First Sunday of Advent

Season of Advent. Today we begin the season of Advent, in preparation for Christmas.
Every year most people forget that the Advent season is primarily about preparing for
Christmas, and instead spend these weeks pre-maturely celebrating Christmas, and doing
so from a largely secularized perspective. And then when the actual 3 week Christmas
Season begins on Christmas Day, they put all the Christmas things away and go on with
This pre-mature celebration isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if we see it as part of the
strong influence of Christianity on our culture. Many Catholics see people around them
start celebrating Christmas, and it’s such a wonderful feast they (Catholics) get all caught
up in it.
But it’s not completely harmless. First of all, much of this early celebration is
driven not by a Christian culture, but by commercial interests taking advantage of that
culture. Sadly, much of this is nothing more than retailers playing on our emotional
attachment to Christmas, in order to increase sales. Increasing sales is not a bad thing, but
the reduction of Advent to a period of rampant commercialism/materialism and
emotionalism is a terrible thing. All but forgotten is the spiritual/faith preparation to
celebrate the wonder of the birth of the Baby Jesus, our Creator come to redeem us from
our sins.
Please don’t let this happen to you this Advent. This is not to say you can’t take
part in the “cultural” celebrations, as long as you make sure to also spend time preparing
for the celebration of the Day that changed the world forever. Here are some suggestions:
— Catholics always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this
shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should do some small
penance every day to remind us that nothing is more important than Christ, and that
everything we do is for Him.
— Add extra prayers to your daily routine. The Rosary is an excellent addition to
our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade
every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
— Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps
challenge yourself to read one of the Gospels beginning to end in Advent. Or perhaps
read short passages daily from the Christmas-related texts: Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John
— Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby
Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better
practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So,
make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to
worthy charitable projects/institutions. The parish Giving Tree is one good way to do
this, as are some of the special collections.
— Receiving the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in
Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go
to Confession. As always, we will have confessions every weekday evening during
Advent, which means confession is available every single day during Advent (except
Christmas Eve).

— Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about
loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.
Follow the 10 Commandments, live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind,
patient, generous, and encouraging. Love one another as Jesus, who out of love for us
stripped Himself of the glory of heaven to be born in a cold manger, loves us.
— Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish
this Advent. Please keep the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2019
Events” from last week’s bulletin somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?).
In particular, consider:
— Lessons and Carols. Next Sunday, December 8, I invite you to join me, the
lectors and the choir for “Lessons & Carols” at 7:00 pm. This is a wonderful program of
beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings. Some people think “Lessons” means I’m
going to give a lecture or something. Not at all. “Lessons” is simply an old English term
for readings from Scripture. By weaving together prophetic readings from the Old
Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s
breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of
joyful expectation by leading us in popular hymns and spreading their vocal wings in
leading us in carols and a few more complicated choral pieces—they are AMAZING.
And afterwards there will be an opportunity for joyful fellowship at a short reception
(with delicious seasonal refreshments). Trust me, this is a really wonderful
evening—you’ll have a great time. Every year the crowd gets bigger (last year we had
several hundred!) because everyone who comes loves it. Please join us.
— Advent Talks. In the past, my 3-part Advent Series on the Thursdays of Advent
has been in the form of a lecture or class. But this year I’ve decided to follow the format I
adopted for last year’s Lenten Series: I will present my Advent Series talks as half-hour
meditations in the church during a Holy Hour of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
We’ll begin with Exposition, then I’ll give a half-hour talk, followed by praying the
Rosary and then Benediction.
This year my topic will be “The Christmas Visitors: Angels, Shepherds and
Kings.” Please join us every Thursday during Advent, beginning this Thursday,
December 5, from 7pm to 8pm.

Immaculate Conception. Normally the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
falls on December 8 and is a Holy Day of Obligation. But this year December 8 is the 2 nd
Sunday of Advent, so the Immaculate Conception is moved to Monday, December 9, and
IS NOT a Holy Day of Obligation. But even though you don’t have to attend Mass, I
strongly encourage you to do so, as this great feast is integral to Advent, teaching us
about Mary’s perfect preparation to receive Christ. We will have Masses at 6:30am, 8am,
Noon, and 7pm.

Mural of Our Lady of Ransom Appearing to St. Raymond. Many of you have
been asking where our “second mural” is. Well, when working with artists I always
remember the great line from the movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” about the painting

of the magnificent Sistine Chapel ceiling. Pope Julius II shouts up to Michelangelo,
“when will you make an end?!” and the artist shouts down at the Pope, “when I am
finished!” So I encourage, but never pressure the creative process of artists.
But our patience has paid off, and I can announce that the new mural will
definitely be in place in time for Christmas. A little Christmas gift from Our Lady and
Our Patron.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019

1st Sunday of Advent

December 1, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA



The word “Advent”, of course, means “coming.”

And the season of “Advent” is the time of preparing for the coming of Christ.

But Advent actually involves preparation for 2 “comings”:

we prepare to celebrate the 1st coming of Christ 2000 years ago,

and we prepare for His 2nd coming at the end of time.

So Advent is not simply about the NOW,

but about looking back and forward.

In short, it’s about making the present the meeting point of past and future.


Unfortunately, most people don’t think of this as “the Advent Season,”

but as “the Christmas Season.”

And they don’t so much look forward to Christmas,

as want to have Christmas NOW, and not wait for December 25th.

And they don’t look back much either,

except to remember the good times they’ve had on past December 25ths.


But for us, it’s got to be different.

As much as we look forward to the coming December 25th, 2019,

we do so first by looking backward to December 25th, 2000 years ago.

And really, we look even farther back than that.

For example, today with the first reading form the prophet Isaiah,

we look back about 500 years before the birth of Christ

—that’s 2500 years back;

and in the Psalm we look back 500 years further back to King David

–that’s 3000 years back.


But even there, as we look back, we also look forward.

Because the millennia-old prophecies we read in Isaiah and the Psalms

are prophecies of the future—theirs and ours.

Isaiah begins:

“In days to come,

All nations shall …say:

“Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
that he may instruct us in his ways.”

He’s talking here about the future coming of the Messiah,

and the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world.

So looking back at what Isaiah said

we then sort of look forward with him

500 into Isaiah’s future

and 2000 years into our past

to the birth of Jesus.

But Isaiah doesn’t stop there:

he goes on to say:

“He (the Christ) shall judge between the nations,

They shall beat their swords into plowshares…

one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”

Clearly this part of the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet.

Rather, he’s talking about the same thing Jesus does in today’s Gospel,

when He talks about His second coming, saying:

“you also must be prepared,

for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

So Isaiah’s prophecy is part of our past and part of our future..


Some might say:

Father, what’s all this about the future and the past?

What about the present?

It is true that we must live in “the present moment.”

As Paul reminds us in today’s 2nd reading:

“it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”


But we have to be careful.

First of all, over-focusing on the present

can cause us to sort of cut ourselves off from the past.

And so we lose sight of the lessons of history.

We forget the wisdom and the important sacrifices made

by so many who came before us, especially our parents.


And we lose sight of our past sins.

Some say this is good, letting go of the burdens of the past

—and there’s some truth there too.

But if we forget the evil we’ve done,

we also forget the need to repair the harm we’ve done,

and to avoid doing it again,

and to appreciate the profundity of the forgiveness we’ve received,

and the necessity to forgive others as we have been forgiven—in the past.

And if we forget the good we’ve done in the past, and the lessons we’ve learned,

where would we be today?

Not standing on the shoulders of giants

and building on the strong foundations laid before us,

but instead re-digging foundations every day,

throwing away the treasures hard won

by our ancestors and forefathers, and even ourselves.


And focusing only on the present can also lead us to lose sight of the future.

Of course, we can’t think just about the future,

especially if we’re worrying about what might come.

But if we don’t look to the future at all,

we can lead us to lose sight of our potential.

We stop being concerned about improving ourselves

and building a better world for our children

and to teach them

how to sacrifice and what to believe and value today

so they can become the best God made them to be

—even if that means making their life a little less fun

and a lot more disciplined in the present and now.

And we forget that the actions we do today have consequences tomorrow.

And if our situation in the present isn’t all that good

we lose hope that things can be better….in the future.


In the end, an exaggerated focus on the present

can lead many into a certain self-centeredness.

We forget the importance of those who came before us,

and those who will come after us,

and we become the center of our world,

and our immediate happiness takes priority.

And the search for this “happiness” quickly turns into

a quest for immediate gratification and good feelings,

without concern for past lessons of right or wrong,

or future consequences.



Worst of all, without an eye on the past and future, we lose sight of Christ.

We don’t look back at the prophesies and their fulfillment.

We forget that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,

and the profundity of His Incarnation and Birth,

and His life, death and resurrection.

And we forget His promise that

if we believe in Him and kept His commandments,

He would give us share in His life and love

in this world and in the world to come.


And we won’t look forward to sharing in that life and love,

to growing in holiness,

to becoming the great men and women He created us to be.

We’ll lose grasp of the wondrous hope

that even if everyone else abandons,

Christ will always be there loving us.



Don’t misunderstand me: for Christians, the present, NOW, is critical.

But it’s only possible to understand and live well in the present

by seeing it in the context of the past and future,

as the meeting, the nexus, the coming together

of past and future.

As St. Paul says: “It is the hour now.”

“Now” is the time

“to awake from sleep”

to “throw off the works of darkness”
and to “put on the armor of light.”

Now is not the hour of self-gratification, or of isolation from past and future.

Now is the time to take what we’ve learned in the past,

and begin to be the person God gives us the potential to become,

–and to help those around us to do the same.

Now is the hour to listen to God’s promises of the past,

to remember how He fulfilled so many of them in the past

and to look forward to their completion in the future,

as Jesus comes in glory.



Unfortunately, for too many, Advent is a time of NOW alone,

without past or future:

it’s all about immediate self-gratification.

For some this comes out in obvious ways.

Think of some of last year’s Christmas parties or shopping adventures,

and St. Paul words today strike a particularly familiar note:

“let us conduct ourselves

…not in orgies and drunkenness,
…promiscuity and lust,
…rivalry and jealousy.
…the desires of the flesh.”


For others, it comes out in less obvious ways.

How many parents have given their children ridiculously expensive gifts

that they know would only spoil them.

They think only of the immediate gratification

they and their children will feel on Christmas morning,

but not the long term effects that indulging

greed and selfishness will have in years to come.



But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we spend this Advent as a time

to remember the promises and miracles of the past

and to open our hearts and minds to our hope in our future with Christ,

this could be truly the best, happiest and holiest Advent–and Christmas—

we’ve ever had.


And that can begin right here and now, at this Mass.

Some tell me that Mass has little relevance to them, some even say it’s boring.

Unfortunately, what happens with a lot of these folks is

that they’re looking at the Mass strictly as a present experience,

and so they look for easy and immediate gratification:

they expect to be entertained or made to feel good

by the priests, or the music,

or by the people around them.

And so the Mass has become about them and what they want right now.


But the Mass is the perfect and concrete example

of what I’ve been talking about:

the present as the meeting place of past and future.

Think of the 2 main parts of the Mass:

the Liturgies of the Word and the Eucharist.

The Scriptures and Homily lead us

to look back and forward at the same time, as we’ve done today.

And then, most sublimely, we enter into the mystery of the Eucharist:

where God miraculously descends out of eternity

and makes the one perfect sacrifice of the Cross of 2000 years ago

and the future heavenly banquet

really and truly here in this present moment.

Christ born 2000 years ago and Christ coming again at the end of time,

present to us right now, and entering into us in Holy Communion.

And suddenly we are united to:

“the Alpha and the Omega…

who is and who was and who is to come

….the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”


Open your mind and heart today to this great mystery.

Let this be the beginning of an Advent free of selfishness.

A time of remembering and hoping in

the promises Christ has already kept and will soon keep.

A time of repenting past sins, and of becoming who we truly long to be.

At time to look back at the babe born in Bethlehem,

and look forward to his coming again.

A time for the wondrous past and the glorious future to come together,

in Christ Jesus the Lord.

TEXT: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe, November 24, 2019

Solemnity of Christ the King

November 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA



Most of you are familiar with a Great and Powerful King

who History tells us conquered and ruled most of the near east

about 300 years before the birth of Christ

–a young man named Alexander the Great.

According to an ancient story,

it’s said that one day when Alexander was riding with his army

a beggar along the side of the road cried out to him for a piece of bread to eat.

Alexander looked down on the man and instead of giving him the bread he asked for

promised that he would make the beggar ruler over 5 great cities.

Of course the beggar was shocked, and replied,

“Lord I ask for only bread and you make me a ruler,

to which Alexander replied:

“My friend, you ask like a beggar, but I give like a king!”


I think that in some ways this story pretty much sums up

today’s feast day of Christ the King.

For Christ, Kingship is not about mere domination,

but about generosity.

And as king He gives us not only everything we need,

but also whatever He gives us is infinitely more generous and wonderful

than anything we could dream of.


Perhaps one the most striking yet simple examples of this is found in today’s Gospel

as the good thief asks his King:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “”Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The thief asks only to be “remembered”,

but Christ promises him not only that, but “paradise today”.



God’s generosity to man begins in the very beginning.

After creating the whole universe

God, as sovereign Lord of the universe,

first gave life to man,

but then gave all His creation over to man as a gift as well.


But even this wasn’t enough for Him to give—He wanted to give us something more:

to give us a share of His life in heaven itself.

And so He eventually established Israel as His own people,

the doorway He would eventually enter to give Himself totally to us.


Now, when God first established the nation of Israel, He established it without a king,

they were governed by Judges, and local rulers.

God told them that the only King that they should have was Him

–God was their true king.

And what better king could they have?


But as time went on the people demanded a human King.

God warns them that a human king

would fall prey to the  temptations of worldly power

and, in effect, make them into “his slaves.”

But in spite of his warning they continue to insist,

and God gave them their first human King: King Saul.

It didn’t take long for Saul to do what God warned against:

caught up in his pride and lust for worldly power and worldly goods,

Saul began to, in effect, enslave his people.


So God removed Saul, and replaced him with King David.

But David also fell victim to the temptations of worldly power:

we all know the story of Bathsheba.


So then God made a promise to Israel:

one day a descendant of David would come and rule over not just Israel

but over the whole world as well.

But this king would be different

–perfectly just and not falling to the temptations of the world,

and ruling forever.

And not only would He be David’s son, but he would also be God’s Son, telling David:

“I will raise up your offspring after you,

…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

I will be his father, and he shall be my son.”


For a thousand years, through various terrible kings, and wars and exiles,

even as their kingdom was destroyed, and their human kings were replaced with puppet rulers under men like Alexander the Great

and the Caesars of Rome,

the Israelites clung to their hope in  God’s promise for this King,

the Son of God and son of David.

They waited for the one who would be anointed King by God Himself

–the one they referred to as the “anointed one,”

or in Hebrew, the “Messiah,” or in Greek, the “Christus”–or “Christ”.


The King that most of them hoped for was a human King

who would come with a human army

and re-establish a human Kingdom, a Kingdom of this world.

But that was not the King that the prophets foretold; as the Isaiah told them:

“He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,

and we esteemed him not.”


In the fullness of time God kept His promise:

He sent His Son born of a virgin of the house of David.

As St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading,

He was a king whose kingdom was not of this world,

but rather a kingdom that consists of

“all things in heaven and on earth…, the visible and invisible.”

A kingdom who’s gift to His people is not limited

to worldly goods or economic prosperity, but

to eternal “redemption, [and] the forgiveness of sins.”

A king who conquered not by making war with the blood of a sword, but by

“making peace by the blood of his cross.”


This king would not be a king who would enslave His people,

or who would be tempted to seek personal satisfaction

in the perks of earthly wealth.

Though worthy of life of gold frankincense and myrrh and the adoration of kings,

He was born in a stable and first visited by poor shepherds.

Though worthy of a golden throne on the right hand of His heavenly Father,

His only thrones in this world would be of wood:

the throne of a wooden manger, and the throne of a wooden cross.


And so it was, as we read in today’s Gospel,

that as He hung upon the cross, twice someone said to Him:

“let him save himself if he is …the Christ…the King.”

Once this was the voice of the leaders of the people gathered atHhis feet,

and once it was the voice of the unrepentant  criminal crucified next to Him.

They didn’t recognize their king,

even though Pilate had placed above his head the sign that said:


Only one spoke up to recognize the king.

Only one….the one who was suffering with him,

the repentant thief who hanged upon his own cross

recognized that this king did not want to come down from the cross,

because He had no need of worldly comforts or a worldly kingdom.



Christ is King.

But like so many of the Jews of His day,

we also often don’t recognize Him or His kingdom.

Like them we often want Him to rule by fulfilling all of our dreams and wishes

and taking away all of our burdens and sufferings

–and sometimes we doubt He is King when He SEEMS powerless to do so.


And sometimes we try to replace Him as king.

Think about it: who or what is your real king?

Who or what rules your life?

Do you look to the world for your King, and so become a slave to the world?

Is your king worldly power? or money? or fancy toys? or worldly respect?

Have you become a slave of sex or drugs or alcohol;

are you ruled by hatred or violence or pride?

Are you a slave of other people’s opinion,

or are you ruled by fear of being unpopular?

Or is your joy and happiness–even the daily joys of this earthly life

          –rooted in and transformed

                   by your citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?



A  mark of the great kings of this world, like Alexander the Great,

is their generously in giving of their worldly goods.

But a kingdom based solely in this world ultimately leads to slavery

–slavery to kings of this world or to things of this world.

Christ our King is more generous than any worldly king could ever be.

And while we can truly begin to enjoy the wonders of His Kingdom

even as we live in this world,

His is not a kingdom of the world,

and so His generosity isn’t limited to the passing and petty

joys and pleasures of this world:

the true gift of His kingship is an eternal paradise

full of treasures beyond all imagining.


So today, and everyday, let us come to our Lord,

offering Him the praise and adoration

due the King of “heaven and …earth…, the visible and invisible,”

Let us thank Him for the many gifts He’s already given us,

but also, let us bring to Him all of our sufferings and troubles

–all the crosses of our lives

–not looking so much  for worldly relief, and saying with the unrepentant thief,

if you are king, save yourself and us,”

but rather, accepting the crosses of this world,

and as humble repentant sinners, asking only:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And let us rejoice in the boundless generosity of Christ the King,

confident that He will reply,

“I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.”

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Christ the King. Today is the last Sunday of the Catholic liturgical year, which ends with the celebration of the feast of Christ the King of the Universe.
Jesus told us His “kingdom is not of this world.” He was not establishing a territorial nation with rules enforced by imprisonment or armies. But He did not say or mean that His kingdom would “have nothing to do with the world.” Rather His kingdom, and kingship, would reign above the world and in men’s hearts, minds and souls, and so transform the world.
Because of this, the Church has always recognized a legitimate understanding of the “separation of Church and state.” It is true that some nations have been, or still are, officially “Catholic” nations. Some say this blurs the lines of that separation. But it all depends on what you mean by “separation.” If you mean, on the one hand, that the Church should not dictate the particular laws of civil society, while still having a strong influence on those laws, especially in promoting true morality, justice, virtue and charity, and on the other hand, that civil leaders and laws should not interfere in the spiritual, moral life or conscience of the Church and its members, then you have something approaching the historic Catholic understanding of separation.
This understanding is entirely compatible (though not identical) with the type of “separation” the American founders established for our nation, enshrined in the first amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The principle effect of this clause is to guarantee that the government can’t make laws that unnecessarily impinge on the rights of religions or churches, or interfere with people practicing their religion freely. There is nothing here, as some people claim, that denies the right of religion, Churches, and/or religious people to influence civil government and laws. In fact, the founding fathers believed that religion had an essential role in guiding the nation and its laws. As George Washington wrote: “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports…. [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Nowadays Islamic extremists (“Islamists”) are using despicable violence against the innocent to try to establish a world-wide theocracy in which the state and “church” (so to speak) are one, with no separation at all. We see something similar in Iran, where the Supreme Leader is the highest ranking Muslim cleric.
The Catholic Church has never sought to do this. It simply believes that it has a critical role in influencing public policy, and that its individual members have a right to live according to their faith-formed consciences and, especially through the right of free speech and the right to vote, to enact laws consistent with their understanding of right and wrong, good and evil.
Today, on the feast of Christ the King, we remember this, that while His Kingdom is not of this world, it reigns in the hearts and minds of all Christians. So that while Christ does not seek to establish His own worldly kingdom or nation, He does call all peoples living in the worldly kingdoms and nations to follow Him so as to live in true justice and virtue.
Does Christ the King reign in our hearts—or does something else rule there? And do we allow our King to rule the way we live in the worldly kingdoms, in both our day to day life with family, friends and customers, as well as in the “public square” of public speech and civil laws?

Thanksgiving. This Thursday is, of course, Thanksgiving Day. This is not a religious holiday, but it does clearly illustrate how the sense of the importance of religion is deeply rooted in our national self-understanding. As President George Washington wrote in establishing the first Thanksgiving Day in 1789:
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.”
This week, remember Who you are giving thanks to. It’s fine to thank your family and friends for all their kindnesses, but in the end it is “Almighty God”—Christ the King—to Whom we owe our unending thanks. May He continue to bless us, and our beloved nation.
And what better way to begin Thanksgiving Day than by coming to our 10am Mass? After all, Eucharistic comes from the Greek word eukharistia, which means thanksgiving. I hope to see you there.

Impeachment Hearings. And as we give thanks to God, I also encourage you to pray that He bless our Congress and President, especially during the impeachment process currently taking place. I don’t want to share my personal opinions on this, but I do think we all need to beg God to guide our leaders at this difficult time, and pray especially that His will be done.

Advent. Next week we begin the season of Advent, beginning our new Catholic year with preparation for Christmas. I realize Advent coincides with the very hectic celebration of the worldly and commercial “Holiday Season,” but please don’t let that lead you to forget that Advent belongs to Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, Who was born in a lowly manger. To help in this regard the parish will offer many opportunities to help us keep focused on our spiritual preparation for Christmas. To this end, in this week you’ll find our annual insert with the full schedule of Advent and Christmas events. Please look this over carefully, mark your calendars, and keep it in a prominent place to remind you of parish opportunities to make this truly a holy season.

Fr. Jordan Willard. Please join us today (Sunday) after the 12:15 Mass for a welcome reception in the Parish Hall for our new Parochial Vicar, Fr. Jordan Willard. All are invited.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 17, 2019

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 17, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Have you ever been so depressed, so sad, so caught up in fear and anxiety

that you begged God just to make it stop?

Or have you ever been in so much physical pain, that you couldn’t bear it

—you hurt so much you begged for some painkiller

to just make it go away?

Have you ever been so desperate with pain, whether emotional or physical,

that you thought, even in passing, about suicide—just to end it all?


If so, you have had a small taste of what Hell is like.


We don’t like to talk about Hell.

But we need to talk about it, because it’s real,

and if we’re not careful, we may go there.

So, as we come to the end of the liturgical year,

the Church calls us to think about what happens at the end of our lives.

We talk about Heaven a lot, but this week we need to talk about Hell.

And so consider our first reading today that tells us,

“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,

when all the… evildoers will be stubble,

…[it] will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.”


I actually don’t think many Catholics, really believe in Hell anymore.

And if they do believe, they think it’s someplace other people might go.

And really only a few really bad, really horrible people,

like Judas Iscariot or Adolph Hitler.


The thing is, if you believe in Jesus, you have to believe in Hell.

Because He does.

In fact, He talks about it a lot in the Gospels.

Maybe this sounds familiar:

“…the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,

and those who enter by it are many.

[But] the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,

and those who find it are few.

“Many” go to Hell, because it’s so “easy,”

but only a “few” go to Heaven, because it’s so “hard.”


Think about that for a moment.



Then think about this: Jesus also says,

If you would enter life, keep the commandments….

You shall not murder, …commit adultery, ….steal,

… bear false witness,…

[You shall] Honor your father and mother….”


You say, “but I don’t break the commandments…

I mean, I don’t murder anyone or commit adultery.”



How about this:

“You have heard that it was said …, ‘You shall not murder…

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

will be liable to the Hell of fire.”


You never curse anyone, call them ugly names in anger or just for fun?


Or how about this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

…better [to] lose one of your members

than your whole body be thrown into Hell.”


You never looked at someone with lust?

No, no, you always have a pure heart, like an innocent child!

There’s no stolen glances, no “inappropriate” internet browsing, going on here!


Or how about this:

“…I was hungry, and you gave me no food,

…thirsty and you gave me no drink,

…a stranger and you did not welcome me,

….naked and you did not clothe me,

…sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

…as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”

“…‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire…



Okay, now that I have your attention….


It’s easy to go to Hell because we tend to be easily attracted

to the sins that take us there.

We enjoy getting angry at the guy that cuts us off in traffic

—at least for the moment.

And, guys, you’re enjoy being attracted to women, in the good ways,

but also in the bad ways.


And those are just 2 sins.

How many really honor their parents the way they should?

How many steal or lie by cheating on their taxes.

And how many envy the rich, or ignore the poor?

Or stay comfortably at home, rather than visiting a sick friend.


It’s so easy for us—it is so appealing so often—to sin.


And on the other hand, it’s hard to love,

really love your neighbor as yourself,

much less love God with all your heart mind soul and strength.



Now, that being said…

The Church teaches some very important things about sin we should all know.


First all, not every sin will send us to Hell.

In St. John’s first letter, in speaking of sins, he explains:

“I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death.

[but] There is a sin that leads to death.”

Remember, in Scripture “life” equals “Heaven, and “death” equals “Hell.”

So there are sins that do not lead Hell,

but there are deadly sins that do lead to Hell.


We also call those deadly sins “mortal” sins

which comes from the Latin word, “mortus,” or “deadly.”

And the sins that are not deadly, we call “venial.”


But how do we know what’s a mortal sin and what’s venial?


The Church teaches that 3 things have to be present for there to be a mortal sin:

the thing you do has to be “grave matter…

which is …committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”


So, first, you have to do something really bad—what we call “grave matter.”

Let’s look at 2 clear examples, black and white.

You tell a lie under oath, that’s leads to a man being imprisoned.

That’s a big deal—or grave matter.

But let’s say you tell a lie about taking out the trash.

That’s wrong, it’s sin, but it’s not that big of a deal—so not grave matter.


Second, you have to know that it’s bad.

Now there are some things everyone should know is wrong.

So, for example, everyone should know that it’s wrong to lie under oath.

But some things might be harder to know.

For example, some Catholics were never taught that missing Sunday Mass

is grave matter, and that’s not something you could know on your own.

So if a Catholic like that misses Sunday Mass

because they genuinely don’t know it’s a sin,

the lack of knowledge means it’s not a mortal sin.


And third, you have to freely choose to do the bad thing—deliberate consent.

So, if someone blackmails you into lying under oath, you’re being forced,

so you’re not freely choosing, so there’s no mortal sin.

And the same applies if you’re insane, or asleep, and you commit some grave act

—you’re not using your free will then either.


So, if it’s a really bad thing, and you know it, and freely choose to do it,

it’s a mortal sin.

But if even one of those is missing, it may still be a sin, but not a mortal sin,

it does not lead to Hell.


Some say, this sounds like a lawyer’s set of rules.

No; it’s a set of reasonable, merciful and just principles

that describe how God judges us.


And through the mercy and justice won for us

by Jesus’s offering his own suffering on the Cross as payment for our sins, we can receive forgiveness, if we will only sincerely ask for it.

And to show us this in a dramatic way,

Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance or Confession

as, rising from his death on the Cross,

He appeared to His Apostles on Easter, and:

“He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,

whose sins you hold bound are held bound.”


But if we reject this, we continue down the road to Hell.



And we do not what to go to Hell.

Because the eternal pain of Hell is indescribably horrible.

But when Scripture, including Jesus Himself,

tries to describe it, it calls it things like:

“eternal fire,” “blazing like an oven,”

“the fiery lake of burning sulfur,”

“the blazing furnace,

where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,”

“where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,”

“everlasting destruction.”


Again, image the worst moments in your life,

the deepest depression, the darkest grief, the most terrifying anxiety,

the most horrific physical or emotional pain…

Image those moments, going on and on and on with end,

or without any hope of even the slightest diminishing…

and then multiply that by a million… and that is Hell.



Now, some would say,

“how could a loving God allow this?”

But remember, one of the greatest gifts that flows from his love,

that makes us truly created in his image, like God,

is His gift of free will.

So it is His choice is to allow us the freedom to choose.

It is our choice to do those things, to enter the gate, to walk down the road

to Heaven or to Hell.

Our choice, not His.


And even then, he loves us to much that he gives us every grace

to help us to live the life that leads to Heaven.

And he even forgives us so quickly and totally when we repent as he has taught us.

And he gives us Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s magisterium

to guide us in virtue and know what is a sin, and what is a mortal sin.

If only we will listen, and accept and follow.


I don’t preach at length about Hell very often.

But my job as your pastor boils down to really 2 thngs,

which are actually 2 sides of the same coin:

one, to get you to Heaven,

and two, to save you from Hell.

We talk about Heaven a lot, as we should.

But sometimes we need to talk about Hell,

because is real, and horrible, and forever.


As we continue now with this holy Mass, as Christ descends to this altar,

and offers us His Crucified, Glorified and Heavenly Body,

the Bread of Heaven,

let us allow Him to join our lives to His,

filling us with the grace to follow Him to Heaven,

and flee from all things that lead us to Hell.

Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Goodbye Fr. Smith! Welcome Fr. Willard! Today is Fr. Charles Smith’s last day in the parish before he moves to St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton as Pastor. His last Mass here will be today’s (Sunday’s) 12:15 Mass, which will be followed by a reception in his honor in the Parish Hall—please join us.
I’m sure you all join me in thanking Fr. Smith for his service to the parish these 3½ years. I particularly thank him for his hard work and personal kindness and support to me. God bless him as he begins his new work as Pastor.
Fr. Jordan Willard joined us on Thursday, and you will see him at the Masses this weekend. We will more formally welcome him next Sunday, November 24, after the 12:15 Mass, with an ice cream social in the Parish Hall—please join us. I am looking forward to working with Fr. Willard, and I know you will join me in making him feel at home.

40 Days for Life. And while I’m thanking people, I want to give a big thanks to all our parishioners who took part in the 40 Days for Life campaign. It was a great effort and incredible witness. There is nothing about it that is convenient. It is incredible that we have so many faithful witnesses for life. Some volunteers went every week of the 6 week campaign. Some went more than once in a day to fill an empty spot. Some stood there for several hours in a row. Some went on crutches. Some have been going for years and still go, not taking this year off for any number of valid reasons. Our Youth Group went together with volunteer chaperones and held the 40 Days for Life Banner.
Some went when the clinic was open. Others went when the clinic was closed. Their presence was vital in both scenarios as this is not simply a temporal battle but indeed a spiritual one.
As for our specific parish 34 hour commitment, close to 100 parishioners signed up, while others participated by just showing up. During our hours, the most spoken words on that sidewalk were those of the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet.
This is who the people of Saint Raymond’s are. I am so honored to be your Pastor.

US Bishops’ Meeting. Last week the Bishops of the United States had their regular Fall meeting in Baltimore. Good news from the meeting included the election of Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles as the incoming president of the conference, along with Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit as incoming vice-president. Among the more interesting matters discussed were the long awaited Vatican report on the former cardinal Ted McCarrick (still not finished), and the Bishops’ letter on voting which re-affirmed that abortion is the “pre-eminent” issue in the public square. Here are excerpts from two interesting articles from the Catholic News Agency (CNA) about these discussions. Note, that CNA is the official news service of the US Bishops.
Re: McCarrick: By Rhina Guidos , Nov 11, 2019 (CNA)—“In a brief presentation…Boston’s Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley told the bishops gathered in Baltimore the Vatican may publish what it knows about the ascent to power of now-disgraced former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick by Christmas, or perhaps the New Year….
“‘We made it clear to Cardinal (Pietro) Parolin [Vatican Secretary of State] at the leadership of the curia that the priests and the people of our country are anxious to receive the Holy See’s explanation of this tragic situation, how he could become an archbishop and cardinal, who knew what and when,’ Cardinal O’Malley said of meeting with the Vatican secretary of state in early November. ‘The long wait has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people and indeed a very harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence.’
“Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican’s intention had been to publish the report before the bishops’ November meeting, Cardinal O’Malley reported, ‘but the investigation has involved various dioceses in the United States as well as many offices’ at the Vatican and a much larger than expected ‘corpus’ of information than anticipated….
“Cardinal O’Malley’s approximately three-minute presentation was short on details, other than to say the Vatican had showed him a ‘hefty document that has been assembled.’”

Re: Abortion: By Ed Condon, Nov 12, 2019 (CNA).—“…Cracks in the conference appeared as the bishops discussed amendments to a letter meant to accompany a series of videos aimed at helping Catholics engage with the American political process when Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked for a separate consideration of one of the amendments. “The cardinal suggested the insertion of a long paragraph into the text which would contextualize the Church’s position on life issues, and especially the teaching of Pope Francis.
“The committee considering the amendments, led by the USCCB president-elect Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, agreed to include an abbreviated version of Cupich’s paragraph, including language insisting that the ‘firm and passionate’ defense of the unborn should be matched with support for the ‘equally sacred’ lives of the poor, inform, elderly, and marginalized….
“Speaking in support of Cupich, Bishop Robert McElroy [San Diego] told the assembly that he was specifically opposed to the letter’s retention of language calling abortion the ‘preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.’
“McElroy told the conference this language was ‘discordant with the pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,’ and implied that a failure to accept Cupich’s proposed language was tantamount to a breach with the Holy Father’s magisterium. ‘It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not.’
“‘McElroy’s intervention triggered murmurs on the conference floor, with several bishops visibly distressed. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia responded to McElroy, saying that calling abortion the ‘preeminent priority’ was not just correct but necessary, pointing out that in the current American political context it was the most pressing concern. Chaput went on [to say]: ‘…I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the pope, because that isn’t true. It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true….I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used, because it isn’t true.’
“In a rare break with etiquette, the bishops in the hall broke into applause in support of Chaput.
“‘He wants us to think that to disagree with him [McElroy] – or [Cardinal] Cupich – is to disagree with the pope. It’s not true, but it works to undermine the conference leadership,’ another bishop told CNA immediately following the vote. ‘It doesn’t serve communion among us, or with the pope. It’s about personalities and power.’
“The final vote on the amendment declined to include Cupich’s longer text, with applause again breaking out when the result was announced…”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 10, 2019

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 10, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Last Tuesday was election day.

And all the candidates I hoped would win lost, except for one.

These were, as you probably know,

the candidates who opposed the killing of babies

and maiming of mothers in abortion,

and who opposed the abuse of our children through

the promotion of radically perverse ideologies in our schools.

It seemed like a virtual tsunami of evil.


In the face of all this I was washed with a series of ominous feelings:

disappointment, devastation, sadness, anger, depression.

But I think the predominant feeling, the one that lingers, is fear.

I was, and am, afraid.


Now, there are different senses or meanings, of the words fear and afraid.

First, there’s the fear that is an awareness of present danger and evil,

or of the troubles and iniquity ahead.

This is the fear that Jesus talks about when he warns us to,

“…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell…”

And this is the fear that leads St. Paul to write to the Thessalonians

in today’s 2nd reading:

“pray for us, …that we may be delivered

from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.”


And it is this fear I experience when I think of the terrible things

that will happen to Virginia now that

the pro-abortion and anti-Christian party has control

of both the legislative and executive branches of state government.

Free to pass, enact and enforce laws that will not only

attack the right to life of the unborn and the sick,

but corrupt our children by forcing their ideological indoctrination

and denying parents the right to form their children

with their own religious beliefs.

These can surely destroy both soul and body, and lead our children to hell.

And I am afraid of them.



That’s one kind of fear, a practical awareness of evil, the fear I have now.


But there’s another kind of fear, fear we must never have.

That is the kind of fear that leads us to cower and run

from those who publicly oppose us and threaten us.

The fear of those who would, as Jesus once said,

“insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil

against you because of” your faith in Him.

This is the kind of fear Jesus talks about when he says,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

Because, as St. Paul tells us today:

“The Lord is faithful; He will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.”



In today’s first reading from the second book of Maccabees

it tells a story that takes place

during what was called Maccabees’ Revolt in the 2nd century BC.

The Maccabees were Jews who revolted against the attempt by their Greek rulers

to destroy the beliefs and practices of Judaism,

by making it more in line with the beliefs and practices of the Greeks

–really trying to secularize Judaism.


The similarities with today are uncanny.

The Greek government merely wanted the Jews to abandon their religion,

and follow the religion of the government,

and there were many Jews who did just that.

Today, the secular government wants Christians to abandon our religion,

and follow the secular ideology of our government,

and there are many Christians, even Catholics, who are doing just that.


And we must react in a similar way as the Maccabees:

we must resist, we must fight.

But not with violence, as the Maccabees had to, things have not yet come to that.

But like the Maccabees we must fight by refusing to abandon our God given rights,

and make any sacrifices necessary to cling to our God.


The Maccabees give us a great example of that today,

as we see a whole family tortured to death for their faith.

If you notice in your missalettes, a lot of the verses have been skipped.

If we read those verses we’d see the way they were tortured and killed:

first they cut out their tongues,

then they scalped them,

then they cut off their hands and feet,

and finally they fried them alive in boiling caldrons of oil.

One after the other, 7 brothers and finally their mother.

And all during that, they kept encouraging each other

to accept the sacrifice rather than abandon God’s law.


WE must do the same.

And we must have confidence that we will win.

Not without sacrifice, and not right away.

The Maccabees fought for years to gain back their Temple,

and many were tortured and died.

But in the end, they won

–that’s what the Jews today celebrate on the feast of Hanukkah.



The Church has faced many similar hard times and battles in our past.

Look back to the first three centuries of the Church

when it was a crime to be a Christian,

and Christians often died for their faith and way of life in Christ:

look at the 12 apostles, 11 of them were executed for their faith,

and 28 of the first 32 popes were martyrs.


But in the 4th century the Emperor himself became a Christian,

and the persecution stopped.

But then it returned in a new way, as in the late 4th century

the Barbarians from northern Europe began to invade the Roman Empire.

The most famous of these is probably Attila the Hun.

Attila swept across northern Europe into Christian France,

and then the East into Christian Greece and Turkey,

killing, torturing, looting, burning and raping along the way.


And then in the year 452 he came South into Italy, and camped outside of Rome.

And there the Christians marched out to meet him.

But not with a huge army with swords,

but a small group of Romans coming in peace.

And at leading them was one of history’s most noble figures:

Pope Leo the Great.


As one eyewitness would later write:

“Then Leo …went to meet Attila.

The old man of harmless simplicity, …

ready of his own will to give himself entirely for the defense of his flock,

went forth to meet the tyrant who was destroying all things.”


And after Leo had courageously exhorting the ruthless conqueror of nations

to ” conquer thyself,” the witness went on to write:

“Attila stood looking upon his venerable garb and aspect,

silent, as if thinking deeply.

And lo, suddenly there were seen the apostles Peter and Paul,

clad like bishops,

standing by Leo, the one on the right hand, the other on the left.

They held swords stretched out over his head,

and threatened Attila with death

if he did not obey the pope’s command.

Wherefore Attila … straightway promised a lasting peace

and withdrew beyond the Danube.”


Today, November 10, is the Feast day of Pope Saint Leo the Great.

And today we must have the courage to go out and meet the foe,

not with violence, but with the truth of Jesus.

To be, like Leo, “of harmless simplicity…ready …to give [ourselves]

entirely for the defense of [our] flock”—our families, our children.



The last two weeks I told you one way we can fight is to vote.

Well, we fought that battle on Tuesday, and lost.

But we must not give up the war, but will live to fight on with the same weapon

a year from now.

And the battle for next year’s election begins today.


But besides that, we must look for every way we can to stand up

for Jesus and His Church, and to protect His and our children and families.


There are many ways we can do this.

First of all, if your children are in public schools,

make sure you watch like a hawk what they’re learning every day.

And then make sure that you’re bringing them to CCD,

and that they take it very seriously,

and that you reinforce what the learn at home.


….But more than that, I think it’s time these parents

must now very seriously consider, or reconsider a radical change.

That is: take your children out of the Fairfax County Public Schools.


If I could, I would open a school here that would be free of charge to all of you.

But I can’t: I don’t have the money, and the County probably wouldn’t let me.


But there are Catholic schools nearby,

and our parish and the Bishop both offer scholarships to help.

Or maybe you can homeschool

—we have 50 or so homeschool families in the parish now.


Now, this will probably involve sacrifice by the families.

Maybe giving up vacations, or dramatically changing your lifestyle.

Maybe working a second job.


But in the end, none of those sacrifices compares to what

St. Leo was ready to give up when he went out to preach to the Attila.

or to the tortures the 7 Maccabees brothers and their mother went through.

And none even come close to the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us on the Cross.



What sacrifice will you make?

What sacrifice is necessary to make sure your children

know the faith and keep the faith?

Because I can promise you, if you don’t do something,

5, or 10 or 15 years from now you will come back to me and ask,

“why don’t my children believe anymore?”



As we now enter more deeply in this Holy Mass,

the re-presentation of Our Savior’s Sacrifice on the Cross for us,

let us pray for our county, our state and our nation,

that Christ may bring us back from falling into the abyss.

And let us pray that God grant us the grace

to fear the real dangers that surround us,

but to never be afraid to resist those dangers.

May Christ give us the courage He once gave to the Maccabees and St. Leo

for the glory of His Name and the salvation of His children.