Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

  

EASTER VIGIL HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS, 2018

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

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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

5th  Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

One of the most important figures in the Gospels

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

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

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

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

 

I say she’s important because, for example,

she’s mentioned by name more often in the Gospels

than most of the Apostles,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

—that she was actually an Apostle herself,

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

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

 

____

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

than what’s explicitly in the Bible.

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

has always been commonly thought to include the story

of the woman Scripture calls the “sinful woman,”

the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears

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

Tradition also considers Magdalene

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

—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

But unlike other modern portrayals of Magdalene,

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

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

 

____

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

but reasonable and pretty widespread,

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

is also Mary Magdalene.

 

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

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

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

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

as long as they come from credible sources,

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

 

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

They say that portraying Magdalene as a sinner

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

The really radical ones claim

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

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

in some sort of negative light.

 

___

These people couldn’t be more wrong.

Jesus tells us:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

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

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

but a sinner who has been forgiven and repented and reformed

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

–to say this is to give the greatest praise,

and recount the most noble achievement.

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

is the ultimate rags to riches story:

from terrible sinner to magnificent saint,

from the depths of despair and wretchedness

to the heights of sublime and perfect bliss

.

 

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

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

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

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

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

….and with his wounds we are healed…”

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die,

and all because He loved and wanted to save sinners.

 

____

The woman in today’s Gospel stands condemned

by God’s law, called Law of Moses

—and under that Law she deserves to be stoned.

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

1300 years before His Incarnation in the womb of Mary,

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

 

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

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

“not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

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

or even all notions of sin and punishment.

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

Magdalene’s sins can be important to Christians.

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

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

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

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory

…Then he will say to those at his left,

….depart from me into the eternal fire…”

 

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

or even that she deserves punishment.

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

he wants to save her.

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

 

____

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

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

and to stop sinning.

In other words, “repent.”

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

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

and overwhelmed by Jesus’ mercy.

 

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

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

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

and approaches Jesus at Simon’s house

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

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

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

of the depth of her sorrow for her sins.

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

Jesus not only forgives her, but he praises her:

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

 

____

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

penitent saint, now more than ever.

In the end, those who want to rewrite the Gospels

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

But sexual liberation has been tried for over 50 years

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

but to their further enslavement to the lusts of men,

and to the myopic expectations of radical feminist ideologues.

Just look around at the explosion of

pornography, contraception, abortion, and divorce,

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

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

Women!

 

__

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

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

and every single woman before and since

who has been burdened by the weight of sin

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

What a glorious promise to women weighed down

with the guilt of a past abortion.

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

that careers are more important than loving babies or husbands.

What a blessing to a young woman

who thinks she has to torture or demean herself

to look like a supermodel or a porn star,

so that some undeserving man will love her.

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

and can make all things new.

 

­­­____

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

Jesus also tells the men who brought her to Him

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

–none of us is “without sin.”

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

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

or the sin of self-righteousness.

Whether we sin in large ways, or small ways.

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

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

 

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

like the woman caught in adultery,

first, to be dramatically confronted by our sins

and the fact that they are worthy of punishment,

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

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

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

like the repentant Magdalene washing his feet with her tears,

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

 

____

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

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

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

but this time as he hangs upon the Cross.

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

And through her example and intercession,

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

than to be a repentant and forgiven sinner.

And there is no greater blessing than to be made new

by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

poured out from the wounds of his suffering and death.

And there are no more sublime or loving words

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

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

Fifth Sunday of Lent

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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

4th  Sunday of Lent

March 31, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We do the same thing everyday.

We all want what belongs to God

—in particular, we want His power

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

thanking Him publicly at Mass for His generosity.

 

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

like a strong intellect or good health or courage:

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

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

how did you work to be naturally smart?

 

And all too often, having received all these gifts,

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

—we can never get enough.

 

____

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

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

but now he abandons his father.

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

 

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

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

And I’m not just talking about atheists.

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

but neglect praying to Him or listening to His word,

at least until they want something from Him again.

Think of all those who go to church every Sunday,

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

never mentioning His name in the world they live in.

 

____

And then Jesus says the youngest son:

squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

 

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

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

 

Think of the great intellectual gifts God gives us.

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

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

Science has done many wonderful things,

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

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

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

Think of all the talented artists who waste their gifts producing

books, movies, plays and music

that wallow in senseless violence, lust and perversion.

 

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

how many senseless movies or videos you watch?

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

in the selfish pursuit of greed, lust or revenge.

 

____

Jesus goes on to say that the prodigal son

“swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

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

than the gift of sexuality.

What phenomenal gift

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

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

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

or simply to satisfy our most venal desires.

And wedded with the gift of technology, internet pornography

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

 

I could go on and on.

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

This is the life of the prodigal son,

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

 

____

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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

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

his wasteful life, his sins,

and begging forgiveness.

Lent is a time when we should do the same.

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

through one of our Father’s most generous gifts:

the sacrament of confession,

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

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

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

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

and come back into His home.

 

What a fantastic gift

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

 

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

—and I haven’t done anything that bad.

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

—the older brother who stays behind.

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

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

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

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

And he refused the gift.

 

The sacrament of penance is also for everyone

who lives in the household of God,

even the ones who seem to the most faithful.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

because they become complacent and prideful:

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

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

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

–just like the prodigal son had done earlier.

No friends, confession is for all of us

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

 

__

Others reject the gift of confession because they say:

I don’t have to go to confession:

I go straight to God and He forgives my sins?

There they go again, being just like the prodigal.

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

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

 

And they want not only the forgiveness,

but also the authority of their heavenly Father.

They know Jesus established the sacrament of penance

when He told the apostles:

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

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

 

And finally, they presume that they somehow

have a right to the gift of forgiveness:

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

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

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

 

_____

Now, I don’t know if you noticed it,

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

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

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

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

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

with Him, Jesus, for showing mercy to sinners:

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

 

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

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

never betraying His Father like the other sons.

He is the Son who eternally reminds the Father

what a perfectly loving Son is,

so that even when His other sons waste His gifts,

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

And He is the brother who,

gives His whole life, holding nothing back,

to His father and to his brothers,

by dying on the cross for his brothers’ sins.

 

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

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

in fact He’s the crescendo of the story:

he is the brother who reconciles Father and sons,

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

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

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

but he “pleaded with” them,

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

 

____

Today, we sons and daughters of the Most High God

should feel the most profound sorrow

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

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

paid for our sins.

And yet we should also feel overpowering joy

that we have a Father who forgives us so easily

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

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

repentant sinners,

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

of Communion with our Heavenly Father.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Halfway Through Lent. Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Lent, the traditional midpoint of the 40 days of the penitential season. But some point out that there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (inclusive). The thing is, the counting of the 40 days has never included the 6 Sundays of Lent, because, historically, the 40 days were always days of modified fasting, and Sunday was never a day of fast since it is the Lord’s Day. Moreover, though Good Friday and Holy Saturday are not technically “Lent” but the “Triduum”, even so, the Triduum retains the penitential character of Lent, so there are still 40 penitential days. Confused? Sorry.

That being said, this is the midpoint Sunday of Lent, and is called “Laetare Sunday,” “laetare” meaning “rejoice.” It is considered sort of a slight lifting of the austerity and somberness of Lent as we remember to lift our gaze to see that beyond the Cross is the Resurrection; in the midst of our sorrow for our lives of sin, we also rejoice in the forgiveness and new life won by the Paschal Mystery. The Rose Vestments symbolize this: the dark purple of repentance and sorrow mingled with the light of forgiveness and joy.

 

“For Your Penance, Say One Hail Mary.”  In order to be forgiven our sins in the Sacrament of Penance three things are required of every sinner/penitent: 1) contrition, 2) confession of our sins, and 3) satisfaction. Most of us understand contrition (being sorry) and confessing our sins, but you may not be familiar with the term “satisfaction” in this context. “Satisfaction” here refers to the real effort to make up for our sins, and comes in two ways: “reparation” and “expiation” Let’s look a little closer at this. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches [1459-1460]:

“Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much.” This is called ‘making reparation.’

“But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins.” This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.

“The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.”

Many people wonder how something as small and simple as “saying three Hail Marys” can serve as an adequate penance. But remember, we could never do enough penance to pay for all our sins—only Jesus can do this, and does so, on the Cross. But the penance after confession is an important personal effort at trying to make amends. Moreover a simple and clear penance, such as some short prayers, makes a good practical penance because: 1) if done devoutly they can be an important first step forward toward God, 2) they are more likely to be done immediately, so that the penance won’t be forgotten and the penitent can immediately renew the life of grace, and 3) they avoid the confusion of more ambiguous or ambitious penances, so the penitent won’t be wondering, “did I do enough?” “did I do too much?” “did I do it right?”.

 

St. Peter Chrysologus. In the office of Readings. this last Tuesday, the second reading was from a sermon (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320, 322) by Saint Peter Chrysologus, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, who died in 433. I thought this might help you this week.

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

            “When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

            “Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

            “Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

“Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

            “Offer your soul to God, make Him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give Him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

            “To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

“When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

 

 

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 24, 2019

3rd  Sunday of Lent

March 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds the crowd of 2 incidents

where large groups of Jews had suffered terrible calamity.

As was common in those days, and still among some people today,

everyone assumed God was punishing these people

because they were terrible sinners.

But Jesus shows the crowd how they’re using this as an excuse

for thinking they themselves are not sinners,

as if they’re saying,

‘well as long as a building doesn’t fall on me, I must be holy.’

But Jesus says to them:

“I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
____

The other day someone showed me a picture they had taken of me recently.

I saw the picture and said to myself: “who is that old man?

It’s easy to look at other people and see their imperfections, and their sins,

but it’s much harder to look at ourselves and see ours.

And if we can’t see them, we can’t change them

—we can’t repent, which is what Lent is all about.

 

So today, let’s think about one way we can sin everyday.

Probably the most common thing we do every day is see

–we see our neighbor, ourselves, the world.

The gift of vision is one of God’s most generous gifts to us

but at the same time one of the most taken for granted and abused.

Most of us seldom think about how wonderful it is until we start to loose it.

 

Think about it.

So much of what we learn, and understand, and enjoy;

so much of what inspires and motivates us,

comes to us from through our vision.

We read with our vision,

we look at beautiful art, we watch entertaining plays or movies,

we look at our smartphones and computers,

we look at the way people act and at the way they smile, or frown.

All day long we’re looking and seeing.

 

And we can’t confine ourselves to physical vision:

there is also the mind’s eye

—the imagination, where we see images of lots of things.

So that even when we close our eyes, we continue to see.

 

But like all good gifts, the gift of sight can be used for good or evil.

What is it we look at, what do we see?

What kind of books and papers do we read,

what kind of television and movies do we watch?

Where do my eyes go on the internet?

And where do I let my mind’s eye wander?

 

And how do we look at others

—either with the physical eye, or with the mind’s eye?

Do we see them as persons created in the image of God?

Or do we see them as something to use and abuse

—an object for our hatred, greed, pride, envy, or lust?

 

And also, how do others see us, and how do we try to make others see us?

We shouldn’t go around doing things just for people to see and praise us,

but when do things that people do see, they should be seeing good things.

We should be showing good examples.

We should even be aware of how we dress

—to help others see something good or to avoid seeing something evil.

For example, some people wear uniforms to remind people of their job

and that they’re available to help them.

And on the other hand, some people wear clothes to call attention to themselves,

in order some to brag about their wealth or status,

or to boast about their personal holiness or piety,

or to tempt or excite others.

So many of women’s fashions are designed specifically

to catch and tempt men’s eyes.

 

______

The power of vision is awesome.

This is all, of course, no secret.

Teachers and artists and authors have always known this.

And Hollywood, television executives, advertisers, webmasters, software writers,

and fashion designers know this.

And they use it, for good or evil,

to draw us in to what they want us to learn or buy or understand.

To manipulate us.

 

And unfortunately, the devil also knows this.

The devil must have had a great time

leading people to Siloam to look at the fallen tower,

so he could whisper to them,

‘look those people are bad, but no tower fell on  you.’

Do you think he doesn’t see us,

giving dirty looks to the person who angers us,

or when we simply refuse to look at the poor or sick?

Or looking at another person and seeing them an object of envy or lust?

 

_____

On the one hand, this can be kind of frightening and intimidating,

and it makes us stop to look carefully at our lives

and the way we use our vision.

On the other hand, there is no real need to be frightened, or intimidated.

Because just as we can see all this, God sees it too.

 

He’s seen it from the beginning when he created the universe,

and “saw everything he had made, and [beheld that] it was very good.”

He saw it when he made himself known to Moses in the burning bush;

as Moses says in today’s 1st reading:

“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”
And he understood it when he came among us,

as Jesus Christ, in a body we could see!

 

Last Sunday we read about the Transfiguration,

when Christ took Peter, James and John up a mountain

where he let them see his glorified body, standing with Moses and Elijah.

He did this to strengthen them, because he knew that in a few weeks

they would see the horrible vision of him beaten and nailed to a cross.

 

Jesus understands better than anyone the power of sight.

And so time after time He let people see His power—think of all the miracles,

imagine the effect on the people of seeing him

walking on water and the raising of dead.

But He didn’t do those miracle only for the people 2000 years ago

—He also did them for us.

He knew about our minds eye, how we see so clearly with our imagination.

 

And knowing about our imagination

He not only gave His followers physical signs to see,

but also told them parables with powerful for the minds eye to gaze upon

–taking complex ideas and letting us see them in very clear images.

Next week He uses the image of the prodigal son,

who winds up working in a pig pen.

This week He uses the image of a fruitless fig tree in a garden,

using the very descriptive language of cultivating and fertilizing

and even cutting it down.

It doesn’t take a farmer or a gardener to see these images

as clear as high def tv screen.

And it doesn’t take a priest to understand the imminent need

to repent and bear fruit.

 

_____

In His wisdom, Christ has passed this appreciation of the power of vision

to His Church.

We see it in the sacred art of the church that lead us

to understand the mysteries of the life of Christ and his saints.

We see it in the beautiful churches that draw us to worship.

We see it in the different vestments and the sacred vessels we use,

and the candles and images that adorn the altar.

 

We especially see this in the special seasons of the year.

In Lent we begin seeing it in the ashes of Ash Wednesday,

and we continue to see it in the sparseness of decorations in the Church,

and in the stark violet everywhere.

We see it as we visit the stations of the cross,

and as we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.

And we see it in the pageantry of Holy Week:

the Palms and procession of Palm Sunday,

the washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday,

the kissing of the Cross on Good Friday.

And we see it in books and movies that lay before us images of

the Christ’s Passion,

inviting us to see with our own eyes

—even if only the eyes of imagination enlightened by the eyes of faith—

the depth of His love pouring out in the blood

from the scourges to His back,

the thorns in His head,

the nails in His hands and feet,

and the sword in His side.

To see with our own eyes the fact that by his wounds we are healed.

 

And all year long we see it in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church.

We especially see it in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,

where we see him as he is, but under the veil of the appearance of bread.

And all of this of course leads us here—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,

where all the holy things we’ve seen come together,

and what we see with our physical eyes is understood with the mind’s eye

and the eyes of faith,

as we look upon the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord.

 

____

The gift of vision is one of the most beautiful gifts God gives us.

But like all good gifts,

we human beings, with our free wills, can use our vision very badly.

Lent is a time to consider how we use God’s gifts badly—sinfully.

A time to see clearly that we can be just as bad a sinner as anyone else.

A time to look at our lives and see all the ways we fail to appreciate God’s gifts,

the way we sin.

This year, look especially at the way you fail to appreciate the gift of sight

—both physically and in the mind.

See how powerful this gift is—for good and for evil.

And remove any image you see which leads you or others away from Jesus

and replace it with a vision that leads all people to him.

Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ.