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

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)

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!