29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 21, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

You know, one of the great consolations of being a priest here at St. Raymond’s
is the kindness of our parishioners.
But sometimes people, even very kind people, complain about what I do.
And I understand that and I try not to let it bother me,
because first of all I know I screw up,
and second, well, I know that you can’t please all the people all the time.
Besides, I’m a big boy, I can handle,
especially when criticisms are presented with charity.

Sometimes, though, it can be a little frustrating.
Especially when I get comments that go in exactly the opposite directions.
For example, a few weeks ago I got a number of notes from parishioners
telling me my homily was absolutely beautiful and powerful,
well organized, clear, methodical and moving.
And the same day I got a couple of notes from other parishioners telling me
it was the worst homily they’d ever heard, it was hurtful, rambling, and cold;
and that I should be ashamed of myself.

What do you do with that?
Sometimes it kind of reminds me of today’s Gospel,
where John and James come up to Jesus and say:
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Even so, lately the number of complaints
about my homilies have gone up noticeably.
And even though the number of compliments have also gone way up,
way more than the number of complaints,
I still feel I need to consider the concerns at the core
of some of the complaints.

In particular, that I’m preaching too much about politics,
and that I use language that is too direct and too passionate.
And that I seem to be “telling people how to vote.”

Let me begin by saying, in everything a priest does
he should take to heart what Jesus says to his apostles today:
“whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;…
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”
We are not to “lord” our authority over our people, but to humbly serve them.

But the thing is, notice what Jesus says to John and James today:
“to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
His Father had already decided who would sit where in the Kingdom,
so even though Jesus came to serve us, beginning with his apostles,
he came to serve His Father first—to be obedient to his Father’s plan.

Also, remember what John and James call Jesus.
Before they tell him what they want him to do for them, they first call him: ,
“Teacher.”
Jesus is a servant, who serves by teaching.
How well does a teacher serve his students, if he tells them just what they hear.
So, Jesus serves by teaching them what they need to hear,
what his Father wants them to hear.

So, as a priest, that’s my job: to serve you by teaching;
to teach not what you want to hear,
or what I want you to hear,
but what Jesus and his Father want you to hear.

Now lately some have been upset that I’m preaching too much about politics.
But I’m not really preaching about politics.
I’ve been preaching about Christ’s teaching, the Church’s teaching,
and calling attention to the obvious conflicts
between the world and that teaching.
Some say, but Father, what about the wall of separation of Church and state?
But should the Church be silent when the state makes immoral laws,
or when candidates are in favor of immoral laws?
Good lord, how many times has the church been criticized for remaining silent
and letting immoral laws stand unquestioned?

For example…
In the year 1839 Pope Gregory XVI issued a document called “In Supremo,”
reiterating the Church’s ancient teaching against slavery,
specifically reproaching those who:
“dare to …reduce to slavery
Indians, Blacks or other such peoples….
as if they were not humans but rather mere animals.”

Unfortunately, some Catholics, in particular, some American bishops and priests
—especially Southern bishops and priests—
tried to argue that the doctrine didn’t apply to American slavery,
because somehow it was “different.”
It seems they got caught up in the prevailing attitude of the culture around them
and were influenced more by what their people wanted them to say,
than what Christ and the Church demanded that they say,
and so either twisted papal teaching into something it was not,
or simply chose to remain silent.

This, of course, led the laity to be confused about the morality of slavery.
And that confusion led to a terrible social disaster just a few years later,
when in 1857, a supposedly “devout Catholic” named Roger Taney,
writing as the fifth Chief Justice of the United States,
wrote the opinion in the Supreme Court case known as “Dred Scott,”
upholding the institution of slavery in the America.

This is what happens when bishops and priests
fail to clearly point out laws that are evil in the sight of Christ.
And so slavery continued, and 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War,
and millions of Black Americans suffered racial oppression
for a 100 years after that.
And while their parishioners may have been happy in their pews,
we are ashamed of the failures of those southern priests and bishops.

But when priests and bishop speak up,
and serve their people by teach the truth,
even when people get tired of hearing it,
wonderful things can happen.
Almost exactly a century after the Dred Scott case, in 1956,
an American Catholic bishop served his people
by stubbornly repeating the teaching of the Church,
and even in the face of the mockery and violence,
even by his own people,
refused to conform himself to public sentiment,
refused to accept some artificial line between Church and state
that would defend the racial segregation of the deep South.
His name was Francis Rummel, the Archbishop of New Orleans,
and what he did was desegregate the Catholic schools of his archdiocese. And when large groups of Catholic lay people continued to try to block his efforts,
after ample warning, he excommunicated their leaders.

Imagine if the American Catholic bishops of the mid-1800’s
had been as courageous as Archbishop Rummel:
if they had stood united against slavery,
banging the drum of justice over and over again
so their people would finally listen, and understand. Maybe the Dred Scott case would have been decided the same way.
But maybe it would have been without Catholic Justice Roger Taney’s help.

Now, some say if the Catholic bishops and priests in the South
had actively opposed slavery they would been both marginalized
and actively persecuted.
Maybe.
Some say all southern Catholics would’ve been persecuted,
or that southerners would have left the Catholic Church in droves.
Maybe.

But then again, isn’t that what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel
when he asks: “Can you drink the cup that I drink”?
He’s talking about the same cup he talks about in the garden of Gethsemane:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup of suffering, the cup of the Cross, the cup of his blood poured out.
“For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Acceptance of suffering is part of being a Christian.

Of course slavery is behind us, but unfortunately,
many Catholics now accept an even greater social evil.
Because while it’s horrible to take away an innocent person’s freedom,
it is clearly even worse to take away an innocent person’s life.
And so we face the abomination of the 21st century: abortion.

Yet the popes in our time have taught very clearly on this as well:
the Church has constantly and infallibly condemned abortion
as a grave evil—a mortal sin.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, in 1995:
“by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors
….I declare that direct abortion
… always constitutes a grave moral disorder,
since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

Fortunately, virtually all the American bishops, and most priests,
see this very clearly.
Maybe they don’t all always speak up about it as they might.
Still, one wonders if they imitated Archbishop Rummel,
acting a bit more forcefully,
not worried about pleasing their people
but about serving their people by teaching them the truth,
one wonders if there wouldn’t be less confusion among Catholics
about abortion today.
One wonders if Catholics wouldn’t abandon any party or candidate
who publically supported the killing of innocent human beings by abortion,
just as (today) they would surely abandon any party or candidate
who publicly supported the oppression of innocent human beings
by slavery or unjust discrimination.

But this not just about abortion.
The pope has reminded us, time and again that we must defend,
both the right to life
and traditional marriage (one man/one woman),
and that these are, in his words, “not negotiable.”
And it’s also about religious freedom, especially here in America.
As the pope reminded American Catholics just last January:
“It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States
come to realize the grave threats
to the Church’s public moral witness…
The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated…
Of particular concern are …attempts …to limit
that most cherished of American freedoms,
the freedom of religion.”

And so the bishops and priests cannot, will not, be silent
about these 3 non-negotiables: life, marriage and religious liberty.
Even if it means a little suffering.
If I suffer from a few harsh complaints
or feeling I’ve let you down by being a poor preacher.
Or if you suffer through a homily that makes you feel uncomfortable or bored.
Or even if the Church suffers the loss of parishioners
who refuse to drink from the cup of Christ’s suffering
and instead to go to a church that will make they feel good.
What matters is that we are servants of God,
and learn from God how to rightly serve each other.

All this is not about politics.
And it’s not about telling you how to vote.
It’s about the truth and the teaching of Christ and his Church.
About learning from the terrible mistakes of the past
in order not to repeat those mistakes today.
It’s about warning you against those who embrace intrinsic evils
that will destroy America.
It’s about being a servant of Jesus Christ,
even when it’s difficult, even when it means drinking of the cup of suffering.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 7, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Today our Bishops ask us to commemorate Respect Life Sunday
—to remember that our nation, and much of the world,
has been caught up in a culture of death spurred on
by the evil of abortion.
In this context today I want to focus on one key aspect of the culture of death,
and that is its effects on women.

Nine months ago certain so called “progressive” politicians
began to accuse more conservative politicians of what they called
waging a “War on Women.”
It quickly became a mantra, and even a whole political strategy
embraced by one of the major political parties[—the Democrats].
And while they overtly make this charge
against their counterparts in the [Republican] [other] Party,
it began and subtly continues to be most fundamentally, and viciously,
a charge against the Catholic Church.

But today I ask: Who is really waging a War on Women?

In the 1960s the feminist movement sprung up as a reaction
against various forms of discrimination against women.
As such, it has many good aspects to it.
Unfortunately, the movement became quickly dominated and manipulated
by radicals influenced by Marxist ideology,
not rooting itself in love and truth but in envy and lies.
So that males became the enemy,
marriage was seen as slavery,
and motherhood a form of bondage.
So the strategy emerged to attack men, marriage and motherhood.

It began to unfold with an effort to lift an ancient ban on contraception,
and to make it not only legal but favored by society.
This began in the early 20th century but really came to fruition
in 1965 when the Supreme Court ruled that
bans on contraception were unconstitutional,
against the newly discovered “right to privacy.”

Progressives argued that this would free women
from unwanted or unplanned pregnancy,
and give them control over their own bodies
so they could pursue education and careers
unhindered by the “burden” of babies.

But who did it really free—who did it really benefit?
50 years later we see that it actually freed men
from their responsibility for pregnancies
—it was the woman’s choice not to contracept,
so pregnancy became her “fault,”
and the babies became the woman’s responsibility,
and the fathers were free to walk away.

Moreover, by separating the necessary and beautiful connection
between conception and sex,
men increasing lost respect for women and their sexuality,
and women became not persons to be respected
but sexual objects to be used.
And the gift of pregnancy—nurturing the life of a new human being—
began to be considered a type of a disease,
one that women had to take medicine to preventive.

But of course, it was really more a poison than a medicine
—the birth control pill normally acts
to cause the body to do something unnatural,
it causes it to be unhealthy.
So is there any surprise that the World Health Organization classifies the pill
as a carcinogen, in the same category as cigarettes?

And then there was divorce.
Around 1970 states started to enact so called “no-fault” divorce laws,
making it extremely easy, in most cases, to get a divorce.
Feminists argued these laws would allow women to free themselves
from abusive or oppressive husbands.
But once again, it has more commonly been used to free men
from their responsibilities to their wives and children.

And the ease of divorce encourages couples
not to try to save struggling marriages—to give up too easily.
In the end, in the overwhelming number of cases,
women get the short end of the stick:
once again receiving primary responsibility of the children,
both practically and financially,
as they are abandoned by husbands and fathers.

And then there was Abortion.
Studies show that between 30 to 60%, perhaps has high as 67%,
of all abortions are directly related to the coercive efforts
of a husband, a boyfriend, or a father.
In other words, abortion is often chosen not by women, but by men.
Studies also show that even when there is not direct coercion,
fear of losing or angering the man in their lives
is also a significant cause for the choice of abortion.
So much for freeing women from their slavery to men.

Also, abortion has always been a backup to contraception,
especially in the eyes of many men.
So once again, men say:
“you should have been more ‘careful’—its’ not my ‘fault’, you deal with it.”
Once again, men are freed from responsibility,
leaving women alone to deal with a challenging pregnancy.

But more than all that, with every abortion there are 2 victims:
the baby whose heart is stopped,
and the woman, the mother, whose heart is broken.
In those moments of fear or confusion or even abandonment,
they may grab hold to the lie that “it’s just a clump of tissue.”
But eventually a mother’s heart has to come to terms with what she’s done
—something so terribly contrary to every instinct, every longing
of their maternal souls.
And when they do, society, having bought into the lies of the abortion culture,
tells them they are wrong to feel guilty,
and even mock them in their pain.

And finally, we have the redefinition of Marriage.

Of course, this was begun when contraception was accepted,
as that separated life-giving-conception from love and commitment.
Even the instinctual connection
between marriage and procreation was broken,
and so marriage was no longer about having children,
as it had always been in the history of mankind.
And marriage became more about sex than permanent commitment
—the commitment strengthen by the birth of children.

And divorce did the same thing:
the no fault divorce makes a joke out of vows of “till death do us part.”
And in abortion, along with mirroring the effects of contraception,
we also see
the wedge it can drive between a husband and wife,
especially when it involves coercion by either,
and how it turns the family from being the refuge of safety
into a den of death.
All these have redefined marriage.

No wonder we now see the push to the most abominable re-definition:
“gay marriage.”
Think about this: this means woman is no longer essential to marriage.
And it completely undermines the very institution itself,
really destroying the fundamental institution
that allows a woman to flourish as mother and wife.

So again I ask: who is waging the war on women?
Is it the Catholic Church, or the “social progressives”?

The Catholic Church, my friends, defends the dignity of women.
Before it was popular, or the enlightened thing to do,
in the ancient world that held that
women were not much more than mere property,
when it was thought that a man couldn’t really be a friend to a woman
because she was so intellectually inferior,
it was the Catholic Church who proclaimed the words of Jesus:
“from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”
Here he was quoting from the first chapter of Genesis which says:
“God made man in his own image, male and female he created them.”
In other words: one creature, in two ways.
Male and female, equal in dignity, but radically different as well.
Why?

Because created in the image of the God who is love they had to be
both radically equal and radically different
so that they can give themselves to each other in love.
So the differences are a good thing—and a real thing,
essential to being male or to being a woman.
And among those good, no, GREAT and wonderful differences we find what?
–only women can be mothers!
And also, that women have an incredible capacity to nurture and to pacify.
Even the radical feminists admit this, even though they would deny it:
how many times have you heard some radical feminist say,
“if women ruled the world we’d put an end to war”?
Why—because it is deep in their nature to nurture, not fight.
Although they certainly can fight, just as a man can nurture.
But each is given a special capacity that cannot be denied.

And because women have these great “feminine” gifts, especially motherhood,
the Church has always taught its men to respect and honor women.
Standing when a lady comes into a room, or opening a door for her,
was a sign of that respect,
not of “condescension” as some feminists claimed.
And so was protecting her virginity and her sexuality
until it could be expressed in its proper context
with a man who gave and dedicated himself
totally and forever to her in marriage,
and respected the great give of procreation and motherhood,
the most marvelous fruit of her femininity.

So, the Church says “no” to divorce.
As the Lord Jesus says:
“a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”
Again quoting from the beginning of Genesis,
but now adding his own clear teaching:
“Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being may separate.”

WE say, a woman has a right to a stable home,
to a husband and a father for her children
who gives himself totally and forever,
so that her wifely and maternal love can flourish.

And the Church says “no” to contraception.
Instead we say with Jesus:
“Let the little children come to me, do not prevent them,”
We refuse to objectify women’s bodies
and make women mere sex objects to pleasure men.
NO!
In Genesis God tells the first husband and wife: “be fruitful and multiply”!
And, again, Jesus says, also quoting genesis: “the two become one flesh”!
The one flesh union means three things:
first: the union of their in life and love
lived out in the ordinary life of the flesh,
second: their bodily union in the marital act of love,
third: the union of their life and love in the one flesh that is their baby.
The Church stands in awe of the gift of feminine fecundity,
as all men, and women, should as well.

And the Church says “no” to abortion.
We will not only not support the killing of little babies,
but we completely reject a practice and mentality
that warps and destroys the very heart of women,
in turning a mother against her child.
We will not condone the coercion of women
to turn against their babies and their very own nature,
transforming an innocent child’s protective and nurturing mommy
into a callous enemy.
We will not stand by as women are crushed by this great evil,
and mocked, ridiculed and silenced when they cry for help!

And the Church says “no” to all forms of redefining marriage.
Again, as Jesus himself reminds us, quoting from Genesis:
“from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”
Marriage is the permanent union of one male and one female,
in which they lead one life together,
and from their fruitfulness of their bodily unity and differences,
give life and love to children.

Who has declared war on women?
Not the Catholic Church!
And, frankly, not the Republican Party, which,
in the legislation it supports,
it’s party platform
and the public practice and convictions of its candidates
for President and Vice President,
stands with the Church against abortion and redefining marriage,
and defends the Church’s and the individual’s right, our religious liberty,
to hold, practice and proclaim their belief
in the corrupting effect of contraception.

No, the ones who have declared and wage war on women are those hypocrites
who pretend to be the friend of women: the so called “social progressives.”
And, yes, the Democrat Party has declared war on women,
as it has publically and enthusiastically,
in the legislation it supports,
it’s party platform
and the public practice and conviction
of its candidates for President and Vice President,
embraced abortion and the degradation of marriage,
And it is that party, and her candidates that have insisted
that contraception is not only a right but an essential good
that must be provided and defended,
even if it means throwing out the religious freedom
specifically guaranteed in the constitution
and even crushing the Catholic Church, and any Church,
that dares to defy them.

Who has declared war on women?
As Catholics, it cannot, it will not, be us!
And as Catholics, we cannot be an ally of those who are waging
a war on women.
No, as Catholics, we must use every weapon at our disposal
to peacefully protect women from those who wage war on them.
By our words and actions, by our financial donations and prayers,
and, yes, by our votes in local, state and national elections.

Today is Respect Life Sunday, and all October is Respect Life Month.
The culture of death has its cold icy hand
wrapped around the heart of our nation,
a strangle hold that is destroying our society.
And that heart I speak of is our women, in their wonderful feminine greatness.
We cannot respect life
if we continue to degrade the ones who are so integral
to its conception, birth, nourishing and nurturing.
We cannot respect life if we do not respect women,
and defend them from those who would degrade, diminish or destroy them.

As we enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
let us join together with Holy Mother Church,
and with our Blessed Mother Mary,
and beg our Lord Jesus Christ,
Spouse of the Church and Son of Mary,
to come to the aid our country, and to us,
as we fight the war for women, and so restore an abiding respect for life.

October 14, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI, “Porta Fidei”
Apostolic Letter, October 11, 2011
Establishing the “Year Of Faith,”
from October 11, 2012 through November 24, 2013
(excerpts)

1. The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, offering us the life of communion with God and offering entry into His Church when the Word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be transformed by grace. It begins with Baptism (cf. Rom. 6:4); it is then that we can address God as Father. The end comes with the passage to eternal life.

2. Ever since the start of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith. At the Mass inaugurating my pontificate, I said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must lead people out of the desert towards the place of life”. However, because so many think that faith is self-evident and its meaning and values have little appeal, a profound crisis of faith has affected many people.

3. We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless and the light be kept hidden (Cf. Mt 5:13-16). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God and on the Bread of Life.

4. In light of all this, I have decided to announce a Year of Faith. It will begin on 11 October and it will end on the Solemnity of Christ our King on 24 November 2013. The starting date of October 11 2012 also marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.…Moreover, I have convoked for October 12, 2012 the General Assembly of Bishops to consider the theme, “THE NEW EVANGELIZATION FOR THE TRANSMISSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH”. This will be a good opportunity to usher the whole Church into a time for the rediscovery of the Faith.

6. The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers. Christians are called to radiate the word of truth. That requires conversion. Hence, the Year of Faith is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). To the extent that he/she freely cooperates, one’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed.

7. It is the love of Christ that fills our hearts and impels us to evangelize. Through His love, Jesus attracts to himself the people of every generation. Today, there is need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful and enables us to give life-bearing witness. Only through believing, then, does faith grow and become stronger.

8. On this happy occasion, I wish to invite my brother bishops from all over the world to join the Successor of Peter in recalling the precious gift of faith. We will have the opportunity to profess our faith in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families. Religious communities as well as parish communities are to find a way to make public profession of the Credo.

10. At this point I would like to sketch a path intended to help us understand more profoundly not only the content of the faith but also the act of entrusting ourselves fully to God. Knowing the content to be believed is not sufficient unless the heart which is the authentic sacred space within the person is opened by grace so as to see below the surface and understand the word of God. Moreover, a Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him. Precisely because it is a free act, faith also demands social responsibility for what one believes. Finally, profession of faith is both personal and communitarian. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘I believe’ is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during baptism. ‘We believe’ is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers.” That said, we must not forget that very many people are sincerely searching for the definitive truth of their lives and of the world.

11. To arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith, all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church an indispensable tool. Blessed John Paul II called it a “valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”

14. The Year of faith will also be a good time to intensify the witness of charity. Faith without charity bears no fruit. Without faith charity would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Did not James write: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (Jas 2:14-18). Therefore faith and charity require each other.

15. May this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ increasingly firm, because only He guarantees an authentic and lasting love. We believe with firm certitude that the Lord Jesus has conquered evil and death. With confidence we entrust ourselves to him: he, present in our midst overcomes the power of the evil one (cf. Lk 11:20); and the Church, the visible community of his mercy, abides in him as a sign of definitive reconciliation with the Father. Let us entrust this time of grace to the Mother of God, proclaimed “blessed because she believed” (Lk 1:45).

October 7, 2012

Today is “Respect Life Sunday,” beginning “Respect Life Month,” in which the American Bishops call us to remember that over 3000 innocent Americans are killed every day by abortions, over 1.3 million a year, for a total of over 50 million dead since 1973.

But even as horrible as that death toll is, we can’t forget that abortion has other consequences as well—consequences that have been eating away at the moral and legal fiber of our nation and culture.

Of course, we cannot forget the consequence of abortion’s devastating effect on women. Especially the women who have been lied to and told, “it’s okay, it’s just a formless clump of cells.” But deep inside they know, or come to know, the truth of what they’ve done. These are the 2nd victims of abortion, but they are ignored and ridiculed for expressing their pain and feelings of guilt. We must not forget them, we must love them and do everything we can to help them heal, and to make sure that the evil of abortion will not continue to plague future generations of women. We must put an end to the real “war on women”—born and unborn.

But the consequences of abortion go beyond even that, as the establishment of a constitutional right to abortion is like a virus injected into the body politic slowly corrupting every other right, and the freedom that is the life’s blood of our great nation. Because there cannot be any human rights if human beings don’t have a right to life. If you’re not alive, you have no rights at all.

This is why, in 1776, when Virginian Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the only rights he felt it necessary to list were the most fundamental: “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—with the right to life being first.

At this point, some might be wondering, “what about the separation of church and state.” But as Pope Benedict told a group of American bishops gathered in Rome last January: “The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues….”

When most of us think of the separation between church and state we think of the Bill of Rights. What does it actually say? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Notice, it’s not about protecting the government from the church, but protecting the individual and religions from the government.

Just as the “right to life” is the first right listed in the Declaration, the right to freely practice our religion is the very first right listed (in the very first words of the very First Amendment) in the Bill of Rights. And rightly so. Because the freedom of religion is essential to the freedom of thought, to decide for oneself what one believes to be true, right and good. How can we defend any rights if we don’t have that right? And how can we defend any rights as being given to us from God himself, as the Declaration states, unless we have a right to believe in God as we see fit?

But since the right to life necessarily precedes all other rights and liberties, when someone embraces a theory of man and society that rejects the right to life, he thereby perceives all other rights and liberties as not fundamental, natural or God-given, but simply invented by political expediency and political power. So that when those in power find that the exercise of a certain right or freedom is not politically expedient to their agenda, they will quickly dismiss that “freedom” or “right.”

In January 2012 our President did just that. After years of notoriously rejecting the right to life he issued regulations (now in effect) that, while exempting institutions that primarily serve Catholics (e.g., parishes), require most Catholic institutions and employers to provide health insurance for their employees that will cover contraception, abortion inducing drugs, and sterilization. This is repugnant to Catholic morals, but the president directly and willfully dismisses our constitutional and human right to freedom of religion. Moreover, he imposes draconian fines on those who defy him, fines that will bankrupt and close every faithful Catholic college, hospital, and charitable institution (e.g., Catholic Charities, Knight of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services) in the country.

The President says he is not attacking our liberty and that he strongly supports the “freedom to worship.” But as Pope Benedict has reminded us so often, religious freedom is not merely the freedom of worship. “Worship” is not what the First Amendment is about: the exercise of religion is actually practicing the tenets, putting faith into action. In other words, the work of Catholic hospitals, charities etc.—the very organizations the administration is attacking.

Is this direct assault on the Catholic Church aimed to punish the Bishops and faithful Catholic for their opposition to abortion, and our defiance of the President’s relentless promotion of the gay agenda and sexual promiscuity? Perhaps, perhaps not. In any case, just as they tossed out the most fundamental right to life, now they have thrown out the first right that flows from it. And if they can so easily cast aside the first right recognized in the First Amendment, what will keep them from ignoring the rest of the rights listed in the First Amendment: freedom of speech, the press, peaceful assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances?

And if they can make Catholics provide contraception, etc., what else can they make us provide? Direct surgical abortions? “Gay weddings”? And if they can close down our charities, can they take away the Church’s tax exempt status or put your priests in jail for preaching against their attack on the Church? You might think it’s a stretch, but according the reasoning of the Supreme Court, the constitutional right to contraception was the basis for both the right to abortion and the right to sodomy. Once you ignore the natural rights of man, and replace them with their opposites, then anything is possible.

As Pope Benedict told the American bishops: “…[I]t is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political …spheres… Of particular concern are …attempts being made to limit …the freedom of religion.…. [and] the right of conscientious objection…”

So what do we do? There are many ways we can effect change. First, we can still exercise our First Amendment right of free speech to tell to our neighbors the truth about what’s going on. And in 4 weeks we can exercise our right to vote to elect congressmen and senators and a president who will defend our God given rights, and end this hellish persecution of Christ and His Catholic Church.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

September 30, 2012

SOCIAL JUSTICE. The Catholic Church coined the term “social justice” in the mid-1800’s as part of a systematic effort to apply traditional Catholic doctrine to address the new problems raised by the Industrial Revolution, and to counter the evil proposals advanced by Marx and other socialists, i.e., “the left.” This effort reached official “doctrinal” status when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, and almost every Pope since then has weighed in to further clarify and to apply the doctrine to their own times.

Unfortunately, the doctrine has often been misunderstood, and even hijacked by the ideologies it was meant to counter, so much so that now many good Catholics identify the term with secular leftist principles. Even so, those same “good Catholics” would readily support the actual Catholic doctrine and apply it in real life. So, for example, these Catholics would have no problem with the doctrine the we must care for the poor, and would support programs that effectively and efficiently assist the truly needy, assuming it had no significant negative moral side-effects.

At least two key difficulties arise. The first is rather straightforward, arising when ideologues replace the unchanging principles of Catholic “social doctrine” with their own immoral ideological principles; e.g., redefining “marriage.” The second is more subtle, arising when the unchanging (Catholic) principles must be applied by individuals to the particular situations of their times by the use of prudential judgment. This can lead to different proposed solutions to the same problem, each being morally valid but not necessarily equally successful; e.g., one person might try to address poverty by giving a man a fish, another might try by teaching a man to fish.

SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE COMING ELECTION. Three key principles that form the basic foundation of Catholic social doctrine are the right to life, the dignity of the family, and freedom of religion and conscience. In the last month two bishops spoke out on the effect of these principles on the coming election. Allow me to quote from them at length:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois (Catholic Times, September 23, 2012):

“Much attention was given at the Democratic National Convention held recently in Charlotte, N.C., …In 1992 Presidential candidate Bill Clinton famously said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” That was the party’s official position until 2008. Apparently “rare” is so last century that it had to be dropped, because now the Democratic Party Platform says that abortion should be “safe and legal.” Moreover the Democratic Party Platform supports the right to abortion “regardless of the ability to pay.” Well, there are only three ways for that to happen: either taxpayers will be required to fund abortion, or insurance companies will be required to pay for them (as they are now required to pay for contraception), or hospitals will be forced to perform them for free.

“Moreover, the Democratic Party Platform also supports same-sex marriage, recognizes that “gay rights are human rights,” and calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law signed by President Clinton in 1996 that defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

“…There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding “political” and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins…

“So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin…. One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils…

“Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia (National Catholic Reporter, “Chaput in Philly swims against ‘nostalgia and red ink,’” Sept. 14, 2012, interview with John L Allen Jr.).

“Reporter: …Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?
“AB Chaput: I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.

“Reporter: What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?
“AB Chaput: Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic. … You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, I’m speaking only for myself, but I think that’s a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but it’s certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that it’s somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesn’t make any sense at all.

“The Ryan budget isn’t the budget I would write. I think he’s trying to deal with the same issue in the government I’m dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone who’s actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them…It’s immoral for us to continue to spend money we don’t have. I think that those persons who don’t want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.”

DON’T FORGET THE PARISH PICNIC TODAY from 1pm to 4pm! All are welcome!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 30, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Sometimes we’re so busy seeing the differences between ourselves and others
that we fail to see the good things we have in common.
On the other hand, it is important to recognize those differences,
first of all to see the differences that we may want to overcome,
but also, to recognize and protect ourselves
against values that we don’t share.
This tension between recognizing both the good and the bad in others
is a source of particular difficulty for Christians
–we want to see the good in others,
but we don’t want the good that they possess to blind us
so that we fail to notice the goodness that they lack.

Its sort of like the apostles in today’s Gospel when they discover that a man,
a stranger who did “not follow” them
is performing miracles in the name of Jesus.
And it seems that the apostles are confused,
wondering if they should do something to stop him.
But even though this stranger lacks the fullness of the good that would come
with being in the intimate company of Christ,
Jesus tells the apostles:
“Do not prevent him….For whoever is not against us is for us.”

This need to recognize Christian works in those who are not fully in our company
leads us to understand the great importance
that the Catholic Church places on ecumenism.
We’re called to look for the things we have in common
with the various non-Catholic but Christian denominations,
and then to use those as a starting point for both mutual cooperation
in spreading the Gospel
and in beginning the process
of striving for the unity of all Christians everywhere.

And we’re not just called to recognize the goodness of Christ’s truth
in other Christians,
but also to recognize that goodness when it’s possessed by non-Christians
–even atheists.
Because even a non-Christian can come to recognize some of the truth of Christ
–even if they don’t recognize it as Christ’s
–to the extent they pursue the truth with an open and humble heart.
By working with tolerance with people of other denominations, or religions,
or even with atheists,
on issues that we share strong beliefs,
we can build a better and more just society,
and lay the foundation so that the Gospel of Christ might then take root
and spread to all men of goodwill.

And yet, as our ecumenism and religious tolerance increases,
we find ourselves in the dilemma I mentioned earlier.
Sometimes in our rush to see the good in others,
we confuse cooperation and toleration with indifferentism,
truth with ignorance and error,
and even sometimes good with evil.
The good that is present seems to overshadow or mask that which is lacking.

But its important to remember
that just as Jesus insists that we must recognize and respect
the truth that others possess,
he’s even more adamant that we can never compromise
on the fullness of the truth.
He tells his apostles: ” whoever is not against us is for us.”
but he immediately goes on to warn them:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

Now, I don’t mean to imply at that non-Catholics
should have a millstone tied around their neck.
The point is to consider the intensity with which Jesus insists
we not lead anyone astray from him in any way.
Notice that Christ calls us not to mislead his “little ones”
–but by that he means not only children, but all of us that he calls to
“become like these little ones.”
Its wrong to lead anyone away from Christ in anyway–even ourselves.

Leading people astray is easy nowadays
because there’s such a tendency in our society
to see the good in others and then immediately move
to accept everything about the person as good.
We see this everyday.
Sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in a radical and drastic way
by overtly rejecting Christ and his teachings or his Church.
For example, consider young couples living together before marriage.
How many Catholic parents have tolerated this in their adult children,
perhaps even letting the couples sleep in the same room
when they come to visit.
They focus on the good things about their children
and somehow let those excuse their gravely sinful behavior.
Those parents not only lead themselves astray,
they also lead these adult children astray,
and their younger children as well.
And in doing so cause all “these little ones …to sin.”

And I’m not going to point the finger at just lay people.
How many priests fall into this same trap?
And I’m not just talking about the terrible sexual scandals.
As terrible as those are, they are comparatively very rare.
More common are the times when priests lead little ones to sin
by the heresies they preach,
or the false compassion they show in the confessional.
For example, how many married couples tell me
“but Father, Fr. Smith told us contraception was okay.”
But Jesus had a much different approach to compassion:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off [He said].
It is better …to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go …the unquenchable fire.”

But sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in less dramatic ways,
such as when we accept anything less than the fullness of the faith,
either through ignorance, which is not knowing the fullness of the faith,
or through indifference,
which is disregarding the fact that this ignorance is a problem.
And this ignorance is a problem because while its not evil per se,
there’s no way that we’d ever say that this ignorance
–or lacking of the fullness of the faith–is a good thing.
So it would be wrong to mislead others by allowing them
to remain away from following the true Church of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
without making any effort to share the fullness of the Catholic faith with them,
whether it’s your fallen away Catholic brother,
who’s a great guy but just won’t go to Mass,
or your friend who’s a devout Evangelical,
and you think, well they love Jesus
so I don’t need to tell them about Catholicism.

But it’s easy to mislead people–especially ourselves.
It’s so very hard to walk the fine line between
on the one hand, recognizing the good that others do,
especially when they do it in Christ’s name,
and on the other, charitably rejecting what runs contrary
to the fullness of Christ’s teaching.

Of course all this has great practical application in our lives
—in our families, at work and in society in general.
But especially right now in the middle of a heated political campaign season,
it’s so easy to get confused—to be misled or mislead ourselves.
We so often look at a candidate and want to see the good in them,
and then let the good we see excuse some evil policy they embrace.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to focus on our differences with someone
and fail to recognize the good policies that they embrace
—the good values we have in common with them.

And in all this we fail to recognize, we mislead ourselves,
as to who is for us and who is against us.

For example, in our presidential contest.
We have one candidate who is of a completely different faith than we are:
he’s a Mormon.
And make no mistake about it, Mormons are not Christians.
They say they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior,
but they don’t mean what we mean by that:
they do not believe in the Trinitarian God
—one God in three persons;
nor do they believe in the co-equal and co-eternal divinity
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
and I could go on and on.

And yet, you look at the lives that Mormons lead, their moral values,
and you see people striving to live very much as Catholics are striving to live.
In particular, you see in this “Mormon candidate”
a man who not only has a record of
serving those in need,
both personally and with extreme financial generosity,
but also someone who recognizes and promises to uphold
the most basic values Catholics hold dear:
the right to life, especially of unborn babies,
the true meaning of marriage
between one male and one female,
and the God-given right to practice our religion freely
without government coercion or persecution.

And then we have the other candidate, our current President,
who shares the basically same faith as we do
—although not a Catholic, he emphatically claims to be a Christian.
And he wraps himself in Biblical ethos:
he speaks of being “your brother’s keeper”;
and says “from to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
And he seems like a decent man—a good father and husband.
And yet he has consistently undermined
the most basic Christians values:
promoting the most extreme positions on abortion,
championing so-called “gay marriage”
and repeatedly violating the religious liberty of Christians,
especially Catholics,
including trying to force us to provide insurance
to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Who really is for us, and who is really against us?
Who is leading us and our “little ones” astray?

We can never completely reject those who would—intentionally or unintentionally—
lead us astray of the Gospel in any way
because then we’d wind up rejecting almost everyone
and whatever truth they posses, or good they do.
But we must also be so careful not to let the good that we see in others
cause us to fail to recognize what is lacking
—and even the evil that is there.

In those who actively oppose Christ and His Church,
we must recognize evil,
even as we see the good they may do.
In those who love Christ but don’t share in the fullness of the faith,
we must recognize not evil but ignorance,
even as we see the true beauty of the faith they do have
–a faith that may be 10 times as strong as yours or mine.
And in those who love Christ but who cannot see
that God wants neither evil nor ignorance for his children,
we must recognize the sin of indifference.

Today, let us pray for the gift to see Christ’s truth
and his goodness in all those around us,
as we strive for Christian unity,
the conversion of the whole world,
and goodwill among all peoples.
But let us also pray that we may always discern clearly
what is for Christ and what is against him.
And let us pray that we may never, in even the smallest way
–either by our sin, or indifference or ignorance—
lead anyone, especially ourselves, away from the fullness of life with Christ.

September 23, 2012

Good News. I am happy to report that Fr. Joby Thomas has returned to his religious order in India. Thank you for your prayers for him.

Confessions with 2 Priests. Over the last few years our parish has been blessed to have multiple priests available for hearing confessions. Last year, for example, we had 4 priests in-house, plus sometimes Fr. Daly, so that on most Saturday afternoons there were 4 priests hearing confessions, and sometimes 5. However, as you know, we now have only 2 priests living here, and although Fr. Daly is still helping when he can, this will mean that most of the time we will only have 2 priests available on Saturday afternoons, and sometimes only have 1, and he may have to leave the confessional early to prepare to say 5pm Mass.

This will also affect other confession times besides Saturday—there may be some Sunday mornings when confessions will have to be canceled, and our past practice of hearing confessions every night during Advent and Lent seems to be practically impossible now.

I hope to maintain the current schedule as much as possible, but please be patient if and when things don’t work out as we hope. For example, if you stand in line for a long time waiting to go to confession only to have confessions end before you get your chance, instead of being upset, get on your knees and beg the Lord for more priests—both for our parish and for the diocese in general.

But there are some things we can do to make this a little easier on everyone. One thing is to consider the manner in which you go to confession. Some people approach confession as a counseling session, and tell the priest not only their sins but the problems that lead to sin, and even unrelated problems, and hope the priest can give them some good advice. Others tell the priest every detail of their sins, the background of why and when. There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches. Certainly the priest is happy to hear you out, and to give advice in difficult situations. Often it is helpful to the penitent (you) to get some things off your chest before the Lord. I understand that. But perhaps it is not necessary every time we go to confession, especially for those who confess frequently, and especially when there’s a long line waiting to confess. And if it is necessary, sometimes it’s better to schedule an appointment with a priest so that both you and he may talk freely without concern for the people waiting in line.

But sometimes these approaches simply stem from the fact that people don’t know what they should confess, or how to confess. For example, you might confess: “I had an argument with my wife. She wanted me to take the children to confession last Saturday, but I really wanted to watch the Notre Dame football game. I went to Notre Dame, my whole family did, all my brothers and sisters, and we’re all huge fans. So Saturday’s all about THE GAME. So we argued and called each other names, some pretty awful names. I called her one that really upset her, and I knew it would because her father used to use that with her mother, and she always hated it, and when I do that….Finally, she started to cry and took the kids to church herself. I felt really terrible about it right away, especially because not only did they see us fighting and name calling, but I love my kids and it looked like I loved football more than them. Plus I made it look like confession was unimportant to me, and it’s not! I love confession, always have. When I was a kid…”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, although it is a bit rambling. And I don’t write this to make fun, but to make a point. For most people, simply listing their sins, mortal sins being mentioned by kind and number, is adequate. Especially when 20 people are in line behind you, or one priest is hearing all the confessions. So instead, perhaps you might confess: “I have sinned gravely by viciously arguing with my wife, calling her very hurtful names, in front of my children. I also gravely scandalized my children by refusing to take them to confession because I wanted to watch football.” Or even, “I gravely sinned in arguing with my wife and scandalizing my children by demeaning the importance of confession.”

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Another true blessing in our parish is the opportunity to pray before our Eucharistic Lord exposed on the altar every Wednesday (8:30am to 7pm) and Friday (8:30am to 3pm). While I am pleased to see many people take advantage of this, there are some times of the day when it is difficult to find people to pray before our Lord, in particular 9:30am to 10:30am, and 5pm to 6pm (dinner time). I encourage all of you to take time to visit our Lord, whether reserved in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. And if you can, I ask you to sign up for an hour, especially one of those mentioned, so that our Lord would never be alone as He is exposed on the altar: “could you not watch with me one hour?” Please call Diane Spinelli (703.451.1779) or the parish office to sign up.

Fleur de lis. Several people have commented on the fleur de lis that decorate several of my vestments. Some think it’s the logo of the New Orleans Saints, and I wear it because I’m a fan of that team. Others recognize it as a symbol of France and think I’m giving a nod to my French ancestry. Not quite. The fleur de lis became a symbol of France (and thus the logo of New Orleans’ football team because of the city’s French roots.) because it is an ancient symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the people of France were, historically, deeply devoted. The fleur de lis (“the lily flower”) symbolizes Mary’s unique relationship to the Holy Trinity (the three petals of the fleur) and her unique purity: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens” (Song of Songs, 2:1-2). (Note: roses are also symbolic of Mary, the “rose of Sharon”).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 16, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

“Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”
In a way, this question of Jesus is perhaps the most important question
any man can ask himself: “Who do I say Jesus is?”
And St. Peter gives the most important answer any man can give:
“You are the Christ,” the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord.

This is the answer every Christian must give
—it is the Christian’s fundamental profession of Faith.
Without this, then the rest of the Gospel is useless
—if for no other reason that Jesus admitted that he was the Christ
—and if Jesus wasn’t the Christ he was a liar—not to be believed at all.

But even more to the point,
if Jesus wasn’t the Christ,
then his death was useless and not salvific,
his promise to bring all those who love him
and follow his commandments to heaven.
and his promise to give us the grace to lead the life he calls us to
is empty.
Every thing he said is useless

But Jesus is the Christ
—and because we believe that, all the other things he said make sense,
and we can believe in them
and be open to the grace and the life they offer.

Faith in Jesus as the Christ—the redeemer the Messiah, the Son of God—
is the key to our salvation.

But is faith all we need?
Some of our protestant brothers and sisters, especially evangelicals, think so.
In the words of Martin Luther in the 16th century,
many protestants believe that we are “saved by faith alone”: “Sola Fide”.
Maybe you haven’t encountered this directly.
but I bet most of you have been asked, or at least heard,
the question:
“have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
This question is really another way of saying: “who do you say Jesus is”?
And to answer, “yes,” is to say, “I have faith in Christ.”
And because they believe that faith in Jesus is all you need to be saved,
when they ask this question, they are really asking “are you saved?”

Now, let me be clear: not all Protestants accept this doctrine nowadays.
But Luther and his modern day disciples,
believe that there is nothing we can do to be saved
—that Jesus did it all for us on the cross
and he pours the grace of the cross on us today
—so we can do nothing but believe in what Jesus does for us,
and that belief will save us.
It doesn’t matter what else you do—
—if you do or don’t sin, do or do not obey the commandments,
or if you do or don’t receive the sacraments,
or if you love your neighbor or not
—as long as you believe in Jesus.
As Luther wrote: “sin boldly, but believe more boldly”.

Now, Luther didn’t just make this notion of salvation by faith alone out of thin air
—he based it on several statements made by St. Paul,
and by Jesus himself.
For example, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
And Jesus says:
“he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
So if you were to take these kind of statements on their own,
they do seem to affirm that faith is the only thing that matters.

And Luther was not the first one to fall into this false understanding of faith.
Some of the early Christians were also tempted to make this same mistake.
And so St. James wrote to correct this error.
As we read in today’s 2nd reading from St. James:
“What good is it…if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
….faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

And as St. James goes on to say just a few verses later:
“Even the demons believe–and shudder….
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

And of course, St. James is not the only one to reject “faith alone”
and acknowledge that are works are essential to our salvation.
St. Paul also taught this.
As he went on to write the Romans:
“On the one hand, to those who persist in good work,
…he will give eternal life.
But for those who …reject the truth and follow evil,
there will be wrath and anger.”

But most importantly Jesus himself taught this.

He tells us to be saved we must be holy:
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
He tells us to be saved we must follow the commandments:
the rich young man
“came up to him, saying,
“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”
And he said to him, ….If you would enter life,
keep the commandments.”

He tells us to be saved we must love our neighbor:
“a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
….soul, …strength, and …mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

He tells us we must do good works:
“I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
….’Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,
you did it not to me.’
And they will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.”

And he gives us the sacraments which he tells us we must partake in:
For example, Baptism:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
And of course the Eucharist:
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”

Now some Protestants who follow “sola fide”
counter the idea of the necessity of doing good works
as simply being proof of our faith:
if you believe, naturally you’ll do good things.
You might ask, but what about people who do terrible things,
but claim they believe in Christ.
Luther’s response is that those people never really believed in the first place
—that if you really believe you won’t do terrible things,
because once you truly believe,
you can never ever lose your salvation.

But if that’s true why did St. Paul—who surely was filled with faith—
write that he was afraid of losing his salvation
by not doing what he should?
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
…I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air;
but I pommel my body and subdue it,
lest after preaching to others
I myself should be disqualified.”

Faith is the key to salvation.
But it is not all there is to salvation.
The key of faith opens the door
to all that we need to know and to do to be saved.

In today’s Gospel Peter is the first to declare the Church’s faith in Christ.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist records that Jesus tells Peter
that this insight has come from directly from God, his Father.
But later on when Peter refuses to believe Jesus
when he explains that he has to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die,
Jesus says: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Friends, to think as God does, is to believe in Jesus and His Gospel.
But the thing is, that Gospel has a content—Jesus taught us what God thinks,
and how God wants us to live, and do and love.
And to say we believe in Jesus,
but reject the content of his teaching,
including the things he said we must do to gain eternal life,
whether it’s keeping the commandments,
or loving God and your neighbor,
or being baptized,
or receiving and adoring the Eucharist as his body and blood,
or following the teachings and discipline
of Peter and his successors, the Popes,
if you reject those, well, as St. James says today: “what good is that?”

Jesus goes on to tell us today:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”
It is true that Christ’s Cross—and the love it expresses—
is the only thing that saves us.
But unless we live as he did, love as he loved, do as he commanded,
even if it means suffering for others,
or even losing our lives for the sake of what we believe–the Gospel
—we cannot live as he lives:
in the eternal and perfect joy and glory of heaven.

I am confident that our Protestant brothers and sisters who hold to “faith alone”
believe in Jesus Christ.
I am also confident that they also love the Lord Jesus,
and do many good works.
But we must not be confused between the relationship between faith and love,
and between believing and doing.
Eternal life comes to us not because we believe it will,
but because God loves us
and allows us to chose live in his love today and forever.

So let us have faith in Christ and believe and live the entirety of his teachings.
Including the teaching passed on to us by St. James:
“faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

September 16, 2012

Sad Announcement. Last Sunday I read the following statement at all the Masses. It was approved by both Bishop Loverde and myself:

Dear friends in Christ, as you know Fr. Joby Thomas left our parish last Wednesday. This came at the request of Bishop Loverde. As it turns out, Father [Joby’s] Superior General had not been aware that Father was ministering here and actually wants him to be with his community in India. So he is very grateful to Bishop Loverde for having asked Father to return and expects him to return soon. Unfortunately, Fr. Joby did not return [to India] on the day he was scheduled to leave. Therefore, to remove any confusion in the minds of the faithful, parishioners should know that Fr. Joby no longer has faculties to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Arlington. He is not permitted to say Mass, hear confessions, or preach. The best assistance to be extended to him is encouragement to return to India, in obedience to both our Bishop and his religious Superior.

I’m know this was a very difficult statement to hear/read, and that the situation has caused some of you particular distress and sadness. I also know it has generated quite a bit of conversation. I understand all this. So let me say that I am available if anyone needs to talk, or for any other assistance.

September 11. This last week America remembered that dark day in 2001 when Islamist terrorists viciously attacked our nation, and America finally entered a war that had been declared against us years before. We mourn the death of all those who died on 9/11/2001, and all those who have died in the “War on Terror,” most especially the American innocents, first responders, military and other brave supporting personnel. We pray for our beloved country, that the Lord send His holy angels to keep us safe, and that our hearts may turn to him so that we may be worthy to receive his tender mercy.

One of my most vivid memories of that terrible day and the weeks that followed is how the nation seemed to turn to God as one in prayer. We seemed to sense that despite our great military and economic power, in the end only God could keep us safe. And so the churches were filled and people were not ashamed to pray and talk about God in public. My, how things have changed in 11 years.

Did Democrats Delete “God,” and then “Boo” Him? In last week’s column I wrote about the Democratic National Convention and the party platform’s extreme positions on abortion. After I wrote that column it was reported that the party had also deleted the only specific reference to “God” from their platform. Then we watched on national TV as their leadership scrambled to put “God” back into it, and then as the crowd of delegates loudly booed their efforts. Were they booing “God”? Some argue “no”—they were voting and booing against the re-insertion of the language about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or against the chairman’s obvious and distinctly un-democratic (in the widest sense) disregard of the actual voice-vote which seemed clearly to reject the amendments.

Perhaps. But why did they delete “God” in the first place? In 2004 (i.e., the first post 9/11 platform) “God” was mentioned by name seven times.

Now, many have pointed out that “religion” and “faith” are specifically discussed favorably in several places in the platform—so that this proves the party isn’t “against God.” But there’s a big difference between 1) respecting other people’s faith and religion, versus 2) declaring that there IS A GOD who gives us “rights” and “potential.” It is this latter principle that is at the foundation of our nation: God gives us rights, not any man or government. Failure to recognize this tends to delegitimize a political party, as they distance themselves from the most basic and foundational American principle.

To be fair and non-partisan, the 2012 Republican platform mentions “God” ten (10) times, and refers to “God-given” rights etc. seven (7) times. And, amazingly, it quotes George Washington: “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Gestures at Mass. It’s always interesting to me to watch the acts of personal piety performed during Mass by our congregants. One example is the way some make the Sign of the Cross over themselves during the prayer after the Confiteor as the priest says, “May Almighty God have mercy on us…” This gesture is neither part of the actual norms of the Mass nor is it part of our tradition. Let me clarify that: traditionally, in the “Old Mass” the Sign of the Cross was never made during this prayer, but rather it was made during a prayer before the Confiteor and a prayer after the “May Almighty God…” When the Mass began to change in 1965 or so, and those prayers were deleted, the practice of crossing oneself was so ingrained in the faithful that many continued to do it.

I supposed one could say this signing is “wrong” since it is not mentioned in the norms. Remember, the law is that, “no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the Liturgy.” But I would never say it is “wrong” to make this Sign of the Cross, considering that 1) the norms apply more strictly to priests and the congregation than to individuals, 2) it springs from an ancient practice, 3) it is a pious act, 4) it does not contradict an affirmative instruction (the norms don’t say you must not do this), and 5) many individuals perform much less pious and traditional gestures during Mass. So, as a liturgical purist it sort of causes me to pause, but as a pious pastor I appreciate the piety behind it.

Given that, I find it interesting that so many do this gesture and others, which are not required, and yet most do not do many of the gestures that are required. For example, most people don’t bow their heads, as the norms require, at the names of Jesus, Mary, and the saint of the day, or at formula “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” Also, many do not bow their bodies during the Creed at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

Hey, it’s not the end of the world. And I don’t mean to pick on anyone. But let’s make a friendly deal: do your acts of personal piety (within reason), but also try to remember the gestures the norms require.

We Need Ushers. We are in great need of ushers at most Masses, especially adults. Please contact Paul DeRosa in the parish office if you are interested.

Parish Picnic. Remember to save the date of our annual picnic: Sunday, September 30, 1pm to 4pm. A great way to get to know your fellow parishioners.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

September 9, 2012

Welcome, Fr. Joseph Kenna. I’m sure you all join me in extending a warm and heartfelt welcome to Fr. Kenna, our new Parochial Vicar. It’s great to have him here, and I look forward to working with him to help you all draw closer to Christ and His Church. Of course, Father will need a little time to get his feet firmly on the ground, change is hard as we all know. But I know he’s looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work and to know all of you. Please join me this afternoon (Sunday) after the 12:15 Mass for a welcoming reception/lunch for Father in the Parish Hall.

Religious Education Classes (“CCD”) Starts Tonight! With school starting up for all of our kids in the last two weeks I’m sure they’ve all (at least the public school kids) have been chomping at the bit to get back to religion classes. All kidding aside, there is no more important thing a child studies than his/her religion; the First Commandment tells us: “I am the LORD your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.” If we dedicate time going to school to learn about secular subjects like math, science, and history, but don’t spend time learning about God, don’t we make those secular subjects into false gods and place them ahead of The True God? It is one of a parent’s most fundamental obligations, a grave duty, to educate his/her children in the faith. And children, how can you love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength—how can you love anyone even a little bit—if you don’t know about him?

So I look forward to seeing all of you in religion class this week, and throughout the year. But remember, you only get out of something what you put into it. I expect all students to prepare for class, do their homework, and participate actively in class. And parents, remember that you are the primary educators of your children: CCD is only here to help you. So you must continue their religious education at home, including by making sure your children take their CCD classes seriously.

And I know you will! God bless you all as you begin the new school year!

Voter Registration. Well, as is obvious to anyone who browses the internet, picks up a paper or turns on the TV, there’s a big election coming on November 6. Remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2240) teaches: “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory …to exercise the right to vote…” Since the we, the citizens of the United States, enjoy supreme sovereignty in this democratic- republic, it is imperative that we exercise that sovereignty by voting for, or choosing, the officials who will represent us well in the government.

But you can’t vote if you aren’t registered to vote. So many times forgetting to do this very simple thing does what no foreign power has been able to do for 230 years—take away the individual’s right to vote. Most of us are already registered to vote here in Fairfax, but some of you tell me you haven’t voted in a while, and I know a lot of our parishioners have moved recently, and most every time you move you have to register to vote in your new state or county.

So, to help you in this regard, next weekend we will have folks manning a table in the narthex with forms and instructions to register you to vote in Fairfax County.

Also if you think you’re going to be away from home or otherwise might not be able to get to the polls on November 6, you should seriously consider voting absentee, if you are eligible to do so. You can vote absentee in one of 2 ways: 1) go into one of 7 special voting locations between October 17 and November 3, or 2) vote absentee by mail. Voting by mail is easiest for a lot of folks, but to do that you have to first apply for an absentee ballot. Next weekend’s table will also have Absentee Ballot Application Forms available for those wishing to exercise that option.

The last day to register to vote is Monday, October 15th, and last date to apply for an absentee ballot by mail is Tuesday, October 30th.

New Precinct Polling Location. You should also note that the voting/poll location for one local precinct has changed this year. Those of us in Precinct 806 will no longer vote at Hunt Valley Elementary School, but will now be voting at the Sydenstricker Methodist Church, 8508 Hooes Road, which is on the north side of the Parkway, just off Sydenstricker. Note that Precinct 807, which has also been voting at Hunt Valley Elementary School will remain at Hunt Valley ES. Your Precinct number is found on your voter registration card.

For more information go to: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/ (there is also a link on our parish website). You can also check on your registration status on this web page.

Democratic Convention. It is a terrible thing that one of our two major political parties, the Democrat Party, so stridently supports the right of a mother to kill her unborn baby, i.e., abortion. The week before last pro-abortion (so called “pro-choice”) pundits ridiculed a Republican Senate candidate for his opposition to abortion in the case of rape and incest (less than 1% of all abortions)—i.e., giving the death penalty to the innocent child for his father’s crime. But this week the Democrat Party, at its National Convention, trotted out speaker after speaker who actively support the most barbarically extreme positions on abortion—including partial birth abortion and allowing babies who survive abortions to die without medical attention. Not to mention, they once again nominated for President a man who holds those same extreme positions: Barrack Obama. Not only that, they released a platform document—their official statement of their political positions—that officially endorses all forms of abortion: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” This is basically the same position they’ve embraced for years, except that this year they added something new: “regardless of ability to pay.” In other words, they support taxpayer funded abortion, something that 72% of Americans oppose. They want to force you and me to pay for abortions Who is the extremist?

Tomorrow: Weekday Mass Changes to 8 A.M. Please remember that beginning tomorrow, Monday, September 10, Mass will no longer be offered at 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, but will be moved to 8:00 a.m.. Let this be an opportunity for all you who find 6:30 Mass “too early” and 9:00 Mass “too late” to finally start coming to morning Mass at the “just right” time of 8:00. (The M-F 6:30am Mass will stay as usual, as will the Wednesday 7:00pm Mass and Saturday 9:00am Mass).
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles