TEXT: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018

21st  Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 26, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today’s gospel begins by telling us:

“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?””

What exactly is the hard saying they’re talking about?

To understand the question we have to remember that for the last 5 weeks

we’ve been reading from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel

—one of the most important

and yet most misunderstood or neglected chapters in the bible.


5 weeks ago, we began with the feeding of the 5000

—the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.

Then we moved into what is often called the “bread of life discourse”

—Jesus’ explanation about how to “have eternal life.”

We must eat his “flesh,” which “is the bread of life.”

That’s the hard saying.


It’s interesting that while the miracle of the multiplication of loaves

is reported in all 4 gospels,

only St. John reports the bread of life discourse.

Now, some say this discrepancy is because John made the whole thing up

—that Jesus never really said it.

But this is absurd.

As St. John writes at the very end of his Gospel:

“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things,

and who has written these things;

and we know that his testimony is true.”


What really happened is that John was the longest living of all the apostles

—he died at a ripe old age, maybe when he was 90 years old,

maybe as late as the year 100 AD.

And so he wrote his Gospel many years after the others,

maybe 30 or more years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke,

—and so it’s almost certain that he’d read them,

since they were widely circulated.

On top of that, we know that John’s Gospel is the most theologically profound

—perhaps because of all the years he’d had to think about it,

or perhaps because of his unique closeness to Christ

when he was on earth,

he was, after all, called “the beloved disciple.”


So after having lots of time to think and pray over the life of Jesus,

and reading what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written,

he wrote down his own recollection

—not making things up, not correcting the others,

but recording things he’d come to understand

were much more important than maybe they first appeared.


In particular, John came to focus on the central importance

of mystery of the Incarnation.

And so he begins his whole Gospel, by explaining:

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

and the Word was God.

Through him all things were made… In him was life.”

And then he concludes:

“the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”


The Incarnation—the taking of flesh by the life-giving God

—is at the heart of John’s understanding of the Gospel.

And so, while Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded the multiplication of loaves,

and did so not only to impress us with Jesus power,

but also to help us understand Jesus giving us the Eucharist,

in chapter 6, of his Gospel John says, in effect,

‘but don’t forget what Jesus said after he multiplied the loaves:’

I am the bread of life….and the bread that I will give

is my flesh for the life of the world.”


Again, some people want to see this as John making something up

to make a point.

Still others today want to say it really happened,

but Jesus is talking in merely symbolic language.

John probably had encountered people like this in his own time.

And so years after Christ’s death,

and probably after years of hearing some arguing that Jesus had just

been speaking metaphorically about His flesh and the bread,

John finally sits down and writes to the whole Church

and very carefully reports

that Jesus Himself insisted they were wrong.


And so John writes, at Verse 53:

“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,

“How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”

Now, think about this: His followers think he’s talking about real food.

They don’t think He’s talking in symbols:

that spiritual grace is like food, or perhaps that His teaching is like food.

They’re upset because He sounds like a cannibal

“How can this man give us [his own] flesh to eat?”


And how does Jesus respond?

He doesn’t change His teaching—He doesn’t say,

“no, no, I’m only talking in symbols”:

No: “Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood,

you do not have life within you.”


Now, in the original Greek the word He uses here for “eat

is very descriptive of physical eating: the Greek word “trogo

doesn’t translate as “consume” or “sup upon”

but to physically “chew” or “gnaw.”

He’s saying, ‘you’re right: I’m not being symbolic.’

As then He goes on to say:

“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”


Then you can see the disciples, thinking…

“how can he do this? That’s impossible.”

Or as John writes:

“Then many of His disciples who were listening said,

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”


How familiar these words are to us today

—we hear it all the time, maybe we say it ourselves,

even if only in the back of our minds.

It’s hard to believe that the bread Jesus gives us is His body.

But Jesus still doesn’t back down.

As John writes at verse 61:

“Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this,

He said to them, “Does this shock you?”


And then Jesus reminds them that they’ve seen His power

—they’ve just seen him feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread.

And He tells them there’s more to come, as John records:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending

to where He was before?

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”


Now, some seize on Jesus’ words:

“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail,”

They try to argue He’s backing away from talk of flesh being real food

–that He’s somehow saying that,

“no, no, it’s the spirit, it’s all spiritual food, not really my flesh.”

But that would mean He’d be contradicting everything He’s been saying.

No, what He’s saying is, in effect,

“But you’re not remembering who I really am!

I am the eternal Word who created life itself

—“the words I have spoken are spirit and life.”

I multiplied the loaves to feed the bodies of 5000,

and one day you’ll see me ascending—bodily–into heaven.

I work in my body and through my body,

but don’t limit me to the power of normal human flesh.

I have spiritual power that goes way beyond human limitations.”


That’s what He meant

—and that’s what the people there understood Him to mean.

And that’s why they left.

As John writes:

“As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life

and no longer accompanied Him.”
Think of this—these were His disciples,

people who had believed in Him and were following him from town to town.

They’d heard His beautiful words and seen His great power.

And yet all because they could not accept this one hard saying

—because they couldn’t believe in the Eucharist—they walked away.


And what does Jesus do?

Does He run after them saying,

“no, no, wait, come back…you misunderstood”…?


Still He won’t back down.

Instead, as St. John records:

“Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

It’s as if He’s saying,

“What about you?

Those others refuse to believe me, what about you?

You have a choice—believe this “hard saying” about eating the bread

which will be my flesh,

or you can leave too!”

Where else in the Gospels does He give such a stark choice:

“Here’s the line—which side are you on?”


What a terrible moment this must have been for those 12.

It was in fact a hard saying, who could believe it?


But then we read:

“Simon Peter answered Him,

“Master, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced

that you are the Holy One of God.”

Words. Life.

So simple.

They believe His words because they believe He is the savior,

so they have no choice:

They believe because He said so.


Did they understand what he meant?

I would wager no, not really, at least not completely.

But they did understand that he meant what he said.

And so they believed, and struggled to understand.


And almost exactly a year later that understanding took a huge leap forward,

when they sat with Jesus at the Passover supper,

on the night before He died,

remembering the first Passover, the night 1300 years before

when the Jews believed the word of the God given through Moses

and ate the flesh of the sacrificed lamb,

and God saved their lives from the angel of death

passing over Egypt

and freeing them for a new life in the promised land.

When they were at supper,

Jesus took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, and broke it,

just as He had when He multiplied the 5 loaves into 5000 loaves.

But this time He said:

“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”

And with the cup: “take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”


They listened to these strange but absolutely clear words of Jesus.

And they remembered the words He had said

that day after multiplying the loaves,

His words about His flesh being the bread of life,

true, or real, food that He would give them and that they must eat.

And they believed.


For 2000 years the Church has held fast to this belief.

And through the years, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

And contemplation on the teaching of St. John and the other apostles,

we have come to understand it better.

But all of it goes back to what Peter said—we believe, because Jesus said so.


Unfortunately, there have always been those

who do not side with Peter.

Of course this begins with the early disciples

who loved what Jesus had to say,

and were impressed by His power,

but left Him because they could not accept this hard saying.


But not all of the nonbelievers walked away.

As John tells us today:

“Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe

and the one who would betray him.”

And as he goes on to tell us at the end of Chapter 6:

“Jesus answered them,

“Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”

He was referring to Judas…Iscariot;

it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”

Judas stayed, but He did not believe.

And it seems, according to John,

that, the Eucharist was the beginning of His unbelief and betrayal.


Today, many followers of Jesus do not believe His words about the Eucharist.

Even those who say, “Scripture alone” and “it’s in the bible, so I believe it”

–they don’t believe what Jesus insisted on 5 times in John Chapter 6.

And even those who claim to be in the company of Peter’s successors

—many Catholics don’t believe,

even too many bishops and priests.


Am I saying that they are like Judas—betrayers of Jesus?

I can’t say that—only Jesus knows their hearts.

And Jesus loves them and is more merciful than you or I can even dream.

What’s more, many of them love Jesus very much.


But there is a line that Jesus draws.

There is a word Jesus speaks.

There is a truth Jesus insists on.

There is a gift Jesus gives.

And there is a faith in all that—a faith held and proclaimed by Peter,

and the Catholic Church for 2000 years.

Faith in the words of Jesus:

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…

you do not have life within you….

For my flesh is true food….

..The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”


These are hard sayings.

But as we enter into this great mystery here today,

let us not allow our weak faith,

our stubborn hearts,

or our limited minds,

to lead us to abandon Christ, or to betray him

as He gives us Himself, His body, His flesh

to eat as the bread of life.

Rather let us hold firmly to the faith of Peter in the word of Christ:

“Master, ….You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe, and are convinced ….”

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scandals. What follows is a very condensed version of my homily last Sunday addressing the news of abuse and cover-ups in the dioceses of Pennsylvania. (You may read or listen to the full homily on the parish website):
I am sure most of you are devasted and angry. And I am too. Angry, no, infuriated, at the priests, bishops and cardinals who either committed unspeakable crimes with children or abused their positions of trust with vulnerable adults, or used their clerical celibacy to cover their revolting homosexual lifestyle, or lied and schemed and organized to cover it all up.
But there’s something we all need to be careful of: the tendency to suspect all priests and bishops, and so not only distance ourselves from them, but from the Church itself.
My friends, this is the master plan of the devil unfolding: first, corrupt a few priests and bishops, directly or indirectly, then devastate the lives of victims, then destroy all trust in all the clergy, and finally drive good people from the Church.
We cannot let the devil, and his evil cooperators, win.
27 years ago I was living in San Antonio, my hometown, and was looking carefully into studying for the priesthood there. But the more I knew about that archdiocese, it became clear I couldn’t be a priest there: things were too corrupted by false teachings and the sin of lust, in particular homosexual lust.
So after looking at different dioceses around the country, I decided to study for the priesthood for the Diocese of Arlington. The Arlington Diocese is not at all perfect, but I thank God every day that I am a priest of Arlington, where there are so many fine priests, and where the incidents of this kind of wrong doing have been very rare.
Now, even one act of evil in the priesthood, especially against a child (or covering up) is an abomination and deserves the most violent retribution.
And clearly, parents must be careful: trust but verify. And make sure your children know that they should tell you if anyone, including a priest, touches or speaks to them inappropriately.
Even so, do not let the devil keep you or your children away from good priests or from the Church, and do not discourage the call to priesthood.
Back in Texas, looking at all the crud I found, I realized that it didn’t have to be that way. That there were many good priests struggling to do Christ’s work. And that without new men joining the good priests in the struggle, they and the whole Church would be left to suffer at the hands of all the bad priests and bishops.
So, it came down to this: if not me, who?
Sometimes people make the priesthood sound kind of like the Peace Corps. But the priesthood has got to be more like the Marine Corps. With brave, strong, intelligent, and dedicated men. Men who will sacrifice everything for Christ and His Church. Men who will go into spiritual battle every day, and never be discouraged by the wickedness or strength of their opponents, to clean up the spiritual mess that the Church is becoming.
Now, clearly, not even all the good priests are heroes and saints, and I am definitely not. But so many priests I know are striving to be just that. What more can you ask of them? And what more can you want for you son or brother, or yourself, if there is a call to priesthood?
Today is kind of like the Church’s 9/11—we are under attack by evil doers. But remember how after September 11, 2001, the whole nation seemed to rally together against the evil? Today, in the face of the evil we have seen trying to destroy our church, will we rally, or will we run? Again, if not me, who?
That is the question all Catholics should answer today. Who will resist and fight the good fight, if not you? Who will stand up to the corrupt bishops and priests? If not me and you, who? And who will replace them in the pulpit and at the altar, not as wolves, but as true shepherds and fathers? If not me and your sons, who?

Altar Rail Next Week. As I announced last month, beginning next Saturday, September 1, at the Vigil Mass, the portable altar rails/kneelers will remain in front of the sanctuary all the time for all the Masses. So that at every Mass the people will come up the main aisle for Communion as usual, but then spread out to the left and right at the altar rail, either kneeling or standing (their choice), to receive Communion. Communion will continue to be distributed in the transepts as usual, i.e., no altar rail.
Why? My primary reason for this change is very simple: to allow people to exercise their right to kneel to receive Holy Communion. Kneeling without a kneeler is difficult and time-consuming, and therefore discourages most people who would like to kneel to receive. This is unjust. Moreover, with up to 8 people at-a-time standing/kneeling at the long rail, there is no need to rush to get out of the next person’s way. So by adding the Communion Rail, everyone can receive comfortably the way they want, kneeling or standing.
But let me be frank: I believe there are also great spiritual reasons for kneeling to receive Our Lord. As Cardinal Sarah has written: “For if, as St. Paul teaches, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ (Phil. 2:10), how much more should we bend our knees when we come to receive the Lord Himself in the most sublime and intimate act of Holy Communion!”
Again, I reiterate, kneeling or standing is your option. For those who have never knelt for Communion, I recommend that you try it once or twice—I think you will like it.

Back to School. Most of our kids are going back to school this week, so we need to keep them in prayer. Pray especially for the kids in public schools, which do not share many of our values and so often teach that our values are wrong, or even hateful.
Parents, remember to keep a watchful eye on what your kids are learning: do not abandon your precious children to strangers. Ask them what they’re learning, look at their assignments, participate in parent-teacher meetings. Remember to constantly reinforce Catholic values and teachings, be especially aware of the subtle ways some teachers can try to undermine them: e.g. the English paper about the injustices against transgenderism. But also, be supportive of good teachers and administrators who are trying to live their Christian faith in the schools.
For those of you in Fairfax schools, remember to “OPT OUT” of Family Life Education (FLE).
And remember to sign your kids up for CCD/Religious Education, and make sure you and they take this seriously. This is the most important school they will attend—learning about God, and how to live just lives, and how to get to heaven!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Summer. The Summer is quickly slipping away from us, and, as much as I hate to admit it, school is about to start up again. I hope you all have had as a good a summer as I have. I have been busy all summer, but it has been largely, a low-stress few weeks, for some reason. I thought it would be a little more difficult, with the lighting project, but that’s been running very well (thanks be to God!).
One of the great things about summer is having so many of our college “kids” home. After being here for 8 years it’s really good to see so many of our young men and women growing up in so many ways, but it’s also good to have them back with us for a while. But as the summer wanes, I am aware that many of them are heading back to their colleges. I hope they know that we do pray for them, and we will miss them. And again, I encourage them to stay close to Jesus, His Mother and His Church. Remember: Sunday Mass, daily prayers, monthly confession. Keep your Rosary with you, and pray it often. Take part in the campus ministry events and get to know the Catholic Chaplain. Make good friends, and by that I mean friends that are truly good in the eyes of God, and can help you to be good in His eyes. Have fun, but remember you or your parents are spending all that money not for you to party, but to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom before God and man. Enjoy yourself, but keep focused. Take time to relax, but stay away from stupid things, which include sinful things.
Listen to what your profs have to say, but always keep a critical ear open for the difference between fact and opinion, between ideology and truth, between bright ideas and nonsensical c–p.
Above all know that Jesus is your Savior, and loves you and is always with you. Cling to Him, and love Him in return, every day, at every moment. And know that we are praying for you, and look forward to seeing you at Christmas.

Religious Education, CCD. Every August, I panic a bit as the Religious Education Office tells me that registrations for the coming year are a little low… And every September they shoot up to more or less “normal” levels. But please, don’t wait to sign up for CCD—do it today, online—so you don’t forget and so you can get the times you want. Mary Salmon and Vince Drouillard in our RE/CCD Office have been working all summer to make our program even better than it was last year, and they’ve lined up some excellent folks to teach. But all that is useless, even the best teachers are powerless, if parents don’t sign their children up for classes. What can be more important than educating our children in the faith? Especially as FCPS continues its mad dash to brainwash our kids with their foolish notions of morality and even common sense.
So, enjoy the rest of your summer. But don’t forget to enroll in CCD. Contact our RE Office for more information—and do so this week, please.
And also—we are in urgent need of several catechists and aides. With all the problems in the world, I hear people ask, “What can we do?” Simple answer: “Teach CCD.”

Humanae Vitae & Fifty Years. Save the date for our conference on this historic encyclical of Pope Paul VI. Featured Speakers include: Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Dr. Robert Royal, and Bob & Gerri Laird. Babysitting will be available. Contact the parish office for more information.

Parish Celebration Picnic. Make sure you’re saving the date for Sunday, September 16, when we will combine our annual picnic with a celebration of paying off the parish debt. Both Bishop Burbidge and Fr. James Gould (my predecessor, and the builder of our church) have confirmed that they will be here for the 12:15 Mass, and then for the picnic afterwards. We’ve also invited “pioneering” parishioners who helped build the church but have since moved away, and I’m hoping many of them will join us. We’ve been pulling out all stops to make this especially fun for all, with more games, more food and… live entertainment. So plan on being there.

Sign of Peace. Thank you all for your cooperation with my request for a new way of exchanging the sign of peace. Remember, when you turn to the person next to you, wait for them to turn to you, and then bow to each other. It will take a little getting used to, but I think we’ll get the hang of it.

St. John Eudes. Today is the feast day of my “name saint,” or patron saint, St. John Eudes (pronounced, “ūd,” rhyming with “rood”—the French “es” is silent at the end of words, as it is in “De Celles”). Born in Normandy in 1601, St. John grew up in a pious Catholic home, and at the age of fourteen he took a vow of chastity. After a stellar scholastic career he entered the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate (“The French Oratorians”), in 1623, and was ordained a priest in 1625. He became a missionary of sort, and soon became famous for preaching parish missions. In 1641 he founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, for “fallen women” who wished to do penance. In 1643 he established the Society of Jesus and Mary (“The Eudists”), an order of priests, founded for the formation of priests (in seminaries) and for missionary work.
St. John is also famous as one of the primary promoters of the formal devotions to the Sacred Heart (before the apparitions to St. Margaret Mary) and the Immaculate (Admirable) Heart of Mary. He is credited with the establishment of the first feast days for the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart, and composing the prayers for those Masses (all with papal approval).
Known for his personal holiness and learning, St. John wrote several books that are considered Catholic classics, rich in doctrine and but simple in style. Many consider him a possible future Doctor of the Church. His principal works are: The Sacred Heart of Jesus, The Admirable Heart of Mary, The Life and Kingdom of Jesus, and The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations. St. John died on this date in 1680, at the age of 78. He was canonized in 1925.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 19, 2018

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 19, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA



Today I’m going to be a little more personal than I like to be in homilies,

since homilies shouldn’t be about the priest.

But I think this approach might be helpful today.



Four weeks ago we all heard the news

about the disgustingly reprehensible behavior

of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

And then this week, like a one-two punch,

we heard the nauseating news

about the multiple accusations of sexual abuse and systemic coverup

by priests and bishops, in Pennsylvania.


I am sure most of you are devasted and angry.

And I am too.

Angry, no, infuriated, at the priests, bishops and cardinals

who either committed unspeakable crimes with children

or abused their positions of trust with vulnerable adults,

or used their clerical celibacy to cover their revolting homosexual lifestyle,

or lied and schemed and organized to cover it all up.


Three weeks ago I preached about the whole McCarrick situation.

And I told you that we need hold to account and punish

those who are merely wolves in shepherd’s clothing.


But also I strongly urged you not to be discouraged or to lose hope,

because our faith and hope are not in cardinals, bishops, priests,

or even popes,

but in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church He founded.

And I reminded you, there are still many good priests out there

striving to be good shepherds, who need your support and trust.


But in the light of revelations from the grand jury in Pennsylvania this week

all that needs to be reiterated.


And there’s something else we need to talk more about.

That is, the tendency to suspect all priests and bishops,

and so not only distance ourselves from them, but from the Church itself.


This was brought home to me the day after the Pennsylvania news came out.

A parishioner came to me and said a friend of hers had told her

that she should keep her children away from all priests,

and shouldn’t let her son consider becoming a priest.


My friends, this is the master plan of the devil unfolding:

first, corrupt a few priests and bishops, directly or indirectly,

then devastate the lives of victims,

then destroy all trust in all the clergy,

and finally drive good people from the Church.


My friends, we cannot let the devil and his evil cooperators win.



So let me tell you a little story.

I was born, raised, educated and worked as a professional

in San Antonio, Texas—I lived there all my life, until I was 31 years old.

I loved San Antonio, and l loved Texas—I am a Texan through and through.

I never thought anything could take me away from my home.


But 27 years ago today, August 19, 1991,

I got in my car and left my home forever

to drive to Maryland,

to study for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary,

for the Diocese of Arlington—our diocese.


I had spent much of the previous year talking to and working with

the Archdiocese of San Antonio about studying for the priesthood there. But in the end, I just couldn’t do it.

Because the more I looked and knew about

the seminary and the clergy of the archdiocese,

it became clear there were 2 huge problems:

first, they were corrupted by false teachings,

and second, they were infected by the sin of lust,

in particular homosexual lust.

So I knew there was no way I could study or be a priest for San Antonio.


But the call would not go away: I still felt called to be a priest.

So after consulting Catholic friends and family all over the country,

and looking at different Dioceses,

I decided to come here to the Diocese of Arlington.

And I have never regretted for one moment.



The Arlington Diocese is not at all perfect.

We are not immune from false or weak teaching.

And we have not been impervious to scandalous and even reprehensible

behavior of priests.


But I can tell you, as a priest who finds all this false doctrine and sexual abuse

repugnant to my very being,

there’s nowhere in the world I would rather be than Arlington.

I thank God every day that I am a priest of Arlington,

where I can say that there are so many fine priests,

like no other diocese I know,

and where, to my knowledge, the incidents of this kind of wrong doing,

especially sexual abuse and homosexuality, has been very rare.


Now, let me be clear—even one act of evil perversion in the priesthood,

especially against a child,

or covering up that act,

is an abomination and deserves the swiftest and most violent retribution.

But I do believe that with all the evil in the world, and in the Church,

parents need not be afraid of the priests of Arlington

any more than they would be afraid of their child’s doctor, or teacher,

or anyone else in a position of trust.


Now, clearly, be careful: trust but verify.

And make sure your children know that they can and should tell you if anyone,

including a priest,

hurts them, or touches or speaks to them inappropriately.

Be careful not to jump to rash conclusions, act with charity and justice,

but feel free to call a wolf a wolf.


Even so, please, do not assume that all priests are evil or to be distrust us.


And do let the devil, and all his cooperating evil or weak priests and bishops,

keep you or your children away from good priests

or from the Church.

And do not discourage your sons, or yourselves,

from answering the call to priesthood.



I told you a moment ago about how I decided to come to Arlington.

But I didn’t tell you why, even after knowing all the bad stuff I did,

I still decided to be a priest.


Of course, I felt the call, after much prayer and discernment, to the priesthood.

But all that could easily have been more than offset

by all the crud I was aware of

—who would want that for the next 60 years?


No, in the end what overcame all that crud

was the realization that it didn’t have to be that way.


That there were, in fact, many good priests struggling to do Christ’s work.

That a priest could strive to be holy, faithful and chaste,

and do great things for God’s people.

And that without new men joining the good priests in the struggle,

they and the whole Church

would be left to suffer at the hands of all the bad priests and bishops,

and the devil would win.



So, it came down to this: if not me, who?


Now, that sounds a little arrogant

–there were literally thousands of other men who could do it,

and do it much better than I could.

But, that begs the question: if Jesus was truly calling me, why not me too?

And false or exaggerated humility

can easily be an excuse for cowardice or laziness.

In the end, we need all the able bodied and souled priests we can get.

Men who know exactly what they were getting into,

and are willing to make sacrifices to be faithful to the Gospel.

To try to be truly good shepherds, and truly loving fathers to God’s children.



Sometimes when vocation promoters talk about the priesthood

they make it sound kind of like the Peace Corps:

you go out and do nice things for people.

But the priesthood isn’t the Peace Corps:

it’s got to be more like the Marine Corps.

With brave, strong, intelligent, and dedicated men.

Men who will sacrifice everything for Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Men who will go into spiritual battle every day,

and never be discouraged by the wickedness or strength of their opponents.

Men who will strive constantly, with the grace and power of Jesus Christ,

and reinforced by an army of angels and saints,

to clean up the spiritual mess that the Church is becoming.

Men who know that they are as likely to be shot in the back

by so called “friendly fire” as by enemy fire,

but still have the fortitude to go forward.


Now, again, that sounds a bit arrogant,

and makes us all sound like a bunch of heroes and saints.

Clearly, we know, not even all the good priests are heroes and saints,

and I am definitely not,

[my father was a Marine, and my mother was a saint,

and I’m neither.]

But so many priests I know, especially in Arlington,

but also all around the Church, are striving to be just that.

What more can you ask of them?


And what more can you want for you son or brother,

if God calls him to priesthood?

And what more could a real man, a real Catholic young man, want for himself?



Today is kind of like the Church’s 9/11.

But this time the evil doers didn’t crashed into

the high and mighty Twin Towers or the soldiers at the Pentagon,

they took down a high and mighty cardinal,

and so many the soldiers of Christ, His priests.


But remember what happened after 9/11, 2001?

Remember how the whole nation seemed to come together

to rally against the evil perpetrated against us?

And remember how so many young men and women came forth proudly

to fight to defend us—even to lay down their lives for us?


Today, in the face of the evil we have seen trying to destroy our church,

will we rally, or will we run?

And will we and our sons stand up and be the men and women

God has called us to be,

or will we allow the Church, the Bride of Jesus Christ,

to be controlled, abused and dissipated by weak and evil men?



In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:

“Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,

you do not have life within you.”

Let me tell you another story.

When I was growing up, I was a very devout kid,

and I especially loved the Eucharist and the Mass.

But in college I stopped going to Mass.

Lots of reasons for that, but one of the most important was

all the really weak priests I knew.

I mean, it seemed to me that they didn’t believe, so why should I?


Well thanks be to God, I came back a few years later,

because I had to admit to myself

that regardless of whatever those foolish priests said or did,

I believed in Jesus, and all He taught, especially about the Eucharist.

And all that could only be found in only one place:

in the Church he founded, the Catholic Church.

So I started going to Mass again.

And even when I knew the priest was not very faithful,

I always knew he gave me the one thing I need more than anything else:

the bread of life, Jesus in the flesh.

And that in turn helped to reawaken the call to the priesthood in my heart:

I thought, “someone has to do this better, more faithfully.”


Again, if not me, who?



That is the question not only for men called to priesthood,

but really, also the question all Catholics should answer today.

As St. Peter tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion,

seeking someone to devour.

Resist him, standing firm in your faith….”

Who will resist and fight the good fight, if not you?

Who will help purify the Church of all this filth?

Who will stand up to the corrupt bishops and priests?

If not me and you, who?


And who will preplace them in the pulpit and at the altar,

not as wolves, but as true shepherds and fathers,

who will give us the Bread of Life, if we have no priests?

If not me and your sons, who?



Do not give up your faith in Christ and His Catholic Church.

Do not waiver one iota.

Love Him and His Bride, with all your hearts.

And fight for them both.

Do not settle for platitudes, or new policies and procedures

from the bishops, or the Vatican.

But demand a wholesale moral purification of the Church,

most especially her priests and bishops.

Support with all your hearts the ones who are clearly trying

to be good shepherds.

And with the power and might of Jesus Himself,

who comes to you in the Holy Eucharist,

oppose with all your strength

the wolves and the lions seeking to devour us.


If not you and me, who?


TEXT: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 12, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 12, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


For those of you who have seen and heard me

working in this parish for the last 8 years you may have surmised

that I am not the best physical specimen on the planet:

I have all sorts of sinus and allergy problems,

and I have a bad shoulder and various other aches and pains.

Thankfully, none of these are that terrible, really only inconveniences,

and none are life-threatening.

But like many in this room, I’ve had that too.


When I was a boy, I thought I was indestructible:

but with all these illnesses and problems

—not to mention the reality of the effects of aging—

I have learned that

the smallest bacteria or the simplest bad habit,

can change your life—for the worse—forever.


Now, my situation is obviously not unique, and I have been very blessed.

Many people get sick or injured—deadly sick.

And many people struggle for years with terrible health problems.


And when they do, they search for

some medicine or food or vitamin to take to restore their health.

And especially nowadays, even if we’re not particularly sick,

people are more and more health conscience

and are very careful about what they put into their bodies.


So….what if you found a particular food or vitamin or medication

that would restore you to health when you were physically sick

or would change your out-of-shape  body

to perfect health and strength?

In today’s 1st reading, Elijah seems to find just such a food.

The Book of Kings tells us that Elijah was worn out from one day’s journey

–all he wanted to do was lay down and sleep–even die.

But when he eats the food brought by the angel,

he suddenly has the strength to travel 40 days and 40 nights

through the hot desert.

If you or I found food like that we’d make it the staple of our diet.



The spiritual life isn’t much different.

We all sometimes suffer from spiritual sickness or injury.

–maybe we do something sinful to injure our spirit;

–maybe we live in unhealthy spiritual environments,

sinful lifestyles or states of life;

–maybe we just take our spiritual health for granted and we become weak,

defenseless against temptations we might encounter:

we let ourselves get spiritually run down,

and we don’t, as it were, “eat right”.

If we allow this to go on long enough,

we wind up completely overwhelmed by spiritual illness—sin—

or, even spiritually dead.


But what if you found a food or a medicine

that would restore or perfect your spiritual health?

Wouldn’t you also make that food the central part of your diet.


Last week, this week and the next 2 weeks we continue to read

from John Chapter 6, “the Bread of Life Discourse.”

Today, Jesus tells us:

“I am the bread of life…whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

He is, of course, talking about the Eucharist, in which He offers us the perfect food,

the perfect remedy or medicine for spiritual nourishment and health

–He offers us Himself, and He is the all-powerful God!

Nothing else could offer us all the spiritual health we desire,

or bring us to spiritual perfection

–only He who is spiritual perfection Himself can be this food for us.



Someone might ask, well what does our body have to do with our spiritual life

—how can food for the body change our souls?

But the thing is, we are not just spiritual beings: we are soul and body.

If you hit my hand, you don’t just hit my hand—you hit me!

You cannot separate body and soul—except by death.

Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells us:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away….”

Our bodies can cause us to sin:

think, for example of all the things that go into our souls through our eyes

—the things we watch on television, on the internet or read in books.

Like junk food,

so many things in our daily lives

that enter into us through our bodily senses

seem at first delicious,

but in reality what they do to our souls is disgusting.


So, if our bodies can be so directly connected to the spiritual reality of sin,

and if things that go into our bodies

can be the source of spiritual sickness,

then why is it so hard to imagine

that our bodies and things that go into our bodies

could be a source of our spiritual health?

For example, the word of God doesn’t spiritually enter our souls,

it enters us first by the sound waves that our ears hear,

and then it effects our souls.

So imagine the incredible spiritual effect

of eating with our mouths the food which is in itself

the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.



Jesus gives us real physical food that has real spiritual effects.

“My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

But even though its effects are spiritual,

the Eucharist still acts a lot like all food does.


First of all, food can’t have any effect without some cooperation from the body.

As with physical food and physical life,

if there’s no spiritual life in the body, spiritual food can do nothing:

if you put steak in a dead man’s mouth, what good does it do?

The same thing with the Eucharist:

someone in the state of “mortal”—or “deadly”—sin

gets no good from the Eucharist.


Not only that,

but have you ever been in an Emergency Room

when someone was dying?

I have, and I assure you that last thing they’d do is try to feed the person.

If they did, the person would gag on the food and make matters worse,

since at that moment he’s in no shape to handle food

—as good as it might be for him.

NO, first they try to resuscitate the person, then later they nourish him.

In the same way, a spiritually dying person shouldn’t receive the Eucharist

until their spiritual life has been resuscitated

through repentance and the grace of the Sacrament of Confession.



But not every sinner is spiritually dead or dying,

most are simply spiritually sick or weak.

So it happens that many times after recovering from being sick,

the first sign of recovery is getting our appetite back:

our bodies are weak, but alive and hungry for the nourishment of food.

So they responded eagerly to whatever food we eat,

and then use that nutrition it to bring us strength.


That’s the way our souls respond to the Eucharist:

as long as we’re not spiritually dead in mortal sin,

even if we’re completely racked by spiritual diseases

but still have some small ounce of the life of faith in us.


Sometimes we only have the barest amount of the Christian life in us:

–perhaps we’ve neglected the practice of our faith, and we’ve become weak;

–or perhaps we’ve eaten too much spiritually unhealthy food

so we’re spiritually just barely holding on.

Still, the Body of Christ, the bread of life,

can take the tiniest response and start to rebuild our health.



And as you recover from spiritual affliction, sin,

the nourishment of the food of angels needs both proper exercise and rest

to restore full health and strength.

You need to actively cooperate and make yourself do things

to allow the flesh of Christ to enter and strengthen your whole person.

Like a person recovering from physical illness, you have to exercise.

You have to do spiritual exercises,

like walking the walk of Christian life,

by obeying the commandments, acting in charity, and praying;

like lifting the weights

that are the crosses that Jesus gives you to carry.

Maybe you start slowly in the beginning, but gradually, little by little,

with constant exercise, powered by the spiritual food of the Eucharist,

you can become more and more the perfect specimen of spiritual perfection.


And as you do this you’ll see more and more

the spiritually healthy effects of eating the Bread of Life.

Using the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading,

we can say that the nourishing effect of the Eucharist will help rid us of

“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling…along with all malice.”

Instead it will place in our hearts kindness, and compassion

and the ability to love and forgive others,

as Christ has loved and forgiven us on the Cross.

And as the prayers of the Mass tell us,

the Eucharist brings us to unity with God and His Church,

giving us a share in the fellowship—or Communion—of the saints,

now and in eternal life,

as it fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing.

In short, it  makes us more and more like what or who we eat:

the perfect one, Jesus Christ.



Jesus says that He is “the bread of life”:

He promises that if we eat His flesh we will have eternal life.

But that eternal life begins here and now.

It is a life born in Christ’s love, not a death resulting from our sin.

It is a life strengthened     by the food which is the very flesh of God,

not a life devastated by the sickness of evil.

And it is a life brought to perfection by cooperating eagerly with

the nourishment–the grace–received in Holy Communion.



Today, as we continue to move deeper into the sacred mysteries of this Mass,

we should reflect on the spiritual diseases and weakness

that plague our lives.

And we should thank Our Lord with all the strength remaining in us

for making it so easy to be revived,

and strengthened by simply eating the bread of life.

And let us open our hearts and receive Him

believing and rejoicing that His promise is fulfilled at this Mass:

“The bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Death Penalty Change? On August 2, Pope Francis announced that he was changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s presentation on the death penalty. Prior to the change, the CCC, 2267, read:
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.””

Pope Francis’s amended text reads:
“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
“Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state.
“Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
“Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

What to make of this? It seems that the Pope has changed the Church’s ancient doctrine that the state has the right, and sometimes the duty, to execute certain criminals, so that now, it seems, such execution is a sin. In fact, the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states that the change represents an, “authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium.”
Since the announcement however, many learned Catholics have pointed out several important problems. The greatest of these is that the right and duty of the state to execute criminals may not be something that any Pope or Council has the authority to change. They argue that it is based on the specific teaching of the Scriptures, including the very words spoken by God Himself, and it has been consistently taught since the earliest days of the Church, and upheld by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Alphonsus Liguori. Moreover, rejection of this teaching has been condemned by Popes for centuries, at least one Pope specifically calling such rejection “heresy.” Also, even Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who opposed the implementation of this right/duty of the state, clearly and upheld the teaching.
This unanimity of the Church normally leads us to conclude that a doctrine is unchangeable and irreformable, i.e., infallibly taught in the ordinary magisterium. But now it seems Pope Francis has attempted to change and reform it.
It is true that Catholic teaching can “develop”, but I didn’t think it could develop based on changing circumstances or “new awareness” of things. And it was my understanding that development came only in a way that is consistent with the prior teachings, not contrary to them. And finally, I was under the impression that “development” had to be well documented and explained in a logical way so as to clearly state the new presentation; but this is not the case here.
So, what does this mean? Frankly, I don’t know. Some argue that this change must represent a prudential judgment, and so no change in doctrine at all. But the CDF seems to take exactly the opposite position.
To me, this is another example of the confusion that so often seems to come from the Vatican these days. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if there is confusion, there is confusion. And people are confused. I know I am. With all respect and deference to His Holiness.
So, I suggest we all pray for a quick clarification, both from His Holiness and learned prelates and theologians, and not jump too quickly to any conclusions, especially in dealing in charity with His Holiness and with our fellow Catholics.

Bishop McCarrick Homily. Last week this column included a condensed version of my homily from July 29 about former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Since then copies or links to the full homily have been posted to 2 well known Catholic websites, and I have received dozens of emails from Catholics around the country who found the homily very helpful in coming to terms with this issue. I am humbled by the response, and I bring this up now not to brag, but only because it seems that Our Lord may use this homily to help some others as well. So, feel free to share it—both the text and audio are on the parish website.

My Homilies on the Website. Some of you may not be aware that I post almost all my homilies and talks to the parish website. For years I refused to do this, since I feel it can easily lead a foolish priest to the sin of pride. Eventually I relented at the request of several parishioners and ex-parishioners, based on the argument that if I give them to folks who attend my Mass on Sunday I should be open to giving them to other folks as well.
In any case they’re on the website if you want them. Go to straymond.org, click on the tab that says, “Priests,” then “Father De Celles,” then, “Father De Celles’ Homilies.”

Liturgical Changes. Please remember the upcoming liturgical changes in the parish. First, effective TODAY, August 11-12, the norm at St. Raymond’s for exchanging of the sign of peace will be to turn to only two people, one on your left and right, and give a slight bow of the head or shoulders (with folded hands, if you choose). Second, effective Sunday, September 2, folks coming down the main aisle will receive Communion at the altar rail, either kneeling or standing, at all Masses. Finally, effective Sunday, September 16, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month we will celebrate the 10:30 Mass using the “Ad Orientem” form.

Pictorial Directory. The new parish pictorial directory is being printed as I write this, and it should be in our hands in the next few weeks. Very sorry for the delay!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. What follows is condensed version of the homily I
gave last Sunday. It seemed to be helpful to a lot of people, so I thought I’d share it with
you here.. :
Each of us, from time to time, fails to live up to our Baptismal calling to live a life
of love for God and neighbor, and keeping the commandments. But priests, bishops and
popes have a special call and obligation to strive to live holy lives, for the good of the
whole Church.
But priests fail too, even in important ways that are not uncommon among men,
ways that may disappoint us, but not cause us to give up on them. But sometimes, some
priests fail miserably and in repulsive ways, ways that seem to, as Scripture says, “cry out
to God for vengeance.”
In the last few weeks we’ve heard in the news that the former Archbishop of
Washington, Theodore McCarrick, has been accused of terrible crimes and reprehensible
grave sins. He has publicly denied these accusations.
But more and more have come out. After years of hiding the stories the media has
finally started to report what they have known for about for years, and are laying out
names, dates and documents. As a result, last week McCarrick resigned from being a
cardinal, and the Vatican announced he would remain in seclusion “for a life of prayer
and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical
trial.” To me this is an admission of guilt: The last time a cardinal resigned was 91 years
ago—it just doesn’t happen.
This kind of thing has to be terribly hard on you, even devasting to some of you. I
understand that, because it has been hard on me—for about 28 years, I hardly knew
Bishop McCarrick, but since I entered the seminary, I and most of my clerical friends
knew the accusations against him. There was no evidence—most of his victims were too
afraid to go public, and the ones who did were ignored. So nothing could be done: you
can’t accuse someone publicly on hearsay. But the thing is…. “everybody” knew.
So, all we could do is watch with trepidation as he was promoted first to
archbishop, then to cardinal, and eventually a powerful advisor to the current Pope, even
years after his retirement.
But as the Psalms tell us: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom
there is no salvation.…Blessed is he…whose hope is in the LORD his God.” We don’t
follow bishops or priests, or cardinals, or even popes, as much as we might love them. We
follow Jesus Christ, and the Holy Catholic Church He founded. And by “Catholic
Church,” again, I mean the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, full of sinners and
saints, but protected by the Blessed Trinity from destruction and from passing on
erroneous teaching to the generations. I mean the centuries of great and faithful saints,
who have passed on what they received down the generations what the apostles had
received from Christ Himself.
So when a priest or bishop or cardinal commits an act that cries out to God for
vengeance, or covers it up, I say, lock him up and throw away the key. But it does not
affect my faith. But my faith is not in men, but in God. It is not in priests and bishops, but
the Church.
Jesus tells His apostles: “without Me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the one who is
the founder and sustainer of the Church, not the apostles. His apostles and their
successors are merely His instruments to bring His word and grace to His people.
And He doesn’t simply entrust those gifts to individual men, but to the Church, His body with members that include not only sinful Cardinals, but also saintly men and
women in all generations, from St. Peter, to St. Raymond, to St. Therese to St. John Paul
Now, Please don’t let this lead you to distrust all priests and bishops. Many make
great sacrifices for their people, and some are truly saintly. They strive to be good
shepherds, even if they fail from time to time. Rejoice in their goodness, and have mercy
on their failures. And love them, respect them, and support them.
But there are a few that are not even trying to be shepherds, but are more like
wolves in sheep’s clothing, preying on their flock. Do not be afraid to hold those to
account, always with charity and mercy, but also always with true justice.
And do not be discouraged by them. Our hope is in Christ, not in them. And
Christ is our hope, not our despair. Discouragement comes from our own weaknesses, or
from the devil himself. The devil is loving the current scandal: he wants you to be
discouraged; he wants you to give up.
But do NOT give up. Remember simply two words: Jesus Christ! And fix your
hearts and minds on Him. And do not be discouraged by the failures of men, but accept
the grace to believe, hope and love in Christ and His Church.
Liturgical Changes. Last week I announced a few liturgical changes in the parish.
First, effective NEXT SUNDAY, August 12, at the exchange of the sign of
peace I ask that each of you turn only to only two people, the persons on your left and
right and (ideally, but not necessarily, with folded hands) give a slight bow of the head or
shoulders. If you chose to do something else (e.g., shake hands or hug family members)
you will not be reprimanded; but you should respect the choices of others as well.
Second, effective Sunday, September 2, the portable altar rails/kneelers will
remain in front of the sanctuary at all times, so that at every Mass the people coming up
the main aisle will receive Communion the at altar rail, either kneeling or standing (their
choice). Communion will continue to be distributed in the transepts as usual, i.e., no altar
I also announced that effective Sunday, September 16, on the 1
st and 3
rd Sundays
of every month we will celebrate the 10:30 Mass using the “Ad Orientem” form (the
priest facing in the same direction as the people, toward the apse/tabernacle). For the last
year we’ve done this on the 1st Sunday, and we are now extending it to the 3rd as well.
Considering Sunday Child-Care. In response to many requests from parents, we are
considering providing child-care during the 8:45 and 10:30 Masses every Sunday. I
struggle with this idea a bit, and I would continue to encourage all families to bring all
their children to the Mass with them. But I would do this in order to assist those parents
with small children (under age 5?), who discern that child-care would be best for their
particular situation. It would be a matter of trusting parents, not excluding children.
Anyone interested in coordinating this (for a small stipend), or anyone who would
like to give feedback for our consideration, should contact Mary Butler in the parish
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles