May 12, 2013 – The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Today: The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. This feast is normally celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation on Thursday (“Ascension Thursday,” 40 days after Easter (inclusive)), but because many Catholics are unable to attend Mass in the middle of the week our Bishop, and the Bishops of the neighboring Dioceses, thought it best to move it to Sunday so that all Catholics would be more able to celebrate this very important feast.

So why is this feast so important? Essentially it celebrates the fact that Jesus ascended, body and soul, into heaven, and now dwells in heaven as a bodily person. This reminds us that God the Son came into the world “like us in all things but sin”–of the reality of His bodily incarnation, birth, death and resurrection–and redeemed us entirely, body and soul. Moreover, it is a pledge to us of the resurrection of our bodies on the last day, and the transformation of the physical world into a glorious, “new heavens and a new earth.”

This in turn leads us to remember the dignity of the human body: your body is part of who you are, it is “you” as much as your soul is “you.” Your body is you speaking and communicating yourself to other bodily persons. As such, the body itself has meaning and speaks to others of this meaning. This is an important truth to keep in mind today, as many try to degrade the body and treat it as an accidental part of who we are—i.e., it tells us no more about who we are than, say, the clothes we wear or the cars we drive, which we can change or discard on a whim. This has become an essential part of the creed of sexual libertarianism—the body and bodily acts mean nothing but what you want them to mean, and so you can use or abuse your body and other people’s bodies any way you like: sex can mean love and commitment, or it can mean fun, domination, or degradation—whatever. This has become a key argument for those who advocate and promote all sorts of perversions, including homosexuality, “transgenderism” and “transsexualism.”

But that is contrary to common sense, the natural law (the way things clearly are designed to be) and divine revelation. And it is totally opposed to the dignity of the human body, which is so beautifully revealed to us in the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord: that the body communicates who we are and is so wonderful—so meaningful—that it is created to live in glory forever in heaven.

First Holy Communion. Yesterday the parish celebrated the First Holy Communion of 80 of our children. What a wonderful day for them and for all of us. I’m sure you all remember your First Communion—I can remember it like it was yesterday. Watching these children receive so reverently and with so much joy and faith should be an example to us all: may we hold fast, with childlike faith, to the truth that the God who took to Himself a human body still comes to us and speaks to us in that very same Body in the Eucharist. As Jesus said: “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Congratulations to our First Communicants, and may the Lord Jesus always keep their faith in and love for the Eucharist as strong and alive as it is today.

Mother’s Day. I haven’t forgotten you Moms! I’m sure you haven’t minded me placing the Lord’s feast first, or our children’s great day before you in this column—I’m “sure” because that’s how Moms are! Always placing others first—especially the Lord and children. And that’s why we love Moms, and motherhood, so much, and truly revere them. As I spoke above of the meaning and dignity of the body, motherhood is yet another expression of this meaning. What a miraculous gift and blessing—to mothers, husbands, children and to all society—is the motherly love expressed so tenderly and yet powerfully through a mother’s bodily acts: carrying a baby in her womb for 9 months, the sacrificial pangs of childbirth, nursing her baby at her breast, holding her child in her arms, kissing the scraped knee, the smile that makes everything better, or the tears of compassion or pride. Thank the Good Lord for the gift of mothers! On this special day, and every day, may the Lord shower them with graces, and may we show them the love that they deserve. And let us pray for those who have gone on before us into death: that the Lord may forgive them for their imperfections, and reward them for their great love.

Mary’s Month and the May Crowning. So many things to celebrate today! As we remember the Ascension of Our Lord in His Body, and the reception of that same Body by our children in Communion, let us also remember the Mother who gave Him that Body—His Blessed Mother, Mary. By ancient custom, the Church dedicates the month of May to renewing our devotion to and love for our Blessed Mother. So to remind us of this, and to share and encourage this devotion with our children, this afternoon (Sunday May 12), immediately after the 12:15 Mass, we will celebrate the “May Crowning”—the symbolic crowning of the statue of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven and Earth, and Queen of our hearts. Let this month be a time of growing closer to Our Lady, especially through daily prayer to her— particularly the daily Rosary.

Bad News. I hate to end this column on a down beat, but I hear that a new and big abortion clinic is planning to open in Fairfax City near Paul VI High School. As St. Peter reminds us: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” We must do whatever we can to fight this evil from coming to fruition. Pray, and see the “YOUR Help is urgently needed” paragraph on the next page for other actions to take.

Good News: Pentecost. So I won’t close on a down beat, but with a reminder that next week is Pentecost, recalling the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Mary and the first disciples. Prepare yourself for this great feast—the “Birthday of the Church”—open your heart to the gifts and inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 5, 2013

Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In the next few weeks our parish will experience several sacraments in a particularly special way: on May 12, next Saturday, our second graders will receive First Holy Communion; on May 22 our eighth graders will receive Confirmation; and on June 8 parishioner Deacon Nick Barnes will receive Holy Orders as he is ordained a priest. (Remember to pray for all them as they prepare). And then there are Baptisms every Sunday, Confessions throughout every week, and Marriages throughout the year. But there is one sacrament most of us tend to forget or know very little about: the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. So let’s review a few things.

Scripture. We see the Sacrament of Anointing clearly referred to in Mark 6: 7, 12, 13: “And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out …And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.”

This continues to be the apostolic practice, as we read in James 5: 14-15: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

Note: the Greek word “presbyteroi,” translated here as “elders,” may also be translated as “presbyters,” and is understood to refer to “priests,” so that the sacramental ritual translates this, “let them send for the priests.”

Effects/Purpose of the Sacrament. The primary effect and purpose of the sacrament of Anointing is spiritual healing, which might, in God’s will and plan, involve or require physically healing as well. The Catechism (1532) summarizes the specific effects of the grace of sacrament:
— uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church;
— strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner ones sufferings;
— forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to receive the sacrament of Penance;
— restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
— the preparation for passing over to eternal life.

Who may receive the sacrament. Contrary to a popular notion, Anointing is not reserved to those who are on their death bed. On the other hand, it is also not given to those who have just any ailment or weakness, no matter how painful. Rather, it is reserved for those who suffer from an ailment that causes them to “begin to be in danger of death.” In other words, generally speaking, if someone has a something like a bad cold or flu, or muscular back pains, they are not in “danger of death” and so may not be anointed. However, if someone is in the early stages of cancer or heart disease, or any other serious illness that truly does present a real danger of death, even if only the “begin[ning]” thereof, these persons may be anointed.

We should also note that the Sacrament may be given to someone who “begins to be in danger of death” due simply to “old age.” We should be prudent here, neither oversimplifying nor over-restricting the definition of “danger of death.” A healthy 80 year old who jogs 2 miles a day would be treated differently than his twin brother who is weakened from past ailments.

Also, Anointing can be repeated if the person gets worse or has a relapse of the same illness, or comes down with another ailment.

It is also important to remember that the sacrament may only be received by a Catholic who has “reached the use of reason,” i.e., to adults and children over the age of about 7 years old. Some are surprised, even angered, when they hear that a very young child cannot be anointed. But we must remember that the primary purpose of the sacrament is the spiritual well-being of the person. Before the age of reason, a child cannot be guilty of sin (he can commit sinful acts, but he is not culpable/guilty), and so, after Baptism, is in no need of spiritual healing and the Anointing. Many argue, “but we want the physical healing of the sacrament.” This is understandable, but it is not in God’s plan for the sacrament, so the act of anointing would be ineffective even if given. But remember, if it is in God’s will to give spiritual healing, He will bring that about in His own way and time.

Finally, other important restrictions should also be noted. Anointing can only be given to those who: are alive; at least implicitly asked for it when they were able to; and do not “obstinately persist in a manifestly grave sin.”

Now, the Church and her priests never want to deny the sacraments to those who may receive them. So we follow the rule: “If there is any doubt as to whether the sick person has reached the age of reason, or is dangerously ill, or is dead, this sacrament is to be administered” [Can. 1005]. So, for example:
— priests will often anoint a body that appears dead, since there is doubt as to exactly when death occurs;
–priests will sometimes anoint a 5 or 6 year old if there is doubt as to their use of reason;
–some argue that a person with a non-deadly ailment may be anointed before going into surgery with general anesthesia because the anesthesia endangers their lives (this is a dubious argument, but remains unaddressed by the magisterium, so it is often followed in practice).

The Sacrament of Anointing is a great source of grace for the sick. While it should not be abused or taken for granted, it should also not be ignored or neglected. So, if you or someone you take care of is in need of the sacrament, please don’t hesitate to follow the instruction of St. James: “Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 28, 2013

Boy Scouts of America and “Gays.” After months of taking criticism for proposing to admit active homosexuals as adult scouting leaders, volunteers, and members (boys), last week BSA announced they are changing their proposal (which still must be approved at their National Annual Meeting next month). The new proposal drops the change regarding adult homosexuals, but still provides that: “No youth may be denied membership …on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” While this at first seems like a victory for Christians, it isn’t really.

What has happened here is the typical strategy that leftist-activists have been using for decades to change traditional institutions. First, they make outrageous and sweeping demands to change the institution in a way that radically contradicts its values. Then, they argue that any opposition to change is fueled by bigotry and hate, appealing to and manipulating the traditional values (charity and kindness) of the institution’s members and society at large. And finally, they pretend to grant a major concession, backing away from their most radical demands, but leaving one important change on the table. The activists thereby paint themselves as “reasonable” and “willing to compromise,” and the institution’s members feel relieved and obliged to go along—and even feel like “winners.” But when you lose something important to you, that has always been unquestionably yours, you are, by definition, not “winners,” but “losers.”

The current policy of BSA is this:

“While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of …members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”

That is completely just, charitable and kind. But the new policy, if approved in May, would be a statement that “gay is okay,” and would severely limit (if not completely prohibit) chartering organizations, like St. Raymond’s, from passing on its moral teachings about same-sex attraction and homosexuals.

In short, this new proposal does not change my previously announced decision: if it is adopted by BSA next month, St. Raymond’s association with BSA will end (effective in September). I continue to pray and hope that this does not happen. But if it does, I will give all the support I can to forming a new scouting group, independent of BSA, that will defend Christian values.

Dominican Nuns. On a much happier note…On Sunday, April 14, a small group of St. Raymond parishioners joined me at a dinner to raise awareness of the work of St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden, VA, and to help raise funds in its support. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of dinners, but I go to quite a few to support worthy causes. But this dinner was different. First, because I feel very close to the Monastery and its work (I am one of its two confessors); and second, because no one from the Monastery was at the dinner! That’s because the Monastery is the home of 14 cloistered Dominican Nuns, whose work is to pursue a hidden life of worship, silence, prayer, study and penance. Like the Franciscan Poor Clares in Alexandria, these sisters never leave the enclosure of the convent except for absolutely essential reasons. Their life is totally dedicated to Christ.

While some say this form of life is a “waste of life,” the opposite is true. These sisters’ life and work embodies the greatest commandment: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” Moreover, their community life together and their prayers for us embody the second greatest: “love your neighbor as yourself.” (They constantly assure me of their intercession for our parish, especially invoking our Dominican patron St. Raymond). And by their total pursuit of Christ and His love they set a striking example for all of us: while we do not all belong in cloistered monasteries, they remind us, in a radical way, to answer the call to love God and our neighbor in our own daily lives in the world.

I invite you to consider a visit to their mountain top Monastery in Linden (out near Front Royal), and to support the good sisters by your prayers. And if you are so inclined, you might consider supporting them financially. See their website: http://www.lindenopnuns.org/.

By the way, St. Raymond’s donated $5,000 at the dinner, and the dear Sisters personally asked me to pass on their deep gratitude to all of you.

Angelus Academy. St. Raymond’s has had a close relationship with Angelus Academy for over a decade. Before our church was dedicated in December of 1996, a lot of parish activities took place at Angelus’ facility, including daily Mass and weekly Religious Education (CCD). That close relationship was altered by the opening of the church (with the parish hall and classrooms) but it has not diminished the spirit of mutual support and cooperation between us: e.g., around 40% of Angelus’s students are our parishioners, the parish continues to lend it financial support, I am their chaplain, and Fr. Kenna and I offer Mass for the students once a week.

While I am supportive of all our children in whatever school they attend—public, private or Catholic—I especially recommend that children attend good Catholic schools, and particularly that parents consider Angelus Academy. Next Sunday, May 5, Angelus will be sponsoring our “Donut Sunday” in the parish hall (after all morning Masses) and representatives of the school will be on hand to share information and answer questions. Please join us.

Thanks. Marlene and Junior DiCola, long-time stalwarts of the parish, active in Legion of Mary, Adoration and many other activities. In particular, they have been responsible for coordinating the parish’s efforts of accepting (and sorting and delivering) donations of clothing to the House of Mercy in Manassas every week for the last 7 years. Marlene and Junior are stepping down from that responsibility now due to health concerns. But they will remain active in the parish. We thank them for their good and holy work—and especially for their holy example to us.

Remember: committed volunteering in the parish, done out of love for Christ and our neighbor, can be a source of great spiritual growth. What are you volunteering for?

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 21, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 7, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Easter Sunday 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter 2013

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

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

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

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis):

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Palm Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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

March 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare) 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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