Christmas 2011

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

It was cold, rainy and muddy day in the winter of 1914,
when German and Allied forces faced each other
in the trenches of Belgium and France.
But as midnight approached, and the snow began to fall,
the Allied soldiers heard a strange but familiar sound
—the enemy soldiers were singing Stille Nacht: Silent Night.
Soon reports were widespread of German and Allied soldiers
coming out of their trenches to exchange Christmas greetings.
The spontaneous and unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 had begun.

What is it about this day that has this kind of effect on Christians
—even nominal, marginal or merely cultural Christians?
Why do wars pause?
Why are estranged families reconciled?
Why do strangers greet each other with warmth and good cheer?
More amazing still:
why are drivers kind to each other as they leave the church parking lot?

It is surely a day like no other day of the year.

And it’s been that way since that very first Christmas day, 2011 years ago.
A day that was so radically unlike any previous day
that it astonished even the angels in heaven.
The angels had seen so many amazing and wondrous things
almighty God had done.
They saw Him create the world out of nothing, and man in his very own image.

They had, literally, seen it all.
Still, they had seen nothing like this.

Majesty became humility.
Omnipotence became vulnerability.
Eternity entered time.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a baby boy.

How could this be, the angels asked?
And yet they knew the answer, and told us:
“nothing is impossible for God.”

And so, completely stunned, but with irrepressible joy,
they spontaneously broke into a jubilant song of praise to God,
As St. Luke tells us:
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host …
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

They were completely overwhelmed to see how far
the love of God would go to give his love
to sinful man.

For the angels knew man well.
They had seen how in the beginning Adam and Eve
had thrown away their unique friendship with God,
and how mankind had suffered from that loss ever since.
How, created in God’s image, man yearned and longed
to love and to be loved completely and perfectly.
And yet the angels also saw how men, in their weakness,
would be continually
confounded by God’s vastness and omnipotence;
confused by his incomprehensible wisdom;
and intimidated by his seemingly impossible call
to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
In short, the angels knew
that as much as man longed for God’s love,
man could never find the way to vanquish his fear of God.

But God had always known the way.
And he had told it to the angels,
but even they couldn’t completely understood it.
But now—now they understood it, because they saw it.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
“God chose a new way.
He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.
Now – this God …says to us
– ‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.’ ”

Amazing.
And so the angels proclaim to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid…”
They say:
“For today …a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

Think about that: God has been “born,” become a baby, “for you.”
Not because it pleased him, or would add to his glory.
But simply “for you.”

Christmas is about God coming to us for us,
so that nothing would keep us from sharing in his love.
How often do we think about God as if he were so far away from us.
That he’s so much greater than us, he has no time for us.
And so we excuse ourselves from making time for him.
But at the first Christmas he said, in effect:
“Look at me—I have stripped myself of the glory of heaven,
I made myself weak, so that you could know me and love me.
So that I could to enter into a personal relationship of true love with you.”

Sometimes people say that Catholicism fails to emphasize this critical truth,
of Christ’s invitation to have a personal relationship with him.
Some say we emphasize God’s power and majesty too much,
especially in our rituals, like the Mass,
at the cost of obscuring the importance
of having a personal relationship with Him.

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I have never, in all my life,
felt that way about the Catholic faith.
Because the Church sees God and man as the angels do—just as they truly are.

The truth is that God is Almighty,
and majestically sits on His throne in heaven
while angels adore him and sing his praise,
and not only did he create this vastly complex universal
but continuously sustains it and orders it according to His will.
And the truth is we are merely lowly, sinful creatures.
And yet, the truth is also that
that all-powerful God, came into the world as a tiny baby,
all so he could be our brother, our friend, our most intimate companion.

We can never forget this dichotomy.
If we do, we reduce this tremendous gift to almost nothing
—just another guy who wants to hang out.
So what?

But that is not Christ, and that is not Christmas.
And that is not what makes
enemy armies lay down their guns,
or feuding families lay aside bitterness,
or sinners lay aside their sins.
Yet all this can happen when like the angels,
we see the whole picture:
He is a baby, so we can’t help but love him,
but he his God so we can’t help but adore and praise him
for his incredible generosity.

And where do we see this more wonderfully than at Holy Mass?
Where do we encounter more profoundly his invitation
to enter a personal relationship with the eternal God?
It is no mere coincidence that we call this day “Christmas,” or “Christ-Mass.”

We begin Mass by recognizing our sins
—humbling ourselves before God has he humbled himself before us.
We then join in the very song of the angels on Christmas morning,
stunned with wonder at God’s offer of reconciliation and friendship:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Then, like the shepherds listening to the proclamation of the angels,
we listen attentively to the readers and priest as they,
“bring [us] good news of a great joy.”

Then we all stand and profess our faith.
We begin by acknowledging,
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things…”
But then we add:
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,
…[who] came down from heaven…and became man.”
Christmas!

Then we go on to the offertory.
Like the three kings offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,
we offer our gifts of bread and wine.
And this is where things start to get truly wonderful.
Because these gifts are meant to symbolize us
—they represent us giving ourselves to God.
That’s why we say “lift up your hearts to the Lord”
—meaning give your very heart to him, give your very self in love!
Friends, how can the Mass not be about a personal relationship with Christ,
if it’s about giving ourselves to him—person to person?

And then we pause to remember, yet again, that the angels are here,
and that the one we worship is not merely a baby,
but also the God of heaven and earth,
as we sing the song of the angels from Isaiah:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And we sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Who is that, but the Babe in the manger?

And then, we enter into the most incredible part of the Mass,
where God the Son himself, once again,
comes down to earth to be with us, in the flesh!
Once again, he humbles himself to hide his glory,
this time not in the appearance of a Baby,
but a simple piece of bread.
All so that we can approach him not in fear of his majesty, but in love.

But how can God come to us as bread?
How can God come to us a baby?
As the angels remind us, “nothing is impossible for God.”
And just as surely as the angels testified that the
“the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,”
Christ himself testified about the bread: “this is my body.”

And then we approach Our Lord in the sanctuary,
just as the shepherds and kings once approached Him in the manger,
and “fell down and worshiped him.”
Then, just as Mary tenderly received her Divine Baby
into her arms,
we receive our Lord onto our tongue or onto our hands.

And here the mystery of Christmas,
of God coming to us in the flesh to enter a personal relationship with us,
is manifest in a most profound way,
as he gives himself to us and we give ourselves to him
in our Holy Communion with the Body of Christ.

My friends, the mystery of the Eucharist and Holy Communion,
is nothing less than a renewal and strengthening
of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And that is the heart of Christ-Mass:
Almighty God the Son once again comes to us saying:
“‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

Today is an incredible day.
But the thing is, as wonderful as this day is, every day can be this way.
Because Christmas is not simply about that one day 2011 years ago,
and it’s not even just about December 25th each year.
It’s about Almighty God’s tremendous love for us,
and his determination to let nothing hinder us from accepting his invitation
to enter into a deep personal relationship of love,
as his friend, his brother or sister.
And that invitation and friendship is renewed daily, constantly,
in the life of his family, his Church,
in so many ways,
most especially in this great gift we celebrate here today—the Eucharist.

Today is a day like no other day.
Warriors lay down their arms,
families set aside differences,
strangers cheerfully exchange acts of kindness.
And even angels are astonished by
the Almighty and Glorious Creator of the universe
who humbles himself to become one of his own creatures.
All so that he can beg man not to run from him in fear,
but to run to him in love.

“Do not be afraid…For today …a savior has been born for you
who is Christ and Lord.”

December 18, 2011

As we enter the final week before Christmas, the fourth week of Advent, it is my sincere hope and prayer that this may be a truly holy and joyful week for each of you. The Lord Jesus wishes to shower many graces on you and your families this week-I exhort you to be open to them, and to Him. But there will also be many distractions and temptations that might lead you away from these graces. Please, do not let that happen. Stay close to Him who was born in a manger for love of you-love Him in return. Take every moment as an opportunity to serve Him, either directly in prayer and worship, or indirectly in serving His brothers and sisters, your neighbors, friends and family. See in every custom and sign of the season a symbol of our hope in Christ: in the Christmas tree see His promise of everlasting life, in the smile on your child’s lips see the angels rejoicing in heaven. And when you make your last minute practical preparations for the day, remember to make your last minute spiritual preparation-pray, confess your sins, and turn your heart to Christ.

To help you in this regard, may I remind you of this week’s special schedule in the parish. For your convenience it is printed on the next page of this bulletin.

Christmas Generosity. The celebration of Christmas is never only spiritual-the Word became flesh because His people live in the flesh. So I encourage you to be aware of those around you who may be in need of your kindness and generosity. Remember the Babe born in a cold stable, and laid in a manger, and what He told us when he grew up: “I was hungry and you gave me food, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink… As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

Moreover, let me ask that if you know anyone who is truly in need of financial assistance this week, especially parishioners and families with children, please encourage them to call the parish office. We stand ready and willing to assist any of our brothers and sisters who are in genuine need.

Christmas Collection. Along the same lines, I would be remiss as Father of this parish family if I forgot our family’s practical needs this Christmas. In particular, since Christmas this year falls on a Sunday, it might be easy to forget to give your regular Christmas Day donation to the parish in addition to your regular weekly donation for Sunday, December 25-there aren’t 2 separate days for 2 separate collections. But I can assure you, this family cannot afford to lose it’s “Christmas collection,” which averages out to be about 3% of our total annual collection: practically speaking, it pays our electrical bill for the year. So please remember to drop your donations for both Christmas and for Sunday in the first collection on December 24th/25th.

Thanks. I can’t forget to thank all those who participated in last Sunday’s Lessons and Carols, especially the lectors who read so reverently and the members of our choir who sung so beautifully. If you weren’t there, you missed something truly special.

Finally, below you will find a note I received this week from the new parents of our Baby Sofi (aka, Baby Mary Madeleine). They asked me to pass it along to you.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

December 13, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

Words cannot begin to express our sincere gratitude for the wonderful birthday celebration you hosted for our daughter Sofi. Thank you so much for your generosity and kindness in helping us to celebrate Sofi’s first year of life. Our family was deeply touched by your gift of kindness and your presence in sharing our joy at Sofi’s birthday.

From the very start of her life until today we want to thank you for all you’ve done for Sofi. Our greatest treasure is the prayers you say and continue to say for our daughter. We are blessed by your prayers and petitions to our Lord. What more could we ask than our daughter be surrounded by faithful men and women of God.

From the very start of Sofi’s life you all have played such an important role in her life. We want you to know how very important your parish is to our family. We thank God that St. Raymond’s was chosen to be the place where Sofi was discovered. For the prayers and attention you gave her on that first day of life we are eternally grateful. I want you all to know that St. Raymond’s will always be a special place to Sofi as it is where we know her story began. I am sure as she grows she’ll have questions and want to know more about the day she was discovered. St. Raymond’s is the closest thing our little girl has to a family of origin. Our thankfulness abounds and we look forward to having St. Raymond’s join us in celebrating all of Sofi’s life.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

All our love and gratitude, Mark, Jennifer, and Sofi Hills

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2011

December 8, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Advent is a time of preparation,
preparing to celebrate the first Coming of Christ in Bethlehem,
and preparing to meet him when he comes again in glory.
And so its altogether fitting that we sort of take a pause
from the subdued nature of Advent,
and joyfully celebrate this feast of the Immaculate Conception today:
the feast of Mary being prepared from the first moment
of her tiny little life in the conception of her mother Ann’s womb
to greet and serve and love Jesus.
All this preparing for Christ.

In a sense though, she was prepared
almost from the beginning of the human race.
Because we know how in the book of Genesis, God promised the devil that
he would put enmity between the devil and “the woman”
and “between the devil’s offspring and “the woman’s offspring.”
That’s exactly what he did: from the moment of her conception
he placed a wall between her and the devil,
a wall of holiness, of grace, so that she could become
part of God’s plan for a new beginning in Christ,
–so she could be the complete opposite of Eve: be the new Eve.

And all her life, God continued to shower his grace: she was,
as the angel proclaimed, “full of grace”
with no trace of anything good or holy lacking.
Everything she needed, and more, full of grace, to be perfect in her humanity.
And remember….since she was not touched by original sin,
she had no concupiscence:
no confusion in her heart or mind between good and evil,
like the rest of us have.
All this to prepare her to receive and bring into the world,
and be the perfect Mother for God the Son.

Even still, even with God’s divine plan,
his creation of her in the womb of Ann without a touch of sin
even with her special protection,
and even with her clear mindedness, and pure heart,
Even still: God would not save us without us:
she like Eve, still had one of the greatest gifts
that God bestows on all human beings:
a free will.
Imagine, with all that preparation, all that protection,
all his plans could have been ruined,
all creation lost with no hope of salvation, without her:
“let it be done to me according to your word.”
Even though she had been as completely prepared as possible,
she could have said “no.”
And Christ wouldn’t have been born,
and we wouldn’t be preparing now during Advent
because there would be no Christmas.
There would be no sacrifice of the Cross for our redemption,
no resurrection of the dead bringing us new life.
But all of this did happen, but not without her “yes”

It is amazing to me that anyone could doubt the Immaculate Conception.
Apart from the Scripture references to it,
how can we even imagine that God the Father
would have entrusted his Son,
to someone corrupted by sin.
Or that God the Son would allow his Mother to be touched by his enemy,
and bear the mark of the traitor, Eve.
Or that the Father and Son would allow the enemy, the serpent,
the evil one, the father of lies,
the prince of darkness, and the murderer of man,
how could we imagine that God would allow that horrible creature
to have anything whatsoever to do
with this most magnificent creature,
mocking the Eternal and all-Powerful God by pointing to
the mark of his work in original sin
marked plainly on the core of her very being, her soul?
And on top of all that, how can anyone imagine that God would allow
his entire plan of salvation to hinge on the human will of a little girl,
without giving her every possible gift and protection,
from the very beginning of her existence in her mother’s womb.

No, from the very beginning he planned to prepare her for perfection,
to be the perfect Mother.
To receive his love completely and without confusion or fear.
And to be able to return his love without hesitation, and in complete freedom.
And love must be freely given to be true love.
And so we read in today’s Scripture,
the magnificent creature, prepared from all time for this moment,
gives her love completely to God,
accepts his will perfectly.
Some point out that Mary seems to hesitate, asking
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
But this translation is rather misleading…what she’s actually saying is
“what am I to do….tell me, so I can do it.”
No hesitation, just asking for instruction.

And so, prepared from all time,
she begins to prepare for the birth of God the Son.
And she goes on to prepare him in his humanity to be the Saviour of the world.

Advent a season of preparation.
Today, we do not pause our preparation,
but instead look to the one who understands
preparation for the coming of Christ better than anyone.
We look to her and we see that we too are given the grace by Christ
to be ready for him.
We too are called to be without sin,
so that we can receive his love completely and without confusion or fear.
And so that we too can freely chose to give ourselves completely to him,
and without hesitation.
Today, let us turn to that most magnificent creature,
the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception,
and ask her to help us in our preparation.
Ask her to show us and teach us how to prepare,
and to protect us from sin in our daily lives.
And let us turn to her and ask her to pray for us, her children,
that we may be prepared, that we may be made worthy,
to receive the promises of her Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
this Christmas, and when we see him face to face.

Holy Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, pray for us.

December 4, 2012

Thoughts on the New Translation. Well, after all the hoopla and preparation, we finally used the New Translation of the Mass last Sunday. I don‟t know what you thought, but so far all the feedback I‟ve gotten from parishioners has been overwhelmingly positive. For my part, I can say it was a unique experience, one I will not soon forget. First of all, I was stunned and amazed how everyone seemed not only to carefully give the new responses and pray the newly worded prayers, but also how vigorously and enthusiastically they did so. I was especially impressed with the strong rendition given of the Creed, a long proclamation that could easily have been a disaster. But not last Sunday. It was beautiful to witness.

Then there were the times of silence, or when I was praying a prayer alone as the priest. I don‟t think I‟d never heard the church so quiet, as it seemed everyone was hanging on every word, very carefully trying to follow along, to understand and take in the meaning of the prayers.

Finally, from my own perspective, praying these prayers with you and for you for the first time took me back to my first Mass as a newly ordained priest. Although every Mass is the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross and the Heavenly Banquet, whether said in Latin, Spanish or English, there was something wonderful about praying it in this more beautiful form. Most especially I found the Eucharistic Prayer almost overwhelming, with its new deepened sense of transcendence, and reverence, and at the same time intimacy and immanence. Phrases like, “he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands,” “this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim,” “be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance,” and so many others, drew me to a more profound awareness of the miraculous event before me. And, again, by the silence I heard from the congregation, I sensed you had a similar experience.

In all this I think I saw in you, and personally experienced, a renewed “full, conscious and active participation” in the Mass. Of course, some of this was simply due to necessity—we had to pay extra attention. But even if that was all it was, alleluia! So many times we rush through the Mass without really thinking about what we‟re doing or saying. There was no way we could do that last Sunday, or in the weeks ahead.

Some might say, “but we were more concerned with saying the right words than understanding and internalizing what they meant.” Maybe. But the words themselves are powerful, and it was hard not to be effected by them. Even if it was simply wondering, “what the heck does „consubstantial‟ mean again?” the words made you stop and think—and maybe relearn a profound dogma of the faith.

And as the weeks go on, I hope we will grow in understanding and internalize the meaning of the new prayers. So that this will be a new beginning of a more intense appreciation of the mystery of the Holy Mass—at long last, the renewal of the liturgy so long and diligently sought by both Bd. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. So that we may not only say the words and do the gestures, but allow those words and gestures to penetrate our spirits, and then reflect back the deepened devotion of our spirits in what we say and do at Mass.

What a great time to be a Catholic! What a wonderful Advent lays before us!

Comparison of This Week’s Prayers. In the coming weeks I will try to include a brief comparison of (and perhaps some comments on) the old and new translations of one of the “proper” prayers for that Sunday (the unique prayers that change every Sunday). Let‟s begin by looking at the today‟s “Opening Prayer,” or the “Collect,” as it is now called. I will forego comments this week, and leave it to you to consider how the “new” (closer translation of the Latin) is quite different from the “old.”

Old: God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may become one with him when he comes in glory.

New: Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company.

Advent Schedule. It‟s very easy to get all caught up in the commercialized and secular quasi- Christmas celebrations (prematurely) going on all around us right now, losing sight of Advent, a time of spiritual preparation for both the celebration of Christmas and the Second Coming of Christ. In that regard, I would like to call your attention to the Advent Schedule that was in last week‟s bulletin, and is now available on the parish website. We have added many extra evening Masses and confessions during the week, and I encourage you to take advantage of these as part of your Advent spiritual exercises.

Also, note the other special events on the calendar, including the popular “Breakfast with Santa” (with the Children‟s Choir performing) on Saturday, December 17th. I also invite you to join me on next Sunday, December 11, at 6:30pm as the choir and lectors present “Lessons and Carols,” a program of beautiful sacred music and Scripture readings focused on preparing us for Christmas. Last year all who came were enthralled—you will be too if you join us!

Baby Mary Madeleine. Our beautiful foundling, whose real name is “Sofi,” celebrated her 1st birthday on November 14. In honor of that occasion Sofi and her new adoptive parents joined us for a birthday party here on Sunday, November 20. All were delighted by her charming presence, as she ran around making scores of new friends among her brothers and sisters at St. Raymond‟s. She is a miracle to behold. Literally. Praised be Jesus Christ!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

November 27, 2011

Today is the first day of Advent, as we begin to prepare for both the celebration of the first coming of Jesus 2000 years ago at Christmas and His second coming at the end of time. As such, it’s also the beginning of a new liturgical year in the life of the Church.

Every Advent is an exciting time to be a Catholic, especially as our focus is directed toward Christmas. We look back on Advents and Christmases past, with their many memories of family, friends, decorations, traditions, and gifts. And we also look forward with hope, especially to celebrating Christmas, and making new cherished memories.

We have to admit, however, that while these memories and hopes have a strong pull on our heart strings, in the grand scheme of things they pale in comparison to the true meaning of the Christmas we prepare for and anticipate with joy. As Christians we believe that the first Christmas, 2000 years ago, radically changed the world, as God became man and dwelt among us. Without His birth, Christ could not reveal the depth of God’s love for us, and there would have been no Cross or resurrection, and the font of grace and the gates of heaven would remained closed to us.

This Advent, then, must be more than a time to buy presents, decorate trees, and spend time with loved ones. All that is fine and good, but our true focus must be preparing to celebrate the Birth of Christ, and to meet Him when He comes again in glory.

This necessarily means Advent must be a time of increased awareness of our sins, and repentance. While the birth of Christ is joyful news, that joy is soured by the reality of our sins: God humbles Himself to become a vulnerable baby in order to save us from sin, how can we come to him without humbly repenting our many sins against Him.

It must also be a time of increased self-giving. And by this I don’t mean merely giving presents, or even giving to the poor—although that cannot be overlooked. God the Son came at the first Christmas to give us Himself. We in turn must give ourselves to Him. This, of course, begins with our avoidance of sin, but it must also manifest itself in our sincere love for others: “as you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.” So Advent must be a time of kindness and patience with everyone we meet—whether friend, stranger, or enemy—seeing each of them as one who Christ loves as much as He loves us. This is often very difficult, but by the grace of Christ we can and must love one another as He has loved us—humbling ourselves before each other as He humbled Himself in the manger.

And above all, Advent must also be time of increased prayer: St. John reminds us that “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Jesus came to speak to us—and to listen to us. Do we talk to Him, do we listen to Him? That is what prayer is—conversation with God. What will you do in this regard in the next few weeks? Will you come to Mass, confession, or Eucharistic Adoration more frequently? Will you pray the Rosary or read Scripture or holy books more often, perhaps as a family?

All this—repentance, self-giving love, and prayer—are essential to having a truly Catholic Advent. And all of these find their ultimate perfect expression in Holy Mass. Because the Mass is the framework, if you will, that holds in place and time the miraculous and eternal event of the actual life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, made present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here Christ becomes truly, really and bodily present: the Word becomes flesh, and dwells among us. Is this not the mystery of Christmas?

Here we repent our sins (“I confess…that I have sinned….” “Lamb of God …have mercy on us”). Here we talk to Him and praise him, and listen to Him; we shower him with adoration as He showers us with grace. Here we give ourselves to Him and, through Him, to His Father. And He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion, where we receive the grace to give His love and our love to others.

How fitting that on this first day of Advent, the beginning of new liturgical year, we introduce a new Translation of the Mass. I know that many of us will struggle with this translation. But perhaps some of this struggle will come from focusing on memories of the past that have to do more with our personal comfort than with our true worship of Christ—not unlike the way our attention in Advent is too often focused on traditions that make us feel good, here and now, and not on truly striving to draw closer to Christ. We have been “saying” Mass a certain way, and we’re comfortable with it. But now the Church offers us something objectively better: the same prayers we’re used to, but now in a more accurate translation that will correspond more closely to the prayers said in different languages by 100s of millions of Catholics throughout the world. And more than that, a new translation that reveals a richer meaning and clearer awareness of the mystery we celebrate.

St. Paul tells us: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, …; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I’m sure all of our families have enduring Christmas traditions that have matured over the years: a child wants his parents to give him lots of toys for Christmas, an adult is happy just to be with his parents at Christmas. Traditions stay, but they can still evolve, becoming better, richer, and more meaningful.

Today, the Church gives us an early Christmas gift: the same cherished tradition, with new richer texts. Let’s not cling to the past just because it makes us comfortable, but let us accept this “new” and wonderful gift, trusting that it will bring us a new appreciation of the Mass we have so long cherished. And in this Advent season may these changes remind us of our constant need to focus less on what makes us feel good for a little while, and focus more on the mystery of Christ’s everlasting love.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

November 20, 2011

Next Sunday: Use of the New Translation. At the Vigil Mass next Saturday evening, November 26, all Masses said in English in the United States will begin to use the entire text of the New Translation of the Roman Missal. It will be an historical day in the life of the Church in America. It will also be the beginning of a very difficult adjustment, but I am confident that if we all approach this with open hearts and minds—positively trusting in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of this Church in this important change—it will be the beginning of a period of tremendous growth in understanding of the Mass that will yield immeasurable spiritual fruit. To prepare for all this, I recommend you read over the new Mass prayers contained in the 2 booklets I mailed you several weeks ago, (also available through links on the parish website). And remember: “The Lord be with you”…“And with your spirit.”

Consecration to the Sacred Heart. Today Bishop Paul Loverde will be consecrating the entire Diocese of Arlington to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the priests throughout the diocese will be consecrating their parishes as well. In today’s bulletin you will find a special insert, a picture of the Sacred Heart, which I invite you to place in a prominent place in your home as your recite the prayer on the back consecrating your home and family to the Sacred Heart. To help you to understand this consecration and the importance the devotion to the Sacred Heart, Bishop Loverde has issued a special Pastoral Letter to the diocese. Below follows a lengthy excerpt from the beginning of that letter. A limited number of copies of the entire Letter can be found at the church exits today, or you may view it by following the link at the top of St. Raymond’s website.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Fountain of Life, Fire of Love
By Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington

There is a deep longing in the human heart for enduring love, and because God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), this deep longing is really a longing for God. God alone can ultimately fulfill this longing of the human heart because He Himself created us with this innermost desire for Him, although so often we do not consciously realize its true source.

No doubt, you and I have heard this truth expressed many times. But, in point of fact, do we really allow ourselves to be caught up into the wonder and power of this reality, which is not crafted by human imagination or ingenuity but which has been inserted into our innermost being by God Himself? Knowing how difficult it is for us to understand and to accept this amazing reality — almost too good to be true — God is relentless in the many ways by which He tangibly reveals this absolute truth, especially in ways which we can more easily grasp. One very tangible and humanly understandable way is the image of the Heart of Jesus, the symbol of God’s ever-faithful love.

“Behold This Heart.” A few years ago, I was privileged to accompany a group of pilgrims to various shrines of France. Among these was Paray-le-Monial, a city in the southeastern part of France and known worldwide as the site of the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to a cloistered Visitation nun, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque…

The well-known appearances of the Lord Jesus in which He revealed His Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary began on the night of December 27, 1673. In this first appearance, the Lord spoke of the immensity of His love for all people and showed her His Heart, “like a sun, ablaze with a dazzling light,” as Saint Margaret Mary was later to record it…. In this same appearance, Jesus mourned the world’s ingratitude, indifference and coldness and asked Saint Margaret Mary for a Communion of reparation on the first Friday of each month.

In 1674, although the exact date is uncertain, Jesus again appeared to Saint Margaret Mary. Later, she wrote down what she heard and saw: “The divine Heart was represented to me as upon a throne of fire and flames. It shed rays on every side brighter than the sun and transparent as crystal. The wound which he received on the cross appeared there visibly. A crown of thorns encircled the divine Heart, and it was surmounted by a cross” …. Once more, Jesus spoke of His burning and pure love for humanity.

The third and most famous apparition took place in June 1675. As Saint Margaret Mary knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus exposed His Sacred Heart again and spoke these words to her: “Behold this Heart which has loved mankind so much that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love.” Christ then asked that the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be set apart as a special feast day in honor of His Sacred Heart — “a day on which to receive me in Holy Communion and make a solemn act of reparation for the indignities I have received in the Blessed Sacrament while exposed on the altars of the world.” The Lord then said, “I promise you, too, that I shall open my Heart to all who honor me in this way, and who get others to do the same; they will feel in all its fullness the power of my love” ….

By the time of Saint Margaret Mary’s death on October 17, 1690, devotion to the Sacred Heart was well established in the Visitation community and the areas surrounding Paray-le-Monial. Over the succeeding centuries, thanks also to the efforts of Saint Claude La Colombière and the Society of Jesus, devotion to the Sacred Heart spread throughout the world, culminating in the consecration of the whole human race to the Sacred Heart by Pope Leo XIII in 1899.

Reflecting upon the message and the meaning of the apparitions of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary, we can see that through the symbol of His Heart, Jesus Christ desired (and still desires) to show us the depth of His divine love — a love that is faithful, a love that is redemptive, a love that is merciful; in short, a love that seeks out each one of us and calls us to a vital communion with Him…

November 13, 2011

Baby Mary Madeleine: Sofi. A year ago this coming Monday, November 14, is the first birthday of the baby girl I’ve been calling “Baby Mary Madeleine.” It is also the 1 year anniversary of the day a parishioner found her left in the parking lot of our church. That was a miraculous day. And we continue to give praise to the Lord Jesus for saving her life and entrusting us, if ever so briefly, with her young life.

When the police and EMS arrived to take her to the hospital she immediately became a ward of the County. Since then, officials have been rightly protective of her privacy. They have, however, kindly allowed me to keep in touch with her, while at the same time keeping me under a complete “gag-order.”

Well the gag-order has ended, as she has been legally adopted by the wonderful couple who have been her foster parents for this last year. Even though we want to continue protecting her privacy, her parents now want to bring her “home” and introduce her to her many brothers and sisters in Christ at St. Raymond’s.

So, next Sunday, Nov. 20, after the 12:15 Mass, all St. Raymond parishioners are invited to a birthday party in our Parish Hall for little Anna Sofia Rae, or “Sofi,” aka “Baby Mary Madeleine,” and her parents. This is a “private” party, parishioners only—no press, and I ask you not to publicize this in any way.

Sofi is a beautiful, sweet and vivacious child. And God has placed her with two kind and loving parents, whom I would like to thank for opening their generous hearts to God and Sofi, and also to me over this last year. And now they extend that generosity in a particular way to all of us at St. Raymond’s.

Consecration to the Sacred Heart. Next Sunday is also a special day for our whole diocese as Bishop Loverde will be consecrating the diocese to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Moreover, he has asked all the pastors to consecrate their parishes in like manner. So at every Mass next Sunday the priest will say the very short prayer marking this consecration.

The devotion is to the Sacred Heart, which is as old as the Church, but became more particularly developed after a series of apparitions of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673. All this is beautifully explained in Bishop Loverde’s new Pastoral Letter, Fountain of Life, Fire of Love, (a link to the letter is on the parish website). In his letter the Bishop quotes Pope Pius XII:

“…Christ our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times”

The Bishop goes on to write: “I invite families to make a family act of consecration, together with an enthronement of the Sacred Heart — that is, the placement of an image of the Sacred Heart in a prominent place in the home — as a reminder that Christ should be the center of the family, the domestic church. In addition, the Lord promised that where the image of His Heart is honored, He would bring peace to the home, unite families, bless them with all the graces necessary for their state in life and be a secure refuge in life and death.”

NEW TRANSLATION OF THE MASS, continued. After a brief hiatus, let’s turn to the prayers/responses of the people after the Eucharistic Prayer. The first prayer would be the Our Father, which, fortunately, is not changed at all, since the old translation (OT) used a very ancient traditional translation. The doxology afterward (“For the kingdom…”) also remains unchanged.

The next part for the people comes when the priest lifts up and shows the Eucharist to the people and proclaims:

OT: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
NT: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

The phrase “This is” has been replaced with “Behold,” precisely translating the Latin, “Ecce.” Although “behold” is not used in every day English, it used very frequently in most translations of Scripture, particularly in translating John 1:29, from which this acclamation is taken: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” This is, of course, the prophet St. John the Baptist’s acclamation after he baptized Jesus, not only recognizing Him as the Messiah, but as the Lamb who would be sacrificed for our salvation. Also, notice how “Behold” is repeated in the Mass’s version, as if to emphasize the marvel before us: “Look!…Look!” But this second “behold” is not in John 1:29. Its inclusion in the Mass’s version may point to John 1:36, where the Baptist repeats, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” this time to two men who go on to become the first Apostles, Ss. Andrew and John. Here we see the priest as prophet, calling us to recognize that what we behold before us is truly God in the flesh, the Sacrificed Lamb of the New Covenant. And then we are called, like Andrew and John, to follow him.

The priest continues:

OT: Happy are those who are called to his supper;
NT: Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

In the NT we are not merely “happy” but “blessed” (Latin: “beati), a word Scripture uses to describe those who receive the fullness of God’s gifts (“happiness” being only one of those). We are reminded of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are…” and the incredible promises they make, including, “the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” It also ties us directly to the Scriptural source of this saying, from John’s vision of heaven recorded in Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” So here the priest reminds us, again, that we are present at the heavenly wedding banquet, Christ the Bridegroom and His Church the Bride. A very different prayer in the NT than in the OT.

And then we respond:

OT: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
NT: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Here, thankfully, the NT corrects the OT and gives us the Latin’s actual words, quoting from Matthew 8:8, as the Roman centurion responds to Jesus’ agreeing to go to cure his servant: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Scripture tells us: “Jesus …marveled, and said …”not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In all this we see not merely the profound humility (“I am not worthy”) but also the faith that is necessary to receive the Eucharist. This is a call to believe, with the faith of the centurion, that the Eucharist is exactly what we have just heard Jesus say it is: “this is my body.”

The only difference between the prayer and Scripture is the phrase “my soul” replacing “my servant” (and “I” in the OT), which reminds us that this is not merely physical food, but also food for the “soul.” On the other hand, “under my roof” reminds us that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” so the spiritual food must have an effect on the way we live with our bodies: “So glorify God in your body” [1 Cor. 6:19, 20].

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

November 6, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

In the way the Church counts time, November is the last month of the year,
and the Church.s new year begins with Advent.
And as we come to the end of the year, we consider the end of our time on earth,
in particular we consider the “Last Things”:
death, judgment, heaven and hell.
So we began the month of November with All Saints. Day,
remembering all those who have died and gone to heaven.
And then the next day we celebrated All Souls. Day,
remembering all those who have died and are purgatory.

But both of these days also call us to look at ourselves,
and ask the questions:
am I ready to die?
have I prepared to be judged by Christ?
have I prepared myself for heaven…or for hell?

This theme continues throughout this month
and so today the gospel focuses us on preparing for the end, or death.
Think about these 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins.
Jesus tells us:
“The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”

In other words, both had their lamps filled with oil,
but the wise brought extra oil, preparing for the worst
—in case the bridegroom arrived late.
They looked not at just the short-term,
but also at the long-term effects of burning their lamps.
They were planning ahead, taking care of the now, but with eyes on the future.
But the foolish virgins were not thinking ahead, but focused on the short-term.
And so when the bridegroom came and they weren.t prepared,
he locked the door and said to them:
“Amen… I do not know you.”

This reminds us that we all need to be prepared, looking to the future
and not just being concerned with problems that will soon pass away.
Now, some of you might say, “but Father, Jesus also tells us:
„do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself…”
But actually this makes my point.
Because in that passage Jesus is telling his disciples
not to worry about material goods…
“what you are to wear,” or “what you are to eat…”
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven….”
He makes the point, as he so often does,
that we must be morally and spiritually prepared for God.s judgment,
when the time comes for each of us.

So how do we prepare for judgment?
First of all, you begin by learning about God,
by reading the Scriptures, the Catechism, and other good Catholic books.
And then you add prayer,
talking with and listening to God.
And then we have the sacraments,
especially confession and the Eucharist, fonts of grace.
All this brings you close to God and strengthens your friendship with Him,
so that you can always resist sin and be prepared for heaven.

And that leads us to the final way to prepare:
we must avoid sin and live the righteous life Jesus calls us to.
Remember the rich young man asked Jesus
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus responded without hesitation: “Keep the Commandments.”

All these—learning, prayer, grace, and righteous living—
prepare us for the final judgment
—they are the oil in our lamps when the bridegroom comes.

But sometimes we have a hard time seeing the importance of all this preparation,
usually because we tend, like the foolish virgins,
to focus on the short-term, rather than the long-term.
We think praying or reading a holy book is a good idea,
but we.ll do it later;
right now we.d rather watch TV, or play a game, or make some money.
Short-term thinking, so often dominated by our passions
like fear, greed, envy or lust,
doesn.t prepare us for the long-term “problem” of judgment.

On the other hand, sometimes,
we do recognize the long-term “problem” of God.s judgment,
but we think we.ll have time between now and then to straighten up,
to pray and read more, and to repent sin.
But there are a couple of problems with that.

First of all, today.s parable says:
“Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”
We.ve lived for 20 or 50 or 80 years and we haven.t died yet,
so we start to think it will be another 20 or 50 or 80 years before we do die.
Like the foolish virgins, we.ve been lulled to sleep.
But then one day we.ll wake up from this foolish dream and—surprise!:
“Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

The second problem with thinking we can deal with long-term problems later
is that by ignoring them today they can get worse as time goes on.

For example, a new husband knows marriage must be based on mutual trust,
but early on he discovers that telling little lies
can save him a lot of troubles with his wife.
After awhile, though, big lies become even more handy than little lies,
and soon the wife loses all trust in him,
and their marriage falls apart altogether.
Focusing on the short-term problems,
can often make the long-term problems into long-term disasters.

I could go on and on with examples of this.
But there.s one very important example I.d like to focus on now,
something coming up this week.
That is this Tuesday.s elections of our state and local leaders.

A recent poll tells us that when Americans were asked
what the most important problem facing the country today is,
first on the list, at 57%, was the “economy and jobs”1,
1 CBS News Poll. Oct. 19-24, 2011. N=1,650 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3. http://www.pollingreport.com/prioriti.htm; http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/17/us/politics/20110917_poll_results.html?ref=publicopinion

while second on the list,
but with only 5% saying it was most important,
was the budget deficit and national debt.
Now, without being political here, isn.t it interesting
that the immediate fears about the economy
so completely overshadow the long-term problem of the national debt
—57 to 5%?

I think we can all agree it is an extremely bad idea
to vote based strictly on short-term problems
while ignoring long-term problems,
—especially when they might eventually be much more devastating.

But that.s exactly what we tend to do.
At the moment, Americans seem to be focused
on short-term economic problems.
Some are driven by envy, some by greed.
But most are driven by fear,
fear of economic hardship and job losses,
of losing life savings, or retirement funds.

With all those passions in play,
is it any wonder folks can.t see the forest for the trees
—can.t see long-term catastrophes for the short-term problems in the way.

Unfortunately, this maxim seems to apply particularly
with regard to 2 other huge problems facing our country
that didn.t even make it to 1% in the poll:
the problems of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Folks tend to see abortion and same-sex marriage as long-term problems.
In the case of abortion, for example, they think,
“we.ve been making slow but steady progress for 40 years,
but it.s going to take years more to change hearts, minds and laws….
So right now let.s take care of the economy and deal with abortion later.”

But we can.t afford this kind of thinking.

Because for one thing, it.s driven by our passions, not logic.
How can a society based on fear, greed, and envy,
much less lust, hatred and laziness,
ever survive?

For another thing, it ignores the fact
that what we see as merely long-term problems
actually include real and important short-term problems.

For example, some look at abortion and see a long-term problem
that may take years to solve.
But it.s estimated that 1 to 1.4 million unborn babies
will be aborted this year alone:
that is real and terrible short-term problem.
Think about it: what would we do if terrorists threatened
to explode a nuclear bomb killing a million Americans?
Would we say, “well the War on Terrorism is a long drawn out process,
but the economy—that.s today.s problem?”
I don.t think so.
We.d drop everything else
and focus on protecting the lives of those million Americans?

But beyond that,
this kind of thinking focusing on the short-term and ignoring the long term,
ignores the fact that if we don.t address the long-term problem right now
it will only become worse…in the long-term.
Part of our problem here is we don.t see what terrible long-term consequences
that abortion and same-sex marriage will have for our society.
We see the short-term problem and think this is as bad as it gets.

But that.s not how it works.
The 40 years of waiting to end abortion
have seen some progress in changing hearts and minds,
but in the meantime
it has also fostered a growing basic disrespect for human life
throughout our society.
We see this as the creation of human life is reduced
to manufacturing an embryo in a Petri-dish as if it were a commodity,
and then we treat it like a commodity
by freezing “it” or using “it” in medical experiments.
And we see it in the way women are treated as objects,
especially in the rise in pornography, rape and abuse.
And we see it in a rise in human trafficking, drug use, suicide, and euthanasia.

The same can be said for same-sex marriage.
After decades of compromising in the name of tolerance
somehow we.ve moved from tolerance of same-sex attraction
to forced acceptance
to mandatory approval—even of “gay marriage.”
Not to mention the ostracizing of traditional Christians as “bigots.”
This is where focusing on the short-term and ignoring the long-term has led us:
where will it lead us in the even longer term?

What are the long-term effects of saying marriage is whatever you want it to be?
Even now we see movements pushing to legitimize polygamy, incest, bestiality,
and even pedophilia.
And if the government can completely redefine what marriage is,
they can completely redefine what parenting is, and the rights of parents.
15 years ago people called me crazy when I warned them
same sex marriage was on its way.
Where will we be 15 years from now?

All this because we ignored the long-term
in favor of focusing on short-term.

But there.s an even greater problem with this wrong notion
short-term vs. long-term.
The ultimate long-term problem is… our death, and God.s judgment.

You may think it.s okay to take care of the economy today,
and worry about abortion and marriage tomorrow.
But God doesn.t think so.
It.s really very simple.
Remember Jesus tells the rich young that “to inherit eternal life”
he must, “keep the Commandments.”
And when the rich man says, “which [ones]” Jesus immediately responds:
“You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery…”
Without these 2 basic rules about respecting life and marriage-and-family,
what other rules make any sense?
And so as Pope Benedict wrote in 2007:
“…respect for human life…from conception to natural death,
[and] the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman…
These values are not negotiable.”

And as our own Bishop Loverde wrote last week, with the bishop of Richmond
“protecting life …should be our highest consideration when we vote.
…the fundamental right to life, … outweighs other matters.”

Because of this, it is almost never morally acceptable to vote for or support
a candidate who is not clearly pro-life and pro-tradition marriage,
when there is a viable pro-life and pro-marriage alternative candidate.

Now I say “almost,” because there might be a case someday,
where, for example, some pro-life candidate comes out in favor of
unprovoked nuclear war….
Maybe that would be the exception.
But there.s nothing remotely like that in this election.

Unfortunately, sometimes it.s hard to figure out
who the pro-life/pro-marriage candidates are.
So if you need help, I suggest you go to the website of
the Virginia Catholic Conference where there.s lots of information
— the address in today.s bulletin insert,
and there.s a link on the parish website.

I.d like to be more directly helpful in this regard,
but I.m pretty restricted by IRS rules and diocesan policies.
But let me say this:
according to their party platforms,
the Virginia Democrat party,
is officially supportive
of both abortion and “gay marriage.”
while the Virginia Republican party
is officially pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.
And, according to the information on the Virginia Catholic Conference website
the Republican and Democrat candidates
for senator and delegate
in the districts within our parish boundaries,
all seem to support their own party’s positions
on abortion and marriage.
I have neither endorsed, nor rejected any candidate.

In this month of November, the Church calls us to think about our lives,
and to think about our deaths.
Are we ready for the final judgment, that can come at any time for any of us?
If we are prepared, we have nothing to fear
as the Lord Jesus will welcome us with joy
into the perfect happiness of heaven.
But if we are not prepared,
if we.ve gotten all caught up in the passions of here and now,
and lost sight of the important long term problems we must face…
Well, then, we should change.
Lest we become like the fools
who stand outside the locked door of heaven crying:
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
While the Lord says to us in reply: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

November 6, 2011

This Tuesday Virginians go to the polls to elect their state and local leaders. The right to vote is one of the greatest of our blessings as Americans, and one of our most solemn duties. And it is one of our proudest legacies as Virginians that this right, along with so many others, was originally secured by efforts of so many great Virginians—giants like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Mason, and Henry.

For them the dream that would become the United States of America was worth fighting and dying for. Is it for us? If so, why is it that so many of us won’t even take the time this Tuesday to defend the American blessing, the Virginian legacy, by simply taking time to vote.

There are many who want to change America and Virginia, to lead us away from our foundational beliefs. In particular, they would discard the sacred words penned by Virginian Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”

Today many attack this creed. They would have our laws deny the belief that 1) it is God, our creator, who gives us our inalienable rights; 2) governments exist primarily to secure the rights God has given; 3) first among all God-given rights is the right to life; and 4) God, not human courts or human laws, has created us all equal, whether we have lived 80 years outside our mother’s wombs, or only 80 minutes inside our mother’s womb.

We all know that there are people who would like to “get God out of government.” But, according the Declaration, that is un-American. This, of course, does not mean that we should elect a theocracy. It simply means that Americans should base their electoral decisions on a conscience formed by God’s laws, whether revealed to us in the very nature of man and creation, or revealed to us in our Christian faith. It was commonly understood by the Founding Fathers that religion was not only a fundament human right, but also essential to the success of the American experiment. They believed that the only way America could have a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people, and that religion was essential for this to happen. As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. … Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

The Catholic Church teaches that governments have a legitimate autonomy from the Church. But it also teaches, as does the Declaration of Independence, that no government can ever usurp God’s authority by suppressing the rights God has given to the people.

Some basic moral principles are part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,” or what the Declaration of Independence calls “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” These are moral principles that are so basic that any rational human being should be able to figure them out on their own. For example, any rational thinking person should be able to figure out that all men are equal in their rights before God, and that it is always wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being.

Unfortunately, all too often we don’t think rationally—we let our passions, like hatred or greed or fear, lead us in our actions. So it’s important for someone, like the Church, to remind us to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Because without that, governments will inevitably enact laws that are contrary to both human reason and the good that our Creator intended: we will be ruled by codified passions, not justice.

There is no right more basic than the right to life, and there is no societal norm more essential to the happiness of society than the family, as nature and nature’s God, establish it: one man and one woman. As Pope Benedict has taught us, “These values are not negotiable.” And these values cannot be promoted or defended without religious liberty.

Therefore, no good American, no good Virginian, no good Catholic can 1) neglect the right and duty to vote, or vote for a candidate who does not actively and unquestionably protect and defend: 2) the right to life of unborn children, 3) the dignity of traditional/natural marriage, and 4) the religious freedom of all Americans.

Some will argue, “but Father, I understand all that…but with the economy the way it is…. I have to vote for a candidate who will fix things.” We must all be sympathetic to the pain, confusion and fear the economy is causing people. But remember what the Founding Fathers wrote in the very last line of the Declaration: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

These men did not place their “fortunes” much less their “lives” ahead of defending God given human rights—why do we think we should? Especially when we read the words of Jesus Himself: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ ….But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

This Tuesday, VOTE! And vote only for men and women who defend the right to life, traditional marriage and the freedom of religion. In short, be a true American, a true Virginian, and a true Catholic.

October 30, 2011

I’ve been “on the road” a bit over the last 2 weeks, so today I’m taking a break from my discussion of the new translation of the Roman Missal, and running a column that is essentially a repeat of my column from the same week last year. Even so, it’s as timely today as it was then. We’ll go back to the translation next week.

Of course tomorrow (October 31) is Halloween. As big a deal as this has become in certain circles in the last few years, for Catholics its main importance should be to point to the two very special daysthat follow it: November 1, All Saint’s Day, and November 2, All Souls’ Day.

These days are particularly important because they remind us that the Church of Jesus Christ is more than just those folks we see when we come to Mass, and extends well beyond the 2 billion plus Christians we can count on Earth. Because billions of Christians have lived and died before us, and many of those are in Heaven, or on their way there.

This is what the Church means when it speaks of the “Communion of Saints”—here the word “saint” being used as it is most commonly used in Scripture, to refer to all Christians. So that we who worship Christ on Earth are one with those who worship Christ in Heaven and in Purgatory. The Church therefore refers to three states, or parts, of the Church: “The Pilgrim Church” (“The Church Militant”) i.e., all Christians on Earth; “The Church in Glory” (“The Church Triumphant”), all those in Heaven; and “The Church Being Purified” (“The Church Suffering”), all the souls in Purgatory.

All Saints’ Day reminds us of our unity with the Church in Heaven. Throughout the year we celebrate the feasts of particular persons whom, because of their manifestly holy and heroic lives on Earth, the Church officially recognize as now living in Heaven, i.e. the people we normally refer to as “saints” (or “canonized saints”). But on this ALL Saints’ Day we remember not only those “official” saints, but also ALL the other countless numbers of souls who have gone to Heaven. For example, many of our deceased mothers and fathers are in Heaven, and so many little children who have gone before us. This is their feast day! So we honor them, and in honoring them we honor God Himself, who has given them a share of His glory. And we pray to them, asking the whole multitude in Heaven to assist us on our way to join them.

All Souls’ Day remembers our unity with the Church in Purgatory. Unfortunately, nowadays even the idea of Purgatory isn’t very well received; it often triggers reactions of disbelief or even ridicule— even among Catholics. Yet this doctrine goes back to the Old Testament, as 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 makes very clear. Some see Purgatory as a place of horrible torture—sort of a mini-Hell—and the thought that their deceased loved ones could be there strikes them as disrespectful: they want to think of them as in Heaven.

But remember, St. John tells us in Rev. 21:27 that “nothing imperfect shall enter into” Heaven. The thing is, who do you know that is perfect? Almost all of us have at least some venial sin we cling to, or have some inordinate attachment to earthly things. Does that mean that all of us imperfect people will not enter Heaven, i.e., and so go to Hell? Not at all. Because of God’s great love for us, He will not let this happen. So in His mercy the Lord takes all of us who die in a state imperfection (assuming that before death we have properly repented of any mortal—“deadly”—sins) and He perfects, or purifies, us. Another word for purification is “purgation,” so this time/place/state of purification is called “Purgatory.”

It is true that Purgatory is a place of some suffering, hence it is referred to as the “Church Suffering.” Perhaps this suffering is best understood in the light of the suffering that comes with any change: when we try to get into better physical shape, it hurts. When we try to learn a new subject it’s difficult, “painful” (“no pain, no gain”). But the pain of becoming physically stronger or mentally smarter is not something we should shun—in fact, the pain becomes, in some ways, a source of joy, as we begin to recognize it as a sign of change to a better state.

So is it a surprise that the change from imperfect to perfect will be painful? And while those in Purgatory do suffer during their purification, is it a surprise that St. Catherine of Genoa, after receiving a vision of Purgatory from Our Lord, wrote: “I believe no happiness can be …compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise.” The souls in Purgatory suffer, but they rejoice as it brings them closer and closer to Heaven. And while on Earth we rejoice in our hope for Heaven, in Purgatory the souls rejoice because they definitely know they are going there.

Even so, we must pray for the Souls in Purgatory—because they do suffer. And just as we try to help those we love on Earth by praying for them, we don’t stop loving someone when they die, so we should continue to pray for them to help them on their way to perfection. Even if we know that they were very holy on Earth, we still owe them whatever help, in prayer, we can give them in death.

So, contrary to what many people think nowadays, praying for the dead is not an act of disrespect, but of love. It does not imply that they are not good enough for Heaven, but presumes that they were so good that they are now assured of their Heavenly reward, after God has perfected them.

Who cares about Halloween? What great days lie ahead on All Saints’ and All Souls’! In the love of Christ, and with faith and hope in His promises of Heaven, let us pray to the saints in glory for their help, and lend our help to suffering souls by praying for them.

Et, oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles