TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 27, 2019

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 27, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“As a body is one though it has many parts,

and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,

so also Christ.”

These are words of great joy and hope.

But they are also words of great grief and anguish.

Because even as Christ calls His Church to be His one body,

we look around and we see that in so many ways

the Church doesn’t look or act like “one body in Christ.”

 

Most obviously we see this in the divisions that appear

between the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox,

and the many various Protestant denominations.

More subtly we see this even within our own Catholic Church.

 

This last week we’ve celebrated a week of prayer for Christian Unity.

But before we’ll ever achieve real Christian unity,

we have to come to understand 2 things:

first we have to understand what one set of beliefs unites us,

and second, we have to understand how to

                             live out that belief together as one body.

 

Of course the core belief that unites all Christians

is faith in the revelation of Jesus Christ.

But that’s also where all the divisions start.

The Catholic Church has always believed that

while there is only one revelation of Christ,

it comes to us in two complementary ways:

in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,

or the oral teaching handed down by the Apostles.

And we also believe that Christ has protected this revelation

by having the Holy Spirit guide his apostles and  their successors,

the popes and bishop,

in authoritatively interpreting Tradition and Scripture

–we call this the “teaching office” of the bishops,

or the “magisterium.”

 

The original great division in the Western Church in the 16th century came

when MARTIN LUTHER and his followers argued

that Christ’s revelation comes to us in Scripture alone,

and rejected Tradition and the teaching authority, the magisterium,

of the pope and bishops.

But what they soon found out is that

when you eliminate the Tradition and magisterium,

you can wind up with as many different interpretations of Scripture

as you have individual Christians.

And so today we see 10s of 1000’s of separate Protestant denominations

interpreting Scripture as they see fit.

And, unfortunately, we also now so many Catholics who do the same.

 

____

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Himself showed how necessary it is

to have someone who can interpret Scripture with authority.

It tells us that after He had read the scriptures in the synagogue

He went on to explain their meaning to the people.

 

And elsewhere we find that Jesus passed this authority on to His Church

through the ministry of the apostles, telling them:

“What every you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,

and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed:

“I do not pray for [the apostles] only, but also

for those who believe in me through their word,

that they may all be one.”

 

____

But as I said earlier, unity comes not just in being one body in belief,

but also in acting and living together as one body.

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

“God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended.”

And elsewhere in St. Paul’s writings about the body of Christ, he says that

“Christ is the head of the body, the Church.”

So, remembering that Jesus has sent the apostles out to speak for Him,

the Church has always referred to them and their successors in ministry

—the popes, bishops and priests—

as standing “in persona Christi capitis

—”in the person of Christ the head” of the body.

 

___

But clearly, the head is not the only member of the body.

St. Paul goes on to say:

“Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker

are all the more necessary.”

and “The head [cannot say] to the feet, ‘I do not need you.'”

And so the Church recognizes that every Christian

has a special vocation within the Church,

and that no matter how important or unimportant it may seem,

it is still indispensable in God’s plan.

 

The thing is, for the Church to be like Christ’s perfect body,

its members must live and work together,

respecting their own and each other’s dignified place in the body.

And so, for example, the [Second Vatican] Council taught us that:

Pastors should recognize and promote

the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church.

They should willingly use their prudent advice…. ”

And it went on to tell us that:

“the laity are empowered–indeed sometimes obliged

–to manifest their opinion on those things

which pertain to the good of the Church.”

 

_____

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we can believe or do whatever we want,

no matter what the Pope or Bishops say.

In particular, we’re never free to disagree with the Pope or bishops

when it comes to matters

of settled doctrine or official magisterial teaching in faith and morals,

when they teach what has clearly been handed on to them

from centuries of Tradition, or Scripture itself.

So when the Pope says the Eucharist is really the body of Christ,

or that abortion is always wrong and a grave sin,

we can’t disagree with him, and still call ourselves practicing Catholics.

 

___

But we can certainly disagree with bishops and priests, and even the Pope,

when it doesn’t involve doctrine or official teaching.

For example, when it comes to the mere discipline of the Church,

the Church laws that govern the daily peaceful and orderly functioning

of the Church as one Body,

we can disagree, even though we still have to obey.

For example, a few months ago I decided that we’d start using an altar rail.

Some parishioners respectfully disagreed at first, which was fine,

but in the end almost everyone accepted it charitably,

which I greatly appreciated.

In doing that, they did what Vatican II called on them to do,

when it said they should always act:

“with reverence and charity towards those who…

represent the person of Christ” [the priests and bishops],

and “should promptly accept in Christian obedience

what is decided by the pastors.”

 

______

But then there are also many areas not involving official doctrine

or legitimate internal discipline,

where you cannot only disagree with but even not obey

the bishops and priests, and even the Pope.

So, for example, Vatican II taught that in the politics of nations and states,

“All Christians …must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions

with regard to temporal solutions.”

So a bishop or priest can tell you that it’s a grave sin

to support or promote abortion or “gay-marriage”

—since these always directly involve settled doctrine.

But, that same priest or bishop cannot to tell you

what your position should be on every issue in the public square,

whether it be health care, taxes, the government shutdown,

immigration, the wall, or climate change.

Because while all of those problems involve morality,

they do not clearly have only one morally correct solution.

And if a priest or bishop or pope pretends that they do,

you are not absolutely free to disagree.

 

[It’s like the old question of whether to give a fish to a hungry man,

or teach him how to fish

—there is no sin in disagreeing over which is the wiser choice:

both are trying to feed the man.]

 

And in fact, a priest or bishop who tries to impose his mere opinion on his flock

may actually be committing a sin, and perhaps a grave sin,

at least objectively—we can never judge their souls.

For example, last week the bishop of Covington, Kentucky,

clearly unjustly condemned some high school boys in his diocese

for an act of abuse they obviously didn’t do

—in fact, they were the ones who were abused.

And then his neighboring Bishop, in Lexington, Kentucky,

also condemned those teenagers,

treating as Church doctrine his own mere opinion

that you can’t be “pro-life” if wear a “make America great again” hat.

 

We can not only disagree with bishops who do and teach things like that,

we can publicly, though with respect and charity, call them on it.

Because by doing that, they are attacking the unity of the Church.

They are the dissenters, not us who disagree with them.

As St. Paul tells, us: “The head [cannot say] to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

And neither can any bishop or priest

assault the dignity of his people by judging them unjustly

or pretending his mere political opinion is more holy than theirs.

 

______

“There are many parts, yet one body…. God placed the parts, each one of them,

in the body as He intended….”

Any time Christians ignore the God-given roles

of the other members of the body of Christ,

–whether it’s laity ignoring the role and dignity of the bishops and priests,

or bishops or priests ignoring the role and dignity of the laity—

there will be problems, threats to the true unity of the one Body of Christ.

As St. Paul says:

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…”

______

The call unity in the body of Christ is a source of great joy,

but also great suffering,

as the pain of divisions and dissension causes us to realize

that we are not living the oneness, the unity, that Christ calls us to.

As we come together today to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist,

the greatest sign and source of unity

–the sacrament of the actual personal Body of Christ

–let us pray for true unity among all Christians—

throughout the world,

and in our own midst.

Let us look for that unity first and foremost in unity of belief in the word of God

protected by the Holy Spirit through 2000 years of apostolic succession.

And let us pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit

so that we may recognize and accept

the part each of us is to play in bringing about and living that unity.

Because division among the members of the body,

is a rejection of Christ’s prayer at the first Eucharist

“that they may all be one.”

And dissension is a rejection of the promise that:

“As a body is one though it has many parts,

and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,

so also Christ.”

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Shutdown Troubles? I encourage all of you to pray for a just end to the federal partial shutdown, and for all those directly affected by the shutdown. Please be aware if that if any parishioner directly affected by the shutdown needs financial help, even a short-term loan, the parish can help. Just contact me or Eva in the parish office.

Gillette Commercial. I must say something about Gillette’s new commercial lecturing men about what it refers to as “toxic masculinity.” While perhaps in some ways well intentioned, Gillette has clearly bought in to the popular and false ideological notion behind the term “toxic masculinity.” That is, first of all, that all traits that we traditionally have defined as being clearly masculine (or feminine) are actually merely culturally or socially conditioned (i.e., learned, not genetic/natural). Second, it is held that certain “learned masculine” traits are inherently destructive and must be suppressed, including aggression/violence, hypersexuality, competitiveness, and suppression of emotions/feelings.
It is well documented that males and females are very different physically, mentally, and emotionally, and this is rooted in their male or female genetics—they were born this way. I commend you to the work of anthropologist Lionel Tiger (The Decline of Males and Men in Groups) and philosopher Christina Hoff Summers (Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys). And I would argue that each of these so-called “learned” “toxic masculine” qualities are rooted in good healthy masculine traits which are defined in male genetics.
For example, aggression/violence. Although this trait is often discussed in a negative-pejorative sense, no one thinks it evil when a security guard aggressively disarms a crazed school shooter by force (i.e., “violence”) When we see little boys playfully wrestling with each other or pretending to shoot at each other using their fingers as guns, that is not toxic. Rather, it is an expression of a natural and good masculine trait.
The key is understanding that they gifted with this violent/aggressive tendency not in order to hurt innocent people, but rather to readily defend self, family and community. This is a good and natural thing. And it is the corruption of this good trait that is the problem. Which is why Jesus and His Catholic Church have never rejected aggressiveness or violence, but rather promoted self-discipline and self-control, to govern these traits with reason and with love. This has been one of the great contributions Christianity has brought to the world, and it is the loss of this Christian perspective that have led to the abuse of these traits.
So while men should exercise self-control in reason and charity, especially in their treatment of women—in particular by following the teachings of Jesus—but they should not be ashamed of being masculinity.

Covington Catholic Boys. By now you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding the boys from Covington Catholic High School (Covington, Kentucky) at the March for Life on January 18. While it was first reported that the boys were insulting to an old Indigenous American Indian, the facts eventually proved they were innocent, and were in fact themselves the victims of abuse by two different radical groups.
Of course, everyone ran with the original false story of the boys abusing the old man, and condemnations rained down on them from all over the place. Most despicable was the almost immediate condemnation by their school and by the spokesperson for their Diocese of Covington, and so by their own Bishop.
This makes me ill. Isn’t this a form of “child abuse”? Why are Church officials increasingly so quick to blame or condemn their own, even our children, before the facts are known. It seems sometimes they are too afraid of being blamed for the bad behavior of others. Isn’t that a big part of the reason for the cover up of sexual abuse—officials trying to avoid looking bad?
Of course, fortunately, not all of our leaders are this way. But let us pray that all Catholic leaders will always have the courage and integrity it takes to apply true justice to all entrusted to their care. And let’s pray for the boys from Covington.

News you might have missed. Due to the snow on January 12-13 you might have missed these topics covered in my column that day. I want to re-publish them (abridged) for your benefit today:
Update on Lighting and Murals Project. I just wanted to let you know that our lighting project, which was complete in August, is completely paid for and came in under budget. The total actual costs were $363,831.80 (including the millwork and initial costs for the paintings), compared to our budget of $372,207.90. The only thing that remains to be paid for is the murals themselves and their installation, which is fixed at a cost of $67,200.00.
Offertory Collection. I want to thank all of you for giving so generously to various collections over the last few weeks, and for your special year-end donations to the parish.
But I’m a little concerned too. Because for the last few months I’ve been watching our collections and other donations very carefully and, unfortunately, they’ve been going down. For the six months ended December 31, 2018, we’ve seen a decline in “revenue” of $93,000, or down 8% from last year at this time. That’s a lot of money.
Now, frankly, I have been expecting something like this for years: I figured once the building loan was paid off some of you would stop seeing the need to give as much.
But there is probably another factor affecting this: the abuse-coverup scandal. A lot of people think the only way to get the bishops and the pope to do something is to hit them in their pocketbooks, so they’ve decided not to give to the Church, or not to give as much as before.
I understand that. But only 8% of the parish offertory collection (we call it the “cathedraticum tax”) goes to the Bishop for diocesan expenses. So by decreasing your donations to the parish you are affecting the parish much more than you are affecting the Bishop/Diocese. So if this a concern, please reconsider. And remember, contributions to the Maintenance Fund or to the parish separately from the Offertory Collection are not subject to the cathedraticum tax, and 100% goes to the parish. [To be clear: I am not in any way expressing support for withholding donations to the Bishop].
The thing is, we will survive and be okay with the decline in contributions. But we will be limited in our planning for the future, and in what we can do today. And I don’t want the parish to be just “okay,” even financially. I want us to flourish.
So I once again thank you all for your generosity. And I just ask you to please prayerfully consider the level of your giving, and give what you think is right to the parish.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Snow and Vacation. It looks like the parish weathered last weekend’s snow pretty well. No damage to the church or facilities, and no severe damage or injuries reported by parishioners. Praised be Jesus Christ.
If you couldn’t get to Mass last Sunday due to the weather—whether from being snowed in, or out of serious fear of maneuvering in the snow or ice—be assured that no sin was involved. On the other hand, for those of you who did make it to Mass, I want to tell you how proud I am of your effort. I know God will give you a little extra grace for that.
And I’m sorry I couldn’t be here with you to endure/enjoy the snow and cold. Unfortunately, I was in Florida, golfing in 80 degree and sunny weather.

Parish Volunteers. As we begin a new year we all make certain “new year’s resolutions.” I hope this applies to us especially when it comes to resolutions about growing in our Catholic Faith.
One of the best ways to grow in your Catholic faith is to become active in one or more parish groups or committee. It may not be as essential as receiving the Sacraments, reading the Scriptures or studying the Catechism, but getting involved in parish activities can be an important means of discovering the meaning of Christian service, as well as the support of your fellow parishioners. Moreover, it can lead you to discover other opportunities the parish provides for spiritual growth.
I know when I was a 20-something year-old Catholic lay man that was an important factor contributing to the deepening my faith. Sometimes the Church, and even the parish, can seem so huge and impersonal. But by being involved in a particular small group or activity of the parish you can really become involved in the life of the whole parish. Not only does this create a personal and familial sense of belonging, but it also draws you deeper into the life of the whole parish and the whole Church—you meet more people and make more good Catholic friends who help and encourage you in your spiritual and moral growth.
So this year I encourage you to resolve to take a more active part in the life of our parish, and to do so as did the Lord Jesus, who “came to serve, not to be served.” Resolve to become a committed volunteer for one or more activities or groups in the parish.
Many St. Raymond parishioners have a strong history of committed volunteerism (God bless you!). Sometimes, however, this causes others (especially newcomers) to think that their help isn’t needed. But the reality is just the opposite: we constantly need fresh ideas, younger muscles, new voices, etc. And, frankly, some of our volunteers are stepping back due to age, and others are just worn out because they don’t get the help they need!
Moreover, we can’t grow or improve, much less keep current services going, if we don’t have more help, and new help! So I encourage folks who aren’t committed to some volunteer parish activity now to do so in 2019, especially those who are newer to our parish. And I encourage those of you who are volunteers already to invite other parishioners you meet to join you!
I know everybody’s busy, and many of you are already serving the Lord in many ways outside of the parish. But I beg you to think and pray seriously about the specific ways you can volunteer in our parish. We need your help. To jog your thoughts here, see the insert in this bulletin for list of the various parish committees/activities that need your help.
In particular, I know of immediate needs among the Ushers, the Choir, and the Knights of Columbus. But, look over the insert, and ask God to show you where He wants you.

The Maniple. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about the vestments the priest wears at Mass. But one priestly vestment that you may not even be aware of is the “maniple.” This vestment is about a yard long and 3-5 inches wide and is worn over the priest’s left forearm.
Historically, the maniple probably derives from the small towel or handkerchief, a “mappula,” than ancient Romans wore on their left arms to wipe away sweat or tears. The use of this as a liturgical vestment dates at least to the 6th century in Rome, and very early on came to symbolize the tears and sweat related to the toils of the priest. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us that it, “was introduced for the purpose of wiping away the tears of devotion that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continuously during the celebration of the Mass,” (The Dignity and Duties of the Priest). Other symbolic meanings are often attached to it as well, such as relating it to the ropes or chains that bound Jesus during His Passion.
If you’re not familiar with this vestment, don’t worry—it is hardly ever used anymore. In 1967 the Vatican allowed that, “The maniple is no longer required,” (Tres Abhinc Annos, 25), and when the new Roman Missal was published in 1970 the maniple was omitted from the list of required vestments for the “Novus Ordo Missae” (New Order of Mass) or the “Ordinary Form of Mass.”
However, it continued to be worn by priests celebrating the “Extraordinary Form of Mass” using the Roman Missal of 1962, or the “Old Latin Mass.” Because of this, some priests have asked Vatican officials if the maniple may still be worn even in the Ordinary Form. In response to this and other questions about vestments, in 2010 the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff issued an explanation of the vestments worn at Mass, in which it reminded us that the maniple was never forbidden and so is still a legitimate vestment in the Ordinary Form: “It fell into disuse in the years of the post-conciliar reform, even though it was never abrogated.” (See “Liturgical Vestments and the Vesting Prayers,” http://www.vatican.va/).
As a priest who celebrates both the Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form of Mass I have often thought of wearing the maniple during the Ordinary Form, i.e., our regular Sunday Mass. One reason it fell into disuse is that it is a bit cumbersome/awkward having a long piece of cloth tied to your forearm during Mass. But to me this awkwardness serves as a constant reminder both that priestly ministry involves the hard work and suffering (sweat and tears), and that I must say Mass with profound reverence and devotion (i.e., St. Alphonsus’ “tears of devotion”).
So, I’ve decided to wear the maniple, at least at some of my Sunday Masses. We’ll see how it goes. But I thought you’d like to know what was on my mind in doing this.

Oremus pro invicem, Fr. De Celles

TEXT: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s gospel is one of my favorite texts in scripture.

It really is what I often call a treasure chest of rich gems and precious jewels.

For example it gives us foundational teaching on

the sacraments, grace, marriage, the Eucharist and Mary.

 

Think about that.

Jesus changes water into wine:

He takes naturally good and healthy water, essential to all,

and transforms into something more wonderful,

that lifts our spirits and opens us up to peace and joy.

This is exactly what happens in the sacraments.

For example, in baptism Jesus takes a naturally good thing, like water,

and transforms it into a life-giving spring of grace

purifying us and pouring His life into us.

 

And we see the effect of Jesus’ grace,

acting on the sacrament and in the sacrament.

In today’s story, Jesus’ grace first transforms water into wine

and that in turn saves the wedding feast

and transforms the couple’s panic into joy,

Just like in the Eucharist,

when Jesus’ grace transforms bread and wine into His Body and Blood,

and that in turn strengthens us and draws us closer to Him in Communion.

 

And if He can change water into wine,

He can, and does, transform a good and loving human relationship

between in a man and woman

into a communion of life and love that shares in the very love of God Himself.

And so we see the sacrament of marriage prefigured in the wedding at Cana.

 

And then we see Mary: the text tells us that this was

“the beginning of [Jesus’] signs …and so revealed His glory.”

In the same way, this was the beginning of Mary’s

great intercession for the all of us,

thus, revealing the glory Jesus has given her.

Notice, Jesus calls her “woman”,

which is what Eve is called in the first chapters of Genesis,

showing us Mary as the new Eve, who says “yes” to God, when Eve said “no.”

And then, without being asked,

she sees the problem and brings it to Jesus, as His Mother.

And trusting in Jesus, she tells the servants: “do whatever He tells.”

 

____

It’s an amazing text: a true treasure chest.

But like all treasure chests, sometimes when focus on the most spectacular gems,

we miss the other jewels that are not so stunning, but still priceless.

 

And in this story that tends to be … “the servers”.

 

The servants bring their simple water to Jesus

and then wind up taking the best wine ever to the wedding guests.

They are transformed from being mere waiters to messengers of God

—like the angels, or the apostles, sent by Jesus,

to distribute His grace to the wedding feast.

They become just as much a part of the miracle as the water and wine,

and Mary and Jesus.

Just as Mary is not equal to Jesus, but is given an essential role in His Mission,

the servants are also not equal to Jesus or Mary,

but are also given an essential role in His mission.

How will the Word go out, how will the grace spread, if someone doesn’t take it.

 

____

I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect of the text over the last few weeks,

and it’s proven to be a real pearl of great price

to help me understand a something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.

And that is, service in our parish: parishioners volunteering to help in the parish.

 

In today’s second reading St. Paul tells us,

“there are different forms of service but the same Lord…”

This is something that rings very true and practical in the life of the parish.

Think of all the different forms of service.

Father Smith (and Daly) and I have the service of being your priests.

Then there’s the parish staff:

running the office, taking care of the building, educating your children, etc.

And then there’s all of you.

 

What is your service?

Now, some serve our parish by simply, but amazingly, being good parents,

or by representing our parish in the world as civic leaders.

But then again, even folks like that often find that the Lord is inviting them

to server the the parish more directly.

 

St. Paul today goes on to talk about the spiritual gifts each person has:

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for some benefit.”

Actually, that’s a weak translation of the Greek.

It really ought to say,

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for the common good.”

 

God has given us all various gifts—both supernatural and natural—

and all of them are given to us for “the common good.”

And so I say to you, what natural gift has God given you for the common good?

And how might he be asking you to use that at St. Raymond’s?

 

____

It seems pretty clear that most parishioners don’t do a lot of service in the parish.

We have about 6000 registered parishioners,

of which a little over 2,300 come to Mass every week.

Of that, only about 300 people regularly commit to a particular role of service

in the parish.

And of those, about 50 take many different roles of service—they’re everywhere.

 

300 people, out of 6000, or out of 2300.

Think of that: a lot of people seem to come here only to

hear the word of God or receive the sacraments—to be served.

It’s as if they want to go to the wedding feast to enjoy themselves as guests,

but very few want to serve the meal and the wine.

 

____

Now, I’m not complaining,

Please understand: I love this parish and you are great parishioners and I wouldn’t trade you for anything.

And I’m not picking on anyone–really.

But I am inviting everyone.

The truth is, Jesus established His Church,

so that most of us would usually be the ones being served

—because Jesus is always serving us:

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

But as St. Paul tells us elsewhere, we must,

“be servants to one another out of reverence to Christ.”

 

_____

Now, there are lots of ways to be servants.

Even if you are sitting in the pews at Mass,

you can serve each other and God by simply praying,

or by being kind to each other,

or even by saying the prayers and singing songs,

and so helping others to pray and sing.

 

But there are also many other more concrete and committed ways

that the gifts God has given you

might be meant to serve “the common good” of our parish.

 

___

Now, some may be thinking this is a very clever way of Father

trying to get some free help in the parish.

Of course, others may say it’s a pretty clumsy way.

 

But the thing is, I don’t need your help—at least not for my benefit.

I mean, I could eliminate a lot of the things we do around here,

and my life would be a lot easier,

and the Bishop wouldn’t fire me or dock my pay dime.

I know a lot of parishes that have a lot fewer activities and services,

and their pastors are doing just fine.

 

This is not about my good, it’s about the common good of our parish

and your own good.

I don’t want this parish to be “okay”, or “good”—I want it to be the best it can be.

And by that I don’t mean having the most or nicest things to do,

but having the best things to help you live the Christian life in this world

so that one day you will live it in heaven.

And for that, I do need your help!

 

The truth is, Jesus wants you to serve Him and your neighbor, out of love.

And He put you here, in this parish: these are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Can you be truly good, if you are not a good servant to them?

 

___

When I was the Vicar at St. Mary’s in Old Town—now the Basilica

—there were lots of very important people there.

Cabinet members, a former Speaker of the House, Generals, etc.

One of them told me he wanted to serve in the parish on the Finance Council.

And the guy would have been great at it.

But I suggested that instead of that, why not begin with something a little simpler.

I suggested he be an usher.

 

Well, honestly he didn’t much like the idea, but he did it.

And about two months later he came back to me thanking me profusely:

he was a powerful guy in the world,

but that often led him to sometimes be prideful and rude,

and working as an usher was helping him to grow in patience, charity

and above all humility.

By serving, he was becoming holy.

 

____

Some people say, “I’m too busy.”

I think of at least three different couples in the parish,

Who are constantly working in important jobs,

while also raising large families with lots of kids,

but also find time to be the back bone of

so many committees and activities of the parish I don’t even know them all.

They haven’t been “too busy” for years.

 

Some say, but I don’t really have any talents to offer, or I’m not well enough.

I think of the elderly homebound parishioner who loved teenagers

but couldn’t figure how she could help with the Youth Apostolate,

until Jeanne asked her to make food and snacks for the kids’ meetings.

 

In the end, none of has what it takes to serve the way we should.

But then we remember that at Cana Jesus transformed simple water into wine,

and simple waiters into God’s messengers.

 

___

I can think right now of particular needs we have for volunteers to serve

as ushers, youth group leaders, and in the choir.

But there are dozens more opportunities

—if you look in today’s bulletin you’ll find an insert with a whole list.

So look in the bulletin today.

And maybe make a call to volunteer tomorrow or next week.

 

____

My friends, as we move more deeply into this Holy Mass,

the Wedding Feast of Heaven come down to earth,

let us ask the Blessed Mother to intercede for us

to know how Christ wants us to serve him and each other.

And as He transforms wine and bread into His own Blood and Body

and we receive Him in Holy Communion,

let us beg Him to transform us by this grace,

to have the courage to follow His Mother Mary’s instructions

to the servants of the feast: “Do whatever He tells you.”

The Baptism of the Lord

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

March for Life. This Friday, January 18, hundreds of thousands of Christians and other people of goodwill will participate in the 46th annual “March for Life” on the Mall in Washington, commemorating the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade creating the so-called “right to abortion.” Perhaps no court decision or legislation has so directly and fundamentally had such a wide and terrible effect on our nation. And not only in the devastation of 60 million or so babies it has killed, or the millions of mothers whose lives it has ruined. But also in its shaping of our American culture into a culture that degrades human life more and more every day, transforming human beings from persons whose lives have value and meaning in themselves into things that have value and meaning only to the extent other persons who have power over them chose to give them.
Some people tell us we should not talk about this, or at least not talk about it so much, or so loudly or so vehemently. But how can we be silent, when we remember that it is all intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love and His commandment to love our neighbor.
On Friday four busloads of St. Raymond parishioners will drive down to the Mall to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Life, including the Lord’s call to all of us to love our neighbor, even if our neighbor is a tiny unborn baby. Please join us. Sign-up sheets for the bus are located in the narthex of the Church today.

Update on Lighting and Murals Project. I just wanted to let you know that our lighting project, which was finished in August, is completely paid for and came in under budget. The total actual costs were $363,831.80 (including the millwork and initial costs for the paintings), compared to our budget of $372,207.90. The only thing that remains to be paid for is the murals themselves and their installation, which is fixed at a cost of $67,200.00.

Offertory Collection. I want to thank all of you for giving so generously to various collections over the last few weeks, and for your special year-end donations to the parish.

But I’m a little concerned too. Just a little. Because for the last few months I’ve been watching our Offertory collection very carefully and, unfortunately, it has been going down. For the six months ended December 31, 2018, it has declined by $139,000 compared to the same period last year. Happily, this has been partially offset by an increase in our Maintenance Fund (formerly “Building Loan”) collection and other Donations by $45,000, but that still leaves a decline of $93,000, or down 8% from last year at this time. That’s a lot of money.
Now, frankly, I have been expecting something like this for years: I figured once the building loan was paid off some of you would stop seeing the need to give as much.
But there is probably another factor affecting this: the abuse-coverup scandal. A lot of people think the only way to get the bishops and the pope to do something is to hit them in their pocketbooks, so they’ve decided not to give to the Church, or not to give as much as before.
I understand that. The thing is, though, of the parish offertory collection, only 8% (we call it the “cathedraticum tax”) goes to the Bishop for diocesan expenses, and none of it goes to “Rome.” So by decreasing your donations to the parish you are affecting the parish much more than you are affecting the Bishop/Diocese. So if this a concern, please reconsider. And remember, contributions to the Maintenance Fund or to the parish separately from the Offertory Collection are not subject to the cathedraticum tax, and 100% goes to the parish.
The thing is, we will survive and be okay with the decline in contributions. But we will be limited in our planning for the future, and in what we can do today. And I don’t want the parish to be just “okay,” even financially. I want us to flourish.
I know that sometime in the next few months, someone from the Diocesan staff will call and tell me I have to do a hard sell campaign to get you to increase donations. That is something I do not want to do, first of all, because it’s your money, not “ours”, but also I just don’t think that’s right during this time of confusion and scandal.
So I once again thank you all for your generosity. And I just ask you to please prayerfully consider the level of your giving, and give what you think is right to the parish.

Rest in Peace. Last week we heard the sad news that long-time parishioner, Cathy Conway, had passed away. Cathy and her family joined St. Raymond’s in 2004, and she was active in the parish, especially with our Special Needs Apostolate and the youth group, for many years. She also served on our Finance Committee for many years, including as chairman under both Fr. Gould and me. She was a great help to me in my first year at the parish. Please keep her and her family in your prayers. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2019

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 6, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For the last few weeks–both in Advent and during the Christmas season–

almost all of the people we’ve encountered in the Scriptures at Mass

have been Jews living in Palestine

–and most of those of humble origin and state.

But today we find a radically different sort of people–Magi from the East:

extremely well-educated and wealthy,

and perhaps even priests in their own pagan religion.

Yet, the Scriptures tell us that when they arrive in Bethlehem

–after traveling hundreds of miles

and enduring great discomfort and suffering–

these great wise men “prostrate themselves and do homage”

to a tiny vulnerable peasant child.

And they offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And while these gifts are generous and full of meaning,

they are not the greatest gift given that day.

The greatest gift was not from the magi at all,

but from God to the magi, and to the whole Gentile world

–the gift of His Epiphany,

of God’s manifesting, or showing Himself to the world,

as the human baby Jesus.

 

___

Still, while today’s Gospel is principally a reminder

of God’s Epiphany to the Gentiles,

it also reminds us of Christ’s coming to His chosen people–the Jews.

On Tuesday, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,

we read from St. Luke’s Gospel

about the Jewish shepherds

coming to adore the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

But today St. Matthew also tells us about another Jew

discovering the birth of the Messiah–King Herod.

Herod is a Jew, but not by race

—he is not a descendant of Jacob who was called “Israel.”

His family was Idumæan, but his family converted to the Jewish religion

about 100 years before the birth of Christ.

So he was technically a Jew.

But how different this Jew reacts to news of the Messiah

than the way the Jewish shepherds react.

So caught up in his enjoyment of power and riches

allowed him by his Roman masters,

he hears of the birth of the messiah

and instead of immediately going to worship Him with the Magi

he sends them on alone, while he waits behind,

planning to kill the child.

 

Since the days of the apostles,

the Church has seen herself

                   as the fulfillment of the promises to Israel under the Old Covenant

–she views herself as the continuation of the chosen people

–the New Israel, the New Jerusalem,

under the New Covenant.

And in that sense, we can see those who do not believe in Christ

as sort of a “New Gentiles”

–those who are not members of God’s people.

The magi were Gentiles–but they were also the first to join the New Israel

— they became the first converts.

 

__

As a cradle Catholic, I’ve always been amazed and awed by converts,

especially those who come from among the New Gentiles

–especially the magi of our day

–who come to Christ not from birth

but by diligent search for the truth.

And of course, I’m also impressed by the cradle Catholics and other cradle Christians

who, like the shepherds, humbly accept the gift promised to their ancestors

and handed on to them as a rich inheritance.

 

But what about those of us cradle Catholics,

who act less like the shepherds, than they act like King Herod

–King Herod who was a member of the God’s people,

and yet treated the fulfillment of God’s great promise

as if it were news of the plague?

 

__

Now, many of us go back and forth

between being shepherds and being Herods.

And we live in a world that is more and more

like the world that the magi came from

than the world that the shepherds came from

–a world of Gentiles, or New Gentiles.

But still Christ remains the light of that world.

The prophesy of Isaiah is still true:

“Jerusalem! Your light has come,….See, darkness covers the earth,…

But upon you the Lord shines, …Nations shall walk by your light,

…Raise your eyes and look about;

they all gather and come to you.”

In the midst of a growth in the darkness

of non-Christian and even anti-Christian  values and culture

–a culture that we Christians too often let effect

and even dominate our lives

–Christ is still the light that shines on us.

And if we look we will see millions of people

who are gathering to come to the light.

Like the Magi–the wise men following that bright star—

the light piercing the darkness

–everyday we encounter people who are searching for the truth,

for wisdom, for salvation, for the Savior—the Christ.

 

But when we meet them, do we meet them like the humble shepherds,

leading them as they led their sheep to the manger?

 

Or do we meet them as King Herod did?

When the magi came to him searching for Christ,

Herod sent them on alone to Bethlehem.

How many times do we have the opportunity

to lead someone who is looking for the fullness of the truth about Jesus

and we either send them on their way,

or allow them to go on searching without giving them anything

but the most cursory help?

Herod points to Bethlehem and says:

“When you have found him, bring me word…”

Herod should have led the way to Bethlehem!

And so should we, today!

But to do that–to assist the seeker of truth toward conversion–is difficult

because it involves a sacrifice of time and energy

–it involves an act of giving of ourselves.

 

____

Today’s Gospel tells us that the Magi gave gifts to the Baby Jesus,

and Tradition tells us that each of these gifts has a special meaning:

–the gold represented the kingly riches

that the new born King deserved.

–the frankincense represented the incense

which should be burned before Jesus as God,

symbolic of our prayers to Him.

–and the myrrh–a spice used in ancient times

for the preparation of the dead for burial–

tells us that Jesus the King and God

came into the world to suffer and die.

 

When Gaspar laid down his gold before Christ,

Herod should have been there to offer his gold crown to Christ,

and offer Him all the protection

that his worldly Kingship could provide,

instead of grasping after his power

in fear that the child would take it from him.

We too should offer Christ our gold

–the worldly gifts and talents and power he has given us

to help those who seek Him.

 

When Melchior offered his incense,

Herod should have offered to carry the Christ-child to the temple

to let Him sleep in the Holy of Holies

–his true Father’s home—

where incense and the prayer it symbolizes

could be offered to Him day and night.

We too should offer Christ our incense–our prayers–

–prayers of adoration

and prayers of intercession

for those who are struggling to find Him or accept Him.

 

When Balthazar laid down the myrrh,

Herod should have offered to suffer with Jesus,

to suffer the loss of Caesar’s respect

and die to all the power and comfort that it brought.

We too should offer Christ our suffering;

opening ourselves to the ridicule that often comes

–and which we so often fear–

when we share our faith in Christ and his Church with others.

Perhaps even opening ourselves to loss of friends,

and in some cases even employment

–Herod didn’t want to lose his friend Caesar,

or his cushy job as King of Judea.

 

__

We are Christ’s Church–his people on earth–the new Israel.

In Advent, we prepared for Christ’s coming to us

and during Christmas we celebrate that coming

–the dawn of the light that shatters the darkness.

But as the end of our celebration of this season approaches

we turn from our celebration of His coming to us,

and remember that He came not only to us, but to the whole world.

 

Today, we begin to focus on our vocation to assist Christ

in carrying His light to a world filled with so much darkness

–to those who don’t know Him at all,

and to those who know Him well, but incompletely.

So that as He manifests Himself to the world not simply as a star in the dark sky,

but as the Epiphany of His wondrous light that shatters the darkness,

let us offer Him our gold, all our worldly gifts;

let us offer Him our incense, our prayers rising up to Him;

and let us bring Him our myrrh, uniting our suffering to His suffering;

And so let us boldly proclaim His arrival to all we meet

–with prudence and charity,

but also with the clarity of the light,

and without concern for worldly pride, pleasure, or comfort.

 

And with the magi and the shepherds,

and with the entire Church,

come let us adore Him,”

let us prostrate ourselves [before Him,] and do Him homage.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Pope St. John Paul II
Homily, Epiphany, 6 January 1979

“Arise (Jerusalem), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you”, the Prophet Isaiah cries out (60:1), in the eighth century before Christ, and we listen to his words today in the 20th century A.D. and admire, really admire, the great light that comes from these words. Through the centuries, Isaiah addresses Jerusalem, which was to become the city of the Great Anointed, of the Messiah: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising… your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried in the arms… A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (60:3-4; 6).
We have before our eyes these three—so tradition says—three Magi Kings who come on pilgrimage from afar with camels and bring with them not only gold and incense, but also myrrh: the symbolic gifts with which they went to meet the Messiah who was awaited also beyond the frontiers of Israel. We are not surprised, therefore, when Isaiah, in his prophetic dialogue with Jerusalem, carried out through the centuries, says at a certain point: “your heart shall thrill and rejoice” (60:5). He speaks to the city as if it were a living man.
“Your heart shall thrill and rejoice”. On Christmas Eve, finding myself together with those participating in the eucharistic liturgy at midnight here in this Basilica, I asked everyone to be, in mind and heart, more there than here; more in Bethlehem, at the birthplace of Christ, in that stable-cave in which “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). And today I ask the same of you. Because the Magi Kings, those strange pilgrims from the East, came just there, to that place, south of Jerusalem. They passed through Jerusalem. They were led by a mysterious star, the star, an exterior light that moved in the firmament. But they were led even more by faith, the inner light. They were not surprised by what they found: neither by the poverty, nor the stable, nor the fact that the Child lay in a manger. They arrived and they fell down “and worshipped him”. Then they opened their caskets and offered the Child Jesus gold and incense, of which Isaiah speaks, but also myrrh. And after having done all that, they returned to their country.
Because of this pilgrimage to Bethlehem, the Magi Kings from the East became the beginning and the symbol of all those who, through faith, reach Jesus, the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, the Saviour nailed to the cross, he who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb at the foot of Calvary, rose again on the third day. These very men, the Magi Kings, three according to tradition, from the East, became the beginning and the prefiguration of all those who, from beyond the frontiers of the Chosen People of the Old Covenant, have reached and still reach Christ by means of faith.
“Your heart shall thrill and rejoice”, Isaiah says to Jerusalem. In fact the heart of the People of God had to dilate in order to contain the new men, the new peoples. This very cry of the Prophet is the keyword of the Epiphany. It was necessary to dilate the heart of the Church continually, when more and more new men entered it; when, following in the steps of the shepherds and the Magi Kings, from the East new peoples kept arriving in Bethlehem. Now, too, it is always necessary to dilate this heart according to the needs of men and peoples, ages and times.
The Epiphany is the feast of the vitality of the Church. The Church lives her awareness of God’s mission, which is carried out through her. The Second Vatican Council helped us to realize that the “mission” is the proper name of the Church, and in a certain sense defines her. The Church becomes herself when she carries out her mission. The Church is herself, when men—such as the shepherds and the Magi Kings from the East—reach Jesus Christ by means of faith. When in the Christ-Man and through Christ they find God again.
The Epiphany, therefore, is the great feast of faith. Both those who have already arrived at faith, and those who are on the way to arrive at it, take part in this feast. They take part, rendering thanks for the gift of faith, just as the Magi Kings, full of gratitude, knelt before the Child. The Church, which becomes more aware of the vastness of her mission every year, takes part in this feast. To how many men it is still necessary to bring faith! How many men must be won back to the faith, which they have lost, and that is sometimes more difficult than the first conversion to faith! But the Church, aware of that great gift, the gift of the incarnation of God, can never stop, can never tire. She must continually seek access to Bethlehem for every man and for every period. The Epiphany is the feast of God’s challenge….
Once more, therefore, I borrow the words of Isaiah to express the wishes “Urbi et Orbi” and say: “Arise! Your heart shall thrill and rejoice!” Arise and sow the strength of your faith! May Christ enlighten you continually! May men and Peoples walk in this light. Amen.”

Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort. Tomorrow, January 7, is the feast of our parish Patron. For those of you who don’t know much about St. Raymond, I invite you to read the 32-page biography we published about 3 years ago. If you don’t have one, come by the parish gift shop or the office and pick one up.
As a brief reminder…Raymond was born in 1175, and at a young age he was named a professor of civil and canon law and at the University of Bologna. On August 1, 1218 Raymond received a heavenly vision from our Blessed Mother (“Our Lady of Ransom”). In 1222 he entered the Order of Preachers (“Dominicans”), and published the Summa Casuum, a book guiding confessors and moralists. In 1230 he was appointed confessor and theologian to Pope Gregory IX, who also assigned him the daunting task of codifying the entirety of the juridical laws of the Church. In 1238 he was elected Master General of the Dominican Order. He resigned after 3 years, but continued his writing, preaching and pastoral work for another 37 years until his death on January 6, 1275, at the age of 100. He is the patron saint of lawyers, both canon and civil.

St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us!

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles