Fourth Sunday of Advent

My dear sons and daughters in Christ,

On this Christmas Eve I pray that as we begin to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus, Our Blessed Savior may draw you close to Himself, and shower you with every divine grace and heavenly blessing. May you share in the inexpressible joy of His Holy Mother, Mary, and may she bring you to Him, and teach you how to love Him with all your heart. May St. Joseph keep you in his strong and tender care, and teach us all how to serve Our Lord with the total devotion and self-sacrifice he did. And may the Holy Family bring peace and charity to your families as you contemplate the day that changed all of history: when God the Son stripped Himself of the glory of Heaven to become one of us to save us from sin and all evil, and open to us the gates of Paradise.
On behalf of myself, Fr. Smith, Fr. Daly, Fr. Scalia and all the priests who have ministered in our parish this year, I wish you all a very blessed and merry Christmas!

Thanks. I also want to thank all those who have worked so hard to make Advent and Christmas such a special time for our parish. In particular, Elisabeth Turco (our Music Director), the choir, cantors, and musicians (especially our organist, Denise Anezin) for all the beautiful music. All those who assisted in special ways at the Mass, especially our great altar boys, lectors (led by Brenda Doroski), extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (led by Barbara Aldridge and Christine Spengler). The folks on our flower committee, especially Julie Mullen and her family, for so beautifully decorating the church and grounds. The ushers, especially Patrick O’Brien, who helped make everything run so smoothly. The Knights of Columbus, especially Pat Franco, for all they did in so many ways (sorry about the snowed-out Breakfast with Santa!). The various sacristans, especially Nena Brennan, for all their work in preparing the sanctuary for Masses. The Youth Group, for all the odd jobs they did around the parish. All who volunteered at with Senior Lunch (particularly Patty Miller). All those who volunteered in our Gift Shop, especially Maria Sanchez-O’Brien. All those who contributed so much in time and treasure to the Giving Tree. A special thanks to our dedicated staff, Jeanne Sause, Tom Browne, Kirsti Tyson, Eva Radel, Mary Butler, Mary Salmon, Vince Drouillard and Teresa Sierra, as well as our maintenance workers Laura Rodriguez and Luis Tapia, who worked so hard to serve us all. And finally, to Fr. Daly, Fr. Scalia and all the other priests helped out with Masses and Confessions; and most especially to Fr. Smith for his dedicated service to Our Lord and our parish. I know I’ve left out lots of folks that deserve special thanks; my apologies. Thank you all, and a blessed and merry Christmas to you.

And a Friendly Reminder. Remember, this weekend we are obliged to go to Mass for both Sunday (the 4th Sunday of Advent) and Christmas: that means two Masses.
Oremus pro invicem, Fr. De Celles

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His Holiness Pope Francis
“Urbi et Orbi” Message, Christmas 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!
Today the Church once more experiences the wonder of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem, as they contemplate the newborn Child laid in a manger: Jesus, the Savior.
On this day full of light, the prophetic proclamation resounds: “For to us a child is born, To us a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulder; and his name will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6)
The power of this Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power that created the heavens and the earth, and gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants and animals. It is the force that attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence. It is the power that gives new birth, forgives sin, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God. This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.
For this reason, the birth of Jesus was accompanied by the angels’ song as they proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).
Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace….
Peace to all who, in different areas, are enduring sufferings due to constant dangers and persistent injustice….
Peace to all who have been injured or have suffered the loss of a loved one due to the brutal acts of terrorism that have sown fear and death in the heart of many countries and cities. Peace – not merely the word, but real and concrete peace – to our abandoned and excluded brothers and sisters, to those who suffer hunger and to all the victims of violence. Peace to exiles, migrants and refugees, to all those who in our day are subject to human trafficking. Peace to the peoples who suffer because of the economic ambitions of a few, because of sheer greed and the idolatry of money, which leads to slavery. Peace to those affected by social and economic unrest, and to those who endure the consequences of earthquakes or other natural catastrophes.
And peace to the children, on this special day on which God became a child, above all those deprived of the joys of childhood because of hunger, wars or the selfishness of adults.
Peace on earth to men and women of goodwill, who work quietly and patiently each day, in their families and in society, to build a more humane and just world, sustained by the conviction that only with peace is there the possibility of a more prosperous future for all.
Dear brothers and sisters, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”: he is the “Prince of peace”. Let us welcome him!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 17, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For the second Sunday in a row the gospel reading is about St. John the Baptist.

John is one of the greatest figures in the Scriptures,

given the office of being the prophet

sent to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus into public life.

In fact, Jesus tells us elsewhere that,

“among those born of women none is greater than John.”

 

Now, when Jesus says that, He’s actually using a little hyperbole,

innocent exaggeration, to emphasize how important John is.

After all, as John himself tells us today:

“there is…one who is coming after me,

whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

 

John is great, because he has a great responsibility

to prepare the way of the one who is even greater, Jesus, into public life.

But before John came on the scene there were two others

who the Church believes were even greater than John

because they had an even greater responsibility

to prepare the way of the Lord into the world.

The greatest, would actually be the Blessed Mother, Mary.

And after her is the 3rd great figure sent to prepare the way of the Lord

—St. Joseph.

 

___

We don’t know a lot about St. Joseph, but from Scripture and tradition,

and centuries of study, reasoning and debate,

and we can piece together a pretty good picture of him.

Scripture tells us he was a descendant of David,

who lived at various times in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

We know he was a carpenter—not dirt poor,

but a working man in the days when there was no real “middle class.”

 

Some say he was an old man when he married Mary,

some even say he was a widower with children.

But most theologians have for centuries concluded he was a young man,

young and strong enough to work hard to provide a decent living

for Mary and Jesus.

And he had to be young and strong enough to protect and provide for them

as they fled from Herod, travelling all the way to Egypt, and back again.

Plus, Scripture indicates he lived well past Jesus’s 12th birthday.

So, he was probably a young man, many guess about 20 years old.

 

Which leads us to something else very important that he know about him:

he was the husband of Mary.

Some wonder if he really was a true husband to Mary.

After all, the Church teaching infallibly that Mary was a perpetual Virgin:

she and Joseph never physically consummated the marriage,

and so they say, how can that be a real marriage?

In fact, for centuries, after concluding that Joseph

was not an old widower with children,

most theologians have concluded that Joseph himself

was also a perpetual virgin,

and the Church seems to imply or assume this it’s official teaching.

 

So, was it a real marriage?

Absolutely.

Following St. Augustine in the 4th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th,

the Church teaches Mary and Joseph were truly married,

even before the Annunciation.

Augustine points out how Scripture insists that they are married.

St. Luke and St. Matthew both specifically call them “husband” and “wife,”

as does the Angel Gabriel himself.

The thing is, physical intimacy is not the key to marriage

—it is only one expression of the self-gift of marriage,

albeit an important and beautiful one.

But as Jesus Himself tells us, in heaven it’s not that way

—in heaven married couples will love, He says, “like the angels,”

and angels have no bodies.

Marriage is about total mutual self-gift,

and Mary and Joseph truly gave themselves totally to each other.

 

Some ask, but doesn’t marriage have to be open to the gift of children?

Yes, it does.

And the marriage of Mary and Joseph was open to the gift of children:

they cooperated with God and His specific and unique plan for them

to receive the gift of the Baby Jesus.

Just as Mary received Jesus in her womb as a virgin,

so, did Joseph receive Jesus into his family as a virgin.

 

__

And so we come to most important fact we know about Joseph:

he was the father of Jesus.

Clearly not in the same way that God the Father was the Father of Jesus,

God is the natural and eternal father of Jesus.

But in some real way we do say that Joseph is a true father to Jesus.

A little bit like an adoptive father, but also very different from that

—much more like and equal to a natural father:

not adopting through another set of parents,

but receiving Jesus directly from God

into his marriage as husband of Mary.

Not cooperating with God through any fatherly physical act or aspect

of producing a child,

but cooperating with God through the fatherly moral act

of receiving a child.

 

So Augustine points out, again, that while

Scripture makes it clear that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus as a virgin,

and that God is directly His Father,

Scripture also specifically calls Joseph His “father”.

The Angel Gabriel insists on this, as do St. Luke and St. Matthew.

And most importantly Mary herself does,

telling the 12-year-old Jesus when she and Joseph find him in the temple:

“Think, what anguish of mind your father and I have endured,

searching for you….”

 

And so, the Church teaches that while

God is truly and directly the natural and eternal father of Jesus,

Joseph in some way, in God’s will, is also truly a father to Jesus.

 

____

Given all that, we know something else about St. Joseph.

St. Luke tells us that he was a “just man.”

To be “just,” as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is,

“to give each person what is due to them.”

What is due to God is to love Him with all your heart mind soul and strength,

and what is due to our neighbor is to love him as yourself,

and even to love him as Jesus has loved us.

So this is St. Joseph, the truly just man,

who loved God totally, and loved his neighbor completely.

And so even though St. Joseph was conceived with original sin like all of us,

except for Jesus and Mary,

and so was internally tempted by the confusion of soul

that we call concupiscence,

even so, over the centuries the Church has commonly taught,

that he never committed either mortal sin or a deliberate venial sin.

Beyond that, many great saints and theologians have concluded

that he never committed even in indeliberate venial sin.

And many have even concluded he was actually purified from original sin,

essentially receiving the grace of Baptism, while still in his mother’s womb.

 

And so we see the prayer of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading already fulfilled

in St. Joseph:

“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy

and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,

be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

___

So this is St. Joseph, the man who God entrusted with His principle treasures,

His Son, Jesus, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Son of David, a young, strong carpenter, virginal husband and father,

and just man.

 

And so the Church teaches that

while Mary is incomparable in her greatness before God and man,

St. Joseph follows close after her,

above John the Baptism, and even above the angels themselves.

 

As St. John Paul II wrote in 1989:

“there can be no doubt but that Joseph

approached as no other person ever could

that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God

towers above all creatures.

 

And so we perhaps we see something of a prophesy of Joseph and Mary

in the words of today’s first reading from Isaiah:

“He has …wrapped me in a mantle of justice,

like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,

like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”

 

____

This is the St. Joseph who prepared the way of the Lord,

especially in the last days before His birth.

And who we should entrust ourselves to in a special way

in these last days before we celebrate His birth.

 

Imagine…what was Joseph doing 7 days before the first Christmas?

Imagine him just about ready to set out with Mary

on his journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem

—or perhaps they had even started.

Imagine the careful preparation Joseph would have made,

busily packing all their necessities,

arranging for a donkey for Mary to ride on,

and closing down his carpenter shop.

And then imagine his natural anxiety as he gently and tenderly

cared for Mary and her unborn child,

without any concern for his own safety or well-being or comfort,

as they traversed the unpaved rocky roads

up and down through the hills and valleys,

winding around bends, narrowly skirting cliffs,

wading through deep or violent streams,

assaulted by the cold wind, rain and snow of December.

Imagine how he arrived in Bethlehem,

and then anxiously but patiently going from door to door, inn to inn,

perhaps even house to house,

begging for a room, a space, a corner

where his young wife could rest and soon give birth.

Then, in finding the stable,

imagine how he quickly and vigorously cleaned the stalls and the manger

of all the muck and waste, and brought in fresh hay, and lit a warm fire.

And then how he stood guard, waiting with profound anticipation,

with, as we say, great “expectant joy,”

for the birth of the Savior of the world, their Baby, Jesus.

 

And imagine his ultimate joy when at last He came.

 

In these last days of Advent, let us walk and prepare and wait

with the great St. Joseph.

Like Joseph on the road to Bethlehem,

in the ups and downs, twists and turns, storms and floods,

temptations and graces, joys and sorrows of our lives,

let us walk with him in purity and holiness,

filled with faith, hope and, above all, charity,

expressed in patience, kindness and generosity.

As we go from door to door, house to house, store to store, this week,

let us make Joseph our constant companion,

remembering that like him our goal is not some selfish gain or comfort,

but to give ourselves in loving service of Jesus.

And as we prepare our souls to be worthy to receive Our Lord on Christmas day,

let us ask Joseph to help us to clean all the muck and filth,

all the sin and malice, from our hearts.

And as we wait in with profound anticipation,

let us think of Joseph’s tender and faithful fatherly heart,

and open our hearts with him

to receive the greatest joy ever given to man—Jesus Christ the Lord!

 

____

Praised be Jesus Christ….now and forever.

St. Joseph….pray for us.

Third Sunday of Advent

It’s Almost Christmas! I can’t believe the big day is almost here—as I wrote 2 weeks ago, this is the shortest Advent possible, 3 weeks and 1 day.
Today is called Gaudete Sunday or “Rejoice Sunday.” It takes its name from the “Introit” of the Mass (the “entrance antiphon” we say if we don’t sing during the entrance procession), taken from Philippians 4: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus enim prope est.” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
Today Holy Mother Church calls us to remember the true cause of our Joy in this season: the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ into the world 2000 years ago to save us from sin and evil, and invite us to share in His life of love, beginning in this world and perfected in the next.
It’s natural to ask, how do we “rejoice always,” when we so often have real reasons to be sad? Of course, there are times when we’re going to experience sadness and even terrible sorrow. But in Christ we find something more than smiles and laughter. We find a deep abiding joy, knowing that the Eternal Creator and Redeemer of all things loves us and will never abandon us to evil. So that even when weighted down by grief and trials we find hope and the grace to remain steadfast in our faith and love. This is “indeed” cause to rejoice.
Usually, Gaudete Sunday is about 2 weeks before Christmas, but this year Christmas is just 8 days away. I know there’s an awful lot going on in the next few days: last minute shopping, travelling, etc. But rather than allowing all the busyness to distract you, try to make real time to prepare yourself for this celebration. Avoid all sin. Try to show charity, patience and compassion to your neighbor, especially your family members, at every moment—be helpful, not harmful, to family peace. And love God above everything and with everything. Take time to pray, go to confession and weekday Mass. And throughout your day, wherever you are, take small moments to place yourself in the company and care of Mary and Joseph. Imagine them travelling on the rocky roads of Galilee and Judea, from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, exposed to the elements, walking all that way or, perhaps, aided by a donkey. Perhaps today, just 8 days before the birth, they were just setting out on their journey. Imagine how every day they were a little closer, but a little wearier and colder. Think of their struggle, but also their joy. For they were not traveling alone: “God their Savior” was with them in Mary’s womb. Travel with them these next few days in prayer. Stop from time to time at work, and wonder, “where are you now, Mary and Joseph, and Baby Jesus?” Come to church for a quiet visit, and say to them, “perhaps you are stopping to rest now—let me rest with you.” Accompany them on their journey—and do not get too distracted by the craziness of the “holiday season.”

Confession. If you haven’t been to confession this Advent, please go this week—there’s nothing like the joy experienced in having our sins forgiven, and no better way to prepare for Christmas. Remember, we have will have at least 2 priests, and sometimes 3, hearing confessions every evening this week, Monday through Friday. We will also have our regular confessions next Saturday, December 23, but we not have confessions next Sunday, December 24.

Next Sunday is Christmas Eve: What is your Mass Obligation? Because Christmas falls on Monday this year, the celebration of it obviously begins on the evening before, on Sunday, with Christmas Eve. This will cause some confusion for many of us. For example, do you have to go to Mass on both Sunday and Christmas Day (Monday)? Can you go to one Mass on Sunday evening to count for both your regular Sunday and Christmas Day Mass obligation? So let me try to clarify some things.
First of all, we all know that Catholics must go to Mass on Sunday. But remember, Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation, so you must go to Mass on Christmas too. That means you have to go to TWO Masses, one for Sunday and one for Christmas.
Now, the general rule for Sundays and Holy Days is that you can fulfill your Mass obligation by going to Mass on either the day of or on the evening before. So, to fulfill your obligation for next Sunday you can go to Mass on Saturday evening or on Sunday. And to fulfill your obligation for Christmas you can go to Mass on Monday (Christmas Day) or Sunday evening. But you must go to one Mass for each, two Masses!
Next Sunday morning, December 24, we will have a regular Sunday Mass schedule (7am, 8:45am, 10:30am and 12:15pm). But in the evening, instead of our usual Sunday 5pm Mass we will have three Vigil Masses for Christmas: 4pm, 6pm and 8pm (and also midnight). I recommend you fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation on Saturday night or Sunday morning, and your Christmas Mass obligation on Sunday evening or on Monday. That keeps things simple and clear.
[But if you want to complicate things…. If you go to one of the Sunday evening Masses (December 24th) you can “count” that EITHER for your Sunday obligation (since it is still Sunday) OR for your Christmas obligation (since it’s a Vigil Mass for Christmas). But you can NOT “count” it for both days—there is no “two for” here. If you count that evening Mass on the 24th for your Sunday obligation, you have to go to Mass again on Monday (Christmas Day); or if you count it for your Christmas obligation, you must also attend an earlier Mass on Sunday (or the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening). I hope that’s not too confusing. It probably is. Just remember: two Masses!]

Lessons and Carols. Wow! What a beautiful evening we had last Sunday. The readings from Scripture were inspiring, and our amazing choir out did themselves in singing various choral pieces and leading us in Advent hymns. Our largest L&C crowd ever—over 400 people—left filled with the joy and hope of the season. Thanks to our choir and organist, and especially to our inimitable Music Director, Elisabeth Turco. And thanks also to Eva Radel and Angelus Academy for the fun reception afterwards.

Correction to Missalette. In the introduction to last Sunday’s readings, the publisher of our missalette wrote that “The author of Second Peter wrote…about one hundred years after Jesus,” or about 130AD. Nonsense. Tradition and orthodox scholarship hold that the letter was written by St. Peter himself before he died around 66AD. I repeat my caveat: please be careful if you choose to read these introductions—they are so often wrong. I apologize for having to use them, and continue to search for a better missalette.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017

2nd Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Over almost 30 years of teaching people about our Catholic faith,

one of the questions that people most frequently ask me,

especially Protestants and fallen away Catholics,

is why Catholics believe    we have to go priest to receive God’s grace.

For example, why do we have to go to Mass

to receive the Eucharist through the priest,

or why we have to go to confession to a priest to have our sins forgiven.

 

The more knowledgeable folks will quote to me passage

from St. Paul’s first letter to St. Timothy, that says:

“there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

But the problem is that while Jesus is

the only way to the Father and the only Mediator,

it is clear elsewhere in Scripture that

it is the will of God the Father and Jesus

that other human beings participate in this mediation.

 

From the very beginning of God’s revelation of Himself to the Hebrews

3,800 years ago,

God has chosen individual human beings to act as His instruments

to communicate His will to the world.

People like Abraham, Moses and David, Elijah, Samuel, and Isaiah.

These people were sent to Israel to deliver God’s message, or to do His work

—to be His mediator.

 

And so today we find the Prophet Isaiah

acting as a mediator between God and man

in giving us one of the most important messages

ever given to man by God.

“Prepare the way of the Lord…make straight His paths.”

 

In fact, the message of God which Isaiah mediates to Israel

also tells the people that

there will be another great prophet

who would come to declare this message again to Israel

–a voice crying out in the desert

–a voice mediating between the Messiah and the people of Israel.

In today’s Gospel, St. Mark tells us that this long-promised mediator

who comes out of the desert

is the prophet, St. John the Baptist.

 

Still, why does God send mediators?

And why would we need any more mediators after Jesus

—after all, like Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets,

John came before Jesus?

 

_____

Advent is a season of preparation for Jesus’ coming into the world

—coming as one of us: a human being.

At the heart of this mystery of Christmas is the fact that God became one of us

to communicate with us more clearly and completely

—through His human bodily actions and words.

And so we read in the Mass of Christmas day, from the Gospel of St. John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God…

And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us,”

In His person, through His incarnation in the flesh

and His bodily entering into the world,

Jesus, the Word, is the great and perfect mediator

bringing God to man and man to God.

As St. John tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

          “That which …we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,

…and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life….”

 

But Jesus took His body with Him when He ascended into heaven.

On the other hand, in a real sense He is still here in His body.

Of course, He’s here in His body which is the Eucharist.

But He’s also here in His body which is His Church,

which lives and acts through all and each of us.

—we are here, in our bodies,

still speaking with human words,

hearing with human ears, and seeing with human eyes.

And by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we received at Baptism,

Jesus lives in us, and acts in us and through us.

 

And so He continues to send human beings into the world

to mediate His message through the body:

through proclaiming and hearing the word;

by the symbols we see and touch,

and the sacraments we receive.

So that all of us are called to mediate God to the world in some way

–just as it’s been throughout all Salvation History.

Some are called to be great public prophets, like Isaiah and St. John the Baptist.

Some are called to be apostles like St. Peter and St. Mark and their successors

–the pope and the bishops.

 

And some are called to be pastors, or priests.

And in this great mystery of the priesthood

–through the mediation of a human being sent by God—

Christ can come to us, and we can come to Christ.

By the priests’ proclamation of the Gospel,

and by the sacramental signs they administer

and that we hear and feel and see and taste,

Jesus Christ comes to us in a most unique and clear way.

Not so much because of the priest himself,

but because of Christ who acts through them.

 

______

The Gospel today tells us that 2000 years ago the great mediator

St. John the Baptist, proclaimed

“a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

And in response, as Scripture says,

“People of the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem

were going out to [John]
…as they acknowledged their sins.”
Today, we do much the same thing as we go to the sacrament of penance
and acknowledge, or confess, our sins before God’s appointed mediators.

But when we hear those mediators say, “I absolve you from your sins”

we hear in their human voices,

them mediating not the voice of St. John,

but them mediating the voice

of THE ONE TRUE mediator between God and man:

Jesus himself.

The voice Isaiah talks about today when he says:

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her

that …. her guilt is expiated…

Comfort, give comfort to my people.”

 

___

Priests have this role as mediators in this special way

—and it’s a great gift to the whole Church.

But as I said before, by your baptism in water and the Holy Spirit

all of you were also made to be mediators of Christ.

Like ordained priests, you are all called to “prepare the way of the Lord,”

by proclaiming to your family and friends and coworkers,

by your words and your good example,

the joyful news of Christ’s coming into the world 2000 years ago

to bring merciful forgiveness for those who repent their sins,

to dwell with all His power and peace in those who will accept Him;

to tenderly comfort all who are prepared to welcome Him.

 

For many devout Christians, this Advent season is a time when

this call can elicit a very strong emotional response from us.

We hear: “prepare the way of the Lord”

and our hearts are moved to respond, “yes Lord.”

 

But then most of us stop on that emotional level:

we don’t really try very hard to carry it out.

 

Sometimes we don’t try because of we we’re afraid.

Sometimes we don’t try because

we’ve tried before and nothing seemed to happen.

And sometimes we don’t try because

we really don’t know how to prepare the way.

 

But no matter what our reason is for holding back,

God still calls us.

 

If your excuse is that you’re afraid, remember that Isaiah tells us today:

Fear not to cry out and say…`Here is your God'”.

 

And if your excuse is that you’ve tried before with so little or no results,

remember that you are only the messenger, the mediator.

Jesus is the one working through you.

And as St. Peter reminds us today in the 2nd reading:

“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,

and a thousand years is like one day.”

It may seem like your efforts are fruitless, but your effort is only instrumental

–you prepare the way only by doing your best

to allow God to act through you,

and then you wait to see how God finishes the work without you.

Remember that even the great mediator of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist,

recognized that his work was incomplete and only an opening for the Lord:

“One who is more powerful is to come after me.”

And as the all-powerful Jesus Christ acts through you,

don’t worry about seeing results

–be patient, as St. Peter tells us:

The Lord does not delay…though some consider it delay.”

 

And finally, if your excuse is that you just don’t know how to prepare His way,

remember that the best place to start preparing is with yourself.

As you attempt to: “Clear a straight path for the Lord”,

let it first be a clear path to your own heart.

And begin doing that by following the message of the Baptizer

–confess and repent of your sins: big and small;

–renounce your vices, your bad habits;

–remove any obstacles that might lay on the road between God and you;

–and open your heart to the word of God

proclaimed in Scripture and the teaching of the Church.

 

_____

It is God’s will and God’s plan

that the human mediation of God to man

did not end when Christ ascended into heaven.

Few of us are called to be public figures

mediating like Isaiah or St. John the Baptist.

And not all of us are called to be ordained priests.

But every single one of us is called to—in some way—

go out into the world and prepare the world to receive Jesus Christ.

And this is especially the case

during the season of preparation for the coming of Christ:

this season of Advent.

 

As we now move more deeply into the Mystery of this Holy Mass,

as the Lord Jesus descends to this altar

and becomes truly present in his real Body,

and then comes to you in Holy Communion, and abides in you,

His very Body dwelling in your very body,

hear with your heart and with the ears of your body,

as He calls on you,

through the mediation of St. John the Baptizer, and of your priest,

to go out into the world this Advent and,

“Prepare the way of the Lord…[and] make straight his paths.”

Second Sunday of Advent

Restoring Innocence. Last week in my homily I spoke about the temptations we have at this time of year to get all caught up in materialism, to think that gift buying/giving/receiving, decorating, going to parties, cooking/eating special foods, etc. are what it means to prepare for Christmas. But Advent is really about a different kind of preparation. As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of the innocent Baby Jesus, we recall that He came to earth because we are not so innocent, and to restore that innocence to us. So our Advent preparation should mean cooperating with Jesus in this restoration by working on our spiritual and moral lives—especially by growing in charity—as well as our knowledge of Jesus and His gifts.
When I say we need to work on “charity,” of course I include financial support for worthy groups or people, but above all I mean personally living a life of charity by being truly helpful and considerate to the people around you, especially those who are clearly in need or in pain. Being patient with your office mate who’s having a difficult time at home, and maybe taking that out on you. Instead of gossiping about people, come to their defense. Praise someone, instead of criticize; lift them up instead of pushing them down or simply letting them fall under the weight of their problems. Be the peacemaker, rather than the troublemaker.
And let this begin at home, with your family. This is a great time of year to remember how much we love our family. But if we love them, why don’t we act like it? Husbands and wives bicker over so many silly things, forgetting that they love this person. Think of this: most husband and wives tell me that they would readily die for their spouse. But then they refuse to be patient or forgiving over the smallest things. They would die for each other, but no way she’s gonna get the last word in an argument, no way he’s gonna be late for dinner again.
And one of the greatest ways to show charity is to tell people about Jesus and His Church. Bring a friend to church with you one Sunday in Advent. Or maybe, buy your family or friends Christmas gifts that will help re-kindle their faith—a bible, a rosary, a crèche, a statue of their favorite saint.
But also remember that drawing closer to Christ and His innocent love requires that we spend time with Him and get to know more about Him and His Church. So make sure you take time to pray, at home, at work and at church, and to take advantage of all the various activities made available in the parish this Advent, especially Mass, adoration and confession. Also, take time to learn, by taking advantage of our parish library, located downstairs next to the parish hall, where we have a lot of really good books, DVDs, and CDs that are treasure trove for anyone seeking to learn more about Jesus and Catholicism. (It might also give you some great ideas for Christmas gifts!). And don’t forget the CD rack in our narthex, and your free parish membership in FORMED.ORG. And, of course, my talk this Thursday on St. Joseph (see below).
Most especially, allow Jesus to restore your lost innocence through the sacrament of confession. As we do every Advent, we are hearing confessions every single day (until and including Saturday, December 23). In addition to the regular confession times a priest will be in the confessional every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 6:15pm to 7pm (he may stay longer, but only if his schedule permits). Please take advantage of this sacrament, but don’t wait for the last minute, or for Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning—come during the week! And bring your whole family—show your kids how important confession is in preparing for a great Christmas!

My Advent Talk This Thursday: St. Joseph. As I mentioned last week, instead of my usual 3-part Advent Series this year I’m able to give only 1 talk this Advent, which will take place this coming Thursday, December 14 at 7:30 in the Parish Hall. My topic will be “St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer.” As I’ve been preparing for the talk, I’ve been reminded just what a wonderful gift St. Joseph is to us all. A gift first given to Mary, and then through Mary to Jesus, and then through Jesus to all of us. A true husband, father and masculine man—a great example, role model and patron, especially for men and boys, but also for women and girls (after all, all women/girls have fathers, and most have a husband or hope for one). I haven’t written my outline yet, but clearly, we’ll discuss the Scriptures related to St. Joseph as well as some of the legends and apocryphal writings, and what the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church have said about him, and how all this is reflected in the doctrines of the Church. I’m really looking forward to it, so I hope to see you there.

Lessons and Carols Tonight. Remember to join me, the choir and the lectors for Lessons and Carols tonight (Sunday) at 7pm in the church. Every year, as the word spreads, we get a larger turn out for this joyful and prayerful event. Part of its charm is its uniqueness—there’s really nothing else like it all year. And also, its peacefulness in the busyness of the “holiday season”: hearing the inspiring and joyful prophecies of the Old Testament and the first lessons of the Gospel, along with the beautiful strains of the choir—and the congregation—singing treasured carols and hymns, some so comfortably familiar, others delightfully new to our ears and hearts. Please come join us!

Senior’s Lunch. I want to remind all our seniors to join us next Saturday, December 16, for our annual Seniors’ Advent Luncheon. Please call the office for more details. I look forward to seeing you there.

Giving Tree. Please don’t forget to stop by the “Giving Tree” in the narthex, and help to make Christmas a little merrier for some folks who are having a rough time this year, by supplying Christmas presents for families in true need. This year we are helping about 17 families in our parish and 13 families from Our Lady of the Blue Ridge parish in Madison.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017

1st Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

8/9 days ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, millions of Americans

crowded the malls and stores all across the country,

or went online to Amazon and other sites

to be the first to take advantage of sales and specials,

and get that perfect gift at the perfect price.

All in the name of the so-called the beginning of the “Christmas Season.”

Of course, it wasn’t the Christmas Season—that begins on December 25th.

And it wasn’t even the beginning of the Advent Season—that begins today.

 

In any case, what does all this frenetic fixation on buying and selling

have to do with Christmas or Advent?

Not much.

And yet it is an example of what will go on for many people

throughout Advent: a fixation on material things

all in the name of preparing for Christmas.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong: buying presents isn’t a sin.

In fact, it can be a very good part of Christmas—

they can be an important way of sharing God’s love.

But making presents and other things

the main focus of Advent and Christmas can become a sin.

And to a greater or lesser extent,

it’s a sin that tends to effect most of us every year, in one way or another.

So that the words of Isaiah in today’s 1st reading apply to us:

“we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.”

 

___

According to St. Augustine, sin is a

turning away from the Creator [God]

and turning toward the creature,” the things created by God.

Whether that “creature” is a new 60” plasma flat screen television,

or the latest Xbox,

or even a human being we see as a mere thing, or object, to use,

sin always relates to loving the things God created,

more than we love God.

 

Advent is a time to turn away from sin, and re-turn toward loving God.

And this idea of “turning to God” is at the heart of today’s Gospel text,

where 4 times Jesus tells his disciples to “watch”.

Watch for God, watch for Jesus.

To keep our eyes searching for him,

and once we find him, keep our eyes fixed on him.

 

Unfortunately, the exact opposite is what usually happens:

these weeks before Christmas have become a time when it’s so easy

to allow our eyes to stray,

searching after and fixing on the material gifts of Christmas.

 

But to help counter being distracted by material gifts,

perhaps we can allow ourselves to be attracted

by the spiritual gifts that Christ has given us.

As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:

“I give thanks ….for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,

…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

 

_____

Think about how in the next few weeks you’ll bring out

so many Christmas decorations

and even the Christmas-y clothes

that you’ve received as gifts on past Christmases.

Like the Christmas tree ornaments your children made for you

when they were little,

or the special Santa Claus sweater Mom gave you

before she passed away,

or the diamond earrings your husband gave you

on your first Christmas together.

Good. Do that.

 

But why shouldn’t we also take out the even greater gifts

we’ve received through past Christmases?

–the graces brought to us through the birth of the Christ child

2000 years ago?

The sacramental grace made possible by that Christmas

and given to you in your baptism

and renewed every time you received Holy Communion,

and in each of the other sacraments.

The grace of hearing God’s word,

of being a member of His Body, the Church

and sharing in His life.

The particular graces He’s given you whenever you asked for His help

to be strong and righteous.

All made possible by the first Christmas, and so all gifts of Christmas past.

 

Bring out these gifts now also.

And allow them to help you to “watch” for the coming of Christ.

 

__

Think of the most precious material gifts you’ve received for past Christmases

—the gifts you really “loved” the most,

and either remember most vividly

and in one way or another—physically or in memory—

take out every year at this time.

But ask yourself:

is it the gift itself, or the person behind the gift

that makes the gift so special?

Ladies, those diamond earrings—is it diamonds,

or the love of your husband they represent that means more to you?

Dads, are those tree ornaments all that beautiful,

or is it your memory of your darling children who gave them to you?

Sons and daughters, young or old,

was that first bike you ever got so awesome,

or is it your memories of mom or dad giving it to

and teaching you how to ride

that means so much?

 

St. Paul tells us today:

“you were called to fellowship with …Jesus Christ our Lord.”

As with all gifts, this is the key to the spiritual gifts God has given us:

not the gift itself, as wonderful as it is,

but the person who gives the gift.

The Giver not the gift, the Creator not the creature.

 

So this season of Advent must be a season

of turning away from fixated on material things,

and turning toward Christ

through the things that bring us close to him—the spiritual gifts.

 

____

In Latin, the word for “turn toward” is “convertio”—or conversion.

And that’s what I’m challenging you to today: conversion.

This Advent convert to Jesus Christ:

take out all the spiritual gifts Christ has given you in the past,

and let them bring you closer to Christ

and deeper fellowship, or communion, with him.

 

For example, the spiritual gift of Holy Mass.

When you come to Mass take to heart the Gospel message today:

“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

It is true, we don’t have any idea when Jesus

will come again in his glorified body to judge the living and the dead.

But we do know the exact time he first came to earth in the flesh,

the year 1 at the first Christmas.

And we do know that he continues to come to us, in the flesh,

at every single Mass:

precisely at the moment of the miracle of the consecration

and at the moment of the intimacy of

receiving Holy Communion.

So today, be watchful and alert.

Watch for him to come: turn your eyes and minds and hearts to the Altar

as the Word made flesh descends as the priest says, “this is my body.”

And as you come to receive don’t be looking this way and that for who you know

or what they’re wearing—don’t even look at the priest:

these are all just creatures.

Rather let your hearts shout the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”

And watch and turn your eyes and heart and mind–and body—

to your Creator as He comes down to you in Communion.

 

And do this at every Mass during Advent.

And don’t let that happen only once a week.

At St. Raymond’s we have Mass twice every weekday

3 times on Wednesday and on the first and third Fridays!

So, come. And watch, and turn toward the Lord.

 

___

Another important spiritual gift aiding our conversion this Advent is Confession.

To come to Christ through his representative, the priest.

To admit that we are sinful: to admit our avarice and greed and lust and hate.

And turn our hearts away from inordinate love of creatures,

and toward loving the Creator.

And then to receive more spiritual gifts:

the graces of forgiveness and to overcome sin.

 

And there are countless other spiritual gifts:

coming to worship our Lord in adoration on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Or coming to Lessons and Carols next Sunday,

or to my talk on St. Joseph the Thursday after that.

Or any one of the many spiritual events scheduled in the parish

—you can find a full schedule on the insert in today’s bulletin.

 

And taking time for personal prayer

—the Rosary, or reading scripture or other good spiritual books.

I can’t even begin to list them all: all the other spiritual gifts like this

packed away just waiting for you to take them out and use them.

 

And these are just sort of the external spiritual gifts:

we also know about those graces Jesus places in our hearts

to keep us turned toward Him and following him in everyday life,

The grace, the strength, courage, wisdom and love

to obey his commandments,

and to be alert for opportunities to serve our neighbor,

with the love of Jesus himself.

He has given you all these—they are inside of you waiting for you use them.

 

 

___

In the coming weeks of Advent let’s not be distracted by or fixated with

sinful attraction to the material things of the world.

Now, again: there’s nothing bad about buying and giving gifts, or receiving gifts.

In fact, it is a season of appreciating gifts.

But there is something wrong when we make those focus of our lives,

and especially in Advent.

The gifts we should primarily appreciate are the spiritual gifts God gives to us.

And more importantly, it’s a time to allow those spiritual gifts

to help us to turn away from the love of things,

and turn us toward the person who gives us everything:

Jesus Christ.

 

____

As we continue with this Holy Mass,

let us pray that this Advent will be a time of true and profound conversion

for each of us.

And that that conversion will begin right now:

that our eyes and hearts may be open to recognize Him coming to us

as we turn toward the Lord descending upon this altar

and entering into us in Communion,

And once fixed upon our Lord in this miraculous gift

may we never again turn our eyes or hearts away from him again.

 

Come: “Be watchful! Be alert!”

First Sunday of Advent

Season of Advent. Today we begin the season of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. Advent is usually about 4 weeks long, but this year, since Christmas falls on the day after the 4th Sunday of Advent, there is really no “4th week of Advent.” So that this year’s Advent will be the shortest possible—3 weeks and 1 day.
In any case, 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 life!
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 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 1:1-17.
— 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 find the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2017 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep in somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?). In particular, consider:
— Lessons and Carols. Next Sunday, December 10, 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 Talk. Usually I give a 3-part Advent Series on the first 3 Thursdays of Advent, but this year, because of the short season and this Thursday being the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception, I’ve reluctantly decided to give only 1 talk, on Thursday, December 14 at 7:30 in the Parish Hall. My topic will be “St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer.” We’ll go over what Scripture and Catholic traditions, customs and doctrines tell us about the life and holiness this great saint. I hope to see all of you there.

Immaculate Conception. This Friday, December 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of obligation (all Catholics must attend Mass, and it is a mortal sin not to). This great feast is integral to Advent, teaching us about Mary’s perfect preparation to receive Christ. See below for special Mass times.

Lighting and Mural Capital Campaign. As I write this on Nov. 29, we officially have one day left on our Capital Campaign. As of today, we have just gone over $214,000 in pledges. While this is only half of our goal, it is not at all disappointing to me. Honestly, all things considered, especially our very soft-sell/low key approach to the campaign, while my dream was to cover the entire $400,000 cost of the project, I was realistically thinking/hoping we’d collect at least half of that. We’ve done that, and I thank all the generous donors. But let me make one final appeal: we’ll be happy to accept pledges for this anytime; please consider giving at least $25 or $50 sometime in the next few weeks. And please pray for the success of the actual project.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles