And
behold, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Matthew 28: 19-20).

Oh, wait, one last thing:

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother,
„Woman, behold, your son!‟ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!‟” (John 19: 26-27).

New Priest in the Parish Fr. John Lovell, a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, will be staying with us for the month of June while he is taking a class in Washington. Thanks be to God, he will also be returning to us in late August to take up a 2-year residency while he pursues full-time theological studies at the Dominican House of Studies. Now, many of the student-priests that have stayed with us in the past have had sort of a “work-study” arrangement: they worked in the parish to earn money to pay for tuition. That is not the arrangement we have with Fr. Lovell: his diocese will be paying his tuition and his room and board, with the understanding that he will offer his priestly service to us as often as his school schedule allows. In short, his availability to help will be substantially less than was, for example, Fr. Peter Odhiambo. Even so, I am very glad to have him with us and grateful for his help.

By way of background, Father is an alumnus of Mt. St. Mary‟s Seminary, Class of 2007, where he was a student of Fr. Pilon. In the last four years, he has served the Diocese of Rockford as a parochial vicar, high school teacher and Associate Director of Vocations. Please join me in welcoming Father to our parish.

Confirmation Congratulations to the 90 young parishioners who received the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation this last Wednesday under the hands of Bishop Loverde. Let us keep them in prayer that they may always recognize, cherish and cooperate with the great gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit and His sevenfold gifts that they have received.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 29, 2011

Memorial Day This Monday, America celebrates Memorial Day, a day of honoring those in our military who have given their lives not merely for our nation, but for the life, liberty and happiness of each and every individual American. At the Last Supper, Christ told His apostles, “No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That saying pertains directly to the death He endured for our salvation on the very next day, and to a love beyond all measure. But this greatest love is reflected, in a very real way, in the death of every military man or woman who had laid down their lives for us. We owe them an incredible debt—one we cannot really repay. But we can try to, by living lives worthy of the sacrifice they’ve made for us—lives built on the idea of liberty as a freedom to become the best we can be, not a freedom to do as we please. Freedom to build a great nation of not only financial wealth or military strength, but of true virtue. Perhaps a soldier might die for their fellow countrymen’s freedom to say or do foolish things, but should we repay that noble sacrifice by actually saying and doing foolish things—or leading immoral lives? I think not.

And there’s another way we can try to repay them for their sacrifice: pray for them, that they might receive the heavenly reward for their great sacrificial love for us.

Summer For many, Memorial Day is also the unofficial beginning of summer. And as summer begins, we start to see more and more of each other—literally, as more and more skin and body parts are uncovered in the heat. Coming from South Texas I understand all about dressing for the heat. But let’s remember two things. First, the clothes we wear always tell other people something about ourselves. For example, when we dress in shorts and a t-shirt, we say, “I’m relaxing right now,” and when we dress in a coat and tie, or in a nice dress, we say, “I’m doing something important right now.” So, when you go to the beach, wear your shorts and t-shirts, but when you come to Mass, remind yourself and those around you: “I’m doing something important right now.” This summer, please try not to dress like you’re going to the beach when you’re coming to Mass. In return, I promise that if you ever do come to Mass in a t-shirt, I will assume you are not saying “Mass is not important to me”, but simply “I have a really important reason why I couldn’t dress up for Mass as I usually do.” We should dress respectfully for the Lord, but we should also assume the best of one another.

(BTW, please, before you send a letter admonishing me that “God doesn’t care how we dress,” look up Matthew 22:11-14 [“…Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?…”])

The second thing I’d like you to remember about summer dress codes is that the more skin and body parts we show, the more likely we are to be the near occasion of sin to others. This is especially the case for women and girls. That’s not a sexist remark, unless it’s sexist to say that guys tend to react very strongly and irrationally to the female body. I don’t think it is, but if so, okay, I’m a sexist. And so is God, because that’s the way He made us (vulnerable to the effects of original sin, as well). So I ask you, whether on the beach, on the street, on a date, or, especially, at Mass, please consider the spiritual well-being of others. Remember that Jesus said: “every one who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And he also said: “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to anyone by whom they come!”

Confirmation This Wednesday evening, 95 of our teenagers will be receiving the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation. It saddens me how little most Catholics understand about this great sacrament. Sometimes when I ask people what this sacrament is all about, they tell me: “it’s when we profess and confirm our faith in Jesus Christ for the first time for ourselves.” Not really: every child who comes to Mass on Sunday professes his/her faith in Jesus Christ every time they stand and recite the Creed: “We believe in one God…We believe in Jesus Christ…” Some say Confirmation is when we become adult Christians. Again, not quite. Spiritually, one becomes an adult Christian when one starts making decisions like an adult. The sacrament does give you the grace to make correct adult and Christ-like decisions, but it does not “make you an adult Christian.” Finally, some say Confirmation is when we become “full members of the Church.” Again, not really. One becomes a “full member” of the Church (obtaining all the “rights and privileges” thereof) at Baptism. Thus, for example, a Baptized person has a right to receive the Eucharist and Confirmation (subject to their proper preparation, etc.). Perhaps this misunderstanding comes from (correctly) calling this one of the “sacraments of initiation” (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). But “initiation” in this sense does not mean that Church “membership” depends on having all three of these sacraments, but that these sacraments give the basic graces that every adult Christian needs to live the fullness of the Christian life.

Remember the definition of a sacrament in general: “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” Sacraments are never about what WE do—they are about what CHRIST does, i.e., Christ gives us a special grace. In Confirmation, Christ strengthens—or “confirms”—us with the grace, or the “gift,” of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, which includes the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit”: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, reverence and piety. Of course, much more can be written about this magnificent sacrament. But space being limited here, I refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1285 to 1321 (this can be viewed online at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc/index.htm). To see some of the effects of this sacrament, read the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2.

Please pray for our young men and women as they receive this great sacrament at the hands of Bishop Loverde this Wednesday evening. And pray that they may always be open to the graces that flow from the sacrament, truly living lives filled with the Holy Spirit.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 22, 2011

This time of year, most of the priests of the Diocese of Arlington celebrate the anniversary of their ordinations to the priesthood. As I mentioned at Mass last Sunday, there was no happier day of my life than my ordination day, as I know most priests will tell you. What a phenomenal gift the Lord gives to priests. And yet it is a gift not really meant for us personally, since the whole purpose of the priesthood is to serve God’s Church and all of His people. But that just makes the gift the priest receives that much more wonderful.

As you know, I entered seminary when I was 31 and had spent about 11 years building a life as a lay man living in the world. I had a relatively successful career going, I owned my own business and my own home, and I had my share of friends. Life was pretty good. Which is why I had a particularly hard time understanding why God seemed to be calling me to the priesthood—for the longest time I kept asking myself: why would he give me so many good things if he wanted me to give them up to be a priest.? Eventually, that question sort of answered itself: what good is a sacrifice if it’s not the sacrifice of a good thing, or even the best thing? And why would God call me to the priesthood as a form of escape from unhappiness? So, 20 years ago this August, with not a little fear and a lot of encouragement and prayers from friends and family, I packed up and left my home in San Antonio and drove to Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland to prepare to become a priest for the Diocese of Arlington.

It has been a long, hard road since then, in seminary and in parish life as a priest, filled with many heartaches and frustrations. I’ve had more people than I can count tell me that I’m the worst priest they’ve ever known, a hateful and cruel person, or a miserable excuse for a man. But it’s also been the most wonderful of adventures, filled with joys, exhilarations and spiritual rewards beyond anything I could have ever imagined or hoped for: so many people telling me I changed their lives, lifted their spirits out of the darkness of sin and despair, even healed their illnesses, and saved their souls, not to mention strangers telling me that I’m the greatest priest in the world, and that they love me. It’s an incredible gift, this priesthood. But, of course, all this has very little, if anything, to do with me, really. It is Christ who has done any good that has been done through me. I know I am a man of many flaws and sins. Yet, what a wonder and sacred privilege to be allowed to be an instrument of His ineffable grace.

And this is only scratching the surface. By far, the most profound and inexplicably glorious aspects of the gift are those received in being so intimately close to Christ sacramentally, especially in the Eucharist and Penance.

I write this to you today not because I feel the need to draw your sympathy or praise, or relish the opportunity to bare my soul by revealing such private thoughts. By now, you probably have come to understand that I am an introvert, and a very private person. I do not relish sharing this part of my soul.

But sometimes it is clearly necessary to give witness to the generosity of Jesus Christ, even it if means doing what you don’t wish to do. Especially in these days when so many young men are called to the priesthood, offered this incredible gift by Jesus Christ Himself, and don’t ever even bother to consider the offer seriously. They should. They must.

Because, again, the gift, the vocation, is not so much about them, as it is about the rest of God’s children. Who will feed His sheep and tend His lambs, if not them? Who will forgive sins, change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, if not them? How will anyone understand God’s word if no one will explain it to them? How will they receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit if there is no one to lay hands on them?

How will any of this happen if there are no priests? If those who are called will not answer because it seems too hard, too boring, or too foreign to their understanding of life, or their ambitions in life?

It is a hard life, but not so hard that with His grace it can’t be lived and relished. And see the rewards it brings like no other life—it is never, ever “unrewarding” or “boring.” And it is indeed foreign to what most people think of as an “ordinary life,” but who wants ordinary when you can have extraordinary? And it may be contrary to your ambitions, but why set your ambitious sights so low, when Christ calls you to share in the exalted kingly office of the Son of God, by becoming a servant of the servants of God?

My brothers and sisters, my children: pray for your priests as they remember their ordinations this month and next. But more importantly, pray that young men will have the courage, the boldness, the faith, to accept the call of the Lord Jesus, and join the priests you know in this great adventure, this great vocation of the Holy Priesthood. Especially if one of those young men is your friend, your brother or your son—or you yourself.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 15, 2011

Father’s Corner, Weekend of May 14/15, 2011

Today, Sunday, May 15, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Here is an excerpt of Pope Benedict’s message for this day.

The 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations….invites us to reflect on the theme: “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church”….

The work of carefully encouraging and supporting vocations finds a radiant source of inspiration in those places in the Gospel where Jesus calls his disciples to follow him and trains them with love and care. We should pay close attention to the way that Jesus called his closest associates to proclaim the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:9). In the first place, it is clear that the first thing he did was to pray for them: before calling them, Jesus spent the night alone in prayer, listening to the will of the Father (cf. Lk 6:12) in a spirit of interior detachment from mundane concerns. It is Jesus’ intimate conversation with the Father which results in the calling of his disciples. Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the “Lord of the harvest,” whether in parish communities, in Christian families or in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.

At the beginning of his public life, the Lord called some fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). He revealed his messianic mission to them by the many “signs” which showed his love for humanity and the gift of the Father’s mercy. Through his words and his way of life he prepared them to carry on his saving work. Finally, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1), he entrusted to them the memorial of his death and resurrection, and before ascending into heaven he sent them out to the whole world with the command: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

It is a challenging and uplifting invitation that Jesus addresses to those to whom he says: “Follow me!” He invites them to become his friends, to listen attentively to his word and to live with him. He teaches them complete commitment to God and to the extension of his kingdom in accordance with the law of the Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit ” (Jn 12:24). He invites them to leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfillment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it. He gives them an experience of fraternity, one born of that total openness to God (cf. Mt 12:49-50) which becomes the hallmark of the community of Jesus: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

It is no less challenging to follow Christ today. ….Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable them to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church…..

It is essential that every local Church [diocese] become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations – as Jesus did with his disciples – to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfillment of our aspirations.

“Proposing Vocations in the Local Church” means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life….

The Second Vatican Council explicitly reminded us that “the duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community…” (Optatam Totius). ….I turn to those who can offer a specific contribution to the pastoral care of vocations: to priests, families, catechists and leaders of parish groups. I ask priests to testify to their communion with their bishop and their fellow priests, and thus to provide a rich soil for the seeds of a priestly vocation. May families be “animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty” (OT) which is capable of helping children to welcome generously the call to priesthood and to religious life. May catechists and leaders of Catholic groups and ecclesial movements, convinced of their educational mission, seek to “guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine vocation”….

Other News. Well, tonight, the school year comes to an end for Religious Education classes for our children and teens. This ending was punctuated in a particular way last weekend when 95 second graders (and a few others) received their First Holy Communion. What a great day for the parish—and how beautifully and devoutly the children received Our Eucharistic Lord. I am absolutely positive I saw several future priests and nuns in the group. Think about it.

My thanks especially to Maria Ammirati and Janice Gorrie for their outstanding leadership this year. Thanks also to all the catechists and other volunteers for their dedication and hard work. Special thanks to the parents for their cooperation and for fulfilling the solemn promise they made at their children’s baptisms, “accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith.” And most of all, thanks to all the children and teens, for your commitment and perseverance throughout the year. God bless you all, and we’ll see you in class next year! And at Mass every Sunday between now and then! And you eighth graders: see you on June 1 for Confirmation!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 8, 2011

Last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI joyfully beatified his predecessor, now called “Blessed John Paul II.” It was gratifying to see so many people, including many in the press, so interested and pleased—even overjoyed—by this declaration. At the same time, many seem to be confused as to exactly what this means—to be “beatified” or called “blessed.” Many in the press referred to it as “the last step” in the process of canonization or sainthood. While that’s true, it somewhat diminishes the importance of his beatification. Others say, “now John Paul is a saint,” which blurs the important difference between sainthood and blessedness.

Although I’m no expert, let me try to clarify. “Beatification,” or the declaration by the Pope that a deceased person may be called “Blessed,” represents the careful judgment of the Church, after meticulous and lengthy investigation, that the person lived an heroic life of holiness, and may be considered by the faithful as being in heaven. Now, you say, that sounds an awful lot like being declared a “saint.” It is, and it isn’t. The difference between the two is basically in that the decree of blessedness/beatification is more permissive while the decree of sainthood/canonization is more definitive.

Remember, this whole process of beatification and canonization usually arises from a desire of the faithful—the folks in the pew—to venerate a person as being in heaven; specifically, to pray to them and seek their intercession. While any of us can privately think that a deceased person is in heaven, and pray to them, it is up to the Church alone to decide if this should be done publicly (i.e., together in groups or in the liturgy). This is important because of the very clear risk of scandal and confusion: what if a group of Catholics regularly gathered to pray to a person that others know or believe to have been a scoundrel or unrepentant, grave sinner? Imagine the mockery and terrible moral confusion this would cause.

Even so, when a desire to venerate a deceased person in this way rises up among a great many of the faithful, the Church often begins the investigation that leads to beatification. Beatification effectively says that, after very careful consideration, it is reasonable for the faithful to think that the person is in heaven and so to pray to him/her, even publicly and in the liturgy. Note, however, there is still some caution expressed in the decree: the Blessed may only be venerated at the Mass in certain locations—not “universally” throughout the Church. Thus, while the Diocese of Rome and the Dioceses of Poland will liturgically celebrate the Feast of Blessed John Paul II every year on October 22, the rest of the dioceses of the world may not do so without specific permission of the Pope himself. Due to the widespread popularity of Blessed John Paul, Pope Benedict made a special exception to this rule by allowing that during the next year (by May 1, 2012) any bishop may permit the celebration of a Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the Blessed in his diocese. (Note: as of yet, Bishop Loverde has not given this permission, though I have a strong suspicion he will.) This “caution” is absent from the decree of sainthood/canonization. In proclaiming a person a “saint,” the Pope definitively holds that whole Church will venerate the person as a saint in heaven, and honor him/her as such at Mass.

In sum, note the difference between finding it “reasonable” to venerate the Blessed versus “defining” that a Saint should be venerated, and the difference between permitting certain local dioceses to liturgically honor the Blessed, versus placing the saint on the liturgical calendarof the whole Church. Note: so distinct are the differences here that, historically, many respected theologians have held that the declaration of sainthood is infallible, while the same theologians have universally rejected infallibility with regard to beatification. While canonization may or may not be infallible (the debate is not at all settled), the definitive character of canonization is clearly radically different than the “reasonable” character of beatification. This is in no way to diminish the honor due to Blessed John Paul, only to help clarify the important distinction.

In any case, it is clear that all the faithful are free to venerate the newly beatified pontiff and seek his heavenly intercession. I know I will.

Other News. It is fitting that Pope John Paul was beatified on the first day in May since he was so devoted to the Blessed Mother and May is the Month of Mary. Today (Sunday, May 8) after the 12:15 Mass, we will mark this devotion with the “May Crowning.” All are invited to join us. Also, I encourage all of you to keep this devotion by praying the Rosary during this month—even every day. I especially encourage all families to pray the Rosary together at least once a week. In the words of Blessed John Paul: “The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 41).

Also, Fr. Peter Odhiambo Okola leaves us this week. I would like to thank him not only for all his hard work in the parish these last two years, but also for the great example of priestly holiness he has shown to all of us, particularly to me. Thank you, Fr. Peter, and may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you, and His Mother keep you in her care, now and forever.

Finally, yesterday (Saturday, May 7) 95 of our children received their First Holy Communion. Congratulations to all of them! What a great day in the life of these children and the life of every Catholic! I’m sure all of us remember our First Holy Communion—I know I do, like it was yesterday. Seeing our little ones receive for the first time with such reverence, faith and love brings joy to all our hearts. Would that we could all receive Holy Communion at every Mass with the childlike devotion that we did that very first time. Let us pray that these children always keep that devotion, and let us pray that it be renewed in each of us. “Unless you become like little children….”

Oremus pro invicem. Blessed John Paul II, pray for us! Fr. De Celles

May 1, 2011

As we finish the Octave of Easter and continue with the Season of Easter (until Pentecost on June 12) I would like to once again wish all of you a Happy and Blessed Easter, filled with the spiritual joy and grace of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Thanks to so many. I have to say how pleased I was with the attendance at the Masses and Ceremonies of the Sacred Triduum. Both Holy Thursday evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper and Good Friday afternoon’s Celebration of the Lord’s Passion were filled to standing room only. I was especially delighted to see a full house on Friday, since this was the first time the parish had celebrated this rite in the afternoon. It just goes to show the great faith and devotion of our parishioners.

At the end of the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening I attempted to thank some of the folks who had helped to make Lent a great time of holiness for the parish and specifically to make the ceremonies of the Triduum so beautiful. I usually don’t do that since I inevitably forget some important contributor—which is exactly what happened on Saturday. So let me try again. First let me thank my brother priests, Fr. Pilon and Fr. Peter, and also Fr. Daly, for the hard work they put in with all the extra Masses and confessions, and for their excellent homilies. I want to thank Fr. Pilon in particular for his outstanding series on the Theology of Mass that was so well attended and received. So many parishioners have told me what a difference his talks made in making this a particularly prayerful Lent.

Let me also thank the choir who worked so very hard and “performed” magnificently— better than I could have ever hoped. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco for her hard work bringing them and all the music together. I also need to thank the altar servers and their leaders, Buz Buczacki and Mark Arbeen, who also acted as Masters of Ceremonies during the Triduum: their devout and careful efforts added so much to the solemnity of the rituals. Also thanks to the ushers, especially Paul DeRosa, who always have their hands full during Lent and the Triduum—I don’t know how they do it all. And I mustn’t forget to thank the lectors and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, for their dedicated service.

Also, a word about our RCIA folks. A total of 10 persons were baptized, received into the Church, confirmed and/or given first Holy Communion at the Vigil. It’s hard for me to remember a more fired up group of neophytes in the 20+ years I’ve been working with RCIA. Congratulations to them—and let’s all keep them in our prayers. And I’m sure they join me in thanking Bob and Bev Ward for their dedication in teaching them so thoroughly, faithfully and zealously the Catholic faith week after week for the last 8 months.

Also, I can’t forget the Youth Group for their beautiful presentation of the Living Stations of the Cross on Palm Sunday evening. Thanks to all the kids, parents and Jill and Matt Wheeler who worked so hard and did such a wonderful job of bringing our Lord’s Passion to life for us.

Penultimately, several people have noted with disappointment the scarcity of Easter lilies in church this week. Well, I’m afraid I’m to blame: although I love lilies and think their perfect for Easter, I am also terribly allergic to them! So I’m sorry—but there isn’t much I can do about it. However, thanks to the resourcefulness of Carmelita Gamallo and all those volunteers who helped her decorate the sanctuary and church with flowers, and to florist/parishioner Dorothy Bryant, the church was positively radiant with floral splendor.

Finally, thanks to the parish staff for their hard work, but especially for being patient with me as the weeks of Lent rolled on and the Triduum approached. And thanks a thousand times all the important people I forgot to mention. God bless you all.

Angelus Academy Open House. In last week’s column I mentioned that Angelus Academy 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, near Rolling Road and Fullerton Road. Today (Sunday, May 1) they will be holding an open house at the new building from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm especially for St. Raymond parishioners. Please join me in supporting Angelus, as faculty, staff and friends show off their new digs for us.

Father Peter. As I mentioned in last week’s column, Fr. Peter Odhiambo will be leaving the parish on May 9th after nearly 2 years. Having finished his course work at the John Paul II Institute he will be moving out to St. John’s in Warrenton with Fr. Gould where he will be working to complete his dissertation. Fr. Peter will be celebrating his last Sunday Mass here at 12:15 on May 8th. All are invited to join in a Ice Cream Social immediately after that Mass to thank Fr Peter for his service and send him on his way with our best wishes.

Priest Shortage. Fr. Peter’s departure will leave us with only 2 priests in the parish, Fr. Pilon and myself. I have asked Bishop Loverde to assign another parochial vicar to assist us, please pray for that. But in the meantime we are working out details for another priest to be in residence for the summer, and for still another priest to live in residence during the coming school year. However, for most of May we will be feeling the effects of the priest shortage in the Church. This should serve as a reminder that we all must pray for priestly vocations, especially from our own families. Please be patient with me and Fr. Pilon as we try to serve you as best we can. The schedule will remain the same as usual, except that on Sundays May 15, 22, and 29 the Sacrament of Penance will only be offered before the 10:30am Mass. Please bear with us in the event of an unplanned, last- minute cancellation of a Mass or confession time.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles