19th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 11, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

We live in one of the most powerful and most wealthy places on earth.
Some of you have a pretty good share in that power and wealth,
and many, if not most, of the rest of you are hoping to share in it,
to a greater or lesser extent.
But then we hear the voice of Jesus echo over 2000 years and say to us:
“Sell your belongings …[for] an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Now most of you probably work pretty hard to get all this stuff and power,
you’ve dedicated your life, you’ve made huge sacrifices.
But even with all that hard work,
how much of your success has been due to the “luck”
of having good parents,
or particular natural talents
or simply being in the right place at the right time?

Well, personally, as a Christian, I don’t believe it luck.
Christians believe in providence:
God has a plan, and he provides for us according to that plan.
We believe that God created us for a reason,
and gave us our parents and our talents.
And he gave us lungs to breath
and free will to choose to be lazy or to work hard.
As St. Paul says elsewhere in scripture:
“What have you that you did not receive?
….why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”
Like the servant in today’s parable,
we have all been “entrusted with much.”

Of course, seeing things this way requires “faith.”
Note, this faith is not opposed to reason.
Rather faith is the light that shines on reason,
like a lamp shining on a book to make it readable and understandable.

And when we see the world in the light of faith
we see all the things we have as gifts
most of which pass away when we leave this world.
And we see that these things we work so hard for
—money, fame, pleasure, power, whatever—
mean nothing if we forget the one who gives them in the first place.
If we love the gift more than we love the giver, God himself.

So you say, yes father all that’s true, and faith and God are important to me,
but placing them above everything else—that’s hard.
Yes it is.
But so is getting up every morning and going to work or school,
most everyday of your life.
But you do it.
Why is it so inconceivable to work as hard and make as many sacrifices
to place God in the center of your life?
Why aren’t we willing to do that now, and every day for the rest of our lives?

You say, yes, but when I go to work
I see the fruit of my work, the reward of my labor.
I get paid at the end of the week,
and over the years I rise up in my career.
It’s not that way with God—he doesn’t give me tangible results.

First of all, how many of your employers or clients
pay you up-front for the work you haven’t done yet?
Not many.
But God does.
He’s already given
every breath you take, every thought in your head, your job,
your very life itself!
Not to mention the grace that flows from his Cross and resurrection.

And how many of you work hard and wait for years to get promotions?
If you’re boss doesn’t promote you today,
or at least put the promise in writing today,
why would you risk working for years for the uncertain?
Unlike your boss or client, though,
God did put his promises of riches and promotion in writing.
It’s written down in scripture and affirmed every day
in the living breathing teaching of the Church.
We read it today in the Gospel as Jesus promises us:
“your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

You say, I have faith father,
but I ask God for things all the time,
and most of the time he doesn’t give me what I ask for.
True, but maybe you’re asking for the wrong things.
Imagine if you went into your boss’s office tomorrow
and demanded 6 month paid vacation.
Not many bosses would give in to that—in fact most bosses would fire you.

But God just sits there patiently listening to our requests for silly things,
things he knows won’t be good for us,
and then gives us what we really need.
How about a little oxygen in your lungs?
How about a job to come to tomorrow?
And how about I give you some of the really valuable stuff,
some of the treasures of heaven
How about a little charity or chastity or wisdom?

The bottom line is, we work so hard for the things of this world,
and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.

And I’m not just talking about people with jobs.

Students to the same thing.
We’re still 3 weeks away from the start of the public schools, but the kids in band and football are already having practice everyday.
And when school starts you kids will be working hard, maybe even staying up late at night working on your homework or studying for tests, all for a grade no one will remember 5 years from now.

And mothers who stay at home, especially homeschooling.
You work hard to help your kids grow into fine adults, but do you work hard at your faith?
And retired folks: you worked hard all your life building a financial nest egg so you could retire comfortably, but did you work hard to build up treasure in heaven?
Are you working hard at it now?

We work so hard for the things of this world,
and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.
And yet we expect so much from him, including all the things we already have.

So, how do we work hard at having faith?
We begin with the basics.
If you’re a surgeon you have to obey the basic rules of medicine and science,
or you’ll work hard all day long
but not only will your patients die,
but you’ll die of starvation.
And if you’re a Christian,
you begin by working hard at keeping the basic rules of faith and love.
You keep the commandments:
you worship God,
you don’t kill, steal, or lie;
you love your family, and respect the gift of sexuality.
And you follow the beatitudes,
you embrace poverty of spirit, work for peace and show mercy;
and you accept persecution for standing up for your faith in Jesus.
It’s difficult, but you have to work hard at living the life God calls you to live.

And you spend time studying.
What professional doesn’t spend years studying
before he even begins to start his career?
And who survives in his profession
if doesn’t do continuing education?
A Christian also has to study:
to read the Scriptures, the Catechism, the writings of the Popes
and other holy books.
To listen to talks by orthodox experts or holy people
—to pay attention to the homilies at Mass.
It’s a fact that most Catholics stopped really learning bout their faith
when they were 14.
Imagine if an accountant had stopped learning about numbers when he was 14…

And you have to pray.
Prayer involves talking and listening to God.
This requires patience and time,
but imagine a lawyer who doesn’t talk and listen to his client.
Prayer also involves praising and thanking God:
what laborer does his work well when he doesn’t respect it or enjoy it.
What Christian can be a good Christian if he doesn’t praise his God.

And finally, you have to open your heart and choose to accept
the grace God gives you.
What fool works hard all week
and then refuses to cash, or deposit or invest his paycheck?

Now, in every business or line of work, there’s always critical moments in time.
Maybe it’s a deadline, or an important make or break meeting.
At those moments all the hard work comes together and pays off
—either in the product or in the reward.
For Catholics, the most important moment
is the time we spend at Mass.

Sometimes people say, but Father, I don’t really get much out of Mass.
Well, maybe the problem isn’t so much what you’re not getting out of the Mass,
as it is what you’re not putting into the Mass.

Some people come to work late every day,
then waste time all day gossiping with friends,
distracting and entertaining themselves on the internet,
maybe occasionally answering the phone when it rings,
until they can manage to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the traffic.
They were at work, but they didn’t do work.
The didn’t put much into it, and they didn’t get much out of it that day,
and they aren’t going to get much out if on pay day, or promotion day.

Sounds like a lot of Catholics at Mass.

On the other hand, some people go to work early
and throw themselves into the job
—having spent the previous evening and the drive in preparing for the day.
I have a feeling that will all the money and power in this room today,
that represents a whole lot of you.

You want to get something out of Mass, first put something into Mass,
both before you get here and while you’re here.
Prepare before you come, and when you get here early
examine your conscience:
think how you’ve kept the commandments this week;
and read the scriptures and studying what the Mass is about.
And during the Mass listen to the prayers, the readings and the homily carefully.
Maybe my homilies are too long and too boring,
but there’s something, even if it’s only one sentence,
that God wants you to hear in them.

And pray: the whole Mass is one long prayer:
listen and talk to God, sing his praises,
and thank him from the bottom of your heart for all he does for you!
And finally, open yourself up to the grace he gives you so generously
in this sacrament of the Eucharist.

Every good thing we have or want is in one form or another a gift from God.
But why do we work so hard to enjoy and even abuse
the lesser gifts God gives
and spend hardly any effort to enjoy
His most profound gifts,
and the ones that last forever.
Remember:
“Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
…where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

August 10, 2013

Joy in the Midst of Trial. Sometimes it seems that everywhere we turn nowadays there’s bad and even frightening news: the War on Terror, the closing of US Embassies, unemployment, bankruptcy, furloughs, political discord, the attack on marriage and morals…I could go on and on.

Facing all of this it’s easy to become discouraged and sad. But as Christians we should avoid all discouragement, since it comes not from God but either from our own sinfulness or from the evil one himself. Rather, Christians should always live in hope, because the Lord Jesus loves us and will never abandon us or give up on us or mankind, and with Him, “all things are possible.”

Sadness, on the other hand, is a natural and sometimes even holy response to anything that is in discord with the way it ought to be, i.e., contrary to the will of God. So we should be sad when we see someone in pain, or as we see the institution of marriage under assault, or for our own personal sins.

But at the same time, even in sadness, filled with hope we should also find joy. Joy not because of the things that are going wrong, but joy in the fact that despite all of that Christ is still King of Heaven and Earth and showers His graces on us constantly, through His Church, His Word, His sacraments and countless other ways. And that even as bad as things get, our true home is in Heaven.

Moreover, we know that there is a reason for all suffering and trial in God’s plan, even if we don’t understand it right now. We remember that Christ’s suffering was the instrument of the salvation of the world, and so we remember that, in union with Christ, our own suffering is, in some way, God allowing us to work with Him to bring His plan of salvation to fulfillment in our world today. In this wondrous truth—that all we are enduring has meaning in God’s plan–we find true joy.

We see this very clearly in the lives of the great saints. For example, yesterday, August 10, we celebrated the feast of St. Lawrence the Martyr, who, as he was being burned alive on a grill over an open fire, said to his torturers: “Now you may turn me over, my body is roasted enough on this side.” Even in the midst of this great suffering his heart was filled with joy, confident that his martyrdom served some greater purpose in God’s plan.

And so we hear the words of the Lord in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.…[W]here your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

In the midst of the trials of our times, do not be afraid. And do not be discouraged. Be sad for the things that oppose the will of God, but also be filled with hope and rejoice that we are allowed to serve Him in this great hour of trial, and that He will be even closer to us now as we realize our great need for Him and His boundless love for us.

Going back to College. Even though there are still 3 full weeks until Labor Day, many of our young parishioners are already starting to head back to College (or going away for the first time as freshmen). So allow me, as pastor of both parents and students, to offer some quick advice.

Parents, you know better than I do how to be parents, but sometimes when kids go away to college some parents think their parenting is over. Wrong. Do not smother or discourage them, but do not neglect them, or your responsibilities, either. Most especially when it comes to morals, but also in making sure they receive an education consistent with the Christian values you raised them to live by. Some college kids are very mature, some are stuck in adolescence, but most are a little of both. Taking into account your own son’s/daughter’s personal level of maturity, take as active a part in their college experience as is reasonably possible or necessary. If they are very mature, respect that, but remember that they will still need your guidance from time to time. If they are still childish—and drinking, partying, etc., are signs of this childishness—do not hesitate to take a more active role. And don’t be afraid to insist that they behave like Catholics, including going to Sunday Mass. And if they close their ears and hearts to your reasonable parental guidance etc., don’t be afraid to close your parental checkbook, etc.

Students, I know how great it is to go away and spread your wings in college. It is a good, necessary and natural experience to leave the nest and become an adult. Enjoy yourself, but remember it wasn’t so long ago that people your age were expected to get a job and support themselves or their family, including their parents. Today your parents are allowing you this “time off” not to have fun, but to grow and learn. So make good use of this time to grow and to learn the skills, knowledge and wisdom you will need to function as responsible adults. Remember not to waste your time on foolish things, including ideologies or philosophies that lead you away from living as an adult Christian in a fallen world. Don’t let anything lead you away from Christ and His Catholic Church. Whatever that “anything” is—greed, lust, alcohol, drugs, self-righteous, pride, selfishness, friends, teachers, whatever. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. When you are lonely, know that He is with you and loves you; when you are overwhelmed know that He fell under the Cross 3 times, and he will lift you up and help you carry your burden; when you are tempted turn to Him in prayer; when you hear lies and half-truths remember, He is the Truth. Go to Mass, every Sunday. Go to confession at least once a month. Obey the Commandments at all times. And pray every day, throughout the day.

God bless parents and college students. Know you are in my prayers and in the prayers of the whole parish. And don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any help.

Volunteers need for CCD/Religious Education. We will soon be returning to Religious Education classes for grade school and high school. But we can’t do that if we don’t have teachers and teacher assistants. Please think and pray about contacting the RE office to volunteer for this important service to Christ and His Church.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

18th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 4, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

It seems that every day somebody somewhere has
some bad news to report about the economy.
Perhaps for some of us here economic problems may be very real and direct:
some of us may have lost jobs, or lost a raise, or even lost your home.
Right now I’m hearing from a lot of you about the difficulties the government sequester and furloughs are causing you.

But if you stop and think about it, in the big picture,
there’s never been a time in history when a country has experienced
such a tremendous level of economic prosperity as our country does today.

Many of us here look back on our youths and wonder at the changes.
Those of you who were around in the earlier part of the last century,
must sometimes shake your head in amazement,
especially from memories of the Great Depression,
or the shortages during World War II.
I can remember just over 45 years ago,
when my family was the only one on the block with a color TV
–and the only reason we had that was that we won it in the Church raffle.

We live in a very prosperous society, in fact in a very prosperous region
even our neighborhood is prosperous.
Unfortunately that also means that we live in a society, region and neighborhood
where “success” is often measured by how much money you have or make,
or how many things you have.
And where the well-being of individuals and the country as a whole
is often expressed primarily–sometimes almost exclusively–
in terms of economic prosperity:
the rise of the stock market, low unemployment,
higher salaries, home ownership.
All these things are good things
–God gives us the world to use and, as Genesis tells us, “have dominion over;”
–all of us have a right to property
and to receive recompense for our labor,
and to provide a margin of financial security
for our selves and our families.

What concerns me is not prosperity or the hard work that produces it.
What worries me is the attitude
that worldly wealth is the primary or almost exclusive measure
of the well-being of a people.
[What worries me is] that what we often consider pursuit of success or security,
is often really nothing more than the thinly veiled sin of greed.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“Take care to guard against all greed”
or as it might be better translated: “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
He goes on to tell us about a man who, by all accounts, has it made.
–who has all the material prosperity he could hope for.
Most of us would call this man clever or at least lucky–but Jesus calls him “you fool.”

All three of today’s readings remind us that nothing in this world can compare
to the wonderful riches of heaven
–riches that we can begin to enjoy even in this world.
And all three remind us
that when we place the pursuit of worldly success at the center of our hearts,
as the goal of our lives,
we soon find ourselves forcing out and ignoring the God
who gives us these things.

The attitude that things are of primary importance is the sin of greed;
and greed inevitably corrupts whatever it touches.
When we start seeing things–objects–as having the central value in our lives,
we wind up putting persons in second place.

The first person we put in second place is God,
and if we can place divine persons in second place
we can very easily place all the human persons in our lives in second place.
Eventually it gets so bad, so corrupt,
that the only way we can even begin to think of valuing persons
–to give them some sort of value in our lives–
is by treating them as things, objects.
So that they become, in effect, things that we can possess,
things valued primarily for what they do for us,
rather than persons to love and honor for who they are.

Jesus says: “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
And in today’s 2nd reading St. Paul puts some flesh on these words when he says:
“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
[sexual](1) immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another.”

When we value things more than persons, including God and neighbor,
we are not avoiding greed in all its forms.
But this attitude is also directly linked to an attitude that
people are only as good to us as the material satisfaction that we personally derive from them,
and that our actions are always justifiable if they bring us satisfaction,
even if they hurt others,
or break down the bonds that bring people together
in personal relationship.

And so you see that greed corrupts our whole lives
–into every way we deal with people.
We start seeing the poor and defenseless as
not people who deserve our love and help
but rather,
either, on the one hand,
as excess useless baggage
or, on the other hand,
as the outlet of our selfish desire to feel good about ourselves
by either seeing ourselves
seeing ourselves as well off in comparison to them,
or seeing ourselves as kind
because we give to these things that need us.

Soon we begin to see the people around us as objects
that can satisfy our personal sexual desires,
rather than appreciating the dignity and meaning of man
being created as male and female together
to be the image of God’s love and life in the world.
Then we begin to see children both as something we have a right to possess
when we want it and how we want it.
And we begin to see even the gift of speech, of words,
that should be used to bring persons together
–we see this gift as something to be manipulated as a tool in using persons
–and so we accept the lying that tears down the relationships
between us and God and in families and in society,
as normal.

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
[sexual] immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another.”

This is what happens when the individuals of society pursue the good of things
versus the good of persons
–the love of God and neighbor;
when material prosperity is used as the standard of measuring the welfare
of individuals and societies
–instead of using heaven and the love of God as the standard.

Today we come together to celebrate a sacrament which is the antitheses of greed:
a sacrament that is all about mutual giving.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means “thanksgiving,”
Christ gives himself to the Father as a sacrifice for us,
and gives himself to us.
And in this sacrament, we give ourselves to Christ,
and in Christ, give ourselves completely to the Father.

We come here to receive much more than we come here to give,
but in this mutual giving and receiving we’re drawn into the life of Christ
–the one who is truly completely without any form of greed.
And we are transformed, as we share in the life of heaven,
as we eat the Bread of angels.
And as we enter the sacred mysteries of heaven present to us in this Mass, our greed
–our focus on things and tendency to treat people as things–
is replaced by a focus on heaven in mutual giving in love between persons.
A Holy Communion with the Trinity of Divine Persons,
and through them, the whole Church, and each and every Christian.

We come together today to: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
But as we leave here today,
as we go out and enjoy our things and return to work tomorrow,
we must not return to being intent on the things of this world.
Keep your hearts set on heaven this week,
and let this sacrament we receive today
remove from your life all forms of selfishness and greed,
transforming it into a life of Holy Communion with God
and with his people.

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.”
“Avoid greed in all its forms.”

1. The translation read at Mass is very poor. The Greek word used here is porneia, which refers to sexual immorality, usually (in Scripture) specifically incest.

July 28, 2013

Pope Francis and the Crowd. As I write this (on Wednesday morning, July 24) reports from World Youth Day (July 22-29) in Brazil cause me great concern about Pope Francis’ safety. You may have heard how the Holy Father’s driver supposedly “took a wrong turn” and wound up driving into a mob—that God it was a friendly crowd, but even friendly crowds can be unsafe. Of course, Pope Francis doesn’t seem to care too much about his own safety, as he wants to be close to the people. But while I can appreciate that, I’d also like him to be able to do so for many years to come. So let’s keep him and all the young people gathered in Brazil in prayer, for their holiness, but also for their safety and wellbeing. Viva il Papa!

Hermeneutic of Continuity. Clearly Pope Francis is applying his own pastoral approach to his pontificate, especially as we see his emphasis on simplicity and the poor. In doing this, however, he has clearly not rejected the important contributions of his immediate predecessors, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. We see this in his homilies as he regularly quotes from their writings, and especially in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, which he acknowledges as being largely written by Pope Benedict.

One of the most important contributions of John Paul and Benedict , working closely together, was to provide the intellectual basis for settling the great theological confusion that had developed after Vatican II. Benedict summarized their approach by distinguishing between what he called “hermeneutic of discontinuity” and the “hermeneutic of continuity.” [hermeneutic: a principle of or key to interpretation]. He pointed out that the hermeneutic of discontinuity sees a split between the pre-Vatican II Church and the post-Vatican II Church—almost 2 different churches, with different sets of doctrines and beliefs. But the correct understanding follows the hermeneutic of continuity, which sees only one Church before and after the council. What was taught as true or considered for centuries by declarations of popes and councils to be good or helpful for the faithful, cannot be declared false or bad by subsequent generations of the Church—even by a council or a pope.

One key area where Pope Benedict particularly chose to shine the light of continuity during his pontificate was in the liturgy, reminding us that Vatican II called for a reform of the liturgy but not for a complete rupture with the form of Mass in place since before the 6th century. And so, in 2007 he recognized the right of all Catholic priests to say the old “pre-Vatican II” Mass, thus encouraging an awareness and appreciation of continuity in worship between the “Old Mass” and the New. (Note: he was expanding a practice already allowed by John Paul).

And looking at the differences between the Old Mass and the New Mass (the Mass we say here every Sunday) one of the greatest differences is the practice in the Old Mass of the priest offering Mass, as some say, with “his back to the people”—now, of course, the priest normally stands at the altar “facing the people.” But nowhere in the documents of Vatican II (or even the current instructions ) does it ever mention or require this change.

In fact, this “turning the altar around” came about because of weak scholarship, perhaps influenced by the hermeneutic of discontinuity, that concluded that the earliest practice of the Church was for the priest to say Mass facing the people. The problem is, a few years later other scholars proved that the most ancient practice of the Church was the opposite: the whole church, congregation and priest, turned together in prayer toward the East. It ties back to the practice of first century Jews in places like Rome to turn toward the temple in Jerusalem—toward the East (“ad orientem”)— when they prayed. The Christians picked up the practice but for them the East represented the rising of God the Son, the light of the world, turning in expectation to await the second coming of the Messiah. And so the priest led the people in symbolically turning and praying toward God.

Benedict wrote extensively about this “turning toward the Lord” in Holy Mass, and, following the hermeneutic of continuity, he encouraged priests to follow the ancient practice, and often did so himself.

Some people say that when the priest “faces East” it’s as if he’s turning his back on the people and excluding them from the Mass. But as Benedict/Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “[this] did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’… [I]t was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, …together …in a procession toward the Lord…’” Furthermore, when he faces the people: “the priest… becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him… Less and less is God in the picture…”

Others say we should face each other as a community gathering to eat the Eucharistic meal, like the Last Supper. But as Benedict wrote: “…in antiquity. …the head of table never took his place facing the other participants. Everyone sat or lay on the convex side of an…horseshoe-shaped table. …The communal character… emphasized…by the fact that everyone …[sat] on the same side of the table.” He continues: “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle… [I]t no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. … [the early Christians] did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ….”

Ad Orientem at St. Raymond’s. Ever since I arrived at St. Raymond’s 3 years ago many parishioners have been asking me to incorporate this more traditional approach here. I have postponed this change because I knew it would strike some of you the wrong way, and I wanted to give you a chance to get to know and trust me first.

That being said, and counting our mutual respect for each other, I am announcing that sometime in September we will begin offering Mass “ad orientem” every Sunday at the 8:45 Mass. This means that after the Prayer of the Faithful the priests will stand at the altar facing toward the high altar and tabernacle—just like you do—leading you in prayer to the Lord.

I know this will be disconcerting for some of you—discontinuity is like that. But there is a greater continuity to be remembered here. I ask you to please to be patient and open minded, and to prayerfully consider my reasons for this addition. If after a few months of adjustment it proves to be widely unpopular, I will reconsider. But remember: it’s only one Mass, and all are free to attend one of the other six Masses offered here every Sunday.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

17th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

July 28, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

I’m a huge John Wayne fan.
Now, some folks say that he wasn’t a very good actor
—that he basically played the same character in every movie.
But I tend to think that he just had a unique style,
and applied that to every role he had,
both making the role his own,
and bringing something unique and powerful to the role.

In any case the other night I saw one of his old movies, called “Island in the Sky,”
where he played his typical strong virile type,
but there was also something different.
For most of the film Wayne’s character was afraid,
and he showed it over and over again.
And in response to his fear he repeatedly offered one primary solution:
he prayed.

Sometimes we like to think we’re John Wayne
—we’re strong on our own, we don’t need any help.
But then fear brings us to our knees.
In fact, sometimes God allows some pretty terrible things to happen to us,
specifically to break through our false bravado
so we’ll be afraid and realize there’s not a thing we can do
and that only He is powerful enough to overcome the impossible
—and that we desperately need Him, and need to pray.

It’s a shame we need to go through all this just to learn this most basic truth.

The apostles learned this in a much easier way:
they saw how Jesus depended on prayer, and they wanted to imitate him.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” they asked him.

Prayer is one of the most important and necessary parts of life
—not just the Christian life, but of human life.
Because man was made to live in relationship with God and with his fellow man,
beginning with his spouse and family.
And just as you can’t have a meaningful or fruitful relationship
with your husband or wife or son or daughter if you don’t talk with them,
how can you have meaningful or fruitful relationship with God
if you don’t talk with him?
And that’s what prayer is, a conversation with God.

Without that conversation, how do really get know God?
Of course it’s essential we learn about him
through the teachings he’s revealed to His Church
—this is like reading his private letters
to his oldest and dearest friends.
But, again, that’s knowing about him, not knowing HIM as a person,
or as 3 particular unique divine persons, Father, Son and holy Spirit.

How do we know his will for us?
How do we know and realize his presence with us?
If we don’t talk with him?

And how do we recognize his power and our need for him?
How do we recognize, from the depth of our being that he is almighty God,
and we are not?
And how do we recognize his love for us, as specific individuals?
If we don’t turn to him and talk to him in our need and in our thanksgiving?

How will we be open to his grace and power if we don’t first realize
that we are sometimes powerless,
or that the power we have comes from and is increased by him alone.
And how will we be open to admitting that it was he and he alone
who came to our rescue
if we don’t first admit to him in prayer that he and he alone can save us.

Some say, but God knows everything we need, why do we have to tell him?
Because he knows, but we keep forgetting,
so we have to constantly admit to him and to ourselves—in prayer—
that whatever particular little thing we need, we first need him.

Some say, God knows I love and thank him, he doesn’t need me to tell him.
No, but we need to tell him for our sake,
we need to admit it to ourselves and to him.

Prayer is not for God’s sake, but for ours.
We need to pray—he doesn’t need our prayers.

Some say to me, like the apostles said to Jesus: “teach us to pray.”
Interestingly, in the John Wayne movie
at one point Wayne admits he doesn’t know much about praying
and so he leads his friends in the only prayer he knows:
the same prayer Jesus teaches his disciples today: the Our Father.

It is the model prayer, and has probably been prayed by every Christian
since Jesus gave it to us.
But some people are critical of prayers like this:
they say we shouldn’t memorize and repeat other people’s prayers,
we should make them up on our own so that they “come from the heart.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with making up your own prayers,
but is it true that we don’t pray prayers like the Our Father
“from the heart”?
What’s wrong with taking the words that are from the heart of Jesus himself,
or from the heart of Mary, or the Angel Gabriel, or some other saint
and making them our own.
Well thought out, and carefully chosen words,
yet words inspired by love that truly bring reason and passion together:
from brilliant minds leading holy hearts.

Why can’t we take them, think about their beauty,
and how they enlighten our dull minds and pierce our hard hearts,
and them make them our own.

After all, one of the great difficulties that people have in praying
is knowing what to say to God.
One of the beauties of these prayers written by the saints,
which the tradition calls “vocal prayers,”
is that they help us both to begin to pray
and then to learn how to pray.

So while if we just started from scratch we might say,
“okay God, gimme what I want.”
Instead Jesus teaches us the better way, with the Our Father as the model.
He says, begin by recognizing and proclaiming God’s love
and his authority by calling him “our Father.”
Then, don’t order your Father around, saying “gimme”
–that’s not how we talk to God.
Instead ask that His will be done,
and humbly request just the simplest thing, bread.

So it’s so important to learn these “vocal prayers.”
And especially to teach them to our little children,
who have a great capacity to memorize.
Because by memorizing these prayers we not only learn the words,
but we also learn how to formulate our own private spontaneous prayers.

These private prayers we “make up ourselves”
are normally grouped with a way of praying called “mental prayer”
—so we have “vocal prayers”, the prayers composed by others,
and “mental prayers,” prayers that are more spontaneous.

Also included in “mental prayer” is the prayer not simply of talking to God,
but also listening to God.
So sometimes you pray by just sitting and reading a holy book
—like the Bible, a spiritual classic or even a saint’s biography.
And in the words of that book you find and hear the Lord speaking to you,
instructing you, wooing your heart.

All this comes together in a most special way
in what we’re doing right here today: the Mass,
the great prayer of Jesus in communion with His Church,
praying to the Father.

Of course, there are many, many “vocal prayers” in the Mass
—the formal ritual prayers,
from the sign of the cross to the Confiteor and Gloria,
to the Holy, Holy and the Eucharistic prayer,
to the Agnus Dei and, of course, the Our Father.
All prayers either taken directly from the Scriptures,
or composed and prayed over the centuries by the great Catholic saints.
So that the Mass is not simply a set of formal meaningless words,
but a school of prayer with Christ and the angels and saints
as our teachers.

And as we pray these beautiful prayers, if we just engage our minds and hearts
and see how profound the words are, and make them our own,
we can and should say them not just with our lips
but with our hearts and from our hearts.
Especially when we understand where they came from
and so have a deeper sense of their meaning.
So, for example, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts,”
right before the consecration, and we remember,
these are the words the choirs of angels sing in heaven
before the throne of God
—as both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation tell us.
And then we remember that in the consecration the angels descend to earth
and we are with them before the throne of God,
come down and present on the altar.

And then, instructed by these beautiful vocal prayers
of Jesus and the angels and saints,
then in the quiet times of the Mass,
or as we listen quietly to the prayers of the priest,
we join the prayer of the Church
with our own spontaneous and mental prayers,
and talk to and listen to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
and even to the angels and saints here present.
The fullness of the prayer of the Mass.

When it comes to prayer, all of us sometimes think we’re like John Wayne
–rugged individualists who don’t need help from anyone.
But the reality is that all of us need God, and need to pray to him.

As we enter more deeply into the prayer of this Holy Mass,
let us remember we are at the school of prayer,
and let the prayers of Christ and His angels and saints
teach us how to pray, and how to make their prayers our own.
So that every prayer we say—at Mass or in private, whether vocal or mental,
may truly be a prayer from the heart,
talking to God and listening to Him.

“Lord, teach us how to pray.”

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013

(Second Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom)
June 30, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

This coming Thursday America celebrates the day in 1776
when our founders signed their names
to the Declaration of Independence,
giving birth to a new nation conceived in the radical notion that:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness.

A very simple statement, but a very profound ideal.

A few years later, having won their War of Independence,
some of those same men, along with other patriots,
came up with a plan to make that ideal of a nation become a reality.
The Constitution they gave us began with the words stating their purpose:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

Both of these foundational documents set an ambitious plan for the new nation,
that has led us to become perhaps the greatest nation
the earth has ever seen.
And at the heart of this greatness is the one key ideal
enshrined in both documents: Liberty.

Liberty—a precious word, a noble ideal, a principle to fight and die for.
But with all that what does it mean?
Does it mean freedom to do whatever you want?
Freedom from any constraints—legal, social, economic, moral or religious?
But how could a nation survive like that
—if everyone just did whatever they wanted?

But on the other hand, if we put constraints on freedom
how could we really live in liberty?

The answer is that some constraints, which seem at first to take away freedom,
actually enhance freedom.
So, while, for example, self-discipline
seems to be an act against freedom to do as you feel like,
in reality it allows you to control your irrational emotions and appetites
so that you can make a rational choice of what is best for you.
As St. Paul reminds us today:
“do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;
….For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
…these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.”

It’s the same with all social disciplines—rules, laws, norms—
that help control passions and impulses
so that “we the people” can live together in
“a more perfect Union”, with “Justice,” and “domestic Tranquility,”
and in all this “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

But all of this presupposes that we can all agree basic principles,
that we share a fundamental set of common values
that help define and even limit the laws we enact to discipline ourselves.

And from the very beginning Americans have shared a common set of values.
And they begin with two principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
First: the idea that are some “self-evident truths”
–truths that we just know, that are obvious either at first sight,
or after careful rational consideration.
And second: that one of these self-evident truths is that there is a Creator,
who gives us not only certain unalienable rights,
but also gives us all the self-evident truths
that he writes into all creation: certain natural laws.
As the Declaration calls them, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

So we begin with these 2 fundamental American values,
and from them flow all sorts of other American values
about the way they ought to be.

But nowadays, people blush or even get angry
if you talk about God ordering things.
But there it is, right in beginning—in what we celebrate today.
And without that idea that God determines what is right and wrong
—not kings or lords or congressmen or presidents or judges—
without that there never would have been an America,
and American couldn’t have grown to be the great nation it became.

And the thing is, right from the beginning it wasn’t just a vague notion of
“a supreme being” or “creator” or nameless-God
that America looked to for guidance.
It was the God that almost every American worshiped and believed in.
The God that George Washington spoke of in 1783,
when he wrote the Governors of all the States as he disbanded his Army:
“the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion,
…without an humble imitation of whose example in these things,
we can never hope to be a happy nation.”

He was speaking of Jesus Christ, and the “blessed religion” he founded,
that we call “Christianity.”

At the same time, Washington knew
that many Christians disagreed on certain tenets of the faith:
Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists
—they each had their own unique ideas about certain things.
Nevertheless, he called for us to tolerate those differences,
while at the same time recognizing and building
our United States of America
on the fundamental values we all held in common,
what he called, “the pure spirit of Christianity.”
Let’s be clear—the differences are important,
but the point is, so are the basic Christian values held in common.

Nowadays the different Christian denominations and Churches
have a lot of radical differences in their teachings, especially about morals.
But that’s not the way it was in 1776.
All Christians shared basically the same set of fundamental beliefs.
And those Christian beliefs formed the fundamental Common American values
—so that the founders could say there was a God who
created us all equal with inalienable rights,
and established certain laws of nature,
many of which were self-evident.

Unfortunately, our founding was imperfect
—because while it was founded on solid Christian principles,
it was also founded by men.
As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, No. 51,
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

So, for example,
while professing the basic Christian value “that all men are created equal,”
and holding that, as St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free,”
the founders wound up tolerating a terrible exception to that norm: slavery.
Eventually, good Christians organized the Abolitionist Movement.
But in the end the evil of slavery had to be cut out by force.

So that while this week we celebrate
the 237th anniversary of our nation’s birth on July 4th, 1776,
we also remember an event that happed
“Four score and seven years” later:
the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,
fought from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863,
which was the turning point in the War that would end slavery.
As President Lincoln would admonish his fellow Americans, north and south,
in his Gettysburg Address:
“we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain
—that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom
—and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
A nation under God, given a new birth in freedom,
but this time more closely aligned to the fundamental Christian values
“of the people”—“American values.”

Sadly, today, most Americans have lost any sense
of our foundation on Christian values.
And so the question must be asked:
can a nation founded on Christian values
survive if it casts off those Christian values?

If it replaces those Christian values with Secular Humanist values?
Values based on the false notion of liberty
as a freedom to do whatever you want.
Values that are not rooted in God, but that spring forth from human power.
Values not ordered by self-evident truths that God wrote into our very nature,
but in the dictates from relativistic laws that change from year to year?
Values that allow our passions and appetites to dominate our reason
and blind us to ignore “self-evident truths,”
and so enslave us to our base desires?

As St. Paul reminds us:
“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
How can the nation conceived in liberty survive
if the values that keep liberty from becoming chaos and slavery
are ignored or cast aside?

But this last week the Supreme Court did just that.
Setting aside the common values that made this nation possible,
the court ruled that the federal government has to recognized
state laws that allow so called “gay marriage.”

And the court didn’t just set aside those common American values.
It went out of its way to called those values unconstitutional and, in essence, evil.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy, found that
“the purpose” of federal law that recognized only heterosexual marriage
was, as he put it, “to disparage and to injure” “gay” people.
And that state laws that recognized gay marriage
“enhance the dignity and integrity of the person,”
but that “the principal purpose” of the federal law was
“to impose inequality.”

Some see “gay marriage” as a matter of equal rights
and compare it to the equal rights struggle for blacks
—including the fight against slavery.
But the thing is, America has never denied marriage to “gay people,”
as long as they do what marriage does
—form a union between members of the opposite sex.
Because that’s what Americans have always understood marriage to be,
based on what they understood as a self-evident truth,
and confirmed by their Christian values.
In the same way they believed God created us equal in dignity in rights,
Americans also believed that it was a self-evident truth that God also
clearly created men and women different in their bodies,
so that, by their nature, they could be joined together
in a union ordered toward producing and raising children.

To say that equality demands that two gay people
should be allowed to marry each other,
is like saying that equal rights demands that
fathers should be allowed to marry their daughters,
or mothers marry their sons, or one man to marry 4 women.
That’s just not what marriage is.

It’s absurd to say that what almost all Americans have believed for 2 centuries
is somehow inconsistent with the values enshrined in the Constitution.

But it seems that’s where we are at today.
How can we survive this, especially if our Christian values are replaced by values
that directly contradict those Christian values?
We did that once, with slavery, when we tried to say
that mere human laws could redefine what it means to be a human,
so that black men were somehow less than human than white men.
For four score and seven years it ate at the fiber of our nation
until it almost destroyed it.
We can’t compromise moral truths about the order that God created.
And we cannot maintain a nation that rose above all others
based on the Christian values it embraced,
if we discard those values or embrace their opposites.

When the founders guaranteed the right to Religious Liberty in the Constitution
they intended to protect the rights of all Americans
to worship and live according their own faith,
as long as they did not conflict with the basic shared values of Americans,
what Washington called the “pure spirit of Christianity.”
Not one of our founding fathers, and no American living up until 50 years ago,
would have ever dreamed that one day we’d be invoking
our constitutional right to religious liberty
in order to simply live by the moral code America was founded on.

This week we rightly thank God for the many gifts
he has bestowed upon our nation for these 237 years.
But let us also pray for the protection of our liberty religious liberty.
Not only so we can live as we are called to by Christ,
but also so that we can that we can share our Christian values
with our fellow countrymen.
So that just as those values
once purified our nation from the errors of slavery
they may, by the grace of Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel,
once again lead our nation to recognize the self-evident truths
written in nature by the God who created us all.
So that “this nation, under God…shall have a new birth of freedom.”

“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

July 7, 2013

Fortnight for Freedom. Many thanks to all of you who took part in some way in our 2 weeks of prayer, sacrifice and action for Religious Liberty. Special thanks to all who came out to the daily Holy Hours, in particular to Bob and Gerri Laird who helped coordinate and promote them. Although the Fortnight is over, the battle is not done. So, each in your own way, commit yourself to continue to fight for Religious Liberty—and the protection of Life and Marriage..

Investiture with the Brown Scapular Next Weekend. Tuesday, July 16, is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For almost 8 centuries Catholics have been showing their devotion to our Lady and placing themselves under her protection by wearing the Brown Scapular and being enrolled in the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel. For those who wish to be likewise enrolled in the Confraternity and invested with the Brown Scapular I will do so in brief ceremonies next weekend: after the 9am Mass on Saturday, July 13, and after both the 8:45 and 10:30 Mass on Sunday, July 14. There is no sign up, and no specific preparation required. You may bring your own Scapular or receive one provided by the parish.

Fourth of July. As we come to the end of this week/weekend of celebrating our Nation’s birth, I offer some quotations from the Father of our Country to remind us all of the essential role that religion (particularly “our blessed religion,” Christianity) and faith in and obedience to God have played in making America the great nation it has been for over 2 centuries:

Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of all the States on the Disbanding of the Army, June 14, 1783 (excerpt)

I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for brethren who have served in the field; and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789 (excerpt)

…[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.

In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States.

Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.

These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence…

…Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people…

I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favor the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of Government, for the security of their Union, and the advancement of their happiness; so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.

George Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 (excerpt)

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

June 30, 2013

Marriage and the Supreme Court. As I write this on Wednesday (due to bulletin deadlines) news of the Supreme Court of the United States’ (“SCOTUS”) 5-4 decision on “gay marriage” is being announced. Although there is still much to digest in this ruling, it seems clear that it is a split decision: SCOTUS has partially struck down and partially left intact the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). Specifically, it has struck down the requirement that the federal government recognize only traditional male-female marriage in applying federal law, finding that the federal government is bound to abide by the definition of marriage as determined by the particular states. This means that the federal tax dollars paid by citizens of the 38 states that reject “gay marriage” will go to support the “gay marriages” from the 12 states that allow them. For example, your tax dollars will go to pay Social Security and military survivor’s benefits to “gay surviving spouses.”

It is important to note that the court stopped short of finding a federal constitutional right to “gay marriage,” so that it left intact that part of DOMA that allows the states to not be bound by other states’ laws allowing “gay marriages.” I suppose we should be grateful that SCOTUS restrained itself in this way, but this restraint seems to indicate only a temporary reprieve. Consider that Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion and was the swing vote, wrote that:

“…no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom [a particular state], by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity… treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others….”

This seems to say that the constitution prohibits the federal government from respecting “gay marriage” less than traditional (male-female) marriage, and that to do so unconstitutionally “injures” “gays.” While it wraps itself in a “states’ rights” argument, it strikes me that this type of logic sets the stage for lower federal courts to soon discover a right to “gay marriage” in the constitution.

[In a related case SCOTUS passed the buck on the California “Proposition 8” case. Based on a technicality it said it could not rule on the case itself and so left intact the U.S. District Court’s decision that rejected the California’s voter’s decision to ban “gay marriage.” Recall that the government of the State of California had decided not to appeal the District Court’s ruling. SCOTUS ruled that the citizens’ organization that had attempted to appeal the case lacked “standing” to appeal. The net effect is that in spite of the voters’ decision, “gay marriage” is permitted in California.]

It seems we’re fighting a rear guard action as we’re slowly being beaten back from the battle. But we must keep fighting the good fight, and praying for Divine intervention. Remember, the George Washington’s army waged war for years against an overwhelmingly superior force, sustaining multiple defeats and causalities with only a handful of victories, and suffered catastrophic mutinies and desertions. But in the end, by God’s providence, we prevailed.

Fortnight for Freedom. All this, of course, takes place during the Church’s “fortnight for freedom”—two weeks of prayer, sacrifice and action to defend our religious liberty. The issue of “gay marriage” is part of this struggle, especially as SCOTUS argues that to stand against “gay marriage” is “to disparage and injure” “gay” people. Even now faithful Catholics are viciously attacked by many in the “mainstream” of American life, calling us “hateful” and “intolerant” because our stand in support of traditional/natural marriage. How long before the courts or legislatures agree, and enshrine this and other rising examples of anti-Catholicism in our laws ?

Anti-Catholicism has always been around in America, but it’s been on a steady rise for the last 5 decades, and especially in last five years as Catholic values that had once been part of our truly common American values have been thrown aside, and their moral opposites installed by our government as now “sacred.”

This anti-Catholicism came to a head in January of last year as our President and his Secretary of Health and Human Services issued regulations (as part of Obamacare) that would force Catholic business owners, charitable organizations, schools, colleges and even, in many cases, the Catholic Church itself, to provide all their employees with health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

But don’t be misled: this is not about political parties. In my homily last Sunday (available on our website) I went into detail discussing how in 1875 the Republican Party, controlling most of the federal government, tried to force Catholics to attend government-run public schools, where they could be indoctrinated with Protestant values and teachings. The party that was founded just 20 years earlier principally to fight the oppression of people of different races (slavery), went on to promote the oppression of people of different religions, i.e., Catholics.

Now, in 2012, the Democrat Party, controlling most of the federal government, is trying to force secular humanist values on Catholics. The party that not so long ago was the main party of faithful Catholics and which has lately been a champion of equal rights for all races, has now has become the champion of the oppression of faithful Catholics. But make no mistake—all too many Republics join them in this anti-Catholicism.

Through all this we find our would-be oppressors wrapping themselves in the flag, and calling for “unity.” But unity with what, and with whom? St. Paul tells us: “you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

For Catholics, when it comes down to following Christ, we can neither be Republican or Democrat, American or non-American. We should proudly waive the Stars and Stripes, but we must first truly “clothe” ourselves in the teaching of Christ and His Church.

Our bishops have called on us to defend our Religious Liberty at all times,
but especially during the ““Fortnight for Freedom,” these 2 weeks between June 21, the vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More, and July 4, the day Americans declared war to defend our God-given liberties.

In each of these last days of the Fortnight please join me in defending liberty by daily: praying the “Prayer for Religious Freedom”; praying the Rosary; praying the Novena to St. Thomas More; and offering special penances/sacrifices (including abstaining from meat on Wednesday). Most especially I ask you to join me at the remaining evening Holy Hours this week (see below) and Mass on July the 4th.

As we begin this week celebrating American Freedom, let us stand up as Americans in word and deed against those who would take away our Religious Liberty, even as we kneel down as Catholics in prayer and adoration before the God who sets us truly free.

June 23, 2013

St. Joseph and the Mass. This last week the Congregation for Divine Worship (in charge of liturgy) in the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has decreed that St. Joseph’s name will be added to Eucharistic Prayers 2, 3 and 4 right after the invocation of his spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to honor him and to invoke his intercession. Blessed Pope John XXIII had added St. Joseph to the ancient “Roman Canon” (Eucharistic Prayer 1) in 1962, but for some inexplicable reason Pope Paul VI left him out of the new Eucharistic Prayers (2, 3 and 4) he introduced after Vatican II. God bless Pope Francis for remedying this oversight! St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, Adopted Father of Jesus, Husband of Mary, pray for us!

Altar Boy Training. Every week I notice a lot of boys and young men who attend Mass every Sunday but are not altar servers. Of course, this is their choice, but some, especially junior and high school boys, feel they can’t or shouldn’t serve for some reason, e.g. perhaps they only moved to the parish recently, or they never learned how to serve with they were younger, etc. I encourage all eligible boys to please consider serving—it’s a great way to serve the Lord and to be focused at Mass. It’s never too late to learn. Training for new Altar Boys begins July 1—see the note later in this bulletin for more information.

Update on New Priest in Residence. As I mentioned last week, effective this Wednesday, June 26, we will have a new priest in residence, Fr. Paul Quang Van Nguyen. Father will be with us for a few days this month, but will be travelling most of July. He will be with us full time beginning in early August.

Workcamp. Please keep our high school youth in your prayers this week as they head off to Workcamp in the Shenandoah Valley. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe and that they have a great experience of prayer and Christian fellowship, and deepen their relationship with Christ as they serve him in the poor and underprivileged.

Fortnight for Freedom. This last Friday night, on the vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” we began our observance of the second annual Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks of pray, fasting and action dedicated to protecting our threatened Religious Liberty. We continue these efforts this week, especially with the Prayer for Religious Liberty at the end of every Mass and the Holy Hour every evening in the church. Please see the note below for more information.

What follows is an excellent article by the Archbishop of Philadelphia on a troubling development as the administration steps up its campaign against our religious liberty. [Note: The article begins with a lengthy quotation].

Religious Freedom and the Need to Wake Up
May 24th, 2013
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

“IRS officials have, of course, confessed that they inappropriately targeted conservative groups — especially those with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names — for extra scrutiny when they sought non-profit status. Allegations of abuse or harassment have since broadened to include groups conducting grassroots projects to ‘make America a better place to live,’ to promote classes about the U.S. Constitution or to raise support for Israel. However, it now appears the IRS also challenged some individuals and religious groups that, while defending key elements of their faith traditions, have criticized projects dear to the current White House, such as health-care reform, abortion rights and same-sex marriage.” Terry Mattingly, director, Washington Journalism Center; weekly column, May 22

Let’s begin this week with a simple statement of fact. America’s Catholic bishops started pressing for adequate health-care coverage for all of our nation’s people decades before the current administration took office. In the Christian tradition, basic medical care is a matter of social justice and human dignity. Even now, even with the financial and structural flaws that critics believe undermine the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the bishops continue to share the goal of real health-care reform and affordable medical care for all Americans.

But health care has now morphed into a religious liberty issue provoked entirely – and needlessly — by the current White House. Despite a few small concessions under pressure, the administration refuses to withdraw or reasonably modify a Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate that violates the moral and religious convictions of many individuals, private employers and religiously affiliated and inspired organizations.

Coupled with the White House’s refusal to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and its astonishing disregard for the unique nature of religious freedom displayed by its arguments in a 9-0 defeat in the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision, the HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion. Access to inexpensive contraception is a problem nowhere in the United States. The mandate is thus an ideological statement; the imposition of a preferential option for infertility. And if millions of Americans disagree with it on principle – too bad.

The fraud at the heart of our nation’s “reproductive rights” vocabulary runs very deep and very high. In his April 26 remarks to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the president never once used the word “abortion,” despite the ongoing Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia and despite Planned Parenthood’s massive role in the abortion industry.

Likewise, as Anthony Esolen recently noted so well, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s public statement on the conviction of abortionist Gosnell was a masterpiece of corrupt and misleading language. Gosnell was found guilty of murdering three infants, but no such mention was made anywhere in the NARAL Pro-Choice America statement.

None of this is finally surprising. Christians concerned for the rights of unborn children, as well as for their mothers, have dealt with bias in the media and dishonesty from the nation’s abortion syndicate for 40 years. But there’s a special lesson in our current situation. Anyone who thinks that our country’s neuralgic sexuality issues can somehow be worked out respectfully in the public square in the years ahead, without a parallel and vigorous defense of religious freedom, had better think again.

As Mollie Hemingway, Stephen Krason and Wayne Laugesen have all pointed out, the current IRS scandal – involving IRS targeting of “conservative” organizations – also has a religious dimension. Selective IRS pressure on religious individuals and organizations has drawn very little media attention. Nor should we expect any, any time soon, for reasons Hemingway outlines for the Intercollegiate Review. But the latest IRS ugliness is a hint of the treatment disfavored religious groups may face in the future, if we sleep through the national discussion of religious liberty now.

The day when Americans could take the Founders’ understanding of religious freedom as a given is over. We need to wake up.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013

(First Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom)
June 23, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

In 1875 Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,
James Blaine, of Maine,
introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution
that would specifically ban state governments
from providing any funding for schools run by religions.

It was part of a response to the influx of Catholic immigrants from Europe,
who, instead of sending their children to public schools,
were opening their own Catholic schools.
Blaine and many others thought this was very bad for the country, divisive,
especially in the aftermath of the devastatingly divisive Civil War
ended just 10 years before.
After defeating the moral evil of slavery that had divided the nation so long,
there was a strong desire among many to unite the country,
based on one set of common moral values.
And they thought one key to doing that was through public schools,
which would teach from one moral perspective.
Unfortunately, that one perspective wound up
reflecting not merely the morals but the religion
of the majority of Americans—Protestantism.
And that was exactly why Catholics started their own schools:
to avoid having their children indoctrinated with
the Protestantism presented in public schools.

So that Speaker Blaine’s amendment was essentially, knowingly, anti-Catholic.
It eventually failed, but it wound up inspiring a rash of amendments
to state constitutions, and eventually an large majority of states had them.
And in many of those states the amendments were pushed through
by one of the strongest openly anti-Catholic organizations of the day:
the Ku Klux Klan

What started out with an apparently good intention,
to be one united people, with one common set of moral standards,
very soon became corrupted by imposition of one religious perspective.
Or, to put it another way, unity was sought at the expense of Religious Liberty.

Today these laws still remain on the books: and they are still anti-Catholic.
While no one would argue that today’s public schools are Protestant,
they are still religious: following the religion of “secular humanism.”
A religion with an understanding of morality that is very different from Catholicism
and that teaches that Catholics are immoral because they disagree.

This secular humanism is, effectively, becoming our nation’s dominate religion
—even among many who still think of themselves Christians,
or even Catholic.
And it increasingly imposes itself on us through our government,
as it tries force us by law to adopt this new unified morality.
It’s rather strange, however:
the same folks who promote unified morality
also embrace “diversity” and “toleration”
as the greatest theological virtues, as goods in themselves.
But they make two exceptions:
there can be no diversity of thought about good and evil, right and wrong,
and no toleration of those who do not agree with that one morality.

So that now, Catholics who are faithful to Catholic morality
are tolerated only if they don’t “impose” their beliefs on others
by even simply talking about those beliefs,
much less actually defending or proposing those beliefs to others.
And Catholics who are not faithful,
–who reject Catholic morality and embrace secular humanist morality,
including its culture of death and perversion,
–these so-called “Catholics” are celebrated
as “enlightened” and “truly moral.”
One can almost see the patronizing hand of secular humanism
petting them on the head and cooing: “good little Catholics.”

This last week our president reminded us that he is a disciple of this religion,
and it’s anti-Catholicism.
Speaking to an audience of school children in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he said:
“If towns remain divided
— if Catholics have their schools and buildings,
and Protestants have theirs
— if we can’t see ourselves in one another,
if fear or resentment are allowed to harden,
that encourages division.
It discourages cooperation.”

Some say he was just encouraging cooperation
and tearing down walls that divide.
That he was talking about the 15 year old peace now in place
after decades, and really centuries, of violence
between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
If that was what he was talking about, then he’s very ignorant:
“the troubles” were always about politics, not religion or morality.
And they in no way sprang forth from Catholic schools and churches,
which had always soundly condemned the violence.

But the President’s solution to division is the same as Blaine’s and the Ku Klux Klan:
send all the children to government schools,
where the government can teach them the one right way to think.

They say it’s not anti-Catholicism—it’s just about unity.
Catholicism just happens to get in the way of unity,
because it dares to reject government approved morality.

Government approved morality, government approved values.
Think about that.
In the last month it’s been revealed that the Internal Revenue Service
has been targeting groups that have values that are different
than the leaders of our government.
That—along with news about the government’s vast intrusions on our privacy, and targeting of reporters who waiver in support of
the values of our leader—
has sent a chill down the spine of many thinking Americans.
And into the hearts of many Catholic Americans.

But none of this should be a surprise to us.
Anti-Catholicism has always been around in America.
It’s ebbed and flowed in our history,
but it’s been on a steady rise for the last 5 decades
—in our laws, our art, our entertainment and in our classrooms.
And we’ve seen it especially in last five years as values that had been
truly common American values since before our founding,
have been thrown aside, and their moral opposites installed
by our government as now “sacred” and truly moral.
From the embrace of the gay culture and lifestyle,
to the celebration of abortion as a good thing,
to the promotion of sexual promiscuity and perversion,
to the attack on the freedom of religion.
But it came to a head in January of last year
as our current president and his Secretary of Health and Human Services
—one of those “good little Catholics” I mentioned earlier—
issued regulations to implement Obamacare.
Regulations that would force
Catholic business owners,
and Catholic charitable organizations,
and Catholic schools and colleges
and even, in many cases, the Catholic Church itself,
to provide all their employees with health insurance that covers
not simply contraception, but also sterilization
and abortion-inducing drugs.
And then having the audacity
to tell Catholics they needed to change their ancient moral teachings,
and then contemptuously bragging about all this
in their election campaigns.

It’s the same old anti-Catholicism,
this time not presented with the moral authority of mainstream Protestantism,
or dressed up in the white sheets of the Klan.
But wearing the same old mantel of moral self-righteousness,
and preaching the same old Gospel of unity.
But all this is lie: it is a false idea of America, and a false of idea of good and evil.
And it is truly anti-Catholic.

And it is not a matter of politics
—it is about how we live our lives according to our faith and our morals.

And it’s not about political parties.
In 1875 Speaker of the House James Blaine
was a member of the Republican Party,
as was the vast majority of the Congress and the President.
The party that was founded just 20 years earlier principally to abolish slavery,
and took our country into civil war to end slavery.
But that party,
that fought so nobly to end the oppression of people of different races,
then went on to promote the oppression of people of different religions.

In 2012, President Barrack Obama,
his administration and so many in the Congress,
are members of the Democrat Party.
The party that not so long ago was the main party of faithful Catholics,
fighting for the average joe, and for equal rights for Catholics,
And eventually, after finally shedding its pro-slavery and racially bigoted past,
it became the champion equal rights for all races.
But now, it has followed the way of Speaker Blaine,
and become the champion of immortality
and the oppression of faithful Catholics.

And make no mistake—all too many Republics join them in this anti-Catholicism.
Again, all of them wrapping themselves in the flag, and calling for “unity.”

But unity with what? and with whom?
St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading:
“Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
…you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I love America, and I am a proud American.
But for Catholics, baptized and clothed in Christ,
when it comes down to our faith in Christ and following him,
we can neither be Republican or Democrat,
American or Un-American.
We should proudly waive the Stars and Stripes,
but we must truly “clothe” ourselves
in the teaching of Christ and His Church.

This means standing opposed
to those who demand we deny our ancient Catholic moral values
and embrace the government approved values of secular humanism.
To those who demand that we forfeit our God-given religious liberty,
the very first liberty guaranteed and protected by our Constitution.
Standing opposed to them, and standing with Jesus,
who reminds us in today’s Gospel:
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests,
and the scribes.”

It may mean we will rejected by the elders of our government
and the chief priests of our secular culture.
It may mean we will be mocked and hated;
it may even mean confiscation of our property and even imprisonment.
But as Christ goes on to remind us:
“If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

My friends, our bishops have called on us to defend our Religious Liberty
at all times,
but especially during these 2 weeks between June 21 and July 4:
this “Fortnight for Freedom” between
the Feast of St. Thomas More
—the great Catholic Martyr who was
“the King’s good servant, but God’s first,”—
and Independence Day
—when Americans declared war
to defend our God-given liberties.
Let us stand up as Americans in word and deed
against those who would oppress us,
even as we kneel down as Catholics in prayer and adoration
before the God who would set us free.
Let us waive the flag of freedom,
but let us do so as we take up our cross and follow Christ.
Let us pray for national unity,
but let us pray first for Catholic unity,
that Catholics may be truly “one in Christ.”