24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 16, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

“Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”
In a way, this question of Jesus is perhaps the most important question
any man can ask himself: “Who do I say Jesus is?”
And St. Peter gives the most important answer any man can give:
“You are the Christ,” the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord.

This is the answer every Christian must give
—it is the Christian’s fundamental profession of Faith.
Without this, then the rest of the Gospel is useless
—if for no other reason that Jesus admitted that he was the Christ
—and if Jesus wasn’t the Christ he was a liar—not to be believed at all.

But even more to the point,
if Jesus wasn’t the Christ,
then his death was useless and not salvific,
his promise to bring all those who love him
and follow his commandments to heaven.
and his promise to give us the grace to lead the life he calls us to
is empty.
Every thing he said is useless

But Jesus is the Christ
—and because we believe that, all the other things he said make sense,
and we can believe in them
and be open to the grace and the life they offer.

Faith in Jesus as the Christ—the redeemer the Messiah, the Son of God—
is the key to our salvation.

But is faith all we need?
Some of our protestant brothers and sisters, especially evangelicals, think so.
In the words of Martin Luther in the 16th century,
many protestants believe that we are “saved by faith alone”: “Sola Fide”.
Maybe you haven’t encountered this directly.
but I bet most of you have been asked, or at least heard,
the question:
“have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
This question is really another way of saying: “who do you say Jesus is”?
And to answer, “yes,” is to say, “I have faith in Christ.”
And because they believe that faith in Jesus is all you need to be saved,
when they ask this question, they are really asking “are you saved?”

Now, let me be clear: not all Protestants accept this doctrine nowadays.
But Luther and his modern day disciples,
believe that there is nothing we can do to be saved
—that Jesus did it all for us on the cross
and he pours the grace of the cross on us today
—so we can do nothing but believe in what Jesus does for us,
and that belief will save us.
It doesn’t matter what else you do—
—if you do or don’t sin, do or do not obey the commandments,
or if you do or don’t receive the sacraments,
or if you love your neighbor or not
—as long as you believe in Jesus.
As Luther wrote: “sin boldly, but believe more boldly”.

Now, Luther didn’t just make this notion of salvation by faith alone out of thin air
—he based it on several statements made by St. Paul,
and by Jesus himself.
For example, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
And Jesus says:
“he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
So if you were to take these kind of statements on their own,
they do seem to affirm that faith is the only thing that matters.

And Luther was not the first one to fall into this false understanding of faith.
Some of the early Christians were also tempted to make this same mistake.
And so St. James wrote to correct this error.
As we read in today’s 2nd reading from St. James:
“What good is it…if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
….faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

And as St. James goes on to say just a few verses later:
“Even the demons believe–and shudder….
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

And of course, St. James is not the only one to reject “faith alone”
and acknowledge that are works are essential to our salvation.
St. Paul also taught this.
As he went on to write the Romans:
“On the one hand, to those who persist in good work,
…he will give eternal life.
But for those who …reject the truth and follow evil,
there will be wrath and anger.”

But most importantly Jesus himself taught this.

He tells us to be saved we must be holy:
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
He tells us to be saved we must follow the commandments:
the rich young man
“came up to him, saying,
“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”
And he said to him, ….If you would enter life,
keep the commandments.”

He tells us to be saved we must love our neighbor:
“a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
….soul, …strength, and …mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

He tells us we must do good works:
“I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
….’Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,
you did it not to me.’
And they will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.”

And he gives us the sacraments which he tells us we must partake in:
For example, Baptism:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
And of course the Eucharist:
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”

Now some Protestants who follow “sola fide”
counter the idea of the necessity of doing good works
as simply being proof of our faith:
if you believe, naturally you’ll do good things.
You might ask, but what about people who do terrible things,
but claim they believe in Christ.
Luther’s response is that those people never really believed in the first place
—that if you really believe you won’t do terrible things,
because once you truly believe,
you can never ever lose your salvation.

But if that’s true why did St. Paul—who surely was filled with faith—
write that he was afraid of losing his salvation
by not doing what he should?
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
…I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air;
but I pommel my body and subdue it,
lest after preaching to others
I myself should be disqualified.”

Faith is the key to salvation.
But it is not all there is to salvation.
The key of faith opens the door
to all that we need to know and to do to be saved.

In today’s Gospel Peter is the first to declare the Church’s faith in Christ.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist records that Jesus tells Peter
that this insight has come from directly from God, his Father.
But later on when Peter refuses to believe Jesus
when he explains that he has to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die,
Jesus says: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Friends, to think as God does, is to believe in Jesus and His Gospel.
But the thing is, that Gospel has a content—Jesus taught us what God thinks,
and how God wants us to live, and do and love.
And to say we believe in Jesus,
but reject the content of his teaching,
including the things he said we must do to gain eternal life,
whether it’s keeping the commandments,
or loving God and your neighbor,
or being baptized,
or receiving and adoring the Eucharist as his body and blood,
or following the teachings and discipline
of Peter and his successors, the Popes,
if you reject those, well, as St. James says today: “what good is that?”

Jesus goes on to tell us today:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”
It is true that Christ’s Cross—and the love it expresses—
is the only thing that saves us.
But unless we live as he did, love as he loved, do as he commanded,
even if it means suffering for others,
or even losing our lives for the sake of what we believe–the Gospel
—we cannot live as he lives:
in the eternal and perfect joy and glory of heaven.

I am confident that our Protestant brothers and sisters who hold to “faith alone”
believe in Jesus Christ.
I am also confident that they also love the Lord Jesus,
and do many good works.
But we must not be confused between the relationship between faith and love,
and between believing and doing.
Eternal life comes to us not because we believe it will,
but because God loves us
and allows us to chose live in his love today and forever.

So let us have faith in Christ and believe and live the entirety of his teachings.
Including the teaching passed on to us by St. James:
“faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

September 16, 2012

Sad Announcement. Last Sunday I read the following statement at all the Masses. It was approved by both Bishop Loverde and myself:

Dear friends in Christ, as you know Fr. Joby Thomas left our parish last Wednesday. This came at the request of Bishop Loverde. As it turns out, Father [Joby’s] Superior General had not been aware that Father was ministering here and actually wants him to be with his community in India. So he is very grateful to Bishop Loverde for having asked Father to return and expects him to return soon. Unfortunately, Fr. Joby did not return [to India] on the day he was scheduled to leave. Therefore, to remove any confusion in the minds of the faithful, parishioners should know that Fr. Joby no longer has faculties to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Arlington. He is not permitted to say Mass, hear confessions, or preach. The best assistance to be extended to him is encouragement to return to India, in obedience to both our Bishop and his religious Superior.

I’m know this was a very difficult statement to hear/read, and that the situation has caused some of you particular distress and sadness. I also know it has generated quite a bit of conversation. I understand all this. So let me say that I am available if anyone needs to talk, or for any other assistance.

September 11. This last week America remembered that dark day in 2001 when Islamist terrorists viciously attacked our nation, and America finally entered a war that had been declared against us years before. We mourn the death of all those who died on 9/11/2001, and all those who have died in the “War on Terror,” most especially the American innocents, first responders, military and other brave supporting personnel. We pray for our beloved country, that the Lord send His holy angels to keep us safe, and that our hearts may turn to him so that we may be worthy to receive his tender mercy.

One of my most vivid memories of that terrible day and the weeks that followed is how the nation seemed to turn to God as one in prayer. We seemed to sense that despite our great military and economic power, in the end only God could keep us safe. And so the churches were filled and people were not ashamed to pray and talk about God in public. My, how things have changed in 11 years.

Did Democrats Delete “God,” and then “Boo” Him? In last week’s column I wrote about the Democratic National Convention and the party platform’s extreme positions on abortion. After I wrote that column it was reported that the party had also deleted the only specific reference to “God” from their platform. Then we watched on national TV as their leadership scrambled to put “God” back into it, and then as the crowd of delegates loudly booed their efforts. Were they booing “God”? Some argue “no”—they were voting and booing against the re-insertion of the language about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or against the chairman’s obvious and distinctly un-democratic (in the widest sense) disregard of the actual voice-vote which seemed clearly to reject the amendments.

Perhaps. But why did they delete “God” in the first place? In 2004 (i.e., the first post 9/11 platform) “God” was mentioned by name seven times.

Now, many have pointed out that “religion” and “faith” are specifically discussed favorably in several places in the platform—so that this proves the party isn’t “against God.” But there’s a big difference between 1) respecting other people’s faith and religion, versus 2) declaring that there IS A GOD who gives us “rights” and “potential.” It is this latter principle that is at the foundation of our nation: God gives us rights, not any man or government. Failure to recognize this tends to delegitimize a political party, as they distance themselves from the most basic and foundational American principle.

To be fair and non-partisan, the 2012 Republican platform mentions “God” ten (10) times, and refers to “God-given” rights etc. seven (7) times. And, amazingly, it quotes George Washington: “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Gestures at Mass. It’s always interesting to me to watch the acts of personal piety performed during Mass by our congregants. One example is the way some make the Sign of the Cross over themselves during the prayer after the Confiteor as the priest says, “May Almighty God have mercy on us…” This gesture is neither part of the actual norms of the Mass nor is it part of our tradition. Let me clarify that: traditionally, in the “Old Mass” the Sign of the Cross was never made during this prayer, but rather it was made during a prayer before the Confiteor and a prayer after the “May Almighty God…” When the Mass began to change in 1965 or so, and those prayers were deleted, the practice of crossing oneself was so ingrained in the faithful that many continued to do it.

I supposed one could say this signing is “wrong” since it is not mentioned in the norms. Remember, the law is that, “no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the Liturgy.” But I would never say it is “wrong” to make this Sign of the Cross, considering that 1) the norms apply more strictly to priests and the congregation than to individuals, 2) it springs from an ancient practice, 3) it is a pious act, 4) it does not contradict an affirmative instruction (the norms don’t say you must not do this), and 5) many individuals perform much less pious and traditional gestures during Mass. So, as a liturgical purist it sort of causes me to pause, but as a pious pastor I appreciate the piety behind it.

Given that, I find it interesting that so many do this gesture and others, which are not required, and yet most do not do many of the gestures that are required. For example, most people don’t bow their heads, as the norms require, at the names of Jesus, Mary, and the saint of the day, or at formula “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” Also, many do not bow their bodies during the Creed at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

Hey, it’s not the end of the world. And I don’t mean to pick on anyone. But let’s make a friendly deal: do your acts of personal piety (within reason), but also try to remember the gestures the norms require.

We Need Ushers. We are in great need of ushers at most Masses, especially adults. Please contact Paul DeRosa in the parish office if you are interested.

Parish Picnic. Remember to save the date of our annual picnic: Sunday, September 30, 1pm to 4pm. A great way to get to know your fellow parishioners.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

September 9, 2012

Welcome, Fr. Joseph Kenna. I’m sure you all join me in extending a warm and heartfelt welcome to Fr. Kenna, our new Parochial Vicar. It’s great to have him here, and I look forward to working with him to help you all draw closer to Christ and His Church. Of course, Father will need a little time to get his feet firmly on the ground, change is hard as we all know. But I know he’s looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work and to know all of you. Please join me this afternoon (Sunday) after the 12:15 Mass for a welcoming reception/lunch for Father in the Parish Hall.

Religious Education Classes (“CCD”) Starts Tonight! With school starting up for all of our kids in the last two weeks I’m sure they’ve all (at least the public school kids) have been chomping at the bit to get back to religion classes. All kidding aside, there is no more important thing a child studies than his/her religion; the First Commandment tells us: “I am the LORD your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.” If we dedicate time going to school to learn about secular subjects like math, science, and history, but don’t spend time learning about God, don’t we make those secular subjects into false gods and place them ahead of The True God? It is one of a parent’s most fundamental obligations, a grave duty, to educate his/her children in the faith. And children, how can you love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength—how can you love anyone even a little bit—if you don’t know about him?

So I look forward to seeing all of you in religion class this week, and throughout the year. But remember, you only get out of something what you put into it. I expect all students to prepare for class, do their homework, and participate actively in class. And parents, remember that you are the primary educators of your children: CCD is only here to help you. So you must continue their religious education at home, including by making sure your children take their CCD classes seriously.

And I know you will! God bless you all as you begin the new school year!

Voter Registration. Well, as is obvious to anyone who browses the internet, picks up a paper or turns on the TV, there’s a big election coming on November 6. Remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2240) teaches: “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory …to exercise the right to vote…” Since the we, the citizens of the United States, enjoy supreme sovereignty in this democratic- republic, it is imperative that we exercise that sovereignty by voting for, or choosing, the officials who will represent us well in the government.

But you can’t vote if you aren’t registered to vote. So many times forgetting to do this very simple thing does what no foreign power has been able to do for 230 years—take away the individual’s right to vote. Most of us are already registered to vote here in Fairfax, but some of you tell me you haven’t voted in a while, and I know a lot of our parishioners have moved recently, and most every time you move you have to register to vote in your new state or county.

So, to help you in this regard, next weekend we will have folks manning a table in the narthex with forms and instructions to register you to vote in Fairfax County.

Also if you think you’re going to be away from home or otherwise might not be able to get to the polls on November 6, you should seriously consider voting absentee, if you are eligible to do so. You can vote absentee in one of 2 ways: 1) go into one of 7 special voting locations between October 17 and November 3, or 2) vote absentee by mail. Voting by mail is easiest for a lot of folks, but to do that you have to first apply for an absentee ballot. Next weekend’s table will also have Absentee Ballot Application Forms available for those wishing to exercise that option.

The last day to register to vote is Monday, October 15th, and last date to apply for an absentee ballot by mail is Tuesday, October 30th.

New Precinct Polling Location. You should also note that the voting/poll location for one local precinct has changed this year. Those of us in Precinct 806 will no longer vote at Hunt Valley Elementary School, but will now be voting at the Sydenstricker Methodist Church, 8508 Hooes Road, which is on the north side of the Parkway, just off Sydenstricker. Note that Precinct 807, which has also been voting at Hunt Valley Elementary School will remain at Hunt Valley ES. Your Precinct number is found on your voter registration card.

For more information go to: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/ (there is also a link on our parish website). You can also check on your registration status on this web page.

Democratic Convention. It is a terrible thing that one of our two major political parties, the Democrat Party, so stridently supports the right of a mother to kill her unborn baby, i.e., abortion. The week before last pro-abortion (so called “pro-choice”) pundits ridiculed a Republican Senate candidate for his opposition to abortion in the case of rape and incest (less than 1% of all abortions)—i.e., giving the death penalty to the innocent child for his father’s crime. But this week the Democrat Party, at its National Convention, trotted out speaker after speaker who actively support the most barbarically extreme positions on abortion—including partial birth abortion and allowing babies who survive abortions to die without medical attention. Not to mention, they once again nominated for President a man who holds those same extreme positions: Barrack Obama. Not only that, they released a platform document—their official statement of their political positions—that officially endorses all forms of abortion: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” This is basically the same position they’ve embraced for years, except that this year they added something new: “regardless of ability to pay.” In other words, they support taxpayer funded abortion, something that 72% of Americans oppose. They want to force you and me to pay for abortions Who is the extremist?

Tomorrow: Weekday Mass Changes to 8 A.M. Please remember that beginning tomorrow, Monday, September 10, Mass will no longer be offered at 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, but will be moved to 8:00 a.m.. Let this be an opportunity for all you who find 6:30 Mass “too early” and 9:00 Mass “too late” to finally start coming to morning Mass at the “just right” time of 8:00. (The M-F 6:30am Mass will stay as usual, as will the Wednesday 7:00pm Mass and Saturday 9:00am Mass).
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 9, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

As you probably know at its founding America
was an overwhelmingly Protestant country.
But as time passed millions of Catholics began to immigrate in search of
new opportunities and freedom.
They found both of those, but they also found prejudice against them
—both because of their foreign habits and accents,
and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.
So many times they had to fend for themselves
—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,
and schools for their children.
And most of that time this assistance was organized by and in the Church.
Great Catholics like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann,
and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,
founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,
by simply helping their neighbor out when they needed a break.
Mr. Giovanni ran a tab for Mrs. Romano at the grocery store
—he knew she’d pay when she could.
And Mrs. O’Hara let the whole Callaghan family move into her house
when Mr. Callaghan died in a mining accident.

As time has passed that same attentiveness to public acts of mercy and charity
has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,
but it’s gradually been translated in very different ways.
As Catholics came to have more and more of a political voice,
we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions
to the problems of healthcare and poverty,
programs like
Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and aid to dependent children.

At the same time, as Catholics also became more economically prosperous,
they also became very supportive, financially,
of great Catholic charitable institutions
—building a huge system of first class Catholic
hospitals, schools and universities,
and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities,
and Catholic Relief Services.

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics
—it is a great expression of the honest and deep rooted Christian desire
to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,
who cured the sick, who “made the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
We can be proud of ourselves.

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,
and even a loss of true charity.
First is the danger of taking charity, an act of love,
and turning it over to bureaucrats.
I mean no disrespect to so many good folks who work hard
in government sponsored social welfare programs.
But even these folks have to admit that that there’s way to much bureaucracy,
which not only inhibits their effectiveness,
but can often also transform charity from an act of love
into an act of cold administration.
One way to counter that problem is the way Catholics have so often:
by directly supporting Catholic organizations,
like the Little Sister of the Poor, or the Missionaries of Charity,
who work with minimal administrative hassle,
and with the loving touch of Christ himself.

But, I must admit, even that doesn’t address the problem that really concerns me.
Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,
or giving a check to the good sisters,
giving money is not enough to satisfy the Christian duty to give charity.

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:
“Jesus went …into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment….”
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;
…and said to him, “Ephphatha!”…”Be opened!”
Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?
He’s\ God—he doesn’t have to go someplace to perform a miracle:
remember the words of the Roman centurion,
who asked Jesus to cure his servant, but then added,
in words now quoted 100s of 1000s of times every day:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”
Why does Jesus go to the man?
And why does Jesus touch the man, why does he speak to a deaf man?
He doesn’t have to do or say a thing to heal, he just has to will it.
Why does he do all this?

There are two basic reasons.
The first is to give us an example of love,
Christ has the power to heal from far away, but he chooses to go to the deaf man
to show that he, Jesus, personally loves that man.

We also have a power similar to Christ’s, although not as mysterious:
we also don’t have to go to people to help them,
we can simply write a check for a large amount of money,
money that seems to perform miracles for people
—people far away, that we never actually see in person.
Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where
that money in a way translates into human love,
by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.
But in the end, does it communicate your love?
In the end have you really given your love—or have you just given money?

The thing is, your act of love is not just necessary for the poor or sick person
—its necessary for you also!
God created you to give yourself, not to give a check.
You can never be happy, you can never become what God created you to be,
you can never be like Jesus Christ,
if you do not personally give your love to those in need of it.

The other reason Jesus healed the sick in person was,
to show that he was the messiah that the prophets had foretold,
and that he had the power of God himself.
As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:
“Here is your God,…
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
By showing this power, people begin to listen to him, and that’s what he wanted.
It’s no mistake that Jesus says out loud to the deaf man
who can’t even hear him:
“Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”
By performing this miracle of love,
the ears and hearts and minds of this man and his friends
would now be open to hear him,
and believe his words.

One of the problems with sending money
and letting other people do our charitable work
it that it can totally remove Christ and his power from the picture.
This is a huge problem with lots of organizations that help those in need,
especially with government social programs.
A government social worker can’t even say “God bless you,”
much less explain that the love of Christ
is the reason they’re doing their job.
And even some so-called Catholic charitable organization’s
have the same problem:
it wasn’t so long ago that one of the largest Catholic organizations
was giving funds to abortion providers.
I’d say they’d managed to take Christ out of charity with that.

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,
and we, individually, are the members of the Body.
You are his hands, you are his fingers.
He sends you out to show not only your love, but also his love, and his power.
He sends you to be like the people in today’s Gospel,
who couldn’t help but tell everyone about his power.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you all have to
volunteer to work full-time with some charity
–although that’s not a bad idea.
But it does mean that when opportunities arrive to show the mercy of Christ in
your life, you must do so.
Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,
every day Jesus brings someone to you who needs his mercy.

Sometimes this is in small things:
maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,
so you stop to tell them a joke.
Sometimes its’ in larger matters:
maybe your elderly parents are having a hard time taking care of themselves,
so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;
or maybe your neighbor’s lost his job, even his home,
and you let his family live in the basement apartment
your parents used to live in.

Now, not everyone who comes to us asking for help is sent by God.
Unfortunately, there are some very bad people out there
who simply try to take advantage of us,
and are not as need as they pretend.
So as St. Paul reminds us,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
And as Jesus tells us:
“be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
So you have to discern, maybe give yourself some objective rules to help your mind guide your heart.
Still, be willing and when it’s possible be ready
to show Christ’s love by your generosity.

Great acts of charity are a vital part of the history of the Catholic Church,
especially in America.
I hope that you will continue that great tradition by continuing
to give to the great Catholic charitable institutions.
But I also exhort you not to settle for that
—to remember that the power of the check book
cannot communicate your love,
and you cannot personally communicate Christ’s love through cash.
Hear what Christ is telling you in Scripture today: “Ephphatha, be opened.”
And open yourselves up to live in the charity of Christ.

September 2, 2012

More Priest Changes. First Fr. Pilon retired early. Then Fr. Lovell informed us he would not be coming back in the fall. And now we find out that Fr. Joby Thomas will be leaving us to return to his work in India on September 5, this Wednesday.

Fr. Joby has been a big help to me this last year, but especially this summer– don’t know what I would have done without his help. Many of you have told me how much you appreciate his preaching and his ability as a confessor, not to mention his personal kindness and example of prayer. But in the end, the life of a priest, especially a religious priest like Fr. Joby, is one of obedience. So when a priest’s superior says “go,” we go. Join me in thanking Fr. Joby for all his contributions to the parish and in praying for him as he returns to his home in India. There will be a small going-away “ice-cream” reception for Fr. Joby today (Sunday, September 2) after the 12:15 Mass. All are invited.

But there’s one more change: Bishop Loverde has decided to send us another priest. This Wednesday, September 5, Fr. Joseph Kenna will join us as Parochial Vicar. Fr. Kenna is a good, holy, intelligent and hard-working priest. He grew up with his 8 brothers and sisters in Pittsburg, PA. After attending Christendom College for a couple of years, he received his bachelor’s degree in math and economics from the University of Pittsburg in 1989. He went on to work for a few years for a government contractor before beginning his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Arlington in 1999, he has served as Vicar in four other parishes: All Saints, St. Mary’s (Fredericksburg), St. Bernadette’s, and Holy Spirit (where he is currently serving). Fr. Kenna and I are also old friends, going back to our seminary days at “the Mount,” where he was three years behind me, and as priests we’ve played a lot of golf together on our days off for about the last 7 years. It will be great to have him join me in service of this great parish.

Please join me in praying for Fr. Kenna as he makes this transition. Also, please come out to a welcoming party for him next Sunday, September 9, after the 12:15 Mass. A light lunch will be served.

Summer Ends, School Begins. This coming week many of our children go back to school. I hope and pray it will be a year of great intellectual and spiritual growth for all of them, and not too much stress for their parents. But remember, the most important subject our children need to learn about is their Catholic Faith. For those children going to Catholic schools, or who will be “Catholic homeschooled” using a daily religion curriculum, I encourage you study hard and take advantage of this great opportunity of being able to explore so deeply the treasures and wisdom of Christ and His Church.

For those who are not in Catholic schools or being Catholic homeschooled, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of St. Raymond’s excellent Religious Education program. How can you love and follow Jesus if you don’t know much about Him? So come, and learn! But don’t just learn about him for that one hour or so a week—make sure you do the homework and reading assigned by your teachers. And parents, remember you are the “primary educators” of our children: “CCD” is here only to help you to fulfill that important part of your parental vocation. So make sure you are actively involved in your children’s religious education, by supplementing and building on what they learn in class.

And also, to those parent and children in public schools, remember that the values they teach are often at odds with our Catholic Faith. You must be constantly on guard to efforts (wittingly or unwittingly) to undermine your faith and values. One mother told me last year how a local public school teacher, without the knowledge of the parents, gave the children in his English Literature class a project encouraging them to feel outrage at those who oppose “gay-marriage.” What does that have to do with English Lit, and who is he to sneak this past the parents? But that’s the world we live in.

In particular I warn you to be careful of so called “Family Life Education” programs, and to opt your children out of at least those parts that are most morally offensive, especially those concerning family living and sexuality. Different parents may make different prudential judgments about some portions of these programs, (e.g., drug abuse), but there is no doubt that the programs related to family and sexuality cannot be helpful to our children. How can anyone teach about family or sex if they don’t understand their fundamental meaning as part of God’s plan for our happiness? Moreover, there is no way to teach on these subjects without some a moral context—“this is right or okay, that is wrong”—and today’s public schools promote a morality which is largely contrary to Christian morality.

So remember the Lord’s warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And his counsel: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Who is the Extremist? For the last two weeks people have been lambasting Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin for remarks on his opposition to abortion in the case of rape and incest. There is no doubt he chose his words foolishly, and got some of his facts wrong. He should have simply explained that it is always wrong to kill any innocent and defenseless human being, and that babies should not receive the death penalty for their father’s crimes. Even so, despite all the rhetoric about his muddled words, this defense of all innocent babies is really why he is being called “an extremist.” Which makes all faithful Catholics extremists.

But who is the extremist? This week an audio recording surfaced from 2003 reminding us of then-State-Senator Barrack Obama’s opposition to a bill to protect babies who are born alive, living and breathing outside of the womb, after surviving an attempted abortion. He was the only member of the Illinois legislature to do so. A similar bill passed in the U.S. Congress with only 15 votes against it (out of 535). If you want to know what the real extreme position is on abortion, this is it. I encourage you to go to our parish website (http://www.straymonds.org) to read and listen to him defend his barbaric position.

Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

August 26, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

For the last 5 weeks we’ve been reading from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel
—one of the most important
and most misunderstood or neglected chapters in the bible.

5 weeks ago, we began with the feeding of the 5000
—the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.
Then we moved into what is often called the “bread of life discourse”
—Jesus’ explanation about how his flesh is the bread of life, the Eucharist.

It’s interesting that while the miracle of the multiplication of loaves
is reported in all 4 gospels,
only St. John reports the bread of life discourse.
Now, some say this discrepancy is because John made the whole thing up
—that Jesus never really said it.
But this is absurd.
As St. John writes at the very end of his Gospel:
“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things,
and who has written these things;
and we know that his testimony is true.”

What really happened is that John was the longest living of all the apostles
—he died at a ripe old age, maybe when he was 90 years old,
maybe as late as the year 100 AD.
And so he wrote his Gospel many years after the others,
maybe 30 or more years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke,
—and so it’s almost certain that he’d read them,
since they were widely circulated.
On top of that, we know that John’s Gospel is the most theologically profound
—perhaps because of all the years he’d had to think about it,
or perhaps because of his unique closeness to Christ
when he was on earth,
he was, after all, called “the beloved disciple.”
So after having lots of time to think and pray over the life of Jesus,
and reading what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written,
he wrote down his own recollection
—not making things up, not correcting the others,
but recording things he’d come to understand
were much more important than maybe they first appeared.

In particular, John came to focus on the central importance
of mystery of the Incarnation.
And so he begins his whole Gospel, by explaining:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
Through him all things were made… In him was life.”
And then he concludes:
“the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Incarnation—the taking of flesh by the life-giving God
—is at the heart of John’s understanding of the Gospel.
And so, while Matthew Mark and Luke recorded the multiplication of loaves,
and did so not only to impress us with Jesus power,
but also to help us understand Jesus giving us the Eucharist,
in chapter 6, of his Gospel John says, in effect,
‘but don’t forget what Jesus said after he multiplied the loaves’:
“I am the bread of life….and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Again, some people what to see this as John making something up
to make a point.
Still others today want to say it really happened,
but Jesus is talking in merely symbolic language.
John probably had encountered people like this in his own time.
And so years after Christ’s death,
and probably after years of hearing some arguing that Jesus had just
been speaking metaphorically about his flesh and the bread,
John finally sits down and writes to the whole Church
and very carefully reports
that Jesus himself insisted they were wrong.

And so John writes, at Verse 53:
“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”
Now, think about this: his followers think he’s talking about real food.
They don’t think he’s talking in symbols:
that spiritual grace is like food, or perhaps that his teaching is like food.
They’re upset because he sounds like a cannibal—
“How can this man give us [his own] flesh to eat?”

And how does Jesus respond?
He doesn’t change his teaching—he doesn’t say,
“no, no, I’m only talking in symbols”:
No:
“Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.”

Now, in the original Greek the word he uses here for “eat”
is very descriptive of physical eating:
the word “trogo”
doesn’t translate as “consume” or “sup upon”
but to physically “chew” or “gnaw.”
He’s saying, ‘you’re right: I’m not being symbolic.’
As then he goes on to say:
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Then you can see the disciples, thinking…
“how can he do this? That’s impossible.”
Or as John writes:
“Then many of his disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

How familiar these words are to us today
—we hear it all the time, maybe we say it ourselves,
even if only in the back of our minds.
It’s hard to believe that the bread Jesus gives us is his body.
But Jesus still doesn’t back down.
As John writes at verse 61:
“Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?”

And then Jesus reminds them that they’ve seen his power
—they’ve just seen him feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread.
And he tells them there’s more to come, as John records:
“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Now, some seize on Jesus words:
“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail,”
They try to argue He’s backing away from talk of flesh being real food
–that he’s somehow saying that,
“no, no, it’s the spirit, it’s all spiritual food, not really my flesh.”
But that would mean he’d be contradicting everything he’s been saying.
No, what he’s saying is, in effect,
“But you’re not remembering who I really am!
I am the eternal Word who created life itself
—“the words I have spoken are spirit and life.”
I multiplied the loaves to feed the bodies of 5000,
and one day you’ll see me ascending—bodily–into heaven.
I work in my body and through my body,
but don’t limit me to the power of normal human flesh.
I have spiritual power you can’t even imagine.”

That’s what he meant
—and that’s what the people there understood him to mean.
And that’s why they left.
As John writes:
“As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.”
Think of this—these were his disciples,
people who had believed in him and were following him from town to town.
They’d heard his beautiful words
and seen his great power.
And yet all because they could not accept this one hard saying
—because they couldn’t believe in the Eucharist—
they walked away.

And what does Jesus do?
Does he run after them saying,
“no, no, wait, come back…you misunderstood”…?
No.
Still he won’t back down.
Instead, as St. John records:
“Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
It’s as if He’s saying,
“What about you 12?
Those others refuse to believe me, what about you?
You have a choice—believe this “hard saying” about eating the bread
which will be my flesh,
or be on your way too!”
Where else in the Gospels does he give such a stack choice:
“Here’s the line—which side are you on?”

What a terrible moment this must have been for those 12.
It was in fact a hard saying, who could believe it?

But then we read:
“Simon Peter answered him,
“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and are convinced
that you are the Holy One of God.”
Words. Life.
So simple.
They believe because they believe he is the savior: they have no choice:
They believe because he said so.

Did they understand what he meant?
I would wager no, not really, at least not completely.
But they did understood that he meant what he said.
And so they believed, and struggled to understand.

And almost exactly a year later that understanding took a huge leap forward,
when they sat with Jesus at the Passover supper,
on the night before he died,
remembering the first Passover, the night 1300 years before
when the Jews believed the word of the God given through Moses
and ate the flesh of the sacrificed lamb,
and God saved their lives from the angel of death
passing over Egypt
and freeing them for a new life in the promise land.
When they were at supper,
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, and broke it,
just as he had when multiplied the 5 loaves into 5000 loaves.
But this time he said:
“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”
And with the cup: “take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”

They listened to these strange but absolutely clear words of Jesus.
And they remembered the words he had said
that day after multiplying the loaves,
his words about his flesh being the bread of life,
true food that he would give them and that they must eat.
And they believed.

For 2000 years the Church has held fast to this belief.
And through the years, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ,
And contemplation on the teaching of St. John and the other apostles,
we have come to understand it better.
But all of it goes back to what Peter said—we believe, because Jesus said so.

Unfortunately, there have always been those
who do not side with Peter, and his successors, the Popes.
Of course this begins with the early disciples
who loved what Jesus had to say,
and were impressed by his power,
but left him because they could not accept this hard saying.

But not all of the nonbelievers walked away.
As John tells today:
“Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.”
And as he goes on to tell us at the end of Chapter 6:
“Jesus answered them,
“Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”
He was referring to Judas…Iscariot;
it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”
Judas stayed, but he did not believe.
And it seems, according to John,
that, the Eucharist was the beginning of his unbelief and betrayal.

Today, many followers of Jesus do not believe His words about the Eucharist.
Even those who say “Scripture alone” and “it’s in the bible, so I believe it”
–they don’t believe what Jesus insisted on 5 times in John Chapter 6.
And even those who claim to be in the company of Peter’s successors
—many Catholics don’t believe,
even, it seems to me, too many bishops and priests.

Am I saying that they are like Judas—betrayers of Jesus?
I can’t say that—only Jesus knows their hearts.
And Jesus loves them and is more merciful than you or I can even dream.
What’s more, many of them love Jesus very much.

But there is a line that Jesus draws.
There is a word Jesus speaks.
There is a truth Jesus insists on.
There is a gift Jesus gives.
And there is a faith in all that—a faith held and proclaimed by Peter,
and all of his successors, the Popes of the Catholic Church.
It is this:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…
you do not have life within you….
For my flesh is true food….
..The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

These are hard sayings.
But as we enter into this great mystery here today,
let us not allow our weak faith,
our stubborn hearts,
or our limited minds,
to lead us to abandon Christ, or to betray him
as he gives us himself, his body, his flesh
to eat as the bread of life.
Rather let us hold firmly to the faith of Peter in the word of Christ:
“Master, ….You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe, and are convinced
….you are the Holy One of God.”

August 26, 2012

Change in Weekday Morning Mass Times. Several months ago I announced I was considering moving the weekday 9:00AM Mass to earlier in the morning, and asked for feedback. Since that time I have received scores of responses, for and against. After much careful consideration and prayer I have decided to change the Mass time, Monday through Friday, from 9:00AM to 8:00AM. The change will be effective Monday, September 10. The 6:30AM Mass stays as before and Saturday Mass will remain at 9AM (at least for the time being.)

The main reason for the change is that it allows for an earlier “start” of the day for many people, including the priests. And when I speak of “the priests” I am not speaking of a purely selfish motive, since an earlier start will help make our “work day” more efficient and productive as we serve all of you.

While I know many people will be happy with this change, I also know others will not be so happy: for some it may mean not being able to attend daily Mass, or having to go to another church for Mass (St. Bernadette’s, Our Lady of Angels, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Lawrence all have 9am Mass). I’m sorry for any inconvenience this creates, but I trust you will be understanding and supportive of my decision.

Parish Seminarians. As many of you know, St. Raymond’s has two young men studying to be priests for the Diocese of Arlington: Mr. Nicolas Barnes (entering 4th year Theology at the North American College in Rome) and Mr. Jacob McCrumb (entering 2nd Pre-Theology at the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio). Although both of them have been in town this summer they have been kept very busy serving at other parishes, until this week when they have been able to spend some time with us, serving Mass and having lunch with me. As we become more acutely aware of the need for vocations, and the need for us to pray for vocations, we also need to be encouraging of these young men who have answered the call and to keep them in our prayers as they prepare to return to their studies in the coming weeks.

Last week Mr. Barnes gave me some wonderful news: he has received the official “call to orders” from Bishop Loverde. This means he will be ordained to the diaconate (deacon) in Rome on October 2. This also means that, barring some serious cause, he should be ordained a priest next June here in Arlington. I’m sure you all share my joy in this news, and will keep him in your prayers in a special way.

Ordination to the diaconate is clearly an important event for any man as it gives them the sacramental grace of Holy Orders to serve the Church in a unique way. But for men preparing for the priesthood it takes on at least 2 other unique features: 1) it teaches them (and gives them the grace) to always be a servant when they become a priest (the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant”); 2) it is at the Mass of diaconal ordination that they make their lifelong promise to both be obedient to their bishop and to live a celibate life. This latter promise, of celibacy, is both a gift they give to Christ and the Church, and a gift that Christ and the Church gives to them. To live always as “single-hearted” for the Lord and His Bride is key to their ministry and identity as they prepare to imitate Christ who gave himself totally to and for His Bride.

Beyond our prayers for Mr. Barnes I would like to propose that we now prepare a special tangible gift anticipating his ordination to the priesthood. In particular, I know he is planning to purchase a special vestment for his first Mass, and I would like the parish to purchase this vestment for him. He will pick the vestment (and it’s ancillary accoutrements) himself, perhaps even designing and having it made to order. If you would like to be included in this gift you can do so by putting your contribution in an envelope marked “Mr. Nicholas Barnes Vestment” (or some such) and either dropping in the Sunday collection basket or mailing it to the rectory (checks payable to “St. Raymond’s”). If contributions exceed the price of the vestment, that excess will be presented, in cash, to Mr. Barnes at his priestly ordination.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Bishop. Last week I wrote about Paul Ryan’s joining the Republican party’s ticket as nominee for Vice-President, and of the novelty of having 2 Catholics running against each other for the 2nd highest office in the land (Vice-President Joe Biden is also a Catholic). I also mentioned how some would wrongly attack Ryan for not supporting the social justice teachings of the Church.

This week two prominent bishops came to Ryan’s defense. First Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave a radio interview in which he called Ryan a “great public servant” and quoted from a letter he had written to Ryan: “let me applaud…your call for financial accountability and restraint and a balanced budget . . . and . . . let me also applaud your obvious solicitude for the poor.” While the Cardinal disagrees with some of the Congressman’s positions, he acknowledged: “Once again it comes down to that prudential judgment.” If we agree a basic good has to be defended or achieved, we are free to disagree on how best to achieve that good and still remain good Catholics.

The second defense was perhaps more important, as it came from Ryan’s own Bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino. Bishop Morlino took the unusual step of issuing a letter in which he wrote:

“…it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means [to protect the poor]. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)”

Like Bishop Morlino, I maintain that it “is not for the bishop or priests to endorse particular candidates or political parties.” And like Cardinal Dolan, I am “not trying to be an apologist” for Mr. Ryan. I’m just tired of people attacking this good Catholic man with false accusations, while at the same time pretending that Mr. Biden is a “good Catholic,” even though he strongly supports such terrible “intrinsic evils” as abortion, contraception, “gay marriage,” and attacks on the religious freedom of Catholics.

May God bless both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden. And may they be the best of Catholics, and the best of Americans.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

August 19, 2012

A Catholic Vice-President? It was an interesting week or so for Catholics in the American public square. Last Saturday, for the first time, the Republican’s nominated (albeit unofficially) a Catholic to their national ticket, Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. This also sets up another first for our country: both major parties’ candidates for Vice- President will be Catholic. It will make for an interesting race. It will also highlight a key problem in the Catholic Church in this country: the contrast between Catholics who faithfully follow the Popes’ doctrinal teachings and Catholics who prefer a more “cafeteria” approach—picking and choosing which doctrines they will follow and which they will ignore. Unfortunately the Democrat candidate and incumbent Vice-President, Joe Biden, falls into the latter category. This has been a source of great scandal to the Church in America, especially since Mr. Biden is an enthusiastic supporter of abortion, “gay marriage,” and his administration’s attacks on religious liberty—all of which classify him among those Catholics “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” and are therefore “not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 915). Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, is staunchly pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage, and pro-religious liberty, and by all accounts—including the public account of his Bishop—a faithful, devout and practicing Catholic.

Some will say Mr. Ryan is a “bad Catholic” because they say his efforts to balance the budget will adversely affect the poor. This charge rises largely from those 1) who misrepresent Mr. Ryan’s position on the issues and 2) misunderstand the Church’s teaching on social justice. This will also generate a very interesting discussion during the campaign, in as much as after hearing both Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan speak on social justice it is clear to me that Mr. Ryan has a much deeper and thorough understanding of Catholic teaching on social justice than Mr. Biden does. Personally, I can’t wait for Mr. Ryan to explain the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity to Mr. Biden (see my column on May 6, 2012). Not to mention the Church’s doctrine on abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

Obama invited to Catholic Banquet. This week we also found out that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, had invited President Obama to the annual “Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner,” a huge celebrity filled event used to raise mega-bucks for various Catholic charities in the Archdiocese. This has caused no little consternation among some Catholics, especially those who are fired up—under Dolan’s leadership—to defend the Church against the President’s attacks on the Church’s religious liberty, particularly manifested in his efforts to force Catholic employers to provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization to their employees. Many are concerned, thinking that, at a minimum, this will surely cause many ordinary Catholics to think that Cd. Dolan is backing off and signaling that all is well between the Church and the President—which it is clearly not.
I sympathize with this concern, but I also recognize that leaders have to lead; they have to make prudential judgments about how to fight the battle. While we can disagree with their prudential judgments on “tactics” we need to be careful not to rush to publicly condemn them or to privately presume the worst about them.

Cd. Dolan has publicly explained his reasons for inviting Mr. Obama to this dinner, and made it clear that the invitation, “in no way indicates a slackening in our vigorous promotion of values we Catholic bishops believe to be at the heart of both gospel and American values, particularly the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom.”

He explains that by inviting both candidates for the presidency, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, he hopes to show to them and to all the Church’s posture of active engagement in the public square, and to encourage respectful dialogue in public discourse (which is so sadly lacking today).

Frankly, I might not have extended the invitation. But then again, I’m not the Cardinal Archbishop of New York! And who knows, maybe His Eminence has a few choice and pointed words that he plans to deliver at the dinner… With charity and good humor (his hallmark), but also with clarity and truth. Who knows? In the meantime, let’s pray for him and all the bishops as they continue to lead the fight for our religious liberty, and the other critical causes of pro-life and pro-marriage.

Blessings during the distribution of Holy Communion. Many people have asked me why little children who are too young (or adults who are otherwise unable) to receive Holy Communion, but come up in the Communion line for a blessing do not receive that blessing from the priests at St. Raymond’s. Some point out that other priests have encouraged this practice. Unfortunately, after studying this matter carefully, I long ago decided that this practice is not only not the most preferable pastorally, but also that it is prohibited by the liturgical laws of the Church.

First of all, this is the Communion line, not the “blessing line.” It seems to me a very imprudent practice to mix the two, suggesting that a blessing somehow compares in worth to sacramental Communion. Moreover, just a few minutes later the priest blesses everyone before he sends them out into the world at ends the Mass. Why do we need to do it twice?

The reason most people seem to seek a blessing, especially parents for their children, is so that they will not feel “left out.” But is it so terrible to feel left out of something we are not ready for? It’s part of life, part of growing up for kids. Doesn’t it say to them: “this is something very, very special that one day, when you’re old enough, and if you prepare yourself, you will be able to join in”? Doesn’t that, in turn, enliven a true reverence and desire for the sacrament?

But even if you disagree with this assessment, careful study indicates that the priest is actually specifically prohibited from giving the blessing at this time. First of all, Vatican II, the Popes and Canon Law repeatedly admonish us: “no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the Liturgy.” Since there is nothing, either in our tradition or in the current liturgical books, that provides for or allows this blessing, this admonition clearly applies.

Some point out that blessings are given all the time at various parts of the Mass—e.g., blessings of catechists, extraordinary ministers, etc.. But the thing is, all these blessings come from the “Roman Ritual” (a set of official liturgical books of the Church) so the priest is not “add[ing] anything.” Moreover, the norms of the Roman Ritual specifically provide: “some blessings …may sometimes be joined with the celebration of Mass. This book specifies what such blessings are….No blessings except those so specified may be joined with the eucharistic celebration.” To me, this prohibition clearly applies to the blessings during Communion.

August 12, 2012

HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION. This Wednesday, August 15, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation—all Catholics must go to Mass (failure to do so is a mortal sin). Because of this we will have a special schedule of Masses: Tuesday Vigil Mass at 7pm, Wednesday 6:30, 9:00, 12:00 noon and 7pm. Confessions will be heard from 6:15pm until 7pm on Wednesday evening, but there will be no confessions after Mass.

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saturday, 15 August 2009

…Today’s Solemnity crowns the series of important liturgical celebrations in which we are called to contemplate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Divine Motherhood and the Assumption are the fundamental, interconnected milestones with which the Church exalts and praises the glorious destiny of the Mother of God, but in which we can also read our history. The mystery of Mary’s conception recalls the first page of the human event, pointing out to us that in the divine plan of creation man was to have had the purity and beauty of the Virgin Immaculate. This plan, jeopardized but not destroyed by sin, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, proclaimed and brought into being in Mary, was recomposed and restored to the free acceptance of the human being in faith. Lastly, in Mary’s Assumption, we contemplate what we ourselves are called to attain in the following of Christ the Lord and in obedience to his word, at the end of our earthly journey.

The last stage of the Mother of God’s earthly pilgrimage invites us to look at the manner in which she journeyed on toward the goal of glorious eternity.

In the Gospel passage just proclaimed, St Luke tells that, after the Angel’s announcement, Mary “arose and went with haste into the hill country”, to visit Elizabeth (Lk 1: 39). With these words the Evangelist wishes to emphasize that for Mary to follow her own vocation in docility to God’s Spirit, who has brought about within her the Incarnation of the Word, means taking a new road and immediately setting out from home, allowing herself to be led on a journey by God alone. St Ambrose, commenting on Mary’s “haste”, says: “the grace of the Holy Spirit admits of no delay” …. Our Lady’s life is guided by Another: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38); it is modelled by the Holy Spirit, it is marked by events and encounters, such as that with Elizabeth, but above all by her very special relationship with her Son Jesus. It is a journey on which Mary, cherishing and pondering in her heart the events of her own life, perceives in them ever more profoundly the mysterious design of God the Father for the salvation of the world.

Then, by following Jesus from Bethlehem to exile in Egypt, in both his hidden and his public life and even to the foot of the Cross, Mary lives her constant ascent to God in the spirit of the Magnificat, fully adhering to God’s plan of love, even in moments of darkness and suffering, and nourishing in her heart total abandonment in the Lord’s hands in order to be a paradigm for the faithful of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 64-65).

The whole of life is an ascent, the whole of life is meditation, obedience, trust and hope, even in darkness; and the whole of life is marked by this “holy haste” which knows that God always has priority and nothing else must create haste in our existence.

And, lastly, the Assumption reminds us that Mary’s life, like that of every Christian, is a journey of following, following Jesus, a journey that has a very precise destination, a future already marked out: the definitive victory over sin and death and full communion with God, because as Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians the Father “raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2: 6). This means that with Baptism we have already fundamentally been raised and are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, but we must physically attain what was previously begun and brought about in Baptism. In us, union with Christ resurrection is incomplete, but for the Virgin Mary it is complete, despite the journey that Our Lady also had to make. She has entered into the fullness of union with God, with her Son, she draws us onwards and accompanies us on our journey.

In Mary taken up into Heaven we therefore contemplate the One who, through a unique privilege, was granted to share with her soul and her body in Christ’s definitive victory over death. “When her earthly life was over”, the Second Vatican Council says, the Immaculate Virgin “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory… and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rv 19: 16) and conqueror of sin and death” (Lumen Gentium, n. 59). In the Virgin taken up into Heaven we contemplate the crowning of her faith, of that journey of faith which she points out to the Church and to each one of us: the One who, at every moment, welcomed the Word of God, is taken up into Heaven, in other words she herself is received by the Son in the “dwelling place” which he prepared for us with his death and Resurrection (cf. Jn 14: 2-3).

Human life on earth as the First Reading has reminded us is a journey that takes place, constantly, in the intense struggle between the dragon and the woman, between good and evil. This is the plight of human history: it is like a voyage on a sea, often dark and stormy. Mary is the Star that guides us towards her Son Jesus, “the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history” (cf. Spe Salvi, n. 49) and gives us the hope we need: the hope that we can win, that God has won and that, with Baptism we entered into this victory. We do not succumb definitively: God helps us, he guides us.

This is our hope: this presence of the Lord within us that becomes visible in Mary taken up into Heaven. “The Virgin” in a little while we shall read in the Preface for this Solemnity “that you made to shine out as “a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way'”….

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CCD TEACHERS AND AIDS NEEDED. We are still in need of several CCD teachers and assistants. One of the most precious gifts the Lord has given us is our Catholic Faith. But this gift is not meant to be hoarded, or hidden under a bushel basket. Please consider sharing this gift with our children. If you are interested, please call our Religious Education office this week at (703) 440-0537.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

August 5, 2012

When it rains it pours. First, our Parochial Vicar, Fr. Pilon, retires and he is not replaced. Now, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago at some of the Masses, it turns out that Fr. John Lovell will not be returning to Virginia this Fall and so will not be available to help us as he did last year. So we’re down from 4 priests to 2, plus the good Fr. Daly on weekends. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Let’s all keep praying for vocations as I continue to work with the Bishop’s office to find another resident priest to help out in the coming year.

Boundaries and Registration. What makes someone a “member” of a particular parish? Many Catholics think that if you go to Mass at a particular church every Sunday that automatically becomes your parish. I can understand that—it’s where you feel at home, where you’ve made friends, and maybe a connection to priests. But officially, under Canon Law, a Catholic usually only becomes a member of a parish by living within the geographical boundaries of that parish. This comes as a shock to many Catholics, especially if they never knew parishes had boundaries! But almost every parish in the world does have boundaries, with very rare exceptions.

Now, before anyone starts to worry, it is the long established custom that a pastor may allow people who live outside his parish boundaries to register as “members,” or “parishioners,” of the parish. Many of the parishioners of St. Raymond’s fall into this category, and I’m delighted they do!

Some may think this boundary stuff is empty bureaucratic nonsense. But these rules are actually very important. One very important reason for boundaries is to make sure that every single Catholic knows he has a right to a particular priest’s (or priests’) help and pastoral care. When the Bishop sent me here as administrator 2 years ago every Catholic living within the geographic boundaries obtained an almost absolute right to my priestly care. If you call me in the middle of the night, or have a baby needing baptism, or you need to get married, etc., if you live in St. Raymond’s boundaries you are virtually guaranteed a right to my help, and I have a moral and canonical obligation to help you.

That’s important, and a good thing, don’t you think? But what happens if someone living in, say, Chancellorsville wants to be a parishioner of St. Raymond’s? Does she have that same right to my assistance? If I extend that right to her, doesn’t that somehow diminish the rights of the people in the actual boundaries—the Catholics whom the Bishop has actually entrusted to my care? And if St. Raymond’s had 300 parishioners in Chancellorsville and I’m constantly running down there to take care of them, might not the folks in Springfield rightly get upset and say: “don’t they have their own priest in Chancellorsville?”

This, of course, is an exaggeration, but I hope you see my point. Boundaries are important to make sure every Catholic is taken care of, and not only by the priest, but by their actual neighbors in the parish.

This is why, since my arrival at St. Raymond’s, I have followed a policy of recognizing the boundary rules in registering new parishioners. But I have also made many exceptions when I thought it was reasonable and warranted in a particular situation. Some factors I consider are, for example: how far outside the boundaries do they live? how long have they been attending Mass here? are they for some rational reason uncomfortable in their boundary-parish? are they in the military and so deserving of special accommodation? are they planning on making this their real spiritual home or are they only using it for some temporary personal benefit (e.g. they want to get married in our beautiful church but never come to Mass here)? are they in such need that no good Christian could turn them away? etc… And I always ask myself: is this consistent with the rights and true good of my flock?

If you live in the boundaries of St. Raymond’s and haven’t ever filled out a registration form, please do so—it makes things much easier when you need some particular assistance from the parish or priests. And if you live outside the boundaries and have never registered here but would like to be part of our parish, please feel free to submit a registration form and we can talk about it. And if you don’t register and are not an official parishioner, know that you are always truly welcome here as our brother or sister in Christ.

First Religious Liberty, now Freedom of Speech. This last week the viciousness and anti-Christian agenda of the “Gay Rights” crowd once again came out of the shadows into the light. A few days back when Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy was asked a question by an interviewer about his beliefs about “gay marriage,” he responded by stating basic Christian beliefs about marriage being only between one man and one woman. In response, all heck broke loose as the mainstream media, gay activists and “liberal” politicians excoriated Cathy as if he were a moral degenerate, and accused his company of selling “hate food.” Meanwhile, the mayors of Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston talked about banning the restaurant from their cities.

You know, when the Obama Administration attacked our Religious Liberty earlier this year, I warned that if the first liberty listed in the First Amendment could be set aside, so could the other liberties listed there:

“Congress shall make no law [1] respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or [2] abridging the freedom of speech, or [3] of the press; or [4] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and [5] to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Well now apparently the second liberty [2] is under attack: since when can’t an American state his personal beliefs in public without being threatened by government officials? Lay aside that his beliefs are the same as those that were held by almost all of our grandparents and are still held by most Americans. Forget the fact that if they are the beliefs of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. What about “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech”? Well, I guess “Congress” hasn’t passed a law, but the principle is the same: another original fundamental American value now seems to be less important than the new right to sexual libertinism. Which will fall next? Freedom of the press? To assemble? Why stop there? How about the right to vote? Surely hate-filled people like us Catholics shouldn’t be allowed to vote!

It wasn’t so long ago that “gay” activists just wanted their basic rights protected. But then they demanded that “gay marriage” be treated as a basic right. Now they want to oppress anyone who even thinks differently than they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles