First Sunday of Lent

Lenten Series. I am very much looking forward to giving my
series beginning this Thursday evening at 7pm (a different
time than in the past). My topic will be “The Mass and the
Eucharist,” and this week we will be looking at what Scripture
and the Early Fathers of the Church had to say about the
Eucharist.
I really do hope that you will join us, especially if you
don’t usually attend these kinds of things. This year we’ve
added on-site babysitting so some of our younger married
couples can come. It would be good to come to all the talks,
but if you miss one or even most of them you can still get a lot
out of coming to the ones you can.

Acts of Penance. During Lent, Holy Mother Church calls on
all who are able to perform acts of penance. I hope you’ve
already picked out your penances for Lent, and that you don’t
wait until Holy Week to put them into action.
The three classic categories of penance are 1) prayer,
2) almsgiving (acts or gifts of charity), and 3) fasting
(sacrifice: “giving up” something). I recommend you choose
to do penances from all three of these categories—maybe a
very small penance from two of them, and a larger “main”
penance from the third. Maybe you could resolve to add one
extra short prayer to your daily routine, maybe a Hail Mary,
and to set aside one dollar every day to give to the poor box,
and then do a larger penance of some sacrifice, like giving up
your favorite beverage or food all during Lent.
Also, remember to pick penances that you are able to
accomplish—don’t be overly ambitious and try to carry a
burden that is way to heavy for you. Penances should
challenge us, but not overwhelm us. What often happens is we
choose a penance that is too difficult for us in our present state
in life, and then when we fail to keep it we get discouraged
and give up, and Lent is lost. So pick penances that are
realistic.
Also, penances should be things that you can easily
see that you are keeping. For example, if you resolve to just be
“nice” to everyone, how do you evaluate your success in this?
Rather, perhaps chose to try to be kinder to everyone, but to
do so in a particular way to a particular person—e.g., to bring
your office mate a cup of coffee every morning. Or if you
resolve to “pray more,” resolve specifically to pray an extra
Hail Mary before bed, or an extra 5 minutes in the morning.
Also, try to choose penances that may address
particular moral weaknesses you may have. For example, if
you struggle with the sin of gluttony, a sacrifice related to
food is a good idea. Or if you struggle from pride, maybe you
could say the “Litany of Humility” every day, or to humble
yourself by trying to hold door open for others whenever you
have the chance.
Daily Mass. Speaking of the Mass and doing penance during
Lent, one of the best penances is to go to Mass at least once
during the week—or even daily. We might not think of Mass
as a “penance”, but it is, of course, the greatest prayer of the
Church and puts us at the foot of the Cross, uniting our
prayers to the great prayer of Jesus on the first Good Friday—
what could be a better penance, especially during Lent?
Going to Mass during the week, especially daily,
strengthens us with the grace of the Blessed Sacrament so that
we can draw closer to Christ. Moreover, it also can change our
whole perspective on daily life, reminding us in a dramatic way
that our faith isn’t just for Sundays, but for every day and every
moment of the week.
The Sacrament of Confession. Lent also involves a second
type of “penance”—that is, the Sacrament of Penance (also
called “Confession” or “Reconciliation”). Two years ago I
published a small pamphlet called “Making a Good
Confession: A Brief Examination of Conscience and Guide to
Going to Confession.” Copies of this purple pamphlet can be
found by all the doors of the church and near the confessionals.
I hope you will find it helpful in preparing for and making a
good confession. Note: I am currently working on a version of
this “Guide” for children between about 11 and 14 years old,
and hope to have it in the church in the coming days.
The following paragraphs are taken from the
beginning of the “purple pamphlet”:
How do we make a “good Confession”? We begin by
prayerfully, and with honesty and humility, looking at our lives
to recognize the sins we’ve committed since our last
Confession, i.e., we make “an examination of conscience.” In
particular, we need to look for mortal sins, i.e., sins that
involve all three of the following criteria: 1) grave matter, 2)
full knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and 3)
complete consent. If any one of these is lacking it is not a
“mortal sin,” but may be a “venial sin.”
“Grave matter” means the act involves some very
serious moral evil, found either in 1) the act itself or 2) the
intention behind the act. Grave matter can be difficult to
identify, but not always.
Note that some sinful acts are grave matter when they
involve circumstances that are serious or very important but
are not grave matter if they involve only small or trivial things.
These acts that can be either grave or not are said to “admit of
parvity” (smallness). Many of the sins listed below would
“admit of parvity,” unless the word “serious” accurately
describes them. For example, a lie is always a sin, but lying
under oath is grave matter while lying about whether you like
someone’s outfit is not grave matter.
Also, in Confession you must distinguish the “kind” of
mortal sin committed: be clear about what the sin was, but
avoid graphic or long explanations. So it is not enough to
merely say “I had bad thoughts” or “I acted inappropriately,”
rather one should more specific, e.g. “I had lustful thoughts,”
etc.
You must also give the number of times you committed
particular mortal sins. Sometimes this is very difficult or even
impossible to remember, in which case, try your best give the
priest some idea of the frequency or number; e.g., “at least
once a month for several years,” etc.
Besides mortal sins, we should also consider
confessing (but are not required to confess) vices (sinful
habits) or other venial sins that are particularly problematic.
Have a blessed Lent.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2018

 

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s 2nd reading St. Paul tells us:

“Avoid giving offense, …just as I try to please everyone in every way…”

This is a very simple but important instruction,

but it is so often either ignored or misunderstood.

 

Nowadays it seems the people get offended much more easily than they used to.

And at the same time we have a phenomenon sometimes called

“political correctness,” which tries to regulate offensive speech or actions.

 

Now, some say what I call “political correctness”

is really just loving your neighbor.

But the thing is, it’s not really based on true love, but on arbitrary standards

–sometimes rooted in fear, sometimes on ideology–

that absolutely prohibit us from offending some groups

but permit us to offend others.

 

So it sometimes leads to utterly absurd results,

like when American government officials refuse to recognize

that an army of Muslim terrorists is, well, Muslim.

Or, consider how the media would never dream of saying a negative word about

the so called “gay community,”

but they wouldn’t hesitate to insult

tradition-minded Catholics Evangelical Christian.

 

It’s interesting how so many in the media claim “free speech”

when they say something offensive about Catholics or Evangelicals,

but if the Pope or an Evangelical preacher

says something which is a simple statement of our ancient faith

they call him a bigot, and his teaching “hate speech”.

No mention of “free speech” here, much less “freedom of religion.”

 

Some would say that on many issues,

Catholic priests, even the Pope, don’t following St. Paul’s advice to,

“Avoid giving offense …”

Unfortunately, they confuse “giving offense”

with charitably “giving good advice.”

 

Look at today’s readings again.

In the first reading God tells Moses that lepers should be

“declare[d] unclean,” and “shall dwell apart,” from the rest of the Jews.

On the other hand the Gospel tells that Jesus allowed the leper to “come to” him

and that Jesus was “moved with pity” and healed him.

Some would say that

the Old Testament seems judgmental and uncharitable to the leper,

while Jesus seems welcoming and charitable.

 

But the reality is that both attitudes reflect charity.

Moses didn’t have the power to heal lepers,

so all he could do, in charity,

was protect the community from being infected by leprosy

by requiring the lepers to dwell apart.

And notice that Christ does not rescind this law of Moses:

but since He does have the power to heal,

Jesus acts with particular charity for the leper and heals him.

And then, with charity for both the leper and the community,

Christ tells the man to obey the law and go to the priest

to reassure the community that the man is safe to associate with.

 

Also, notice what both the Old Testament and the New Testament do:

they both recognize leprosy for the terrible disease it is,

for both the person and the community.

Some people say that charity requires the Church

to be silent about some things it calls sins,

since some folks might be offended by what we say.

But that’s like saying that charity would require Jesus

to ignore the man’s leprosy.

That’s not charity, that’s simply political correctness at it’s most absurd.

 

But what about St. Paul’s instruction to, “Avoid giving offense…”?

Clearly what he’s talking about causing unnecessary offense.

Sometimes a life-saving surgery is painful, and that pain is necessary.

—but we still have the surgery,

and use anesthesia to avoid unnecessary pain.

 

Jesus Himself was constantly telling people their sins in order to save them.

Think of the story of the woman at the well.

Of course, this is the a great story of Jesus’ mercy and charity,

but when the woman runs to tell everyone about Jesus she doesn’t say

“come see a really nice guy”

but rather “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”

 

_____

Today’s gospel tells us that:

it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.”
It’s fascinating that both Jesus and the leper can’t enter town,

but for opposite reasons:

one is too popular, the other is too unpopular.

But in the end, Jesus will be as unpopular as a leper:

when the people figure out

that He didn’t come just to cure the sick,

but to preach about the true meaning of love and sin.

 

The Church is also popular when people see us

helping the sick and feeding the poor.

But when we exercise our freedom of speech and freedom of religion

to proclaim Christ’s teaching on love and sin,

the world also treats us lepers.

And they say we’re uncharitable.

 

_____

In charity we must always try to “avoid giving offense”,

trying always to be considerate of others.

But never be confused

between the charity of correcting moral evils,

and the foolishness of political correctness.

The Church—and all Christians—must always proclaim the truth

—true love, true charity, demands it.

Always following St. Paul’s instruction

not to give unnecessary offense to anyone,

but always keeping in mind first, as St. Paul also says:

“doing everything for the glory of God.”

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

FR. DE CELLES COLUMN – February 11, 2018

LENT. This Wednesday, February 14, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the season that calls us to meditate on and experience the immense love of God that would lead Him to die on the Cross for our sins. At the same time, it is also a time to consider our sins—how we have failed to love Him—and to work to overcome them, through our diligent efforts and His grace.
Ashes will be distributed at all 5 Masses on Ash Wednesday: 6:30am, 8am, 12noon, 5pm and 7pm. Since ashes are not a sacrament, they may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. (Note: There are no confessions scheduled on Ash Wednesday).
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence, and every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence. Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days and binds all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.
Lent, of course, brings a much busier parish schedule, which we’ve laid out in detail in this week’s insert: please keep it in a central place to remind you of the many opportunities for spiritual growth the parish offers this Lent.
One important event on the schedule is the Women’s Retreat, which will be led by the Women’s Apostolate to Youth (WAY) on Saturday, February 24. I invite all women of our parish to bring their friends to what I think will be a very spiritually fruitful day. Please see the insert today for more details.

Lenten Series. As I mentioned 2 weeks ago, I will be giving this year’s Lenten Series, on my favorite topic: The Mass and the Eucharist.
How many times have I heard someone say that they don’t get much out of the Mass? I am convinced they would never say this if they really understood what was going on, not just in general, but thoroughly and profoundly.
If you want to get more “out of” the Mass, come to these talks, which begin next Thursday, February 22. IN FACT, I BEG YOU TO COME. In my experience, it seems to me that most Catholics have essentially an 8th grade level of understanding of what happens at the Mass, and those who have a better understanding often fail to adequately interiorize or spiritualize that understanding.
I love the Mass. You could say it is the reason I’m a priest; in fact, you might say that in a certain way it is the reason I am a Catholic, in that it draws me closer to Christ and His Church than anything else in my experience. Let me try to help you to share this love.
My first two talks will be about the Eucharist itself, beginning with the Biblical teaching, both in the Old and New Testament, then moving to what the early Church thought about the Eucharist, as explained in the writings of the early Fathers (Patristic), and then finally what the Church’s rich tradition teaches us today about the Eucharist.
Then the next three talks will focus more specifically on the Mass itself. First, I will explain how the Mass has developed from the first century to today. Then I will go through the Mass, part by part, with a mixture of explanation and meditation, trying show how the ritual brings the doctrine alive, and how the external actions of the Mass can be and should be expressions of our interior dispositions. And then finally I will give an in-depth explanation and meditation on the Eucharistic Prayer I, or “The Roman Canon.” A lot of folks ask me why I never use any other Eucharistic Prayer than this at Mass—I will explain why I think this prayer is so important to us.
This year we’ve also done two things which I hope will make it easier for some of you to attend: 1) we’ve moved the time to 7pm (from 7:30pm) and 2) we are providing on site babysitting (but you must call ahead and sign up for this, so we can have enough coverage).
I look forward to seeing you there on the 22nd and following.

Germain Grisez. I mentioned at my Masses last Sunday that the Church lost one of it’s greatest thinkers, as Dr. Germain Grisez passed from this life on February 1. Dr. Grisez is not well known by most Catholics in the pews, probably because his teaching style did not at all lend itself to television or radio appearances, or to popular reading. But every theologian and priest in the country knew he was one of the leading moral theologians in the world—of the first rank. His text book, “The Way of the Lord Jesus” (a four-volume tome), is used by most of the better seminaries in our country, and his writings in defense of traditional Catholic moral doctrine are standard reading for anyone who seriously studies Catholic theology. He was perhaps best known for his defense of Humanae Vitae in the 1960s and 70s, when he heroically stood out as the most outspoken and clearest thinking defender of the ancient teaching of the Church against the sin of contraception. He was also dedicated to systematically refuting the errors of proportionalism which infected the thinking of many moral theologians in the last few decades. He was a true “Lion” of the Church.
I was personally blessed to know and to take several classes with Dr. Grisez at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, where he lived, taught and wrote. I was especially blessed to have him as my advisor for my Master’s Thesis. What an amazing mind! But also what a good heart, as he would tear up when he would talk about his beloved and saintly wife, Jeanette, or some other topic near to his heart, like the Eucharist.
Some will correctly point out that Grisez had some interesting personality quirks, or that some of his proposals were questioned by even his closest collaborators. Even so, he was deeply revered by all the faithful theologians in the Church. He made a huge difference in the lives of so many priests, especially mine. And he helped me to become a much better priest and theologian than I could have ever been if I had not come to know him.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Vocations. We are very honored to have Fr. J.D. Jaffe, the
Vocations Director of our Diocese, preach at all of our Masses
today. I’m convinced we have many vocations to the
priesthood and the religious life in our parish, we have such
great and talented kids, so many of whom are genuinely
devout. Have you talked to your kids about their vocation,
whether to the married, priestly or religious life? Have you
encouraged them to think and pray about the possibility of
becoming a priest or a nun? Or if you’re a young man or
woman, have you spent time trying to discern this possibility
in your life? If not, why not?
Vocations have been on my mind a lot in the last few
weeks. First because I was delighted to hear that our
parishioner Anilia Rivera, a student at Ave Maria University
and daughter of parishioners Ben and Ileana Rivera, has been
accepted to begin postulancy with the Religious order of the
Servants of the Lord. With her parents’ encouragement, she
has been discerning her vocations for several years. Let us
assist her with our prayers, and other forms of encouragement.
In particular, you might want to consider some financial
assistance: since religious life involves a vow of poverty,
before she can enter her postulancy (the first step in becoming
a “Sister”), she must first pay off her student loans. If you
would like to help her in this effort, please go to: https://
www.gofundme.com/pay-of-debt-enter-religious-life.
A less happy reason for my thinking so much about
vocations is that in the last three weeks we’ve heard that one
of our diocesan priests is moving to another diocese, and two
others have taken leaves of absence to discern their future. I
hope you will join me in praying for each of these men. But
their departure, hopefully temporary, reminds us of the need to
pray for priests and, especially, to pray and encourage young
men to seriously consider joining the priesthood. The sad
reality is that we’re just not ordaining enough men to meet the
needs of our Diocese. It doesn’t have to be this way, because
we know God is calling the men we need, if only they will
respond, and we support them. When I entered the seminary
27 years ago, Arlington had about 55 seminarians, whereas
today, after the Diocese has doubled in size, we only have 44
seminarians. This is not for lack of effort on Fr. Jaffe’s part,
and it’s pretty good compared to other dioceses, but nowhere
near what I would expect considering the vibrancy of our
parishes.
The facts are simple: we need more priests, and many
of then are sitting in our pews and sleeping in your homes
today.
I’m proud to say St. Raymond’s has given the Church
one priest and one seminarian, and one Religious Sister and
one soon to be Religious Sister—but I’m also saddened
because I know so many more of our young people are not
answering the call, and so many of our families are not
encouraging them enough.
The thing is, the priestly and religious life is a
wonderful life. Yes, we make sacrifices, but so do husbands
and wives. Yes, there are many unique joys in married life, but
there are equally joyful aspects of priestly and religious life.
I’ve told you before, as a young man in the world I thought
marriage alone would bring me happiness—until I discovered
God had another way to bring me happiness. I have never ever
regretted accepting my vocation, and I’ve never been happier
in my life, doing what God made me to do. There is
challenging work, and bountiful love in the priesthood. And
there is the deep peace and joy in being an instrument of God’s
mercy and salvation for His people.
Discern your vocation, and support the discernment of
our sons and daughters.
Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Did you realize that
Ash Wednesday this year falls on February 14, which also
happens to be the Feast of St. Valentine, or as Hallmark calls it,
“Valentine’s Day” ?
I’ve written before about how Valentine’s Day can
often be corrupted by foolish secular notions of love, and
especially by lust. But I’m a big supporter of true love,
including the romantic sort, if it’s genuine and chaste and
consistent with the love of Christ. But the thing is, setting
February 14 as the annual date for the secular celebration of
romantic love is completely arbitrary. On the other hand, Ash
Wednesday, a solemn day of penance, fast and abstinence to
begin the forty days of Lent, is one of the most important days
of the Church’s year. And the celebrations often associated
with “Valentine’s Day”—romantic dinners, chocolates, etc.—
are really not fitting for Ash Wednesday.
So, keep Valentine’s Day this year, but decide right
now with your “Valentine” to change the date of celebration—
maybe to February 13. And make sure not to diminish the
importance of Ash Wednesday in any way.
The Flu and the Sign of Peace. The flu has been spreading to
almost epidemic proportions, including in our parish. Let’s
keep each other in prayer so that those who are suffering will
be comforted and healed quickly, and that those who are well
will not be struck. Let’s especially pray for those who tend to
be hardest hit by the effects of the flu, our oldest and youngest
brothers and sisters.
To help hamper the spread of the flu, I have decided
that, for the time being, the invitation to exchange the sign of
peace will not be given by the priests at Masses at St.
Raymond’s. The priest will say “The peace of the Lord be with
you always,” and we will respond “and with your spirit,” and
then immediately begin the Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God.
Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.
A Very Sad Note from the March for Life. Prior to the
March for Life some our parishioners worked with a large
group of young people from Springfield, Illinois, to find a
place for them to meet and have dinner after the March—our
hall was closed (due to the “frost heave”) so we helped them to
have access to the facilities of Angelus Academy. Sadly,
during their stay in our area one of the group, 14-year-old
Ayden O’Malley, suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage and was
rushed to the hospital, where she soon passed away. Her aunt,
told the papers, “(Ayden’s) final acts in life were in service to
God, standing up for the sanctity of life just outside the
Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, participating in the
March for Life. Her young life had such meaning.” Her family
and friends mourn her death, but they also thank God for the
wonder of the gift of her life, and every single human life. As
do we. Let us pray for her soul, for her family, and for a more
profound respect for every human life.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Returning from Vacation. You may have noticed I was
gone from the parish from January 12th to the 20th.
Unfortunately, this meant that I missed the March for
Life, and I apologize for that. I’ve made most of the
Marches for the last 25 years, the exceptions being
when I was sick, but this is the first I’ve missed because
I was on vacation. Unfortunately, all things considered, it
couldn’t be helped.
Ever since moving from Texas 25 years ago, I’ve
noticed that the long cold winter “up here” really wears
on my health, both physically and mentally. So, for more
than a decade I’ve made it a point to take a week off in
January to go south to warmer climes. This has a
dramatic positive effect on my health, especially as I
prepare for and take on the added tasks of Lent.
This year, the date of my vacation was
determined by my niece’s wedding on January 13. It was
a beautiful great wedding at which I was blessed to be
the officiant and celebrant of the Mass: my wonderful
niece, Bethy, was even more lovely than usual, and the
church was the absolutely magnificent 140-year-old procathedral—
almost as beautiful as ours! Unfortunately,
the wedding was in Indianapolis, which was colder and
snowier than Virginia (0 degrees on my last morning
there)! But the next day I was able to fly down to Florida
for 6 days of golf with some priest-friends of mine (one
of the priest’s parents have a time-sharing deal there, so
we stay free, which is really nice).
I’m sure you’re all fascinated by my travels, but
the actual point of me writing this is to tell you about my
return. I have been assigned to some parishes that were
really hard to return to after vacation—one in particular
was such a difficult assignment for me that I felt
physically ill every time I came “home”. But I just want to
tell you that as much as I really enjoy and need to get
away (especially in the winter) I also really enjoy coming
home to our parish. My work here is challenging, but not
in many negative ways. And there are so many positive
things here for me. I have a talented and faithful staff, a
hardworking and kind vicar, and a beautiful church to
work and worship in. But most of all, I have so many
kind, loving and devout parishioners, who are
cooperative with my efforts, eager to grow in love and
knowledge of Jesus and His Church, patient with my
shortcomings, and forgiving of my mistakes.
I just wanted you to know that.
Blessing of Throats. This Saturday, February 3, is the
Feast of St. Blaise, which means it’s time for the
blessing of throats. St. Blaise was bishop of Sebaste
and was martyred about A.D. 316. Legend has it that
one day Bishop Blaise restored a pig (alive) to its owner,
a poor woman, after it had been eaten by a wolf. A few
days later, when Bishop was imprisoned for his Catholic
faith, the woman brought him candles to light the
darkness of his cell. In that same prison, he miraculously
cured a boy who was choking to death from a fishbone
lodged in his throat. Thus, the custom arose of using
candles and invoking the Saint to bless throats against
all sorts of ailments. We will give the blessing of throats
this Saturday, at the end of the 9am Mass and
immediately following the 5pm Vigil Mass.
First Confessions. Please keep our second graders in
your prayers this week as they prepare to receive the
Sacrament of Penance for the first time next Saturday,
February 3. First Confession is a beautiful thing, but it
can be a little scary for some. So pray that the little ones
are not too nervous, make good confessions, accept
God’s grace and develop a true love for this sacrament.
Plan Ahead to Attend the Lenten Series. Lent is still
two-and-a-half weeks away, but I’d like you to plan ahead
a little this year, so you can attend our Thursday evening
Lenten Series. I always like to bring in a guest speaker to
give these talks, a priest who is a learned, holy and gifted
speaker. I thought had such a priest lined up to give the
talks this year, I just recently found out he would not be
able to do it. So, I have decided to give the series myself.
The talks will be on a topic near and dear to my
heart, and which I consider of great importance for you:
the Mass and the Eucharist. I know this is not exactly a
unique topic, especially for me. But I think many of you
would find a systematic and detailed explanation of the
Mass and Eucharist extremely helpful to your spiritual
life: after all, for many, Sunday Mass is the main, or even
only, extended time they dedicate to spending with the
Lord. I think this series will really help you to get much
more out of that experience, and put much more into it.
I especially invite the folks who never come to
these kinds of talks. I’m always struck by how so many of
our talks, lectures and conferences are attended by the
same 200-300 people. That’s good for them, but what
about the rest of the parish? I know you’re very busy, but
please take time this Lent to attend these talks—I
promise they will be interesting and truly helpful, both to
those who have a strong understanding of the faith, and
those who sometimes struggle. Not because I’m such a
good speaker, but because the material I’ll be working
with is so rich.
To make attendance a little easier on parents, we
plan to provide free “babysitting” on site—bring your
kids, leave them with our care-givers, and go to the talk. I
don’t have all the details worked out yet, but I’ll let you
know when I do.
I haven’t finalized my talks, yet, but I hope to give
one talk on the doctrine of the Eucharist, especially it’s
Biblical basis. Then probably talk about the development
of the Mass from the Early Church and through the
centuries. Then maybe a couple of talks on the rituals
and prayers of the Mass itself, going from beginning to
end, in detail, to show the meaning and beauty of the
prayers, gestures and symbols of the Mass.
If you can’t come to all the talks, come to the
ones you can. I look forward to seeing your there—so
plan ahead!
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Sometimes people like to pit what they call “the God of the Old Testament”

against “the God of the New Testament”

—as if there was a difference, or that somehow God changes,

gets kinder or mellows with age.

Of course, this is nonsense.

If we read carefully the pages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament,

we can see very clearly how God is consistent in both,

and how He fulfills his word and promises of the Old Testament

as He speaks to us in the New Testament,

and how the glory of Christ is foreshadowed in the Old Testament

for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

Today’s first reading and Gospel are prime examples of this.

 

In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy

Moses tells the people that one day God will send Israel

“a prophet like me.”

Now, what you have to understand is

that there had never been “a prophet like” Moses before

—and never would be again in all of Jewish history.

From the time of Abraham around the year 1700 BC

to the time of Moses around 1300 BC,

there was really no other prophet at all.

But then after 400 years of waiting

for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham

as they languished in slavery in Egypt,

suddenly God sent them Moses,

the great prophet who had actually seen and spoken to God

on Mount Horeb.

 

And with great signs and wonders

—the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea

–he shows that he is not only God’s messenger,

but that he is the instrument of God’s incomparable power!

Not only does Moses tell Pharaoh, “let them my people free,”

he himself frees them, with the power of God.

 

And then he takes them to Mount Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai,

where he goes up and receives the law from God Himself,

bringing it back to the people who accept it and renew the Covenant.

This time not with vague promises like those God made to Abraham,

but now with very specific promises and teachings: “the law.”

 

And God kept His promises,

and right at the center of everything Israel did for over 1200 years

was the law of Moses.

Of course, they didn’t always keep the law as they should.

So the Lord sent prophets like Elijah and Isaiah,

adding nothing really new,

but shedding light on Moses teaching,

—and warning the people when they strayed from it.

But, again, no other prophet ever compared to Moses.

Nowhere is this more evident in one important fact:

no one ever saw God as Moses had seen him on Mount Horeb

and even in some mysterious way in the Holy of Holies.

As the Book of Exodus tells us:

“the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,

as a man speaks to his friend.”

And it goes on to tell us that when Moses would encounter God like this,

“the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

And when …the people of Israel saw Moses, behold,

… they were afraid to come near him.”

 

They were frightened by Moses, because he had seen God.

But, they were also frightened because, in a very real way,

they had also seen God, if from a distance;

as Scripture tells us:

“when all the people perceived the thundering and the lightnings

…the people were afraid …

and they stood afar off, and said to Moses,

You speak to us, and we will hear;

but let not God speak to us, lest we die.””

The sight and sound of God in the thunder and lightning was

so magnificent that it scared the heck out of the people.

 

So when we read today how when Moses promises

that someday a prophet like him will come

he also promises that that prophet

will also be the intermediary between God and the people,

so they won’t have to see and be frightened by

the magnificence and holiness of God face to face:

As Moses says:

“This is exactly what you requested of the LORD…at Horeb.”

 

______

That’s the Old Testament.

Now see how it’s fulfilled in the New Testament, in today’s Gospel.

St. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Capernaum and went to the Synagogue

—reminding us that, like Moses before him, Jesus was a Jew,

coming to His “own kin,” just as Moses prophesied.

And then He teaches the assembly, just as Moses did.

And then it tells us:

“The people were astonished at his teaching,

for he taught them as one having authority

and not as the scribes.”

You see, the scribes and rabbis would teach

by strictly explaining what Moses had taught,

clarified by what the other lesser prophets had said.

They never proposed anything new on their own authority,

but only repeat and explained

what was handed down with Moses’ authority.

 

But then Jesus comes along and doesn’t contradict Moses,

but goes beyond him.

He doesn’t say “this is what Moses meant when he spoke to you,”

but rather “this is what God meant when he spoke to Moses.”

St. Matthew’s Gospel is full of examples of Jesus saying things like:

“You have heard it said, thou shall not kill…

…but I say to you… whoever says, ‘You fool!’

shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Or in another place:

Moses allowed you to divorce …,

but …I say to you: whoever divorces his wife…and marries another,

commits adultery.”

 

Back to today’s Gospel,

after this kind of new preaching, like Moses who parted the Red Sea,

Jesus shows the power of God,

driving a demon from a man right there in the synagogue.

And taking all this in, Scripture tells us:

All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?

A new teaching with authority.”

Elsewhere Mark records a similar event, and says:

“they were all amazed…, saying,

“We never saw anything like this!”

 

So the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled in Christ.

 

_____

But there is something more here.

As I explained before, the people in Moses’ time were afraid to see God.

 

To many today this might seem strange.

To some, this is because they try to recreate God in their own image,

to make him less awesome, less perfect, less radically different than us,

so that their own sins don’t look so back

when compared to their dumbed down image of God’s perfection.

 

But that’s not the way it was for Moses and his people:

they saw God as radically different—HOLY

and that they were radically unholy compared to him.

 

To others today, though, there is a more innocent explanation

of not being afraid of seeing God.

That’s because we have already seen God

—and not only survived, but flourished.

This is the gem right in the heart of these 2 passages of Scripture.

 

Because while Jesus was in fact a prophet “like” Moses

by revealing radically new things,

and changing the people and their covenant with God forever,

He was also like Moses in an even more important way:

like Moses he saw God face to face.

But unlike Moses he saw him not only on the Mountain or the Holy of Holies,

but all the time–constantly!

And not simply as Moses did, “as a man speaks to his friend”

but now as a Son speaks to His Father,

and even… as a man speaks to himself.

Because Jesus is not merely a human prophet like Moses,

but he is also the Son of God, and God the Son himself.

 

And also unlike with Moses,

with Jesus the people have no need to fear seeing God,

because in Jesus God comes to His people in a way that says

not, “behold my magnificence and holiness,”

but now “I am meek and humble of heart,”

“do not be afraid,”

and “peace be with you.”

He says, yes, I am glorious and all powerful,

but see that glory and power through the prism of my deep love for you.

Yes, you are sinners,

but I will pour my love out on you,

washing away your sins,

and joining you to myself,

so that you can be not simply God’s unworthy people,

but God’s own holy sons and daughters.

 

___

A few years ago, Pope Benedict explained this in a most beautiful way

in a Christmas homily.

He said: “from the time of Adam

[God] saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man….

Therefore God chose a new way.

He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.

Now – this God …says to us

you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

 

This began in His birth, but continued all through his life.

Do not be afraid, I come to heal you and drive the devil out of your life,

and to show you the way, the truth and the life of happiness.

Do not be afraid, I hang upon the cross, vulnerable, beaten and mocked,

so that my blood might wash your sins away.

Peace be with you, I have risen and conquered sin and death,

so that you may have eternal life.

Peace be with you, for behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.

 

God hasn’t changed, from the Old Testament to the New,

but in Christ He shows us first His humility and love,

and in this we see the true depths of His glory.

And so there is no reason to be afraid, only to love.

 

The Jews in Capernaum saw him this way 2000 years ago,

and we who love Him continue to see Him this way today.

We see and hear Him in the constant teaching and life

of His body on earth the Church.

And we hear Him every time His word is read in scripture.

And, most sublimely, we see Him every time we come to Mass,

and we touch Him every time we receive Him in holy Communion.

Again, He comes not in a fiery and thundering mountain top,

but in the least threatening way possible:

under the appearance of simple bread and wine.

And He says: “do not be afraid” …. “love me” “as I have loved you”…

“peace be with you.”

 

_____

Today the Old Testament and New come together,

as the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled:

the great prophet who not only teaches us about God

but brings us face to face with Him in His very being,

has spoken to us in His sacred word.

Continuing with this holy Mass let us open our eyes of faith

to recognize Him now as He comes to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us approach Him, not afraid that He will strike us down with lighting,

but only afraid that our sins may offend His Sacred Heart.

Let us remember that He is the Almighty God of Mt. Sinai,

and we are lowly sinners.

But let us rejoice and praise Him

because He gives us a new teaching with authority,

and comes to us in the form of bread, saying:

“do not be afraid,” “peace be with you.”