TEXT: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 19, 2020

2nd  Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 19, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

47 years ago this week the Supreme Court of the United States ruled

that women have a fundamental right to abort their babies

—the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

Since then pro-life advocates, including the Catholic Church,

have been waging a peaceful war to mitigate and eventually overturn

that barbaric decision.

The war continues.

 

Over the last 25 years or so I have preached on the evil of abortion,

and the need to fight that evil at every turn,

including in the public square and in the political arena,

especially in the voting booth.

Some people have objected to these homilies,

some arguing that I am unnecessarily political,

some that I’m often too partisan,

and some that there were, in fact, more important issues to worry about.

I could understand many of those objections:

they are absolutely wrong, but I see where they’re coming from.

 

But the one objection I have never understood is when people say

that my position on abortion

—or rather, the Church’s doctrine on abortion—

is fundamentally unjust

since it ignores the rights of women to make choices

based on their own good.

The problem is, anyone who argues

that abortion is about protecting women and their rights

is ignoring the fact that in every abortion there are at least two victims:

while it is clear that every abortion

stops the naturally beating heart of a baby,

what many refuse to recognize is that it also

breaks the naturally loving heart of a mommy.

 

For the last 5 decades doctors of the body

have overwhelmingly defended the medical choice of abortion,

while at the same time doctors of the mind

—psychiatrists and psychologists—

have also defended that choice as often being necessary

for the psychological health of the mother.

But anyone who argues

that an abortion can ever be psychologically good for a woman

is ignoring the facts.

Think about it.

You don’t have to teach women to love their children without reserve:

what mother do you know that if she had to nurse her baby

through the suffering of some terrible disease

like leukemia or kidney disease

wouldn’t gladly trade places with her baby?

Mom’s are just like that.

How could such an amazing creature as a mom

ever benefit emotionally from doing something

so radically opposed to her nature?

 

Still, in spite of scientific study after study

that proves this common sense observation,

and in spite of the millions of emotionally crippled women

that come to them,

the mental health establishment refuses to open its eyes to see the truth.

 

___

Sometimes when I speak to people about abortion, someone will say:

“what do you want to do, put these women in jail?”

The answer is not only “no” but “are you crazy?

The very fact that they do something

so obviously contrary to their own basic nature

leads me to first assume that something extraordinary intervened

to confuse or impair their judgment.

And that “something” includes the systematic brainwashing they receive

in school, in the media and from health care workers.

And more importantly it includes the incredible pressure brought to bear on them by

doctors and nurses grown callous to their patients,

parents ashamed of their little girl

or boyfriends or husbands unwilling to shoulder responsibility

for their own sexual conduct.

If anyone should be punished, it should be these people

who should know better,

and to whom the distraught woman or frightened girl comes for help.

In the words of the great advocate of women’s rights of the 19th century,

the famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony,

speaking on the evil of abortion:

“thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation

which impelled her to the crime!”

 

And yet it is the woman who does bear the punishment

—whether the laws of society recognize the crime or not.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many times

doctors, lawyers, feminists or boyfriends say,

“honey, you didn’t do anything wrong”

–every woman who aborts knows in her heart what she did,

and there is no punishment conceived by man or woman

that could compare to the hell

that they heap upon themselves.

 

These women know.

Some don’t always admit it, but they know.

I’ve seen the terribly tortured look on the faces

and heard through torrents of tears the tormented voices,

of too many women who come to me in the confessional.

Especially in the last few years as the group called Project Rachel

has become more and more active in our diocese.

Because Project Rachel, and other groups and individuals like it

recognize the distress of these women, and offer them a helping hand.

 

It’s interesting that Project Rachel phone counselors

say that although they always offer women a choice between a referral

either to a priest or to a psychologist,

the women overwhelmingly ask for a priest.

I didn’t understand that, until a few years ago

when a woman sat in my office telling me

that for 10 years she had very clearly seen the connection

between her severe emotional problems

and the abortion she had had just a few weeks

before those problems began.

And yet counselor after counselor for 10 years

kept telling her that she hadn’t done anything wrong

—abortion was okay:

the only problem she had was her unreasonable guilt,

and so they tried to cure her guilt.

 

But now she was fed up with her problems, and she was fed up with their lies.

She came to a priest—even though she was not even Catholic

—because she knew that a priest would believe her when she said

she had been wrong in aborting her baby,

and that a priest might help her to deal with

the terrible thing she had done.

 

The truth hurts, but lies hurt more

—especially when you’re dealing with the life and death of babies,

and the love and guilt of mothers.

It’s time to end the lies

—time to end the silencing of these women who cry out in pain.

 

____

How do we do this?

Of course, most fundamentally

we have to change people’s attitude toward abortion…

society must admit that killing unborn babies,

and encouraging mothers to do so, is simply grossly wrong.

We need to stop confusing women in crisis pregnancies

and denying proper treatment to those who bear long standing guilt.

To do this we must have good men and women in public office

who will deal with abortion with honesty, and true compassion.

 

___

That’s what we can do publicly and for long term results.

But more immediately, we offer our full support

to women we know who might be tempted to abortion

—we tell them the truth, but we also offer them all the help we can,

whether financial, medical, emotional and spiritual.

 

And… we can help that poor devastated woman in our midst

–perhaps our sister, mother, wife or friend–

who has had an abortion and needs more than anything else

to admit her guilt, receive forgiveness

and begin to heal the open emotional and spiritual wounds

of a broken heart.

 

In the end, there is only one person

who has the power to make this healing happen.

In today’s Gospel St John the Baptist points to Jesus and says,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus alone can bring the fullness of forgiveness and peace these women long for. Jesus alone can shine the light on these women

living in the darkness of our society’s culture of death,

made all too personal in the death of their own babies.

Jesus alone can heal the wounds abortion has left them with

by pouring into their broken hearts His boundless love.
Jesus is the only answer for these women.

 

____

Scripture goes on to tells us that after John pointed out Jesus

as the Lamb of God, people started to follow Jesus.

Today we must follow Jesus, proclaiming his gospel of life and love,

of repentance, forgiveness and healing

especially to the living victims of abortion.

And we must invite them to join us, and follow Jesus.

Because if they do, Jesus Christ will lift their burden of guilt and sin.

 

___

Jesus calls you and I to remain silent no longer.

To our fellow Americans who believe the lies and manipulations of

pro-abortion advocates, radical feminists, leftist media and politicians

we must proclaim the Gospel of Life.

To those young girls and older women who face crisis pregnancies

we must love them enough to tell them the truth

that even if husbands, or boyfriends or parents abandon them,

Christ will never abandon them.

And to those women who suffer the pains of guilt of past abortions

we must remind them that Christ longs to

dry their tears, take away their grief, and forgive their sin.

If only they will ignore those who try to silence their cries of pain,

and instead listen to voice of John the Baptist, and our voices with him,

as we point to Jesus Christ and proclaim,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Friday, January 24 four busloads of St.
Raymond parishioners will drive down to the Mall to
proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Life, including the
Lord’s call to all of us to love our neighbor, even if our
neighbor is a tiny unborn baby. Sign-up sheets for the bus
are located in the narthex of the Church today. Please join
us for the March for Life in Washington.
I was on vacation this last week, so I thought I’d let
a Saint take over my column today. I’ve printed it here
before, but it is such an important text, we should revisit it
again.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles
Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)
Pope John Paul II
March 25, 1995
62. The more recent Papal Magisterium has vigorously
reaffirmed this common doctrine. Pius XI in particular, in
his Encyclical Casti Connubii, rejected the specious
justifications of abortion.[65] Pius XII excluded all direct
abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy human
life in the womb “whether such destruction is intended as an
end or only as a means to an end”.[66] John XXIII
reaffirmed that human life is sacred because “from its very
beginning it directly involves God’s creative activity”.[67]
The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly
condemned abortion: “From the moment of its conception
life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion
and infanticide are unspeakable crimes”.[68]….
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and
disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to
declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable.
[72] Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon
Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops–
who on various occasions have condemned abortion and
who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed
throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement
concerning this doctrine–I declare that direct abortion, that
is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always
constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate
killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based
upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is
transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the
ordinary and universal Magisterium.[73]
No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever
can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since
it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every
human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by
the Church….99. In transforming culture so that it supports life, women
occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and
decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism”
which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male
domination”, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true
genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and
overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation.
Making my own the words of the concluding
message of the Second Vatican Council, I address to women
this urgent appeal: “Reconcile people with life”.[133] You
are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of
that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are
present in a special way in the relationship of husband and
wife, but which ought also to be at the heart of every other
interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood
makes you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same
time, confers on you a particular task: “Motherhood involves
a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops
in the woman’s womb . . . This unique contact with the new
human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude
towards human beings not only towards her own child, but
every human being, which profoundly marks the woman’s
personality”.[134] A mother welcomes and carries in herself
another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it
room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and
then teach others that human relations are authentic if they
are open to accepting the other person: a person who is
recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes
from being a person and not from other considerations, such
as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is
the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity
expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite
for an authentic cultural change.
I would now like to say a special word to women
who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many
factors which may have influenced your decision, and she
does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even
shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet
have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains
terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do
not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and
face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give
yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The
Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and
His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same
Father and His mercy you can with sure hope entrust your
child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other
people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you
can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right
to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by
accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and
caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them,
you will become promoters of a new way of looking at
human life.

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Christmas Ends, But… Today we end the season of Christmas. But as this special liturgical celebration of Christmas ends, the celebration of the essence and meaning of Christmas must continue. By that I don’t mean the secular or sentimental celebration of Christmas, but rather the celebration of the fact that the eternal God the Son condescended to be born a vulnerable baby, in order that He may enter fully into our human life, and by His human life, death and resurrection transform that life. Christ came to change us, so let’s allow Him to change our lives, and go into this new year recommitted to truly love Him and our neighbor as He taught and showed us, to live the life of grace, hope, faith and love. The life of Jesus Christ, who came to us on Christmas day to change us and to remain with us throughout the year, and all our lives.

March for Life. On Friday, January 24, hundreds of thousands of Christians and other people of goodwill will participate in the 47th annual “March for Life” on the Mall in Washington, commemorating the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade creating the so-called “right to abortion.” Perhaps no court decision or legislation has so directly and fundamentally had such a wide and terrible effect on our nation. And not only in the devastation of 60 million or so babies it has killed, or the millions of mothers whose lives it has ruined. But also in its shaping of our American culture into a culture that degrades human life more and more every day, transforming human beings from persons whose lives have value and meaning in themselves into things that have value and meaning only to the extent other persons who have power over them chose to give them.
Some people tell us we should not talk about this, or at least not talk about it so much, or so loudly or so vehemently. But how can we be silent, when we remember that it is all intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love and His commandment to love our neighbor.
On January 24 four busloads of St. Raymond parishioners will drive down to the Mall to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Life, including the Lord’s call to all of us to love our neighbor, even if our neighbor is a tiny unborn baby. Please join us. Sign-up sheets for the bus are located in the narthex of the Church today.

Snow Team: HELP! We need some strong, able-bodied folks to help us clean up during snow season. The Snow Team works with Tom Browne, our Plant Manager, to clear and de-ice the sidewalks and paved walkways around the property during ice and snow events. Equipment is provided; sidewalks and aprons must be cleared no less than 30 minutes before the first Mass of the day (and as needed thereafter). This is a paid position, but we will also happily accept volunteers. For more information or to apply, please contact Tom Browne at the Parish Office.

Parish Volunteers. I’ve always said that one of the best ways to grow in your Catholic faith is to become active in some parish group or committee. It may not be as essential as receiving the Sacraments or reading the Scriptures or studying the Catechism, but getting involved in parish activities can be a great way to discover the meaning of Christian service, as well as the support of your fellow parishioners. I know when I was a 20-something year-old Catholic lay man that was an important factor contributing to the deepening my faith. Sometimes the Church, and even the parish, can seem so huge and impersonal. But by being involved in a particular small group or activity of the parish you can really become involved in the life of the whole parish. Not only does this create a personal and familial sense of belonging, but it also draws you deeper into the life of the whole parish and the whole Church—you meet more people, make more good Catholic friends and you learn about more opportunities to serve and to be served.
So, once again, I encourage you to resolve to take a more active part in the life of our parish, and to do so as did the Lord Jesus, who “came to serve, not to be served.” Resolve to become a committed volunteer for one or more activities or groups in the parish.
Many St. Raymond parishioners have a strong history of committed volunteerism (God bless you!). Sometimes, however, this causes others (especially newcomers) to think that their help isn’t needed. But the reality is just the opposite: we constantly need fresh ideas, younger muscles, new voices, etc.. And we can’t grow or improve if we don’t have more help! So I encourage folks who aren’t committed to some volunteer parish activity now to do so in 2020, especially those who are newer to our parish. And I encourage those of you who are volunteers already to invite other parishioners you meet to join you!
I know everybody’s busy, and many of you are already serving the Lord in many ways outside of the parish. But as we begin this New Year, I beg you to think and pray seriously about the specific ways you can volunteer in our parish.

Flu Season and the Sign of Peace. Flu and cold season is heavily upon us, so I encourage all of you to be very careful in taking precautions not to catch or spread germs. In this regard, I remind you of our parish policy regarding the exchange of the Sign of Peace, and encourage you to practice at all times, but especially during this hazardous season. The description of the exchange of the Sign of Peace is found in the inside cover of the missalettes, but, briefly:
When the priest says, “Let us offer each other the Sign of Peace,” rather than exchange a handshake or a hug, each congregant is asked to: turn only to the person on their immediate left and right (so, only 2 people), perhaps with folded hands, and give a slight bow of the head or shoulders (much like the servers and priests bow to each so often at the altar). Remember to wait for the other person to turn to you, so you can bow to each other. Although all are asked to cooperate, charity rules, so no one should be criticized if they chose not to adopt this form.

Christmas Food Containers at the Rectory. Thanks again to all those who brought food (cookies, candies, etc.) to the rectory over Christmas. Many of you brought these to us in very nice containers that you may want back. If that includes you, please come by the rectory office this week to claim your container.

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 5, 2020

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 5, 2020

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today, of course, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord,

the day the “magi from the east” came to visit and worship the Child Jesus.

But this begs the question: who were these “magi from the east”?

 

Although we commonly refer to them as “kings,”

they are most probably not actual kings:

neither Scripture nor the early fathers of the Church calls them that.

But somewhere along the line it became common to call them kings.

Probably because of the prophesy in Psalm 72, that we sang today:

“The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts;

the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.

All kings shall pay him homage…”

And perhaps also, the prophecy of Isaiah, that we read in our first reading today:

“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”

 

  • So, while they probably weren’t actual royalty,
  • the Church does see them as fulfilling these prophesies,
  • so there’s nothing wrong in calling them kings, if you want.
  • But scripture and the fathers call them “Magi,”
  • a Greek term that refers to a particular educated class in Persia,
  • most probably priests of Zoroastrianism.

As such, they would be well educated in philosophy, and astronomy/astrology,

truly wise-men, seekers of the truth,

and also so well-read on various religions, including Judaism.

 

And this is probably why they followed the Star.

They probably knew about the famous prophesy of Balaam,

found in the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament.

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near:

a star shall come out of Jacob,

and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

  • Because of this prophecy, they, like many pagans of the time,
  • thought that a world king would come from Israel
  • And so when the Magi saw the star, they put 2 and 2 together,
  • and being seekers of truth, and moved by Holy Spirit, they set out.

 

Nowadays all sorts of scholars try to explain what this star actually was.

Some say there was no star: it is merely made up, pious fiction.

Others suggest it was the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 7bc;

others say it was a supernova, or a comet.

 

But the Fathers of the Church did not think it was anything like that.

As St. John Chrysostom pointed out in the 4th century:

stars and comets don’t move around in the sky,

or disappear and then reappear,

or come to rest over a specific house.

So, as St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes, the Fathers taught it was

a newly created light in the sky, but very close to the earth,

specially created by God to guide the Magi to Bethlehem.

 

And what do the Magi find in Bethlehem?

Scripture tells us:

“going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.”

It’s important to note, that the story of the Magi is only in Matthew’s gospel,

which tends to tell the story from St. Joseph’s perspective,

but here he makes no mention of Joseph:

only “The child and Mary, his mother”

Why?

The Magi certainly would have been aware of

the very first and most important of all Jewish prophesies,

found in Genesis 3:14, when God Himself foretells

the coming of both the Messiah and his mother:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

And so the Magi come searching, and find, the new Adam and the new Eve.

 

And what do they do when they see Jesus and Mary?

It tells us “and they fell down and worshiped Him.”

The Greek here denotes a total bodily prostration in front of a divine king

they worship Jesus by falling on their faces.

 

And that worship continues, as it tells us,

“Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts,

gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

Of course, the gifts show the homage, the worship, due to a king,

gifts fit for a king.

But the early church saw a rich symbolism in each of the gifts:

–gold, symbolizing his Kingship.

–frankincense, symbolizing Christ as High Priest;

incense symbolizes both prayers and smoke of sacrifices

of the priests

–and myrrh, which was used in Jewish burial, including Jesus’ burial,

so the myrrh shows that baby is born to die on the Cross

 

And then it tells,

“being warned in a dream not to return to Herod,

they departed to their own country by another way.”

We see how they are open to the Holy Spirit’s movement in their hearts,

and so are spared the wrath of Herod.

And they went home filled with that Spirit.

 

Scripture is silent about what happened to them after this,

but strong early Church traditions tell us that when they returned home,

the three Magi, Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar,

each gave away their wealth to the poor

and spent they lives proclaiming the birth of the savior.

Then, forty years later, when the Apostle St. Thomas came east

proclaiming the Gospel

he baptized them and ordained them as priests.

One Medieval account goes on to tell us:

“Having undergone many trials and fatigues for the Gospel,

the three wise men met …in 54 (AD)

to celebrate the feast of Christmas.

Thereupon, after the celebration of Mass, they died.”

 

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it: if it isn’t true, it ought to be

 

____

So what do we learn from the story of the Magi?

First, we remember they were gentiles, but searching for truth, and finding it.

They were the first converts to the faith.

There will always wise men in every age searching for truth, for Jesus,

and they are in our midst today.

And it is wrong not to bring them to Jesus: we need to evangelize everyone

–especially at Christmas, when so many people have hearts open to Jesus

–and especially children and fallen away Catholics

–and especially so many Protestants of goodwill,

who truly love Jesus but lack the fullness of the truth about Him.

 

But to do that we must also be like the magi,

and remember the importance of our own continuing study of the faith,

and so continuous growth in our knowledge of and love for Jesus.

 

And remember, with all of their learning, there was a purpose to it.

They had learned about the star, but when they saw it,

they responded: they got up and followed wherever it led them.

It’s not just enough to know our faith, we have to respond to it.

 

So, for example, Jesus teaches us to love those in need

we know that, but when a needy person comes to us, do you respond?

 

Or when the Lord calls you to do something specific for Him, do we respond?

Let’s say you retire, and then you get invited to volunteer at the parish,

with some other charity—do you respond?

Or let’s say you love your Catholic faith, and you’re single,

and feel a call to priesthood or religious life—do you answer?

Whatever—it’s not just enough to be a Catholic,

like the Magi, Catholics also have to follow Jesus when He says,

okay, now I want you to do this, or that, for me.

 

Also, notice that when the star seems to have disappeared

when they got to Jerusalem, the Magi didn’t give up.

Instead, they started asking around—they kept searching, but in a different way

And then God rewarded their faithful perseverance:

the star came back: and they “rejoiced.”

 

Sometimes we have figurative stars in our lives that lead us to Jesus,

and then suddenly they seem to disappear.

But we must also endure in faith

For example: we’re inspired by truly holy priests and bishops:

they are like bright stars that lead us to Christ,

But then we see the scandalous behavior

of other truly unholy priests and bishops,

and the stars seem to disappear.

But when that happens, we can’t give up,

we just keep on searching as best we can,

because it’s not really the stars we’re seeking

—we’re seeking Jesus.

And in His own time, He will send us some sort of new star come to guide us to Him.

 

Or sometimes we just seem to go through a spiritual dry spell,

sort of a dark night of the soul.

But we preserve, keep praying, don’t give up

and then suddenly it lifts, and it’s bright again.

 

___

The Magi also remind us of the centrality of worship

They come from hundreds or thousands of miles away,

and the first thing they do is prostrate themselves before the Baby.

Do we prostrate ourselves before Him, both in our hearts and in our bodies.

The Magi knew the importance of the physical expression

of the prostration of the heart,

of falling down on their knees, and even on their faces,

to say to Him and to themselves:

you are God, King of the Universe, and I am not.

Do we make this connection?

At Mass, when you kneel, are you just following the crowd,

or are you truly prostrating yourself—body and soul—

before your beloved Jesus?

And when you leave here standing on two feet,

does that prostration remain in your heart throughout the day and week?

 

And do we bring Him gifts, and gifts of highest quality?

First: do we give Jesus ourselves, our very lives,

by living our lives the way He taught us to, by trying our very best

to love Him and our neighbor,

and keep all of His commandments completely and without exception?

 

But also, do I place everything I have at His disposal?

Do I place my gold, my money and time and talent at His discretion.

Or am I selfish, holding tight to my things, for my pleasure or my own judgment.

Do I burn my incense before Him:

do I give myself to Him in prayer and worship?

Is the Holy Mass something I endure, or a gift of praise

as I offer up myself to be united to His sacrifice of the Cross?

And do I sanctify every day,

by constantly remembering His presence and praising Him?

 

___

And finally, the wise men remind us that it doesn’t end after Christmas:

they went back and spread the gospel, telling people in a strange country

about this Jewish savior of the world

When we leave church today what will we do?

When Christmas is over what will we do?

The lesson of Magi isn’t just to come and adore Jesus,

but also to go and bring others to adore Him.

 

____

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

let us place ourselves in the presence of the Magi.

May they guide us, as once the star guided them,

to come before the King of the Universe as we approach Him on the altar as they once approached Him in Bethlehem,

in His true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.

May we imitate them,

prostrating ourselves in worship and offering ourselves to Him.

And with Saints Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar, and Mary, His Mother,

may we leave here today,

proclaiming the coming of Christ and His salvation,

in everything we say and do, to all we love and to all we meet.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord

Epiphany. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit and adoration of the Magi to Christ in Bethlehem. It has historically been celebrated on January 6th since at least the 3rd century, but is celebrated in the U.S. on the Sunday falling between January 2nd and January 8th (inclusive). In the Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches it also, effectively, celebrates the birth of Our Lord, i.e., Christmas.
The visit of the Magi is rich in symbolic meanings for Christians, in particular those relating to the revealing (“epiphany”) of the Christ to the gentile world. As we think about this, it reminds us that that the Church is the Body of Christ on Earth, and so is called to continue the Christmas/Epiphany revelation of the coming of the Messiah to the world. But this is not just a responsibility for the Pope, bishops and priests: each is baptized into Christ and members of Christ’s Body, and so each is called to go out to the gentiles of today—those who do not share our Christian and Catholic faith—and reveal Christ to them. This can take various forms, but it begins with living our lives as if we believe in Jesus ourselves. So we live lives in keeping with the moral teaching of Christ, especially when it comes to chastity and charity. But we also must speak to others about Jesus, and His Church. Again, this can take various forms, considering prudence, our own particular talents, and the particular opportunities the Lord gives us to share our faith. How is Jesus calling you to reveal Him to the world you live in this year?

Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort. This coming Tuesday, January 7, is the feast of our parish Patron. I invite all of you celebrate his feast at our special solemn Mass (with music) on Tuesday at 7pm.
For those of you who don’t know much about St. Raymond, I invite you to read the 32-page biography we published a few years ago. If you don’t have one, they are available in the parish office.
As a brief reminder…Raymond was born of a noble family, near Barcelona, in 1175. At the age of 20 he became professor of canon law. In 1210 he left teaching to complete his studies in civil and canon law at the University of Bologna. He went on to hold a chair of canon law at that university for three years. (The date of his priestly ordination is uncertain, but it would seem to be around 1195).
On August 1, 1218 Raymond received a heavenly vision in which the Blessed Mother (“Our Lady of Ransom”) instructed him to help St. Peter Nolasco found the Order of Mercedarians, which would be devoted to the ransom of Christians taken captive by the Moors (Spanish Muslims) (a scene depicted in our new mural). Raymond did not, however, join that order but rather entered the Order of Preachers (“Dominicans”) in Barcelona in 1222. As a Dominican, Raymond continued to teach and preach, and devoted considerable effort working to convert Moors and Jews, coaxing St. Thomas Aquinas to write his Summa Contra Gentiles to help in his efforts.
At the request of his superiors, Raymond published the Summa Casuum, a book on cases of conscience for the guidance of confessors and moralists, the first guide of its kind. This work eventually led to his appointment as confessor and theologian to Pope Gregory IX in 1230. The Pope soon directed Raymond to re-arrange and codify the canons (juridical laws) of the Church, which required him to rewrite and condense centuries of Church decrees. The Pope published Raymond’s work in 1231, and commanded that it alone should be considered authoritative. From then on St. Raymond would be known as the “Father of canon law.”
In 1238 he was elected Master General of the Dominican Order, the second successor to St. Dominic, but he resigned two years later, claiming that at 63 years old he was too old for the job. He continued his writing, preaching and pastoral work, as well many important responsibilities entrusted to him by various popes, for another 37 years until his death in Barcelona on January 6, 1275, at the age of 100.
But St. Raymond had one last great miracle to perform. Six years before his death, King James of Aragon invited him to come to Majorca with him to preach to the Muslim inhabitants. But when he arrived on the island the saint discovered that King James had brought his mistress along. Raymond demanded he send her away, and when the King refused, Raymond went searching for a ship to go back to Spain. When he discovered that the King had forbidden any ship to let him board, Raymond simply bowed his head in prayer, made the sign of the cross, and, by the grace of God, sailed 160 miles back to Spain using just his great cape as both a skiff and a sail as depicted in our other mural.
He is the patron saint of lawyers, both canon and civil. And our patron as well! St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us!

My “Black Eye.” On Thursday, December 19, several parishioners and I drove 4 carloads of gifts gathered from our “giving tree” out to Our Lady of the Blue Ridge in Madison, VA. As I was unloading one of the trucks, carrying a large box in both hands, suddenly, out of nowhere, I was attacked by a vicious black bear. Not really. Actually, I tripped over a parking curb. I tried to keep from dropping box, but wound up dropping myself, face first, onto the concrete. I fell pretty hard, but, thanks be to God, there was no serious damage: no broken bones, and only a few scratches and a relatively small laceration on my face. It looked much worse than it was, with all the swelling and discoloring. Very little pain. The worst part was a minor concussion which has slowed me down since then. But I’ve been able to get lots of rest, and I’m almost totally mended.
Thanks to all who have expressed concern and sympathy. And thanks especially to folks who took me to the hospital in Culpeper, and drove me and my car home (separately) from Madison. God bless you for your kindness.

Interruption at Mass. Last Sunday someone interrupted my homily with a shouted outburst of protest. Both the “shouter” and I apologize for the fear this may have brought to anyone present, especially little children. Such interruptions of Mass are always unacceptable, but it seems to me that in these times of heightened fear of violence in churches, they are … especially uncharitable.

Happy New Year 2020 Anno Domini. As we continue the Christmas Season in this New Year of the Lord 2020, I pray that the Christ Child will shower you with His graces, and that His Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and St. Raymond will keep you in their care. Blessed and Merry Christmas, and a Holy and Happy New Year!

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, December 29, 2019

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 29, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Christmas is filled with symbols that lead us to understand the truth

about the more important things that the day is truly about.

For example, the lights on the trees and houses remind us

that the birth of Jesus was the dawning of

“the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

But one of the most important symbols is found

as family members gather together

from all over the country or even the world,

and we remember that part of the meaning of Christmas is that

the Baby Jesus was born into a human family,

The Holy Family, of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

 

Now, it’s easy for some of us to kinda get that backward:

thinking that Christmas is about our family,

and that the Holy Family reminds us of us.

But we have to be careful, because Christmas is never primarily about us.

Christmas is first about Christ, and what he did 2000 years ago.

 

And what He did was this:

the Eternal Son of God entered into the world as a human being.

What an incredible thing to think about.

And what an incredible thing it tells us about the dignity of man,

that somehow our human nature

has the capacity of being united with God’s divinity.

 

But the Eternal God did not just become man in a vacuum:

He entered the world as all human beings were created to:

He was born into the family of a husband and wife,

Mary and Joseph.

And this reminds us of the dignity of family:

the first 2 chapters of Genesis tell us

that in the beginning God didn’t make man to live alone,

but rather He made man in His image as both male and female,

to live together sharing one life and love,

the 2 becoming 1 flesh.

 

But He doesn’t stop there.

The very first thing He says to the 2 is: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

Become parents, have a family.

This is the way God created human beings:

He created us to love, and to do so first in families,

founded on husband and wife, mother and father.

So that marriage and family are the first and foundational

relationships or society in the world

—and it is man’s very nature to be born, raised and loved there.

 

Which means, in turn, that that marriage and family themselves

have a certain nature:

God made marriage and family to foster true love in a particular way.

 

_______

Of course we find early on that families aren’t always perfect.

The third chapter of Genesis tells us about man’s original sin

—and we see how that sin changed everything,

effecting human nature even today:

making us weak and vulnerable to sin.

But Genesis tells us that the original sin was a sin of Adam and Eve together:

it happened in their marriage,

and then directly affected their children, their family.

 

Sin messes up everything—including marriages and families.

 

Today, sometimes it seems some families are so messed up by sin

that they seem hopeless.

Some even suggest that the institution of “family”,

at least as it’s traditionally been structured, is hopeless.

 

But Jesus would disagree.

He didn’t think human beings were hopeless after the sin of Adam and Eve,

but instead became a human being specifically to conquer that sin.

And He didn’t think marriage or family were hopeless

because of the sin of that first marriage and family,

but rather purposefully entered into His humanity

by means of a human marriage and family.

So that in coming to redeem man, he began by redeeming the family.

 

And He has redeemed the family, beginning with His own family

—the Holy Family,

by the grace of God and their own free choices,

a family totally without sin.

Of course we know Jesus was sinless,

but we have to remember He was first sinless

as the son of Mary and Joseph:

St. Luke tells us today that He was “obedient to them.”

And Scripture also tells us that Joseph “was a righteous man”

and, of course that Mary was “full of grace.”

In other words—they were also sinless.

 

_____

Some say, yeah, Father, but that’s not the way it is today:

my marriage is far from perfect, and my family has lots of problems.

True—but how many of those problems are rooted in somebody’s sin?

Maybe Dad seems to love his job or his liquor more than his family,

or Mom seems to love the kids or her parents

more than she loves her husband.

Or maybe a son or daughter, are disobedient, or running with a bad crowd.

Or maybe a mother-or-father-in-law are interfering where they have no business.

 

But imagine if there were no sin in your family.

Life would be wonderful.

And that’s how Christmas should affect your family.

Christ came to conquer sin and give us,

first and foremost in marriage and family,

the knowledge and grace, to restore love and overcome sin.

The problem is all too often we ignore the knowledge, and we reject the grace.

 

But that’s no reason to reject the idea of marriage or family

—it’s just all the more reason to try to understand

what God created it to be, and accept his grace.

 

_______

Still, nowadays a lot of folks see the problems with family and marriage

and think it’s time to change things.

We see this in the changing attitude promoted by the secular culture:

Divorce is presumed to be normal and even good,

as are contraception, premarital and extramarital sex.

and living together before marriage.

And now, homosexual activists are called “heroic”

even for viciously attacking anyone who stands in opposition

to their efforts to redefine the notions of marriage and family.

 

More and more Christians, even Catholics,

ignore the very words of Scripture itself

to support their redefinition of marriage and family.

They ignore the fact that Jesus clearly defined marriage

as only between one man and one woman,

when He taught:

“he who made them from the beginning

made them male and female,

…’For this reason a man shall …cleave to his wife,

and the two shall become one.”

 

They ignore the fact that Jesus condemned divorce, saying:

“What …God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Adding: “whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery…”

And they ignore the fact that Jesus blamed attempts to redefine marriage

on “hardheartedness,” which is just another word for sin in Scripture.

 

Some folks simply reject what the Scripture says about marriage

because they say it’s just the work of men, and not of God.

So, for example, some point to writings of St. Paul,

like the one in today’s 2nd reading from Colossians,

which is repeated almost verbatim in his letter to the Ephesians:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,

as is proper in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives.”

They say, “look: Paul is a misogynist!—he hates women!”

 

If they would only recognize that this is the word of God, not Paul,

they might look a little more carefully, at this and other texts.

First of all, if you look at the context of these 2 texts you see that when he says

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,”

he’s simply telling them to imitate Christ who

“came not to be served, but to serve.”

Basic Christianity.

 

But then he goes on to say: “Husband love your wives.”

Contrary to the Jewish Law and Scripture,

the laws in Ephesus and Colossae, which were pagan cities,

treated wives as property to be used by their husbands,

not equal partners to be loved.

So Paul says, in effect, husbands, start treating her like God intended.

As he clarifies in Ephesians:

“husbands should love their wives as their own bodies….”

So Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says, in effect,

husbands, your misogyny is a sin,

          part of your  false and unnatural re-definition of marriage,

          not God’s true definition—so stop it!

 

_____

Of course, many people today might say:

that’s all fine and good, but don’t impose your religious views on me.

 

But the thing is, the nature of marriage isn’t revealed solely in Scripture.

Think about this.

Nowadays a lot of people are avid, some even fanatical,

about protecting the environment.

One thing that’s always amazed me about all this is

how so many people can, on the one hand,

argue for the necessity of keeping the environment

the way it is “intended” “naturally”

and on the other,

not be at all concerned about keeping man

the way he is intended to be “naturally.”

 

And yet man does have a nature.

And that nature extends to marriage and family life.

Scripture helps us understand this,

but we can see it by common sense and rational observation.

It’s clear throughout recorded history,

and even from what we know of pre-historic time,

that marriage had always and only been a union of male and female.

Were there exceptions to the rule?

Yes, sometimes, but almost always as the result of males abusing their power

to write the laws to suit their purposes:

for example: if women are property, of course you can own 2, or 50.

 

But marriage between 1 male and female has always clearly been

the bedrock of society,

so much so that the civil laws concerning marriage

didn’t originate in order to establish and define marriage,

but simply to protect what marriage naturally was

–marriage existed before laws were written to protect it.

 

Some say, well how could a change that effects only a small percentage

of the population effect, like so-called “gay marriage,”

have any consequence to the rest of the population?

Yet most of these same people insist

that a one-degree change in the world’s temperature

could wreak catastrophic consequences on the global environment.

 

Some celebrate the new laws that redefine civil marriage.

Does that mean if we pass laws

to redefine the words “hot” and “cold” and “normal temperature”

will that help the environment?

 

Some say that that pollution is destroying delicate eco-systems.

and that in turn will having devastating effect on all life on earth.

But I wonder, isn’t divorce and promiscuity

destroying the delicate balances of marriages and families,

and isn’t contraception devastating the reproduction of the human race?

 

_____

The love of families gathered together at Christmas

is a very special part of the season.

But this love has nothing to do with Christmas

if it does not lead us to a deeper understanding

of the profound love of the Lord Jesus,

and God’s great gift of to us of both

the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

and the human family—father, mother and children—itself.

 

Let us turn together to the Lord now, and thank Him for these great gifts.

And let us pray that through the Grace of Jesus Christ

and the intercession of Mary and Joseph

we may imitate their example of loving and sinless family life,

and learn to cherish and protect this most sacred and natural gift.