Forth Sunday of Advent

The Lord is Near. We are now in the very last hours of Advent, the final time to prepare
for Christmas. I know there’s an awful lot going on in the next few days: last minute
shopping, wrapping and mailing presents, travelling. But don’t let all that busyness
distract you from what’s most important: we are preparing to celebrate the day awaited
from almost the beginning of the creation of man, when God first promised that “the
woman” would bring forth a son who would crush the serpent’s head. The day when God
the Son, Creator of the Universe, to whom all angels bowed in worship, having been
conceived in the womb of His mother Mary, entered the world as a poor, defenseless,
vulnerable baby, to save mankind from sin and to offer us a share in His eternal life and
love.
 
So rather than allowing all the busyness to distract you in the next few days, try to make
real time to prepare yourself for this celebration. Avoid all sin. Try to show charity and
compassion to your neighbor, especially your family members, at every moment—be
helpful, not harmful, to family peace. And love God above everything and with
everything. Take time to pray, and in your prayer place yourself in the company and care
of Mary and Joseph. Imagine them travelling on the rocky roads of Galilee and Judea,
from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, walking all that way or, perhaps, aided by a donkey.
Imagine the cold and even freezing weather over the several days’ journey. Perhaps
today, just 2 days before the birth, they were almost at the end of their journey, just a few
miles away from Bethlehem. Imagine how tired! And every day they were a little closer,
and a little colder and more tired. Think of their struggle, but also their joy. For they were
not traveling alone: their Savior was with them in Mary’s womb. Travel with them these
next few days in prayer. Stop from time to time at work, and wonder, “where are your
now, Mary and Joseph, and Baby Jesus?” Come to church for a quiet visit, and think,
“perhaps you are stopping to rest now—let me rest with you.” Accompany them on their
journey—and do not get too distracted by the busyness of the season.
 
Advent Series. Thanks to all who attended and participated in our Advent Series on
“Looking at the Nativity.” We had an excellent turnout every week, but if you were
unable to attend we’ve posted the audio of two of the sessions and handouts from all
three on the parish website.
 
Giving Tree. Thanks to all of you who gave so generously to the “Giving Tree”. Because
of your kindness over 32 families and 177 people (the most we’ve ever helped), will have
a little merrier Christmas this year.
 
Christmas Schedule: Please take time today to revisit our schedule for this week—found
below in this bulletin—especially the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Sunday
schedules.
 
Let me extend a particular invitation to the Christmas Midnight Mass. I have preached
several times about how such a Midnight Mass many years ago was the occasion of an

important moment in my own personal spiritual life. There is something very special
about that Mass, which begins with the placing of the “Baby Jesus” in the Manger, as we
remember that Christ was born in the “Holy Night.” The choir sings so beautifully, all the
altar servers are so reverent, and we usually get a large (not too large, though) and devout
crowd. Think about joining us this year. (Just a fatherly word of caution: it can be a little
tough on the very little ones, that late; so parents, please be prudent).
 
Volunteer Dinner. Mark your calendars: January 5 is the day for our annual reception in
appreciation for all those who volunteer their time to support the activities of the parish.
Keep your eyes on the bulletin for details, or contact your committee chairman.
 
Accused Priest, Part 2. Last week I wrote about a priest of the Diocese who was placed
on “administrative leave” for “boundary violations” (not “abuse”) “involving a minor and
adults.” This last week, in a surprisingly quick turn of events, the Loudoun County
Sheriff's Office announced that their “investigation has concluded, and there are no
criminal charges.” However, in an abundance of caution Diocesan officials stated,
“Having received this news, the diocese will conduct an investigation of matters that
pertain to its Code of Conduct for Clergy and report its findings in a timely way.”
I can’t say strongly enough how I feel about the absolute need to clean the filth out
of the Church and punish abusive and lying clerics. But good and innocent priests need to
be protected as well. Pray for all concerned in this case, and for a quick resolution by
Diocesan officials.
 
[ Please Don’t Read This Until Christmas!:
My dear and beloved spiritual children in the Lord Jesus:
Blessings and peace to you all as we celebrate the Birthday of Jesus Christ, Son of
God and son of Mary, the Lord and Savior of the Universe! May Christmas be a day of
joy greater than you have ever known. May it renew your faith and hope, that even in this
troubled and fallen world, Christ has come to save us from sin and evil, from want and
oppression, from hate and fear, to fill us with His light and grace and lead us to perfect
happiness and peace. And may you rediscover, in the tiny Babe’s sweet smile, God’s
boundless love for you and yours.
If you are traveling, may the angels carry you on your journeys and return you
safely to us. If you are staying “in town”, I look forward to greeting you at Mass on
Christmas Eve or Day.
On behalf of Fr. Smith, Fr. Daly, the parish staff, and myself, may I extend our
warmest wishes that you and your families have a Blessed and Merry Christmas Day,
Octave and Season! May the Baby Jesus bless you and fill you with His grace, may His
Mother Mary keep you in her tender embrace, and may St. Joseph protect you all the
days of your life!]
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 16, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

Gaudete Sunday

December 16, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is Gaudete Sunday: rejoice Sunday.

In one sense, with all the festive atmosphere around us at this time of year,

being joyful today makes a lot of sense.

But part of me struggles to rejoice today, because the fact is,

the world is becoming a crazy place, and there are troubles all around us.

I won’t go through the list, you know it too well,

and sometimes I feel like I talk about it too much.

We try to ignore it, but the reality is that in this world there is a lot of evil

and far from causing us to rejoice, it causes us a lot of fear and anxiety.

 

The outward festivities of this time of year help to lift or mitigate all this a bit.

But the problem is, that’s only temporary, and it only goes so far:

the Christmas trees, and lights and presents are wonderful,

and all the warm feelings and memories are beautiful,

but in the end, they just ease the pain for a little while,

while underneath the fears and anxiety are still there,

and in a few weeks when the season passes, the troubles will still be there.

 

Then again, as strange as it may seem,

this is actually exactly what Gaudete Sunday is all about.

And it’s exactly what Advent is all about.

It’s about the permanent, total solution to all of our problems.

About the irradiation of evil and pain.

About replacing anxiety with peace, and fear with joy!

Not just on the surface, but in the depth of our hearts.

And not just for a few days or weeks, but forever, both on earth and in heaven.

 

Our faith teaches us that there will be no real abiding justice in this world.

Because Man continues to perpetrate injustice against man,

and yet man continues to think

that man and man-made things and man-centered ideologies

are the solution.

 

But man is not the solution.

He can be part of the solution, but only when he—we–admits his role

in contributing to the evil in the world.

 

As scripture reminds us, in the beginning,

tempted by the devil and accepting his lies,

Adam and Eve chose to put themselves first, above God.

The creature rejected the Creator’s understanding and plan and design

of what He had created,

and man tried to make himself, not God, the center of all things.

And of course man failed, but in doing that,

he brought evil into all of creation

—both the moral evil of sin,

and the physical evil of sickness, natural catastrophes and death.

Man rejected God’s loving and perfectly ordered design,

and replaced it with the devil’s hateful confusion.

 

But God loved man too much to let it stay that way.

So He promised that He would send a savior, born of a woman,

who would crush the devil and all his offspring,

and save mankind from himself.

 

Friends, this is what Advent is all about.

Sometimes people get upset with me

because I fret too much about  the way our culture turns Advent

into an early celebration of Christmas

—and a secularized Christmas at that.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things—I get it.

Santa’s great, Christmas trees, and lights and all,

they have their special place.

It’s just not enough, in that it tends to the superficial,

and tends to ignore the enduring.

And that’s not Advent.

 

Advent is about really thinking through—contemplating—

the real meaning of Christmas

so you can celebrate for what it really is it when it comes.

Advent means asking:

“Why did God become a little baby?

What difference did it make?”

Advent means remembering that baby grew up

to teach us some very hard sayings,

and to die on the cross for our sins.

Advent means remembering that sin is in the world,

and man is not the solution, but part of that sin,

unless and until he accepts the fact that Christ is the only solution,

the wonderful and joyous news

that Christ came and did crush the serpent’s head,

He has conquered evil,

and brought His kingdom of justice, love and peace

to the world.

 

Of course, some say, well if Christ crushed evil,

why are there all these troubles today?

 

Why?

Because most people have not accepted Christ,

and not joined Him in HIS battle against evil.

They—we—all too often want to fight evil on our terms,

with our own solutions,

and many times we simply want to ignore it all together.

Because, in a sense, my friends,

people ignore the importance of something like Advent.

 

Advent is a season of expectant joy, but not to pretend that all is well.

A season of hope in Jesus, but not of simply dulling the pain with

hot butter-rum punch, or spiked eggnog.

A season not of ignoring evil, but rather of recognizing it,

but not so we can feel dejected or afraid,

so that we can truly rejoice that with Christ we can overcome it all.

Things can be as they should be:

there can be peace on earth, and goodwill among men,

and you and I can be the truly good persons,

the good fathers and mothers,

the good children and friends,

the good priests we long to be.

Because Advent is the season of mentally, spiritually, and morally

wrapping our minds and hearts around the fact

that God the Son came into the world 2000 years ago,

as a real human baby, and so

entered right into the middle of our anxiety-, fear- and despair-filled lives,

and conquered it all.

And it is the season of recognizing that that all too often

we simply reject His coming, and do not let it transform our lives.

 

_____

So Advent is a time when we should be like the crowds in today’s gospel,

asking John the Baptist: “what should we do?”

 

And a time to listen and take to heart John’s responses.

 

To the Crowd he says:

“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none….”

He calls us to be kind, charitable, patient.

To be generous, especially to those in need.

But most especially to be like Jesus who gave Himself to us on Christmas:

we need to be generous in giving of ourselves, self-giving.

So many of us focus on ourselves, but John says, focus on others,

beginning by focusing on Christ, placing Him at the center of everything,

and then that will always lead you to focus on your neighbor.

 

__

And to the tax collectors he said:

“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”

There is so much greed in the world, and dishonesty, and lying.

And we all get caught up in it, both the rich and the poor.

Especially, amazingly enough, at this time of year.

 

__

To the soldiers he says,

“Do not practice extortion…”

Or we might say, stop taking advantage of people when they’re vulnerable.

He says: “…do not falsely accuse anyone…”

How easily we blame others for our faults and sins—especially those we love.

He says: “…and be satisfied with your wages.”

Envy, or jealousy, eats away at so many,

especially in America, especially in Northern Virginia,

especially, again amazingly, at this time of year.

 

__

Today’s reading stops there,

but if we’d read on to the very next verses in the Gospel of Matthew

it tells us that John the Baptist also told King Herod

to stop committing adultery with his brother’s wife.

Today our society has practically elevated adultery and sexual depravity

to an Olympic sport.

Advent must be a time of renewed chastity and purity.

 

_____

All around us we see signs of the good cheer of the “holiday season,”

but we don’t  have to look to hard to see all the evil.

But during Advent Season we see this evil, and know its cause,

and we know that 2018 or so years ago,

Jesus Christ was born to save us from all that,

if only we will accept His coming.

 

And so even in the middle of all the troubles that surround us

today’s teaching from the prophet Isaiah still rings true:

“On that day, it shall be said …:

Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a mighty savior…”

“That day” is Christmas Day.

The day our mighty savior came to crush the serpents head.

So that today, on this 3rd Sunday in Advent, Isaiah insists:

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!

and St. Paul joins him telling us:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!

…Have no anxiety at all…”

“….The Lord is near.”

 

____

As we continue our Advent season,

let us do so filled with joyful expectation

that evil, in the world, or in our hearts, cannot triumph

against the power and love of our Savior.

So let us repent, and rejoice, for the Lord has come, Our Savior is in our midst.

And He can and will change us, and the whole world, if we let Him.

 

This is the meaning of Christmas,

and it is what we must contemplate and act upon

in this holy season of Advent.

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

 

Third Sunday of Advent

Good News. Bishop Burbidge writes about his recent surgery: “I am pleased to report
that, upon meeting with my surgeon yesterday, I received a clear pathology report…”
Praised be Jesus Christ, and keep the Bishop in your prayers as he continues to recover.
 
3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Today is “Gaudete,” or “Rejoice,” Sunday, as
we look forward to the joy of Christmas and heaven. Last week we celebrated the
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These
feasts remind us that as this holy season of preparation and expectant joy continues we
follow the example of she who was first prepared for the birth of Jesus, and who has
always found the most joy in it, is His Blessed Mother, Mary.
Of course, in a certain sense Mary was prepared from all time for the coming of
Jesus, as God promised in the Garden of Eden that He would send “the woman,” free
from sin, who would bear a Son, also free from sin, who would crush the devil and free
us from sin. In fulfillment of that promise Mary was then conceived in her mother’s
womb without the stain of original sin, and was filled with grace all her life, so that she
never committed any actual sin herself. Thus prepared for Jesus’ birth, she was to be the
perfect Mother for the Divine Son. In imitation of Mary we should be preparing for
Christmas by ridding ourselves of sins, and accepting the grace the Lord pours out on us
in this holy season.
But besides preparing ourselves we must also help others prepare. When Mary had
heard the news of the Incarnation she “departed in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth,
and so truly bringing the tiny Baby Jesus in her womb to Elizabeth, who responded with
exuberant joy. Similarly, when the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico
in 1531 she appeared to him as a pregnant young woman, again bringing Christ to all of
Mexico, Latin America, and, in a sense, to all the “New World.” Our Advent preparation
must also include this: imitating Mary by bringing Christ to those around us. We do this
first by, as I wrote above, eliminating sin our lives, and so live in charity and justice with
our neighbors. But we must also be more pro-active: we must proclaim to all who will
hear, a clear invitation to receive the Lord who came to us first at Christmas.
There are a thousand ways we can do this: giving presents that effectively
communicate the Christian message (Bibles, Hand Missals, Rosaries, Catholic spiritual
classic books, etc.); putting up Manger scenes (crèches); praying and singing holy
Christmas songs with our families; talking about Christ and sharing our belief in and love
of Him; and especially, bringing others (our children, fallen away family members,
interested friends and co-workers) to church with us—to Mass, to Confession, to
adoration, etc..
As Advent continues let us turn to our Blessed Mother to help us to prepare in joy
for Christmas, by her example and through her intercession.
 
Giving. At the first Christmas, God gave Himself to us by stripping Himself of the glory
of heaven, and becoming a baby born into poverty. So I encourage you to consider
carefully what you will give to those in need this Advent, whether individuals you know
or charitable organizations that continue Jesus’ work on earth.

When you give to charitable groups, make sure the group is solidly in line with the
teaching of Christ’s Church so that your money isn’t diverted to unworthy uses. Let me
recommend a just few organizations (there are many more organizations worthy of your
help): the Little Sisters of the Poor, Catholic Charities of Arlington, House of Mercy,
Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, Mary’s Shelter (in Fredericksburg),
the Poor Clares, Angelus Academy, and St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, VA (the
wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily). And of course, St.
Raymond’s itself is a charitable organization—special Christmas donations to the parish
are greatly appreciated.
 
Confessions. As I noted above, one of the best tools to help us to overcome sin is the
Sacrament of Confession. First, the confession/admission of our sins to the Church and to
God (through the priest) helps us to identify the sins we must overcome, to take personal
responsibility for them and to affirmatively reject them. Second, the grace of the
sacrament repairs the rupture sin causes between us and God, especially if there are
mortal sins, and strengthens us to resist those sins in the future. So… go to confession
this week. Monday through Friday this week we will have 3 priests hearing confessions
every evening at 6:15.
 
Lessons and Carols Last Sunday. We had another amazing Lessons and Carols last
Sunday, as over 400 people could attest. Wow. The choir was amazing—I just can’t get
over how a parish our size and location could have such a great choir, the best in any
parish in the Diocese, I’m sure. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco and all the musicians and
choir members. And thanks to the lectors, and to all who provided an elegant reception
afterwards, especially the volunteers from Angelus Academy and Eva Radel, who
coordinated everything.
 
Seniors Luncheon. The seniors also had a very special lunch last Saturday. Thanks to the
leaders and scouts from our Trail Life and American Heritage Girls troops for making
everything come together, and to Christine Gloninger and her culinary students at
Annandale High School for preparing most of the food.
 
Advent Series: Looking at the Nativity. I invite you all to my last session of the Advent
Series this Thursday, December 20, at 7:30pm, when I will be going through St. Luke’s
account of the Nativity. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you there.
Accused Priest. Last week a priest of the Diocese was suspended for “boundary
violations” “involving a minor and adults.” (He was never assigned or in residence here).
The Diocese gave no further details, but told the Washington Post “that the alleged
behavior…was …‘a boundary violation,’ not ‘abuse.’” Now, that seems to me a very
important distinction, although I’m not sure exactly what boundary violation could
warrant such a strong response.
I have assured you before that our Diocese will not cover up abuse: accused priests

nowadays are immediately suspended if the accusation is at least “credible.” But a
“credible accusation” does not mean he is guilty, only that they can’t yet say that he is not
guilty. So, to “be safe,” they suspend him, pending police investigation. Let me be clear:
if a priest is guilty he deserves the punishment he gets. But if he is not guilty, and later
exonerated, the process itself can be devastating on the priest, not to mention ruin his
reputation.
So in mercy and justice, I ask you to pray for all involved here, including the
accusers and the accused, and those who are investigating.
 
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018

Second Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

It’s kind of intimidating for a priest to preach during Advent:

we keep having to face up to the first great preacher of the Gospel:

St. John the Baptist.

Still, as the SVC told us:

“[P]riests, as co-workers with their bishops,

have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.”

You know as well as I do, that priest is limited in his ability to preach “to all”

–and I’m not talking about his competency,

or knowing exactly what to say on a particular Sunday

to a particular crowd.

What I mean is that a priest is limited in that he just can’t be everywhere all the time:

and there are some places he’ll never be.

 

But the thing is, the priest isn’t necessarily supposed to be and preach in those places

          –but maybe you are!

You– the lay people of the Church

–the vast majority of the members of the Body of Christ

–are called to go into the world you live in to proclaim the Gospel,

in your jobs, in your schools, and in your families.

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

“I pray always with joy …because of your partnership for the gospel

from the first day until now…”

And as St. Luke tells us, St. John the Baptist came preaching that we all must:

–“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

 

I’m called to proclaim this to you and to the whole world in a public way,

and you’re called to proclaim this to those you come in contact with everyday.

But before any of us can proclaim— or give— the word to others,

we must first listen to–or receive— the word of God ourselves.

Before the vocation to give is the vocation to receive:

–the primary vocation of each and every one of us is

“The Universal Call to Holiness”.

–preparing the way of the Lord to come into our own hearts.

The proclamation of the word begins with ourselves

–preach to yourself first: as Jesus reminds us,

“first take the log out of your own eye,

and then you will see clearly

to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye”

–listen when your wife…or your parents…or your children,

proclaim the word to you.

–listen to the words of Sacred Scripture

proclaimed in the midst of the Church assembled for Mass,

or in the privacy of your own home:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,”

–listen with open hearts to priests who have been called by Christ

to proclaim this message

–even if he’s not a very talented preacher,

or even if you don’t like him personally

–God has chosen him and made him an instrument of His grace

through the sacrament of holy orders:

somewhere— in even this muddled homily—

                             there’s something that God wants you to hear.

And finally, listen to the voice of God,

the whisper of the Holy Spirit, in your hearts in prayer.

 

_____

It’s so easy this time of the year that the secular world wrongly calls

the “Christmas season” not to listen.

–to loose track of the message of Christ in the hustle and bustle of things

–shopping, television specials, parties, music, families getting together

–or loneliness.

But this is the “Advent Season”–and this season is all about listening,

as St. Paul says:

“to discern what is of value.”

 

In today’s Gospel we’re reminded of how St. John the Baptist

rid himself of all distractions in order to listen.

He went into the desert to prepare for the coming of the Savior by listening

And as he listened, Scripture tells us that:

“the word of God came to John …in the desert.”

 

Of course, its not necessary to go out into the desert

to find a place to listen to the Lord.

As we come closer to Christmas we’re reminded of another person

who listened to God: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She listened in that quiet room in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel spoke to her.

And for nine months,

amid the commotion of

her visitation to St. Elizabeth at Ain Karim

and the long trip to Bethlehem with Joseph,

she prepared for Christ’s coming by listening to the will of God.

And after His coming, her listening to God continued:

listening to her Son, Jesus:

from his laughter as she held him in her arms as a tiny baby,

to listening to his final words  at the foot of his Cross.

 

_____

First we listen–we receive–and then we give–we proclaim.

But each of us is called to proclaim in different ways.

John listened, and boldly went out into the world

and loudly and publicly proclaimed the Gospel.

Mary listened and quietly went on with her life raising her family,

listening to Her son,

and later on proclaiming the Gospel in her own quiet way

at the wedding at Cana, at the foot of the Cross,

and in her private time with the apostles and the early Church.

 

How are you preparing the way of the Lord?

Are you proclaiming the word of the Lord?

 

Is your own heart prepared?

Are you listening to the word of the Lord?

How are you listening amidst the busyness of the secular celebration of Christmas?

 

There are many ways of listening.

Sometime you can do this as Mary did so often,

by simply living your daily life at work and home,

listening to Christ speak to in the events of your life

and in the lives of those around you.

But sometimes, like Mary’s cousin John the Baptist and her Son Jesus,

and surely Mary herself,

we need to find a quiet deserted place to contemplate…to listen.

 

This Advent there are lots of ways to get away to listen, especially here in church.

For example, every morning during the week we have 2 Masses you can attend

—at 6:30 and 8:00.

And Wednesday evenings we have 7:00 Mass.

And every Wednesday and Friday we have adoration and benediction.

Another powerful way to listen and prepare the way of the Lord,

especially to make “winding roads …straight, and the rough ways …smooth”

is to go to confession,

especially if you combine that a few minutes

in prayer before Our Lord in the Tabernacle.

We have confessions every single day of Advent,

but I especially encourage you to come on a weekday evening,

from 6:15 to 7pm.

And of course, this evening at “Lessons in Carols”

–a beautiful way to listen and to prepare.

Perhaps you might also be able to listen to the Lord as he speaks through me,

and come to my Thursday evening series on “Looking at the Nativity.”

Not to mention that the Church is open most days

from 6:00 in the morning to 9:00 or so in the evening.

— come here alone just to get away to a quiet place,

just you and Jesus in the Tabernacle.

 

There’s lots of ways to prepare…in this parish and all over the diocese.

Pick up a bulletin and you’ll find lots more.

Take advantage and prepare.

 

_____

As we continue our celebration of this Holy Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent,

having opened our ears to hear the proclamation of the Word of God,

let us continue to open our hearts

to prepare to receive Him into the depths of our being.

And as we go forth today from this Mass,

having received the message preparing us for the Coming of our Savior,

let us prepare to go boldly go into the world

to proclaim this message to all we meet,

–to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”

Second Sunday of Advent

CATHOLIC ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS. This time of year is filled with all sorts of traditions. Unfortunately, many of us have lost sight of the Catholic origins of many of the traditions that dominate the secular celebration of Christmas and Advent.
Consider the Christmas tree. There are many different efforts to explain the origins of the Christmas tree, including many that try to separate it completely from Christianity. For example, some try to say that since many different ancient non-Christian cultures used evergreens as a sign of life or health that therefore evergreen “Christmas” trees are not “Christian,” or that Christians “stole” the symbol from the pagans. But there is no conflict or stealing here. Since Christianity converted many ancient pagan cultures it was natural for those new Christians to keep the symbols that had meaningfully expressed their long held spiritual desires that were ultimately answered only in Christianity. So, if an evergreen tree expressed a pagan culture’s desires for eternal life, it was natural for them to carry that symbol into Christianity, which is fine with the Church.
The specific Christianization and “Christmas-ization” of the evergreen tree can be traced at least to the early 8th century in Germany. It seems one Christmas Eve the great missionary St. Boniface and his companions came upon a group of pagans gathered around their sacred tree, the “Oak of Geismar” (“Donar’s Oak”) to worship their god, Thor, and to sacrifice a little child to please him. Horrified by what he had found, Boniface struck the Oak, which the people believed to be indestructible, and suddenly a great wind came and blew the tree over, tearing it out of the ground by its roots and into four pieces. When the tree fell it revealed a small evergreen tree that had grown behind it. St. Boniface then told the people: “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of the fir. It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” The people then took the tree to the great hall of their village and decorated it with candles, as Boniface told the story of the Baby Jesus. The whole village, including the pagan priest, were converted that Christmas Eve. (For a beautiful retelling of this tale see The First Christmas Tree, by Henry van Dyke).
This seems to be the oldest story of the Christmas tree, and stands as the inspiration for later developments in its use. It was popularized later in the middle ages through the German “Paradise Play” depicting the creation of man, with the evergreen decorated with apples to symbolize both Eden’s Tree of Life (evergreen) and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (apples). When the play was performed in churches the Paradeisbaum (Paradise Tree) was surrounded by candles. Eventually the Paradeisbaum made its way into homes and the rest is history.
Santa Claus. Another tradition of the secular celebration of this season is Santa Claus, if its correct to call a real man a “tradition.” Once again, we often forget the Catholic origins of Santa Claus, who is none other than Saint Nicklaus (“Santa Claus” derived from the Dutch for “St. Nicholas”). Again many will argue about non-Christian or pagan predecessors, but it is clear that our Santa is St. Nicklaus. One reason for the two seem to be disconnected in America is because of the English Protestant and Puritan origins of our nation—after the “Reformation” the English downplayed the reference to Saint Nicholas as sounding too Catholic (in England Santa is still called “Father Christmas”).
But Catholics remember the wonderful stories about St. Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) in the early 300s. The story of how he rescued three sisters from being sold into slavery by dropping three bags of gold through their window at night. And how he raised three little boys from the dead after they had been murdered. Not to mention the many stories of his other amazing miracles—he is called Thaumaturgus, or Wonderworker. And we should not forget that after being tortured for his faith in the last Roman persecution, he attended the Council of Nicaea where he boldly defended the divinity of Christ, and Mary’s status as “Mother of God” against the arch-heretic Arias. Add all this to his reputation for giving treats to the children he met in the streets and you see the same man who is now the beloved and saintly giver of gifts on Christmas.
Now, so that no one misunderstands me, especially little children, what I am saying is that Santa Claus is real, and is also known as St. Nicholas. Although the Bishop St. Nicholas went to heaven on December 6, 343, Catholics know that as a saint he now has eternal life. And then it seems that God sent him back to us to be the great gift-giver of Christmas. This doesn’t mean that other stories that we read or see on TV about Santa Claus are not true or bad—I think they’re interesting and sometimes amusing, and even touching. It just means that WE know the REAL story, the rest of the, story.
Which reminds me: make sure you come to say hello to Santa Claus/St. Nicholas next Saturday morning, at our traditional parish “Breakfast with Santa.”
Lessons and Carols. Tonight (Sunday, December 9) at 7:00pm, we celebrate another Advent tradition: a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings called, “Lessons and Carols.” Taking prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, our parish lectors lay out God’s amazing plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir then adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular Advent songs and a few more complicated choral pieces, reminding us of the angels singing over Bethlehem. This “tradition” is rather new, especially to Catholics, originally introduced by the Anglican Church at Cambridge’s King’s College in 1918, but it has recently become very popular in Catholic circles. I first experienced it almost 30 years ago as a layman at a Catholic parish of Anglican converts in San Antonio. I’m happy to say it’s become an Advent tradition at St. Raymond’s. Please join us, and stay for light reception afterwards!

Don’t Forget. Go to confession during Advent—we have confessions every single day of Advent, except Christmas Eve. And come to my Advent Series, “Looking at the Nativity,” this Thursday at 7:30pm. And don’t forget to stop by the “Giving Tree” in the narthex today, and help to make Christmas a little merrier for some folks who are having a rough time this year—families of our parish and Our Lady of the Blue Ridge parish in Madison.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

First Sunday of Advent

Advent. Today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of
the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Sadly, the culture around us has turned the days
from Thanksgiving to December 25 into a time of nonstop sales, shopping, television
specials, radio carols, and, of course, “Christmas parties.” All this can tend to transform
the religious Advent season into a pre-mature and secularized Christmas celebration.
But We have to be careful of getting so caught up in that secular celebration that
we wind up omitting Christ Himself from the celebration. Rather, Advent must remain
for us, first and foremost, a season of preparation to celebration. And by that I mean we
need to spend time thinking and praying about the reason we celebrate Christmas with
such joy: that we are sinners, but that God has not left us in our sins. That God so loves
us that He entered the world as a tiny baby, so He could truly be one of us, and
communicate that love person to person, and eventually go to the Cross to die for our
sins. So Advent must be a time of remembering our sins, and opening our whole lives to
the love of Christ. It is only with this sort of preparation that we can begin to understand
and experience the true joy of this most magnificent gift.
But note, this joy should build in us throughout our preparation—as we become more
prepared, we become more and more joyful. So there is nothing wrong if even in the
midst of the penance and prayer of Advent, we also increasingly partake of the joy of
Advent. But we must not confuse the Advent joy of Christ with the merely sentimental
feelings of the secular “yuletide” season. Rather, we should transform the secular fun by
our Advent Christian joy.
So how do we prepare? Remember:
–Do some small penance every day to remind us that nothing is more important
than Christ, and that everything we do is for Him;
–Add extra prayers to your daily routine, for example, the Rosary, especially
meditating on the Joyful Mysteries;
–Read Scripture especially the Gospels;
–Give, making generous gifts either directly to those in need or to worthy
charitable projects/institutions (e.g., the parish Giving Tree and the special collection for
Catholic Charities);
–Receiving the grace of the sacraments is one of the most important things you
can do in Advent. Go to Mass and Adoration, and go to Confession;
–Live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about loving God and
your neighbor as yourself, beginning with keeping the Commandments.

Two Special Advent Events. I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir next
Sunday, December 9 th at 7pm for “Lessons & Carols.” Every year more and more folks
come to this, and LOVE IT! The “Lessons” refer to the reading of prophetic texts from
the Old Testament and Gospels, laying out God’s incredible plan for the birth of His
Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in
popular hymns and spreading their vocal wings in leading us in carols and a few more
complicated choral pieces—they are AMAZING. Afterwards, we’ll have some time for
Advent fellowship at a short reception, with delicious seasonal refreshments. Trust me,
this is a really wonderful evening—you’ll have a great time. Please join us.
I also ask you to attend my three-part Advent Series: “Looking at the Nativity: Mary,
Jesus and the Holy Night,” on the first 3 Thursdays in Advent. Last Advent we
discussed the life of St. Joseph, so this year I thought I’d continue to consider the
“characters” and the story of the Nativity. This coming Thursday, at 7:30, we begin with:
“Mary: What do we believe?” Last year about 200 people came, and they seemed to
enjoy themselves. So please join us this year. See today’s bulletin insert for further info.

Bishops’ Scandal. This last week brought more confusion regarding the Bishops’
Scandal. First we heard that Pope Francis had appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of
Chicago as one of the coordinators of the meeting of Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences
in Rome this coming February to address the scandal. This was confusing in that Cardinal
Cupich has a very controversial record on the scandal. For example, former Papal Nuncio
Archbishop Vigano has pointed him out as a protégé of former cardinal McCarrick.
Moreover, he is a frequent defender of the pro-gay subculture in the hierarchy, and
strongly denies the link between that subculture and the molestation of adolescent boys
by priests. Finally, speaking about scandal last September he stated: "The Pope has a
bigger agenda. He's got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and
protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the church. We're not going to go down a
rabbit hole on this."
I was also confused by news of the death of Bishop Robert Morlino, of Madison,
WI, last week, of a heart attack at the age of 71. “Confused,” in that I don’t understand
why God would take such a good bishop from us right when we seemed to need him
most. Bishop Morlino was one of the most forthright and courageous bishops I ever met.
For example, when the sickening news about former cardinal McCarrick came out last
summer, Morlino wrote a strong letter to his diocese, stating in part:
“I am tired of this. I am tired of people being hurt, gravely hurt! I am tired of the
obfuscation of truth. I am tired of sin.…I am tired of the regular violation of sacred duties
by those entrusted with immense responsibility from the Lord for the care of His
people….[Regarding] the allegations of former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s …sexual
sins, predation, and abuse of power. The well-documented details of this case are
disgraceful and seriously scandalous, as is any covering up of such appalling actions by
other Church leaders who knew about it based on solid evidence. …It is time to admit
that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is
wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord…”
If I am often mystified by God’s choices, I am often bewildered by Pope Francis’
choices. In the end, I simply trust in the all-wise and loving God, and pray for the Pope,
and for clarity and true reform.

Immaculate Conception. This Saturday, December 8, is the Solemnity of the
Immaculate Conception (“IC”), a Holy Day of obligation (all Catholics must attend
Mass, and it is a mortal sin not to). Please note that you must attend 2 Masses this
weekend, one for IC and one for Sunday. [FYI: Technically, you can attend the Saturday
Vigil Mass (which will have the prayers of Sunday in Advent) and count that for your
“IC” obligation, if you also attend a second Mass on Sunday itself to count for your
Sunday obligation]. See the Mass times below.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles