Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Holy Week begins Today. In these last days of Lent we spiritually place ourselves with Our Lord as He suffered in His last hours: as He agonizes in the garden, is scourged, spat upon, mocked, and crowned with thorns; as He carries the cross, is nailed to it and hung upon it for three hours to die. Who can look at this and not be overwhelmed, not simply with grief for His suffering, but also with love for Him who has loved us so much?
For almost 40 days, we’ve been trying to grow in love through Christ’s grace and our Lenten penances. We have one more week: let’s make it a truly “holy” week centered on Jesus’ suffering and ineffable love.
One of the best ways to do this is to come together for the special liturgies of this Holy Week. We have begun this today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion.
Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from His side on the Cross.
On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day (except at the Cathedral), but in the evening join us here in the parish for The Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:00 pm, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood. And afterward, walk in procession with the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, as if walking with the Lord to the Garden of Gethsemane, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with Me…watch and pray,” for at least a few minutes or until midnight.
Then comes Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence as we share in the suffering of the Lord. We should keep the day with quiet, reflection, and charity—even at work—especially from noon to three. There is no Mass; instead we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. I beg you not to miss it, even if it means leaving work early! This is the holiest hour of the year—come and be with the Church to worship Christ at the hour of His death; what could be more important than this?!
We begin this unique liturgy with the priest prostrating himself before the altar, and all joining him by kneeling. We then read the Passion from the Gospel of John. Then the priest prays ten ancient ritual intercessions, calling down our Lord’s mercy on the Church and the world. Then we individually come forward to personally venerate the Cross, by a genuflection, kiss, or some other gesture. This takes some time, but everyone waits so patiently, as the beautiful strains of our choir help us to place ourselves for a few minutes waiting with the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. After this, the priests bring the Blessed Sacrament from the sacristy and the faithful receive Holy Communion, and the rite concludes. (Stations of the Cross are prayed at 7:00pm).
On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood, as She encourages us to continue to fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday. The only Mass this day begins at 8:30pm (after sunset), as the celebration of Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil Mass, a liturgy filled with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the presentation of the Easter Candle; the chanting of the Exsultet; an extended Liturgy of the Word; and Baptism, and Confirmation for adults. I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).

This is a wondrous week, the holiest week of the year. Let’s not squander this opportunity to get caught up in the awesomeness of the Love of Christ Jesus.

Fr. Mark Pilon, RIP. Last week we lost a good and faithful priest, as Fr. Mark Pilon succumbed to his long battle with cancer, and died on the Feast of St. Joseph, patron of a “happy death.” As most of you will recall, Father Pilon was parochial vicar at St. Raymond’s, from 2009 to 2012, when he retired due to his health. We were honored to offer his funeral Mass here this last Friday, March 23.
Born in Detroit on March 23, 1943, Father grew up in a devoutly Catholic home attending Catholic schools. After earning his Bachelor’s in English from the University of Detroit in 1966, he taught at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria (1966-70), and was publisher and assistant editor of Triumph Magazine (1970-73). In 1975, he graduated from Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, and was ordained to the priesthood by Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh on Nov. 29. He went on to earn a Master’s in Educational Administration from Catholic University (1978), a Sacred Theology Licentiate from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (Rome, 1987), and Sacred Theology Doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome, 1991).
He held several different parish assignments over the years, as parochial vicar of St. Louis in Alexandria in (1975) and St. John in Front Royal from (1987-1990), and pastor of St. Ambrose in Annandale (1990 to 2000).
He also held various academic positions, at Bishop O’Connell High School (1977, 1981 to 1985), Catholic University (1978-79), Christendom College (1987-90), and finally at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary (2000 to 2009).
Fr. Pilon was a brilliant man, a gifted teacher and preacher, and a wise and caring priest. I’m sure he is on his way to heaven, where he will receive wonderful rewards for his great work on Earth. But as he himself used to plead with me, let’s remember to keep praying for the perfection of his soul in Purgatory. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

Congratulations, Natalie Butler. On a happier note… We’re all very proud of parishioner Natalie Butler, daughter of parish Secretary Mary Butler, for her outstanding collegiate basketball career, a career built on great spiritual courage, faith and grace.
Natalie began her college basketball career as a standout freshman at Georgetown, where she was named Big East Freshman of the Year. But for her sophomore year, she transferred from the internally troubled Georgetown team to the University of Connecticut. After a redshirt year she went on to play a pivotal role in UConn’s winning two NCAA national championships, despite, several devastating injuries along the way. For her final year of eligibility, Natalie transferred this year to George Mason to work on her Master’s degree, and immediately stepped into a starring role with the Patriots, leading her teammates to the most wins in school history and a spot in the WNIT tournament. Besides averaging 19.2 points per game and an astounding 16.6 rebounds per game this season, she also set several national records, including Women’s NCAA record for rebounds in a season, 563.
An amazing young woman. Congrats, Natalie, and may God continue to bless you!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

March 25, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

One day they shouted:

““Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!.”

But only a few days later they shouted: “crucify Him!”

 

The crowd cheering their messiah one day,

is the same crowd crying for is blood, or abandoning Him to the cross

only a few days later.

 

Today you are here worshiping your beloved Jesus…

but this week will you abandon Him?

Will you, by your sins, join the crowd shouting “crucify Him!”,

or simply leave Him to the crowd because you’re too important or too busy.

 

Or will you make this week, truly a Holy Week?

In the original Greek Scripture the word that we translate as “holy”

literally means “set apart.”

So let this week be truly holy—set apart—

radically different from every other week of the year.

 

Every day, take time to think and pray, if ever so briefly, but constantly,

about the Lord’s Passion.

Feel compassion for His terrible suffering,

and sorrow for your sins that cause it.

And think: let your intellect, guided by faith and grace,

lead you to understand more fully the mystery of God’s love

and the depravity of our sins.

 

But this week is not just about mere feelings or reason.

As St. Paul reminds us today, it is about, how God the Son

“emptied Himself,” of divine glory and came “in human likeness,”

–in human flesh.

And how He allowed that flesh to be torn by whips, thorns, nails and a sword,

and even to die “on a Cross.”

 

This week, then, we must live out our sorrow for and understanding of

the Lord’s suffering in our own flesh:

by saying a kind word rather than a cruel word;

by giving a helping hand, rather than the back of our hand;

by being chaste, rather than yielding to lust.

 

And all this week the Church offers us unique beautiful liturgies

that help us to walk with Jesus in His hour of need

and to stand at the foot of His Cross.

 

Today St. Paul tells us:

“Jesus…did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at,”

or “clinged to.’

This week, what will you grasp at as more important than your suffering Jesus?

Will you cling to work, or busy schedules or even school?

Or this one week, will you humbly cling to Christ?

 

So I ask you right now, in your hearts, will you promise Jesus

to come to one or more of the holy week liturgies or sacraments?

If you haven’t been this Lent, will you finally come to confession?

Will you come daily Mass at on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday—or all 3?

Will you promise Jesus to come to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday,

commemorating His institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood,

and to watch and pray afterwards with the Lord

like the apostles in the garden of Gethsemane?

 

Will you come on Good Friday at 3 o’clock, the hour of the Lord’s Death,

–the holiest hour in all history–

for the powerful liturgy of the veneration of the cross,

to stand in line to kiss the cross of Christ,

and then to receive His crucified Body in Communion?

 

And, finally, how many will commit in their hearts right now, to come

to the most beautiful Mass of the Year Saturday night

—the Easter Vigil: the first celebration

of the light of the Resurrected Christ piercing the darkness?

 

Do not leave Christ behind in the church today,

or alone with the crowd this week.

Be with Him all week, at every moment—in your minds and hearts,

and in your bodies as well: at work, at home, and here in church.

Do not let this let this most sublime week of love ever in human history

be just like any other week of the year.

Let this week be different, set it apart, and let it be for you a truly HOLY WEEK.

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Lent, March 18, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 18, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel is taken from St. John’s account of the last week of Jesus’ life.

And it’s clear that Jesus knows that this is going to be no ordinary week,

that He’s going to suffer and die this week, as He says,

“I am troubled now.”

But it’s equally clear that He must and will endure it:

“Yet what should I say?… it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

 

He had waited for this hour all His life.

But in reality, the whole of creation had waited for this hour

from the beginning of the world.

Because only He—at this hour—

could restore to creation what it had lost in its beginnings:

only He could restore creation’s obedience to its creator.

 

____

The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning

everything God created lived in perfect harmony and peace,

there was no discord.

In short, there was nothing bad, there was no evil

–everything, as Genesis tells us, “was very good.”

 

Genesis also tells us that God had entered into a covenant with Adam and Eve,

giving them His love and everything He created in the world,

except for 1 thing:

the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And all He asked for in return was their love,

and in the context of that love, obedience.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve failed to love Him: they broke the covenant.

And so placing their will above God’s will,

they disobeyed Him and ate from the forbidden tree.

And they discovered what they had never known before:

the difference between good and evil.

And from that moment on, everything God had given them

would never again be exactly as it was supposed to be:

Disharmony and confusion, pain and sorrow, sin and evil,

would reign in the world.

 

But God did not create man for sin, but for His love,

so right from the beginning God promised he would send someone

to restore order to creation: a Savior.

Eventually, in order to prepare the way for the Savior,

He again made a Covenant with a group of human beings—the Israelites:

as we read in today’s 1st reading, He promised:

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

He would protect them, give them a home,

and give them a law that would teach them

how to live in harmony with each other, and with Him—how to love.

And in return they promised to love and obey Him, without reserve.

 

Yet time and again His people broke the covenant.

Until finally things got so bad that He told his prophet Jeremiah:

“The days are coming,

when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…”

But this covenant would not be like the old one:

it would not be something to read on blocks of stone,

but it would be written in the very hearts of His people:

it would actually change them and make it possible for them

to overcome the confusion of sin.

 

And He kept His promise.

Last week we read:

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”

And the Son came into the world to undo what Adam and Eve had done.

He came not to be disobedient, but to obey His Father.

He did not reach up to the tree to pick a forbidden fruit,

instead He came down from heaven, like a fruit falling to ground to die.

He did not try to lift Himself up like Adam and Eve, to be glorified like God,

but rather allowed Himself to be lifted up from the earth on a Cross,

in humiliation and suffering.

 

But as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

when I am lifted up from the earth,

I will draw everyone to myself.”

By obediently suffering and dying out of love

He gives Himself to the Father, and to us.

He undoes the disobedience of Adam

and undoes the disharmony between the Father and mankind.

He comes to us from the Father, so we can come to the Father through Him .

We need never again be separated from Him, never live in the disharmony of sin.

 

____

But Christ did this 2000 years ago.

How do we now, today, share in His great act of obedience?

How are we given the grace of his love for the Father?

Today’s Gospel tells us:

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Jesus doesn’t compare His death on the Cross

to the death of “a grain of wheat” by accident.

To the Jews wheat meant only one thing:

the most basic and staple food of their existence: bread!

For over 12 hundred years God’s prophets had promised the chosen people

that the Savior would bring with Him bread from heaven

—food that would be so wonderful and powerful that they would, in effect,

never again hunger for Adam’s tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And just month’s before Jesus was lifted up on the Cross,

He promised that He would somehow give them Himself

as this bread to eat.

 

And so on the night before He was lifted up on the Cross,

He took bread made of wheat and said to His 12 apostles:

“This is my body which is given for you.”

And then He took a cup of wine, fruit of the vine, and said:

“This is the chalice of My blood, the blood of the new Covenant.”

 

The promise of the Savior made to Adam is fulfilled in Christ.

And the promise of the new covenant made to Jeremiah is fulfilled on the Cross:

Jesus gives Himself to the Father by giving His body and blood

—His whole life—on the Cross.

And He gives Himself to us

—to each of us and all of us, whether living in the year 33 AD,

or the year 2018 AD

He gives Himself to us by giving His body and blood in the Eucharist.

And by receiving this Eucharist,

eating the wheat which has fallen to the ground to die,

we are lifted up into this perfect life:

He does not remain outside of us

like a stone with the law carved on it,

but rather enters into us, really and truly,

to give us new hearts of love.

And uniting Himself to us in this Holy Communion,

making us one with Him in His perfect obedience and love for the Father,

He restores the perfect harmony between God and man, even 2000 later.

 

____

But there is a catch:

just as Adam and Eve freely chose to act in disobedience to God’s will,

we must also freely choose to act in obedience to God’s will.

Neither the Cross or the Eucharist is magic—they are part of the Covenant.

To participate in this Covenant we must not only

accept the free gift of Himself that Christ offers to us,

we must also give Him ourselves in return.

 

So as Christ gives Himself to the Father by obediently accepting His will,

we must also give ourselves to Christ

by obediently accepting His will for us,

even if it means changing our hearts to love Him,

even if it means giving up our old lives dominated

by the world of confusion and evil.

And so Jesus tells us that:

“Whoever …hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me, …

The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

And St. Paul tells us that in his obedience to the Father, Jesus:

“became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

 

____

All  Lent we practice obedience through the various sacrifices we make.

Yet as we struggle even with these small things,

we realize we really have very little strength to be obedient to ourselves,

much less to God.

But just as all of Lent points to the Cross of Christ, it also points to Eucharist.

Without the Eucharist Christ cannot come to us, He can not unite Himself to us.

But with the Eucharist He can transform our feeble efforts

and unite them to His own:

–uniting our sacrifices to His, our obedience to His, our love to His,

our whole life to His.

And in the Cross’s mystery of OBEDIENCE,

we find not demeaning humiliation,

but the glory that Adam and Eve sought and lost

through disobedience.

Jesus asks:

“Father, glorify your name.”

–and Father responds: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

So in the Eucharist, Jesus offers to unite us not only to his obedience,

but also to his glory.

 

____

As we continue the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,

in a few moments I’ll ask you to “lift up your hearts to the Lord.”

When I say that, you’re supposed to do that!

So when I say that, lift your hearts and your whole self,

up to Christ in obedient sacrifice,

just as Christ Himself was lifted up in obedient sacrifice on the Cross.

And later, when I lift up the body and blood of Christ for you to see and adore,

open your hearts to receive Him, to become one with Him.

And remember the promise He made of the New Covenant:

“when I am lifted up from the earth,

I will draw all men to myself.”

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Passiontide. Today we cover the statues and crosses as we begin the last two weeks of Lent, called “Passiontide.” At this point in Lent some people often start to slip in keeping their Lenten penances, while others haven’t yet begun their penances at all. Passiontide reminds us to refocus or deepen our attention on the season and its purposes of repentance of sin, conversion of heart, and appreciation of Christ’s love manifested in His Passion and Cross. If you’ve been slacking in your observance of Lent, buck up. If you’ve neglected the season entirely, it’s not too late. Let us beg our Crucified Lord to shower us with His grace in these last two weeks of Lent, and that we may be open to His grace and love Him in return. During Lent, our focus on our sins and God’s redeeming suffering and death for our sins are called to mind by the many outward signs of Lent. The bodily/physical reminders of these days are so important to our experiencing the meaning of the season—Jesus suffered and died for us in His human body. And so it is important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” In our daily lives this is seen in our penances, including fasting and abstaining from meat. In the Mass we see it in the suppression of the Alleluia every day, and the Gloria on Sundays, as these joyful prayers are set aside during the sober and somber season. In Passiontide the elevated intensity of our focus is expressed in the outward and dramatic sign of covering the statues and crucifixes in our churches. In part, this is to encourage us to sort of place ourselves 2000 years back in time with Jesus during those last two weeks before His Crucifixion and Resurrection: Good Friday has not yet happened, so there is no cross yet; Easter has not happened, so no saints are in heaven. Keep this in mind in the coming days: “I’m walking with Jesus, and Peter and John and the apostles…With Judas. With Mary Magdalene and Salome and the other holy women. Walking toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany, going to the temple…. In the Upper Room, at the Last Supper…In the house of Caiaphas…In the palace of Pilate… Standing with Blessed Mary as they scourge her sweet child….” This focus “in the flesh” can be experience especially in our liturgical and prayer practices. So, please, come to the church and physically take part in the various sacraments, liturgies and other pious activities of the Church and parish in the next few weeks. I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra and longer confession times (we’ll have at least 2 priests hearing at most times, and sometimes 3 or 4). I also encourage you to go to one or more weekday Masses and spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, especially during Exposition on Wednesday and Friday. Please participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church this Friday evening at 6:30 pm, or Good Friday at 7:00 pm, with other parishioners led by a priest. I also strongly encourage you to participate in next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, March 25) Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of the 10:30 Mass (NOTE: IN PRIOR YEARS THIS WAS AT 8:45). Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 10:30, and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, process outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take about 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in
the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email (straychrch@aol.com) the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 10:30 Mass, you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall. Note, pray for nice weather, but if it’s rainy, snowy or too cold, we may alter either the route or starting point of the procession (staying inside)—we’ll let you know on Palm Sunday.
Holy Week. Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is, of course, the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will include a schedule for Holy Week, but I ask you now to plan ahead today. These are the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, marked by special and unique liturgies, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the solemn procession and silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight— “Can you not watch one hour with Me?” Then there’s Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, with the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion, which begins at 3:00 pm—the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening. As your spiritual father I beg you to try to participate in all of these liturgies that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend that you attend the 3:00 pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Over the last few years I have been amazed and moved to see standing-room-only crowds. I know parking is a little difficult, and the 1-hour and 45-minute service is a long one, but I am always overwhelmed, edified and inspired as I see my good people humbly and happily accept these relatively minor inconveniences as a small sharing in the suffering of Jesus, as they wait patiently, many in tears, to venerate His Cross and to receive His Most Holy Body in Communion. It is a powerful liturgy—stark, dramatic, somber, mournful, and transformative. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”
Lenten Series. My last of five talks on “The Mass and the Eucharist” is this Thursday at 7:00 pm in the Parish Hall. This week I will be reviewing and giving a meditation on Eucharistic Prayer I, also called the Roman Canon. You hear this prayer most Sundays (and every Mass I celebrate), but have you ever really explored the poetry, symbolism and profound mysteries it is trying to express? Some think, “that prayer is so looonnngggg!” But if you have to listen to it anyway, why not figure out why so many of your favorite saints thought, “that prayer is so beautiful!” I am certain that by understanding this prayer a little better you’ll “get” a whole lot more out of every Mass you attend. If you weren’t able to attend the first 4 weeks, that’s okay—come to this last one: it can stand alone. If you ever feel like you’re not getting enough out of Mass, come to this talk! All are invited! Babysitting is available, but please call the office for reservations. (If you would like to catch up on prior weeks, you can view videos of those talks on our website.)
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 11, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is Laetare, or “rejoice”, Sunday,

which comes from the opening antiphon at the beginning of Mass

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.

Be joyful, all who were in mourning….”

But these joyful words stand in stark contrast

to the sad words of today’s responsorial psalm:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”
These words from today’s psalm, these words of mourning and lamentation,

are almost 2600 years old.

But in a sense, they are timeless: they belong to every age,

from the time of Adam and Eve, even till today.

 

This psalm was probably written during the Babylonian Captivity of Israel,

sometime between the year 586 and 538 B.C.

We read about this in the first reading:

“Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon,

where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans

and his sons.”

In 586, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, attacked and conquered Judea

and in the process destroyed Jerusalem—which is also called Zion

—and in particular, he leveled the Temple located in Zion.

And when he left Jerusalem he took almost all

of the educated and noble Jews, including the priests and scribes,

back with him to Babylon,

leaving only the poor and uneducated Jews behind.

In effect the Jewish nation was destroyed.

 

And so you can see how the exiles would mourn

and long for a return to their home.

But it wasn’t only their home they missed:

they missed the Temple of Jerusalem, which was God’s home.

As the 1st reading today reminds us:

“the LORD’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem …

[was] His dwelling place.”

 

The thing is, they knew that their exile was a punishment for their sins.

But now, how could they be reconciled to God,

since they couldn’t go into his Temple,

and worship the way He demanded?

And so, they sing not only of weeping as they remember their home,

but they mourn specifically because, as the psalm says:

“How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

How can they worship God where He does not live?

And all of this, because they sinned.

 

____

But as I said, this psalm really belongs to every age,

because it is a psalm lamenting sin and the consequences of sin:

lamenting the loss of our home with God because of sin.

So it belongs to all men, back to the age of Adam and Eve,

because by their sin they lost their home in God’s paradise,

and since then all of us, their sons and daughters,

have longed to return to that home.

 

But as we read in today’s 2nd reading: “God…is rich in mercy.”

And He would not abandon man to his sins,

and so He has, from the beginning had a plan to bring man home to him.

Of course, this plan began with the establishment of a special people,

His very own “chosen people,”

from whom would come forth the savior of the whole human race.

And so this song of lamentation for the home lost by sin

belongs particularly to Abraham and his ancient descendents

—the Israelites, the Jewish people of ancient times.

 

But even though they were the people whom God had chosen

to bring about the reconciliation of all men to himself,

the Israelites themselves repeatedly broke their own covenant with God,

and suffered for their sins—even to the point of loosing their home.

 

We see this, perhaps most dramatically in the Babylonian exile

that we read about today.

For almost 700 years they had lived under the law of Moses:

the explicit instructions given by God to Moses,

by which He taught them like a caring and patient father

exactly how to live with and love each other,

and how to love and worship Him.

But time and time again they broke His commandments and laws,

and they worshipped him with false acts of piety.

As today’s 1st Reading tells us:

“In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people

added infidelity to infidelity,

practicing all the abominations of the nations

and polluting the LORD’s temple

which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Time and time again He punished them for their sins

–sometimes by great defeats in battle,

sometimes by having to flee from their enemies.

And finally, about 600 years after Moses died, He allowed the Babylonians

to conquer them and take them from their home in Zion.

 

_____

But while their captivity in Babylon lasted only about 50 years,

the Hebrews would never really fully regain their home.

Because after the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon

and sent the Jews back to Zion,

they still remained subjects of the Persian King.

And when the Persians were defeated by the Greeks,

the Jews became subjects of the Greeks,

And when the Greeks were defeated by the Romans,

they became subjects of the Romans.

 

So we come to the time in the history of the world, about 540 years later,

a time which the Gospels refer to as “the fullness of time”:

the days when Caesar Augustus ruled

almost all of Western Europe, northern African and the middle East,

and his friend Herod the Great was his vassal king in Judea,

headquartered in Jerusalem.

The dwelling place on earth of the Most High

was held captive by pagans from Rome,

so that Christians of the 1st century would call Rome the new “Babylon.”

And so the people of that age also cried out in song:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”

 

But God would still not abandon man to his sin.

As He had promised Adam, and Abraham and Moses, and all the prophets,

He would redeem his people

—He would bring them home to live with Him,

not merely in the earthly Zion

that can be corrupted by sin or destroyed by enemies,

but with Him in the eternal life of the heavenly Jerusalem

—God’s true home.

 

And so, we read in today’s Gospel:

“God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish

but might have eternal life.”

God the Son entered the world, being born in the midst of the chosen people.

Once again God revealed himself to His people:

but this time not through mere laws or the words of prophets.

This time God Himself, the Son, physically comes to His people.

And so we read today:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus came not to prolong mankind’s exile, but to bring man home to God.

 

____

But again, many chose not to serve God, but to sin.

And so Jesus tells us:

“the light came into the world,

but people preferred darkness to light,

because their works were evil.

And so, as we read in today’s Gospel, “the Son of Man [is] lifted up.”

–“lifted up”, up on a Cross,

a cross just outside of the city of Jerusalem,

a cross overlooking Zion.

And the song of lamentation belongs to those who killed him,

–the Romans and the Sanhedrin–

to those who watched Him die,

–the Blessed Mother, John, Magdalene and the Holy women–

and to those for whom He died

–you and I, and all sinful mankind:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”
____

Throughout the long history of Israel, and even all the way back to Adam,

men and women have mourned their sins

and lamented losing their home with God.

This is the terrible fact of the history of mankind.

 

But the glorious fact of that history

is that for every time man has sinned and lost his home,

God has come back and offered them reason for hope.

So that in every age as he hangs his head in sorrow for his sins,

man also lifts his head to see God’s forgiveness.

So just as the Babylonians exiled God’s people

only to have the Persians send them home to Jerusalem,

in the same way,

just as Jesus is lifted up on the Cross to die for our sins,

he is also lifted up in the Resurrection to live eternally,

and to bring us all home to the heavenly Jerusalem.

 

Today, on this Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church reminds us that

even as we meditate on the darkness of our sins,

we remember that the light shines in the darkness,

and hope shines through our mourning.

Even as we fix our eyes during these 40 days of Lent on Jesus Crucified,

we also look through the Cross to see Him Resurrected.

And even as we lament our sins,

and mourn the loss of our heavenly home praying:

“we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
we also remember:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him might

…have eternal life.”

And so now, as we enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,

the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection,

the mystery of the eternal sacrifice of the heavenly Temple,

the mystery of God giving us His only Son to and for the world,

the mystery of the eternal Jerusalem descending now to us on earth,

and lifting our hearts into heaven,

we sing:

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.

Be joyful, all who were in mourning….”

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Laetare Sunday. Today is Laetare Sunday, or “Rejoice
Sunday.” It marks the halfway point in Lent, with the
Church reminding us that in the midst of our sorrows for
the suffering of Christ for our sins, we need to always
keep in mind the glory and joy of the Resurrection and our
Redemption. (Strictly speaking, the Thursday before
Laetare Sunday is the middle day of Lent, and it was at
one time observed as such, but centuries ago the special
signs of joy permitted on this day were transferred to the
Sunday following to make them more visible to more
folks).
Many have told me how they’ve struggled to keep
their penances this Lent. Many others have told me they
still haven’t chosen a penance. Today we remember that
there is still half of Lent remaining to rededicate or
increase our efforts to keep Lent holy. To those who
haven’t chosen a penance yet, get with it. To those who
are struggling to keep their penances, if your penance is
too hard, it’s okay change your penance to something that
is challenging, but manageable in your situation; to those
who just haven’t been trying, no excuses—pick up your
cross. And to those have found their penances manageable
and doable, then perhaps you can add some more
penances, or intensify the ones you are currently doing.
Let’s let the rest of Lent really be a time of
holiness for each of us, as we carry our crosses with Jesus,
and so become closer in unity with Him.
Important Transgender Conference. I am very pleased
to announce that the parish will be sponsoring a
conference here on the Saturday after Easter, April 7th
entitled, “Gender Ideology: The Cultural Challenge and
the Catholic Response.” About a year ago, several of the
priests were able to attend an excellent conference by 3
remarkable speakers discussing the cultural, philosophical
and scientific problems presented by the current push to
accept the new (trans)gender ideology. Now we are able to
present that program to you, with a special invitation to
parents (and grandparents) of school-aged children. We
cannot sit by and let the culture—especially the media,
social media, and the public schools—abuse our children
with this psychologically and spiritually destructive
ideology. Please mark you calendars and plan to attend—I
hope for a very large turnout. See the insert today for
more information.
(Interesting fact: two of the speakers, Mary
Hasson and Theresa Farnan are extremely impressive in
their own right, but adding to that is the fact that these two
sisters (biological, not nuns) are also daughters of the late
great Catholic jurist and apologist, Charles Rice).
Come to the Lenten Series this Week! My talks on “The
Mass and the Eucharist” continue this Thursday at 7pm in
the Parish Hall. These last 2 talks are, I think, the most
important of the series, as this week we will go through
the Mass, part by part, to understand Its profound meaning
and purpose more clearly, and next week we will discuss
and meditate on the beautiful and multi-faceted meaning of
Eucharistic Prayer I. If you weren’t able to attend the first 3
weeks, that’s okay—come to these. If you ever feel like
you’re not getting enough out of Mass, I think and hope
and pray that these two weeks may go a long way in
changing that! All are invited! Babysitting is available,
but please call the office for reservations. (If you would
like to catch up on prior weeks, you can view videos of
those talks on our website.)
Wind Storm. I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall
seeing anything like the sustained winds that blew through
our area last weekend. I’ve been through several hurricanes
in my life, and a few tornadoes, but those come and go
pretty quickly. Thanks be to God we had little damage to
our parish property, but many of our parishioners were not
so fortunate. There were innumerable fallen trees, a few
crashing down on houses and cars. One of our
parishioner’s houses even caught fire. And of course,
everyone seemed to suffer a power outage and the
consequent cold inside temperatures. (I knew I should have
had fireplaces added to the rectory in last year’s office
renovations!)
As far as I know, no one in the parish suffered any
injuries from the storm, but if you need any assistance due
to the storm, or know of someone who is, please let me
know. Again, thank God. Let’s all join in prayer for all
who suffered any losses, and give thanks to God for His
mercy.
40 Days for Life. Thanks to all of you who participated in
the prayer vigil last weekend. This year I know it was
particularly challenging, with the wind and cold the way it
was. God bless you for that. I’m sorry I had to call off our
participation on Friday, but as your Father, I thought it best
to pay attention to your safety—we can, did, go on to fight
another day.
Fr. Mark Pilon. We have received word that Fr. Pilon’s
liver cancer is suddenly progressing rapidly and not
responding to treatment. For those who don’t know, Fr.
Pilon was Parochial Vicar at St. Raymond’s for several
years, including 2 with me, until his retirement in 2012.
Prior to that he was a distinguished professor at Mt. St.
Mary’s Seminary for many years, and before that held
various positions in the Diocese, including pastor at St.
Ambrose.
Please keep Fr. Pilon in your prayers. He is a great
priest who has served Our Lord and His people well. And
he is good friend to many in this parish, especially me. Out
of respect for his privacy, please direct any questions or
communication to the parish office, and do not try to
contact him directly. Thank you.
P.S. I write in a hurry this week, so please forgive any
errors or confusion above.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent

March 4, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus:

“made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.”

For many people today, this can be a very troubling text.

In fact, if this weren’t Jesus,

at a minimum, most Americans today would be confused by such behavior

and many would be outraged, finding it really “hateful.”

 

And as I thought about that this week,

I remembered that many of Jesus words and actions

would be considered hateful by a lot of folks today.

For example, He regularly insulted the Pharisees,

he treated men differently than he treated women,

and He taught that to go to heaven you have to keep the 10 Commandments,

that marriage is between one man and one woman,

and that sex outside of marriage leads to the fires of hell.

And in fact, many people today do reject Jesus, and even call Him “hateful,”

specifically, because He does these things.

 

But of course, it can’t be “hateful”: this is Jesus, God the Son—and God is love.

There must be love here.

 

This led me to think a little more deeply about why people would react this way,

and it became clear to me that this kind of symptoms of a larger,

societal problem.

That is, too many Americans have adopted

a corrupted understanding of the idea and meaning of “love.”

 

Put simply, over the last few decades we’ve more and more come to believe

that love is first and foremost all about feelings.

So that if you have strong feelings of attraction toward someone,

that must mean you love them.

Or if someone makes you feel good that must mean they love you.

And on the other hand, if someone makes you feel bad,

or uncomfortable or afraid or hurt or diminished in any way,

for whatever reason

that someone not only doesn’t love you—they must “hate” you.

 

Of course, this way of understanding love has always been with us,

but it’s also always been considered as childish

and detrimental to the true good of the person and society.

Instead, we had a more a more mature and truly human understanding of love.

The idea of love, sometimes defined as,

willing and striving for the good of the other”

–if you love someone, you want what is truly good for them,

and you do what you can to bring that good to them.

Notice, it has nothing to do with feeling good:

it’s about being good and doing good.

Good feelings are not necessarily reflective of true and objective good:

shooting heroin in your arm every night

might make you feel good for a while,

but there in no way is it truly, objectively good for you.

 

And yet that kind of feeling good

is what the popular culture promotes as “love.”

And so the culture finds it almost impossible to find love

in saying “no” to something that makes you feel good.

And so, for example, Jesus and His Church

are unloving when we say you can’t do whatever makes you feel good

with anyone that makes you feel good.

Or that we’re hateful when we say that if you don’t repent mortal sin

you will go to hell, even if that sin makes you feel really good…

 

But all the while the Church is only saying,

we truly love you, and we want only what’s good for you

and we’ll do only what we understand to be truly good for you,

which has very little to do with whether or not

it makes you feel good right now.

 

This dichotomy of these 2 meanings of love is seen nowhere more clearly

than in that which is the object of our particular reflection throughout Lent:

the suffering and crucifixion of Christ—or simply, “The Cross.”

The Cross has never made anyone feel good:

not the Blessed Mother, or St. John or St. Mary Magdalene

standing at the foot of the cross;

not Pontius Pilate or the Roman soldiers,

and not even Caiaphas and the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

It certainly doesn’t make you or me feel good.

And above all, it definitely did not make Jesus feel good.

And yet, it was the most truly profound expression of the Lord’s

willing our greatest good—our salvation,

and the greatest thing he could do to bring about our greatest good,

to win our salvation.

In short, the Cross didn’t feel good, but it was the greatest act of love ever.

 

2000 years ago St. Paul wrote, as we read in today’s 2nd reading:

“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

but we proclaim Christ crucified,

a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Today he might say:

Americans demand good feelings,

but Christians proclaim Christ crucified,

a stumbling block and foolishness to Americans.”

 

_____

Now, saying all this I might appear to be talking about

some nebulous culture “out there,”

or perhaps about people who embrace that culture—but still “out there.”

And I am to some extent.

But what worries me most is how that culture “out there”

has influenced us “in here.”

Because we don’t just stay “in here” in this church–we live out there,

where we are constantly surrounded by the culture and its values

—especially it’s strange notion of love.

It’s in the books we read, the movies and shows we see,

the news we watch, the lessons we learn in school,

and in the conversations we have with friends and family,

especially in social media.

It’s almost in the air we breathe.

You may think you avoid it,

but it’s almost impossible for it not to affect each of us in some way.

 

______

Again, think about how many Catholics today would be a little embarrassed

by our Lord’s actions in today’s Gospel when He whipped

and drove the moneychangers from the Temple.

And how many Catholics would be hard-pressed to explain

why He wasn’t being hateful.

 

And yet, Jesus didn’t hate the moneychangers,

anymore than He hated the scribes and Pharisees when He told them:

“…You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

 

He didn’t hate them, He loved them.

But some people are more thick-headed than others

—some can be corrected by a gentle word,

and some by an intellectual argument,

But some can only be corrected by plain, harsh criticism,

and some, apparently, only by a whip.

 

As St. Paul tells us, in his letter to the Hebrews:

“‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,

and chastises every son

he disciplines us for our good

For the moment all discipline seems painful;

later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness…”

 

“For our good.”

Not our good feelings.

 

I remember once when I was a just a little boy,

I ran into to the street and almost got hit by a car.

My mama, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest woman you ever met,

grabbed my arm, spun me around and slapped me right on the bottom.

It hardly hurt at all, but she definitely got my attention.

I had no doubt she loved me,

but I also had not doubt that I would never run into the street again.

 

______

In Lent, we remember all of this,

and, in effect, we invite the Lord to be brutally honest with us

—to show us, in whatever way is necessary, what is truly good for us.

In effect, we ask him to call out to us like he did to Pharisees

to break through our stubbornness.

And yes, we even ask him to take a figurative whip to us, if necessary,

but to drive out the sins and vices in our souls,

sins we act out with our bodies,

which are supposed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

And we even join him in this chastisement,

by figuratively taking a whip to ourselves, by our acts of penance.

 

Now, please, don’t write the bishop saying I told you to whip yourselves,

or that I’m advocating lawless violence—far from it.

But by simple things like giving up chocolate or meat or coffee—whatever—

and by adding prayers and acts of charity to your daily life,

you remind yourself that love is not about feeling good,

but about being and doing good.

And in fact, we remember that in the end,

sin hurts us more than any whip or penance could.

because sin keeps us from being good—being the best we can be.

And in the end, venial sins lead us to mortal sins, and mortal sins lead us to hell.

 

So, just as in love the Lord takes a whip to the moneychangers,

we ask him to take a whip to us, and we take a whip to ourselves.

But notice,

Scripture tells us “He made a whip out of cords.”

Doesn’t sound like a very formidable or whip

—it  doesn’t sound like it would hurt very much.

Kind of like the verbal whip he took to the scribes and Pharisees

—words of truth, that stung, but did no real damage or injury.

And the whip he takes to us is the mildest of discipline:

his yoke is easy, his burden light.

And the whips we take to ourselves, our penances,

honestly, they’re almost nothing.

 

But then we remember another whip

—a whip Jesus took to Himself,

or rather allowed others to take to Him,

as part of the penance He did for us on the way to the Cross:

what we call “the scourging at the pillar.”

History tells us that the whip wielded by his Roman guards

was not a harmless whip of cords,

but a vicious, even deadly, instrument of torture.

The “flagellum” consisted of several thongs of leather,

with lead balls or pieces of bone at the end.

It was not designed to get merely your attention,

but to violently rip open the skin, down to the muscle and bone.

 

Our Lord would never take such a whip to us.

But out of love He gladly endured such a whip for us.

Again, not for a good feeling, but for our true good—our salvation.

 

______

During Lent we turn our eyes and minds and hearts to meditate

on the suffering and death of Jesus.

Not because it feels good to watch Him suffer,

but because in His suffering we discover

the amazing depths of His love for us.

And in His love we discover the true meaning of love,

—that seeks not temporary good feelings,

but seeks and strives for the true good of the beloved,

no matter how painful it is to us, or to them.

 

As we move forward in Lent, by the grace of Christ scourged and crucified,

may our penances remind us of this love,

drive out all trace of sin from our lives,

and fix in their place a true abiding love for God and neighbor.

Third Sunday in Lent

Something to Pray About During Lent. I have often written and spoken about the choices we have in the manner we receive Holy Communion. In one column I wrote, after giving my reasons, “I recommend that all of my parishioners prayerfully consider receiving Communion on the tongue. However, it is your choice…I respect your choice.” The same can be said for the choice to kneel or stand.
Given that, I refer you to a new book published (in Italian) which includes a preface by Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (i.e. the Church’s head of Liturgy), in which he wrote about these choices. What follows is an extract from this preface (from LifeSiteNews). I ask you to read it prayerfully.
“…Before the apparition of the Virgin Mary [at Fatima], in the Spring of 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco…[T]he children realized that the Angel…held in his left hand a chalice over which a host was suspended… saying: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” The Angel prostrated himself again on the ground, repeating the same prayer three times with Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.
“The Angel of Peace therefore shows us how we should receive the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ…But what are the outrages that Jesus receives in the holy Host, for which we need to make reparation?
“…[T]he most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, by sowing errors and fostering an unsuitable way of receiving it. Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and lucifer on the other, continues in the hearts of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated Host. This robbery attempt follows two tracks: the first is the reduction of the concept of ‘real presence.’ Many theologians persist in mocking or snubbing the term ‘transubstantiation’ despite the constant references of the Magisterium…
“Let us now look at how faith in the real presence can influence the way we receive Communion, and vice versa. Receiving Communion on the hand undoubtedly involves a great scattering of fragments. On the contrary, attention to the smallest crumbs, care in purifying the sacred vessels, not touching the Host with sweaty hands, all become professions of faith in the real presence of Jesus, even in the smallest parts of the consecrated species: …The substance is the same! It is Him! On the contrary, inattention to the fragments makes us lose sight of the dogma. Little by little the thought may gradually prevail: “If even the parish priest does not pay attention to the fragments…then it means that Jesus is not in them…”
“The second track on which the attack against the Eucharist runs is the attempt to remove the sense of the sacred from the hearts of the faithful…. While the term ‘transubstantiation’ points us to the reality of presence, the sense of the sacred enables us to glimpse its absolute uniqueness and holiness. What a misfortune it would be to lose the sense of the sacred precisely in what is most sacred! And how is it possible? By receiving special food in the same way as ordinary food…
“The liturgy is made up of many small rituals and gestures — each of them is capable of expressing these attitudes filled with love, filial respect and adoration toward God. That is precisely why it is appropriate to promote the beauty, fittingness and pastoral value of a practice which developed during the long life and tradition of the Church, that is, the act of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. The greatness and nobility of man, as well as the highest expression of his love for his Creator, consists in kneeling before God. Jesus himself prayed on his knees in the presence of the Father….
“In this regard I would like to propose the example of two great saints of our time… St. John Paul II[‘s] …entire life was marked by a profound respect for the Holy Eucharist…. Despite being exhausted and without strength… he always knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. He was unable to kneel and stand up alone. …Until his last days, he wanted to offer us a great witness of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Why are we so proud and insensitive to the signs that God himself offers us for our spiritual growth and our intimate relationship with Him? Why do not we kneel down to receive Holy Communion after the example of the saints? Is it really so humiliating to bow down and remain kneeling before the Lord Jesus Christ? And yet, “He, though being in the form of God,… humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2: 6-8).
“St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta… had a respect and absolute worship of the divine Body of Jesus Christ…[F]illed with wonder and respectful veneration, Mother Teresa refrained from touching the transubstantiated Body of Christ. Instead, she adored him and contemplated him silently, she remained at length on her knees and prostrated herself before Jesus in the Eucharist. Moreover, she received Holy Communion in her mouth, like a little child who has humbly allowed herself to be fed by her God… The saint was saddened and pained when she saw Christians receiving Holy Communion in their hands…
“Why do we insist on receiving Communion standing and on the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God? …Let us come as children and humbly receive the Body of Christ on our knees and on our tongue. The saints give us the example….!
“But how could the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the hand become so common? …It was a process that was anything but clear, a transition from what the instruction Memoriale Domini granted, to what is such a widespread practice today… Unfortunately, as with the Latin language, so also with a liturgical reform that should have been homogeneous with the previous rites, a special concession has become the picklock to force and empty the safe of the Church’s liturgical treasures…
“I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this method. In my opinion and judgment, this is an important question on which the Church today must reflect…”

Knights of Columbus Food Drive. Thanks to all of you who brought in food (and food cards and checks) last week. We collected 4,500 lbs. of food for the St. Lucy Project. A great way to practice the penance of “almsgiving.” And a great example of the service the Knights provide for our parish and diocese. If you’re a Catholic man over 18 years old—why aren’t you a Knight? Maybe you could do that for Lent: commit yourself to service by joining and being an active member?

Lenten Series. My talks on “The Mass and the Eucharist” continue this Thursday at 7:00 pm in the Parish Hall. All are invited—you need not have come last week!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles