TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord – Christmas – December 25, 2019

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Christmas  

December 25, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

He was born in a shelter where they kept the livestock,

a “stable,” maybe a barn or dirty cave.

It was a cold night in late December,

maybe with snow or freezing rain falling all around outside,

maybe with a wind blowing it into the entrance of the cave,

or through the holes in the walls of the barn.

And then they laid Him a manger—a food trough for animals.

 

Why?

Why did the creator of heaven and earth, God the Son,

chose to become one of us?

And why did He have to come to us as a tiny Baby?

And why did He have to be born in such miserable conditions?

 

The simple answer is that God, in His wisdom, knew

that only man could atone for the sins of man,

but only the power of infinite eternal God could make up

for sins against the goodness of infinite eternal God.

So God had to become one of us

—and in all things, from birth to death, good times and bad–

so that as both God and man

He could atone for and save us from our sins.

 

But there is another reason God the Son

had to be born into the world this way,

a reason we must not forget today.

 

We read in tomorrow’s/today’s Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This reminds us that the eternal God the Son,

entered into time and became a man not only to redeem us,

but to speak to us:

to tell us about Himself and the Father,

and to teach us what life is really all about.

 

St. John calls Him the eternal “Word” of God,

because He communicates God to us.

So that, all throughout the Old Testament, when God speaks to His people,

in some mysterious way, it is the Son in action.

But in the fullness of time God chose to speak to His people directly,

face to face,

and so the Son, the Word, became a man, Jesus, and spoke to us.

 

And that speaking did not just begin when He was an adult,

as He walked up and down the roads of Israel teaching and preaching.

Rather He began teaching us on that first Christmas morning

as a tiny little Baby.

 

Now, some might protest, “babies don’t speak.”

Well, tell that to a mother of newborn baby crying in the middle of the night:

to you and me it sounds like crying, but to her he is clearly saying,

“feed me, mommy,” or “I’m scared, mommy.”

Or tell that to a pregnant mother: when the baby kicks he says,

“here I am, I’ll be out soon.”

 

Babies say a lot without saying a word.

They say to us, “innocence,” they say to us “new beginnings,”

they say to us “protect me.”

But most importantly they say: “love me.”

 

In a beautiful homily at Christmas Midnight Mass many years ago,

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how man can be intimidated by God

—either by His majesty and power,

or by the demands He makes of us,

and sometimes by a combination of both.

So it’s easier to walk away from Him,

or to assume that He doesn’t have time for us,

or simply ignore His existence.

 

But then Benedict went on to teach, [and I {quote}]:

“Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child.

He made Himself dependent and weak, in need of our love.

Now – this God who has become a child says to us

– you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

 

“You can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

“Love me.”

 

In a sense, this is nothing new for God:

after all, He created Adam and Eve

simply so that He could love them, and they could love Him.

And even after their original sin,

and through all the sins and betrayals of mankind

over all these millennia,

he still continued to offer mankind His love,

and invite them, to “love Him.”

 

So, is it surprising that when He enters the world to save us

—to reconcile us to His Father’s love,

and to teach us about His love, and how to love,

God the son enters as a tiny Baby,

whose very existence seems to coo: “do not fear me, love me”?

 

And the Babe says even more than that.

He says:

“I am the all-powerful God, but I have made myself vulnerable for you.”

Again, this vulnerability is nothing new for God

—since Adam and Eve

he has exposed Himself to the wounds of our rejection and sin.

But now the Word becomes flesh

—and the vulnerability of the Babe speaks in a clear and human way.

A vulnerability that becomes even more apparent soon after Christmas,

as King Herod orders His execution.

 

And finally, He is born in the most miserable conditions:

in a strange city,

away from family and friends who might assist His parents

in protecting and caring for Him,

and in damp dirty stable, on a cold late December day.

Again, He speaks, saying: “I come to suffer.”

 

It’s interesting, some argue that Christ was not actually born on this day,

certainly not in December—probably, they say, in June or July.

As proof they point to the text we read at midnight Mass tonight/last-night,

which tells us that on the night Jesus was born:

“there were shepherds in that region living in the fields

and keeping the night watch over their flock.”

Skeptics say shepherds wouldn’t have kept flocks outside

in the cold of December.

 

The thing is, yes they would.

Because you see, Bethlehem, was just about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem.

And modern Jewish scholars tell us

that in order to keep sheep available year round

for the sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem,

special herds were kept just outside the city—year round.

So yes, there were shepherds in the fields in late December.

And yes, the newborn Babe was born shivering in the cold,

as He tells us that He had come to suffer for us.

 

But this episode with the shepherds tells us something else:

the shepherds come to worship Jesus,

who one day will be called “the Lamb of God”

and replace the Temple sacrifices of the Lambs

with His own sacrifice of the Cross.

 

_____

The Word becomes flesh and speaks to us,

in the tiny voice of a vulnerable, suffering lovable Baby.

And in all this He says not merely the invitation, “love me”,

but also as He shows Himself vulnerable and suffering for us, He says:

“love me because I love you.”

 

And as He says this He opens the door

to the speaking He will do the rest of His life, especially as an adult

—both in words and actions.

This speaking—the Gospel—will be difficult for many to bear.

Because it will be demanding, it will be hard to believe,

and even cause them suffering, even martyrdom.

 

Over the last 2000 years many have walked away,

afraid of these teachings of Christ—and they continue to do so today.

But if we begin here, with the Babe in His Mother’s arms,

we are not afraid of His Gospel,

because we see that it begins in and springs from love.

God is love, St. John tells us, elsewhere.

And in Bethlehem the Divine Love became a  human Babe, saying to us,

“before you hear anything else I have to say, understand this:

do not be afraid of me, because I love you: love me in return.”

 

_____

As you may or may not know, Easter, not Christmas,

has always been, by far,

the most important Feast in the life of the Church.

In fact, it seems that Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated,

at least not liturgically,

until the 4th century.

And yet, today most people make a make a much bigger deal

about Christmas than Easter.

 

Some say this is due to

the commercialization and secularization of Christmas,

and to some extent that’s true.

Many lament the overemphasis of the birth over the resurrection

—the feast of our salvation—and to some extent they have a point.

 

But I can’t help but remember that

without the Word becoming flesh and blood in Bethlehem

that flesh and blood could not have died and resurrected

in Jerusalem 33 years later.

And without the Eternal Word coming to us in the form of a tiny Baby,

the world would not understand His invitation to love Him

and to be loved by Him

in quite the same way.

 

Perhaps in this overly commercialized and secularized 21st century,

a world that is in a very real sense afraid to listen

to the Gospel of Christ

because it knows if it listens it will have to change.

….perhaps it is part of God’s providential plan for this century

to focus attention, no matter how unintentionally,

on the birthday of this vulnerable, suffering, lovable Babe.

To see Him in manger scenes or in their minds eye,

in the arms of His Mother Mary, or His foster father Joseph,

and with the shepherds come to watch and worship the Lamb of God.

And in all this to hear Him, the Eternal Word of God, say,

in a voice that echoes over 20 centuries of human history

and into eternity:

“you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

Perhaps, in God’s eternal plan, the cooing invitation of the Baby Jesus

will melt the icy hearts of our faithless century,

including yours and mine,

and open them to listen to the Gospel of Christ

and recognize it for what it truly is:

the Gospel of true love.

 

_____

As we enter now into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,

the sacrament of love,

the sacrifice of the Lamb of God,

let us remember that the proclamation of the Gospel

that culminated on the Cross in Jerusalem

began in the manager in Bethlehem,

as the one who loved us from all eternity

was born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas day,

the Word of God made flesh speaking to us

through the vulnerability and suffering of the lovable little Babe.

Come, let adore Him. Come, let us love Him.

 

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The impeachment of President Donald Trump is a very troubling thing,

no matter how you look at it.

And people do look at it differently.

They approach it from very different perspectives

–and come to very very different conclusions.

 

For example, on the one hand,

many people have for years seen Trump as

an evil person, a bigot, a liar, a scam artist,

and so tend to see the accusations against him as entirely believable,

and many are eager to accept them as true

and see them as high crimes and misdemeanors.

 

On the other hand, many people have come to see Trump as

a flawed but heroic figure, sometimes crude and prone to hyperbole,

but plainspoken, and a champion for the things that make America great.

And so they tend to see all these accusations as exaggerations and fake news,

a plot to overthrow their votes.

 

And then there are still others, who see the good and the bad in complete truth,

and they make an entirely fair and just judgment.

You, know, people like you and me.

 

It is fascinating, how people, good and bad,

can approach the same objective reality in different ways,

and come to very radically different conclusions.

 

The same thing happens with Christmas.

People clearly approach it in very different ways,

and so understand it completely differently.

 

Some approach it from the perspective of

materialism, consumerism or simple personal satisfaction of appetites,

in the spirit of greed, avarice, and envy.

And so Christmas is all about the gifts, and the fun, the immediate gratification.

 

Others approach it from the perspective of

sentimentality, emotional feelings of love and belonging,

and so Christmas is all about real but fading affection for family and friends,

and a genuine but passing goodwill toward strangers and even enemies.

 

Others approach it from the perspective of altruism,

giving to the less fortunate and those in need,

either out of true generosity or out of guilt.

And so Christmas becomes about one’s annual acts of charitable giving,

and serving the poor,

but lacking in true and lasting love that goes on to change lives,

of both the givers and the receivers.

 

___

But for us, we must come at it from a wholly different perspective.

And that is what Advent is all about

—approaching Christmas from the right perspective.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus asks,

“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?

Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing?

Then why did you go out?  To see a prophet?”

 

Advent is about the “going out to see,” and what we are going out to see,

and why we go out to see it.

Advent is sort of our perspective on Christmas, how we approach Christmas.

 

So that as Christians, Advent as a time of correcting

our false understandings of Jesus, our wrong attitudes toward Him.

 

Seeing that He is not just one aspect of Christmas, like Santa Claus.

He IS Christmas.

And He’s not just a cute little baby that stirs familial and human sentiment,

He is the Creator of the Universe who stripped Himself

of the glory of heaven and became a vulnerable little human baby

so that He could grow and tell us the truth about God and ourselves.

He is the Almighty Author of life who took on a frail human life

so that He could teach why He gave us life

and how He created it to be lived.

And His is the Supreme and Only Living God,

who is alone worthy of the worship and adoration of the whole universe,

and yet became a man so He could suffer and die for our sins.

 

And so Advent is a time to approach Him completely differently

than anything else in our lives.

A time to give and receive, but first to receive what He gives us—Himself—

and to give ourselves back to Him.

A time to love, but not with a love that is merely superficial or sentimental,

but with the love the Christ gives us, His own perfect love,

and so love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength,

and love one another as He has loved us.

A time to care for those in need, but not just because it makes us feel good

but because we recognize that Jesus loves them as much as He loves us,

and so we delight in sharing with them because we love them.

And none of this can be passing, but must be rooted in

the eternal God born in time in Bethlehem,

and it must go on and on, every moment of our lives.

 

Today is Gaudete Sunday, or rejoice Sunday.

It stands as a stark reminder to us that although all of Advent is a time of joy,

it should also be a time of sadness.

 

Again, that is not the perspective most people have.

But it must be ours.

Because while we rightly look forward with expectant joy

toward the celebration of Christmas,

to really understand and appreciate what this joy is all about

we first need to understand not only what Jesus has done for us,

but why we need Him to do it,

and why we are not worthy of Him doing it.

And that is where we find the sorrow of Advent

—sorrow for our sins, the times we’ve failed to love Him,

when He always loves us so much.

 

____

In today’s gospel Jesus tells John the Baptist’s disciples:

“the blind regain their sight,

the lame walk,

lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear,

the dead are raised,

and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

In Advent we realize that He’s talking about us.

We are spiritually blind

—too often we don’t see Him who is the light of the world.

We are spiritually lame

—we do not walk with Him who is the way the truth and the life

We are spiritually lepers and unclean

–too often we walk in or even wallow in the filth of the world.

We are deaf

–how many times to we fail to hear His voice, and follow Him?

We are spiritually poor

–as we store up treasures of the world,

but not the true treasures of heaven.

And sometimes we are even spiritually dead,

as we do all these through deadly, or mortal sins.

 

And so Advent begins in sorrow,

but sorrow filled with hope, and so enlightened by joy.

Some ask, how can we do this—have both joy and sorrow at the same time?

The answer is simple, and at the heart of Advent:

Advent is forming ourselves in the perspective of one

who is loved by Jesus and who loves Him in return.

And anyone who has loved, even on a human level,

knows that only in true and deep love do you find

the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows in life.

 

And so we feel sorrow, because all too often, instead of loving Jesus,

we have chosen to be spiritually blind, lame, unclean, deaf, poor

and even dead to Him.

But at the same time, in spite of all that, we see Him coming to us,

to heal us from all our sins and vices,

to give us not just life, but life in abundance with Him.

 

___

Life is often all about perspective—about how we approach things.

In this holy season,

let us be careful not to approach Christmas from the wrong perspective

—the perspective of so much of the world around us,

of materialism, or sentiment or even empty altruism.

But rather let us recognize and live Advent for what it truly is meant to be:

the way we form the correct perspective about Christmas,

the way we approach Christmas from the right direction.

 

Remembering Jesus is what we go out to see, Jesus is why we go out.

Third Sunday of Advent

GAUDETE SUNDAY. Today is “Gaudete Sunday,” or “Rejoice Sunday” (from the first words of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudéte in Dómino semper”— “Rejoice in the Lord always”). This reminds us that Advent is a season of “expectant joy” as our anticipation of the great joy of Christmas builds everyday as we draw closer to it. This is symbolized in the “rose” colored vestments the priests may where today, “rose” being a shade of advent violet that is brighter than the normal violets of Advent, as if the brightness of Christmas joy is shining through the subdued preparation of Advent.
I hope we all experience this building joy during Advent. First and foremost, we should experience this spiritually, in our prayers and meditation on the mystery of Christmas, and in reception of the sacraments. In this regard, I encourage you to go to confession this week—we rejoice because Christ was born to save us from our sins, and He pours out this salvation in this holy sacrament—there’s nothing like the joy experienced in having our sins forgiven. Remember, we have will have 3 priests hearing confessions every evening this week, Monday through Friday. I also encourage you to attend daily Mass: remember this week we have an additional Mass on Friday evening at 7pm, in the Extraordinary Form (it’s a beautiful way of experiencing the Mass.)
I also encourage you to join us this Thursday December 19, from 7pm to 8pm, for our Advent Holy Hour of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We’ll begin with Exposition, then I’ll give a half-hour talk (the 3rd and final of my “Advent Series”), followed by praying the Rosary and then Benediction. This year my topic is “The Christmas Visitors: Angels, Shepherds and Kings,” and this Thursday I will talk about the Kings/Magi who visited the Baby Jesus. Please join us.
Decorations. Of course, this growing spiritual joy also overflows into our practical lives during this season, and expresses itself in many of the customs of this season, many of which illustrate how this joy gradually builds as we approach the source of our joy, Christmas. We see this, for example, in how the decoration of our homes get more and more “Christmassy” as the days of Advent pass.
Many have observed how I don’t put Christmas decorations in the church for Advent. One reason for this is because so many decorations abound outside the church, often lacking any sense of gradualness or progression, that I think it’s important to show a contrast in our liturgies—to remind us that Christ is not here yet, that we are waiting and preparing for Him.
Even so, we do incorporate this progression in the church in several ways, including the Advent wreath, the selection of hymns, and the rose vestments. And this year we’ve put out part of our creche/nativity scene a little early—but not all of it—to be a sign that we are waiting for the Savior. “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near” (Num. 24:17).
New Creche/Nativity Scene. I’m sure you notice that we have new statues for our “Christmas creche” this year. Sadly, the old set was very old, and in need of lots of costly repairs. So, with the generous support of 3 parishioners (thanks!) I decided to purchase the new statues. Although not as large as the old figures, the new figures are more colorful and finely detailed. I hope that you like this creche as much as I do and that it will be a welcome part of many joyful Advents and Christmases for years to come.
Lessons and Carols. Another important way I like to express this gradual progression is by celebrating “Lessons and Carols,” as we did last Sunday. It was another amazing evening of music and meditation: the choir was amazing. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco and all the musicians and choir members; and to Eva Radel for organizing the children’s choir for their debut performance. Thanks also to the lectors, and to all who provided an elegant reception afterwards, especially the volunteers from Angelus Academy.
Advent and Christmas Giving. Still another practical way we experience this progressive joy is through acts of generosity. I’m sure all of you have been showing special charity to those around you, through ordinary acts of kindness revealing the joy of Christ in your hearts. But we also experience this in a special way through gift-giving. We need to be careful, though, to make the Christmas gifts we buy in some way a genuine reflection of our Christian joy. Perhaps we can do this by giving religious gifts, e.g., Bibles, rosaries, Catholic books, etc., or just being careful to give wholesome gifts that are consistent with Christian values.
This is also a time to make donations to worthy Catholic groups who will receive them with the joy of Christ. A few of the groups that I would recommend, are Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, House of Mercy, Angelus Academy, and, my personal favorite, St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, the wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily. And you can always make an extra gift to St. Raymond’s.
And Finally, Speaking of Anticipated Joy… I’m sure all of you are looking forward to the “second mural” taking its place opposite the mural of “The Sailing Saint Raymond.” Well, our waiting should come to an end this week, as the second mural of “Our Lady of Ransom Appearing to St. Raymond” should be in place before next Sunday. So say a little prayer to St. Raymond that all goes well, and hopefully….
Many people, especially newer parishioners, ask me about the story behind this mural. As you may know, in the 13th century Moorish (Muslim) pirates used to capture ships from Christian countries sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. These captured Christians were then either held for ransom, or forced to convert to Islam, and/or sold into slavery. This was the state of things when, on the evening August 1, 1218, the Blessed Mother appeared separately to three very different men in Barcelona, Spain: to St. Peter Nolasco, the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant and veteran of various battles against the Moors (Muslims) occupying much of southern Spain; to King James I of Aragon; and to our own beloved patron, St. Raymond of Peñafort, who was Peter’s confessor. Our Lady told each of them that St. Peter was to found a religious order that would dedicate itself to the ransom of Christian captives of Muslims. The members of this new order would take a vow to offer themselves personally/bodily, when necessary, as ransom or as security for the freedom their fellow Christians. St. Peter obeyed Our Lady, and with the political and financial support of the King and under the wise guidance of St. Raymond, the order, commonly called “the Mercedarians,” was founded and proceeded in its mission. This mural portrays Our Lady of Ransom (or “of Mercy”) appearing to St. Raymond.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent

December 8, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This week as we continue to prepare for the Birth of a Baby,

I’m reminded of a song we sing

about the silent night on which that baby was born,

a song in which we sing “sleep in heavenly peace.”

There is no peace on earth like the heavenly peace

of that baby born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

In today’s first reading we read about this peace that only this child can bring:

“the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;

[and] a little child [will] guide them. …

and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”

 

This is the peace of Christ.

But some would ask, if Christ has come and redeemed the world,

why haven’t the prophecies of Isaiah been fulfilled:

in the world we live in, wolves and leopards still eat lambs and kids?

The answer is very simple: while Christ continually offers us His peace,

we continually reject it.

And I don’t mean rejecting peace in the sense of fighting to defend ourselves.

I mean the rejection of His peace, that we call “sin“.

Whether it’s the great and horrible sins that start wars,

or the small almost unnoticed sins of everyday life

—each sin is a rejection of the peace of Christ.

And because of sin, the final and perfect peace that Isaiah foretells

is the peace we can only hope for at the second coming,

when, as Isaiah says, the Messiah will come again in glory to

“judge the poor with justice, and … slay the wicked.”

 

All of us long for the peace of Christ, but all of us are also sinners.

We know that by our baptism we were born again “of water and the Spirit”,

becoming like little children in the family of God.

But we also know that since the time of our baptism we’ve sinned,

and so in some way, to a lesser or greater extent,

separated ourselves from Christ’s peace.

 

Today’s Gospel tells us about how St. John the Baptist

was baptizing in the river Jordan.

But it’s important to remember that the baptism of John

is not the same baptism that we celebrate as a Christian sacrament.

His baptism was just an external sign of repentance:

a popular adaptation of the Jewish purification rituals,

to show true sorrow and contrition for their sins.

But it didn’t forgive sins, and it wasn’t received only once,

as is the case with the sacrament of baptism:

it could and was repeated several times by the same people.

 

It sounds a lot like our sacrament of baptism

–but it also sounds a lot like another sacrament:

the sacrament of penance: a sacrament that can be repeated,

and that also involves an outward sign of contrition.

And the Gospel also says:

“[they] were being baptized by him …as they acknowledged their sins.”

It seems that there was some sort of a public confession of sins involved

–just like the sacrament of penance.

Besides this, John tells the repentant sinners that they had to,

“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”

Sounds a lot like the penance that a priest gives a penitent to do

when they leave the confessional.

 

Of course, John’s baptism isn’t the sacrament of baptism or penance

–its not a sacrament at all,

because a sacrament isn’t just the external signs we see

–it also involves the action of Christ

working through the power of the Holy Spirit

to effect some real change in the person.

But John’s baptism is a foreshadowing of the sacraments

which Christ will establish: he says

“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I

….[and] He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

It’s not an accident that the baptism of St. John

looks like both the sacraments of baptism and penance

–because these two sacraments are intimately related.

The innocence and peace received at baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit,

but lost by our sins, is returned to us in penance,

by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The essential message of John the Baptist is:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

It’s a message for sinners, because only sinners need to repent.

For sinners who are unwilling to take his warning and refuse to repent,

this message is bad news

because he says that when Christ comes again to judge,

they “will burn with unquenchable fire.”

But for sinners who are repentant, the message is Good News:

they can enter into the kingdom of peace.

So he when he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers!”

although he sounds harsh, he’s really offering them great hope.

Remember, a viper is a snake:

like the snake or serpent of the Book of Genesis

who tempted Adam and Eve to the original sin.

To be a “brood of vipers” is to be “sinners.”

But, another word for viper is “adder

          and the prophesy of Isaiah that we read today tells us that

“the child [shall] lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”

So we see that the child comes to lay his hand on the brood of vipers,

or on sinners.

The child we await, the child Jesus,

          comes to forgive the sinners who want to repent.

 

But St. John also says

“…do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’

For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones

In the same way, we can’t presume that just because we’re Catholic,

or because we receive communion every Sunday or even every day,

or because we give to the poor or do other acts of charity,

whatever,

we can never presume on Christ’s forgiveness.

We have to come to Christ,

through the priests who–as successors to the apostles’ work

–sacramentally stand in His place to forgive sins in His name

as He commanded them.

We must come to Him “acknowledging [our] sins”,

prepared to “Produce good fruit as evidence of  [our] repentance”

and intending to continue to produce these good fruits

by changing our lives,

turning away from sin, and turning toward Christ.

 

_____

Every year during Advent I hear hundreds of confessions.

There is no other time when I am more keenly aware

of the great gift of priesthood as when I hear confessions.

And it’s not an awareness that brings pride,

but one that brings a profound humility.

I’m humbled by the awesome power and love of Christ and His Holy Spirit

working through me to bring forgiveness and peace,

but I’m also tremendously humbled by the beautiful humility

of the repentant sinners

faithfully coming to Christ for His forgiveness.

Some are guilty of grave offenses,

          and some seem to be truly saints with only the slightest imperfections,

but each shows the great humility of a child,

confidently asking for the peace

that only the one who is the child can give.

 

_____

Have you been to confession yet this Advent?

Have you shown the humility of a child,

to prepare yourself for the coming of the child?

If not, why not?

 

Some might be afraid: maybe it’s been a long time…maybe even years.

So what? The priest isn’t’ there to hurt you or to ridicule you:

most priests I know are just so glad

when someone comes back after a long time,

as long as they’re sincere,

that the toughest confessor becomes a pussycat.

 

Some might think they have too many sins, or some sin that’s so terrible

that either God or the priest won’t forgive them.

But there’s no sin that can’t be forgive

except the sin that isn’t confessed and repented.

But look at the great sinner in the New Testament, Mary Magdalene:

—who had committed all 7 deadly sins, every sin in the book—

not only did Jesus forgive her, but He loved her so much

He gave her the gift of being the first witness of the resurrection.

 

Some on the other hand might think they don’t have enough sins:

“Father, I’m a pretty good guy.”

Well maybe so, but if you think you’re that great why don’t you ask a friend who knows you really well, to help you figure out some sins to confess;

and if that doesn’t work, ask an enemy,

I’m sure they’ll tell you something you could improve about yourself.

All of us have something to confess,

something that keeps us from moving closer to Christ:

we just have to humble enough to recognize it.

 

____

No preparation for the coming of the child Jesus or the coming of His kingdom

can have any meaning until we acknowledge that He is coming

because of our absolute need for Him to bring us into His kingdom.

While we all long for the peace of the kingdom that John the Baptist proclaims,

we will never enter into that kingdom or enjoy any of that peace

so long as we allow sin—whether great or small

–to come between us and Christ.

As we go forward in Advent, let us take advantage of the good news

proclaimed by St. John in today’s gospel,

the words of great hope to all sinners, like you and like me:

“Repent, for the kingdom is at hand.”

And may the Christ child whom we await,

and who waits for us even now,

lay His hand upon us and bring us His peace.

First Sunday of Advent

Season of Advent. Today we begin the season of Advent, in preparation for Christmas.
Every year most people forget that the Advent season is primarily about preparing for
Christmas, and instead spend these weeks pre-maturely celebrating Christmas, and doing
so from a largely secularized perspective. And then when the actual 3 week Christmas
Season begins on Christmas Day, they put all the Christmas things away and go on with
life!
This pre-mature celebration isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if we see it as part of the
strong influence of Christianity on our culture. Many Catholics see people around them
start celebrating Christmas, and it’s such a wonderful feast they (Catholics) get all caught
up in it.
But it’s not completely harmless. First of all, much of this early celebration is
driven not by a Christian culture, but by commercial interests taking advantage of that
culture. Sadly, much of this is nothing more than retailers playing on our emotional
attachment to Christmas, in order to increase sales. Increasing sales is not a bad thing, but
the reduction of Advent to a period of rampant commercialism/materialism and
emotionalism is a terrible thing. All but forgotten is the spiritual/faith preparation to
celebrate the wonder of the birth of the Baby Jesus, our Creator come to redeem us from
our sins.
Please don’t let this happen to you this Advent. This is not to say you can’t take
part in the “cultural” celebrations, as long as you make sure to also spend time preparing
for the celebration of the Day that changed the world forever. Here are some suggestions:
— Catholics always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this
shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should 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. The Rosary is an excellent addition to
our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade
every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
— Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps
challenge yourself to read one of the Gospels beginning to end in Advent. Or perhaps
read short passages daily from the Christmas-related texts: Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John
1:1-17.
— Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby
Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better
practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So,
make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to
worthy charitable projects/institutions. The parish Giving Tree is one good way to do
this, as are some of the special collections.
— Receiving the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in
Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go
to Confession. As always, we will have confessions every weekday evening during
Advent, which means confession is available every single day during Advent (except
Christmas Eve).

— Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about
loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.
Follow the 10 Commandments, live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind,
patient, generous, and encouraging. Love one another as Jesus, who out of love for us
stripped Himself of the glory of heaven to be born in a cold manger, loves us.
— Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish
this Advent. Please keep the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2019
Events” from last week’s bulletin somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?).
In particular, consider:
— Lessons and Carols. Next Sunday, December 8, I invite you to join me, the
lectors and the choir for “Lessons & Carols” at 7:00 pm. This is a wonderful program of
beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings. Some people think “Lessons” means I’m
going to give a lecture or something. Not at all. “Lessons” is simply an old English term
for readings from Scripture. By weaving together prophetic readings from the Old
Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s
breathtaking 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.
And afterwards there will be an opportunity for joyful fellowship at a short reception
(with delicious seasonal refreshments). Trust me, this is a really wonderful
evening—you’ll have a great time. Every year the crowd gets bigger (last year we had
several hundred!) because everyone who comes loves it. Please join us.
— Advent Talks. In the past, my 3-part Advent Series on the Thursdays of Advent
has been in the form of a lecture or class. But this year I’ve decided to follow the format I
adopted for last year’s Lenten Series: I will present my Advent Series talks as half-hour
meditations in the church during a Holy Hour of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
We’ll begin with Exposition, then I’ll give a half-hour talk, followed by praying the
Rosary and then Benediction.
This year my topic will be “The Christmas Visitors: Angels, Shepherds and
Kings.” Please join us every Thursday during Advent, beginning this Thursday,
December 5, from 7pm to 8pm.

Immaculate Conception. Normally the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
falls on December 8 and is a Holy Day of Obligation. But this year December 8 is the 2 nd
Sunday of Advent, so the Immaculate Conception is moved to Monday, December 9, and
IS NOT a Holy Day of Obligation. But even though you don’t have to attend Mass, I
strongly encourage you to do so, as this great feast is integral to Advent, teaching us
about Mary’s perfect preparation to receive Christ. We will have Masses at 6:30am, 8am,
Noon, and 7pm.

Mural of Our Lady of Ransom Appearing to St. Raymond. Many of you have
been asking where our “second mural” is. Well, when working with artists I always
remember the great line from the movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” about the painting

of the magnificent Sistine Chapel ceiling. Pope Julius II shouts up to Michelangelo,
“when will you make an end?!” and the artist shouts down at the Pope, “when I am
finished!” So I encourage, but never pressure the creative process of artists.
But our patience has paid off, and I can announce that the new mural will
definitely be in place in time for Christmas. A little Christmas gift from Our Lady and
Our Patron.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles