5th Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
May 6, 2012

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times:
St. John’s writings are some of the most spiritually rich and profound in Scripture.
Unfortunately, St. John is also sometimes a bit confusing,
as he is in today’s 2nd reading and Gospel:
Still, even in confusion, St. John always has an important point to make
—as he does today.

To oversimplify things, let me suggest that there are basically 2 kinds of Christians:
lets’ call the first kind the “Me-first Christian,”
In today’s 2nd reading St. John says:
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask.”
The Me-first Christian hears these words
and sees God as sort of an indulgent grandfather:
ask anything and He gives it,
do anything and he just smiles in approval.
He thinks, “as long as it feels good in my heart, I should do it,
or if it feels bad I should avoid it.”
He thinks, “only God can know everything,
so he understands, and doesn’t care even if I mess up.”

But there’s a problem with this attitude.
St. John’s focus in all of his writing is never on you or me: it’s always on Christ.
So St. John doesn’t write: “do whatever makes you happy”;
he writes: “do what pleases him”–Jesus.
He doesn’t say “do what ever you feel in your heart”;
he writes: “keep his commandments.”
St. John understands that it’s not all about how we feel, or even what we think.
All of that is useless, if it doesn’t begin and end with Jesus.
And so he reminds us that Jesus said:
“I am the vine, you are the branches”
“without me you can do nothing.”
“Remain in me, as I remain in you.”

Think about it.
Personal feelings are important:
sometimes our sensitivity to Christ helps us to discern his will.
And personal intelligence and reason are also essential to the Christian life:
no one should ever act in an unreasonable way.
But feelings and intelligence are meaningless if they aren’t at all times
based on, and moving toward one thing: the truth!

But what is “truth”?
Some people say there is no one truth, no objective truth:
there’s only subjective truth:
your truth, his truth, my truth—and none of them are the same.
If that’s the case we have a huge problem.
What if someone’s truth is that
God wants them to blow up the Twin Towers in New York
and the Pentagon in Arlington?
My friends, the road of subjective truth is the road of fools,
and leads to anarchy and ruin.

Other people say that there may be objective truth,
but there’s no way we could ever know it, so why even try?
But this is nonsense: they assume that this statement is true:
“no one can know truth.”
But how do they know that statement is true, if “no one can know truth.”

The fact is each of us needs real truth to hang on to.
What would a scientist do if he couldn’t rely on the truth of his rules and principles?
What would you or I do if we couldn’t rely on the truth of a promise, or of a love?
Life would be hopeless, and that road would lead to despair and annihilation.

Everyone searches for truth all their lives,
from the time a baby looks into his mother’s eyes,
until the time he draws his last breath in old age.
From the truth of where the floor is beneath my feet, to the truth of a mother’s love.
Either there is objective truth in the world, or life is nonsense.

And then Jesus comes along and says:
“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
And he tells us that he, the truth, never changes:
he: “is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”

This leads me to the 2nd kind of Christian: the “Jesus-first Christian”.
While the Me-first Christian begins with himself at the center of things,
with his own subjective truth, to which God good-naturedly conforms,
the Jesus-first Christian begins with Jesus a the center of things
as the one and unchanging truth,
and the Christian conforms himself to Christ.

The Jesus-first Christian believes and lives as if
Jesus really is the vine, and we are merely branches.
And He believes that the truth that he longs for flows from Christ into his branches.
So he tries to “remain in” Christ, and hears the words of St. John:
“Those who keep his commandments remain in him.”

But what “commandments” is St. John talking about?
A rich young man once asked that very same question of Jesus himself.
And Jesus admonished him, saying:
“You know the commandments…”
‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”

The Jesus-first Christian doesn’t see love as simply a feeling,
but a choice to accept the truth.
And in each of the 10 commandments he hears
the truth about who God is,
and how we can truly love him
and our neighbor.

Unlike the Me-first Christian,
the Jesus-first Christian doesn’t consider his feelings to be above the truth.
In fact, a lot of the time his feelings run completely contrary to the truth.
Sometimes he even suffers for doing what’s true, for remaining in Christ,
–like St. Paul in today’s 1st reading who we’re told:
“spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.…with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.”

So the Jesus-first Christian,
when he’s in grade school, kids make fun of him for being obedient to his parents.
When she’s in high school
she’s embarrassed because her friends mock her for “saving herself” for marriage.
When he’s at work he watches as less competent co-workers get promoted over him
because he refuses to cheat or lie or steal,

All this causes the Jesus-first Christian’s heart to ache:
“am I doing the right thing?”
“if this is the truth, why does God let me suffer?
But then he hears the words from St. John today:
“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.”

The Me-first Christian hears these words as an excuse to do as he pleases.
But the Jesus-first Christian hears them as “reassurance of his heart”
that he “belongs to the truth”;
that even when our hearts ache or doubt,
God knows everything,
from the truth of right and wrong,
to the glory that his plan with bring from our suffering.

Finally, the Jesus-first Christian begins and ends everything in the truth of Christ.
So his heart isn’t focused on what he wants,
but rather on the truth about what God wants.
So much so that when he hears the words:
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
…have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask.”
he realizes that his heart often wants things contrary to his own good,
but that God, who “knows everything,”
always knows and wants only what’s truly best for him.
And so the Jesus-first Christian prays: “thy will be done”, not “my will be done.”
So that “whatever he asks” for is only what God wants to give in the first place.

St. John’s words are often confusing
Still, whether they’re simple or complex, they are always profoundly true.
Today their complexity and profundity give us an opportunity
to consider what kind of Christian we are.
Which kind are you?
Which kind am I?
Are we Me-first Christians, or Jesus-first Christians?
Unfortunately, the truth is probably that most of us are a little of both,
because we’re all sinners.

But it doesn’t have to be that way: the truth is,
God is the master vine grower—even when a branch has fallen from the vine,
he can lift it up and graft it back on.

Still the truth is also, that if it’s not on the vine, it’s dying.
And in the end, if it’s been pruned away from the vine
“people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.”

Brothers and sisters, it’s so easy to talk about loving Jesus,
and still put ourselves 1st before him in everything.
Today, Jesus Christ, through the writings of St. John,
calls us to be truthful, and remain in Him
in everything we do.
We can choose to wither and fall to the ground to be burned,
or we can choose cling to Christ and bear fruit in his joy and glory.

“Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.”

May 6, 2012

Cuccinelli. The Thursday before last (after the deadline for last week’s column) St. Raymond’s was honored to host Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who spoke on living the Catholic life in the public square. He also gave us an insightful analysis of the liberty we enjoy as Americans, and how defending that liberty is consistent with our Catholic faith. The large crowd of about 250 responded enthusiastically. Thanks to all who came and all who made it possible.

Mother’s Day. Next Sunday is Mothers’ Day. I hope you all have great plans for your mothers. The parish will honor the Blessed Mother of all Christians, at the conclusion of the 12:15 Mass with the May Crowning. It’s a delightful little ceremony, and I encourage all to attend.

Also, as we do every year on Mothers’ Day, the second collection with be for “special parish needs.” Once again this year’s collection will go toward paying down the parish debt, which now stands at just below $2.9 million. People, especially new parishioners, are always telling me how beautiful our church is. This is an opportunity to show your appreciation to the Lord for giving you such a beautiful place to praise him. Please be generous.

Fast and Pray for Religious Liberty. During Lent I invited parishioners to abstain from meat and pray the Rosary every Wednesday, for the protection of religious liberty and for our bishops. Many of you joined in, and felt it was a helpful and important way to defend the Church and to keep the issue in the forefront. But why stop with Easter? I would like to reinstitute this Wednesday day of penance going forward for the rest of the year until Christmas. Please join me.

Social Justice and Subsidiarity. In my homily last Sunday I briefly touched on the topic of “subsidiarity.” Many of you were unfamiliar with this doctrinal principle and asked for more information. What follows is borrowed largely from an article I wrote on the subject for Catholic World Report three years ago during the health care debate. Although I leave health care as my example for simplicity’s sake, the same principles apply to things like feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc..

Although often overlooked, subsidiarity has been one of the key principles of Catholic social teaching since Pope Leo XIII wrote the foundational social doctrine encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in 1891. As Pope Pius XI wrote in 1931, it is a “most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, [and] remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy” [Quadragesimo Anno 79].

Pope John Paul II defined the “principle of subsidiarity” as: “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the [lower] of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society…” [Centisimus Annus 48]. Pope Pius XI [QA79] and Pope John XXIII [Mater et Magister 53] called such interference “a grave evil.”

For example, the family is the most basic unit of society, “a community of a lower order.” Government as “a “community of a higher order” may never interfere in the internal life of a family except in cases of real need. Similarly, a neighborhood, a locality, or state government must be left to do the things they can handle on their own without the interference of the federal government. And this applies to any organization in society, including businesses and unions.

This principle of subsidiarity is based on the fundamental dignity of the individual human person, who is created to live in personal relationship with others. This is the foundation of society, at all its graduated levels of family, neighborhood, city, etc., up to the national and even global level. The more we get away from real interpersonal relationships, the more easy it is to lose sight of the person and compromise his dignity and personal freedom.

Now some functions are clearly and naturally the province of national governments, because individuals, families, and localities couldn’t possibly perform them, e.g., defense of the nation.

Some things, however are more naturally suited for “lower orders” of the community. Think about it: Who is best suited, on a simply natural level, to give aid and care to a sick person? Those closest to that person: his family, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and the local doctor or nurse. Health care (or feeding the hungry, or sheltering the homeless) is fundamentally about persons tending to the real immediate needs of other persons. Government, especially a remote federal government, just isn’t very well suited to that task [Cf. CA 48].

Most significantly when the government, especially the federal government (“higher order”), takes over what more properly belongs to a “lower order” of the community, including businesses operating in a free market, we see an increase in impersonal and inefficient bureaucracy and decrease in personal attention, responsibility, choice, and freedom. While big businesses may include some of the same problems, these are mitigated by the “free market”: e.g., you can choose to change insurance companies, but can’t so easily choose to change to another government, especially federally.

As Pope John Paul II wrote: “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients….” [CA 48].

Pope Benedict XVI echoes this in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Subsidiarity …fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others….” [CV 57].

This does not mean that governments should never assist. But if government does step in, local and state governments should be the first to do so. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “in exceptional circumstances the state can also exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems …are not equal to the task at hand” [CA 48].

One thinks of natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, where local and state governments were absolutely overwhelmed and the federal government had to step in. Yet even in these circumstances Pope John Paul II offers a caution: “Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons … must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of state intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom” [CA 48].

As Pope Benedict XVI writes that “subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. …”[CV 57].

Still, some might say “solidarity” with the poor trumps subsidiarity. But solidarity and subsidiarity are not opposed. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI tells us, separating them leads “to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need,” [CV 58].

I hope this is helpful.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

4th Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
April 29, 2012

One of the most cherished images that Scripture gives of Jesus
is the image of the Good Shepherd.
The Shepherd who not only goes out seeking and bringing home the lost sheep,
but who, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel,
“lays down his life for his sheep.”

Of course, when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd”
he’s reminding us that he’s fulfilling God’s promise
in the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel, that
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”
God the Son himself has come as the perfectly Good Shepherd
to care for his people.

But of course, in the Old Testament God also promises,
through the prophet Jeremiah:
“And I will give you shepherds [plural] after my own heart.”
So before Christ ascended bodily into heaven
he left his sheep with shepherds to continue his work,
men close to his heart,
men he had trained and gave special grace—His apostles.
In particular he gave the role of chief shepherd to St. Peter,
as after the Resurrection he gave him the trifold command:
“feed my lambs” “tend my sheep” “feed my sheep.”

And so we find Peter in today’s first reading taking up that command.
And remembering the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
” I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Peter begins to feed Christ’s sheep
with the knowledge and understanding
of Christ’s salvific death and resurrection.

Of course, this is just the beginning of Peter’s 30 years
of shepherding Christ’s sheep.
But before he and the other apostles died, they also left new shepherds behind.
And so the promise of the one Divine Good Shepherd lives on in the Church
in every generation since then
in the office of pope, bishop and priest.

Unfortunately, as Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel,
some of those shepherds have acted like
“A hired man, who is not a shepherd…
because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”
History is full of examples of this.
We look back, to the very beginning, to Judas,
who cared more for 30 pieces of silver than for the flock.
Or to the 15th century, to men like Pope Alexander VI,
a notoriously immoral man who made his two illegitimate sons Cardinals.

Sadly, though, we don’t have to look back centuries to find bad shepherds
—in the last decade we have been all too aware
that some priests today have behaved
like wolves in shepherds clothing, preying on the lambs,
and some bishops who have been more willing to
lay down the lives of their sheep,
than to lay down their lives for their sheep.

But there’s also another kind of false shepherd we see today
who’s devastation we don’t read about in the press.
Because the primary role of the shepherds of the Church is spiritual:
the shepherd feeds his flock “with knowledge and understanding”
of the truth of Jesus Christ.
And he tends them by protecting them from lies and false teaching.
This is what Christ did, and what Peter did,
and what so many good and holy popes, bishops and priests,
including our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict,
have done for all these 20 centuries.

And yet there have always been pastors in the Church who have failed to do this.
From the infamous heretical bishops and priests of the early Church
like Nestorius and Arius,
to the false-“reforming” bishops and priests like
Thomas Cranmer and Martin Luther in the 16th century.

And today, sadly, it continues.
You know this as well as I do.
You read the papers and you travel across the country
and you can’t help but hear priests preach or write
defending such things sins
as pre-marital sex, contraception and so-called gay marriage,
or denying dogmas like the Resurrection,
the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
or even the divinity of Christ.
Sad but true.

But there’s also another, even more subtle way that shepherds fail the flock.
When we talk about the “teaching of the Church,”
what we’re normally talking about is dogma or doctrine
—things that are definitively taught by the Church
as certainly and always true.
—doctrine that, as Catholics, we cannot deny.
These are not imposed on us,
but are gifts given to us, by Christ, the Good Shepherd.

On the other hand,
not every situation in life is directly addressed by the magisterium
—or the teaching authority of the Church.
Everyday you and I make decisions
on what the right thing to do is in a particular situation.
For instance, there is no dogma that tells me:
“This is how thou shall always respond
when someone gets angry at you about a homily.”
Instead, I apply the doctrine that is clear
—things we know to be true about charity and humility,
as well as justice and fraternal correction.
And we don’t reinvent or ignore or manipulate that truth,
but once we learn it we have to apply it
as best and as honestly as we can to the particular facts at hand.

This is part of what we call “the conscience.”
And in applying our consciences we make what we call “prudential judgments”
—given the truth of Christ, taught by His Church,
we then judge what would be prudent,
or best in this situation.

Now, here’s where the problem with some shepherds come in.
Sometimes shepherds teach things that are their own prudential judgments,
the conclusion of their own consciences,
as if they were, in fact,
the doctrine of the Church.

For example: the Church clearly teaches
that direct abortion is always gravely sinful.
But on the other hand, the Church also teaches that
defending ourselves from an unjust aggressor, even killing him,
is not a sin at all.
And this right to self defense also extends to war,
and, partially, to capital punishment.
So the Church teaches that while abortion is always wrong,
some wars and even some executions
are just and necessary–depending on the facts in the case.

So, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote
less than a year before he became Pope Benedict:
“…There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion
even among Catholics
about waging war and applying the death penalty,
but not however with regard to abortion….”

The fact is that most decisions in life—large and small—
are the matter of individual consciences
—not consciences independent of the truth or doctrine,
but conscience formed and bound by the unchanging truth
taught by Christ’s Church.

Now, sometimes bishops and priests feel obliged
to offer their judgments to their flock
—and sometimes they should.
For example, how many times have I recommended you give generously
to this particular second collection or that
—many of you appreciate my opinion, but many of you ignore it.
Fine—both ways.
Sometimes even in homilies I’ll give you an opinion,
as a Father shares his personal insight with his children.
But whenever I do that, I have to be very careful to make clear,
and you have to be very careful to discern,
the difference between my opinion and advice,
and the Church’s truth and doctrine.
[On my part, I try to use words like “I think, or “it seems to me”
when I’m giving my personal judgment.]

Unfortunately, sometimes the shepherds of the Church—myself included—
either out of zeal to be helpful,
or out of self-centered self-importance,
are tempted go beyond teaching doctrine
and beyond giving simple advice
and try to override consciences,
by presenting their personal judgments as if they are doctrine.

We’ve seen this on issues like the death penalty and war,
when bishops and priests act as if you are bound
by their personal judgments.
And in the last few months we’ve seen it on several other important issues.
For example, consider the political debate over the budget,
especially providing safety nets for the poor,
and reform of entitlement programs:
some bishops and priests give the impression
that in order to be a good Catholic
you have to take a particular side in these complicated debates,
and that Catholic doctrine is absolutely on that one side.

But it is not.
Of course, the “social teaching” of the Church
does tell us that society should provide for the poor and needy,
and that governments have a role to play in that.
But it also teaches the principle called “subsidiarity”
—a principle, a doctrine,
that the popes of the 20th century repeatedly called
“unshaken and unchangeable.”
Under that principle,
Bd. Pope John XXIII taught, in his famous encyclical Mater et Magister,
and quoting Pope Pius XI:
“it is …a grave evil …
for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself
functions which can be performed efficiently
by smaller and lower societies.”1
1 “Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to a community what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too it is …a grave evil for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower societies.”

[In other words,
if the family can handle a certain responsibility,
the government should stay out;
if the local government can handle a certain responsibility,
the federal government should stay out.]
And as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2005 encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”: “The State which would provide everything,
absorbing everything into itself,
would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy…

Things like food and health care are fundamental rights,
but no one can say that the Church teaches
that this specific way of providing food or health care to the needy
is better than that way,
or that the federal government has to take the lead
instead of the state government,
or this much regulation is necessary
or that much free enterprise is too much.

All the moral principles and doctrines have got to be weighed and applied
to the facts as we individually understand them,
and then we Catholic Americans can and must
make our own free prudential judgment:
what does the Good Shepherd demand in this situation?

Let me be clear, my point is not specifically about
war or the death penalty, or the budget,
or health care or entitlement reform.
And, by the way, if you listened carefully
you’ll notice I haven’t given you my opinion on any of these issues.
What this is about is confusing Church doctrine with personal judgment,
and vice versa.
Because if we aren’t careful it will lead, as it always does, to all sorts of problems.

For example: it will inevitably lead to some people
—even some good and well-meaning Catholics—
treating all doctrine as mere opinion,
or treating some mere opinions as if they were doctrinally certain.
In the end this will both
undermine the Church’s credibility
–when bishops and priests express
conflicting opinions as if they were doctrine,
who’s right?
and it will reinforce the credibility of those
who dissent from church doctrine
–the bishops disagree, so why can’t I.

Not only that, but sometimes the bishops judgments
are wrong—even nonsensical.
How does that add to the credibility of doctrine,
if people are confused between doctrine and opinion?

And last, but not least,
how many times have good Catholics
come to me burdened with heavy feelings of guilt
just because they disagree with the mere opinion of some priest?
How many times have sheep wondered away from the flock
in confusion and distress
because some false shepherd tried to impose his opinion
as if it were dogma.

There is no clearer image of the love of Jesus for each of us
than the image of Christ the Good Shepherd.
And there is no greater sign of the Good Shepherd’s love for His Church today,
and in every generation,
than the good and faithful shepherds
Christ continues to send to tend and feed his sheep.
Today, let us thank the Good Shepherd for giving us good Pope Benedict
and all the bishops and priests who faithfully help him
in his pastoral ministry.
And let us pray for them, and for all the pastors of the Church,
that they may keep their eyes and hearts fixed on Christ,
and lay down their own lives
–lay aside their sins,
their dissenting theologies
and their personal opinions—
and be lifted up in the grace of the Risen Christ,
to feed and tend His sheep with the love and truth
of the one Good Shepherd.

April 29, 2012

Peace. The first words the Risen Christ said to His apostles on Easter were: “Peace be with you.” We read this and remember that just 3 days before, at the Last Supper Jesus had told them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of—it’s not so much an external peace (quiet, nonviolence), as it is an internal peace of the heart.

Moreover, this peace comes directly from being with the Risen Christ, as the apostles were on Easter. Even so, the fullness of the peace of Christ comes not from merely being with him, but from being one with him. And so He prayed to His Father at the Last Supper: “…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…” And this oneness, unity, or communion, is exactly what we find in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the Last Supper and that we celebrate at every Mass: the Eucharist, which we call “Holy Communion” as Christ literally enters in to our bodies: “I in them…”

But this peace of Christ, rooted in unity/communion presupposes another unity. At the Last Supper Jesus prayed first for the unity of his 12 apostles, and then for “those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” So unity with Christ and His peace also requires unity/communion with the apostles through belief in their teaching, and the teaching of their successors, the popes and bishops.

Holy Communion and the Sign of Peace. The Church reminds us of all this at every Mass, as right before Communion, the priest recalls Christ’s words from the Last Supper, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” And then speaking of the Church he prays, “graciously grant her peace and unity…” And then he says to the people, “Peace be with you,” usually inviting them to give each other a “sign of peace.”

Unfortunately, many of us have lost sight of the meaning of this sign of peace, forgetting that Jesus does give peace “as the world gives peace.” When you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand, saying, “peace be with you,” are you meaning to pray that he receive the everlasting peace that flows from Communion with Christ in the Eucharist and communion of belief in the teaching of the apostles, popes and bishops? Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?

Challenges. Today there are many challenges to our communion with Christ and the apostolic teaching. Three of these challenges have been in the news in recent days. First of all, we have outright public dissent from doctrines defined by the popes and bishops as absolutely certain. This last week, the Vatican, at the direction of Pope Benedict, called for the reform of one group that has been a bastion of such dissent for decades now, the “Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” an umbrella group composed of the leaders of most of the orders of religious sisters and nuns in the United States. While there are many good and faithful sisters in the orders that these sisters lead, the fact remains that where leaders lead, many are sure to follow. Consider that many of these leader- sisters have been in charge of the Catholic education of many of our children for the last few decades. Is it any wonder that so many Catholics reject so many infallible doctrines?

A second challenge to Church unity is not so much dissent, but simple confusion regarding doctrine. For example, the week before last a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the budget passed by the House of Representatives, saying it “fails to meet” the “moral criteria” of the bishops. The problem is, that the “moral criteria” the bishops refer to are not actual principles of doctrine, but rather the bishops’ prudential judgments (carefully considered opinion), of what the doctrine would require. In other words, it’s the clear doctrine of Christ and His Church that we must feed the hungry, but reasonable, faithful Catholics can disagree on how best and who must do that—e.g., should the government or charities (the Church?) feed them? should it be the federal or local government? do we feed them by buying them food, or finding them jobs? The Church has no defined doctrine to answer these specific policy questions—we must make prudential judgments, informed by and obedient to doctrine, but in the end we can disagree on how best to proceed specifically.

Even so, many people too easily confuse prudential judgments and definitive doctrine. But in doing that, they muddy the waters when it comes to the actual doctrinal teaching of the pope and bishops. Then people begin to think, well if I can disagree with the bishops on how to feed the poor, I can disagree with them on using contraception.

Finally, a third challenge to Church unity today is the scandal created by the sins of Catholics. My mind turns today particularly to the sins of priests who commit despicable crimes of abuse of minors. Of course, the most horrible effect of these sins is the terrible damage done to these children. “It would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” But add to that the terrible secondary effect of these sins of undermining confidence in all priests and in the moral authority of the Church in general, and we see the depth of the depravity of these sins.

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

We have been all too vividly reminded of this this last week as the pastor of Holy Spirit parish was placed on administrative leave because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor. We need to be careful to mind the Lord’s teaching not to pass rash judgment, and so pray for both the priest and the alleged victim, and that God’s justice will be done. But whether or not the allegation is true or false, can anyone deny that damage has already been done to the Church, specifically to its peace and unity?

Easter. This Easter Season should be a season of growing Christ’s peace. Let us not permit anything—whether dissent, confusion or scandalous sins, whether they be ours or other’s—to come between us and the peace and communion the Lord Jesus wants to give us, any more than the 11 apostles allowed the sins of Judas to keep them from rejoicing in the communion and peace of the Risen Christ on Easter evening. “Peace be with you.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

3rd Sunday of Easter 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Peace be with you.”

April 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Et oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 8, 2012

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

******

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and across the world,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter to all of you!

April 1, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass is not offered on Good Friday. Instead we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord (a powerful liturgy; don’t miss it, even if it means leaving work early). We begin as the priest silently enters the bare sanctuary (all decoration is removed and the tabernacle is empty) and prostrates himself before the altar, and all join him by kneeling. We then read the Passion in narrative/dialogue form, from the Gospel of John. After the readings, the priest prays ten ancient ritual intercessions, calling down our Lord’s mercy on the Church and the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

March 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

Passiontide. As Lent continues, today we enter into that part of the season called “Passiontide,” a time when we more intently and somberly focus our attention Christ’s Passion (we mark this by covering the statues and crucifixes in the church). I want to strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra Mass and confession times, as well as opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and other pious customs. In particular I encourage you to participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church, and particularly on Friday evening at 6:30, led by the priests.

I also strongly encourage you to attend next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, April 1) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00 pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather!). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

Also on Palm/Passion Sunday, April 1 (next Sunday) the 8:45 Mass will begin with the Solemn Procession with Palms. Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, follow the priest and servers processing outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take between 5 and 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email (straychrch@aol.com) the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 8:45 Mass but would rather not process, you may simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and you will be able to hear over the speakers in the church all that takes place in the Parish Hall and in the procession. However, please do not be late for Mass! (All this assumes weather cooperates).

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

March 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Guide for the Penitent in Confession.

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

After greeting the priest, you begin by making the sign of the cross saying:

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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

You say these or similar words:

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. Its been [how long: number of days, weeks, months, years] since my last confession.”

It is then helpful to reveal your “state in life”: e.g., “I am a married man.”

Then say: “These are my sins.”
o List by number and kind all mortal sins you have recollected in your examination of conscience.
o You may also describe the types of venial sins you have committed, and list any which are of particular concern to you.
o Close with these are similar words: “For these sins, and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

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

The priest will then give you a “penance” to perform. (If for some reason you know that you cannot fulfill his penance you must tell him so, and he may give you another penance; this is sometimes the case with particular prayers which you do not know, or limitations due to physical impediment).

You then make an Act of Contrition, in these or similar words:

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

Either during or immediately after your prayer the priest will say the prayer of absolution which concludes with the words (as he makes the sign of the cross):

“I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

You make the sign of the cross  and respond: Amen.

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

Priest: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”
You respond: “His mercy endures forever.”

Priest: “Go in peace.”
You respond: “Thanks be to God.”

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles