TEXT: Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 21, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Tonight/today we celebrate the most important day in history.

Because today we celebrate the historical fact that 2000 years ago

the man known as Jesus of Nazareth,

who had been killed by the leaders of Romans and the Jews

on a Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday.

And He didn’t rise like one of the walking dead or a vampire,

but in a real living body marked by His suffering and Cross,

and perfected and glorified by His Resurrection.

And not only did He rise, He lives now forever, with His body,

at the right hand of His Father in heaven.


Now, we believe this to be an historic fact, not a private whimsy.

To be sure, it is a matter of personal faith

—we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But it is not merely personal faith—it either happened or it didn’t.


If it did NOT happen, then all of us here are well-meaning,

but mistaken, and more or less wasting our time here today.

And to the extent we allow our faith in the resurrection

to effect the rest of our lives, we waste that effort too.


But if it DID happen…

What should that mean for us? and for the world?

If it is true, it was the most incredible and important event ever,

and the world and time and all people

should literally revolve around that event.

It should clarify once and for all what it means to be a human being.

And it would testify to the truth of all the things

Jesus of Nazareth taught in His lifetime,

and set those up as the foundational principles of all good human living.


Think of it.

It would mean that there really is a God who made us just to love us,

and so we could love Him and our neighbor.

That He loved us so much He really did send His only begotten, co-eternal Son,

into the world to destroy sin by His suffering and death on the Cross.

And that Divine Son really did strip Himself of His heavenly glory

to become a human being, just like you and me in all things, but sin.


It would mean He is looking for you,

like a Good shepherd searches for his one lost sheep.

That He calls all who are weary and find life burdensome to come to him,

and He will give you rest.

That He loves His people with all His heart, like a bridegroom loves his new bride.


It would mean He loves you personally—it was He who chose you.

That if you believe in Him, even though you die, you will live.

That He has gone before you to prepare a place for you

in His Father’s heavenly house.


But it would also mean that “unless you turn and become like children,”

and “unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit,”

and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood,”

“you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”


It also means that “if we love Him” and if we want to “inherit eternal life” with Him,

we must:

“keep the commandments…

You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …

Honor your father and mother,”

and “keep holy the Sabbath”

It would mean:

“that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”,

and “that every one who looks at a woman with lust

commits adultery with her in his heart.”


And while all this sometimes seems impossible,

if Christ is truly risen from the dead, then it must be true that

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

And that He told us all this so that:

“[his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”


Imagine if Jesus really did rise from the dead.

It would mean that He established Simon Peter as the Rock

on which He built His Church,

giving Him the keys to the kingdom of heaven,

and promising the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

And that, as He prayed at the Last Supper,

all might be one with Him in that one Church with Peter.



…if Jesus Christ really did, in time and history,

rise from the dead and open to us the gates of paradise….

wouldn’t that make today

the most joyful glorious day of the year?


But wouldn’t that mean we’d have to change a lot of the way we live?


Some say, well, it’s just what I believe, not what I know to be true.

Friends, I do not know how man ever landed on the moon.

And I don’t even know for a fact that man ever did land on the moon.

But I believe it to be true.

Partly because I’ve heard and read about it;

partly because I have confidence in the people who told me about it.

Heck, I believe it partly because so many other people seem to believe it,

and I believe it though there are, apparently,

a lot of people around the world who do not believe it.

But I believe, even though I don’t know it perfectly as an eyewitness.


Regardless of how we came to believe, if we believe in the Resurrection

we believe that it is a fact, not a myth,

historical not whimsical,

real not hypothetical.


And if we believe it really happened, why don’t we act like it really happened?

Sure, tonight/today we do, at least for a couple of hours.

But what about tomorrow and the rest of the year?

Why don’t we act like Jesus

has realigned everything man understands and lives for,

that we understand and live for?


And why are we so timid to talk about it with others?

Why do we act like it’s some sort of fairy tale we should be ashamed of?


Alright, maybe it is a little hard for some to believe

—but if you believe it why can’t they?

I mean, after all, if it’s true, it’s the best news they’ll ever hear—

it will bring them happiness and peace they’ve never known to be possible,

yet have been searching for all their lives.


Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll lose a friend.

So what?

Maybe you’ll change their lives and you’ll gain the best friend you ever had!


Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe as much as we think we do.

But why not, when Christ has done all He has for us?

Think of all the times you’ve prayed to Him and He’s come to your aid.

Think of the times you’ve gone crying to His side, and He gave you peace.

The times you prayed for a miracle and—voila–it happened.


Then again, maybe you don’t recall these things happening in your life.

Maybe you haven’t had the experience of Christ

that you wish you could have.

Or maybe you don’t understand or know much about Him

—or maybe you don’t agree with some of the things the Church

says about Him.


Then let’s change that.

Don’t settle for lukewarm Catholicism—who would want that?

Certainly not Christ, who said if we were lukewarm He would “spit us out.”


[In tomorrow’s Gospel, St. John tells us that He didn’t understand]

[Today, St. John tells us in his Gospel that he didn’t understand]

what Jesus had meant when He had told them

He would rise on the third day;

John didn’t understand until he saw the empty tomb

—notice, not the risen body, just the empty tomb.

But when he sees the empty tomb: “he saw and believed.”


We also read that St. Mary Magdalene,

didn’t believe at first either.

Scripture tells us:

“she ran and …told them,

‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb,

and we don’t know where they put Him.’”

But if we read on in the next few verses

we see that Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb

and after awhile saw a man there she thought was a gardener.

So she said to him: “Sir, if you carried him away,

tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
And then:

“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” …Teacher.”

And she believed.


Here are 2 of Jesus’ most devout followers.

And yet at first they didn’t believe.

But when John opened his eyes to what Jesus had told him,

“he saw and believed.”

And when Magdalene finally asked Jesus

He called out to her, and she believed.


Some today would like to think that belief in Christ and His resurrection

and the effect they have on individual lives is coming to an end.

But we know otherwise.

You are here because you believe.

Maybe not as fervently as you should or would like to.

Maybe you don’t allow that belief to permeate your life,

to change the way you live.

Maybe you don’t share your faith with others nearly enough.

But you believe, or you wouldn’t be here.

You believe, even as you want to believe even more deeply.


Tonight/Today, hear our Risen Lord calling out to in His word,

and in whatever truth resonates in my words.

See Him in the believers assembled here today

members of His Church, united with millions more throughout the world.

And see Him most especially in His body and blood in the Eucharist.

Hear. See. And believe.


And may your faith and the joy and the power of the Risen Christ

change your life today,

tomorrow and in eternity.

TEXT: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 18, 2019

Thursday of the Lord’s Supper

April  18, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA



Last Monday we looked on in stunned sorrow

at images of the fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris.

As I saw the grand spire topple to the ground, my heart dropped with it.


Most of the civilized world, certainly most Westerners and Christians,

were at least saddened if not deeply moved by the loss

of this 850-year-old great wonder of art and architecture.


But as I have listened to and read reactions

from people around the world, especially the French themselves,

it seems most people really don’t understand what we’ve lost.

French President Macron vows to rebuild in 5 years,

but it seems he doesn’t really understand what it is he’s seeking to rebuild.


Because Notre Dame is not merely a stunning accomplishment of human genius,

nor is it merely an historical architectural artifact,

nor is it a merely grand monument to the glories and tragedies

of French and European history.


Rather, Notre Dame was built as an expression of deep faith in and love for

Jesus Christ.

It is a love poem, in wood and stone, to God and to His mother,

poured out in the sweat and blood of thousands of French craftsmen,

sons and daughters of the eldest daughter of the Church,

Catholic France.

And most specifically, it is an articulation of their Catholic faith and understanding

of the magnificence, beauty and splendor

of what we have gathered here this evening to celebrate: the Eucharist.

A temple built with human hands and minds,

but more than that, with human faith and divine grace.



Of course, the first Eucharist was not celebrated

in such magnificent surroundings,

or with hardly any such outward expression of faith and understanding.

It was, in fact, a very simple affair, at least outwardly.

But don’t ever let that fool you.

Because if we step back and look at it we see something entirely different.


Think of it.

There were present all 12 of the first apostles,

11 of whom would be destined to be

the very foundational pillars of the Church,

to sit on thrones before the throne of God in heaven,

as Jesus Himself tells us.


And of course, the priest of the first Mass

was none other than Jesus Christ Himself,

God the Son, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World.

And there He offered Himself to the Father

in the supreme sacrifice that was the salvation of the world,

as He miraculously made present the very sacrifice

of His own body on the Cross,

taken out of time from the next day, Good Friday,

and placed on that table of the last supper on Holy Thursday.

His sacrifice of love beyond all telling.

love or us and for the Father.

His death paying for our sins and the sins of all mankind,

from Adam and Eve until the end of time.

On that table.


And so what happened that night would

have seemed, to the eye of man, to be pretty simple,

but to the eyes of the angels, it was more glorious

than all the most magnificent cathedrals in the world combined.



Now, the outward simplicity was completely in keeping

with the one who was in charge: Jesus.

Because Jesus never sought to glorify Himself outwardly.

Even though He saw it as right and just that others do that.

For example, at the transfiguration, He allowed Peter, James and John

to fall on their faces before Him.

And just 6 days before the Last Supper, He allowed Mary Magdalene

to anoint His feet with oil that today would cost $45,000,

and Jesus said of this:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me…”



But the outward simplicity of the first Mass might have contributed

to the misunderstanding of what was really happening

—misunderstanding by many in and out of the Church

for the last 2000 years,

but that began that night.

For clearly, although Jesus knew exactly what He was doing,

the Apostles seemed to barely understand at all.

Jesus had told them that He would give them His body as bread

for the life of the world,

and that it unless they ate His body and drank His blood

they would not have life within them.

So they probably had some idea, and some faith.

But it clearly was woefully incomplete.


Because instead of them falling on their faces in adoration,

as at the transfiguration,

now there’s not a word of them even acknowledging what He’d done.

And just moments after they received First Holy Communion,

Judas left to sell Jesus to the High Priest,

and over the next 3 to 6 hours,

Peter would deny he even knew Jesus,

and 9 others would abandon Him.

So much for their faith in Jesus and the Eucharist.



Of course, after the Resurrection, all that changed.

Then they understood not only the meaning of

His Passion, Death and Resurrection,

but also the entirety of His gospel,

including the ineffable gift of the Eucharist.

So that the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first Christians

devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”

And as we read in today’s second reading,

St. Paul tells us the established belief of the early Church that:

“as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,

you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”



For next 3 centuries poverty and persecution would force Christians

to continue offering the Mass with few outward displays of grandeur,

But once the persecutions stopped we quickly saw

the development of rich and elaborate liturgies,

as well as the dedication and building of beautiful churches

in which to celebrate.

In fact in 313, the year the persecution of Christians ended in the Roman Empire,

the palace of the rich Laterani family was given to the Christians

to be used as church,

which today is the Cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran.


And over the centuries, as the Church’s understanding

of the richness of the Eucharist continued to grow and deepen,

so did her churches become more and more beautiful,

as did the vessels, vestments, music and liturgies.



Sadly, though, just as there were sinful men at the Last Supper,

there are always sinful men in the Church and at Mass.

So, sometimes, while the external beauty of the Mass remains,

the interior lives of the faithful fades.


And that leads to two terrible problems.


First, to some who lack interior understanding or faith,

the beautiful churches and liturgies become meaningless,

and so they try to redo them to appeal to their confused or faithless hearts.

And so we see once beautiful churches gutted and redecorated

to look like modern theaters,

and once-splendorous liturgies rewritten to be more entertaining

to the weak in faith.


And second,

much like a church where the façade remains beautiful,

while the hidden wooden beams and girders decay and rot,

in the same way sometimes the Catholics

that externally hold themselves out to appear most holy,

especially some priests, bishops and cardinals,

internally have little or no faith or true love for Christ,

much less His Blessed Sacrament.

And when the fire of the devil’s temptations comes

it quickly engulfs and destroys the rotted timbers of their souls.



And so the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral reminds us

of what we can so easily lose sight of: the Glory of the Eucharist.

But it also reminds of the second sacrament Jesus instituted that same night

at the Last Supper: the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priesthood.

Just as with the Eucharist, this great sacrament of the priesthood

was also not fully appreciated that night:

the 11 apostles who betrayed, denied, or abandoned Jesus

after the first Mass

were all newly ordained priests.

But they did not understand that

He had not only given them custody of the Most Blessed Sacrament,

but also that He had ordained them to be His personal representative

to the world, to stand in for Him, in persona Christi.

And so they did not understand that like Him,

they must not merely wash other’s feet,

but live a life of sacrificial service united to Him

who came not to be served but to serve

and to give His life on the Cross as a ransom for many.

So that when a priest says, “this is my body which will be given up for you,”

while he is above all saying the words of Eucharistic consecration,

he is also stating the pattern Christ calls the priest to live out

in his own body, every day, giving up his own body for the Church,

in union with His Crucified Lord.



But, again, after the Resurrection,

the Church came to understand, appreciate and embrace

the great gift Jesus had left them in the sacrament of priesthood.

So history tells us that the 11 faithful apostles went on

to give their whole lives for Christ,

first proclaiming the gospel untiringly,

and then being martyred or imprisoned for love of Jesus.

And we read that the people too understood the gift,

as the Acts of the Apostles tells us that just as the early church

devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”

they also , “devoted themselves to…the teaching of the apostles.”


And as the years passed, we saw the outward signs of appreciation

of the sacrament of priesthood grow.

We saw Christians begin to call their priests “Father” and “Reverend.”

And we saw priests celebrating Mass wearing beautiful vestments

not to adorn themselves,

but to adorn the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the Eucharist.


But, again, just as with a beautiful church, and with the Eucharist,

too often the interior is neglected,

and like 11 of the 12 apostles, newly ordained as priests,

too often priests bishops and cardinals betray, deny and abandon Christ.



All this, we remember tonight, at this Mass.

We remember the night Jesus gave us the awesome gifts

of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

But we also remember the lack of faith and understanding of these gifts

that all of us, in large ways or small, show all too often.


Tonight, as we prepare to commemorate

the Lord Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross on Good Friday,

on this Holy Thursday, we stand in awe of love

Jesus reveals in His crucified Body and pours out in His Precious Blood.

And we are overwhelmed that He would allow us to share in this love

at this and every Mass:

to stand at the foot of His Cross,

to participate in His salvific sacrifice of the New Covenant,

through the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.


Let accept the grace God gives us tonight

to always understand and believe in these sacraments,

and appreciate them as precious treasures of our salvation.

May we continue to give Our Lord Jesus beautiful outward signs

of devotion, adoration and worship of Himself

truly present in the Blessed Sacrament

whether they be beautiful churches, like Notre Dame or our very own,

or beautiful vestments, vessels, liturgies, hymns, prayers and gestures.

But above all, let us always accept the grace Jesus gives us in the sacraments,

so that even the most beautiful of these outward signs

will only be as so much wood and stone compared to

the beauty of the true and profound devotion and faith and love that

that Our Lord sees inside our hearts.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere! Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! He is risen! He is risen indeed! What a glorious day—the Lord has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death and has crushed the head of the ancient serpent. Alleluia! The world has been redeemed, salvation has been won for all mankind—if only we will accept this infinitely generous gift of Our Risen Lord Jesus.

Thanks to all who worked so hard to help make this such a blessed Lent, Holy Week, Triduum and Easter Sunday. And remember, today is just the beginning of this new Season of Easter, as we continue to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection for 50 days—until Pentecost. We begin with the 8 days of the Octave of Easter, celebrating each day as if it were Easter Day.

On behalf of myself, Fr. Smith, and Fr. Daly, may I wish you all a Blessed, Holy and Happy Easter and Easter Season! May the Risen Lord Jesus shower you with His grace, and may His Blessed Mother Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter and St. John and all the holy women, disciples and apostles who saw the risen Lord that first Easter Day keep you in their care in this Glorious Season!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

  


We began this celebration outside, plunged in the darkness of the night and the cold. We felt an oppressive silence at the death of the Lord, a silence with which each of us can identify, a silence that penetrates to the depths of the heart of every disciple, who stands wordless before the cross.
These are the hours when the disciple stands speechless in pain at the death of Jesus. What words can be spoken at such a moment? The disciple keeps silent in the awareness of his or her own reactions during those crucial hours in the Lord’s life. Before the injustice that condemned the Master, His disciples were silent. Before the calumnies and the false testimony that the Master endured, His disciples said nothing. During the trying, painful hours of the Passion, His disciples dramatically experienced their inability to put their lives on the line to speak out on behalf of the Master. What is more, not only did they not acknowledge Him: they hid, they escaped, they kept silent (cf. Jn 18:25-27).
It is the silent night of the disciples who remained numb, paralyzed and uncertain of what to do amid so many painful and disheartening situations. It is also that of today’s disciples, speechless in the face of situations we cannot control, that make us feel and, even worse, believe that nothing can be done to reverse all the injustices that our brothers and sisters are experiencing in their flesh.
It is the silent night of those disciples who are disoriented because they are plunged in a crushing routine that robs memory, silences hope and leads to thinking that “this is the way things have always been done”. Those disciples who, overwhelmed, have nothing to say and end up considering “normal” and unexceptional the words of Caiaphas: “Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (Jn 11:50).
Amid our silence, our overpowering silence, the stones begin to cry out (cf. Lk 19:40)[1] and to clear the way for the greatest message that history has ever heard: “He is not here, for He has been raised” (Mt 28:6). The stone before the tomb cried out and proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel. The stone before the tomb was the first to leap up and in its own way intone a song of praise and wonder, of joy and hope, in which all of us are invited to join.
Yesterday, we joined the women in contemplating “the one who was pierced” (cf. Jn 19:36; cf. Zech 12:10). Today, with them, we are invited to contemplate the empty tomb and to hear the words of the angel: “Do not be afraid… for He has been raised” (Mt 28:5-6). Those words should affect our deepest convictions and certainties, the ways we judge and deal with the events of our daily lives, especially the ways we relate to others. The empty tomb should challenge us and rally our spirits. It should make us think, but above all it should encourage us to trust and believe that God “happens” in every situation and every person, and that His light can shine in the least expected and most hidden corners of our lives. He rose from the dead, from that place where nobody waits for anything, and now He waits for us – as He did the women – to enable us to share in His saving work. On this basis and with this strength, we Christians place our lives and our energy, our intelligence, our affections and our will, at the service of discovering, and above all creating, paths of dignity.
He is not here… He is risen! This is the message that sustains our hope and turns it into concrete gestures of charity. How greatly we need to let our frailty be anointed by this experience! How greatly we need to let our faith be revived! How greatly we need our myopic horizons to be challenged and renewed by this message! Christ is risen, and with Him, He makes our hope and creativity rise, so that we can face our present problems in the knowledge that we are not alone.
To celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our “conventions”, those fixed ways of thinking and acting that end up paralyzing us. To celebrate Easter is to allow Jesus to triumph over the craven fear that so often assails us and tries to bury every kind of hope.
The stone before the tomb shared in this, the women of the Gospel shared in this, and now the invitation is addressed once more to you and to me. An invitation to break out of our routines and to renew our lives, our decisions and our existence. An invitation that must be directed to where we stand, what we are doing and what we are, with the “power ratio” that is ours. Do we want to share in this message of life or do we prefer simply to continue standing speechless before events as they happen?
He is not here… He is raised! And He awaits you in Galilee. He invites you to go back to the time and place of your first love and He says to you: Do not be afraid, follow Me.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

HOLY WEEK. Today we enter the holiest week of the year, commemorating the holiest week of all time, when the God of heaven and earth, creator of all the universe, God the Son, eternally begotten of God the Father, condescended to suffer and die in our flesh for the sins of all mankind. The week Jesus offered Himself as a living sacrifice out of love for His Father and for us.
A week that changed the world forever, echoing throughout history until the end of time. And so today we remember it, not just as something that happened 2000 year ago, but as something that is alive today. And we use the gifts of intellect, reason, sensation, emotion and faith to take us back, to walk and be with Jesus, and with Mary, John, Peter, Magdalene, Pilate and Caiaphas…and Judas. To see what they saw, hear what they heard, feel what they felt, and even touch what they touched.
And so we use visible, audible and tactile realities to draw us into these events: we sing hymns, look at pictures or watch movies, read and listen to Scripture. We pray the Sorrowful Mysteries fingering our Rosaries, and we walk the Stations of the Cross. And we actively participate in the very special liturgies of this week, that outwardly and ritually express the holy mysteries.
We begin today with Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion, as we hold the palms and greet Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem at the beginning of that first Holy Week. And then we listen as multiple readers proclaim the drama of the Passion of the Lord from St. Luke’s Gospel, and verbally join “the crowd,” even shouting with Caiaphas, “Crucify Him.”
And then there’s Holy Thursday. There are no Masses all day long anywhere in the Diocese, except for one: the morning Chrism Mass at the Cathedral. There the Bishop gathers with the priest of the Diocese to consecrate the holy oils and to renew their priestly promises, signifying the priests’ distinctive communion with the apostles and share in their ministry, as they came together with Jesus to prepare to celebrate the Passover.
Finally, on Thursday evening the parishes celebrate their only Mass of the day: The Mass of The Lord’s Supper (7:00pm). Here we celebrate the institution of the Sacraments of the Priesthood and Eucharist at the first Mass celebrated by Our Lord just hours before He was to suffer. Afterwards we process with our Eucharistic Lord from the church to the Parish Hall, just as the apostles walked with Jesus from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, and there we watch and pray until Midnight, recalling Our Lord’s agony and betrayal.
We awake on Good Friday to a church that is stripped as much as possible of all decoration: the altar is stripped of its cloths, and the candles, crosses and rugs—every moveable ornament—are gone. This reminds us how the first disciples were stripped of all consolation and how the Lord was stripped of all outward appearance of human dignity during His trial and suffering, and how He was finally stripped of His clothes, to be hanged naked on the Cross. Recalling all this, we join in Our Lord’s suffering by fasting and abstaining from meat (see rules elsewhere in this bulletin). From noon to three, wherever we are, we try to observe a time of quiet recollection—perhaps in church, but also even at work or home—recalling these are the hours Jesus hanged on the cross.
And then at 3 o’clock, the hour of His death, we all gather in the church for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. Every year I am profoundly moved by this most unique liturgy, as our church is filled to the brim with the faithful who come together as one body to stand with the Mary, John and Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. Their senses and faith lead their minds and hearts back over the centuries to Calvary, as their eyes see the Cross and all the eloquent rituals, and their ears hear the words of the Gospel, the prayers and the glorious yet sorrowful music of the choir. And then they walk up slowly and reverently, many in tears, to gently touch or tenderly kiss the wood of His Cross. And finally, their tongues taste the goodness of the Lord, as He comes to console them in Holy Communion.
As I do every year, as your spiritual Father, from the depth of my heart, and invoking whatever filial respect I may call upon, I beg you not to miss this most unique and Holy Liturgy. I know this may mean taking off from work, and that the church and parking lot are crowded, and that it’s a very long liturgy. But it is the holiest hour of the year, the hour of the death of Our Lord. What in the world could be more important than this?!
Then on Holy Saturday, though no Masses are said during the day we join the whole Church waiting “at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting” by our somber prayerful reflection and voluntary continuation of the fast and abstinence of Good Friday (as the Church strongly encourages). But then, when the sun goes down on Saturday evening, the Light of Christ shines forth as we begin the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord with the Easter Vigil Mass (8:00pm), with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing of the Easter Candle; the chanting of the Exsultet; a richly extended Liturgy of the Word; celebration of adult Baptism, reception into the Church, and Confirmation. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).
And don’t forget we have Confessions all week (except Holy Thursday), and daily Mass Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. (See below for the entire schedule). And above all, live out the holiness of Christ in your life: love Him with all your heart, be open to His grace, love your neighbor, keep the commandments, and pray. Let this truly be a holy week at every moment and in every way!

Pro-Life. Thanks to all who took part in 40 Days for Life last weekend. As one of our very active parishioners wrote me: “…while we always manage to cover our hours, the response for this campaign was nothing short of outstanding – amazing. I was truly humbled at the participation level. Seems like folks were tripping over each other to participate. Sometimes we had upwards of 12 on the sidewalk at a time.” God bless you all.
Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, go see the movie “Unplanned.” Surprise of surprises, even with greatly limited mass media advertising and an unnecessary R-rating (as compared to other films) this strong pro-life movie came in 4th overall at the box office in its debut weekend. This is a movie that helps pro-lifers understand “why we fight.” So please see this movie, and take your teenagers if they are emotionally mature enough (see last week’s column).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

5th  Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


One of the most important figures in the Gospels

is a great saint most people don’t think about very much,

and if they do, many have a very confused understanding of her.

But hopefully you know the truth about her, since she’s my favorite saint,

and I talk about her quite frequently: St. Mary Magdalene.


I say she’s important because, for example,

she’s mentioned by name more often in the Gospels

than most of the Apostles,

she was at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother,

when all the Apostles but St. John weren’t,

and, of course she was the first to see the Risen Christ on Easter,

and He sent her to tell the news to the Apostles.

For this, the Church sometimes calls her, “the apostle to the Apostles.”


Sadly, if you read a lot of modern so-called scholars,

you might think that she was actually even more important than that

—that she was actually an Apostle herself,

and some even say, bizarrely, that she was actually Jesus’ wife.

She was important, but not that important: those are lies, or sloppy scholarship.



Now, there is clearly more to the life story of the Magdalene

than what’s explicitly in the Bible.

In fact, in the Catholic tradition the story of Mary Magdalene

has always been commonly thought to include the story

of the woman Scripture calls the “sinful woman,”

the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears

at the home of Simon the Pharisee—that was the Magdalene.

Tradition also considers Magdalene

to be the same person known as “Mary of Bethany”

—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

But unlike other modern portrayals of Magdalene,

all this Catholic tradition is based on or at least consistent with Sacred Scripture,

and handed down by centuries of faithful Catholic scholars and saints.



The thing is, there is also an ancient Catholic tradition, less widely accepted,

but reasonable and pretty widespread,

that the woman in today’s Gospel— “the woman caught in adultery”—

is also Mary Magdalene.


But this ancient tradition poses a problem for some people today.

For some, it’s a problem because it’s not explicitly in Scripture.

To them I say, “relax,” because we Catholics, along with most secular scholars,

have a long history of respecting oral and extra-biblical traditions,

as long as they come from credible sources,

and don’t contradict the teachings of Scripture or the Church.


But to others, this tradition proposes a completely different and huge problem.

They say that portraying Magdalene as a sinner

demeans her and deprives her of her rightful high stature in the Church.

The really radical ones claim

that this is a prime example of the anti-woman male-dominated Church,

trying to oppress all women by portraying the heroines of Christ’s life

in some sort of negative light.



These people couldn’t be more wrong.

Jesus tells us:

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And of the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears He says:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”


Anyone who thinks that calling a Christian a “repentant sinner”

is an insult or degrading, misses the whole point of the entire Gospel.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”

For me, to say that the Magdalene was a terrible sinner,

but a sinner who has been forgiven and repented and reformed

and loved the Lord so much that His death seems to crush her with grief

–to say this is to give the greatest praise,

and recount the most noble achievement.

Magdalene, especially understood as the adulterous woman in today’s gospel,

is the ultimate rags to riches story:

from terrible sinner to magnificent saint,

from the depths of despair and wretchedness

to the heights of sublime and perfect bliss



To repent and be saved—that’s not demeaning, it’s exalting.

And it’s the center of the life and the love of Jesus—

the reason and meaning of His suffering and death and resurrection.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

“he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;

….and with his wounds we are healed…”

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die,

and all because He loved and wanted to save sinners.



The woman in today’s Gospel stands condemned

by God’s law, called Law of Moses

—and under that Law she deserves to be stoned.

And Jesus, God the Son, knew that law very well:

1300 years before His Incarnation in the womb of Mary,

it was He, the Eternal Word of God, who gave that Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.


But Jesus surprises the crowd, in the way he applies that law

by doing exactly what his Father sent him into the world to do:

“not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Some people think that this means that Jesus rejects the old Law,

or even all notions of sin and punishment.

If that’s the case, you can see why they can’t understand why

Magdalene’s sins can be important to Christians.

Of course they forget Jesus makes it very clear elsewhere in the Gospel

that he’s going to come back some day to judge the living and the dead,

and then he will condemn unrepentant sinners, as he says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory

…Then he will say to those at his left,

….depart from me into the eternal fire…”


In today’s gospel Jesus does not deny this woman’s sin, or her guilt,

or even that she deserves punishment.

He simply gives her a second chance—it’s not time for him to condemn, yet:

he wants to save her.

But it is time for her to repent, so he commands her: “go and sin no more.”



And if you notice: Jesus doesn’t actually say, “your sins are forgiven.”

He just tells her he doesn’t “condemn” her—or pass final judgment on her—

and to stop sinning.

In other words, “repent.”

It seems to me, that Jesus knows she’s not completely sorry for her sins—yet.

She’s not ready to repent: right now she’s in shock,

and overwhelmed by Jesus’ mercy.


And so she leaves and ponders his instructions: “go and sin no more.”

To me, this is part one of the story completed later in part two

when she comes back as the so called “sinful woman”

and approaches Jesus at Simon’s house

and falls at his feet, washing them with her tears.

She wasn’t ready in today’s gospel, but when she comes back later,

then she’s ready, and her tears tell us what words cannot

of the depth of her sorrow for her sins.

And then, after she has so lovingly and heartfeltly repented,

Jesus not only forgives her, but he praises her:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”



It seems to me that we need this story, and the great figure of St. Mary Magdalene,

penitent saint, now more than ever.

In the end, those who want to rewrite the Gospels

actually want to glorify women by what they call “liberating their sexuality.”

But sexual liberation has been tried for over 50 years

and it’s led not to the enhancement or liberation of women,

but to their further enslavement to the lusts of men,

and to the myopic expectations of radical feminist ideologues.

Just look around at the explosion of

pornography, contraception, abortion, and divorce,

not to mention out-of-wedlock births and the poverty that comes with them.

Who are the ones who suffer the most as a result of all this?




Jesus Christ is the only true liberator of women, their only Savior.

He is the Savior of the woman caught in adultery, the Magdalene,

and every single woman before and since

who has been burdened by the weight of sin

—either their own sin, or the sins of others against them.

What a glorious promise to women weighed down

with the guilt of a past abortion.

What a sign of hope to the women today who are told over and over

that careers are more important than loving babies or husbands.

What a blessing to a young woman

who thinks she has to torture or demean herself

to look like a supermodel or a porn star,

so that some undeserving man will love her.

Now, more than ever, women need to know that Christ loves them,

and can make all things new.



But of course, this story isn’t just about women, or sex.

Jesus also tells the men who brought her to Him

“let he among you without sin, cast the first stone.”
Ultimately, this story is about all of us: men, women, boys, girls

–none of us is “without sin.”

Whether our sin is adultery and lust in its many forms,

or the sin of pride, or avarice, envy, anger, gluttony, or sloth,

or the sin of self-righteousness.

Whether we sin in large ways, or small ways.

Whether we’ve been caught in the act, or hide our sins in secret.

We are all sinners—and Christ is speaking to us.


And He invites us, especially during this season of Lent,

like the woman caught in adultery,

first, to be dramatically confronted by our sins

and the fact that they are worthy of punishment,

and then, to recognize that Christ wants to save us from all that!

If only we will mourn our sins, and repent, and change

and accept his love and love him in return, from the depths of our hearts,

like the repentant Magdalene washing his feet with her tears,

who, even though “her sins… [were] many,” was “forgiven, for she loved much.”



As we enter this Passiontide, these last days of Lent,

let us walk hand in hand with the great Saint Mary Magdalene,

and let us kneel with her, once again weeping at Jesus’ feet,

but this time as he hangs upon the Cross.

And let us ask her to teach us what these days are all about.

And through her example and intercession,

let us discover that there is no greater privilege or honor in heaven or earth,

than to be a repentant and forgiven sinner.

And there is no greater blessing than to be made new

by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

poured out from the wounds of his suffering and death.

And there are no more sublime or loving words

than the words Jesus once said to Magdalen, and today says to all of us:

“neither do I condemn you…go, and sin no more.”

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Week of Lent: Passiontide. Today we cover the statues and crosses as we begin the last two weeks of Lent, called “Passiontide.” At this point in Lent some people often start to slip in keeping their Lenten penances, while others haven’t yet begun their penances at all. Passiontide reminds us to refocus or deepen our attention on the season and its purposes of repentance of sin, conversion of heart, and appreciation of Christ’s love manifested in His Passion and Cross. If you’ve been slacking in your observance of Lent, buck up. If you’ve neglected the season entirely, it’s not too late. And if you’ve been having a good Lent, then consider how you might take it up a notch these last days.
Let us beg our Crucified Lord to shower us with His grace in these last two weeks of Lent, and that we may be open to His grace and love Him in return.
Beginning tomorrow, Monday, evening confessions will go from 6pm until 7pm, and if the lines require it we will have 2 confessors available beginning Tuesday. If you have not been to confession this Lent please try to go before Easter, remembering that during Holy Week (beginning next Sunday) the confession lines are very long. So, if you haven’t been to confession this Lent, PLEASE COME THIS WEEK.
I also strongly encourage you to intensify your Lenten observance by taking greater advantage of opportunities offered in the parish. In particular, consider attending the Thursday evening Holy Hour and Meditation (7-8pm) on the Agony in the Garden, or Stations of the Cross on Friday at 6:30pm (and don’t forget Friday Soup Supper at 5pm). I also encourage you to attend at least one weekday Mass this week and next: what a beautiful way to refocus on Lent.

Palm Sunday, Procession. Next Sunday, April 14, is Palm/Passion Sunday. Please consider coming to the 10:30 am Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. This year we’re doing it a little different than the past in that we will begin by gathering in front of the church (not in the Parish Hall as in the past) before the start of Mass, and then, as usual, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, we will process into the church, and you can take your pew as usual. If you attend the 10:30 am Mass you don’t have to join in the procession, but may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in front of the church.

Holy Week. Next Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Please plan ahead today to participate in the special and unique liturgies that mark these most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday’s 3pm Celebration of the Passion of the Lord (with Veneration of the Cross), and the Easter Vigil at 8pm on Holy Saturday evening.
As always, as your spiritual father I beg you to try to participate in all of these liturgies, especially the 3pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Every year I am overwhelmed to see standing room only crowd patiently wait in line, many weeping, to venerate the cross of Christ. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”

YOU MUST SEE THE MOVIE “UNPLANNED.” Last Monday evening I did something a little different for me: I went to the theater to see a movie: “Unplanned.” I’ve been encouraging you to see this movie, and now I redouble that encouragement. It’s not the most sophisticated or slick movie you’ll ever see, and there are no well-known actors in it. But the story is gripping, and it will change the way you look at abortion, abortive mothers, and the abortion industry. I’m a pretty seasoned pro-lifer, but it moved me to tears and caused me to have a restless night sleep, trying to think what more I could do to defend the unborn, troubled expectant mothers and post-abortive mothers.
Just to remind you, “Unplanned” is the story of the conversion of Abby Johnson, from being the gung-ho director of a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Texas, to being a pro-life activist Catholic. Central to the story is how “everything changed” when she was asked to assist in an abortion and saw the live ultrasound images of a baby being killed in an abortion.
It is mainly that one scene (along with a few non-graphic scenes with blood) that the pro-abortion Hollywood establishment used as an excuse to give the movie an “R” rating. But that’s ridiculous—you can see scenes 10 times worse than this on mainstream primetime cable. The R rating comes only because Hollywood doesn’t’ want you and your teenagers to know the truth about abortion.
Yes, those scenes are disturbing, especially the ultrasound scene, but only if you believe abortion kills a living baby human being. (So I guess Hollywood is unwittingly admitting this fact!) I was shaken myself, even though the ultrasound was, as is usual, a black and white vague image of a baby—there was no blood, nothing graphic. Except the killing of the baby. That is upsetting, to say it mildly. But if your teenager is emotionally mature, and your think she/he can handle it, I think you should take them to see this. It reminds us and shows them “why we fight.”
So, go see this movie and bring your mature teens, and your friends, especially those who sit on the abortion-fence or who are tepid in their support for life. And if you can some how pull it off, bring a pro-abortion friend.

Scandals Ignored. Whatever happened to the controversy over Governor Northam’s black-face/KKK picture? Or the black-faced scandal of Attorney General Herring? Or the two rape charges against our Lt. Governor Fairfax? It seems the media and their party (the party of slavery and abortion) is giving them a pass—have you read anything about the scandals lately?
Maybe you heard that last week the two alleged rape victims requested a public hearing to tell their stories to the state legislature, but that was blocked by the Democratic leaders of the House.
As the New York Times even reported last week: “In the space of a week in early February, the public was stunned by revelations about each of the three highest statewide elected officials, all Democrats…Protesters and news crews swarmed the Statehouse. Calls for resignations came from fellow Virginia Democrats, Republicans and even 2020 presidential candidates. And then? “It just went poof,” said Natalie Draper, a librarian sitting in the back of a coffeehouse last week in Richmond. “It’s like it never happened.””
It seems George Orwell was right: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019

4th  Sunday of Lent

March 31, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today’s Gospel story is usually referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

But the story isn’t just about the one prodigal son;

it’s actually about a father and his three sons.


So let’s look at each of these, one at a time.

Let’s begin with the so called “prodigal son”—the youngest brother.

Jesus firsts tells us he goes to his father and says:

“give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”

As if he can’t wait for His father to die.

As if he’s entitled to his father’s generosity, as if a gift is really a debt.


We do the same thing everyday.

We all want what belongs to God

—in particular, we want His power

and especially His authority to say this is right, or this is wrong.

To say, “I know what God says, but this is the way I think it should me.”


And we all treat the gifts God gives us as if they are owed to us,

as if the creator of the universe must give us whatever we want.

O sure, we pray: “please Lord,” and “thy will be done,”

but in our heart of hearts all too often we mean “give me what I want.”


And even if we do get what we want, we quickly forget that He gave it to us.

We don’t bother to thank Him, or tell others how generous He’s been.

We even think it a burden to spend an hour once a week

thanking Him publicly at Mass for His generosity.


We’re especially ungrateful for the gifts He gives us most personally,

like a strong intellect or good health or courage:

we say things like “I worked for everything I have.”

I understand the importance of hard work, but think about:

how did you work to be naturally smart?


And all too often, having received all these gifts,

how many of us fall into the sins of greed, avarice and envy

—we can never get enough.



Jesus tells us the youngest son “set off to a distant country”

Notice, he not only takes what belongs to his father,

but now he abandons his father.

He doesn’t even talk or listen to him anymore.


How many of people today do the same thing to God.

He gives us everything, and we abandon Him, and neither talk or listen to Him.

And I’m not just talking about atheists.

Think of all the people, including us sometimes, who believe in God,

but neglect praying to Him or listening to His word,

at least until they want something from Him again.

Think of all those who go to church every Sunday,

but abandon God for the other 6 days of the week,

never mentioning His name in the world they live in.



And then Jesus says the youngest son:

squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”


In one way or another, isn’t this the way with most of us.

All the gifts God gives us, and then so often we waste or abuse them.


Think of the great intellectual gifts God gives us.

But instead of using those gifts to give glory to God and serve mankind

all too often we squander them on foolish and even evil pursuits.

Science has done many wonderful things,

but it’s also given us sex-change operations,

and the ability for strangers to stalk and abuse our kids online.

Think of all the intelligence wasted on philosophies that shun the notion of truth.

Think of all the talented artists who waste their gifts producing

books, movies, plays and music

that wallow in senseless violence, lust and perversion.


And think about all the times you participate in these abuses, even if indirectly:

how many senseless movies or videos you watch?

Or how you personally waste your God-given reason and imagination

in the selfish pursuit of greed, lust or revenge.



Jesus goes on to say that the prodigal son

“swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

This reminds us that nowadays, there is no greater gift wasted

than the gift of sexuality.

What phenomenal gift

—it not only expresses the total self-gift between husband and wife

but also contains in it the very gift of human life.

And yet we so often treat it as a way to control or demean others,

or simply to satisfy our most venal desires.

And wedded with the gift of technology, internet pornography

wastes the self-gift of sexuality by turning it toward radical selfishness.


I could go on and on.

Jesus tells us: “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

This is the life of the prodigal son,

but it is also all too often, in large ways or small, our lives as well.



But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jesus tells us that eventually the prodigal son “[came] to his senses”

and went back to his father’s house confessing and repenting

his wasteful life, his sins,

and begging forgiveness.

Lent is a time when we should do the same.

And we can do that in most wonderful way, again,

through one of our Father’s most generous gifts:

the sacrament of confession,

There, like the father in today’s story, our heavenly Father

meets us, listens to our confession and sorrow for our sins,

and them embraces us with His grace, and restores us to His household.

—if only we are truly sorry and desire to leave our sins behind

and come back into His home.


What a fantastic gift

—but how often it’s wasted by his children who refuse to go to confession.


Some think, well confession’s only for really terrible sinners

—and I haven’t done anything that bad.

This reminds me of the 2nd son in today’s story

—the older brother who stays behind.

The son who “became angry, and …refused to enter the house”

because his father was throwing a banquet for his bad brother!

But the thing is, the banquet wasn’t just for the younger son

—it was for the whole household, including this older son.

And he refused the gift.


The sacrament of penance is also for everyone

who lives in the household of God,

even the ones who seem to the most faithful.

How can apparently steadfast sons and daughters reject such a gift?


Sometimes it’s simply because they think they don’t need that gift.

But by saying “no” to God’s generosity they waste the gift

of His divine power to be even better sons and daughters,

to be stronger, braver, happier and closer to Our Father.


Also, sometimes the most faithful Catholics set themselves up for big trouble,

because they become complacent and prideful:

like the prodigal’s brother, they take their father’s gifts for granted.

And that complacency led this “good son” to fall into the terrible sin of jealousy

and then separating himself from his father by refusing to enter his house

–just like the prodigal son had done earlier.

No friends, confession is for all of us

—just as God the Father’s gift of love and mercy is for all of us.



Others reject the gift of confession because they say:

I don’t have to go to confession:

I go straight to God and He forgives my sins?

There they go again, being just like the prodigal.

Jesus gives us this phenomenal gift of the forgiveness of sins,

and they say, I like the gift, but not the way you give it.


And they want not only the forgiveness,

but also the authority of their heavenly Father.

They know Jesus established the sacrament of penance

when He told the apostles:

“receive the holy spirit…who’s sins you forgive are forgiven”

yet still they say, “but I want to do it my way, not Jesus’ way.”


And finally, they presume that they somehow

have a right to the gift of forgiveness:

you ask for it, and God automatically has to give it to you.

But that’s not what Jesus taught, as He went on to tell His apostles:

“and who’s sins you hold bound are held bound.”



Now, I don’t know if you noticed it,

but I mentioned earlier that this is a story of a father and three sons.

Yet, in the story, Jesus only mentions two sons.

But reading between the lines we see that in telling the story, Jesus,

shows Himself to be the 3rd Son, humbly pointing to His father’s mercy,

even as He tells the story in response to Pharisees’ anger

with Him, Jesus, for showing mercy to sinners:

He is saying, “like Father, like Son—me!”


So Jesus is the oldest Son, the first born of the Father,

who is all-loving and truly faithful like His Father,

never betraying His Father like the other sons.

He is the Son who eternally reminds the Father

what a perfectly loving Son is,

so that even when His other sons waste His gifts,

the Father always sees them in the light of the love of His perfect first born.

And He is the brother who,

gives His whole life, holding nothing back,

to His father and to his brothers,

by dying on the cross for his brothers’ sins.


And if we look very closely, with the 20/20 hindsight of faith,

we see that Jesus is actually mentioned, in the story;

in fact He’s the crescendo of the story:

he is the brother who reconciles Father and sons,

in the Banquet, HE is the Banquet, the Eucharistic Feast,

that seals and strengthens the unity, the Communion, of God’s family.

And so we read that the father not only invited his sons

but he “pleaded with” them,

to come to the banquet—the Eucharist, Christ Himself.



Today, we sons and daughters of the Most High God

should feel the most profound sorrow

for our ungrateful squandering of the gifts our Father has given us.

And we should feel heartrending grief for the price our brother Jesus

paid for our sins.

And yet we should also feel overpowering joy

that we have a Father who forgives us so easily

and a Brother who would die so willingly for our sins.

So let us now go to the heavenly banquet that Jesus has prepared for

repentant sinners,

and let our Divine Brother lead us home to the mercy and joy

of Communion with our Heavenly Father.