TEXT: Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

Solemnity of Pentecost Sunday

May 20, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today, as at every Sunday Mass, right after this homily

we’ll all join together to make our Profession of Faith

by praying the “Creed.”

By saying the Creed we proclaim publicly to the world

the very basic truths we believe about God.

Near the end of the Creed, after we’ve professed our belief

in God the Father and God the Son—Jesus

–we begin our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit.

Most of us have probably said these words hundreds or even thousands of times.

But how many times have we stopped to think about

the meaning behind these words?

In particular, what does it mean when we say:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

 

Sacred Scripture is full of wonderful and mysterious surprises

–like a treasure chest full of precious jewels and gems.

And one of these gems is found as we consider the small word “Spirit.”

The English word “spirit” is used to translate the original Hebrew word “ruah“,

which primarily means “wind” or “breath”.

And so whenever we see references in Scripture to “wind” or “breath”

we see the subtle connection to the “Spirit”.

And this connection isn’t accidental because it’s the Holy Spirit himself

who is truly the author of every word of Scripture.

 

This symbolism of breath and wind appears throughout Scripture, sort of a code,

or sign to indicate the activity of the Spirit in the history of Salvation.

For example, in the first reading today we see that on the first Christian Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with a loud gust of wind,

and in the Gospel we hear that Jesus

breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

But the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture

is one which often goes unnoticed.

It comes in the second verse of the Bible, in Genesis 1’s story of creation:

“the earth was a formless wasteland…

while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”

Soon thereafter, as God creates man,

He forms man from the dust of the earth and then blows,

“into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”

So here, right “in the beginning” of Scripture it is revealed to us

that it is the Spirit, the ruah, who is “the Lord, the giver of life.”

 

In the New Testament the Holy Spirit continues His life-giving work.

The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that

Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary

“by the Spirit.”

So, the human life of Jesus Christ Himself, is the gift of the Spirit.

But this natural human life which the Spirit gives

is only the beginning of his life-giving work with Jesus.

In a key passage of St. John’s Gospel,

Jesus tells us that unless a man be born again,

of water and the spirit, he cannot have eternal life.

In that same passage, Jesus also reveals the mysterious connection

between His being “lifted up” on the Cross

and man’s rebirth into “eternal life”.

This mystery only becomes understandable

as we come to Calvary and Christ’s very last moments on the Cross.

As St. Luke tells us: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice,

`Father, into your hands I commend my spirit;’

and when He had said this He breathed his last.”

 

With these and many other symbolic references to the Spirit,

Scripture tells us of a wonderful mystery.

In the beginning, He gave natural life to man.

In the fullness of time, he acted in History giving natural human life

to the Eternal God the Son.

 

Then as Christ gives up his spirit and breathes his last,

the life-giving Spirit is active even still in Christ’s death.

For in his death Christ gives up the natural human life

the Spirit gave him in the womb of Mary,

in order that he might rise again

and send the Holy Spirit to brings us eternal life

–the life of God Himself.

 

In the 2nd chapter of Genesis

it tells us that God created Adam by first building a physical human body.

And today’s second reading reminds us that the Church is the body of Christ.

When Christ was in the world He prepared a physical body for His Church.

Just like God created a physical body for Adam

that had all the various parts to do different tasks,

Jesus also created a body that had various members

who would do different tasks.

And just like Adam’s body which was made out of the common dust of the earth,

the body Jesus built for His Church was made out of

the most common of human beings–fishermen, tax collectors, sinners.

And just like Adam’s lifeless body,

the disciples that gathered on that Pentecost day

gathered as the body of Christ–but as a lifeless body.

They were still afraid and hiding, waiting for God to do something.

For only God can turn a group of weak and frightened sinners

into the living Body of Christ.

Only God can give life!

 

And God does give life!

God created the human race by breathing the life-giving Spirit

into the lifeless body of Adam.

Once again, at the Pentecost, we read

that: “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind.”

The ruah, the breath of God blows the life-giving Spirit

into the house where the disciples are gathered in waiting,

and changes these frightened disciples

into the vigorous living mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

As the psalm tells us today:

“If you take their breath they perish,

but send forth your spirit and they are created!”

 

 

At that 1st Christian Pentecost the Church was created

by the breath of the Holy Spirit within her.

But there are some believers today

who try to separate the Spirit from the Church.

They claim that if the Spirit is acting in you, you don’t need the Church.

But as we see in today’s

Scriptures, you can’t separate the Spirit from the Church.

When Christ sends the Spirit into the world

He sends Him for His expressed purpose to give life to His Body the Church.

 

Others would claim that the Church

is merely the assembly of those who believe in Christ,

and so the most important thing about the Church are its members.

But while the members are very important, the most important thing about the Church

is that it is the Body of Christ given life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As today’s second reading points out,

there are many gifts and ministries, but only one Spirit.

And the gifts and ministries given each person

are for the common good of the one Body.

There is one Body given one divine life by the one Spirit.

 

 

The Holy Spirit blew into that room on Pentecost

and in a dramatically active way gave life to the Church.

That same Spirit remains actively giving and sustaining this life in the Church

even to this day.

We see this activity as we read Sacred Scripture.

We see it in the Sacred Tradition of the Church

which the Spirit has sustained and kept free from error.

We see it in the various gifts He gives to the various members of the Body.

We see it in prayer as He draws us ever deeper into sharing the life of God.

And we see it in the Magisterium and apostolic hierarchy

–as St. John reminds us in today’s Gospel,

when Jesus appeared to the apostles on Easter He

breathed on them and said:

`Receive the Holy Spirit.

If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven them;

if you hold them bound, they are held bound.'”

 

But this life-giving and life-sustaining activity of the Holy Spirit

is encountered most dramatically in the Sacramental life of the Church.

For example, in Baptism, where we are recreated into the new life in Christ

as members of His Church by the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls.

Or in Penance, where,

by the power of the Holy Spirit given to the apostles on Easter,

the priest forgives men’s sins,

the Spirit acting to restore them to life in Christ.

Or in Confirmation where we receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit

so that we can imitate the Church at Pentecost

and bravely proclaim Christ to all the world.

 

But most especially we encounter this life-giving activity of the Holy Spirit

in the Eucharist, the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In today’s Mass, and in every Mass celebrated around the world

we invoke the action of the Holy Spirit.

In particular in the Eucharistic Prayer

–at the Epiclesis, when he extends his hands,

the priest recalls and requests the action of the Holy Spirit

to transform ordinary bread and wine

into the real life-giving Body and Blood of Christ

–the very same Body which received life in the womb of Mary

by the action of the Holy Spirit

and gave up that life on the Cross

in order to give us eternal life through the Holy Spirit.

 

In a few moments we will pray the Creed.

Today, on the Feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit,

we remember that it’s through the Holy Spirit that

all natural life comes into creation.

And through that same Spirit, as He blows into the heart of the Church

and the hearts of its members,

human beings are given a share in the supernatural divine life

of God himself.

And we proclaim with renewed fervor and love:

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.”

Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost: Veni Sancte Spiritu! This Sunday’s readings tell us that the Holy Spirit first descended on the early Christians with “a noise like a strong driving wind,” and appeared like “tongues as of fire.” After this they “began to speak in different tongues” so that the people gathered in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” could hear them “speaking in his own language.”
That same Holy Spirit descended on each of us in Baptism, and came again to strengthen (“confirm”—see below) His gifts in us in our Confirmations. By the baptismal indwelling of the Spirit we were united to the Divine life of Jesus Christ, and in Confirmation we were given the gifts to live the fullness of the faith amidst the great challenges of world. These gifts help us individually to get to heaven, by loving God and our neighbor, but they are also meant to help us proclaim the Gospel to all those around us, just as the first Christians did.
And the Holy Spirit does not merely come to individuals, He comes and dwells in the Church as One Body of Christ. Because of this no gift of the Holy Spirit is meant merely for personal enhancement separate from the Church, or contrary to the unity of the Church.
Let us pray to Christ and His Father, to renew in us the powerful presence of their Holy Spirit within each of us and within the whole Church. And let us ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to use His gifts to become the Christians we are called to be.

Speaking of the Sacrament of Confirmation. (By popular request, this is basically a repeat from last year’s column). This Tuesday evening, May 22, Bishop Burbidge will be here to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to our 8th graders and few others. Congratulations to them all! The sacrament, however is not a “graduation.” Rather, it is the beginning of a new stage in the Christian life, as they receive the strengthening of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, along with His seven-fold gifts, to participate more fully in the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.
Many people are confused about this sacrament. The key, it seems to me, to understanding this sacrament is to understand the word “confirm.” Webster’s gives two basic definitions for the word: “1: to give approval to: ratify … 2 : to make firm or firmer: strengthen…” It is the second definition that defines our sacramental use of the word: Confirmation is about the Holy Spirit strengthening us.
Some think, for example, that the word “confirmation” means that the sacrament is the opportunity for the young person to publicly “ratify” their faith in Christ and His Catholic Church (i.e., the first definition of the word in Webster’s), which they couldn’t do when they were baptized as babies. But that is not the case, and anyway, they do that every Sunday when they proclaim the Creed (I believe in God…). Remember, a sacrament is something God does, not something we do. As the Catechism (1308) teaches: “we must not…forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need “ratification” to become effective…”
Others think the sacrament is when the child “becomes an adult.” Again, a misunderstanding. As the Catechism tells us: “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the “sacrament of Christian maturity,” we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth…” Confirmation does give us the grace we need to live out our faith as adults, but the grace does not make someone who is a child into an adult—it only gives a child who is growing into an adult to face difficult adult decisions, etc. with the fullness of grace they will need.
Still others think that because Confirmation is usually the last of the “Sacraments of Initiation” (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) to be received that it therefore makes us “full members of the Church.” To be absolutely clear: we become full members of the Church at Baptism. However, Confirmation and Eucharist strengthen our bond with Christ and His Church, and enable us to live out our part in the Church’s mission more perfectly. So, Confirmation, “renders our bond with the Church more perfect” (CCC 1303).
A much more appropriate short description of the sacrament is that, “it makes us soldiers for Christ.” However incomplete it is, it still communicates the strength of the sacrament and the gifts given for determined (though peaceful) proclamation of the Gospel and defense of the Church.
But let’s consider the more full and comprehensive description given by the Catechism:

“1303 …. Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation [sonship] which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
– it unites us more firmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross: “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence…” [St. Ambrose].
1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.
1305 This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi Ex officio).”

Mormons and Boy Scouts. Last week the Mormon Church announced it was ending its 105-year partnership with the Boy Scouts of America (soon to be known simply as “Scouts BSA”). In their statement the Mormons said: “we need to…fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences now more than ever.” Sounds familiar.

Parish Debt. I mentioned here last week that we should be paying off the parish debt very soon…. I will be making a special announcement about this at all Sunday Masses this weekend….

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Sunday May 13, 2018

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Sunday May 13, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven,

meaning the real historical fact that 2000 years ago Jesus,

who was born in Bethlehem,

and was Crucified and Rose from the dead in Jerusalem,

at the end of 40 days after the Resurrection,

physically rose in His body up in the air,

and went up into the sky into heaven.

It really happened.

 

But it’s more than historic fact—it didn’t just happen and it’s over.

Rather it happened 2000 years ago, but it continues to happen now,

in the sense that Jesus is still in heaven, in His body,

seated, in some way, on His throne next to God the Father

ruling over the universe.

 

This is all, of course, very hard to understand.

How did Jesus, in effect, fly up to heaven in His body?

And where is heaven, and is it a physical place, and is it a physical throne?

—it must be somehow, someway, since His real body is there.

Even so, we don’t understand how.

But the thing is, it’s not terribly important whether we understand how,

as long as He understands how.

 

What it is important for us to understand, however, is why.

 

Now, with God, we never understand every reason why He does what He does.

There are so many mysteries

—divine truths we know about and understand somewhat,

because Jesus has told us,

but at the same time things we can never understand completely,

because they are so profound, so complicated.

After all, they come from the mind and life of God, not man.

 

This is the way with the mystery of the Ascension

—it has so many meanings, and ramifications,

most of which we only begin to scratch the surface of understanding.

 

But let’s try.

To begin with, very simply put,

Jesus Ascended into heaven because that’s where He belongs.

Remember how the Gospels tell us that

God the Father “sent His only Son into the world,”

and that Jesus said repeated that He had “come down from heaven.”

God the Son belongs in heaven because that’s where He is from.

The unusual thing is that He was on earth at all!

It was a great blessing for us to have Him for as long as we did,

but He came to redeem us, and when He had accomplished that,

He returned to His place beside His Father.

 

Again, it is fitting, because that is where He is from and where He belongs.

But it is also fitting because from there He can rule over the whole universe,

all creation,

not sitting at a campfire in Judea ruling over 12 apostles,

or even in a huge stadium ruling over 100,000 people.

But in heaven looking over all of us, guiding and protecting us,

and being worshipped and adored

by all the angels and saints and all believers.

 

_____

And that leads to another reason for the Ascension

God the Son returns to heaven WITH His human nature.

As amazing as it is that God came down to earth,

more amazing still is that he was here as one of us:

God the Son became a man

—keeping His divinity, but united it to our humanity;

the Creator of all things became one of His creatures.

God entered into the nitty gritty of every part of everyday human life,

including sin–ours not His own.

 

This is the mystery of the Incarnation,

and what we sometimes call the hypostatic union:

that God the Son united His divine nature to a human nature,

so that He was one person with two natures,

completely God and completely Man.

Again, we don’t completely understand it,

but what we do understand is awesome and beautiful.

 

And now His divinity has taken His humanity into heaven,

where it is truly sitting next to, or standing before, God the Father.

Now we can say, that a man truly sits on the throne of God,

reigning over the universe, heaven and earth.

 

Think of that.

He is still the God who created everything out of nothing,

but now He returns to heaven as also Man.

And not just “a man,” but, in a sense, “Man” or “mankind,”

as He represents all of us.

Showing us that we, mankind, all and each of us,

are created with this capacity to be like God, and to share in His Divinity.

Not grasping at being God’s equal or replacement like Adam and Eve did.

Not opposing God, but obeying God.

Not rivaling God but loving God.

Not trying to seize God’s power, but to accept His free gift of sharing in His life.

Not to be above Him or against Him, but to be one with Him.

 

And so, Jesus as the Eternal Creator God the Son

and as the Crucified and Risen Man, sits next to God His Father forever.

And there He is our priest, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us,

Jesus always lives to intercede for” us before His Father.

Not only as the only Son of God, but as one of us, a Son of Man,

who understands us not only as a Creator understands His creation,

but as Creator who lived the life of a creature.

As Hebrews goes on to say:

“we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,

…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize

with our weaknesses,

but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are

—yet he did not sin.”

 

And so, He pleads for us as God the Father’s only begotten Divine Son,

but also as one of us.

And the Father looks at Jesus standing before Him,

and then looks down at us.

And He sees and loves in us, what He sees and loves in His most beloved Son.

 

And Jesus not only intercedes for us,

but He also stands before His father and praises Him,

not only as the Divine Son, but as the representative of Man.

So that it is true, that:

“Through Him, and with Him, and in Him…all honor and glory is”

the Father’s “for ever and ever.”

 

_____

Think of all of that….

Then think of how we were created for this.

As divinity is united to humanity in Jesus,

our humanity was created to be united to His divinity,

so that where Jesus the Man has gone,

we men, male and female, hope to follow.

 

We were created to live with God in paradise.

But not just as soulless spirits: as Christ is bodily in heaven,

we are meant to be with Him in heaven in our bodies.

We profess this every Sunday, when we say:

“I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

And be believe not just the resurrection of the body,

but also the ascension of the body—our bodies.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere: [in 1 Thessalonians]:

“will be caught up together with them in the clouds

to meet the Lord in the air,

and so we will always be with the Lord.”

And as St. John tells us: “we know that when He appears we shall be like Him…”
Think about what this means for us,

for the nobility of being a human being,

for the dignity of the human body.

Of the excellence this brings to our earthly lives lived in the body

that is meant to live forever in heaven,

 

And think of how it is so contrary to our good,

to the meaning of human life

to abuse our bodies or other people’s bodies.

Think of how this offends and wounds the body of Jesus enthroned in heaven.

 

Of course, there’s sexual abuse of the body, that is so rampant today,

like of contraception, sex outside of marriage,

and especially pornography, and homosexual acts.

And also think of the other ways we abuse the body:

through drugs or alcohol or gluttony,

or through the mutilation of healthy bodies in sex-change procedures.

 

But also, think of how we abuse other people’s bodies,

when we selfishly refuse to assist those with true bodily needs:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

….thirsty and you gave me no drink,

….a stranger and you did not welcome me,

…naked and you did not clothe me,

sick …and you did not visit me….”

 

 

Think of all that, and think of Christ’s human body enthroned in heaven.

 

____

Now, I have said, it’s fitting that Jesus be in heaven, and it is.

But His being in heaven doesn’t keep Him from being with us on earth,

as He promised:

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So we remember how He explained to the apostles at the last supper:

“it is to your good that I go away, for if I do not go away,

the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.

But if I go, I will send him to you.…”

 

And so even has Jesus has bodily ascended into heaven,

His Holy Spirit has descended upon us

in the sacrament of Baptism, and dwells in our hearts.

And where Jesus’ Spirit is, there is Jesus, and His Father, as well.

So by the action of His Holy Spirit Jesus does remain in each of the Baptized

and in the Church, His body on earth.

And He remains in His Word handed down by the Apostles and their successors,

by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

And most sublimely, by the action of the Holy Spirit,

Jesus remains with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

—the Holy Eucharist.

Just as He ascended to heaven 2000 years ago, body, blood, soul and Divinity,

at every Mass He descends from heaven, body, blood, soul and Divinity,

to the altar.

And we worship Him,

first and foremost in His body Sacrificed once and for all on the Cross,

but also in His risen and gloriously Ascended Body.

He comes down to earth and we go up with Him into heaven.

As Hebrews says:

Since then we have a great high priest

who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,

let us …. then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace….”

 

____

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

let us turn to our Lord enthroned in Heaven,

begging Him to join our prayers, petitions and praise to His own,

and present them to His heavenly Father.

And as He descends to the altar with all His angels and saints,

to make us one with Him in Holy Communion,

transforming our human lives by His divine life,

let us accept this heavenly gift with exultation

and live the life He created us for and that He calls us to.

The life lived in this world, with a body and soul created for the glory of heaven.

Solemnity of The Ascension of The Lord

Ascension of the Lord. Today we celebrate the Ascension of
the Lord, the day in history, 40 days after the first Easter, that
Our Lord Jesus Christ ascended body and soul into heaven.
This great finale to the paschal mystery, along with the bodily
death and resurrection of Jesus, has many and profound
ramifications for us today. Perhaps most urgent is the reminder
of the great dignity and profound meaning of the human body:
that the body is not merely an empty shell temporarily
inhabited by our souls, but rather it is part of who we are, that
part that communicates ourselves to others. As St. John Paul II
used to say so often: “the body speaks!” The words of our
mouth talk to others, our hands express our creativity and
helpfulness, our feet take us to be with family and friends, etc.
Nowadays people especially forget that our bodies
communicate our sexuality—our maleness and femaleness—
and through that express our openness to the self-gift (of body
and soul) of marital, maternal, and paternal love. In a time of
great confusion surrounding sexuality, “gender,” marriage and
family, we need to open our eyes to the most basic, simple and
common-sense lessons our bodies teach us.
Mother’s Day. I haven’t forgotten you Moms! I’m sure you
haven’t minded me placing the Lord’s feast first—I’m “sure”
because that’s how Moms are! Always placing others first. And
that’s why we love Moms, and motherhood, so much, and truly
revere them. As I spoke above of the meaning and dignity of
the body, motherhood is yet another expression of this
meaning. What a miraculous gift and blessing—to mothers,
husbands, children and to all society—is the motherly love
expressed so tenderly and yet powerfully through a mother’s
bodily acts: carrying a baby in her womb for 9 months, the
sacrificial pangs of childbirth, nursing her baby at her breast,
holding her child in her arms, kissing the scraped knee, the
smile that makes everything better, or the tears of compassion
or pride.
Thank the Good Lord Jesus for the gift of mothers! On
this special day, and every day, may the Lord give us the grace
to show them the love that they deserve.
And, Moms: thank you for all you do and are for us;
may the good Lord Jesus bless you and may His Mother Mary
keep you in her tender embrace forever. And let us pray for
those who have gone on before us into death: may the Lord
forgive them for their imperfections, and reward them for their
great love.
Debt Payoff Celebration. I mentioned here last week that we
should be paying off the parish debt very soon. But one
parishioner wrote to remind me that we need to do something to
celebrate this milestone achievement, and I agree (thanks, G.).
Unfortunately, this is not a good time to plan a party, with
Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and Father’s Day, and finals,
graduations and vacations, etc. So, I’ve decided to postpone the
celebration until September at our annual parish picnic, making
that an extra special event. Fr. James Gould, my predecessor
who built the church and accumulated the debt in the first place
(raising an amazing $11 million in cash along the way!), has
promised to attend. Bishop Burbidge is trying to make it work
with his calendar as well. If you have any suggestions about
how we can spruce up the picnic, let me know. Save the date:
Sunday, September 16.
Parishioners Moving. I love the summer, but I hate all the
moves that take place, especially with all the military and
government employed families. If you are planning a move this
summer, please let the office know. And please let me know,
personally. I don’t know all of my parishioners nearly as well as
I wish I could, but I love you all, and pray for you constantly.
So, please, don’t forget to say good-bye.
Scandal, and the Met Gala. Most people tend to use the word
“scandal” to mean “an action or event regarded as morally or
legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” So, if an
“event” doesn’t cause outrage, if people consider it no big deal,
then it’s not normally considered “scandalous.”
But the Catholic Church has a different definition of the
“sin of scandal.” As the Catechism teaches:
“2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads
another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his
neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may
even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave
offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a
grave offense.”
“2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason
of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those
who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse:
‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to
sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened
round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’
Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office
are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the
scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves
in sheep’s clothing.”
“2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions,
by fashion or opinion….”
So, the sin of scandal is doing something, even simply
remaining silent, that leads other to sin, including leading them
to think that something evil is okay. So, for example, when a
father laughs at someone else’s dirty joke in front of his little
son, the father sins by leading his son to think dirty jokes are
okay. Or when a mother allows her daughter to dress in sexually
-provocative outfits, she leads her daughter to think that
tempting others is okay.
Last Monday’s (May 7) annual star-studded “Met Gala”
in New York was filled with this kind of scandal. Although the
theme was promising, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the
Catholic Imagination,” at the actual event famous entertainers
showed up wearing outrageously sacrilegious outfits (e.g., halfnaked
women wearing dresses embroidered with pictures of the
Blessed Mother). One, the singer Rihanna, reportedly wore a
bishop’s miter (the hat bishops wear at Mass) with a very
skimpy dress. This would be enough to cause great scandal on
its own, since these public figures were leading others to think
that nothing was wrong with this. But what made it most
scandalous was that some Catholic leaders in New York
reportedly seemed to endorse or make light of these folks’
actions. Maybe I have my facts wrong (you can never trust the
press), and I’m no puritan, but if this is true, it makes no sense to
me….
But let’s just try, personally, never to be the source of
scandal to others, and have confidence that, by the grace of God,
“the gates of hell shall not prevail” against His Catholic Church.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 6th Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The center of our faith, the reason we exist, is Love.

But not just any love: God’s love.

 

Scripture brings this home to us over and over again.

Today, St. John tells us: “God is love”.

And taking that central truth about who God is,

we remember that Genesis tells us that,

“In the beginning… God created man in His own image.”

So, we are a creature made in the image of a God who IS love.

Which means that we are created fundamentally, to live in the image of God

–to love as God loves.

 

But in order to know how to love as God loves–to be like God

–God first has to reveal Himself to us, and teach us to love as He does.

So in the Old Testament, when God gives Moses the 10 commandments

we find that they’re not just an arbitrary set of rules,

but a true revelation of who God is

–how He lives and loves,

and how He created us to live and love.

When Christ entered the world He completed the revelation of who God is,

not coming, as He tells us, “to abolish [the law] but to fulfill [it]. ….”

–not to throw it out, but to explain it.

And His explanation comes most sublimely in today’s Gospel.

First He tells us to obey the ten commandments

–“You will live in my love if you keep my commandments,

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in His love.”

Notice, to Jesus to love and to keep the commandments

are mutually inclusive.

And also notice that Jesus goes on to clarify the commandments of love,

by pointing to Himself who is the Law made flesh, Love made flesh:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another

as I have loved you.”

 

And Jesus Himself teaches us how to love by His own example,

first by keeping the 10 Commandments in His own life,

and then by His own ultimate act of love.

He tells us:

“Greater love has no man than this,

that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

He has loved us by laying down His life for his friends–for us–on the Cross.

 

Loving as Christ loves is living not for ourselves, but for God and our neighbor.

And that is what the Cross is about: about sacrifice out of love.

To be who we are created to be,

we must live in His image, and love as God the Son loves.

We must lay down our lives of sin

–and rise up in the life of love lived out in the commandments.

 

—–

It’s easy to lose sight of all of this, nowadays.

In our world, “love” usually has very little to do with sacrifice:

love is usually reduced to a feeling that makes you happy.

And love is hardly ever at all equated with following the commandments

–on the contrary, love is usually seen as an uncontrollable impulse

that leads us to whatever attracts us

–and the commandments just get in the way of love.

 

But when you’re tempted to tell God, “who is love,”

that His definition of “love” is wrong,

or to tell the creator of man that He doesn’t know

what is natural to His own creature,

it’s time to lay down your own selfish pride, or your irrational logic.

 

——

Sadly, not only do we often confuse the irrational feelings we have

with true love,

sometimes we even confuse true love with hate.

So that all too often if you talk about the commandments

you’re accused of “hate-speech,

and even called “un-Christian.”

But the thing is, this isn’t hateful, and it certainly is not un-Christian.”

If anything, this is Christ-like.

Sometimes telling the truth, especially telling the truth about the commandments

is the most loving thing, the most Christ-like thing, to do.

 

Think about it: Jesus loved everyone,

even the scribes and Pharisees, which is why He said things like:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,

[you] hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”

That’s not hate-speech—that’s the language of love.

As Scripture tells us elsewhere:

“The Lord disciplines and him whom he loves

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 

——-

Of course, we need to be very charitable and prudent

when we talk about things the world doesn’t understand.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be passionate about it.

Yet so often when people disagree over something passionately,

especially when they strongly and forcefully argue and even fight

to defend what they believe is right,

they are called “hateful.”

Some people in the world we live in believe that all fighting is hateful.

But sometimes fighting—and even war itself—is about love:

love for one’s friends, one’s country,

or the defenseless, or the persecuted or one’s ideals.

How many have loved us by fighting with all their energy to defend us,

even by “laying down their lives for their friends” in time of war?

 

Some might say, but Father, Jesus said:

Love your enemies.”

But you can love a man and still fight him when he’s wrong or evil.

 

For some it’s hard to understand:

how can you love your enemy and still fight them?

One the best examples I’ve seen, where it was lived out vividly and dramatically,

was a story told about our soldiers in Iraq a few years back.

One of the imbedded reporters in the Iraq invasion, told the story of how

a company of US Soldiers had come to guard one of the

most sacred Muslim sites

but the crowd of Muslim civilians thought they’d come to capture the place,

and began to move to stop the GI’s.

Let me read what the reporter for Time wrote:

“These soldiers had just fought an all-night battle.

They were exhausted, tense,

and prepared to crush any riot with violence of their own.

But …when their battalion commander…ordered them to

take a knee, point their weapons to the ground, and start smiling,

that is exactly what they did….

          Since then, I have often wondered how we created an army of men

                   who could fight with ruthless savagery all night

                   and then respond so easily to an order to “smile”

                             while under impending threat.”

 

It is hard for people to understand all this,

it seems “natural” for a man who fights

to vent his anger and rage uncontrolled

–to let his feelings of anger dictate his actions.

That would be logical deduction of the “feel good” culture

our society is slipping into.

But thank God there remains a few remnants and effects

of the Christian culture we once were.

 

This, my friends, is loving your enemy par excellence.

They fought the enemy—for what they believed to be right and necessary—

with the most devastating of martial skill,

willing to lay down their lives for the defense of their country.

But when the time for fighting stopped they were not ruled by feelings,

–not by feelings of anger or even of fear,

as their own lives were still in danger.

But instead, even though it meant an added risk of laying down their lives,

they were ruled by the echo of the words of Love Incarnate:

“Love one another as I have loved you….Love [even] your enemies.”

 

If only our whole of our society could return to these Christian roots.

To understand that love is something more than feeling good,

but rather about being good and doing good for one another.

That love is not about doing as you please,

but doing what is pleasing to God: what is right and good,

and becoming like God, in whose image you were created.

That the greatest love involves sacrifice, laying down your life for your friends:

loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

 

——

As we read today’s Gospel and contemplate on

the meaning of Christ’s commandment of love,

we should remember that this text comes right in the middle

of Jesus’ prayer during the Last Supper.

A prayer for that perfect love be restored between God and man

by the perfect act of love between God and man: Christ’s death on the Cross.

Where God the Son laid down His life out of love for His friends,

but also for His enemies,

Caiaphas and Pilate and the Roman soldiers were His enemies,

but died for love of them too.

At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated that sacrifice

both in His prayer and His actions.

So that today, 2000 years later, we can come together,

and enter into the sacred mystery of that sacrificial love.

In this Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist

Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes into our bodies,

and fills us with the perfect love of the Cross.

Today, open your heart to be transformed by the love of the Cross.

Transformed into the person you were intended to be in the beginning

when man was created in the image of the God who is love.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

First Holy Communion. This week was a big week for our second graders as yesterday (Saturday) they received Our Lord in Holy Communion for the very first time. What a great thing for these children, to receive our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; to have the Lord come to them in the flesh, and join them to Himself in this miracle. And what a beautiful thing to see these little ones receive with such innocence and faith. If only we adults could receive with the simple faith so many of these little ones have, and recognize the miracle of the Love we receive in this sacrament, our intimate Communion with Jesus. The Lord tells us “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Does this not refer in a particular way to the Eucharist, which is Christ Himself, who is the kingdom? The children believe simply because we assure them that Jesus is God, and so has the power to do anything He wants and will always tell us the truth, and that Jesus Himself said of the bread, “This is my Body.” And so they believe. So simple. Do we believe? If not, why not? The same simple logic of children should be logical to us adults: God can’t lie, God can do anything, Jesus is God, Jesus says “This is my Body.”
Let us pray for our little ones today, that they may always believe as they do today, and receive this sacrament with the openness they do today. But let us also pray for ourselves—that we may become like our little children.

May is the Month of Mary. Today (Sunday, May 6) after the 12:15 Mass we will mark this devotion with the “May Crowning.” All are invited to join us. Also, I encourage all of you to keep this devotion by praying the Rosary during this month—even every day. I especially encourage all families to pray the Rosary together at least once a week. In the words of Saint John Paul II: “The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the center, they share His joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in His hands, they draw from Him the hope and the strength to go on” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 41).

Spring and Summer. Spring has finally sprung, which means we will begin again to experience two things at Mass: more noise and less clothes. Both of these are somewhat understandable: as they become more active outside little ones seem to tend to be more active inside also, and as it becomes warmer outside, all of us tend to wear less clothing.
The only dress code we have St. Raymond’s is to use common sense, as well as Christian modesty, chastity and charity. Growing up in Texas, I understand all about dressing for the heat. But let’s remember two things. First, please try not to dress like you’re going to the pool when you’re coming to Mass. On the other hand, if someone does come to Mass in a t-shirt let’s assume they have an important reason for doing so. The second thing to remember is that the more skin we show the more likely we are to be the near occasion of sin to others. So I ask all of you, wherever you are this summer—whether on the beach, on a date, or at Mass—please consider the spiritual well-being of others.
Also, we love to have little children at Mass. But all of us (including their parents) would also prefer if they would be peaceful and quiet at Mass. But that isn’t always the way it is—especially at this time of year. So once again, I encourage all of you, in charity, to be patient and supportive of parents and children—parenting is very difficult in the present cultural environment, so we have to help them every way we can. On the other hand, parents, please remember to do what you can, and when a child gets really out of hand at Mass, or if they continue to make noise (especially talking or shouting) please consider moving to the “Family Room” or the narthex until they quiet down. God bless you parents and your little ones!

Narthex and Family Room. Which reminds me: during the Mass the Narthex is not a place for conversation—I consider it a part of the church where people who cannot be in the main part can reverently attend Mass. Some folks have little children who need a break from the pew, and some folks don’t feel comfortable sitting in the pews (for various legitimate reasons). I’m happy these folks feel comfortable in the narthex, and out of charity ask that we all respect their right to participate in the Mass in the Narthex without further unnecessary distractions. So, please, from when the announcements start before Mass, until the Hail Mary is completed after Mass, let’s keep the Narthex a prayerful place.
Also, please remember the Narthex and the Family Room are NOT play rooms. Out of respect for the other families present, children should not be allowed to run around or make excessive noise.

Italian Dinner. Thanks to the Knights of Columbus for reviving the Italian Dinner for us this year, taking place next Saturday, May 12. Like all of our other dinners and socials it is so important to the life of our parish in order to encourage and promote good Christian fellowship. I suppose such organized fellowship is not absolutely necessary—grace (and the sacraments), the teachings of Christ, and the life of prayer and virtue are the keys to salvation. And hermits live alone and flourish. But for the vast majority of us, weak as we are, the support we receive from the holy friendship of other Christians can make so much difference in our ability to live out our faith. Families are made to live and love together, and so is the family of Jesus. And while this familial life and love is experienced and renewed par excellence in the Holy Mass, the grace and lessons of the Mass should overflow and transform the rest of life. Dinners such as this give us an opportunity, an example, and a secure environment within which to grow in our practice of fraternal love for each other, loving one another as Christ has loved us.

Sign of Peace. I’m still accepting feedback on my questions/comments about the exchange of the sign of peace. So far, I’ve received more input on this than any other question I’ve ever posed to you. Lots of responses. I’m surprised how many people agree with my assessment of the problem, and want me to make a change. But I’m still accepting input, so please don’t hesitate to send an email to me or call the parish office. I read them all. (And thanks to everyone for their kind and respectful tone).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Most years we would celebrate today, April 29th,

as the feast of one of the greatest Saints of the Church.

But since today is Sunday, and a Sunday of Easter, the Lord’s Day takes priority,

so her feast is liturgically suppressed.

 

But nothing keeps us from talking about her, so we will.

She was a completely uneducated girl, a tiny wisp of a nun

who died over 600 years ago at the young age of 33.

But in her short life she was such a powerful instrument of God’s grace and love,

that she is now recognized as a great

teacher, foundress, healer, mystic, writer, diplomat,

spiritual counselor to peasants and popes,

and even proclaimed one of the 36 “Doctors of the Church.”

She was named Caterina Benincasa,

but we have come to know her as St. Catherine of Siena.

 

Yet with all the words that this great saint wrote none can really summarize her life

better than the words of her one true love, words she read–as we do today—

from St. John’s Gospel:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine was given the great gift to understand from the early age of 6

that there was no life, no love,

that could compare to the life and love of Jesus Christ.

And so she sought her whole life not to live her life, but to live his life:

to live in Him, and let Him live in her.

She realized that without Him she could do nothing.

Like a small vine withering in the heat of the sun

she had been born to the human race,

but in her baptism she had been grafted

onto the great strong vine who is Christ.

She had become part of Him, and she strove all of her life to remain part of Him

and to open her heart to receive from Him

every goodness he wanted to give her.

And like a vine pouring nutrition into its branches,

Christ poured His life and love into her.

And in that, she did not whither, but grew and bore tremendous, abundant fruit

that we still cherish today.

 

The first fruit in this life was her personal holiness and a closeness to God

that made her the natural instrument of His goodness to others.

St. Catherine never forgot our Lord’s promise that we find both in today’s Gospel

and today’s second reading, as we read:

“If you remain in me…

ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.”

When we look at the life of St. Catherine

we’re astounded by the amazing things she did,

or rather amazing things Jesus did in response to her prayers:

–spoke and read languages she had never been taught,

cured the sick, read the hearts of sinners,

converted notorious sinners, saw prophetic visions,

and brought peace to her country.

There’s even the story of how,

when she heard that her mother had died without confessing her sins,

St. Catherine spent the night in deep prayer–“laying siege to heaven”

–and in the morning found her mother restored to life, and perfect health.

 

How was it that S. Catherine lived in Christ so well

so that so much of what she asked of him was given her?

First of all, she had been grafted onto Christ by the gift of Baptism

–that great sacrament that marks the beginning of our life in Christ.

But the branch can easily whither on the Vine if it’s not properly cared for.

So St. Catherine constantly worked at keeping herself alive in Christ

by striving to follow the instruction of St. John in today’s 2nd reading:

“Those who keep His commandments remain in Him and he in them.”

So she strove to eliminate all personal sin from her life,

to do only “do what pleases him”

by serving God and her neighbor.

And having removed all obstacles between her and her beloved,

she entered into a life of such intimate and unitive prayer

that Our Lord granted her a share in His own five wounds of the cross

–the stigmata.

But also, in answer to her desperate prayer made out of deepest humility,

the agonizing wounds remained invisible to all but herself

until the moment of her death,

when they became clearly visible on her lifeless body.

 

St. Catherine truly depended on Christ the Vine for her whole life,

uniting herself completely to Him.

And just as she saw very vividly how in baptism she had become a small branch

grafted onto the strong life-giving Vine of Christ,

she also saw that the Vine poured its life into her

by the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity

under the appearance of earthly food–bread

–His life was poured into her Body and Soul.

So great was her love for the Our Lord in the Eucharist

and so deep her understanding

of her complete dependence on this sacrament for life,

that God granted her 2 very rare and special gifts.

First, when she would receive communion at Mass

she would fall into an ecstatic prayer

–in raptured joy, completely oblivious to any of her senses,

and sometimes even physically lifted into the air.

And second, and perhaps most remarkable of all the gifts Christ gave her,

from about the time she was in her late teens until her death at 33

St. Catherine ate no earthly food

other than the Body of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Vine fed His precious branch directly and only with the food of heaven.

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine is in heaven now, but she continues to produce abundant fruit

through her powerful intercession and shining example.

And her example reminds us that we too are called to live the same life she did:

not her life, but the life of Christ.

 

But do we answer this call?

Are we truly living in Him,

so that all H\his life and goodness can flow into our daily existence?

It’s difficult to do that, or even know how to start.

We’re probably not all going to be great saints like St. Catherine,

but we all have to start in the same place that she did.

First, by entering the life of Christ in Baptism.

Then also by nurturing and protecting that life by “keeping his commandments”

as St. John instructs us, freeing ourselves from our attachments to sin.

And then as the obstacles of sin begin to clear away,

we enter can enter a deeper relationship with our Lord

in prayer, prayer that opens us more and more to receive his life and love.

Finally, when we’ve removed the serious sins, and prepared ourselves in prayer,

we will still have no power to live, and no strength to love,

unless we receive the food pouring from the Vine into us His branches:

the food that is Christ Himself present in the Eucharist.

 

Not everyone in this room is called to be a St. Catherine of Seine.

But you may be surprised to realize that everyone of us

is called to a level of holiness comparable to hers.

I know I’m not anywhere near that level.

Through baptism, I am a branch attached to the Vine of Christ.

But if only I could be a branch abundant with fruit like St. Catherine was.

If only I my prayers could cure plagues, convert sinners, or restore life

in the name of Jesus.

If only I could love my God and my neighbor the way I should

–if only I could free myself from sin.

If only my prayers would lead me to such intimate union with Christ

that I would could see his blood flow from my hands.

If only I could approach the Eucharist and see with the eyes of perfect faith

the real presence of Jesus Christ,

and recognize more clearly that this is the food pouring out of the Vine

to give life to His branches.

If only I could live in Him and He in me, because apart from Him,

it is clear that I can do nothing.

 

Still, if a simple, tiny, uneducated, medieval girl

named Caterina Benincasa can do it,

why can’t you and I?

We have baptism; we have His commandments, we have His prayer,

and we His Body in the Eucharist.

We have Him.

He is the Vine, and we–just like St. Catherine of Siena–are the branches.

Why don’t we live in Him, and let Him live in us,

so that we may produce fruit abundantly?