April 21, 2013

The Gosnell Trial—WARNING: PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED. The murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell began in Philadelphia on March 18, over a month ago. As the New York Times reported on April 15: “Dr. Gosnell…is charged with eight counts of murder…He could get the death penalty if he is found guilty.” But for the first four weeks of the trial the so-called mainstream media was virtually silent about the proceedings. The Media Research Center compared the reporting on the Gosnell trial to the reporting on the firing of Rutgers’ basketball coach Mike Rice: “in one week Rice received 41 minutes, 26 seconds of air time on ABC, CBS and NBC in 36 separate news stories. Gosnell received zero coverage . . .”

Why the silence? Because Dr. Gosnell is a professional abortionist and ran an abortion clinic, and his victims included a pregnant woman and seven tiny babies who had survived his attempt to abort them. The seven babies had been born, and lay outside of their mother’s wombs, like any other new born baby, capable of living on their own if only given the care normally given to newborns. Instead, prosecutors charge that (and I will be purposefully vague here) he killed them with a pair of scissors.

I could go into the details but they are too gruesome. You can now easily find them on the internet. But the testimony at trial reveals that these charges are just the tip of the iceberg, and the culmination of decades of macabre criminal activity passing itself off as a “medical practice.” As the AP (finally) reported last week: “In testimony…eight former employees said they performed grueling, often gruesome work…. Three have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder…” Kirsten Powers wrote in USA Today last week, “one witness testified that he saw 100 babies born and then [killed]… The revolting revelations of Gosnell’s former staff…should shock anyone with a heart.”

If this doctor had walked into a major hospital maternity ward and shot an expectant mother and seven babies in their cribs, this would be the subject of non-stop coverage in the media.

So, again, why the silence here? It seems obvious: the mainstream media is afraid of this story because it makes abortion and abortionists look evil. Because they are. It points to the vivid reality that killing a baby a few minutes (or days or weeks) before she’s born is no different from killing a baby a few minutes (or days or weeks) after she’s born. Abortion is what it is, and the gruesome testimony in this trial lifts the veil of “medicine” to reveal that the killing of the unborn is just as gruesome and heartless as what this “doctor” is now being charged with as murder.

Moreover, this case sheds a bright if eerie light on those who consider that it’s okay to allow babies born alive after unsuccessful abortions to go without medical treatment, and to simply die. Such behavior was made a federal crime in 2002 in an act passed unanimously by the Senate and with an overwhelming majority in the House. A similar bill was introduced at that same time in the Illinois Senate. Then-State Senator Barack Obama voted against it—repeatedly. The Gosnell case will surely make pro-abortion ultra-extremists—like our president—“look bad.”

Let’s pray for justice for these murdered babies and mother (and all the other unnamed victims). But let’s also pray for God’s mercy for Kermit Gosnell—that he may see the evil he has done, repent, and be saved by Christ’s grace, even as he receives the earthly justice he is due.

And let us continue to pray for an end to abortion. And for the souls of all the babies who have died in abortions.

And let us pray especially for the mothers who have had abortions, especially after being lied to by doctors who should know better. God knows these women’s sorrow, and God loves them so much. May these poor “second victims” of abortion know his tender mercy and forgiveness. The Church shares in this love and offers these victims of abortionists spiritual healing and forgiveness through the sacrament of Penance, and offers compassionate counseling and assistance through ministries like Project Rachel (tel: 703-841-2504, or 1-888-456-HOPE; email: projectrachel@arlingtondiocese.org).

Boston Massacre. What can we say about the tragic bombings on Monday of last week, April 15, at the Boston Marathon? Of course we pray for all those who were injured or killed. And we pray for just punishment as well as God’s mercy and the conversion of the maniac(s?) who perpetrated this cowardly crime.

But it should also remind us of a few things. As with the Gosnell case, this brings home the fact that evil exists in the world—it is real, and incarnate in the actions of evil people. And nowhere is evil more obvious or despicable than in the murder of innocents. So we must never relent in fighting to protect innocent human life from those who embrace the evil that justifies their killing.

It also reminds us that death comes quickly, and all too often unexpectedly. And when it does come, we must be ready to go before the just and eternal Judge, and be judged by what we did in this life to embrace true goodness and reject evil in our lives, and to protect innocents from evil.

At the same time, during this Easter Season, we remember that Jesus suffered and died on Cross, the most innocent One unjustly killed for our sins. But in His Death He conquered evil, and by His Resurrection He restored human life to the goodness it should have—and promised all who follow Him, and embrace what is good and reject what is evil, that they would share in His glorious life and grace—imperfectly in this world and perfectly in the next.

Let us turn to our Merciful and Risen Lord Jesus, and entrust ourselves, our country and our world, to His boundless love and grace.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 7, 2013

HE IS RISEN! HE IS TRULY RISEN! On this Octave day of Easter, I thank God for a truly blessed Lent, Holy Week, Triduum and Easter Sunday. Once again I was overjoyed to see so many take advantage of the sacraments and special liturgies, in particular another full house at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and a standing room only crowd on Good Friday for the Veneration of the Cross. Even so, while it seems everything went very well, I would be genuinely interested in feedback on how you thought it went, what went well and what we might improve. (Note: I do not read or consider anonymous notes).

I also want to thank so many people who helped make Lent, Holy Week and Easter so special this year. First, thanks Elisabeth Turco (our music director), Denise Anezin (organist), and our choir members for their hard work and many beautiful “performances”! Also, thanks to our Altar Servers for their diligence and reverence, with a special thanks to Mark Arbeen, who organizes the servers and acted as Master of Ceremonies. Also thanks to the ushers, headed by Paul DeRosa. And to Nena Brennan (our head sacristan) and her family and the other sacristans who spent so many hours preparing things behind the scenes. And to Jane Steele (seamstress) and Carmelita Gamallo (florist) and her helpers who helped make the sanctuary so beautiful. Thanks also to the lectors and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. And to Bob and Bev Ward, Mike Malachowski and Sue Smith for their work with the RCIA/RCIC. Also, thanks to our Youth Group for their moving re-enactment of the Living Stations of the Cross. And a big thanks to the parish staff who worked so hard all throughout Lent and Holy Week. And last but not least, thanks to Fr. Kenna for his dedication, and to Fr. Scalia and Fr. Daly and the ten or so other priests who visited to help with one thing or another. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention a lot of folks, so please forgive me. Thanks and God bless you all.

EASTER RECOMMITMENT. Sometimes after the intensity of Lent and Easter Sunday, there is a tendency to relax our spiritual and religious efforts. But Easter Sunday is not the end of things: it’s only the beginning of our renewed efforts to live the life of the Risen Christ in the world.

So I call on each of you to take to heart the lessons learned these last weeks, and to recommit yourself to continued growth and service to Christ. One way to do this is through continued daily prayer and regular use of the sacraments, especially weekday Mass and frequent (monthly?) confession. Another is to commit to spreading the Gospel in the “world” you live in—i.e., “evangelizing,” by considering every encounter with another person as a possible opportunity to share Christ with them in some way.

Committed Volunteerism. And there’s another very important way to do this: committing to volunteer in the parish. I’ve always been so impressed with the unusually high number of committed volunteers taking responsibility for so many good projects and programs in our parish. Much of this seems to spring from the time before we moved into the current “facilities”: the parish was much smaller then, and without a home people had to step up to make things work. And they did, and do, with flying colors (see my “thank yous” above).

As time has passed, the parish has grown tremendously, but our volunteer base is beginning to grow a bit static and even thin. Sometimes we see how smoothly everything is running and think there’s no need for us to help. Or sometimes our lives are so busy we think we just don’t have time to volunteer at the parish. But there’s always need for new ideas and “fresh blood.” And every few months some key volunteer chooses to move on, slow down or cut back, for a variety reasons.

I know you all feel overburdened and pulled in 10 different ways at once. But, honestly, there is no better place to spend your time and efforts than volunteering in your parish. Maybe it might require some restructuring and reprioritizing, but you’d be surprised what you can do, and what a difference it can make. And not just by helping in ways you think you’d “like” to. Maybe you might want to do XYZ for the parish, but I already have someone doing XYZ, and need you to do ABC. And you do ABC, and you love it!

Currently it seems all of our parish groups need volunteers. In particular I think of the USHERS. Every Mass really needs several more adults to commit to usher on a regular basis. Last minute helpers are fine and it’s wonderful to have the kids pitch in (both are greatly appreciated), but having a committed adult usher corps is very important to a smooth running and dynamic parish. There’s a million reasons for you not to volunteer: for example, maybe you have to take care of your kids at Mass, okay, then how about ushering one Mass, and taking your family to a second Mass? For every obstacle, we can probably find 2 ways around it. Paul DeRosa is accepting volunteers right now.

Many of you raved about our CHOIR over Holy Week and Easter. But all those folks are volunteers (except the cantors and musicians). And not all of them started out as great vocalists, individually. But with a little patient instruction, and working as part of a group of voices, great things can happen (a cantor told me “Elisabeth Turco can teach a doorknob to sing”—no offense choir members!).

There is also a clear current need for volunteers with the Samaritans, a very dedicated parish group that provides a cooked meal for families dealing with a serious illness or accident. And the Women Of St. Raymond Of Penafort (WSRP) is also in need of active members and volunteers—really, all the ladies of the parish should be involved in this in one way or another. Also, the Youth Apostolate and Religious Education are always in need of help. And Altar Servers—we need boys to serve and parents to help behind the scenes…. Also, Pro-Life, Flowers, Landscaping…I could go on and on. Every group needs volunteers.

Please call the office, or speak directly to the group you’re interested in helping. Committed volunteerism in the parish can be more rewarding than almost any other “free time” activity, if you make it an integral part of growing in faith and serving Christ, done out of love for Christ, the Church, and neighbor. May the Risen Christ speak to you through my words.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Easter Sunday 2013

March 31, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Today we celebrate the most important day in history.
Because today we celebrate the historical fact that 2000 years ago
the man known as Jesus of Nazareth,
who had been killed by the leaders of Romans and the Jews
on a Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday.
And he didn’t rise like some perverse Zombie or walking dead vampire,
but in a body marked by his wounds,
and perfected and glorified by his resurrection.
And not only did he rise, he lives now forever, with his body,
at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Now, we believe this to be an historic fact, not a private whimsy.
To be sure, it is a matter of personal faith
—we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But it is not merely personal faith—it either happened or it didn’t.

If it did NOT happen, then all of us here are well-meaning,
but mistaken, and more or less wasting our time here today.
And to the extent we allow our faith in the resurrection
to effect the rest of our lives, we waste that effort too.

But if it DID happen…
What should that mean for us? and for the world?
If it is true, it was the most incredible and important event ever,
and the world and time and all people
should literally revolve around that event.
It should clarify once and for all what it means to be a human being.
And it would testify to the truth of all the things
Jesus of Nazareth taught in his lifetime,
and set those up as the foundational principles of all good human living.

Think of it.
It would mean that there really is a God who made us just to love us,
and so we could love him and our neighbor.
That he loved us so much he really did send his only begotten, co-eternal Son,
into the world to destroy sin by his suffering and death on the Cross.
And that Divine Son really did strip himself of his heavenly glory
to become a human being, just like you and me in all things, but sin.

It would mean he is looking for you,
like a Good shepherd searches for his one lost sheep.
That he calls all who are weary and find life burdensome to come to him,
and he will give you rest.
That he loves his people with all his heart, like a bridegroom loves his new bride.

It would mean he loves you personally—it was he who chose you.
That if you believe in him, even though you die, you will live.
That he has gone before you to prepare a place for you
in his Father’s heavenly house.

But it would also mean that “unless you turn and become like children,”
and “unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit,”
and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,”
“you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”

It also means that “if we love him” and if we want to “inherit eternal life” with him,
we must:
“keep the commandments…
You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …
Honor your father and mother,”
and “keep holy the Sabbath”
It would mean:
“that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”,
and “that every one who looks at a woman with lust
commits adultery with her in his heart.”

And while all this sometimes seems impossible,
if Christ is truly risen from the dead, then it must be true that
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And that he told us all this so that:
“[his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Imagine if Jesus really did rise from the dead.
It would mean that he established Simon Peter as the Rock
on which he built his Church,
giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven,
and promising the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
And that, as he prayed at the Last Supper,
all might be one with Him in that one Church with Peter.

Imagine….
…if Jesus Christ really did, in time and history,
rise from the dead and open to us the gates of paradise….
wouldn’t that make today
the most joyful glorious day of the year?

But wouldn’t that mean we’d have to change a lot of the way we live?

Some say, well, it’s just what I believe, not what I know to be true.
Friends, I do not know how man ever landed on the moon.
And I don’t even know for a fact that man ever did land on the moon.
But I believe it to be true.
Partly because I’ve heard and read about it;
partly because I have confidence in the people who told me about it.
Heck, partly because some many people seem to believe it.
I believe, but I don’t know perfectly as an eyewitness.

Regardless of how we came to believe, if we believe in the Resurrection
we believe that it is a fact, not a myth,
historical not whimsical,
real not hypothetical.

And if we believe it really happened, why don’t we act like it really happened?
Sure, today we do, at least for a couple of hours.
But what about tomorrow and the rest of the year?
Why don’t we act like Jesus
has realigned everything man understands and lives for,
that we understand and live for?

And why are we so timid to talk about it with others?
Why do we act like it’s some sort of fairy tale we should be ashamed of?

Alright, maybe it is a little hard for some to believe
—but if you believe it why can’t they?
I mean, after all, if it’s true, it’s the best news they’ll ever hear—
it will bring them happiness and peace they’ve never known to be possible,
yet have been searching for all their lives.

Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll lose a friend.
So what?
Maybe you’ll change their lives and you’ll gain the best friend you ever had!

Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe as much as we think we do.
But why not, when Christ has done all he has for us?
Think of all the times you’ve prayed to him and he’s come to your aid.
Think of the times you’ve gone crying to his side, and he gave you peace.
The times you prayed for a miracle and—voila–it happened.

Then again, maybe you don’t recall these things happening in your life.
Maybe you haven’t had the experience of Christ
that you wish you could have.
Or maybe you don’t understand or know much about him
—or maybe you don’t agree with some of the things the Church
says about him.
Okay.
Then let’s change that.
Don’t settle for lukewarm Catholicism—who would want that?
Certainly not Christ, who said if we were lukewarm he would “spit us out.”

Today, St. John tells us in his Gospel that he didn’t understand
what Jesus had meant when he had told them
he would rise on the third day;
John didn’t understand until he saw the empty tomb
—notice, not the risen body, just the empty tomb.
But when he sees the empty tomb: “he saw and believed.”

We also read that St. Mary Magdalene,
didn’t believe at first either.
Scripture tells us:
“she ran and …told them,
‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.’”
But if we read on in the next few verses
we see that Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb
and after awhile saw a man there she thought was a gardener.
So she said to him: “Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
And then:
“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” …Teacher.”
And she believed.

Here are 2 of Jesus’ most devout followers.
And yet at first they didn’t believe.
But when John opened his eyes to what Jesus had told him,
“he saw and believed.”
And when Magdalene finally asked Jesus
he called out to her, and she believed.

Some today would like to think that belief in Christ and his resurrection
and the effect they have on individual lives is coming to an end.
But we know otherwise.
You are here because you believe.
Maybe not as fervently as you should or would like to.
Maybe you don’t allow that belief to permeate your life,
to change the way you live.
Maybe you don’t share your faith with others nearly enough.
But you believe, or you wouldn’t be here.
You believe, even as you want to believe even more deeply.

Today, hear our Risen Lord calling out to in his word,
and in whatever truth resonates in my words.
See him in the believers assembled here today
members of His Church, united with millions more throughout the world.
And see him most especially in his body and blood in the Eucharist.
Hear. See. And believe.

And may your faith and the joy and the power of the Risen Christ
change your life today,
tomorrow and in eternity.

Easter 2013

RESURREXIT SICUT DIXIT! ALLELUIA! He is risen as he promised! Alleluia! What a glorious day, on which Our Savior, Jesus Christ, rose triumphant from the tomb and conquered death and sin and all evil in the world. Let the earth “shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!” This is the day our Catholic faith lives for, and takes its life from, as we received in our baptisms a share in the risen life of Jesus. Let us rejoice, and no longer live under the slavery of sin and Satan, but in the freedom of the children of God, members of the very body of Christ.

My thanks to all who contributed so much in time and energy and prayer to helping the parish enjoy a truly Holy Week (more on that next week). And to all parishioners and visitors, from Fr. Kenna and myself, a holy, blessed and happy Easter Day!

In past Easter columns I’ve included Easter messages from Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there is nothing similar from Pope Francis. HOWEVER, below is a beautiful Easter Vigil homily he delivered as Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2008. (Note this is an unofficial translation I found on the internet).

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis):

1. In the shadows of the Temple we have followed the signposts of a long road. God chooses a people and sends them on their way. Starting with Abram: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation.” (Gen 12:1-2). Abram went forth, and became the father of a people that made history along the way, a people on the way towards that which was promised. We also recently made our way listening to [the telling of] this history of traversing lands and centuries, with our eyes fixed on the paschal event, the definitive Promise made reality, the Living Christ, victor over death, resurrected. Life in God is not sedentary, it is a life on the road…and even God Himself desired to be on the road, in search of man…and became man. On this night we have traveled both roads: of the people, of man, towards God and that of God to man, both roads leading to an encounter. The anxiousness for God sown in our human heart, that anxiousness of God given as a promise to Abram and, on the other hand, the anxiousness of God’s heart, His immeasurable love for us, are to be found here today, before this paschal event, the figure of Christ Resurrected that resolves in itself all searches and anxiousness, wishes and loves; Christ Resurrected is the goal and triumph of these two roads that meet. This is the night of an encounter…of “Encounter” with capital letters.

2. It is brought to our attention how the Gospel we have just heard describes the Encounter of Jesus Christ, Victorious with the women. Nobody stands still…all are in movement, on the move: it is said the women went, that the earth shook strongly; the Angel came down from Heaven, making the stone roll, the guards trembled. Then, the invitation: He will go to Galilee, that all go to Galilee. The women, with that mix of fear and joy –that is, with their hearts in movement — back up rapidly and run to spread the news. They encounter Jesus and approach Him and fall to His feet. Movement of the women towards Christ, movement of Christ towards them. In this movement the encounter happens.

3. The Gospel announcement is not relegated to a faraway history of two thousand years ago…it is a reality that repeats itself each time we place ourselves on the road towards God and we allow ourselves to be met by Him. The Gospel tells of an encounter, a victorious encounter between the faithful God, passionate for His people, and us sinners, thirsty for love and searching, who have [finally] accepted placing ourselves on the road…on the road to find Him…to allow ourselves to be found by Him. In that instant, existential and temporal, we share the experience of the women: fear and joy at the same time; we experience the stupor of an encounter with Jesus Christ which overflows our desires but which never says “stay,” but rather “go.” The encounter relaxes us, strengthens our identity and sends us forth; puts us on the road again so that, from encounter to encounter, we may reach the definitive encounter.

4. I was recently mentioning that, in the midst of the shadows, our gaze was fixed on the Paschal event, Christ, reality and hope at the same time; reality of an encounter today and hope for the great final encounter. This is good because we breathe losses [literally, “disencounters”] daily; we have become accustomed to living in a culture of loss, in which our passions, our disorientations, enmities and conflicts confront us, separate [literally, “eliminates our brotherhood”] us, isolate us, crystallize us inside a sterile individualism which is proposed to us as a [viable] way of life daily. The women, that morning, were victims of a painful loss: they had had their Lord taken from them. They found themselves desolate before a sepulcher. That’s the way today’s cultural paganism, active in the world and our city, wants us: alone, passive, at the end of an illusory path that leads to a sepulcher, dead in our frustration and sterile egotism.

Today we need the strength of God to move us, that we have a great shaking of the earth, that an Angel move the great stone in our heart, that stone that prevents us from heading out on the road, that there is lightning and much light. Today we need our soul shaken, that we’re told the idolatry of cultured passivity and possessiveness does not lead [this could also be translated as “give”] to life. Today we need, after being shaken for our many frustrations, to encounter Him anew and that He tell us “Be not afraid,” get back on the road once again, return to that Galilee of your first love. We must renew the march begun by our father Abraham and which signals this Paschal event. Today we need to encounter Him; that we find Him and He find us. Brethren, the “Happy Easter” I wish you is that today an Angel rolls away our stone and we allow ourselves to encounter Him. May it be thus.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Palm Sunday

Holy Week. This week is the holiest week of the year, on at least three levels: historically, ecclesially (i.e., as the Church); and individually.

First, it is the holiest week historically because it holds the most sacred events of the history of mankind, that bring about our salvation: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is amazing to think that on the Cross Jesus pays for the sins of all mankind—alive in the past, present and future—the debt of the love we owe God, the punishment we deserve for our offenses against God. Think of that: the all-powerful God the Son becomes a fragile human being so he can die for the sins we’ve committed against him—he is punished for what we did to him. Who would do that? Only a God who is Love itself.

In recognition of this love the Church establishes special prayers, rituals and customs to draw us into the profundity of those ancient historical events that remain present to us in mystery today. The Church comes together as one body in Christ by celebrating together in our churches with praying the same words and rituals used in Catholic churches around the world. As we carry our palms in procession, or shout “Crucify him, Crucify him,” or kiss the cross of Christ at the hour of his death, et cetera, this universal unity of prayers and rituals symbolizes and expresses, that we, though many, are made one and holy in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.

Finally, it is about individual holiness. While we come together as one holy Catholic Church in Christ, God doesn’t just love “the Church” in abstract, but as the union of all of its parts, “members.” Christ died for the sins of all mankind, but also specifically for your sins and my sins. He loves and died for you. So during this week we personally strive to be worthy of that love. We weep for our sins for which he suffered and died, but with hope-filled hearts, realizing he did all this because of his astounding love for us. And we let that love overwhelm us, drawing us to Him, and His Father and Spirit, and transforming our lives, so that we can begin to love as he loves.

My children, it’s HOLY WEEK, so let us be holy! As I noted last week in my homily, this Lent has been filled with distractions—some good (“Habemus Papam!”), some bad. But now, for 7 days, lay all that aside. Turn to Christ with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and body, and keep your eyes fixed on him. Let your life be sinless by keeping his commandments, both in letter (and “the smallest part of the letter”) and in spirit. Live in charity with all, but especially with your family members—be kind, patient, helpful and forgiving to your parents and siblings, and to your spouses and children.

And be prayerful: talk and listen to Jesus, to His Holy Mother, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene. Stay in their presence every moment: walk the road to Jerusalem, sit at the table of the Lord’s Supper, stand in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house and of Pilate’s praetorium, kneel at the foot of the cross, lay weeping at the tomb. Do this in spirit, at home, at work, but especially here in church. And do this in union with the Church, especially by coming together in our parish church to pray the prayers, rituals and sacraments of Christ’s Church.

We have begun today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion. Perhaps you can continue this by attending the outdoor Stations of the Cross performed by our youth this evening (Sunday) after the 5pm Mass.

Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! I know it can be inconvenient for you, but so was carrying the Cross. And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from his side on the Cross.

On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral (all the priests and the Bishop celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood). But in the evening join us here in the parish as we celebrate The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood. The ritual includes the ceremonial washing of the feet, and procession with of the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray,” as he once invited his apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Then comes Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence (see the rules below), to share a taste of the suffering of the Lord. We should keep the day with quiet, reflection, and charity—even at work—especially from noon to three. There is no Mass, but we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. It is a powerful liturgy, so please don’t miss it, even if it means leaving work early. This liturgy includes the personal/individual veneration of the Cross by all present, by a kiss, or some other gesture. Once again, we are allowed to use only one cross for veneration. I was a little nervous about this last year, but it went beautifully: all seemed to be moved by the powerful symbolic meaning of kissing the “one cross,” and of waiting with the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. After veneration, the priests distribute Communion from hosts brought from the sacristy. After the liturgy is over, the Cross will remain in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Later in the evening, at 7:00pm Stations of the Cross are solemnly prayed with the priest.

On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood, as the Church encourages us to voluntarily continue to fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday. Mass is never offered during the day on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30pm (after sunset) the celebration of Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. It is the “Mother” of all liturgies with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing and presentation of the Easter Candle; the Exsultet; a greatly extended Liturgy of the Word; and baptism, reception into the Church, and confirmation for adults. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).

May this truly be a holy week for all of us.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Rules of Abstinence & Fasting
Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is a grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days, and binds all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Even though these rules do not bind all age groups, all are encouraged to follow them to the extent possible. Children in particular learn the importance of penance from following the practice of their older family members. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.

March 17, 2013

Our New Pope. By the time you read this I am confident that we (will) have a new Holy Father. But as I write this, on the morning Wednesday the 13th, the cardinals in conclave have been through 3 unsuccessful ballots, and no pope yet. I guess they didn’t know about my deadline. In any case, assuming we have a new Pope, I’m sure you join with me in joyfully thanking the Good Lord for His great gift of our new Pope, and in pledging total support and obedience to our new chief shepherd, and pray that he may live and reign, as they say, “a thousand years.”

Sometimes people ask me why we call the successor of Peter “Pope” and “Supreme Pontiff.” The word “pope” comes from the Latin and Italian “papa” which is just what it looks like—what a child calls his father. Its usage is to refer to the Bishop of Rome goes back to at least the 3rd century. The term “Pontiff” comes from the Latin “pontifex,” which literally means “bridge builder” (bridge: pons, make: facere—priests build bridges between God and man), and was a term used to refer to the highest ranking priests in the pagan religion of ancient Rome—the “Pontifex Maximus” being the “high priest.” Some say that taking this title from the pagans is inappropriate, but any time Christianity translates itself into a new language we can only use the words of that new language to communicate equivalent ideas from the “old language.” So the Latin word used to name the ordinary “priests” of pagan Rome was “sacerdos”, and so that is what Christian priests were called. Likewise, “pontifex” became a common term for bishops, and Pontifex Maximus (“Supreme Pontiff”) for the pope.

Passiontide. As Lent continues, today we enter into that part of the season called “Passiontide,” a time when we more intently and somberly focus our attention Christ’s Passion. We try, in effect, to take ourselves 2000 years back in time and walk with Jesus in those last days before Good Friday. We mark this in a very dramatic way by covering the statues and crucifixes in our churches: Good Friday has not yet happened, so there is no cross yet; Easter has not happened, so no saints are in heaven. (This year we hope to cover the main cross hanging from the ceiling over the altar. If it works, thanks to Jane and Rick Steele who worked so hard to make it happen; if it doesn’t, sorry, it’s my fault…). Keep this in mind in the coming days: “I’m walking with Jesus, and Peter and the apostles…With Judas. With John, and Mary Magdalene… Walking toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany, going to the temple….I’m in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper…In the house of Caiaphas…In the palace of Pilate…Standing with Blessed Mary as they scourge her little boy….”

The bodily/physical reminders of these days are so important to our experiencing the meaning of the season—Jesus created us in bodies, and came and spoke to us and suffered and died in His body. Which is why it’s so important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” So, please, come to the church and physically take part in the various sacraments, liturgies and other pious activities of the Church and parish in the next few weeks.

I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra Mass and confession times (we’ll have at least 2 priests hearing at most times, and sometimes 3 or 4), as well as opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In particular, please participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church, and particularly on Friday evening at 6:30, led by the priests.

I also strongly encourage you to attend next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather! If not, we will be in the Parish Hall). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

Also next Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, please consider coming to the 8:45 Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, process outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take about 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email (straychrch@aol.com) the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 8:45 Mass you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall.

Holy Week. Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is, of course, the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will include a schedule for Holy Week, but I ask you to plan ahead today. These are the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, marked by special and unique liturgies, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the washing of the feet and the solemn procession and silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight—“can you not watch one hour with me?” Then there’s Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, with the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion, which begins at 3pm—the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening.

As your spiritual father I beg you, from the bottom of my heart, to try to participate in all of these liturgies, that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend that you attend the 3pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Last year I was so edified and moved to see a standing-room-only church, as well-over a thousand people stood in line patiently, many in tears, to venerate the cross of Christ. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”

And finally, I remind you that on Holy Saturday afternoon—a day which is supposed to be marked by the quiet somberness of Good Friday—we will once again be showing Mel Gibson’s incredible film “The Passion of the Christ” in the Parish Hall, beginning with a short talk by myself. This powerful movie is so helpful in reminding us what Holy Saturday is all about. (Note: Parents should use their discretion in bringing children to this graphic movie).

Oremus pro invicem, et pro novo Papa nostro. Fr. De Celles

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare) 2013

March 10, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells one of His most beloved and famous parables: the story of the Prodigal Son.
When we read this we tend to focus on the forgiveness of the Father
–and rightly so—this is largely the point of the parable,
as it helps us to understand the infinite love of God.
We might also tend focus on the prodigal son,
either on his sins, or on his repenting of his sins—or both.
And again, rightly so, because we can’t understand the love of the father
unless we understand the wretchedness of the son.

But I don’t’ think we can understand
either the love of the father or the sins of the son,
until we understand one basic thing:
the inheritance that the son “squandered.”

The Gospel doesn’t tell us exactly what it is he inherited, but we can imagine.
First of all we know the father was probably very wealthy.
We know he had multiple servants.
And that he had property so large that when the older son was “out in the field”
he was apparently so far away they couldn’t get word to him
that his brother had come home.
And we know the father wasn’t just a farmer with a lot of land
—he also had lots of nice things,
so that he could order:
“Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and …
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.”
And then think about this:
when the father “divided the property”
and the younger son “collected all his belongings and set off,”
it’s not like the son walked off with land and cattle and sheep.
No… It seems like his father had enough in currency
—coins and jewels and such—
that he could pay his son off in that and the son could take it with him.

And amazingly enough, even after giving half of his estate to his prodigal son,
he clearly still had a huge estate left.
In short, the father was really rich.

But you know, odds are he didn’t just earn that overnight.
He probably worked hard for what he had.
I mean, look at his eldest son—he was out working in the field,
a lesson of hard work he clearly learned from the father he idolized.
Even so, there’s a good chance that the father
probably inherited a lot of his wealth from his father,
who had probably inherited something from his father and so on…
Each generation building up and adding to what the inheritance
he’d been entrusted with.

This is what the son demands to have from his father—half of this.
And all this vast wealth this is what the son
“squandered ….on a life of dissipation.”

As Catholics we also have a great inheritance.
A huge estate larger than anyone can begin to fathom,
has been passed down to us from our forbearers.
A treasury of doctrine, spirituality, liturgy and prayer.
An understanding of God and the World, of morality,
and profound theological insights into all this,
so that we understand the teachings of Christ not cold worthless words,
but as rich lustrous multifaceted gems.
An incredibly vast and rich treasure rooted in scripture,
handed down by the apostles,
clarified and illuminated by the writings of
the great, brilliant and holy fathers, doctors and saints of the church:
in successive generations:
Wojtyla and Ratzinger in the 21st century,
building on the work of Saint Theresa in the 16th,
who built on Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th
who built on Saint Gregory in the 7th,
who built on Saint Augustine in the 5th,
who built on Saint Irenaeus in the 2nd,
who built on the teaching of Apostles themselves.
Giants standing on the shoulders of giants.
Treasure compounding on treasure.

We’ve inherited all this.
But like the rich young man, we are wont to squander it all in a life of dissipation.

Earlier this year Pope Benedict asked us to celebrate a “Year of Faith”,
in particular, to mark the beginning, 50 years ago, in 1963,
of the second Vatican Council—Vatican II as it’s popularly called.

At that council the bishops from all over the world gathered under the leadership
of first Pope John and then Pope Paul,
not to define any new dogma or to condemn some heresy,
but merely to figure out how to share
that rich inheritance of wisdom and holiness with modern man,
so that the great treasury might not be hidden or hoarded away,
or thrown away or wasted or lost,
but rather wisely invested in modern man, if you will.
Not to spend it on foolish on passing things,
like one enjoys rich foods one night and goes hungry the next,
but to enjoyed as a family buys a beautiful new house with lots of land,
and lives in happiness with their children and grandchildren.
Kind of like the father in today’s parable.

But as Pope Benedict used to remind us so often,
something strange happened after the Council.
Some in the Church began to demand and take their inheritance
and in a very real sense, to squander it.
For example, some took the rich moral teaching of the Church,
and instead of building on it,
wasted it to buy into heresies and worldly philosophies
that make a mockery of our inheritance.
Suddenly, for them, all sorts of sins just disappeared, especially mortal sins
—as the ethics of the secular culture became their standard
rather than the inherited wisdom of Christ and His Church.
Many traded the church’s profound wisdom
on the fundamental goodness of marriage and sexuality
reflecting the love of God himself
and the innate dignity of each human person
–they traded this for a relativist and utilitarian view of man,
“if it feels good do it.”

Some took the treasury of liturgical rites of the Church,
and traded reverence and communion with God
for banality and trendiness.

Some took the vast and profound treasury of spiritual theology and prayer,
and exchanged it for faddish psychological therapy
and even pagan practices.

So much we inherited, such a vast treasury.
And so much squandered away by so many.

On the other hand, in many ways the Popes of the last 50 years
have resembled the father in today’s parable.
Pope Paul, in particular was like the father at the beginning of the parable,
trying to be a loving and respectful
and allowing some of his precocious spiritual children
to take and experiment with their inheritance,
investing it in new ways, if you will.
All too often, as I say, they turned out to be prodigal sons.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on the other hand,
were in some ways like the father at the end parable,
recognizing what had been wasted,
but also welcoming the prodigal children
to come home and share with the great wealth still preserved there.

I think particularly of Pope Benedict.
When he was just a Cardinal in charge of protecting the Doctrine of the Faith,
I remember how patient he was with theologians
who were teaching the craziest things.
How patiently he dealt with the famous theologian, Fr. Hans Kung,
a brilliant mind, but an absolute heretic.
And yet Cardinal Ratzinger spent years trying to reason with him,
always ready to forgive, to welcome him home.
So much so that just months after his election as Pope
he invited Kung to the Vatican—again, trying to coax him back home.

I also think of Benedict’s efforts to reconcile with the Orthodox and Anglicans. —especially his efforts to make it easy for Anglicans to come home.
Granted, the Anglicans left the Church almost 500 years ago,
but when large groups of Anglicans
wanted to come home to the Catholic Church.
their Holy Father Benedict ran out to meet them,
offering them all sorts of concessions
to help them preserve the precious inheritance
of their unique ancient English but Catholic heritage.

And I think of his many efforts to bring back the Traditionalist Catholics
who had distanced themselves from the rest of the Church.
Although many were trying to protect the Church’s inheritance,
in the process many wound up disobeying the Popes time and time again,
and so becoming like the older son in today’s story
—who had stayed at home,
but now refused to enter his father’s house.
Like the loving father in today’s parable, Benedict also went out to bring them in,
praising their fidelity,
but gently coaxing them to take their place at their father’s table.
And so he restored the ancient rite of the Mass so important to all of us,
because it is a rich jewel in our inheritance.

In all these and many more ways Pope Benedict, and John Paul before him,
have welcomed so many home to share
in an inheritance so vast and profound,
that though some may squander their portion,
the fundamental treasury can never be lost.
Especially since it’s protected by a security system more impenetrable
than Fort Knox or Norton or McAfee
—the grace and power of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Which is, of course, made manifest in a particular way
through that priceless heirloom of having a spiritual father
to watch over and increase our inheritance: the Pope.

All this is why Pope Benedict called us to celebrate
“A Year of Faith” in the Church.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II,
and a call to re-consider and to re-appreciate the Church’s inheritance,
and to consider how that’s so often been squandered.

We think of all of this in a particular way
as the conclave to elect a new pope opens this Tuesday.
And we so realize how important this is,
and also trust that the Lord will provide a good and loving Holy Father
to guide us in the appreciating our inheritance.

And we also think of this in a particular way today, at the half-way point in Lent,
about how we ourselves as individuals
have squandered our Catholic inheritance.
By our baptism you and I inherited this vast spiritual wealth of the Church,
but what have we done with it?
Have allowed ourselves to follow the prodigal sons
who squandered their Catholic inheritance after Vatican II,
trading them in for worldly philosophies and values?
Have we traded the rich prayer life of the Church
for browsing the internet or watching cable?
Have we treated the treasure chest of Scripture as just a bunch of pious sayings,
paying lip service to the ones that make us feel good,
and completely ignoring, or even rejecting the ones
that are even the slightest bit demanding?
Do we follow the Church’s moral teaching,
an amazing treasure chest full of wisdom
explaining how to discern truth from lies, good from evil, right from wrong?
Or do we trade that in for values we see on TV or the movies,
or the opinions of social activists?
We’ll spend hours at the gym or on the golf course recreating ourselves,
but do take a few minutes to go to confession
or time in the morning to go morning Mass,
to let the Lord work on re-creating us?

But as we admit to ourselves how we’ve squandered so much,
we also remember how eager God to bring us back into his Home,
to share with us even greater riches than we ever imagined.
Because even though we may have been wasting our share,
the treasure of our Catholic faith is never really depleted.
The only thing that’s really wasted is our time and our lives.
But if we come home and admit our sinfulness—our waste—
he will welcome us home and open to us the riches of his Kingdom
stored up, protected and increased all these centuries in His Church.

As we continue now in the celebration of Holy Mass,
perhaps the most magnificent jewel in our inheritance,
we thank the good Lord for his ineffable generosity
poured out on us from the Cross,
and stored up, built up and measured out to us in his Church.
Let us remember the great gem of our inheritance, the papacy,
that guides and protects this treasure,
and pray for the cardinals has they elect our next Holy Father on earth.
And let us pray that our heavenly Father
will forgive us for squandering so much of what he has given us,
confident in his mercy,
and rejoicing in his promises of immeasurable treasures yet to come.

4th Sunday of Lent 2013

Let us pray for the cardinal-electors, and for the election of the new Pope.

And as we continue with our Lenten penances, I republish this column slightly modified from previous years, since it seems to have been helpful to many of you…

While the Sacrament of Penance (or “Confession”, or “Reconciliation”) is particularly important during Lent, as we meditate both on the sins that permeate our lives and the forgiveness Christ pours out on us from His Cross.

But how do we make a “good confession”? We begin by prayerfully looking at our lives to recognize the sins we’ve committed since our last confession, i.e., “an examination of conscience.” This requires both honesty and humility—we must not deceive or excuse ourselves about anything we’ve done.

In particular we need to look for mortal sins, i.e., a sin that involves all three of the following criteria: 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and 3) complete consent. Note, if any one of these is lacking the act is not a “mortal sin” (although may still be a “venial sin.”)

“Grave matter” means the act involves some very serious moral evil, found either in 1) the act itself or 2) the intention behind the act. Grave matter can sometimes be difficult to identify, but sometimes it is not. Clear examples of grave matter include (but are not limited to): violence (in word or deed) against parents; children disobeying parents in a serious matter; neglect of elderly parents (in serious need); serious parental neglect or abuse of their children (including neglecting proper formation in the Catholic faith or unnecessary postponement of the sacraments, especially baptism); murder; abortion; euthanasia; drunkenness; denying just and serious assistance to family members; abandoning a spouse or children; remarriage after a divorce (without annulment); sexual activity before or outside of marriage (including “petting”); viewing pornography; masturbation; contraception; direct intentional sterilization (including vasectomies and tubal ligations); theft of valuable items; unjustly or unnecessarily and seriously damaging reputations; lying about important matters; perjury; cursing someone using God’s name; “dabbling” in occult practices or witchcraft; willful dissent from Church doctrine or dogma; serious and unjust infringements on religious liberty; serious and unjust discrimination; missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day; receiving Holy Communion unworthily; . direct material cooperation in another’s mortal sin (e.g., paying for a friend’s abortion; voting for a pro-abortion politician when a viable alternative existed); directly leading another into mortal sin.

Note that there are many “guides” available to help us with our examination of conscience (several are found in pamphlet form in the church, and several are available online and as “apps” for smart phones).

Also, in confession you must distinguish the “kind” of mortal sin committed, i.e., be as clear as possible about what the sin was, but refrain from being graphic or giving long explanations. So it is not enough to say “I had bad thoughts,” rather one should say “I had thoughts of violence,” or “I had lustful thoughts,” etc..

Also, you must give the number of times you committed particular mortal sins. Sometimes this is difficult to do, e.g., if you haven’t been to confession in a while. In that case, give the priest some idea of the frequency or number; for example, “at least once a month for several years,” etc..

Besides mortal sins, we should also consider venial sins, especially any vices (sinful habits) or other venial sins that are particularly problematic—perhaps they lead to mortal sins, or cause others unnecessary pain, etc..

Next comes going to confession. Here’s a step-by-step guide you may cut out and take with you to Confession:

A Guide for the Penitent in Confession.
You may go to Confession kneeling or sitting, anonymously behind-a-screen or “face-to-face”—these are usually your options, although the priest has the right to require anonymous confession.

After greeting the priest, you begin by making the sign of the cross saying:
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The priest may invite you to confess your sins, but he may remain silent, in which case you go on.

  • You say these or similar words:
    “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been [number of days, weeks, months, years] since my last confession.”
  • It is then helpful to reveal your “state in life”: e.g., “I am a married man,” etc…
  • Then say: “These are my sins.”
    • List by number and kind all mortal sins you have recollected in your examination of conscience.
    • You may also describe the types of venial sins you have committed, and list any which are of particular concern to you.
    • Close with these are similar words:
      “For these sins, and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

The priest may ask you some questions to understand your situation better. He may also give you advice/counsel as you are confessing.

The priest then gives you a “penance” to perform. If you know you can’t fulfill his penance, tell him so he can give you another penance; (sometimes you don’t know the particular prayer, or you have limitations due to physical impediment).

You then make an Act of Contrition, in these or similar words:
“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment; but most of all because I have offended thee, My God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”

Either during or immediately after your prayer the priest will say the prayer of absolution which concludes with the words (as he makes the sign of the cross):
“I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

You make the sign of the cross and respond: “Amen.”

The priest will then say a dismissal to which you respond, using one or both of the following:

  • Priest: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”
    You respond:“His mercy endures forever.”
  • Priest:“Go in peace.”
    You respond:“Thanks be to God.”

As you are leaving the confessional it is polite to say, “Thank you, Father.” Leave the confessional and do your penance as soon as possible, immediately in church in if you can.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

3rd Sunday of Lent 2013

March 3, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

The saying goes: “All roads lead to Rome.”
It’s been interesting to see this come to life in the last few weeks,
as the whole world seems to have been drawn to the events
transpiring in Rome, as Pope Benedict retired
and Church began its preparations to elect the new pope.
It reminds me of today’s first reading, as Moses sees the burning bush and says:
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”

In a certain way we welcome this world-wide media attention.
After all, Christ did command us to,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…”
What better way to teach all nations and bring them to the Church
than to have them come to Rome via the media,
and to focus on the faith of the Church.
Even if it is initially just out of curiosity, like Moses, to,
“look at this remarkable sight.”
Because like Moses, if they come
they may see much more than they bargained for
—the divine fire of Christ and His Holy Spirit
that does not destroy but enlightens the world.

In the Christian Tradition Moses is seen as a precursor or foreshadowing of Christ.
Moses comes to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery
and offers the Passover or Paschal sacrifice of the Old Covenant;
Jesus comes to free all mankind from the slavery of sin.
and offers the new Paschal sacrifice of the New Covenant—the Cross.
We can go on and on.
But let’s just add one more: both Moses and Jesus are shepherds:
Christ is the “Good Shepherd,”
and as today’s first reading begins:
“Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.”

And just as Moses is prefigurement of Jesus,
St. Peter, and his successors in the papacy—the Popes—
are a “post-figurement,” if you will, of Christ:
they stand in the world today representing him,
unique in authority as leaders of God’s holy people.
So we see Christ make Peter the chief shepherd of His flock,
commanding him: “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep….feed my sheep.”

And yet, Peter is much more than Moses.
In the words of Jesus:
“I tell you, you are Peter [Rock],
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now, Christ is ultimately and intimately in charge of His Church.
Peter merely tends Christ’s sheep.
So that when a pope dies or resigns,
we still have our True Shepherd and Spiritual Rock,
Christ, who never leaves his sheep untended,
and is, “with [us] always, even until the end of time.”

But even so, it is the will of Christ that there be one shepherd on earth
to lead One Catholic Church on earth in His name.
And so today, the world fixes its gaze on the Vatican waiting for a new pope,
and, as ever, all roads lead to Rome.

That saying, by the way, goes back to the ancient Roman Empire,
expressing the idea that Rome was the center of the world,
which was vividly seen in the vast Roman system of roads,
many built specifically to get to and from Rome.

2000 years ago St. Peter came to Rome,
perhaps on one of these ancient Roads.
Legend tells us that he at least left Rome on one of those roads,
the Via Appia, the Appian Way.

Roughly 33 years after the death of Christ, around the year 66 AD,
a fire broke out in Rome and raged through city.
To deflect the blame from himself the Emperor Nero accused
the strange new religious cult—the “Christians”—of starting the fire
and began to arrest and execute their leaders.
As the legend goes, and I believe the legend,
somehow St. Peter managed to escape from Rome into the countryside. But as he fled down the Appian Way he suddenly looked up and found himself
face to face with the Lord Jesus walking in the other direction
—toward Rome.
Peter froze in his steps and asked,
“Quo vadis, Domine?”—“Where are you going, Lord?”
And Jesus responded:
“Eo Romam iterum crucifigi”—“I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” So Peter turned around and went back to Rome,
where he was crucified by Nero on Vatican Hill.

>V>
It’s interesting: today if you leave Rome on the Appian Way,
and continue for about 12 miles past the Church
that marks the spot of Peter’s encounter with Christ,
you come to a little lakeside town named Castel Gandolfo.
This last Thursday to signify his retirement
Pope Benedict left Rome and made this trip down the Appian Way
—albeit in a helicopter—to Castel Gandolfo.

Some say, in doing this he’s running away from his responsibilities as pope
—like St. Peter tried to do.
But the reality is quite different.

8 years ago, when he was 78 year old “Cardinal Ratzinger,
he wanted to retire and leave Rome.
But Jesus wanted him to stay, and made him Pope.
For 8 years he’s suffered on the cross of Peter.
And even now, as he steps down for the good of the church,
he promises not to leave and go home to his beloved Germany,
but to go back up the Appian Way,
returning to Rome to be with the new successor Peter,
living out his life in prayer, sacrifice, and obedience
—only yards away from the site on Vatican Hill where
St. Peter himself was crucified.

Like Peter before him, Benedict, Pope Emeritus, has asked the Lord:
“Quo Vadis Domine?” “Where are you going Lord.”
And he has followed where the Lord has led him.

And now the Church must do the same thing, asking,
“Where are You going Lord?”
“Where will You take us now?”
“Who will you send to replace the brave and bold St. Peter,
and the brilliant and humble Benedict,
to hold the keys to the kingdom,
to bind and loose in your Holy Name?”

Even now the Lord knows the name of that man, but he alone knows.

I mentioned earlier that in a certain way we welcome
the world-wide media’s attention to the conclave.
But on the other hand, not so much.
Because most of them come not in search of Christ, but of a story.
And in doing so they grasp on to rumors and allegations of scandals
in the Vatican and the Church.
Some of these may be typical media frenzy,
some may be standard anti-Catholic bias,
and some may even be an effort to influence the election.

But unfortunately, some of them may be will founded, even true.

Should this cause us concern?
Yes, inasmuch as we want every bishop and priest to be holy men.
But on a more circumspect basis,
we should neither be surprised nor overly concerned.
After all, one of the first twelve apostles actually sold Jesus to His enemies
and then hung himself.
You can’t get more scandalous or sinful than that.

But the Resurrection still happened and the Church continued without him.
And when it comes to the papal election,
ultimately we trust that Jesus will pick the next pope,
and the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to that man.

But at the same time, history tells us that in centuries past some very sinful men
have been elected to the papacy.
First to mind comes Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia,
who famously made 2 of his illegitimate sons cardinals.
And then maybe Pope Leo X, Giovanni de Medici,
who is quoted as telling his brother:
“Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.”

God alone knows exactly how these and other sinful men ever got elected pope.
But history would seem to indicate it was because other men
caught up in their own sins and weaknesses,
and led astray by temptation and distraction,
rejected the guidance of the Holy Spirit in choosing these popes.
For example, in some elections
the threats of kings or riots of mobs or bribes of princes
had more sway than the Spirit.
In short, in some elections not enough of the electors asked: Quo vadis Domine?

Now some of us may be discouraged by all this past,
and by the rumors currently floating around in the media—true or not.
Some may be afraid that the cardinals who are not holy and pious men
may elect a bad pope.

Like I said, it’s happened before.
But you know, it’s been hundreds of years since that happened.
Because beginning with the Council of Trent in the 16th century to Benedict,
the Popes have developed a system of carefully crafted rules,
refined over centuries,
to assure that the cardinals suffer the least temptations and distractions.

Some laugh at all these rules, and call them “medieval.”
Actually, they very specifically post-medieval—and they work:
for the last 400 years only good and devout men have been elected pope.
Not perfect men, but men who tried their best to serve God and the Church.

But it’s not just a bunch of rules that make this happen.
During Lent we make a bunch of extra rules for ourselves—penances—
to help us overcome the sins in our lives and control our temptations.
But in the end, all these penances can do is prepare us to receive and respond
to Christ’s grace and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Like the gardener in today’s gospel, who approaches the fruitless tree and
“cultivate[s] the ground around it and fertilize[s] it.”
preparing it to be able to bear fruit.

For almost 2000 years the Church has been filled with sinful people
—both in the hierarchy and in the pews.
In spite of all that, over all those years the Catholic Church
has constantly proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ
handed down from the Apostles through apostolic succession,
and in particular the Petrine succession.
This “miracle of the Church” is a radical witness
to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise:
“the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

But to be part of that miracle, and to make it fruitful in their lives,
the people at any given point in history must do everything they can
to prepare themselves for that grace.
And so one of the most important rules for the conclave,
that is made all the more clear in this season of Lent,
is that the cardinals do penance and pray;
not treating the conclave like some secular election,
but removing sin and temptation from their lives
and preparing their hearts to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and asking “Quo vadis Domine?”
“Where are you going Lord,
and who have you chosen as Peter to lead us there?”

And as we see them do this, and pray it’s truly from their hearts,
we remember that it’s Lent for us too,
and that there are no fewer sinners in the pews or the pulpits
than there are in the college of cardinals.
And just as we fear how their sins may corrupt effect the life of the Church,
we realize the same applies to us.
And so we renew our penances, and look at Christ crucified and ask:
“Quo vadis Domine?”

And perhaps in all this,
by the holy decision of the cardinals, and by our holy lives,
when all roads lead the world to Rome
—both in the sense of Vatican City
and our individual Roman Catholic lives—
those who come to “look at this remarkable sight,” of this burning bush
may discover the light of Christ and the fire of his love,
in the living, breathing Body of Christ on earth, His Church.
And then with his Church, be drawn to Him, and perhaps, perhaps, ask:
“Quo vadis Domine,”
and follow him to Rome, to the Roman Catholic Church.

As we continue in this Holy Mass, and the season of Lent,
and in this holy time when all roads are leading the world to Rome,
let us pray for all those who come to see this remarkable sight.
And let pray for the cardinal-electors, that they may be free of sin,
and commend them to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And let pray for our next pope, whose name is already known, but to God alone.
And let us pray that all Catholics,
from 7 year old first-communicants to 77 year old Cardinal-electors,
will continually ask the question,
“Where are you going Lord?” “Quo vadis Domine?”
And united with Peter, follow Jesus wherever he leads.

March 3, 2013

“Sede Vacante.” Literally it means, “the chair is vacant,” and it means the Chair of St. Peter is empty: we have no Pope.

Now His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, (his official title) is just another retired bishop, who will live out his remaining years in quiet prayer in a monastery in Vatican City, and the Church waits for a new chief shepherd.

Of course, Christ is our true and ultimate shepherd, and He is always with us, as He promised, “I will be with you always, even until the end of time.” Even so, a central part of His 3 year earthly ministry was to prepare His apostles so that they could carry on in His name as shepherds of His flock on earth when He had ascended to heaven.

And first among those apostles was St. Peter, to whom He gave the duty of representing Him as the chief shepherd of the flock, to “feed my lambs,…tend my sheep,…feed my sheep.” And to that end He made an incredible promise: “You are Peter [which means “rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).

Roughly 33 years later, around the year 66AD, St. Peter was in Rome when a fire broke out and raged through city. To deflect the blame from himself the Emperor Nero accused the strange new religious cult—the “Christians”—of starting the fire and began to arrest and execute their leaders. Somehow St. Peter managed to escape from Rome into the countryside. But as he fled down the Appian Way he came face to face with the Lord Jesus walking in the other direction. Peter froze in his steps and asked, “Quo vadis, Domine?”—“Where are you going, Lord?” And Jesus responded: “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi”—“I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” So Peter turned around and went back to Rome to be crucified on Vatican Hill.

Quo Vadis Domine? The Chair of Peter is empty, and the Church asks the Lord, “Where are You going Lord?” Where will You take us now? Who will you send to replace the brave and bold St. Peter, the brilliant Benedict, to hold the keys to the kingdom, to bind and loose in your Holy Name?

Even now the Lord knows the name of that man, most probably one of 115 cardinals who will go into the conclave to elect the new pope. Of course it’s natural that we would wonder who it will be, and rumors abound. Will it be Cardinal Scola, Archbishop of Milan, or the Canadian Cardinal Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, both “disciples” of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI? Or perhaps an African, Cardinal Turkson from Ghana, now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace? Or a South American, perhaps Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga from Honduras, or Cardinal Scherer of Brazil? Or an American—Cardinal Dolan? Or a Vatican insider like Cardinal Sandri or Cardinal Ravasi. Or perhaps one of the “dark horses,” like Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines, Cardinal Ranjith of Sri Lanka, or Cardinal Erdő of Hungary. Or someone else? Who knows? Quo vadis Domine?

Scandals. As a prelude to the papal election rumors and allegations of scandals in the Vatican and the Church have been bouncing around the media. Some may be well founded, some may be typical media frenzy, some may be standard anti-Catholic bias, and some may even be an effort to influence the election. In any case, we remember that priests, bishops and even cardinals are mere men, subject to all the weaknesses and temptations all of us are. Many of the cardinals in conclave are saintly and devout priests, but perhaps some…not so much.

Should this cause us concern? Yes, as far as we want every bishop and priest to be holy men. But on a more circumspect basis, we should neither be surprised nor overly concerned. Remember, one of the first twelve apostles actually sold Jesus to His enemies and then hung himself. But the Resurrection still happened and the Church continued without him. And when it comes to the papal election, ultimately we trust that Jesus has picked the next pope, and the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to that man.

We all know that in centuries past some very sinful men have been elected to the papacy when other flawed men ignored the Holy Spirit in choosing these popes. [Note: Amazingly, sinful as they may have been, none of these popes ever led the Church astray in her doctrine]. For example, some elections were affected by the threats of kings or mobs, or by bribes. But that’s exactly why the current system of carefully crafted rules has been drawn up and refined over centuries to assure that the cardinals suffer the least temptations and distractions, e.g., the segregation of the cardinals from all contact with the outside world. (Note: the word “conclave” literally means “with a key,” i.e., “locked up”). As a result, the last several centuries have seen nothing but good and holy men elected to the papacy.

Keep in mind: for almost 2000 years the Church has been filled with flawed and even sinful people—both in the pews and in the hierarchy. Even so, the Catholic Church has constantly proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ handed down from the Apostles through apostolic succession, in particular the Petrine succession. This “miracle of the Church” is a radical witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Let us commend the cardinal-electors to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And let us pray for our next pope, whose name is already known, but to God alone.

Two quick points. Only one man is called to be Pope, but we need lots of people to do the more plentiful mundane work in our parish. During this time of Lent I particularly ask you to think and pray about volunteering to help on a committed basis in the parish. Be open to doing not so much what you enjoy, but what the parish needs. In particular, currently, we are in great need of adult ushers at Mass. Please call Paul DeRosa in the office if you are interested in ushering, or for information on other volunteer possibilities.

Finally, there’s been a lot of harsh and scary talk about the effects of the coming “sequestration.” No one knows what the fall out of this will be, but please remember that if anyone of you is truly in need of financial assistance, please do not hesitate to call the parish office. We are happy to help if we can.

Oremus pro invicem, et cardinales electors, et proximo Papa!
Fr. De Celles