3rd Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
April 22, 2012

For the second week in a row we read today the account
of Jesus’ appearing to his apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday
–last week we read St. John’s account,
and this week we read St. Luke’s.
As you would expect, the two accounts tell pretty much the same story,
each adding their own details and perspective.
But one thing that stands out in both accounts is their identical account
of the first words the Risen Christ said to his apostles:
“Peace be with you.”
Jesus told them just 3 days before, at the Last Supper:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Sounds a lot like what he says to those same apostles in today’s Gospel:
“Peace be with you…Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of
—it’s not just about nonviolence or a quiet atmosphere.
The peace of Christ is an internal peace—peace of the heart.
So that even when there’s all sorts of violence and disturbance around you
–like the apostles locked in the upper room,
afraid the Sanhedrin or the Romans would come
and arrest them and crucify them—
even then, you can have true and inner peace,
like the apostles go from being terrified to, as it says,
being “incredulous for joy.”

Moreover, this peace comes directly from Christ,
and we receive it only by being with Christ.
We see this in today’s Gospel as Jesus seeks to reassure his apostles
that he is really there with them, really alive:
by showing them his wounded hands, and eating with them.
And so that with him, there is no reason to fear or to have a troubled heart,
but only to be at peace.

Even so, at the very end of the last supper, he prays to his father:
“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us…
So we see that the fullness of the peace of Christ
comes not from merely being with him, but from being ONE with him,
being united to him.
So he continues praying at the last supper:
“…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…”

This oneness, or unity, or communion, is exactly what we find
in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the last supper,
and that we come here to celebrate today:
the Eucharist;
a sacrament that we call “Holy Communion”
at that point when Christ literally enters in to us
as we receive his Body: “I in them”…. and us in him.
So in a very important sense, the Eucharist,
or rather the Communion with Christ
that the Eucharist brings about and strengthens,
is the source of true peace.

And the Church reminds us of this at every Mass.
Right before we receive Communion, the priest prays to Christ,
recalling his words from the last supper,
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles,
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…
And then speaking of the Church he says:
“graciously grant her peace and unity ….”
And then he turns to the people and says:
“Peace be with you.”
And then he usually invites you to give each other a “sign of peace.”

Unfortunately, what’s happened over the years is
we’ve lost sight of what’s really happening here:
we forget “not as the world gives [peace] do I give [peace].”
So many times the sign of peace becomes entirely about worldly peace.
But It’s not about us, and good feelings of friendship,
and certainly not about saying “hello”
or “good to see you” to your neighbor,
It’s supposed to be about the Risen Christ present on the altar in the Eucharist
saying “MY Peace be with you, because I’m here”
and about the spiritual fruit of the truest peace
that comes not just from being in his presence
but being truly united with him in Holy Communion.

Now, it is true, that by receiving and being in Communion in Christ,
we come into or deepen our communion with each other:
as Jesus prays at the last supper: ““that they may all be one.”
But to understand the unity he’s talking about,
and the “they” he’s praying for,
we have to go back to the context.
He begins by first praying for the unity of his 12 apostles:
And then, continuing to pray for the 12 apostles, he asks his Father:
“…Sanctify them in the truth…
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.
And then he prays:
“I ask not only on behalf of these [the 12 apostles],
but also on behalf of those who will believe in me
through their word, that they may all be one.”

So you see, he’s praying for the unity,
first of the apostles,
and then of all those who come to believe in the truth they teach.
So unity with Christ and the fullness of true peace it brings,
also requires unity, or communion, with the apostles
and believing what they teach.

And not just with his first 12, but also with their successors in authority,
as they pass along the authentic true apostolic teaching.
As the Acts of the Apostles tells when the apostle Judas died,
St. Peter proclaimed, “’Let another take his office’…
and, Acts continues:
“and the lot fell on Matthias;
and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”
—the first of many successors of the apostles
—2000 years of Popes and bishops.

So ask yourself, when you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand
and say “peace be with you”
are you meaning to pray that he receive the everlasting peace
that flows from
the Sacramental Communion with Christ in the Eucharist
and faith in everything the apostles and their successors
teach to be certainly true?
Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?

And when you come up to receive Holy Communion
do you first examine your conscience
to see if you really are in communion with the apostolic teaching
of the Pope and bishops?
And if you’re not, do realize there can be no true peace for you
in the lie you commit by receiving Holy Communion
when you are not in communion?

Unfortunately, today there are many challenges to our communion
with Christ and his apostles.
And I don’t mean those brought by our separated Protestant brethren,
but rather the challenges that arise from within the visible boundaries
of the Catholic Church herself.
I could go on all day listing and discussing these challenges,
but let’s just focus on three that have been in the forefront in recent days.

Chief among the challenges is outright public dissent from papal teachings
—doctrines defined by the popes as absolutely certain.
The recent controversy over the president’s attack
on the Religious Liberty of the Church
has brought the issue of contraception to the forefront,
and the fact that most Catholics reject
the Church’s ancient and infallibly taught teaching on contraception.
The same could be said about the Church’s teaching on
sex, marriage and homosexuality.
And something like 70% of Catholics deny the church’s teaching
on the Eucharist as being truly the real Body and Blood of Jesus.
Some Catholics even deny the bodily Resurrection.

This last week, the Vatican, at the direction of Pope Benedict,
called attention to one group that has been a bastion of such dissent
for decades now,
as he called for a reform of the group called
the “Leadership Conference of Women Religious,”
an umbrella group composed of the leaders of most of
the orders of religious sisters and nuns in the United States.
The press has made it sound like there was a witch hunt
by a bunch of women-hating priests in Rome.
The reality is that this group of leaders has been a source
of widespread dissent against Church doctrine for decades.
Now, we need to be careful here,
because there are many good and faithful sisters
in the orders that these sisters lead
—but where leaders lead, many are sure to follow.
And when you consider that many of these leader-sisters
are in charge of the Catholic education of our children,
you can see the huge damage they have done.
And you wonder why so many Catholics don’t believe
in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
Or reject the infallible teaching on the grave immorality of
contraception, or pre-marital sex or homosexual acts?

A second challenge to Church unity is not so much in dissent,
but simple confusion regarding
the teaching of the apostles and their successors.
What I mean by this is that often times well-meaning priests and even bishops
will take a real teaching, an official doctrine of the Church,
and apply it to certain situations
and act as if their private opinion
is the same and as binding as actual doctrine.
An example of this came up this last week,
when a small committee of American bishops
came out with a statement critical of the budget
proposed by the House of Representatives,
saying it “fails to meet” the “moral criteria.” of the Bishops.
The problem is, that the moral criteria the bishops are referring to
is not actual binding doctrine,
but rather just their prudential judgment, really their opinion,
of what the moral doctrine would require.
It’s as if they say, Christ and His Church teach, as clear doctrine,
that we must feed the hungry—that’s true.
But the question comes up:
who are the hungry, and how do you define hunger?
and who must feed them
—the national government, the state government, the church,
charitable groups?
And do we feed them by buying them food,
or by making it possible for them to earn the money
to buy their own food?
And on and on.
The Church has no defined doctrine to answer these specific questions
—we must make prudential judgments, informed by doctrine,
but in the end we can disagree on how to proceed specifically.

But when well-intentioned and orthodox laity, priests and bishops
seem to present their prudential judgments, their opinions,
as if they are apostolic doctrine,
they muddy the waters when it comes to actual doctrine.
People begin to think,
well if I can disagree with the bishops on how to feed the poor,
I can disagree with them on using contraception or limiting religious liberty.
So much for unity.

Finally, a third challenge to Church unity today
is the scandal created by the sins of Catholics
—especially priests and bishops.
I could point to many examples of sins by both laity and priests.
But today my mind turns particularly to the sins of priests who have committed
despicable crimes of abuse of minors.
Of course, most horrible is the damage this abuse does to these children
—how do you fix that?
I wholeheartedly embrace the teaching of Christ that
“it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

And on top of that, we have the terrible secondary effect of these sins
as they undermining confidence in all priests,
and the moral authority of the Church in general.

On the other hand,
almost as bad is the crime of false accusation of innocent priests:
where do they go to get their reputations back,
and how do you fix the damage done to
confidence in priests and the Church itself?

We have been all too vividly reminded of this this last week
as the pastor of Holy Spirit parish was placed on administrative leave
because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
We need to be careful to mind the Lord’s teaching not to pass rash judgment,
and so pray for both the priest and the alleged victim,
and that God’s justice will be done.
But whether or not the allegation is true or false,
can anyone deny that damage has already been done to the Church,
specifically to its peace and unity?
But friends, we cannot permit other people’s sins
to effect the peace and communion the Lord Jesus wants to give us,
any more than the 11 apostles allowed the sins of Judas
to keep them from rejoicing in the presence and peace
of the Risen Christ on Easter evening.

In the end, true peace comes only from unity with Christ.
But there can be no unity with Christ
without unity with the true teaching of the apostles and their successors.
As we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist at this Mass,
as we pray for the peace and unity that only
the sacrament of Communion with Christ and His Church can bring,
let us pray for those who threatened that unity,
whether through ignorance, or willful dissent,
or by confusing doctrine and prudential judgment,
or by scandalous behavior.
And as we approach the Lord in Holy Communion,
let us examine ourselves,
praying for forgiveness for any way we may have offended
the peace and unity of the Church.
So that we may approach our Eucharistic Lord
not with troubled hearts filled with fear
but with peaceful hearts filled with Easter Joy.

“Peace be with you.”

April 22, 2012

“You have set us free.” As we continue with our celebration of the Easter Season, I would like to call to your attention to that part of the Mass in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer when the people respond to the priest’s proclamation, “The Mystery of Faith.” There are several different responses that can be given, but the one that I have chosen to be sort of our “default” response, especially when it is sung, is this: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” There are many reasons for my choice of this response, but two key reasons are that it reminds us of the absolute importance of freedom in the Christian life and that Christ is the source of true freedom: freedom from sin and death, from enslavement to the devil and our own passions, and freedom to choose to love and serve God, to become, by Christ’s grace, the good men and women we were created to be.

Another related reason for my choice is the importance the idea of freedom plays in lives of Americans: freedom is fundamental to Christianity, but it is also fundamental to America. As Christians we remember the words of Christ, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” and the inspired words of St. Paul: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” And as Americans we cherish the unforgettable words of our Founders and our founding document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For over 235 years American Catholics have understood that the freedom won for us by Christ is reflected in the liberty recognized by the Declaration of Independence, and the various freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, especially as these “human laws” recognize and protect the underlying liberty given by our Creator to all men. Nowhere is this more evident than in the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment—the first liberty/freedom listed in the Constitution.

As you all know three months ago our President and his administration launched an unprecedented assault on this freedom—specifically on the Religious Liberty of Catholics—as new regulations required the Catholic Church, and Catholic institutions and individuals, to provide employee health insurance to cover the cost of contraception, abortifacients and sterilization. The Bishops of the United States responded swiftly, unequivocally and bravely: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”
In the subsequent weeks the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Loverde and the priests of St. Raymond responded in various ways to this attack (see for example: http://www.straymonds.org/rights/index.html). But in the last few weeks you might have detected a certain decline in our emphasis on this issue. For my own part, as we moved deeper into the season of Lent toward Easter, I intentionally tried to focus our parish more on the central mysteries of our faith: the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord, and the life changing effects this should have on each of us here at St. Raymond’s. And I think this was the case for most priests and bishops.

But it would be wrong to think that the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of Christ have little to do with the battle to defend Religious Liberty. Because the freedom won for us on the Cross is the source and underlying meaning of any Christian’s love for the freedom protected by our nation’s laws and constitution. Our nation’s laws protect our freedom to choose to become good and great human beings, and most specifically and necessarily, as we understand it, to be good and great in the eyes of God—to live morally just and upright lives.

So do not think we have abandoned or sought to deemphasize the cause of Religious Liberty, or its fundamental importance to Catholics in America! Do not think we are retreating one inch from the battle the President and his minions have initiated against Catholicism, Christianity, and religion in general. What the Bishops wrote in defiance of this “unjust law” still stands, and will stand until, by the grace of Christ and the dedicated opposition of Americans of goodwill, our nation once again unambiguously recognizes and protects its foundational liberties, especially Religious Liberty.

To this end, on April 12, 2012, the Bishops issued a comprehensive statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the current situation and laying out specific courses of action they are calling on Catholics to pursue in the coming months. (See the parish website for a link to this document: www.straymonds.org). Most notably they have called on American Catholics to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in a special way during the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, which they called a “Fortnight for Freedom”—“a great hymn of prayer for our country.” Individual dioceses and parishes will observe this in their own particular ways as a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action” emphasizing “both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.”

I look forward to this “Fortnight for Freedom” and hope to have several “events” planned for the parish, and to participate in any “events” Bishop Loverde will propose. We have, I think, already anticipated this call by our very successful and informative March 17th “Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception, and the Catholic Church.” In this regard I can now invite and encourage all of you who missed the conference to visit the parish website where you can follow the obvious links to view the videos of this conference, and to share them with your friends.

There is a great battle ahead of us—a battle that must be peaceful and imbued with charity—but a battle nevertheless. But by the grace of Christ, and in the fullness of the freedom won for us by His Cross and Resurrection, I am confident we will be victorious.

“Living Your Faith in the Public Square.” In our fight to defend Religious Liberty, Pope Benedict has reminded American Catholics: “Here …we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with …the courage to counter a reductive secularism … in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” With this in mind, and to help prepare for this “public debate” I am pleased to invite you to attend a very special talk this Thursday evening, April 26, presented by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia. General Cuccinelli’s topic is extremely timely: “Living Your Faith in the Public Square.” I strongly encourage you to take time from your busy schedules to attend this presentation by this outstanding Catholic layman.

Let us pray together: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

Et oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 8, 2012

He is risen! He is risen indeed! What a glorious day—the Lord has risen from the dead, conquering sin and death, and crushed the head of the ancient serpent. Alleluia! The world has been redeemed, salvation has been one for all mankind—if only we will accept this infinitely generous gift of Our Risen Lord Jesus. On behalf of myself, Fr. Pilon, Fr. Joby, Fr. Lovell and Fr. Daly, may I wish you all a Happy, Blessed and Holy Easter and Easter Season! May the Risen Lord shower you with His grace, and may His Blessed Mother, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. John, St. Cleopas and all the holy women and apostles who saw the risen Lord that first Easter Day keep you in their care in this Glorious Season!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

******

Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Easter 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and across the world,

Easter morning brings us news that is ancient yet ever new: Christ is risen! The echo of this event, which issued forth from Jerusalem twenty centuries ago, continues to resound in the Church, deep in whose heart lives the vibrant faith of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the faith of Mary Magdalene and the other women who first discovered the empty tomb, and the faith of Peter and the other Apostles.

Right down to our own time – even in these days of advanced communications technology – the faith of Christians is based on that same news, on the testimony of those sisters and brothers who saw firstly the stone that had been rolled away from the empty tomb and then the mysterious messengers who testified that Jesus, the Crucified, was risen. And then Jesus himself, the Lord and Master, living and tangible, appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and finally to all eleven, gathered in the Upper Room (cf. Mk 16:9-14).

The resurrection of Christ is not the fruit of speculation or mystical experience: it is an event which, while it surpasses history, nevertheless happens at a precise moment in history and leaves an indelible mark upon it. The light which dazzled the guards keeping watch over Jesus’ tomb has traversed time and space. It is a different kind of light, a divine light, that has rent asunder the darkness of death and has brought to the world the splendour of God, the splendour of Truth and Goodness.

Just as the sun’s rays in springtime cause the buds on the branches of the trees to sprout and open up, so the radiance that streams forth from Christ’s resurrection gives strength and meaning to every human hope, to every expectation, wish and plan. Hence the entire cosmos is rejoicing today, caught up in the springtime of humanity, which gives voice to creation’s silent hymn of praise. The Easter Alleluia, resounding in the Church as she makes her pilgrim way through the world, expresses the silent exultation of the universe and above all the longing of every human soul that is sincerely open to God, giving thanks to him for his infinite goodness, beauty and truth.

“In your resurrection, O Christ, let heaven and earth rejoice.” To this summons to praise, which arises today from the heart of the Church, the “heavens” respond fully: the hosts of angels, saints and blessed souls join with one voice in our exultant song. In heaven all is peace and gladness. But alas, it is not so on earth! Here, in this world of ours, the Easter alleluia still contrasts with the cries and laments that arise from so many painful situations: deprivation, hunger, disease, war, violence. Yet it was for this that Christ died and rose again! He died on account of sin, including ours today, he rose for the redemption of history, including our own. So my message today is intended for everyone, and, as a prophetic proclamation, it is intended especially for peoples and communities who are undergoing a time of suffering, that the Risen Christ may open up for them the path of freedom, justice and peace.

May the Land which was the first to be flooded by the light of the Risen One rejoice. May the splendour of Christ reach the peoples of the Middle East, so that the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence….In the countries of northern Africa and the Middle East, may all citizens, especially young people, work to promote the common good and to build a society where poverty is defeated and every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person. May help come from all sides to those fleeing conflict and to refugees from various African countries who have been obliged to leave all that is dear to them; may people of good will open their hearts to welcome them, so that the pressing needs of so many brothers and sisters will be met with a concerted response in a spirit of solidarity; and may our words of comfort and appreciation reach all those who make such generous efforts and offer an exemplary witness in this regard…

May heaven and earth rejoice at the witness of those who suffer opposition and even persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. May the proclamation of his victorious resurrection deepen their courage and trust.

Dear brothers and sisters! The risen Christ is journeying ahead of us towards the new heavens and the new earth (cf. Rev 21:1), in which we shall all finally live as one family, as sons of the same Father. He is with us until the end of time. Let us walk behind him, in this wounded world, singing Alleluia. In our hearts there is joy and sorrow, on our faces there are smiles and tears. Such is our earthly reality. But Christ is risen, he is alive and he walks with us. For this reason we sing and we walk, faithfully carrying out our task in this world with our gaze fixed on heaven.

Happy Easter to all of you!

April 1, 2012

Today we begin Holy Week. For almost 40 days we’ve been trying to grow in charity and holiness through Christ’s grace and our Lenten penances and resolutions. Most of us have met with mixed results. But we have one more week: let’s resolve to make it a truly “holy” week centered on Christ and His ineffable love.

To do this I propose we follow the ancient practice of allowing each day to be permeated with the passion of Christ. That is, to constantly be aware and thoughtful of what He was thinking, doing, saying and suffering in those last days and hours, and how all this He endured because of our sins and out of love for us.

The Church gives us multiple gifts to help us do this, in particular the unique liturgies of Holy Week. We begin today, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, as we have the blessing of the Palms, and (at several Masses) either the Procession with Palms or the Solemn entry into the church, reminding us of the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We combine this with the reading of the Passion from Mark’s Gospel, using the form of a narrative and dialogue; is there any more painful moment for each of us than when we cry out together “Crucify him”?

Each day of Holy Week then proceeds with ample opportunities for going to Mass and confession, as well as visiting churches to adore our Eucharistic Lord, to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, or, especially, to pray the Stations of the Cross.

On Holy Thursday things become even more focused and intense. No Masses are said during the day, except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral, where all the priests gather with the Bishop to celebrate the day when Christ instituted the ordained priesthood, and renew their ordination promises.

In the evening Mass is finally said in the parishes: The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood (Holy Orders). Here we find ourselves in the upper room at the Passover meal with Christ and the first priests, His apostles. We commemorate the Lord’s example of service and charity, as the priest washes the feet of certain men (here, altar boys) representing the apostles. (This also recalls the purification of the priests in the Temple during the Passover sacrifice). As Mass ends, just as the Lord led the apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, the priest leads the people in procession with the Blessed Sacrament to a place of repose (in the Parish Hall) where the faithful are invited to remain with our Eucharistic Lord as late as midnight, remembering Jesus’ words: “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray.”

The next day is Good Friday, in a certain way the holiest day of the year. The whole Church throughout the world observes a day of fasting and abstinence (see the rules below), to share a taste of the suffering and sacrifice the Lord. The day should be marked by quiet reflection, and charity, even as we go about our necessary regular routine—even at work—especially from noon to three.

Mass is not offered on Good Friday. Instead 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 (a powerful liturgy; don’t miss it, even if it means leaving work early). We begin as the priest silently enters the bare sanctuary (all decoration is removed and the tabernacle is empty) and prostrates himself before the altar, and all join him by kneeling. We then read the Passion in narrative/dialogue form, from the Gospel of John. After the readings, the priest prays ten ancient ritual intercessions, calling down our Lord’s mercy on the Church and the world.

Then the priest brings a large crucifix to the sanctuary, and the people come forward to personally venerate the Cross, by a genuflection, a kiss, or some other gesture. For the last several decades the Church in America had permission to use up to three crosses for this ritual (three crosses, three lines). With the introduction of new Roman Missal, however, the American Bishops decided to follow to the more universal practice, the practice of the Pope himself: we may now us only one cross for veneration. While this will certainly slow things down, the one cross has a powerful symbolic meaning. Besides, slowing things down is not a bad thing on this holiest of days—if you grow impatient, imagine yourself next to the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene waiting for three hours at the foot of the Cross.

(To make things go a little smoother, however, we will use a much larger cross this year, and instead of approaching the cross one at a time, we will approach two at a time: one person venerating the right arm, the other the left. Instead of three lines, there will be two).

After veneration, the priests brings the Blessed Sacrament from the sacristy and the faithful receive Holy Communion. Afterwards the Cross is left in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Stations of the Cross are prayed at 7:00 pm.

On Holy Saturday the Church continues it’s somber reflective mood. This day is not a day of celebration; in fact, the Church encourages us to voluntarily fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday.

Mass is never offered on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30pm (after sunset) Saturday officially ends and the celebration of Easter begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. We begin with the blessing of the Easter Fire and the Easter Candle outside the doors of the Church. The Easter Candle is brought into the darkened church, representing the Risen Christ, the Light of the world; and as the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet) is chanted the lights of the Church come on. This is followed by four readings from the Old Testament, four psalms, a magnificent sung Gloria, an Epistle, and the Gospel account of the Resurrection. After the homily new Catholics (from RCIA) are baptized, or received into the Church, and confirmed. The members of congregation also renew their baptismal vows. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).

This is a wondrous week, filled with grace and prayer, and accentuated by awe-inspiring liturgies. Let’s not miss this opportunity to have a truly Holy Week, that can be the beginning of a holier life for each one of us.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

March 25, 2012

Let me first begin this week’s column with an apology for missing so many parish events over the last week. I wasn’t feeling very well for a few days there and it kept me out of action. But with the help of my brother priests things continued on very well without me. A good Lenten reminder from the dear Lord on how unimportant I am in the scheme of things. (By the way, I’m fine now—thanks for your prayers).

Huge Success. Last Saturday, the 17th, the parish, along with the Couple to Couple League, sponsored the Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception and the Catholic Church. By all accounts it was a huge success as over 250 enthusiastic folks gathered to hear inspiring talks by religious liberty attorney Sam Casey, Fr. Pilon and Bob and Gerri Laird. A spirited question and answer session followed the talks. I’m very encouraged to hear that things went so well. As I’ve said before, while it’s important that the priests and bishops talk about these issues (and we will continue to do so) it’s equally, if not more, important that parishioners do the same—in their homes and workplaces, with their family, friends and co-workers. It is my sincere hope that conferences and talks like this will help you all to grow in knowledge and confidence to defend the Church’s freedom and proclaim the Church’s teaching.

Thanks to all who worked so hard to make this happen, especially on such short notice, and particularly all those on the Respect Life Committee. In that regard let me remind you that the RLC’s next speaker will be Commonwealth Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, III, who will speak on Thursday, April 26 on the topic “Living Your Faith in the Public Square.”

St. Patrick’s. Last Saturday was also the Knight’s of Columbus’ annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner. Again, over 250 parishioners and friends enjoyed good food, good music, and good fellowship. These kinds of social events are so important to the life of a vibrant Catholic parish, as opportunities to share the love and joy of Christ together, and to get to know each other better so as to live and work together as the Body of Christ in Springfield. Thanks for all who worked so hard to make the evening a success. May St. Patrick watch over you and keep you in his care.

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 mark this by covering the statues and crucifixes in the church). I want to strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra Mass and confession times, as well as opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and other pious customs. In particular I encourage you to 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, April 1) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00 pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather!). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

Also on Palm/Passion Sunday, April 1 (next Sunday) the 8:45 Mass will begin with the Solemn Procession with Palms. 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, follow the priest and servers processing outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take between 5 and 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 but would rather not process, you may simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and you will be able to hear over the speakers in the church all that takes place in the Parish Hall and in the procession. However, please do not be late for Mass! (All this assumes weather cooperates).

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 now 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; like last year, the Passion will be celebrated at 3 pm— the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening.

As your spiritual father I ask you most sincerely to consider attending all of these liturgies, that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend strongly that you attend the Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Last year when I changed the timing of this liturgy from the evening to the afternoon many kind people were concerned that few would come, “it’s a work day,” they said. But I replied: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most incredible act of love ever! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?” And they came, filling the church, to mourn, to weep, to kiss the Cross, to love and adore the Lord at this most sacred hour.

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 add what I hope will become a new tradition at St. Raymond’s: viewing of Mel Gibson’s superlative film “The Passion of the Christ” in the Parish Hall, beginning with a short talk by myself on some of the subtle but key Catholic symbols that permeate the movie. No popcorn, just a great movie to help us remember what Holy Saturday is all about. (Note: Parents should use their discretion in bringing children to this graphic movie).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

March 18, 2012

Note: this column is essentially a reprint of my column from a year ago. So many people found it helpful last year I thought I would reprint it this week.

While the Sacrament of Penance should be received regularly throughout the year it is particularly important during Lent, as we meditate on both on the sins that permeate our lives and the forgiveness Christ pours out on us from His Cross. And of course all this is at the heart of the Sacrament of Penance (or “Confession”, or “Reconciliation”).

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

In particular we need to look for mortal sins, i.e., a sin that involves 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and 3) complete consent. “Grave matter” means the act involves some very serious moral evil. While grave matter can sometimes be difficult to identify (some acts are gravely evil only in certain circumstances), but sometimes it is not. Clear examples of grave sin include (but are not limited to): violence (in word or deed) against parents, willful neglect of elderly parents (in serious need), murder, abortion, drunkenness, abandoning a spouse or children, remarriage after a divorce (without annulment), sexual activity before or outside of marriage, viewing pornography, masturbation, contraception, theft of valuable items, lying about important matters, missing Sunday or Holy Day Mass, receiving Holy Communion unworthily, perjury, cursing someone using God’s name, dabbling in occult practices or witchcraft.

Note that there are many “guides” available to help us with our examination of conscience (several are found in pamphlet form in the church).

Also, in confession you must distinguish the “kind” of mortal sin committed, i.e., you must be as clear as possible about what the sin was, although you should 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 vengeful thoughts,” or “I had lustful thoughts,” etc.

Also, you must give the number of times you committed particular mortal sins. Sometimes this can be problematic, especially when one has been away from the sacrament for a while. In that case, give the priest some clear idea of the frequency or number; for example, “at least once a month for several years,” etc.

Finally, we should also consider venial sins, especially any vices (sinful habits) we have formed, as well as any venial sins that are particularly problematic—perhaps they might lead us to mortal sins, or cause others unnecessary pain, etc.

Some folks ask me if they can take an actual written list of sins into confession. If that’s what it takes you to make a good confession, by all means do so.

Next comes going to confession. Over the years of my priesthood it’s become clear that many Catholics hesitate to go to confession simply because they’ve forgotten or never learned exactly how it’s done. So perhaps a review of details of how to go to confession might be helpful.

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. Its been [how long: 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.”

Then say: “These are my sins.”
o List by number and kind all mortal sins you have recollected in your examination of conscience.
o You may also describe the types of venial sins you have committed, and list any which are of particular concern to you.
o 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 sins, guilt or situation better. He may also give you advice or counsel as you are confessing.

The priest will then give you a “penance” to perform. (If for some reason you know that you cannot fulfill his penance you must tell him so, and he may give you another penance; this is sometimes the case with particular prayers which you do not know, or 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 confession it is polite to say, “Thank you, Father.” Leave the confessional and do your penance as soon as possible, immediately in church if you can.

I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to cut it out and take it with you to Confession. See you, or hear you, there.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
March 11, 2012

For the last 2 weeks there have been two very strange stories in the news.
One was about a woman, a law student,
who testified before Congress
lamenting the fact that the Catholic university she attended
refused to pay for her contraception.
The other was about a woman, who was devastated because
after she had introducing her lesbian lover to a priest,
that same priest refused to give her Holy Communion at Mass.

Now there are many very strange things involved in these stories,
but let’s just focus on one right now.
In particular,
while both these women insisted they should be free to conduct their lives
in exactly the way they feel like conducting them,
they also insisted that the Catholic Church not be allowed
to conduct itself in the way it believes is morally right.
Because they demand it, we have to give it,
regardless of what we believe God has commanded.

I find this stunning….

But as I’ve thought about it this week,
it became clear to me that these two events are just symptoms of a larger,
societal problem.
That is too many Americans have adopted
a corrupted understanding of our most basic value— “love.”

Put simply, over the last few decades we’ve more and more come to believe
that love is all about first and foremost about feelings.
So that if you have strong feelings of attraction toward someone,
that must mean you love them.
Or if someone makes you feel good that must mean they love you.
And on the other hand, if someone makes you feel bad,
or uncomfortable or afraid or hurt or diminished in any way,
for whatever reason
that someone not only doesn’t love you—they must “hate” you.

Of course, this way of understanding love has always been with us,
but in the past it was always dismissed as childish and detrimental
to the true good of the person and society.
Instead, a more mature and truly human understanding of love
was held as the ideal.
That ideal of love is sometimes defined as
“willing and striving for the good of the other”
–if you love someone, you want what is truly good for them,
and you do what you can to bring that good to them.
Notice, it has nothing to do with feeling good:
it’s about being good and doing good.
Good feelings are not necessarily reflective of true and objective good:
shooting heroin in your arm every night
might make you feel good for a while,
but there in no way is it truly, objectively good for you.

And yet that kind of feeling good
is what the popular culture promotes as “love.”
And so the culture finds it almost impossible to find love
in saying “no” to something that makes you feel good.
And so the Church is unloving if they deny contraception
—after all, what college or law school student
doesn’t need contraception to feel good?
And the Church is hateful if they tell a practicing lesbian
that she shouldn’t receive Holy Communion
—after all, Holy Communion makes her feel good,
it makes her feel close to Jesus,
even if she’s chosen to separate herself
from him completely by her mortal sin,
which is not good at all…

All the while the Church is only saying,
we truly love you, and we want only what’s good for you
and we’ll do only what we understand to be truly good for you,
which has very little to do with whether or not
it makes you feel good right now.

This dichotomy of these 2 meanings of love is seen nowhere more clearly
than in that which is the object of our particular reflection throughout Lent:
the suffering and crucifixion of Christ—or simply, “The Cross.”
The Cross has never made anyone feel good:
not the Blessed Mother, or St. John or St. Mary Magdalene
standing at the foot of the cross;
not the Roman soldiers, or Pontius Pilate,
and not even the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
It certainly doesn’t make you or me feel good.
And above all, it definitely did not make Jesus feel good.
And yet, it was the most truly profound expression of the Lord’s
willing our greatest good—our salvation,
and the greatest thing he could do to bring about our greatest good,
to win our salvation.

And so 2000 years ago St. Paul wrote, as we read in today’s 2nd reading:
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
Today he might say:
“Americans demand good feelings,
but Christians proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block and foolishness to Americans.”

Now, saying all this I might appear to be talking about
some nebulous culture “out there,”
or perhaps about people who embrace that culture—but still “out there.”
And I am to some extent.
But what worries me most is how that culture “out there”
has influenced us “in here.”
Because we don’t just stay “in here” in this church–we live out there,
where we are constantly surrounded by the culture and its values
—especially it’s strange notion of love.
It’s in the books we read, the movies and shows we see,
the news we watch, the lessons we learn in school,
and even in the conversations we have with friends and family.
It’s almost in the air we breathe.
You may think you avoid it,
but it’s almost impossible for it not to effect each of us in some way.

Think of how many Catholics are embarrassed by the idea
of a priest denying someone Communion.
I mean, that must make the person feel awful.
But remember what St. Paul says elsewhere:
“Whoever…eats the bread …of the Lord in an unworthy manner
will be guilty of profaning the body …of the Lord…
and eats…judgment upon himself.”
Is it truly loving to make a person feel good,
by letting them profane the Lord’s body and bring judgment
(meaning hell) on themselves?

How many would be embarrassed by our Lord in today’s Gospel:
“He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.”
Pretty embarrassing.
And really, hateful, by modern cultural standards.

And yet, Jesus didn’t hate the moneychangers,
anymore than he hated the scribes and Pharisees when he told them:
“…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

He didn’t hate them, he loved them.
But some people are more thick-headed than others
—some can be corrected by a gentle word,
and some by an intellectual argument,
But some can only be corrected by plain, harsh criticism,
and some apparently only by a whip.

As St. Paul tells us, in his letter to the Hebrews:
“‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son’
…he disciplines us for our good…
For the moment all discipline seems painful;
later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness…”

“For our good.”
Not our good feelings.

I remember once when I was a just a little boy,
I ran into to the street and almost got hit by a car.
My mama, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest woman you ever met,
grabbed my arm, spun me around and slapped me right on the bottom.
It hardly hurt at all, but she definitely got my attention.
I had no doubt she loved me,
but I also had not doubt that I would never run into the street again.

In Lent, we remember all of this,
and in effect we invite the Lord to be brutally honest with us
—to show us, in whatever way is necessary, what is truly good for us.
In effect, we ask him to call out to us like he did to Pharisees
to break through our stubbornness.
And yes, we even ask him to take a whip to us if necessary,
not to drive out the moneychangers from the temple in Jerusalem,
but to drive out the sins and vices in our souls,
sins we act out with our bodies,
which are supposed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.
And we even join him in this chastisement,
by figuratively taking a whip to ourselves, by our acts of penance.

Now, please, don’t write the bishop saying I told your to whip yourselves.
But by simple things like giving up chocolate or meat or coffee—whatever—
and by adding prayers and acts of charity to your daily life,
you remind yourself that love is not about feeling good,
but about being and doing good.
And in fact, we remember that in the end,
sin hurts us more than any whip or penance could.
because sin keeps us from being good—being the best we can be.

So, just as in love the Lord takes a whip to the moneychangers,
we ask him to take a whip to us, and we take a whip to ourselves.
But notice,
Scripture tells us “He made a whip out of cords.”
Doesn’t sound like a very formidable or whip
—it doesn’t sound like it would hurt very much.
Kind of like the verbal whip he took to the scribes and Pharisees
—words of truth, that stung, but did no real damage or injury.
And the whip he takes to us is the mildest of discipline:
his yoke is easy, his burden light.
And the whip we take to ourselves, honestly, they’re not that severe.

But then we remember another whip
—a whip he took to himself,
or rather a whip he allowed others to take to him,
as part of the penance he did for us on the way to the Cross:
what we call “the scourging at the pillar.”
History tells us that the whip wielded by his Roman guards
was not a harmless whip of cords,
but a vicious deadly instrument of torture.
The “flagellum” consisted of several thongs of leather,
with lead balls or pieces of bone at the end.
It was not designed to get merely your attention,
but to violently rip open the skin, down to the muscle and bone.

Our Lord would never take such a whip to us.
But out of love he gladly endured such a whip for us.
Again, not for a good feeling, but for our true good—our salvation.

During Lent we turn our eyes and minds and hearts to meditate
on the suffering and death of Jesus.
Not because it feels good to watch him suffer,
but because in his suffering we discover
the amazing depths of his love for us.
And in His love we discover the true meaning of love,
—that seeks not temporary good feelings,
but seeks and strives for the true good of the beloved,
no matter how painful it is to us, or to them.

As we move forward in Lent, by the grace of Christ scourged and crucified,
may our penances remind us of this love,
drive out all trace of sin from our lives,
and fix in their place a true abiding love for God and neighbor.

March 11, 2012

LENT. At 21⁄2 weeks into Lent this is just about the time many of us begin to slip a little in keeping up the penances we promised to do. That’s understandable: you’ve been doing a good job, so you think, “I deserve a break.” Much as it would have been understandable if Christ would have stopped the Roman soldier after a couple of lashes with the whip: “that’s enough I get the point.” Or maybe after sitting there a few moments with the thorns on His head, He would have taken it off, saying: “This doesn’t fit; do have something in jewel-encrusted gold?” Or maybe after walking a few hundred feet with the Cross, He would have laid it down and taken a drink from an angel, while watching St. Michael and His angels hold the Roman’s at bay. Or on the Cross, as the crowd shouted out: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” maybe He should have come down saying, “you know, you’re right, I don’t deserve this.”

Yes, but He didn’t. Instead, out of love for us and in payment for our sins, He endured excruciating suffering and death. Remember, each strike of the lash across His back, each thorn driven into His head, every ounce of that heavy cross, and every moment hanging on that Cross is one of our sins. Out of love for us. So, pick up your cross and follow Him. Out of love for Him, and as reparation for your sins, renew today your commitment to keep your penances of prayer, sacrifice and charity. Love Him as He has loved you.

Strange World. Two very strange things happened in the last week or so. First, we heard a student at a Catholic university complain before Congress that the Catholic Church, refuses to pay for contraception for her and other students. What’s wrong with this picture? They chose the school freely. They knew it was Catholic. They manage somehow to pay $64,000 in tuition etc.. But she wants the Catholic Church to provide them free contraception, something that the Church fundamentally opposes.

Second, the front page of the Washington Post gave the one-sided account of a practicing lesbian, who, while attending her mother’s funeral, introduced her lover to the priest, and then was subsequently denied Communion by that priest. I’m sure we all sympathize with her over the loss of her mother. And while there is some disagreement on some of the facts of the story, and while one may question Father’s decision, one has to ask: what was she thinking? Even if the priest was wrong to deny her Communion (depending on the clarification of disputed facts he may have been absolutely required to do so by canon law), why did she think she could live a life directly and gravely contrary to the fundamental moral teachings of the Church, and still come forward to receive our Lord in Communion? Was it ignorance or contempt?

Both of these women want to be free to conduct their lives as they see fit, while at the same time they deny the Church’s freedom to practice its faith as it deems morally necessary. And in both cases the media turns reality upside down, making it seem as if the Church is the one who has instigated the an aggressive attack against these women, instead of the Church being the one under attack.

Where is respect for our religious liberty? Where is respect for facts? But perhaps even more importantly, how did we ever get to a place where even Catholics are so ignorant or disrespectful of fundamental Catholic moral doctrines?

Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception, and the Catholic Church. With that in mind, next Saturday, March 17, St. Raymond’s will be teaming up with the Couple to Couple League (CCL) of Northern VA to cosponsor a conference addressing the president’s “contraception mandate.”

Samuel B. Casey will speak on religious liberty and the law. Mr. Casey has argued several religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, and was the founding chairman of the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization defending religious liberty in the public square and the courts. He has served as the Dean of the Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, CA, and on the board of directors of the Christian Legal Society and Advocates International, and currently serves on the Board of Visitors for the Regent University Law School. He holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a law degree (Juris Doctor) from the University of San Francisco, where he was Articles Editor of the Law Review. He is currently Managing Director & General Counsel of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life project.

Our own Fr. Mark Pilon will be explaining the Church’s teaching on contraception. Sometimes we take for granted what a treasure we have in Fr. Pilon. He is, of course, the former Chairman of Systematic Theology Department at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, and has also been an associate professor at Christendom College and its Notre Dame Graduate School (currently), and visiting professor at Catholic University of America (CUA). He has also served as a pastor (St. Ambrose, Annandale) and High School Chaplain and Vice Principal (Bishop O’Connell, Arlington). He has a B.A. from the Univ. of Detroit, an M.A. from CUA, a Sacred Theological Licentiate from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family (Rome), and a Sacred Theological Doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome). Prior to his ordination to the priesthood in 1975, he was assistant publisher and a contributing editor of Triumph Catholic Magazine. Father is the author of Magnum Mysterium: The Sacrament of Matrimony.

Finally, our own parishioners Bob and Gerri Laird will be addressing the practical response of the laity. After serving in the Army for 22 years, Bob served for many years as the Arlington Diocese’s Director for Family Life, and then as executive director of Divine Mercy Care. He has also served as assistant professor of Nuclear Engineering at the United States Military Academy (USMA). A graduate of the USMA, he and holds two Masters (Physics and Nuclear Engineering) from Penn State. He is currently president of the Cabrini Center for Catholic Health Care. Gerri was the founding director of Project Rachel and Gabriel Project and served for many years as Coordinator of Education and Training in the Office for Family Life in the Arlington Diocese. She assisted the late Rev. Richard M. Hogan in writing and editing the current CCL materials on Natural Family Planning (NFP). Bob and Gerri have taught NFP for over 28 years, and currently serve on the CCL board. They have five children and seven grandchildren, and have been married for over 41 years.

I am very excited about this conference and invite all of you, and your friends, to attend. (Caveat: Parents, the explicit nature of the talks on sexuality may not be appropriate for children). See below for more details.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
March 4, 2012

As Sacred Scripture tells us,
and Pope Benedict XVI so often reminds us,
God is love.
In fact, it is true that the only reason any of us exists is because of this love:
God loves so much
that he gives us life so that he can love us, and so we can love him.
And this love is expressed concretely in the fact that he desires to
gives each of us life in the context of a family:
a husband and wife who live and love each other,
and then, like God himself,
extend that love to by giving life and love
to their own children.
So that God holds the family up as a sign of his love:
I love you, he says, like a husband loves his wife.
And, perhaps more profoundly,
I love you and give you life,
like the best most powerful and perfect father
loves his children.

Today’s readings give us 2 examples of how he
uses the sign of the love of the family
to explain the mystery of God’s love
–and the life that springs forth as a the fruit of that love.
In the first reading we find Abraham and his family.
Abraham loves the Lord because the Lord has first loved him:
as we read elsewhere in Scriptures, God shows his love to Abraham
by making him one of the greatest fathers in history:
“I have made you the father of a multitude of nations…
I will make you exceedingly fruitful.”
And as the story in today’s text takes place,
the Lord has already begun to fulfill his promises:
he’s given him a wonderful son, his firstborn–Isaac.

And because of this mutual love between God and Abraham,
Abraham’s willing to do anything for or give anything he has to the Lord
–when God calls him he has only one response: “Here I am!”
But God doesn’t ask Abraham to give just anything
–he asks for the one thing that Abraham loves most in all the world
–he asks Abraham for the life of his beloved only Son, Isaac.

We read this passage and we’re incredulous
–this doesn’t sound like a loving God.
And if love is life giving, why does this loving God
want Abraham to take away the life of his only son?
Now, remember, the ritual sacrificing of children was not unusual
among the pagans who worshipped false gods in Abraham’s day,
so he wouldn’t have been as shocked by God’s command as we are.
But he would have been just as heartsick and confused as we would be:
he loved Isaac, his only child.
Even so, Abraham remains steadfast in his love and trust for God
–and without hesitation he takes Isaac
and obediently goes to the Mountain called “Moriah,”
as ordered, and there he prepares to sacrifice his boy.

But of course, in the end,
God loves Abraham too much to ask this sacrifice of him
–God does bring life, not death.
So when Abraham climbs the mountain out
of love for God expecting only sacrifice
— at the top of the mountain he finds the fruit of God’s love
–God gives him back the life of Isaac
and promises him the gift of the innumerable lives of his descendants.

Then we leave Mount Moriah and move to the Gospel–some 1700 years later
–and find other Mountain–Mt. Tabor
–and another father and son–God the Father and God the Son.
Peter, James and John have followed Jesus all over Palestine
–and finally up Mount Tabor
–because they love Jesus and the God he calls “Father”.
And when they get to the top of Mt. Tabor,
Jesus returns their love in a singularly beautiful gift.
He becomes physically transfigured before their eyes
–his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light
–as God the Father reveals not only his infinite love for his Son,
but also that in that love,
the Father and Son share the same glorious divine life.
A love and a life that when seen in their full glory are almost blinding
–both to the eye and to the heart–
and leave Peter almost speechless,
overwhelmed by a love that exceeds anything he’s ever known.

But the story of life giving love in today’s readings is not complete yet.
Besides the boundless love of the two fathers,
God the Father and father Abraham,
we also find the love of two sons–Isaac and Jesus.
And while at first they seem to be very different
–Isaac is to be sacrificed, while Jesus is glorified
–the reality is that both the sacrifice of Isaac
and the transfiguration of Jesus
both point toward an even greater revelation of God’s love.
As St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration tells us,
Moses and Eli’jah were talking to Jesus about
“his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
The two mountains of Moriah and Tabor point toward a third mountain:
Mt. Calvary in Jerusalem:
the mountain where the greatest revelation of God’s love
and its life giving fruit unfolds
–the mountain of the Cross.

As we carefully read the story of Isaac
we’re struck to find that a dramatic similarity between Isaac and Jesus:
they are both the first born
—the only begotten sons and beloved of their fathers,
and both silently and lovingly accept the wills of their fathers
as they both struggle up their mountains carrying the heavy wood
upon which they will be offered in sacrifice.
And as God, in his great love, spares Isaac on Mt. Moriah,
he also looks ahead 1700 years with that same love
to see Jesus on the Cross at Mt. Calvary.
Because its on Mt. Calvary that the divine Father fulfils the sacrifice
he would not ask Abraham to offer.
From the depths of his infinite love,
God the Father gives his only Son, His “beloved Son”,
and God the Son gives himself
as the one perfect sacrifice of perfect love
for the life of the whole world.

Some might ask, how could God the Father allow his own Son to be a sacrifice.
Much the same as a father might send his eldest strongest son off to war
to defend the lives of the rest of the family,
God the Father sends His Son, who volunteers,
off to lay down his life for all of us.
It pains the Father as much as it does the Son
—in a way, part of the Father dies with His son.
But they both accept this as necessary, for our salvation.
And they know that in the end this sacrifice will not end in death, but in life
—the Resurrection!

The Cross is the sign of perfect love, and Isaac on Mt. Moriah points to it.
And as we move to Mt. Tabor, the apostles are given a preview
of the fruits of that Cross of love—the glory of the Resurrection.
So that on Good Friday, even as Peter, James and John
know that Jesus has given up his human life
on the Cross of Mt. Calvary,
they do not loose hope,
because they have seen what Jesus and His Father know:
that the love of Jesus on the Cross must bear the fruit
of the glorious life promised by the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.
And so even in their grief and confusion, they await the Resurrection.

During these 40 days of Lent, out of love for our heavenly Father
and his Son our Lord, Jesus Christ,
we’re called to imitate Isaac
and join our Lord by picking up the wood of sacrifice
and walking up the mountain,
retracing in our own lives the way of the Cross,
and by our own sacrifices and prayers sharing in his sublime act of love.
But as we reach the top of the mountain on Good Friday,
the Lord stops us and again, as with Isaac,
out of love for us, makes himself the sacrifice.
And then, as with the Peter, James and John,
as we face the death of our beloved Master,
we can look at the Cross and see his love,
and know that it will bear the fruit of life of the Resurrection.
By entering into his sacrifice, we enter into his love,
and by entering into his love we share in his eternal life.

Today all this is capsulated in a most sublime way,
in the mystery of this Holy Mass.
We find ourselves, sacramentally, going up the steps of Mt. Calvary,
standing at the foot of his Cross.
We offer bread and wine, symbols of our daily sacrifices,
and Christ transforms them
into His own body and blood sacrificed on the Cross,
uniting our imperfect acts of love to his most sublime act of love.
And as we receive Him in Holy Communion,
we begin to see the fruits of that sacrificial love,
as it becomes for us truly the Bread of Life,
the life of the resurrection taking root in our lives today.

Today, as we eat the bread of life,
may we open our hearts to share in the Cross of Christ,
so that this season of Lent may bring about
an ever-deepening conversion of our hearts
to a more perfect sharing in the life and love of God our Father
and His only begotten Son, our brother, Jesus Christ.

March 4, 2012

There you go again. In last week’s column I addressed the “statistical” lie repeated over and over again by the defenders of the President’s “contraception mandate” to Catholics and other communities of faith: “98 percent of Catholic women use birth control.” I described how the “Fact Checker” of the Washington Post had debunked that claim, and then I went on to try to enhance that debunking. But, you just can’t keep a bad lie down: last week the self- proclaimed “ardent, practicing Catholic” Rep. Nancy Pelosi told a crowd at Texas A&M University: “Ninety-eight percent of women in childbearing age that are Catholic use contraception.”

There’s that lie again. But then she immediately went on to add: “So, in practice the church has not enforced this and now they want the federal government and private insurance to enforce it. It just isn’t consistent to me.” This is a very interesting statement. On the one hand, it’s another lie to say the Church wants the government or private insurance companies to “enforce” our teaching on contraception. The Church simply doesn’t want the government to force her to directly act contrary Catholic morals.

But there is a grain of truth in something she says here: “in practice the Church has not enforced this … It just isn’t consistent to me.” As I pointed out in my homily last week, for over 40 years we Catholics haven’t been at all “consistent” with practicing or preaching the Church’s doctrine on sexuality as a whole and contraception in particular. It is a fact that many Catholics have at one time or another disregarded the Church’s doctrine on these issues. And all too often priests (myself included) and bishops have been much too silent—many never speaking of it, and some even openly voicing dissent. And the same can be said of the laity as well.

And in my opinion, that is the sin the Lord is most calling us to repent this Lent: our silence, especially on the part of priests and bishops, regarding the Church’s beautiful teaching on the meaning of sexuality and how contraception directly contradicts that meaning and degrades the couple and children. So Pelosi is dead on in calling us “inconsistent,” and she is partially correct in saying that “in practice the Church has not enforced this” doctrine. I say she is “partially correct” because of the ambiguity of the term “enforce.” How do we “enforce” any moral teaching? Unlike the federal government the Church doesn’t have almost unlimited ability to enforce our teachings through fine, imprisonment, confiscation of property, etc.. It is true, we could deny certain things to Catholic individuals or institutions who opening flaunted their use, provision or support of contraception; perhaps we could deny the sacraments, including Holy Communion to these individual Catholics, or even excommunicate some of the more egregious promoters of dissent, or we could strip Catholic institutions of their Catholic status. But we can’t arrest them, or confiscate their bank accounts like the feds can. (And to be clear, no one wants them to be arrested etc.).

But to the extent Pelosi was simply trying to say that faithful Catholics have failed to forthrightly teach or aggressively defend the doctrine, or that priests and bishops have failed to adequately correct, admonish or punish even the most outspoken and notorious public dissenters, who have aggressively led their fellow Catholics astray….she is correct. And it’s because of this sin of silence that we are in the mess we are today: if all 77.7 million Catholics in American understood and embraced this teaching, no one would dare try to force us to do what the President is trying to force us to do.

And Pelosi knows of what she speaks, because she is among the most aggressive and notorious supporters of contraception—among other things—of any Catholic in public life, and with rare exception she has seldom been publicly corrected by priests or bishops, and she has never been publicly punished.

Now, I do not presume to tell bishops or priests how or if they should punish her or any other public dissenter. But I do call all Catholics, lay and cleric, to repent the sin of silence, and to boldly, clearly and charitably proclaim the truth about our beautiful and apostolic teaching. As Pope Benedict XVI told us in this year’s “Message for Lent” (see last week’s column): “We must not remain silent before evil. …[A]lways moved by love and mercy, and …genuine concern for the good of the other … it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness…”

Even so, it doesn’t matter how many Catholics in America proclaim or embrace this teaching: the President still has no right to try to “enforce” his values by coercing the Catholic Church to compromise our religious beliefs. Remember to go to www.usccb.org/conscience for updates and click “TAKE ACTION: Personalize your message to Congress now!” to tell our senators and representatives to defend our God-given and constitutionally protected right to religious liberty.

March 17th Conference. In an effort to end the silence St. Raymond’s Parish will co-sponsor a conference that will address these issues on Saturday, March 17th. See the announcement in this bulletin for more details. Please join us, and spread the word to your friends!

On a happier “note”—we need more choir members! I’m sure you all agree that our choir makes a magnificent contribution to the liturgical life of the parish. But they are always striving to enhance their efforts, and one way to do that is to add more enthusiastic voices to their numbers. Lent is an excellent time to join the choir, since there is so much beautiful Lenten and Easter music to learn and sing. And if you think this might be the thing for you, but you’re afraid or think it might be too much work, then Lent is a excellent time on that “score” too: do what God is asking, and offer the “cost” to Him as penance! Please contact our Music Director, Elizabeth Turco, at turcoe@aol.com, or call the parish office for more information.

Will I ever live this down? In my column on February 19, I inadvertently made an important typo. As has been announced at Mass the last 2 weekends, that column indicated that we abstain from “meat and milk” on Fridays of Lent. This is a mistake: we abstain only from meat, NOT milk. Now, will you pleeease stop sending me emails to point this out? I’m embarrassed enough as it is.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles