4th Sunday of Lent 2011

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

A few weeks ago Pope Benedict released his second volume
of his theological treatise “Jesus of Nazareth.”
As is usual some in the secular media have taken snippets of his writings
out of context and tried stir up trouble.
One thing some have been reporting that he supposedly wrote
that Catholics shouldn.t try to convert Jews.
Of course, if you read what he wrote that.s not what he said at all.
In fact, I had to laugh in reading the stories because they reminded me
that just a couple of years ago, at this same time of year,
the press was attacking Benedict for a prayer
that.s part of the Good Friday liturgy of “Old” Traditional Latin Mass.
Some said the prayer was anti-Semitic because it referred to “the blindness of”
the Jewish people, and prayed they may see “the light of ….Christ,
and “be rescued from their darkness.”

But the controversy got me thinking
about the fact that all mankind, including both Jews and Catholics,
are in need of conversion,
and that at one time or another, and all of us suffer from
spiritual blindness and darkness.
Which is why all of us need the one who called himself: “the light of the world.”

If we need any reminder of this all
we have to do is look at each of today.s 3 Scripture readings..
In the first reading from Isaiah we read:
“Not as man sees does God see.”
In the 2nd reading from St. Paul.s letter to the Ephesians we read:
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
And finally in the Gospel we read
the story of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind.

What is the meaning of all this?
Well, of course, light and dark, sight and blindness
are filled with rich symbolism in Scripture.
Let.s focus on 2 aspects of this symbolism today:
the symbolism of ignorance vs. knowledge,
and the symbolism of sin vs. holiness.

Let.s start with “ignorance.”
First, remember what the word “ignorant” means.
It doesn.t mean “stupid”, it means “not knowing,” or “unaware.”

So St. John and the Holy Spirit tell the true story of the man born blind
in part to remind us of all the people who are born into cultures or families
that have no real knowledge of Jesus, the light of the world.
Included in this group are, of course,
most Muslims and Hindus, Confucians, Shintos, and animists.
We also find some Atheists, especially so many raised in the
Communist and post-Communist regimes of eastern Europe and Asia.
And of course, we find our older brothers in the faith of Abraham,
the Jewish people.

Now, does this mean that all these folks are somehow intrinsically evil,
or less loved by God?
No, not at all.
As Jesus says:
“I came into this world…so that those who do not see might see.”

And it.s not just people from non-Christian cultures who are ignorant of Christ.
The 21st century finds so many people in the western countries
whose cultures are rooted in Christianity,
but who are now so ignorant of those origins.

And it.s worse than that, because so many people
who still call themselves Christians are also ignorant of Christ.
And their ignorance, is in many ways, worse than the others.
Because the have some knowledge of Christ,
but choose to live in ignorance of so much of what he taught.
In effect, they are, in a sense, not born blind,
but they choose to become at least partially blind to the light of Christ.
And to them Christ says:
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, „We see,. so your sin remains.”

So here we come to the 2nd meaning of blindness and darkness: sin.
Jesus said,
“I came …so that those who do not see might see,”
but then he added, “and those who do see might become blind.”
Those who are not ignorant,
choose to act as if they are ignorant—they sin—
and live a life with eyes closed,
choosing to be blind to what they should readily see.

You know, up until about 5 years ago
I had better than perfect 20/20 vision, physical speaking.
But years of overstraining my eyes finally caught up to me
and suddenly I.m up here wearing bifocals.
Some of this is simply aging,
but some is due to my own personal choices of behavior
that led me to loose some of my sight.
And the same thing happens to us when we sin:
my choice to ignore Christ weakens my ability to see Christ as he truly is,
and to see myself for what I.ve become.

I was reading the other day how people living in war zones
after awhile get used to seeing all the violence and hardship.
In other words, you sort of become blind to it.
It.s the same thing with people who live surrounded by other peoples. sins
or enmeshed in there own sinful lives.
They stop noticing the sin.

Think about this.
Imagine a good Catholic living in Northern Virginia in 1961
being instantaneously transported in time from 1961 to 2011.
They turn on the TV and find what they think is a channel
devoted entirely soft porn and sick humor.
And you come in the room and all you see is a primetime network sitcom.

[sp]
Now, in a certain sense,
like the man in the Gospel today and his physical blindness,
all of us are actually born spiritually blind.
Again this is in the same 2 ways: ignorance and sin.

This time let.s talk about sin first.
All of us are born with “original sin.”
One of the effects of Adam and Eve.s first sin is
that none of us is able to see as clearly as we were created to.
For example, you see someone cut in front of you in traffic
and you think you see the meanest dumbest son of a gun you ever met.
And then you notice that the driver is actually a diminutive nun
who looks like of Mother Theresa.
Your vision wasn.t acting the way it was supposed to—it confused good and evil.

This confusion—part of what theologians call concupiscence—
is the result of being born partially blind in original sin.

How do we solve this blindness?
The same way Jesus does in today.s Gospel:
First he puts mud on the man.s eyes
—perhaps as a symbol of the much and filth of sin blinding our eyes.
But then he tells him:
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”
And the man washes, and he sees.
It doesn.t take a Scripture scholar to recognize this is a symbol of baptism
and the grace it pours out on us,
washing away the muck from the eyes of our souls
and opening them to see in the light of Christ.

[sp]
All of us are also born in the blindness of ignorance.
Did you know that when we.re born we really aren.t able to see very well?
—in a real physical sense we.re all born partially blind,
and have to actually develop and learn how to see
with normal vision.

But babies aren.t only physically blind, they.re also intellectually blind;
in other words, they.re ignorant: they know nothing.
So parents have the duty to teach their children
how to see the world as it really is
—especially the truth of the teaching of Christ
passed down to us in His Church.
Any parent—and I would include spiritual fathers like priests in this
—who fails to do this leaves their child in ignorance and darkness,
and shows their own blindness—either in sin or ignorance.
Like Jesus says of the Pharisees, these parents and priests are:
“they are like blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man,
both will fall into a pit.”

[vsp]
Which lead us to the fact that not all blindness comes to us at birth:
some of us are born into families and cultures
that teach us about the truth about the Gospel,
but we choose to become ignorant,
by letting our good training lapse,
or failing to keep learning as adults.

Many of us—if not most—learned our faith as children:
how many of us have actually tried to seriously continue
to learn about our faith as adults?
When was the last time you sat down read the bible?
or the Catechism?
or one of the great Catholic spiritual classics
—Augustine.s “Confessions,”
or St. Therese.s “Story of a Soul.”
Like the blind man we have to constantly strive to learn more about the Messiah,
asking: “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

[vsp]
And the blindness of sin can also return, even after baptism,
with every actual sin we freely choose to commit in our lives.
As St. Paul tells us in today.s 2nd reading, Baptism makes us “children of light.”
Even so, we can still chose, as he goes on to say,
to “Take part in the fruitless works of darkness.”

But when we do, all is not lost—Christ will not leave us in darkness.
Jesus didn.t just cure the man born blind
—he cured lots of blind people who became blind during their lifetimes.
And so Christ washes our eyes clean of sin not only in Baptism
but also in the sacrament of Penance.
If only we will come to him and confess our sins with sorrow.
As St. Paul goes on to say:
“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them…
everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”

[sp]
We see in all this that ignorance and sin are very much interrelated.
And we see that ignorance can lead to sin:
But it.s also true that ignorance can actually excuse of the guilt of our sins:
as Jesus says: “If you were blind, you would have no sin”
If you don.t know something is wrong, how can you be guilty?

Sometimes we can.t help being ignorant about something.
Moral theologians call this “invincible ignorance.”
For example, sometimes young Catholics tell me they didn.t know
it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday,
because no ever told them
—in fact priests and teachers in Catholic schools
told them it was NOT a mortal sin.
In one sense, who can blame you for not knowing when you were never taught,
or were betrayed and not taught the truth?

But we need to be careful here:
does your responsibility to learn about Christ end
with the last word you heard leaving Catholic grade school or CCD?
Does having a priest tell you that adultery or contraception is not a sin
negate the fact that even the secular press knows the pope calls it a sin?
Again, are we so blind,
that we can.t read the Catechism or the Bible for ourselves?
Some ignorance we can.t help,
but some is as easily washed away as mud from our eyes.

And we can.t stop with our ignorance.
What about the ignorance of others?
Christ came to be the light of the world,
and he puts his light in you,
and warns you not to “light a lamp” only to “put it under a bushel basket;”
commanding you to
“set it on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.”

You do this first of all by your actions:
your life should be a shining example of knowledge of the truth,
not of your ignorance or you turning a blind eye to the Gospel.

But you also need to talk to people about Jesus:
especially when they ask you questions.
You say, but Father, I don.t know what to tell people about Christ.
Well, then learn—prepare yourself.
And even if you get asked a question you can.t answer, don.t panic.
Look at the man born Blind going toe to toe the Pharisees.
Twice he honestly says “I do not know”,
but then he adds the simple but powerful and irrefutable observation:
“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

Lent is a time for us to recognize that we all live in a world full of darkness,
and some of that darkness is in our own souls.
So now, at this Mass, as we enter into the mystery of the Cross of Good Friday,
let us pray for all the peoples of the world,
that they may come to see and live in the light of Christ,
We pray in a particular way for the Jews,
because we love them in special way:
after all, it was a Jew, the son of David,
who died on the Cross of our sins.
But most of all, we pray for ourselves,
that the grace of Christ
may wash away the ignorance and sin that blinds us,
“rescue[ing] [us] from [our] darkness”,
to “Live as children of light.”

3rd Sunday of Lent 2011

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

“I thirst.”
Jesus said these words as he hung on the Cross.
But he also could have said them as he came out of his 40 days in the desert
where he was tempted by the devil.
And he also probably said them to himself
in the scene recorded in today’s Gospel,
as, tired from his long journey, he sat down by a well in the hott mid-day sun.

But, while Jesus’ thirst was genuinely physical in each of these cases,
his was also a spiritual thirst that came from being surrounded by sin
–from entering into sinful human life,
the life of those who had been cast out of the lush garden of Eden
into the starkness of the barren desert wasteland of sin.
The thirst of those deprived of the waters of ever-lasting life and grace.
It is not his thirst, just as it is not his sin, but he accepts it as his own.

And thus spiritually parched he encounters someone
who has contributed greatly to his thirst by her many sins:
A woman who comes out in the mid-day sun, the hottest time of the day,
in order to avoid her neighbors:
she is a notorious sinner–an adulteress—
both spurned by others and afraid of their animosity.

And yet this is exactly why Jesus is here
—he’s come specifically to meet her, because she is a sinner.

And Jesus deals with her the way he deals with all sinners.
First, he goes someplace he knows sinners will be.
For example, he goes to dinners with tax collectors,
because that’s where the sinners hang out.
And he goes to the temple, to meet the hypocritical priests and scribes
who worship God with their words, but not with their hearts.
And he goes to the Samaritan well in the middle of the day
to meet the woman who’s sins keep her away the rest of the day.

And just like he does with all sinners, he waits for her.
No matter how many times sinners ignore him or run from him,
he waits for them.
Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, he waits for them to return to him.
Patiently, he waits for you and me for years and even decades.
Tired and thirsty in the heat of the mid-day sun,
he patiently waits for the woman at the well.

And when she approaches, he is the first to speak
—he will not be silent in the face of sin.
And he speaks to her in very direct and clear tones: “Give me a drink”
Right to the point—and yet subtle in his own way,
as he draws her into conversation.
And right to the point—he quickly confronts her with the truth
Just as he spoke to the Pharisees, confronting them very directly with their sins:
“you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup …
but inside you are full of …wickedness.”
And to the money-changers in the temple:
“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
but you have made it a den of thieves.”
So he speaks to the woman at the well:
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.”

And finally, he treats each person uniquely
and does whatever is necessary to help the individual sinner:
—he knows very well that every sinner is different,
and that each needs a slightly different approach.
So sometimes, with sinners who needed it,
Jesus had to raise his voice in righteous anger:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
And sometimes he resorted even to physical force:
even making a whip to drive the money-changers out of the temple.
But sometimes, the sinner simply needs
a calm and gentle, but strong and clear, voice,
as with this broken, lonely woman at the well.
This is how Christ is: adapting to the person,
but always with directness and truth,
never compromising or backing down,
and no half-measures.

It’s incredible, all Jesus does just to save sinners.
He suffers for and because of our sins,
and yet he comes seeking us,
waits patiently,
tells us the truth
—even when that might mean we’ll walk away—
and he approaches each of us in the way best suited for us personally.

Yet even all this isn’t enough to win sinners back.
Because God loves us so much that he gives us the great gift of “free will”
–he gives us and respects our freedom to choose.
Two weeks ago we read how Adam and Eve made the wrong choice.
They chose in effect, as so many since them have also,
to live thirsty in the empty desert of sin,
rather than in the lushness of paradise
with its refreshing cool waters of grace.

And so it is with the woman at the well.
She must choose.
She brings her dry, empty water jar out
looking for a way to temporarily quench her thirst.
But rather quickly she discovers she has a choice.
She can choose to be satisfied temporarily with pleasures of the world,
and die in sin,
or she can accept the love and grace of Jesus and his Holy Spirit,
and live forever.
She can wallow in the filth of her own sin,
or she can be cleansed and refreshed in the waters of Baptism.

Like Eve before her, she must choose.
But unlike Eve before her, she chooses well.
So, unlike Eve, who hid from God when he came looking for her in the garden,
the Samaritan woman admits the sins of her past to God—Jesus—
and repents.
So that while before, she carried her empty jar as a sign
of her dependence on the pleasures of the world
now Scripture tells us:
“The woman left her water jar and went into the town.”
Now leaving her sins behind, she’s not afraid to run to her neighbors
and share the good news that she has found the Messiah.

The choice might seem simple and obvious to us.
But if it’s so easy, why do you and I have such a hard time imitating her?
Why don’t we leave behind our sins like an empty water jar
and run out and tell the good news to our neighbors?
To choose Christ is hard
—especially when it means rejecting a whole way, or pattern,
of sinful living accumulated over years.

Consider for example 3 patterns of life
that effect almost everyone in one way or another today
—patterns as old as the story of the Samaritan woman.

First consider the debasing attitude she had toward sex
—she had committed the sin of adultery over and over again.
Today we’re surrounded by this same mentality.
And the incredible saturation of society with immodesty and lust
makes it so overwhelming
that for some, sexual sins become almost like an addiction.
Whether large or relatively small, mortal or venial,
from the way they dress to they way act,
otherwise good people get so easily and unexpectedly caught up in it,
and try as they might can’t seem to find a way out.

Look, for the example,
at the pressure on young couples dating and struggling to be chaste.
–and consider how falling just once,
makes it seem impossible to return to chastity again.

Or look at pornography—or rather don’t look at it.
But it’s everywhere—and God didn’t make us for this kind of
constant and unnatural barrage of the senses and appetites.
Then there’s the terrible debilitating habits of masturbation and contraception
—both so easy to fall into,
but both so degrading to sexuality and the human person.
The woman at the well knew how hard this type of life is to put behind you
—and unfortunately way too many people today do too.

Then consider the related pattern of life that degrades marriage itself.
It became too easy for the Samaritan woman to set one man aside
and take another
—or perhaps for one man to set her aside leaving her prey for another.
The same is true today:
look at all the folks who so easily set aside their marriage vows
when times get tough,
or because their spouse isn’t quite
as young and pretty or handsome as they used to be;
or look at all the people who marry for all the wrong reasons,
and who wind up in miserable marriages, and then in divorce.
Or look at all the couples who are not married
but act like they are by cohabitating
—just like the woman at the well with her current man.

And finally, consider the world’s attitude toward women.
The woman at the well lived in a time
when men were forbidden to even talk to a strange women in public.
Today we pride ourselves on the progress we’ve made in respecting women.
But have we really progressed?
Then why is spousal abuse and abandonment so common?
And why does pornography overwhelming involve
the degradation of the female body?
And why does society degrade the women who want to be mothers,
and even insist that a really liberated woman
must be free to kill her unborn babies?
And why do we deceive women into thinking that contraception
will somehow give them greater freedom,
when in fact the exact opposite is true.
The woman at the well knew how it was to be trapped like this,
and so do many here today.

Sin and patterns of sin are hard to overcome.
The apostles realized this and once asked Jesus in frustration:
“if this is the case, then who can be saved.”
No doubt the woman felt this most of her life, no doubt we often do too.
And there is only one answer—the answer Jesus gave to his apostles:
“With men it is impossible, but not with God;
for all things are possible with God.”

Most of us don’t get to see Jesus face to face, like the Samaritan women did.
But even so, Jesus promised the apostles:
“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
And on the first Easter he told the apostles:
“as the father has sent me, so I send you.”
…whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”
And so he continues to come to sinners
in the person of His priests and in His sacraments.
In particular he comes to us in the sacrament of penance:
he comes to us, waits for us, speaks to us,
and meets us with the compassion or correction we need to start again
And in Jesus’ name the priest washes us clean from sin
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, how few take advantage of this wonderful sacrament.
Think about this:
last week we gave Communion to maybe 3000 folks
at Sunday Masses in this parish.
And yet we heard maybe 200 confessions all last week.
That’s less than 7 % of Communions.
I gave up being an accountant 20 years ago
—but as a priest, something about those numbers troubles me.
Especially when you consider that a lot of those folks who came to confession
go to confession at least once a month, if not more often.
Which means a huge number of folks just don’t go confession.

In just a few minutes we will call to mind how,
on the night before he died on the Cross
Jesus took bread and wine and said
first “this is my body… this is my blood”
and then “do this in memory of me”
So we know that in Holy Communion Christ comes to us sinners,
just as surely as he came to the woman at the well.
But remember, before Christ would give the Samaritan woman
the life giving water,
he first had her face and confess her sins,
and leave her life of sin behind, like she left her empty water jar.
How many of us need to confess and leave our sins behind
before we ask Christ to give us himself in the Eucharist?

Now, of course you only have to go to confession before Communion
if you have a mortal sin to confess.
Maybe you don’t have a mortal sin to confess
—but then again, maybe you do.
I’m not saying you’re all terrible sinners,
I just know that sometimes we just get so used to our sins
we sort of accept them as part of us,
like the woman at the well did—until Jesus confronted her with the truth.

But, even if you don’t have a mortal sin to confess,
why wouldn’t you want to go to confession
to be washed clean from all your sins—even venial?
To a get a brand new fresh start on life?
Why wouldn’t you want to take the time to examine your conscience well
and humbly confess your sins to Christ?
And more importantly,
why wouldn’t you go just to receive the grace poured on you
in the sacrament?
Remember, it’s not just a priest waiting for you in the confessional
—it’s Christ himself.
Just like he waited for the Samaritan woman at the well.

But in both of these sacraments, as in all things, he needs us to choose.
We can come to confession or not, we can make a good confession or not.
We can receive him worthily or unworthily in Communion…or not.
And we can be open to the grace of both Communion and Confession…or not.
We must choose.

This Lent, imitate the woman at the well
and recognize that Jesus comes to us and waits for us, and loves us
—sinners that we are.
As she leads us to Christ,
let us choose to allow him to change our hearts and our lives,
so that we will no longer seek the temporary satisfaction
of the empty pleasures of the world,
waiting to die in the thirst of our sins,
but instead choose to let Christ fill us to overflowing
with the waters of everlasting life,
and live in his love—now and forever.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2011

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

If we look careful at today’s Gospel story of the transfiguration
we see a story marked by stark contrasts:
We have first of all, the change Christ’s appearance, as we read:
“And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.”
And then we see the radical contrast between the transfigured Christ
and the ordinary human appearance of Peter, James, and John
And we also see the apparently contrasting attitudes of the apostles:
on the one hand Peter says: “it is good that we are here”,
and on the hand the text tells us:
“they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.”

This Gospel really is a window into the meaning of Lent.
We read:
“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
Like the 3 apostles, we also go away with Christ during Lent to be alone with him,
and in the mystery of contrast we begin to
discover more about who he really is
and who we really are.

That’s what the apostle did.
They saw His glory, but they also saw how different he was from them
—and not just in appearances:
they saw the infinitely stark contrast between his holiness,
and their own sinfulness..
They saw him standing and talking to the Moses
—the giver of the Commandments of God.
And they saw Christ standing with the prophet Elijah
and remembered how all the prophets had called Israel to repent their sins
and promised a Redeemer who would save them from their sins.
And then they heard the voice from heaven say:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And suddenly, in presence of the perfection
of the eternal God the Father and His only Son,
and reproached by the giver of the Law of God
and the warnings of all the Prophets of God,
as “good as it [was] to be there,”
they “were very much afraid,”
as they came face to face with their sinfulness.

Sometimes it is said that Lent is a season of joy.
But it can only be a season of true joy to the extent
that we allow it to first be a season of true sorrow.
A season of recognizing that, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus:
“it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured,….
he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”
The joy and glory of the resurrection
comes only through his suffering and death on the cross,
and the cross comes only because of our sins.

In short, what joy can be there if we don’t first feel sorrow for our sins?
Conversely, though…for a Christian, sorrow for sins
should never be a slippery slope to hopelessness or despair,
but the first step on the road to glory and the joy
of sharing in the love of Christ.

What is a sin, after all?
St. Augustine tells us that sin
is a turning away from the Creator toward the creature,
loving the things God created more than we love God himself.
To put it another way, sin is about not loving God the way we should.
Think about this:
God loves us so much, and yet we fail to love him so often,
or we love other things more than him.
That’s why the very first commandment is
“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”
But we do this all the time.
Sometimes we put things before God: money, power, being popular.
Sometimes we put people before God,
particularly by letting people tell us what’s right or wrong.
The most common person we put before God is ourselves.
We say, I know the commandments or the Bible or the Church
says I shouldn’t do this,
but I think in this case I can make an exception:
I know better…THAN GOD.

Sometimes we hear people say, I love Jesus and my neighbor,
so the commandments aren’t that important.
As if there was some sort of dichotomy between love and the commandments.
But the thing is, Moses himself summed up the 10 Commandments by saying,
in the old Testament:
“You shall love the LORD your God
with all your heart, …soul, and …strength..”
And on the night before he died, out of love for us, Jesus himself said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments….”
The commandments can never be opposed to love,
they are God’s explanation of how to love.

Some say, but father I keep the commandments.
I’m sure you do, most of the time.
But I’m also sure that everyday most of us break the commandments,
in large ways or small.
Remember, for example, how Jesus explained the 5th commandment:
“You have heard …it …said …., ‘You shall not kill…’
…But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother
shall be liable to judgment…
… and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire..”

That person cuts you off in traffic, you don’t get angry?
Your friend somehow unknowingly hurts your feelings,
and you don’t think, “that fool” or worse,
or go to someone else to gossip about what a fool he is?

We do this all the time—we fail to love: we sin.
Most of the time it’s in small ways.

Sometimes though we sin in more serious ways.
Children yell and scream at their parents,
or pick on or spread ugly rumors
about the weak or different kid at school,
Teenagers lie to their parents about where they’re going at night,
or use alcohol or drugs or other people’s bodies for entertainment;
Parents spoil their children with every material thing they can afford,
or they neglect them by not showing them affection, or correction,
or failing to give them the Catholic faith,
sometimes even failing
to simply bring them to Mass on Sundays.

Spouses act like they’re married to their careers or hobbies,
they abuse each other with ugly words or actions,
or by perverting their conjugal love with contraception.

And single adults honor their parents by graciously calling them….once a year;
career replaces commitment,
ambition replaces charity,
lust replaces love.

Older folks also…
some allow loneliness to turn to bitterness or fear,
physical disability to lead them to selfishness or despair.

And priests…
some spend more time working on their golf game than their homilies.
They preach more about things that make parishioners feel good,
than the truth of the Gospel—including things like the reality of sin.
Not to mention, of course, the other terrible sins we’ve read about.

Small or large, venial or mortal, we all sin.
And that’s why Lent is so great:
in the light of the Cross and Resurrection
we’re recognize the truth about Christ and about ourselves,
about his love and our failure to love.
Again, not to drag us into despair,
but lead us to love.

[pause]
Now, inevitably when we talk about sin during Lent,
the subject of “doing penance” comes up.
There are, of course, 3 basic forms of Penance:
prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving.
But the question is: what do acts of penance actually have to do with sin?
Or put another way: how does giving up chocolate help me love God.

Before we get to chocolate, though, let’s begin with the penance of prayer.
Prayer is essentially a conversation with God,
or with someone who loves God so much she or he is in heaven
—a saint or angel.
Prayer makes us realize that God and our heavenly family
are actually and really there: always with us, always loving us.
And how do you come to love someone if you don’t talk to them?
If you ignore them?
So we pray.

In prayer we go to God for his help, for ourselves or others.
We go to praise and thank him, and to tell him we’re sorry.
Prayer is the first essential step in knowing God’s love,
loving him back, and growing in love.

Second, almsgiving.
The Last few Sundays we spent some time at each Mass
talking about how we can give alms to the Diocesan Church this Lent,
and today I encourage you to give alms to the people of Japan
in the second collection.
But as noble as that is, there are a million other ways we do this:
because “almsgiving” is just another word for “giving to those in need.”
So it’s not just giving money to worthy organizations,
or even to individual people who come to you in financial need.

Every day people come to you in need that has nothing to do with money.
Children, your parents come home from work tired:
they need you to help set the table,
and not to fight with each other.
Parents, I know you try hard to meet all your children’s needs,
but maybe sometimes you overlook the simplest things:
maybe sometimes they just need you to take time to talk to them.
And your spouses need you, your adult parents need you,
and your friends at work need you—in large ways or small.
And think of all the people you know
who desperately need to know about the love of Christ.
Who might even need you to point out that sins are not loving.

When you respond to any these genuine needs you are giving alms.
And you are replacing sin with love,
you are saying loving God and neighbor
are more important than my money or my time and effort,
or even my pride.
And you developing habits of love—you move toward true holiness.

And finally, sacrifices.
This is probably the most misunderstood and underappreciated
form of penance—yet it’s so important.
But how does giving up chocolate help you love God?

First, like almsgiving, it helps us to love God by recognizing that nothing
is more important than God.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
every time I look at that piece of chocolate in Lent I say
“I love God more than this chocolate.”
Small thing, but concrete, and effective.

Also, like almsgiving, sacrifice helps you recognize the sufferings of others:
every time your stomach rumbles or you crave that piece of cake,
you remember all the people who go hungry every day,
or suffer in any way:
the poor, the lonely, the oppressed, the ignorant.
And you hear the voice of Christ saying:
“whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

Beyond that is the aspect of self-discipline:
in the same way an athlete practices and exercises over and over again,
we practice self-denial we exercise our will, to strengthen our ability
to choose and do good even when it’s so hard,
and to persevere against evil even when it’d be so easy to give in.

Also sacrifice helps us to recognize that our sins
are in fact worthy of punishment.
We could never begin to repay the Lord for our transgressions,
but our willingness to accept self-punishment helps us to
express our sorrow and our deepest desire to make atonement,
and to recognize the depth of the wrong we have done.

Finally, and most importantly,
the penance of sacrifice helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ.
Every small pain or hardship coming from our sacrifices
reminds us how much he loved us,
that he would endure so much more for us.
And so, again, we return to the core of Lent:
the glory of his love for us,
a love that lifts us up even when we have freely chosen to fall.

[sp]
But in the end, no matter what we do, it’s all straw if we don’t
allow our penance to open our hearts to the power of his love.
As St. Paul reminds us:
“He …called us to a holy life, not according to our works
but according to …the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.”

So in Lent we seek his grace because we know that
what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.
And we find his grace in so many ways and moments of Lent,
but most clearly and powerfully in the sacraments
of the Eucharist and Penance.

As all of Lent looks to the Cross of Christ,
the Eucharist is the sacrament of his Cross.
At every Mass we go up the mountain with all the saints and angels
to see the glory of the Lord Jesus
giving up his body and shedding his blood,
so that sins may be forgiven—your sins and my sins.

And as the Cross points to the Resurrection,
we remember that on the evening of that first Easter
Jesus appeared to his apostles, breathed on them, and said:
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
So in the sacrament of Penance,
where we confess and express sorrow for our sins
before God and the Church, in the person of the priest,
we believe and know that the power of Christ’s merciful love
pours out on us, and every single sin is washed away.
And we receive the grace of that love,
the power to love him and one another just as he has loved us.

[sp]
During Lent we go away to be with the Lord
just as Peter, James and John once did.
And here, in the light of his glory,
we are stunned by the contrast between
the magnificence of his love for us,
and our own miserable failure to love him in return.
In this holy season the Lord calls us to recognize our sinfulness,
not so that we will wallow in self-loathing,
but to move us to change our hearts
and open our lives to his infinite grace.

Today, in the presence of our Eucharist Lord,
we imitate the apostles and fall prostrate before his glory.
Be afraid of what your sinful choices have done to you,
but see the Lord coming to you and saying
“be not afraid” to accept and return his love.
And let us thank the Lord
for the gift of this Holy Season of Lent,
saying with St. Peter: “it is good that we are here.”

1st Sunday of Lent 2011

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

This week we began 40 days and nights of Lent, in imitation of Christ
who, as we read in today.s Gospel, began his road to the cross
by going out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.
But why did Jesus do this in the first place—why did he go out into the desert?
It may surprise us to find that Scripture tells us:
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

Why did Jesus choose to be tempted?
Today.s 2nd reading reminds us that:
“just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
So we remember that Jesus came to reverse the sin of Adam and Eve.
And to do that he sets himself up to do the exact opposite of what Adam and Eve
did in the beginning.
So we go back to today.s 1st reading from the beginning of Genesis,
where we recall that original sin.
There we see the clear contrast between what Adam and Eve
did in the beginning,
and what Jesus did in the desert.

For example, first, Eve is tempted by the devil and gives in,
whereas Jesus is tempted and refuses to give in.
Second, Eve is living in perfect paradise that God created for man,
whereas Jesus is in the desert:
symbolic of the desolation that sin created for man.
And third, we see the obvious but often unspoken:
Eve is a female, and Christ is a male.

Now, before you start getting all defensive….I.m not going to pick on Eve.
Think of this: where is Adam when Eve is being tempted?
In the beginning Adam doesn.t defend his wife against the devil,
but Jesus comes to rid his bride, God.s people, of the attacks of the devil,
and will never abandon his bride to his temptations.
And even as Adam freely chooses to follow his wife into sin,
Jesus refuses to join his bride in sin,
but rather comes to save her from sins.
And so it can be said, as St. Paul does today:
“through …one man the many were made sinners,
so, through … one, the many will be made righteous.”

We.ll talk about more of these parallels later, but the point is,
Christ came into the world to undo everything Adam, with Eve did that day.
The victory was completed on the Cross on Good Friday,
but the battle was begun in the desert, where
like David his ancestor who went out to meet Goliath in battle,
Jesus also goes out to meet the devil in the battle to end all battles.

So as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter Sunday,
we begin by not only
joining Jesus in his 40 days and nights of praying and fasting,
but also joining him in all out war with our sins and temptations.

But what exactly is temptation?
It.s very simple, actually.
Temptation is when something bad appears to us to be good.
Think about it: we never do bad things because we think of them as bad
—we do them because they seem at the time to be good.
For example, when a diabetic gives in and eats a piece of chocolate cake,
he doesn.t do it because he says to himself,
“O goodie, if I eat this I.ll feel really bad”;
he eats it because he says to himself, “If eat this it will taste good!”
Or when that person cuts you off in traffic,
you don.t think
“I really want to do an evil thing right now”;
no, you think: “it would really feel good to yell at him!”

We see this in today.s 1st reading:
the devil doesn.t point out the terrible consequences of disobeying God.
No, he tells Eve:
“You certainly will not die!
No…your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods”!!
He manipulates the truth, making the evil seem to be good.

This is temptation, but there are also 2 basic sources of temptation:
internal temptation and external—temptation from within and from without.
Again, we see both of these in the 1st reading.
For example, we see the external temptation of the devil
—notice how it.s the devil who initiates the conversation—it says:
“The serpent asked the woman.”

But the temptation of the devil isn.t the only kind of external temptation:
external temptation also comes from other human beings.
And so Scripture tells us:
“[Eve] also gave some [of the fruit] to her husband, …and he ate it.”
Sometimes this kind of temptation is willful and intended,
but sometimes you don.t even know your tempting someone.
Eve might have talked Adam into it,
or he might just have followed her bad example.
Still, the fact is, Adam was tempted by Eve—from the outside.

And we also see internal temptation in this reading, but a bit more subtly.
Scripture tells us that before they sin everything is perfect in paradise,
but after the sin everything falls apart.
Before they sin they.re happy and share themselves completely with each other
—Scripture tells us:
“they bec[a]me one flesh. [they] were both naked,
and were not ashamed.”
But after the sin the harmony is gone, as we read:
“they realized that they were naked…
and made loincloths for themselves.”
It.s as if now they couldn.t decide, “is this good, or bad?”

So, while before the original sin Adam and Eve
are only tempted from the outside, by the devil,
after they.ve sinned the confusion also starts to come
from inside themselves.
Traditionally we call this internal confusion between good and evil
–caused by the original sin–
“concupiscence”.

All of us have this internal temptation because of the first sin,
and so St. Paul tells us today:
“through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”
Only Adam and Eve began life without this internal source of temptation.
that is, until Jesus—and his Mother Mary—came along.
So notice how Jesus—who is without concupiscence, just like Eve was at first—
is only tempted from the outside, just like Eve was before her sin.
And so Jesus comes, to begin everything new,
in the same moral place as Adam and Eve,
so that he can resist the temptation of the devil as they failed to do,
and reverse the sin that they committed.

Nowadays, some people say there is no devil,
or that there may be an evil force in the world,
but there is no personal evil, no person who is the devil.
But for Catholics, and for all Christians, this shouldn.t be a problem:
the Bible is very clear: there is a real live devil.
And he.s not alone—Scripture tells us that the chief devil,
called “Satan” or “Lucifer”,
is Lord over legions of other demons.

So it would be foolish to deny or ignore his existence.
Jesus didn.t: he knew him personally and went out to meet him and fight him.
And the devil hated Jesus and he hates us.
He tempted Jesus, and he still tempts us.

But he is not all-powerful: only God is all powerful.
And so Jesus beat the devil in the desert and he conquered him on the cross.
So when we face the fact of the devils temptations
and join Jesus in the desert this Lent and at the cross this Good Friday,
Jesus can and will save us from the devil.s temptation,
and protect us from the evil he tries to spread in our lives.

As I said, many people deny the existence of the devil, much to their sorrow,
because then they deny his temptations.
But not many deny the fact that people often tempt each other.
The problem is we usually don.t take it very seriously.
So during Lent we need to consider carefully the extent this kind of temptation
is present in our lives.

First, we have to consider how other people tempt us
—whether they mean to or not.
Consider the friends we have, and perhaps the bad influence they have on us.
Or consider the heroes we have, or the examples we follow:
—why someone like Lady Gaga,
is more important to our kids than someone like
Mother Theresa, or Maria Goretti, or Elizabeth Ann Seton?
For that matter, why do grown men place more importance
on reading an interview with Ben Roethlisberger
than a book written by Benedict XVI?

And while we have to consider carefully how others tempt us,
we also have to consider how we tempt others.
For example: do we gossip at work, and lead others into gossip.
Do parents fight in front of their children,
teaching their children to fight and bicker with each other?
What about tempting others in impurity—again, even unintentionally.
Now, eyes front!—no casting of judgmental eyes at your neighbors.
Think about the way you dress:
for example: ladies, do you realize that guys really do think differently
about the female body than you do?

That.s external temptation.
Then there is the internal temptation.
While baptism is like a medicine
that washes and heals the open wound of original sin,
concupiscence remains behind like a scar on our hearts.
And it confuses our own internal desires, we, in effect, battle ourselves.
That that more often than not, that little voice telling you,
“go ahead, no one will know,”
it.s not the devil talking,
but you confusing good and evil all by yourself.
I don.t know about you, but I don.t need anyone to tempt me
to eat chocolate cake,
no one needs to tell me “it.s good for you”
—I can do that all by myself.

Lent is a battle with all these temptations—internal and external.
And like any enemy, temptations come at us from all different angles
and try to turn our weaknesses against us.
Again, we see this as the devil tries to attack Jesus by appealing
to 4 common human weaknesses
—where concupiscence is particular prevalent.

First, he attacks the senses and the appetites:
— the Gospel tells us that Jesus “was hungry.”
and so the devil tempts him to
“command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
This Lent then, do something to mortify and discipline the senses and appetites.
For example, sacrifice a favorite food, or a favorite television show.

Second, the devil preys on our weakness to presume God.s mercy.
And so he tempts Jesus:
“throw yourself down.
For it is written:
„He will command his angels …
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone..”
How many sins do we commit every day thinking,
“well, it.s okay, God will forgive me.”
So during Lent, we make it a point to go to confession
to admit our sins to God, to the priest and to ourselves.
Or, how many times we sin on Friday night saying
“I.m going to confession tomorrow, so what the heck?”
So during Lent we make special sacrifices on Friday to remind us that
we should never presume to manipulate God.s love for us like that.

Then the devil appeals to our desire to possess things
—to our greed, avarice and lust.
So he
“showed [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world …
and said to him, „All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me..”
And so in lent we work on not wanting to posses things by
sacrificing things we like and giving our things to the poor
and by controlling where our eyes rove and what they watch on TV.

Finally, the devil preys on our greatest weakness: pride.
And so he badgers Jesus saying:
“If you are the Son of God.”
But as St. Paul writes:
“Jesus…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped at,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
And so in Lent, we practice humility,
trying to imitate God by become servants to each other,
performing good works and accepting the humiliation that life brings.

Today as we continue to imitate Christ.s 40 days and nights in the desert
we have to remember why he did all this:
that he went out “into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
–to face the same temptation that Adam and Eve had,
and to conquer it.
So this Lent,
let.s also go out with Jesus to do battle with our own temptations
—whether from the devil, from our neighbors, or from ourselves.
Not thinking we can defeat them on our own,
but remembering that Christ has gone before us
and is still with us today
giving us his mighty grace
to wage and win the battle.

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

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

Tomorrow is Valentines day, a day when the world celebrates lovers.
So let.s talk about love today.
But not “love” the way the world thinks of it–love the way it truly is:
the love the way God thinks of it.

In today.s Gospel we find Jesus continuing the same Sermon on the Mount
that we.ve been reading for the last 2 Sundays.
Today Jesus is talking specifically about the 10 Commandments.
Now, many people view the commandments as just a bunch of rules,
rules that we keep out of fear of going to hell, or “Gehenna,” if we don.t.
This was a conception of the commandments very common in Jesus. day,
especially among some of the Pharisees and Scribes,
who held a very legalistic view of the commandments,
thinking that if they could just keep the literal meaning,
then they would be saved.

But Jesus had a very different view of the commandments.
Elsewhere, in St. John.s Gospel, Jesus tells us:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
There are some who.d like to believe
that with this one “new” commandment “of love.”
Jesus abolished the 10 Commandments of the old covenant;
and then, of course they proceed to define for themselves what love is,
or rather what they want it to be.
But to Jesus keeping his commandment of love
is the same as keeping his Father’s 10 Commandments—of love.
He says:
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and abide in his love….”

The 10 Commandments, friends, are and always have been, about love.
They are the definition of the basic requirements of love
—the minimum we must do, or rather, not do, if we love someone.
So, if you love God, you will not have other gods before Him.
If you love your neighbor, the first thing you must do is not kill him!
And of course, don.t steal from him or lie to him.
And if you love your family,
you will honor your parents
and you will not commit adultery by either cheating on your spouse
or by abusing the gift that is all about
strengthening and creating family—human sexuality.
These are rules that outline the minimum requirements of love
—but they are defined by what is at their core:
they point to the maximum gift of love.

And so, as we read today in St. Matthew.s Gospel, Jesus tells us:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law.”
Jesus doesn.t throw out the laws the Pharisees clung to,
but instead he reinforces even “the smallest part of the letter of the law”.
But he calls us not to be shallow and depend on
a merely technical legalistic interpretation of the law
—“as long as I do this, it.s enough”–
but to go deeper and let the profundity of the law of love
that is outlined in the 10 Commandments,
encompass all of our lives and all of our actions.
He says:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
He calls us to keep the commandments with all of our hearts, in love.

Tomorrow—“Valentine.s Day”—
we.ll be reminded of “love” everywhere we go.
So let.s think about what happens when 2 people are in love.
When two people really love each other,
when they.re in the zenith of the romance,
they don.t think in terms of minimums, but of maximums.
They don.t just think what.s the least amount of this love that I can get by with…
No! They want and allow their love to seep into everything they do and think.

So they not only don’t want to kill each other,
they don.t want to even hurt each other in any way:
they don.t just agree not to beat each other,
rather the very thought of inflicting even the slightest pain
–physical or emotional
–is unimaginable.
And so Jesus says, if you love me and mine
–not only “Don.t kill them,”
but also “don.t call them „you fool.”“
–in other words, “don.t show them contempt or hatred in any way.”
Don.t even think about hurting the one you love, or that Christ loves.

Also, two people in love give themselves to each other in every way they can
–they give their time, their emotions
and their physical presence to each other,
and they can.t begin to think about giving themselves
in the same way to someone else.
They don.t want to stay late at work, or to be with their friends
when they could be at home or on a date with their beloved.
This is especially seen in love of spouses,
which is so beautifully experienced
in the complete gift of their bodies to one another in sexual intimacy.
In light of this, Jesus tells us to respect the awesome meaning
of spousal love expressed in this gift.
And so he says, if you love me and mine, not only don’t commit adultery,
but also don’t even “look at [someone] with lust”
because that.s the same as
“committing adultery with [them] in your heart.”

When you love somebody you make promises to them
and there is nothing more important than keeping those promises
–those commitments…those vows or “oaths.”
When you make a date, you show up;
when you promise to be at the Church at 2:00 for a wedding ceremony
you show up.
And so Jesus says, when you make a commitment in love in marriage,
you can.t put aside that commitment by signing a piece of paper
that says you are now “divorced”
–no court on earth can separate what you and God have joined.
You.ve given yourself and you can.t take yourself back.
And if you try to not only take yourself back,
but also to give yourself again in a commitment to a different person,
you don.t marry, you commit adultery.

And when you fall in love, you talk, and you talk all the time.
You talk about deep secrets, profound thoughts,
and even the most silly dreams and nonsense.
And as you talk you share yourself, and you become deeper and closer
in love through trust.
You don.t lie to someone when your in love
–and if you do, your relationship will soon die like week old roses.
So Jesus says, if you love me and mine, not only:
“Do not take a false oath… But I say to you, ….
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,. and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”
Lying is completely inconsistent with love.

If you want true love, keep the “rules” of love,
but not as a bunch of legalistic constructs
–don.t obey the rules like a lawyer, but like a true lover.
And if you follow the commandments this way, your love will be returned to you,
and you.ll know what it means when we read:
“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and nor has it
entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
On the other hand, if you don.t follow as a lover,
then you will lose the one you love above all others–you will lose God.
And those of you who have loved and lost their beloved,
or come close to losing them,
you know that the loss of your beloved
can be more painful than the burning of the hottest fire,
and more confining and hopeless
than the chains of the darkest prison.
And so Christ warns us, if you do not follow the commandments with love,
“you will be thrown into prison.”
AND “[You] will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”

When we leave here today we.ll be surrounded by signs of Valentine.s Day,
as the world prepares to celebrate its understanding of love.
But the world.s false notion of love is not only very radically different
from the reality of love, it is almost a farce in comparison:
like a thimble of sugar water compared to a barrel of choice wine.
Think about it: our desire for love is really not for something passing or shallow,
not for something that will make us smile tonight and weep tomorrow.
Rather we long in our souls for a love that is real, deep, boundless and endless.
Love that is all-consuming, never disappointing, always faithful,
always delightful and always strong.
Love that never dies.
That fundamentally human desire for love is nothing less than
our desire for God’s love:
the love we were made to receive and to share in,
as we were created in the image of the God who is love.

Unfortunately, most of are at least effected in some way
by the world.s false notion of love.
We find it in our schools, in the media, in entertainment.
We hear it from our teachers, from our political leaders,
and even, unfortunately, from our clergy.
St. Paul warns us in today.s second reading
that we are not to conform to this false worldly notion:
“We speak…not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age…
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom.”
The worlds. “wisdom of this age” tells us that our moral norms
must constantly be changed and adapted
to be modern, up-to date, relative or relevant
But in the Gospel, Christ gives us very specific, clear and unchanging norms,
as do Sts. Paul and Peter and John elsewhere in the New Testament,
using hard words like “unless you do this you will not enter the Kingdom”
and “Anything more is from the evil one.”
As St. Paul tells us today:
“God’s wisdom [is] mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined
before the ages for our glory,
and which none of the rulers of this age knew.”

Today.s first reading tells us:
“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live”
Tomorrow, Valentines Day, a day when the world looks for love,
and places before us its own false and shallow notion of love,
let us pray that we may choose to follow the way of true love,
in the fullness of the law of love of Jesus Christ.
Let us follow the 10 Commandments, but not as lawyers, rather as lovers.
And let us love as the great and perfect Lover shows us,
not with fear of losing our beloved,
but in the joy of our Beloved.s promise to his bride, and to each of us:
“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and nor has it entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him.”

February 6, 2011

Last week our Gospel reading was taken from the first part of the famous
“Sermon on the Mount”,
as we read the beautiful “Beatitudes” of Jesus.
If you heard me preach last Sunday
you may recall that I explained that the 8 beatitudes
are a wonderfully positive, yet more demanding,
presentation of the requirements of the 10 commandments.
Today.s Gospel literally picks up right where we left off last week
as the Sermon on the Mount continues with the beautifully positive images
that we “are the salt of the earth,” and “the light of the world.”
But again, these beautiful images and promises
reveal a very demanding standard for all Christians.

In today.s 1st reading, we find the prophet Isaiah speaking to the people of Israel
after they.ve come back from their great exile into Babylon
about 500 years before the birth of Christ.
For centuries God had given them tremendous gifts:
he gave them land and prosperity, wealth and great military victories.
But because of those many gifts, they began to have pride in themselves,
and to forget that all these wonders were from God, and for God.
Now, returning from Babylon, they are conquered people
whose dreams of being a powerful nation dominating their enemies
have, instead, been crushed by their enemies
They are like a people living in darkness.

And then Isaiah comes along to tell them that God hasn.t abandoned them:
in fact, God has now prepared them for the glory that he had promised.
But to do that they had to first be cleansed of their haughty pride and arrogance.
In essence, they had to become poor in spirit,
they had to mourn, and be meek,
and be persecuted for the sake of their God,
before they could inherit the kingdom of God.
So now Isaiah comes to them and tells them, now that you are humbled,
you are ready to come closer to God and live with him
by humbly loving him and your neighbor.
Humbly sharing whatever you have with those who are in need:
the hungry, the naked, the oppressed and the homeless.
And if you do that, he says:
“then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”

Elsewhere in this same book, Isaiah prophesies that:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
….For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”
In today.s Gospel we encounter that child all grown up,
that light now shining on a hill in Galilee
–Jesus Christ.
The light has come into the world, and the promises made to Israel are fulfilled.
A light given to his disciples to share if they follow Jesus,
and like him become poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and clean of heart;
if they patiently endure persecution because of him.

They have the light,
but now Jesus reveals that the light isn.t just for the small nation of Israel,
as Isaiah seems to say.
Now we hear that the light promised to Israel
and received by those first Jewish Christians
is to be given “to all”:
“do [not] light [the] lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
….set it on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house.”
By drawing closer to Christ in leading a life of good works and love,
by imitating him, who is meek and humble of heart,
the light of Christ shines through us out onto the world
so that the whole world can see
what it could never see in the darkness
–they will see the glory of God himself.

Now, someone will say, but Father,
Jesus says that we “are the light of the world.”
Yes, but then he immediately goes on to elucidate his meaning
by speaking of the light of a “lamp” on a “lamp stand.”
Scripture is absolutely clear: Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the light of the world.
But the thing is, by our Baptism Christ-our-light has entered in to us,
and so we bear him wherever we go.
And like a the lamp bearing the light of fire, we, in sense,
become a light, but only because of the fire, the light, of Christ within us,
a light we share in because we share in his very life.

We have to always remember that this is all about Christ and his Father:
on our own, we are not the light, Jesus is,
and our good works are only as lasting as their connection to Jesus.

Sometimes we forget this, and we fall into the trap of pride,
just like Israel did before the Babylonian exile.
Even with all good intentions, we can sometimes begin to think
that we are a light all by ourselves.
And we try to live in the light of merely our own human wisdom and reason
–and this is a real light, because reason comes from God
–but it is a very weak light compared to the light of Christ,
like the light of a match compared to the light of the Sun.
St. Paul warns us about this in today.s second reading:
“When I came to you, ….I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.”
He warns us, not to focus on
“persuasive words” or “human wisdom, but on the power of God.”
The power that is the powerful light of Christ.

We can also begin to think that good works in themselves
are the most important thing
–regardless of whether those good works are connected to Christ,
or work to reveal Christ to the world.
But throughout the Gospels, the Evangelists make it abundantly clear
that the main reason Jesus did his miracles of good works
–the main reason he cures the sick and feeds the 5000–
is so that the people–Israel–will recognize the light shining in their midst,
and come to believe in him.
Good works are not enough
if they are stripped from their inherent connection to Jesus Christ.
They are like “salt that loses its taste…
It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out.”
Good works which are not humbly rooted in Christ and in his true love,
will always leave us unsatisfied and will have no lasting good effect in the world.
Because the greatest work, the perfection and purpose of all good works,
is to bring others to Christ, to bring them to have faith in Christ.

On the other hand, we could also begin to think that good works
are not important at all.
Some Protestants believe that we.re saved “by faith alone”
—that good works merely prove we have faith,
or perhaps they.re the fruit of faith,
but aren.t necessary for salvation.
In other words, as long as you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior,
you don.t need to be good or do good to go to heaven.

I.m always amazed by this thinking,
since it depends on taking certain texts of the Bible out of context,
and ignoring most of the rest of the Bible.
I mean, practically the whole Sermon on the Mount is about doing good works
and being good by living according to the commandments.

Unfortunately, this false doctrine is not new—it.s as old as the Old Testament.
That.s exactly the mistake Israel made when they took God.s gifts for granted.
They also had faith in God
—they were positive that God had chosen them as his people.
Even still, nothing kept them from falling into the sin of pride in themselves,
and neglecting actually doing the will of God.
They neglected the good works that their faith demanded
–the good works of the commandments and the beatitudes
and the good works that give life and expression
to loving God, and loving neighbor.

For those who say that faith alone saves,
I just wish they.d take a 2nd look at the Scriptures.
In today.s reading from Isaiah, God says:
“Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,…”

And in the Gospel, as Jesus comes to the end of his “Sermon on the Mount”
he tells his followers
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
shall enter the kingdom of heaven,
but he who does the will of my Father.”

And then there are those crystal clear words of the Epistle of St. James:
“If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
and one of you says to them,
„Go in peace, be warmed and filled,.
without giving them the things needed for the body,
what does it profit?
…faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. ….
Show me your faith apart from your works,
and I by my works will show you my faith.
…Even the demons believe–and shudder.”

Works without faith are meaningless,
but faith without works is useless:
like a body without life or like life without love!
Because it.s only through our works that we can live our faith and our love,
And it.s in seeing our good works,
done in the name of and our love for and faith in Jesus,
that others are attracted to have faith in Jesus.

The Israelites were given many wonderful gifts
but they had to be conquered and made humble
before they could receive the greatest gift:
the light that would drive all darkness and gloom from their midst,
the gift of the Messiah, the Christ.
And that gift was not meant to be just for them,
but to be shared with the whole world.
Today, that light shines on in the Catholic Church
which Jesus built on the foundation of his apostles
–a shining city set on a great mountain for all to see.
We, the members of his Church,
must not only not hide that light under a bushel basket,
we must take that light into all the cities of the earth
and shine the light of Christ into every dark corner we find.
Not shining our own dim light–the light of clever words, or of human reason,
or doing good works just to do good works,
or professing an empty and lifeless faith.
But instead, going into the world, humbly filled with the love of Christ
–filled with his light–
and live the life of love, the life of faith
expressed and lived out in good works
—acts following the commandments, the beatitudes
and charity—
and in doing so bring the whole world to join us
in believing in and doing the will of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
and his heavenly Father.
Remembering always his command that:
“your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

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

38 years ago today/yesterday1 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
1 January 22, 1973

that women have a fundamental right to abort their babies
—the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.
Since then pro-life advocates, including the Catholic Church,
have been waging a peaceful war to mitigate and eventually overturn
that barbaric decision.
The war continues.

Over the last 16 years or so I have preached on the evil of abortion,
and the need to fight that evil at every turn,
including in the public square and in the political arena,
especially in the voting booth.
Some people have objected to these homilies,
some arguing that I am unnecessarily political,
some that I’m often too partisan,
and some that there were, in fact, more important issues to worry about.
I could understand many of those objections:
they are absolutely wrong, but not unreasonable.

But the one objection I have never understood is when people say
that my position on abortion
—or rather, the Church’s doctrine on abortion—
is fundamentally unjust
since it ignores the rights of women to make choices
based on their own good.
The problem is, anyone who argues
that abortion is about protecting women and their rights
is ignoring the fact that in every abortion there are at least two victims:
while it is clear that every abortion
stops the naturally beating heart of a baby,
what many refuse to recognize is that it also
breaks the naturally loving heart of a mommy.

For the last 4 decades doctors of the body
have overwhelmingly defended the medical choice of abortion,
while at the same time doctors of the mind
—psychiatrists and psychologists—
have also defended that choice as often being necessary
for the psychological health of the mother.
But any one who argues
that an abortion can ever be psychologically good for a woman
is ignoring the facts.
Think about it.
You don’t have to teach women to love their children without reserve:
what mother do you know that if she had to nurse her baby
through the suffering of some terrible disease
like leukemia or kidney disease
wouldn’t gladly trade places with her baby?
Mom’s are just like that.
How could such an amazing creature as a mom
ever benefit emotionally from doing something
so radically opposed to her nature.

Still, in spite of scientific study after study
that proves this common sense observation,
and in spite of the millions of emotionally crippled women
that come to them,
the mental health establishment refuses to open its eyes to see the truth.

Sometimes when I speak to people about abortion, someone will say:
“what do you want to do, put these women in jail?”
The answer is not only “no” but “are you crazy?”:
the very fact that they do something
so obviously contrary to their own basic nature
leads me to want to assume that something extraordinary intervened
to confuse or impair their judgment.
And that “something” includes the systematic brainwashing they receive
in school, in the media and from health care workers.
And more importantly it includes the incredible pressure brought to bear on them by
doctors and nurses grown callous to their patients,
parents ashamed of their little girl
or boyfriends or husbands unwilling to shoulder responsibility
for their sexual conduct.
If anyone should be punished, it should be these people
who should know better,
and to whom the distraught woman or frightened girl comes to for help.
In the words of the great advocate of women’s rights of the 19th century,
the famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony, speaking on the evil of abortion:
“thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation
which impelled her to the crime!”

And yet it is the woman who does bear the punishment
—whether the laws of society recognize the crime or not.
The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many times
doctors, lawyers, feminists or boyfriends say,
“honey, you didn’t do anything wrong”
–every woman who aborts knows in her heart what she did,
and there is no punishment conceived by man or woman
that could compare to the hell
that they heap upon themselves.

These women know.
Some don’t always admit it, but they know.
I’ve seen the terribly tortured look on the faces
and heard the tormented voices
of too many women who come to me in the confessional.
Especially in the last few years as the group called Project Rachel
has become more and more active in our diocese.
Because Project Rachel, and other groups and individuals like it
recognize the distress of these women, and offer them a helping hand.

It’s interesting that Project Rachel phone counselors
say that although they always offer women a choice between a referral
either to a priest or to a psychologist,
the women overwhelmingly ask for a priest.
I didn’t understood that, until a few years ago
when a woman sat in my office telling me
that for 10 years she had very clearly seen the connection
between her severe emotional problems and the abortion she had had
just a few weeks before her problems began.
And yet counselor after counselor for 10 years
kept telling her that she hadn’t done anything wrong
—abortion was okay:
the only problem she had was her unreasonable guilt,
and so they tried to cure her guilt.
She was fed up with her problems, and she was fed up with their lies.
She came to a priest—even though she was not even Catholic
—because she knew that a priest would believe her when she said
she had been wrong in aborting her baby,
and that a priest might help her to deal with
the terrible thing she had done.

The truth hurts, but lies hurt more
—especially when you’re dealing with the life and death of babies,
and the love and guilt of mothers.
It’s time to end the lies
—time to end the silencing of these women who cry out in pain,
and instead to silence those who tell them to be silent.

How do we do this?
Of course, must fundamentally we change people’s attitude toward abortion…
society must admit that killing unborn babies,
and encouraging mothers to do so, is simply grossly wrong.
We need to stop confusing women in crisis pregnancies
and denying proper treatment to those who bear long standing guilt.
To do this we must have good men and women in public office
who will deal with abortion with honesty, and true compassion.

That’s what we can do publicly and for long term results.
But more immediately, we can help that poor devastated woman in our midst
–perhaps our sister, mother, wife or friend–
who needs more than anything else
to admit her guilt, receive forgiveness
and begin to heal the open emotional and spiritual wounds
of a bleeding womb.

In the end, there is only one person who has the power to make this happen.
In today’s Gospel St Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah:
“the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen…” And then St. Matthew goes on to say,
“Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And finally he says:
“He went around all of Galilee…proclaiming he gospel
…and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Jesus alone can shine the light on these women
living in the dark shadow cast by our society’s culture of death,
made all too personal in the death of their own babies.
And he begins by telling them the truth about their sin
—calling them, in love, to “repent.”
But most wonderfully he completes his work
by healing the wounds abortion has left them with. Jesus is the only answer for these women.

But today’s gospel also tells us that Jesus called Peter,
and the first apostles, saying:
“Come after me,” or “Come, follow me,”
“and I will make you fishers of men.”
And he says to you and I today in a particular way,
in a voice echoing over 2000 years:
“Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of”
these women who are in pain.
We must follow him, proclaiming his gospel
of repentance, forgiveness and healing
especially to the living victims of abortion.
And we must tell these women that Jesus longs to help them,
if only they will also respond to his invitation: “Come follow me.”

If they do come to him, He will fulfill, in them,
the prophesy of Isaiah we read in today’s first reading:
“Anguish has taken wing,
…for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. You have brought them abundant joy… For the yoke that burdened them,… you have smashed.” Jesus Christ will smash the yolk of guilt and sin of the abortive mother
with his forgiveness.
He will drive out her anguish and gloom and replace it with his joy.
He will lead her out of the darkness of death
and lead her into the glorious light of His life.
If only she will come and follow him.

Jesus calls you and I to remain silent no longer.
To our fellow Americans who believe the lies and manipulations of
pro-abortion advocates, radical feminists and politicians
we must proclaim the Gospel of Life,
and shine the light of Christ on the dark shadows cast by their deceit.
To those young girls and older women who face crisis pregnancies
we must love them enough to tell them the truth
that even if husbands, or boyfriends or parents abandon them,
Christ will never abandon them.
And to those women who suffer the pains of guilt of past abortions
we must remind them that Christ longs to
dry their tears, take away their grief, and forgive their sin.
If only they will ignore those who try to silence their cries of pain,
and instead listen to voice of Jesus who calls out to them, “Come follow me.”

Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph 2010

December 26, 2010
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Yesterday, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The day when, in the fullness of time, the eternal God became one of us.
But his birth didn’t occur in a vacuum.
He didn’t just arrive on a cloud fully grown and ready to preach his gospel:
no, he chose to be born into a human family,
and so today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family
of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

On Christmas, at Masses during the day, we read
the beginning of the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. John chose these words very carefully.
Notice how they parallel the text of
the first words of the first chapter of the first book of the bible, Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is no accident:
St. John’s telling us that Jesus is Incarnate eternal word of God
who was there in the beginning and is the source of all creation.
So Genesis tells us that on each of the six days of creation,
God creates by simple speaking the word: for example:
“God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
As St. John tells us:
“The word was God … in the beginning…
all things came to be through him”.

What St. John’s tell us is that Jesus, the Word,
is the person of the Trinity who communicates God to us.
Jesus, the Word of God is the revelation of God,
his explanation of himself and his love for us.
And because creation comes about by the word of command of God,
everything created by God through the Word tells us about him.

We see this most especially on the sixth day of creation:
“…God created man in his own image,….male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply.””
God chose, as the culmination of his revelation in creation
to reveal himself in the family:
in the union of male and female created in his own image
and blessed with the gift to “be fruitful and multiply”
–to have children.

This self-revelation of God is made through every family throughout history.
But in the fullness of time it’s made most perfectly and sublimely
through one family in particular.
St. John tells us:
“the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
— he made his dwelling among us in the family of Joseph and Mary:
the Holy Family.

So we can see that right from the beginning of Creation, and right from the beginning of our salvation—our re-creation in Christ—
the family is God’s chosen instrument
to reveal himself to the world.
And so it’s not a great surprise that as we look around us and see a world
evermore plagued by crises of violence, hate, and general moral chaos,
we also find the family to be in the middle of a crisis of its own.
But in a sense, it’s not really a crisis of its own,
since it’s intimately related to the other crises in the world:
because to the extent God is not revealed in and by the family,
God will not be revealed to the world.
To the extent the family isn’t allowed
to be all that it was created to be in Jesus Christ,
neither can the world become all that it was created to be.

Before we can worry about solving world crises, we need to start at home,
with our families.
And as we start at home we need to start, “in the beginning”,
and come to understand what it is that God has created us to be.
We need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a family in Christ?

Today’s readings give us many practical and simple, yet profound,
instructions on family life.
For example, the first reading reminds us of the practical and spiritual need
for children to honor their parents,
both when they’re young and when they’re old.
And today’s second reading continues and broadens this instruction
to apply to all the members of the family.
There is of course a line in this reading from Colossians
that tends to upset some wives somewhat:
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.”

But to understand this phrase
we have to look at the whole context of the passage.
Before he tells wives to be subordinate to husbands
he first lays out the general rule that everyone must, as he says:
“Put on,…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another…
And over all these put on love…
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

What Paul does here in this passage from Colossians,
is the same thing he does in an almost identical passage
in his letter to the Ephesians.
In Ephesians, before he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands,
he sets the context; he says,
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Paul’s teaching isn’t that wives are slaves,
but that the Christian life is one of love
expressed in humility and service.
All Christians must be subordinate, or humble servants, to one another,
and it’s only in true Christian humility that each member of the family
can be everything God created them to be
–whether they’re husbands and wives, or parents and children.

It may be hard for us to imagine a perfect family
–one that’s always truly mutually humble and submissive.
But there is one family that we can look to for example:
the Holy Family.
This is the family that lives mutual submission most perfectly,
and that is the most sublimely happy and holy family ever
–the family who became exactly what God had created it to be.
The Gospels tell us that the Husband and Father Joseph
submits to his wife and son
by first taking them into his home when he finds Mary pregnant,
and then also as he sacrifices his work and life in Nazareth
to protect Mary and Jesus as he takes them to Egypt
to escape the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod.
The Mother Mary submits to her son, Jesus,
by freely agreeing first of all to accept him into her womb,
and also to take on the awesome responsibility
of raising and educating the Savior of the world.
The Wife Mary submits to Husband Joseph by following him into Egypt,
and caring for him as her husband.
And even the son Jesus–the sovereign Lord and Creator of all the Universe
–even he submits himself to his parents, as we read in Luke’s Gospel:
“He went down with them….to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.”

This is the humility and love that all families are created for and called to,
and it is the humility and love
that the whole world is created for and called to.
And it’s in this humility and love within the family
that God humbled himself to enter into, in order to save the whole world.

Imagine how our family lives would be different if the members of our families would simply learn to humbly submit to one another.
Imagine, if fathers and mothers saw themselves as servants of their children.
Not giving up your role as parents, Moms and Dads,
but seeing your fatherhood and motherhood
as being geared not for your pleasure or happiness,
but for your children’s well-being.
And that includes the times you’d rather just let your kids do whatever they want,
because then they’d like you a lot more, or think you’re “cool” parent,
or even when you’re just worn out
and don’t want to fight them anymore.
But you know that what they really need is for you to serve them
by being the GROWN-UP and saying no, or disciplining them,
by being willing to fight for what’s good for them.
Again, not because it makes you feel good, but because it’s what they need.
On the other hand, it means not punishing them or denying them something
simply because you’re being stubborn, or selfish,
or trying to make them into little “mini-Me’s” in your own image.
As St. Paul tells fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”
But kids, I’m not letting you off the hook in all this.
The commandment is clear: “honor you mother and father.”
And St. Paul is clear: “Children, obey your parents in everything.”
That doesn’t mean that if they’re really hurting you,
or neglecting you that you have to simply take it;
as I noted before St. Paul commands fathers:
“do not provoke your children!”
But it does mean that in all things, whether you’re a 3 year old kid,
or a 70 year old kid,
you have to first ask,
how am I serving my parents in this?

And how wonderful marriages would be,
if husbands and wives lived to serve each other.
If wives truly respected their husbands, and began everyday thinking
“how can I serve him today.”
And if husbands truly laid down their lives,
as Christ who was KING of the universe,
and yet came not to be served, but to SERVE,
and laid down his life for his bride, the Church.
Imagine, in particular,
all the little stupid things that you argue over or neglect to do
that would simply vanish, if you would both just keep the attitude of that
“I am here to serve you, because I love you.”

Now, we know that not all families are blessed
with the many graces of the Holy Family
–many families may not even have a mother or father, or a child.
Sometimes this is by God’s design,
and sometimes this is because of somebody’s sin:
because of the lack of love and humility
on the part of individual family members,
either in the present generation, or in generation’s past.
But this is no reason to give up on, or loose sight of the meaning of family,
and strive to live it as completely as we can.
Nor is it a reason to try think that the “traditional” family
is outdated, or impractical,
or that it can be changed by decree of merely human authority
–that, for example a family can, on its own,
opt out of having a father or children,
or can include 2 men or 2 women who live together
as some in the world are trying to make us believe.

Because as long as all things are created in and for Christ,
the family must be what he created it to be.
Even the Holy Family suffered adversity:
the child was born in the poverty of a barn,
Joseph died years before Jesus began his public ministry,
and Mary was left completely alone
when members of her own people killed her son.
But in and through their adversity, they continued to love and honor each other,
and in doing so become an instruction for us all,
an instrument of the revelation of God’s love to the world.

Its not easy to be a family nowadays.
But it wouldn’t have been easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either,
had they not submitted their lives to one another in love.
If our families submit to one another, and center their lives on Christ
we’ll find the happiness and peace of God himself
revealed and made flesh
in the very human life of our own families.

With the Holy Family as a shining example,
and through their mediation of grace and intercession,
may we always allow Jesus Christ—the Word of God incarnate–
to reveal his love to the whole world
through his love incarnate in our families.

Christmas 2010

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

“Merry Christmas.”
Wonderful words, aren.t they?
Yesterday someone left me a message on my voice mail,
ending with a cheery “Happy Holidays.”
It was kind of them, and I appreciated it,
but I couldn.t help but thinking, “nooo…„Merry Christmas..”
Because words have meaning.
God bless „em, but “Happy Holiday” could refer to one of several “holidays”
I really don.t celebrate—including “winter solstice.”
But you say “Merry Christmas” and it means something wonderful:
the joyful birth of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Words have meaning.
Last night at midnight Mass…
the Church read aloud
some of the most beautiful and meaningful words
ever spoken in all of history,
the words of an angel to certain shepherds 2000 years ago,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you
good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you
who is Christ [the] Lord.”

These words meant that the promises made long ago had been fulfilled:
the words spoken to David, Moses and Abraham,
words promising that God would send a messiah
to save his people, the Jews.
These words were a promise, and God kept his word, his promise.

But these angelic words also had a meaning
that went well beyond the Jewish people
—a meaning “for all the people,” as the angel said.
Because is it was the fulfillment of a promise
not simply to the Jewish patriarchs,
but a promise to the human patriarch and matriarch:
Adam and Eve.
Although the words were spoken as a curse
to the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve,
their effect was to be the hope of and a promise to “all the people”:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
[he said]
and between your seed and her seed;
….you shall bruise his heel,
[but] he shall crush your head.”

In these words, from almost the very beginning, God gave his word
that he would redeem man from sin,
and from the curse of death, suffering and fear,
and reconcile all mankind to his friendship.
This is God.s word, the word of God.

But the meaning of words “word of God” is even more rich than this.
If we go back even further, we remember the very first verses of the bible,
in the book of Genesis, that tells us that
“In the beginning…” God created everything out of nothing
by simply saying words.
“God said: “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
“God said “Let us create man in our own image”
—and man was created.

In the language of Holy Scripture,
God.s words are not empty sayings or mere letters on paper.
When Scripture says that God “speaks”, or when it refers to “God.s word,”
it really means God is revealing something about himself.
In many ways, “God.s word” is himself,
communicating himself to creation and to man.
So when God says something, we can believe it
because when God gives his word, he has given himself.

And so, as we read today,
St. John tells us, as he begins his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God….
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.”
And in describing the very same message
that the angel spoke to the shepherds, that
“today ….a savior has been born for you
who is Christ [the] Lord,”
St. John tells us:
“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father.s only Son,
full of grace and truth.”

Here we see how Scripture uses that idea of God.s self-revealing
—his word—
to describe how the very Son of the Father,
comes forth from the heart of Father,
to reveal and give himself and the Father to world.

And the core of this divine self-revelation can be summarized,
again, in a word.
And that word is “love.”
As St. John tells us elsewhere: “God is love.”
So that when the word became flesh,
Love, pure, perfect, infinite, omnipotent, divine love,
became a human being
—and Mary and Joseph named him “Jesus.”

And we see this divine love, revealed,
not just in the words from his human mouth,
but in everything he did in his human life
We see it in his early life as obeyed his human parents in Nazareth,
and as he sweated a living for his mother in the carpenter.s shop,
And then in his public life, as he fasted in the desert,
walked up and down the length of Israel,
and healed the sick, raised the dead,
corrected sinners, cleansed the temple,
and, finally, endured scourging, spittle, nails
and the cross..
And we see it magnificently
in his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.

But we see this love of God made flesh revealed most clearly,
most simply and purely,
in the event we celebrate today.
We see it in the face of the new born babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.
We see in him the love of God who loves us so much
he would strip himself of his heavenly glory
and humble himself to be born in a stable.
Who loves us so much
he would come to us not at the head of a huge army, clad in armor, but as a completely vulnerable baby.

God has loved us from the very beginning,
and he has revealed this love in face of the baby Jesus.
God gave us his word,
his word has meaning and he has kept his word,
as his word has become flesh.

Of course, all this happened in history 2000 years ago.,
But before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave us his word again,
this time saying:
“behold, I will be with you always, even until the end of time.”
And, again, he has kept his word, and his word has meaning:
the word made flesh still dwells among us.
He dwells among us in his Church—His body in the world.
He dwells among us in his teachings proclaimed by the Church
in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
He dwells among us in his sacraments,
the signs of his grace and truth
that speak to us in the flesh and blood reality of our bodies,
especially the Eucharist,
where the word literally becomes flesh for us,
and he physically comes to dwell inside us.

God has kept his word.
But the question now is this: do we keep ours?
And like His words, do our words have meaning?

Today is a day full of words—beautiful words.
You say “Merry Christmas” to family and to strangers,
and “thank you” for the gifts you receive.
Better still, you say “I.m sorry” to family and friends you.ve been angry with;
you promise to be a better husband or wife,
father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister….
you talk about how nothing.s more important than family.
You say “I love you” in so many ways.

But tomorrow, or next week, will those words be worth anything?
If not, do they really mean anything today?

A few minutes ago, we all said together:
“I confess to almighty God,…
that I have sinned through my own fault.”
And in a few moments all of us will stand and say the words of the Creed,
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
…[he] was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
And then we continue:
“We believe ….in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…”

And after almost every prayer we pray today, you say “amen.”

The word “amen” has a meaning:
it means “yes, you.re right, I believe that.”

But all words have meaning.
Do we mean what we say today?
Are we sorry for our sins?
Do we believe in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God,
and that he became man and was born a tiny baby
2000 years ago in Bethlehem?
Do we believe in all he revealed to us,
and continues to teach us through his Church?

This is what we say…these are our words.
If we mean all this, the question is, do we keep our word?
Do you live the life Christ revealed to us
—can anyone tell from the way you live that you believe
that Jesus Christ was born
and still dwells here on earth?

Today we hear the voices of the angels echoing over 2000 years:
Listen to the words of the angel proclaiming the news of great joy,
and sing “Glory to God” with the heavenly hosts.
And in the tiny baby born in Bethlehem,
see, believe and rejoice that God means every promise he makes,
and that he always keeps his word,
and gives you his grace to do the same.

Today I pray that you may have
a truly blessed, holy—and “merry”—Christmas.
But more than that,
I pray that the Word made flesh may always dwell with you,
and that you may always dwell with him,
and recognize his love as clearly as you recognize it today,
in the face of the
“infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”

Blessed Theodore de Celles

My column of August 1 was dedicated to all the great saints whose feasts are celebrated this month. But I left out one saint (actually, a “blessed”). He’s not very well known, in fact his feast is not even on the liturgical calendar. Even so, I keep his feast every year on August 18. He is the 13th century priest named Blessed Theodore de Celles, my ancestral uncle.

As a young cleric Bd. Theodore joined the Third Crusade, and in Jerusalem developed a profound devotion to the mystery of the Holy Cross of Jesus. A few years after returning to Belgium he founded the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross—“the Crosier Fathers”—and joined in a new crusade to preach to and convert the Albigensian heretics in southern France. There he worked alongside St. Dominic, founder of the “Order of Preachers”—the “Dominicans” (of which St. Raymond was a member and served as third Master General).

Bd. Theodore entered into paradise on August 18, 1236, but the Crosiers remain here on earth. In America they work mainly in Arizona and Minnesota, but in God’s providence the only Crosier Father on the east coast was my spiritual director when I was in seminary. Needless to say, Bd. Theodore is one of my primary patron saints, and I have commended my parish to his special care.

The Albigensian heresy Bd. Theodore fought in the 13th century included a very strange understanding of the human body, yielding a perverse set of sexual mores—especially with regard to marriage. The 21st century finds us fighting a new set a strange sexual mores, many of which were encapsulated in a decision by a Federal Judge on August 4, in which he ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to “marry.” According to him, for as far back in history as we can go, thousands of years, mankind has “irrationally” defined marriage. I addressed this topic in my homily last Sunday, which I have posted to the parish website. I hope you will read it and consider the ramifications of this disastrous ruling.

Another assault on marriage today is the growingly common practice of men and woman cohabiting—living together—before marriage. Not only is this a mortal sin against the sixth commandment (fornication), and thus the worst spiritual preparation for marriage, but it is also one of the worst ways to practically prepare for marriage: statistics show a dramatic increase in the probability of divorce for these couples—up to 100%.

Because of this, in all charity and sincere paternal concern for their well-being, I strongly exhort any cohabiting couples to change their living arrangements, practice chastity, and seek Christ’s merciful forgiveness and grace in the sacrament of penance. And I encourage anyone who knows a cohabiting couple to love them enough to encourage them to change, and to assist them in any way possible with the change.

With this in mind, I would make one plea and one policy with regard to couples who approach St. Raymond’s to marry. 1) The plea: Many couples feel trapped due to financial factors; therefore, I ask any parishioners who have a spare room to rent or lend to let me know, so that I can offer this alternative to couples. 2) The policy: in order to properly assist couples in their preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, and to make it absolutely clear that we can not condone or cooperate with this self-destructive behavior, from now on cohabiting couples wishing to be married at St. Raymond’s will be required to live separately at least 3 months prior to their wedding; couples who choose to remain cohabiting may still be married here in a “simple ceremony” (without a Mass, music, flowers, processions, etc.). This policy flows only from true pastoral love for these couples, and without any malice or condemnation; and I would be happy to discuss it with any concerned couple.

On this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, I pray for all of us, that through our Blessed Mother’s intercession and example we may live lives of true holiness, and so one day live in the glory and joy of heaven with her and her Divine Son.

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. De Celles