March 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Guide for the Penitent in Confession.

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

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

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

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

You say these or similar words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
March 11, 2012

For the last 2 weeks there have been two very strange stories in the news.
One was about a woman, a law student,
who testified before Congress
lamenting the fact that the Catholic university she attended
refused to pay for her contraception.
The other was about a woman, who was devastated because
after she had introducing her lesbian lover to a priest,
that same priest refused to give her Holy Communion at Mass.

Now there are many very strange things involved in these stories,
but let’s just focus on one right now.
In particular,
while both these women insisted they should be free to conduct their lives
in exactly the way they feel like conducting them,
they also insisted that the Catholic Church not be allowed
to conduct itself in the way it believes is morally right.
Because they demand it, we have to give it,
regardless of what we believe God has commanded.

I find this stunning….

But as I’ve thought about it this week,
it became clear to me that these two events are just symptoms of a larger,
societal problem.
That is too many Americans have adopted
a corrupted understanding of our most basic value— “love.”

Put simply, over the last few decades we’ve more and more come to believe
that love is all about first and foremost about feelings.
So that if you have strong feelings of attraction toward someone,
that must mean you love them.
Or if someone makes you feel good that must mean they love you.
And on the other hand, if someone makes you feel bad,
or uncomfortable or afraid or hurt or diminished in any way,
for whatever reason
that someone not only doesn’t love you—they must “hate” you.

Of course, this way of understanding love has always been with us,
but in the past it was always dismissed as childish and detrimental
to the true good of the person and society.
Instead, a more mature and truly human understanding of love
was held as the ideal.
That ideal of love is sometimes defined as
“willing and striving for the good of the other”
–if you love someone, you want what is truly good for them,
and you do what you can to bring that good to them.
Notice, it has nothing to do with feeling good:
it’s about being good and doing good.
Good feelings are not necessarily reflective of true and objective good:
shooting heroin in your arm every night
might make you feel good for a while,
but there in no way is it truly, objectively good for you.

And yet that kind of feeling good
is what the popular culture promotes as “love.”
And so the culture finds it almost impossible to find love
in saying “no” to something that makes you feel good.
And so the Church is unloving if they deny contraception
—after all, what college or law school student
doesn’t need contraception to feel good?
And the Church is hateful if they tell a practicing lesbian
that she shouldn’t receive Holy Communion
—after all, Holy Communion makes her feel good,
it makes her feel close to Jesus,
even if she’s chosen to separate herself
from him completely by her mortal sin,
which is not good at all…

All the while the Church is only saying,
we truly love you, and we want only what’s good for you
and we’ll do only what we understand to be truly good for you,
which has very little to do with whether or not
it makes you feel good right now.

This dichotomy of these 2 meanings of love is seen nowhere more clearly
than in that which is the object of our particular reflection throughout Lent:
the suffering and crucifixion of Christ—or simply, “The Cross.”
The Cross has never made anyone feel good:
not the Blessed Mother, or St. John or St. Mary Magdalene
standing at the foot of the cross;
not the Roman soldiers, or Pontius Pilate,
and not even the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
It certainly doesn’t make you or me feel good.
And above all, it definitely did not make Jesus feel good.
And yet, it was the most truly profound expression of the Lord’s
willing our greatest good—our salvation,
and the greatest thing he could do to bring about our greatest good,
to win our salvation.

And so 2000 years ago St. Paul wrote, as we read in today’s 2nd reading:
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
Today he might say:
“Americans demand good feelings,
but Christians proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block and foolishness to Americans.”

Now, saying all this I might appear to be talking about
some nebulous culture “out there,”
or perhaps about people who embrace that culture—but still “out there.”
And I am to some extent.
But what worries me most is how that culture “out there”
has influenced us “in here.”
Because we don’t just stay “in here” in this church–we live out there,
where we are constantly surrounded by the culture and its values
—especially it’s strange notion of love.
It’s in the books we read, the movies and shows we see,
the news we watch, the lessons we learn in school,
and even in the conversations we have with friends and family.
It’s almost in the air we breathe.
You may think you avoid it,
but it’s almost impossible for it not to effect each of us in some way.

Think of how many Catholics are embarrassed by the idea
of a priest denying someone Communion.
I mean, that must make the person feel awful.
But remember what St. Paul says elsewhere:
“Whoever…eats the bread …of the Lord in an unworthy manner
will be guilty of profaning the body …of the Lord…
and eats…judgment upon himself.”
Is it truly loving to make a person feel good,
by letting them profane the Lord’s body and bring judgment
(meaning hell) on themselves?

How many would be embarrassed by our Lord in today’s Gospel:
“He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.”
Pretty embarrassing.
And really, hateful, by modern cultural standards.

And yet, Jesus didn’t hate the moneychangers,
anymore than he hated the scribes and Pharisees when he told them:
“…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

He didn’t hate them, he loved them.
But some people are more thick-headed than others
—some can be corrected by a gentle word,
and some by an intellectual argument,
But some can only be corrected by plain, harsh criticism,
and some apparently only by a whip.

As St. Paul tells us, in his letter to the Hebrews:
“‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son’
…he disciplines us for our good…
For the moment all discipline seems painful;
later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness…”

“For our good.”
Not our good feelings.

I remember once when I was a just a little boy,
I ran into to the street and almost got hit by a car.
My mama, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest woman you ever met,
grabbed my arm, spun me around and slapped me right on the bottom.
It hardly hurt at all, but she definitely got my attention.
I had no doubt she loved me,
but I also had not doubt that I would never run into the street again.

In Lent, we remember all of this,
and in effect we invite the Lord to be brutally honest with us
—to show us, in whatever way is necessary, what is truly good for us.
In effect, we ask him to call out to us like he did to Pharisees
to break through our stubbornness.
And yes, we even ask him to take a whip to us if necessary,
not to drive out the moneychangers from the temple in Jerusalem,
but to drive out the sins and vices in our souls,
sins we act out with our bodies,
which are supposed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.
And we even join him in this chastisement,
by figuratively taking a whip to ourselves, by our acts of penance.

Now, please, don’t write the bishop saying I told your to whip yourselves.
But by simple things like giving up chocolate or meat or coffee—whatever—
and by adding prayers and acts of charity to your daily life,
you remind yourself that love is not about feeling good,
but about being and doing good.
And in fact, we remember that in the end,
sin hurts us more than any whip or penance could.
because sin keeps us from being good—being the best we can be.

So, just as in love the Lord takes a whip to the moneychangers,
we ask him to take a whip to us, and we take a whip to ourselves.
But notice,
Scripture tells us “He made a whip out of cords.”
Doesn’t sound like a very formidable or whip
—it doesn’t sound like it would hurt very much.
Kind of like the verbal whip he took to the scribes and Pharisees
—words of truth, that stung, but did no real damage or injury.
And the whip he takes to us is the mildest of discipline:
his yoke is easy, his burden light.
And the whip we take to ourselves, honestly, they’re not that severe.

But then we remember another whip
—a whip he took to himself,
or rather a whip he allowed others to take to him,
as part of the penance he did for us on the way to the Cross:
what we call “the scourging at the pillar.”
History tells us that the whip wielded by his Roman guards
was not a harmless whip of cords,
but a vicious deadly instrument of torture.
The “flagellum” consisted of several thongs of leather,
with lead balls or pieces of bone at the end.
It was not designed to get merely your attention,
but to violently rip open the skin, down to the muscle and bone.

Our Lord would never take such a whip to us.
But out of love he gladly endured such a whip for us.
Again, not for a good feeling, but for our true good—our salvation.

During Lent we turn our eyes and minds and hearts to meditate
on the suffering and death of Jesus.
Not because it feels good to watch him suffer,
but because in his suffering we discover
the amazing depths of his love for us.
And in His love we discover the true meaning of love,
—that seeks not temporary good feelings,
but seeks and strives for the true good of the beloved,
no matter how painful it is to us, or to them.

As we move forward in Lent, by the grace of Christ scourged and crucified,
may our penances remind us of this love,
drive out all trace of sin from our lives,
and fix in their place a true abiding love for God and neighbor.

March 11, 2012

LENT. At 21⁄2 weeks into Lent this is just about the time many of us begin to slip a little in keeping up the penances we promised to do. That’s understandable: you’ve been doing a good job, so you think, “I deserve a break.” Much as it would have been understandable if Christ would have stopped the Roman soldier after a couple of lashes with the whip: “that’s enough I get the point.” Or maybe after sitting there a few moments with the thorns on His head, He would have taken it off, saying: “This doesn’t fit; do have something in jewel-encrusted gold?” Or maybe after walking a few hundred feet with the Cross, He would have laid it down and taken a drink from an angel, while watching St. Michael and His angels hold the Roman’s at bay. Or on the Cross, as the crowd shouted out: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” maybe He should have come down saying, “you know, you’re right, I don’t deserve this.”

Yes, but He didn’t. Instead, out of love for us and in payment for our sins, He endured excruciating suffering and death. Remember, each strike of the lash across His back, each thorn driven into His head, every ounce of that heavy cross, and every moment hanging on that Cross is one of our sins. Out of love for us. So, pick up your cross and follow Him. Out of love for Him, and as reparation for your sins, renew today your commitment to keep your penances of prayer, sacrifice and charity. Love Him as He has loved you.

Strange World. Two very strange things happened in the last week or so. First, we heard a student at a Catholic university complain before Congress that the Catholic Church, refuses to pay for contraception for her and other students. What’s wrong with this picture? They chose the school freely. They knew it was Catholic. They manage somehow to pay $64,000 in tuition etc.. But she wants the Catholic Church to provide them free contraception, something that the Church fundamentally opposes.

Second, the front page of the Washington Post gave the one-sided account of a practicing lesbian, who, while attending her mother’s funeral, introduced her lover to the priest, and then was subsequently denied Communion by that priest. I’m sure we all sympathize with her over the loss of her mother. And while there is some disagreement on some of the facts of the story, and while one may question Father’s decision, one has to ask: what was she thinking? Even if the priest was wrong to deny her Communion (depending on the clarification of disputed facts he may have been absolutely required to do so by canon law), why did she think she could live a life directly and gravely contrary to the fundamental moral teachings of the Church, and still come forward to receive our Lord in Communion? Was it ignorance or contempt?

Both of these women want to be free to conduct their lives as they see fit, while at the same time they deny the Church’s freedom to practice its faith as it deems morally necessary. And in both cases the media turns reality upside down, making it seem as if the Church is the one who has instigated the an aggressive attack against these women, instead of the Church being the one under attack.

Where is respect for our religious liberty? Where is respect for facts? But perhaps even more importantly, how did we ever get to a place where even Catholics are so ignorant or disrespectful of fundamental Catholic moral doctrines?

Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception, and the Catholic Church. With that in mind, next Saturday, March 17, St. Raymond’s will be teaming up with the Couple to Couple League (CCL) of Northern VA to cosponsor a conference addressing the president’s “contraception mandate.”

Samuel B. Casey will speak on religious liberty and the law. Mr. Casey has argued several religious liberty cases before the Supreme Court, and was the founding chairman of the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization defending religious liberty in the public square and the courts. He has served as the Dean of the Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, CA, and on the board of directors of the Christian Legal Society and Advocates International, and currently serves on the Board of Visitors for the Regent University Law School. He holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a law degree (Juris Doctor) from the University of San Francisco, where he was Articles Editor of the Law Review. He is currently Managing Director & General Counsel of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life project.

Our own Fr. Mark Pilon will be explaining the Church’s teaching on contraception. Sometimes we take for granted what a treasure we have in Fr. Pilon. He is, of course, the former Chairman of Systematic Theology Department at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, and has also been an associate professor at Christendom College and its Notre Dame Graduate School (currently), and visiting professor at Catholic University of America (CUA). He has also served as a pastor (St. Ambrose, Annandale) and High School Chaplain and Vice Principal (Bishop O’Connell, Arlington). He has a B.A. from the Univ. of Detroit, an M.A. from CUA, a Sacred Theological Licentiate from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family (Rome), and a Sacred Theological Doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome). Prior to his ordination to the priesthood in 1975, he was assistant publisher and a contributing editor of Triumph Catholic Magazine. Father is the author of Magnum Mysterium: The Sacrament of Matrimony.

Finally, our own parishioners Bob and Gerri Laird will be addressing the practical response of the laity. After serving in the Army for 22 years, Bob served for many years as the Arlington Diocese’s Director for Family Life, and then as executive director of Divine Mercy Care. He has also served as assistant professor of Nuclear Engineering at the United States Military Academy (USMA). A graduate of the USMA, he and holds two Masters (Physics and Nuclear Engineering) from Penn State. He is currently president of the Cabrini Center for Catholic Health Care. Gerri was the founding director of Project Rachel and Gabriel Project and served for many years as Coordinator of Education and Training in the Office for Family Life in the Arlington Diocese. She assisted the late Rev. Richard M. Hogan in writing and editing the current CCL materials on Natural Family Planning (NFP). Bob and Gerri have taught NFP for over 28 years, and currently serve on the CCL board. They have five children and seven grandchildren, and have been married for over 41 years.

I am very excited about this conference and invite all of you, and your friends, to attend. (Caveat: Parents, the explicit nature of the talks on sexuality may not be appropriate for children). See below for more details.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
March 4, 2012

As Sacred Scripture tells us,
and Pope Benedict XVI so often reminds us,
God is love.
In fact, it is true that the only reason any of us exists is because of this love:
God loves so much
that he gives us life so that he can love us, and so we can love him.
And this love is expressed concretely in the fact that he desires to
gives each of us life in the context of a family:
a husband and wife who live and love each other,
and then, like God himself,
extend that love to by giving life and love
to their own children.
So that God holds the family up as a sign of his love:
I love you, he says, like a husband loves his wife.
And, perhaps more profoundly,
I love you and give you life,
like the best most powerful and perfect father
loves his children.

Today’s readings give us 2 examples of how he
uses the sign of the love of the family
to explain the mystery of God’s love
–and the life that springs forth as a the fruit of that love.
In the first reading we find Abraham and his family.
Abraham loves the Lord because the Lord has first loved him:
as we read elsewhere in Scriptures, God shows his love to Abraham
by making him one of the greatest fathers in history:
“I have made you the father of a multitude of nations…
I will make you exceedingly fruitful.”
And as the story in today’s text takes place,
the Lord has already begun to fulfill his promises:
he’s given him a wonderful son, his firstborn–Isaac.

And because of this mutual love between God and Abraham,
Abraham’s willing to do anything for or give anything he has to the Lord
–when God calls him he has only one response: “Here I am!”
But God doesn’t ask Abraham to give just anything
–he asks for the one thing that Abraham loves most in all the world
–he asks Abraham for the life of his beloved only Son, Isaac.

We read this passage and we’re incredulous
–this doesn’t sound like a loving God.
And if love is life giving, why does this loving God
want Abraham to take away the life of his only son?
Now, remember, the ritual sacrificing of children was not unusual
among the pagans who worshipped false gods in Abraham’s day,
so he wouldn’t have been as shocked by God’s command as we are.
But he would have been just as heartsick and confused as we would be:
he loved Isaac, his only child.
Even so, Abraham remains steadfast in his love and trust for God
–and without hesitation he takes Isaac
and obediently goes to the Mountain called “Moriah,”
as ordered, and there he prepares to sacrifice his boy.

But of course, in the end,
God loves Abraham too much to ask this sacrifice of him
–God does bring life, not death.
So when Abraham climbs the mountain out
of love for God expecting only sacrifice
— at the top of the mountain he finds the fruit of God’s love
–God gives him back the life of Isaac
and promises him the gift of the innumerable lives of his descendants.

Then we leave Mount Moriah and move to the Gospel–some 1700 years later
–and find other Mountain–Mt. Tabor
–and another father and son–God the Father and God the Son.
Peter, James and John have followed Jesus all over Palestine
–and finally up Mount Tabor
–because they love Jesus and the God he calls “Father”.
And when they get to the top of Mt. Tabor,
Jesus returns their love in a singularly beautiful gift.
He becomes physically transfigured before their eyes
–his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light
–as God the Father reveals not only his infinite love for his Son,
but also that in that love,
the Father and Son share the same glorious divine life.
A love and a life that when seen in their full glory are almost blinding
–both to the eye and to the heart–
and leave Peter almost speechless,
overwhelmed by a love that exceeds anything he’s ever known.

But the story of life giving love in today’s readings is not complete yet.
Besides the boundless love of the two fathers,
God the Father and father Abraham,
we also find the love of two sons–Isaac and Jesus.
And while at first they seem to be very different
–Isaac is to be sacrificed, while Jesus is glorified
–the reality is that both the sacrifice of Isaac
and the transfiguration of Jesus
both point toward an even greater revelation of God’s love.
As St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration tells us,
Moses and Eli’jah were talking to Jesus about
“his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
The two mountains of Moriah and Tabor point toward a third mountain:
Mt. Calvary in Jerusalem:
the mountain where the greatest revelation of God’s love
and its life giving fruit unfolds
–the mountain of the Cross.

As we carefully read the story of Isaac
we’re struck to find that a dramatic similarity between Isaac and Jesus:
they are both the first born
—the only begotten sons and beloved of their fathers,
and both silently and lovingly accept the wills of their fathers
as they both struggle up their mountains carrying the heavy wood
upon which they will be offered in sacrifice.
And as God, in his great love, spares Isaac on Mt. Moriah,
he also looks ahead 1700 years with that same love
to see Jesus on the Cross at Mt. Calvary.
Because its on Mt. Calvary that the divine Father fulfils the sacrifice
he would not ask Abraham to offer.
From the depths of his infinite love,
God the Father gives his only Son, His “beloved Son”,
and God the Son gives himself
as the one perfect sacrifice of perfect love
for the life of the whole world.

Some might ask, how could God the Father allow his own Son to be a sacrifice.
Much the same as a father might send his eldest strongest son off to war
to defend the lives of the rest of the family,
God the Father sends His Son, who volunteers,
off to lay down his life for all of us.
It pains the Father as much as it does the Son
—in a way, part of the Father dies with His son.
But they both accept this as necessary, for our salvation.
And they know that in the end this sacrifice will not end in death, but in life
—the Resurrection!

The Cross is the sign of perfect love, and Isaac on Mt. Moriah points to it.
And as we move to Mt. Tabor, the apostles are given a preview
of the fruits of that Cross of love—the glory of the Resurrection.
So that on Good Friday, even as Peter, James and John
know that Jesus has given up his human life
on the Cross of Mt. Calvary,
they do not loose hope,
because they have seen what Jesus and His Father know:
that the love of Jesus on the Cross must bear the fruit
of the glorious life promised by the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.
And so even in their grief and confusion, they await the Resurrection.

During these 40 days of Lent, out of love for our heavenly Father
and his Son our Lord, Jesus Christ,
we’re called to imitate Isaac
and join our Lord by picking up the wood of sacrifice
and walking up the mountain,
retracing in our own lives the way of the Cross,
and by our own sacrifices and prayers sharing in his sublime act of love.
But as we reach the top of the mountain on Good Friday,
the Lord stops us and again, as with Isaac,
out of love for us, makes himself the sacrifice.
And then, as with the Peter, James and John,
as we face the death of our beloved Master,
we can look at the Cross and see his love,
and know that it will bear the fruit of life of the Resurrection.
By entering into his sacrifice, we enter into his love,
and by entering into his love we share in his eternal life.

Today all this is capsulated in a most sublime way,
in the mystery of this Holy Mass.
We find ourselves, sacramentally, going up the steps of Mt. Calvary,
standing at the foot of his Cross.
We offer bread and wine, symbols of our daily sacrifices,
and Christ transforms them
into His own body and blood sacrificed on the Cross,
uniting our imperfect acts of love to his most sublime act of love.
And as we receive Him in Holy Communion,
we begin to see the fruits of that sacrificial love,
as it becomes for us truly the Bread of Life,
the life of the resurrection taking root in our lives today.

Today, as we eat the bread of life,
may we open our hearts to share in the Cross of Christ,
so that this season of Lent may bring about
an ever-deepening conversion of our hearts
to a more perfect sharing in the life and love of God our Father
and His only begotten Son, our brother, Jesus Christ.

March 4, 2012

There you go again. In last week’s column I addressed the “statistical” lie repeated over and over again by the defenders of the President’s “contraception mandate” to Catholics and other communities of faith: “98 percent of Catholic women use birth control.” I described how the “Fact Checker” of the Washington Post had debunked that claim, and then I went on to try to enhance that debunking. But, you just can’t keep a bad lie down: last week the self- proclaimed “ardent, practicing Catholic” Rep. Nancy Pelosi told a crowd at Texas A&M University: “Ninety-eight percent of women in childbearing age that are Catholic use contraception.”

There’s that lie again. But then she immediately went on to add: “So, in practice the church has not enforced this and now they want the federal government and private insurance to enforce it. It just isn’t consistent to me.” This is a very interesting statement. On the one hand, it’s another lie to say the Church wants the government or private insurance companies to “enforce” our teaching on contraception. The Church simply doesn’t want the government to force her to directly act contrary Catholic morals.

But there is a grain of truth in something she says here: “in practice the Church has not enforced this … It just isn’t consistent to me.” As I pointed out in my homily last week, for over 40 years we Catholics haven’t been at all “consistent” with practicing or preaching the Church’s doctrine on sexuality as a whole and contraception in particular. It is a fact that many Catholics have at one time or another disregarded the Church’s doctrine on these issues. And all too often priests (myself included) and bishops have been much too silent—many never speaking of it, and some even openly voicing dissent. And the same can be said of the laity as well.

And in my opinion, that is the sin the Lord is most calling us to repent this Lent: our silence, especially on the part of priests and bishops, regarding the Church’s beautiful teaching on the meaning of sexuality and how contraception directly contradicts that meaning and degrades the couple and children. So Pelosi is dead on in calling us “inconsistent,” and she is partially correct in saying that “in practice the Church has not enforced this” doctrine. I say she is “partially correct” because of the ambiguity of the term “enforce.” How do we “enforce” any moral teaching? Unlike the federal government the Church doesn’t have almost unlimited ability to enforce our teachings through fine, imprisonment, confiscation of property, etc.. It is true, we could deny certain things to Catholic individuals or institutions who opening flaunted their use, provision or support of contraception; perhaps we could deny the sacraments, including Holy Communion to these individual Catholics, or even excommunicate some of the more egregious promoters of dissent, or we could strip Catholic institutions of their Catholic status. But we can’t arrest them, or confiscate their bank accounts like the feds can. (And to be clear, no one wants them to be arrested etc.).

But to the extent Pelosi was simply trying to say that faithful Catholics have failed to forthrightly teach or aggressively defend the doctrine, or that priests and bishops have failed to adequately correct, admonish or punish even the most outspoken and notorious public dissenters, who have aggressively led their fellow Catholics astray….she is correct. And it’s because of this sin of silence that we are in the mess we are today: if all 77.7 million Catholics in American understood and embraced this teaching, no one would dare try to force us to do what the President is trying to force us to do.

And Pelosi knows of what she speaks, because she is among the most aggressive and notorious supporters of contraception—among other things—of any Catholic in public life, and with rare exception she has seldom been publicly corrected by priests or bishops, and she has never been publicly punished.

Now, I do not presume to tell bishops or priests how or if they should punish her or any other public dissenter. But I do call all Catholics, lay and cleric, to repent the sin of silence, and to boldly, clearly and charitably proclaim the truth about our beautiful and apostolic teaching. As Pope Benedict XVI told us in this year’s “Message for Lent” (see last week’s column): “We must not remain silent before evil. …[A]lways moved by love and mercy, and …genuine concern for the good of the other … it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness…”

Even so, it doesn’t matter how many Catholics in America proclaim or embrace this teaching: the President still has no right to try to “enforce” his values by coercing the Catholic Church to compromise our religious beliefs. Remember to go to for updates and click “TAKE ACTION: Personalize your message to Congress now!” to tell our senators and representatives to defend our God-given and constitutionally protected right to religious liberty.

March 17th Conference. In an effort to end the silence St. Raymond’s Parish will co-sponsor a conference that will address these issues on Saturday, March 17th. See the announcement in this bulletin for more details. Please join us, and spread the word to your friends!

On a happier “note”—we need more choir members! I’m sure you all agree that our choir makes a magnificent contribution to the liturgical life of the parish. But they are always striving to enhance their efforts, and one way to do that is to add more enthusiastic voices to their numbers. Lent is an excellent time to join the choir, since there is so much beautiful Lenten and Easter music to learn and sing. And if you think this might be the thing for you, but you’re afraid or think it might be too much work, then Lent is a excellent time on that “score” too: do what God is asking, and offer the “cost” to Him as penance! Please contact our Music Director, Elizabeth Turco, at, or call the parish office for more information.

Will I ever live this down? In my column on February 19, I inadvertently made an important typo. As has been announced at Mass the last 2 weekends, that column indicated that we abstain from “meat and milk” on Fridays of Lent. This is a mistake: we abstain only from meat, NOT milk. Now, will you pleeease stop sending me emails to point this out? I’m embarrassed enough as it is.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

1st Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
February 26, 2012

So we begin our 40 days of Lent, 40 days preparing for Easter.
But we do so as Jesus did: before Easter he endured Good Friday, and the Cross.
And so in Lent we prepare for Easter by entering into the mystery of the Cross,
uniting our acts of penance and love to Christ and His Cross.

It seems that almost from the very beginning the apostles and their followers
celebrated Easter, and spent time preparing for it, with some form of Lent.
But the length and nature of Lent seems not to have been very uniform
for the first 3 centuries of the Church.
It’s only in the year 325 at the first gathering of the bishops
at the Council of Nicaea
that we see the uniformity of the 40 days penance
become the rule throughout the Church,
and a very important part of Christian life.

But why did the long 40 day season of Lent suddenly become so important?
It seems to me that it relates to the ending of the persecutions:
just 10 years before the Council of Nicaea
the Roman Emperor ended the systematic persecution of the Church,
and soon thereafter made Christianity the official religion of the empire.
Before that, being a Christian required a unique commitment.
When you might die tomorrow for the faith,
the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel rang particularly true:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
And the differences between pagan values and Christian values were easy to see.

But when the persecution ended,
it became easier to blur the differences
and to identify less with the strict moral teachings of the Church.
So that it became very important once a year to stop and look at themselves,
to recognize their sins, and answer again the call of Christ:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

We see this same thing happening in our own world today.
In our own country, lulled to sleep by the blessing of religious liberty,
Christians, and Catholics in particular,
have come to identify less and less with Christ and His Church,
with all it’s moral teachings and practices,
and identified more and more with the culture around us.
This wasn’t so bad when that culture was largely shaped by Christianity,
but over the years secularists have more and more
stripped the culture and laws of their Christian values.
So that now even that religious liberty
that has been so critical to the amazing success of the American experiment,
is at risk of being thrown aside,
as a new persecution of the Church begins.

We see this in so many ways,
but most clearly in the President’s attempt
to force us to buy or provide insurance
for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients
—directly against the doctrine of the Church.

So this year, Lent is especially meaningful and poignant,
as the values of the secular world and values of the Church
come into stark relief.
Suddenly the suffering of Christ at the hands of his persecutors,
as public leaders had him bound and led where he did not want to go,
takes on a more personal meaning,
as we sense that the same may lay in store for his body on earth, the Church.
And so, as in the days of the early Church,
this year the words of Christ resonate more profoundly in our hearts:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

But other words of today’s gospel text also resonate with particular meaning today.
It tells us
“Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

In 1968 Pope Paul VI drew a line in the sand, saying “this far, and no farther”
to the secular culture,
as he reasserted the Church’s apostolic and infallible teaching
on sexuality and procreation, and against contraception,
in his prophetic encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”
Unfortunately, in response, Catholics in America largely
sided with the secular world against the Church.

And since then, this new alignment has only become more pronounced.
So that not for “40 days” but for over 40 years,
American Catholics seem to have gone “out into the desert,”
“tempted by Satan” to join in the decadence of the “wild beasts” around us.
And while the Church itself, under the protection of the angels,
has remained steadfast to the truth of Christ and apostolic teaching,
even so, too many individual members of the Church have not.
And Lord cries out to us: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

American Catholics have many sins to repent.
But in the last few weeks one of them has come to the forefront,
as it has become the whip which secularists
have used to scourge Christ’s body, the Church.
I speak of course of the sin of contraception.

Of course, this is no accident,
since in so many ways the acceptance of contraception
has been the root of the rejection of Catholic morality,
especially sexual morality.
Because when we remove procreation as an essential part
of the intrinsic meaning of sex,
we start down a road that ends up stripping sex of all its true meaning.
And if sex has no real meaning, no higher purpose,
then it is reduced to whatever lower purposes we choose,
and we become more like “wild beasts,” and less like human beings.

This is why I think the greatest sins of our 40 years of wandering in the desert
are not simply the sins of misusing sexuality
but rather the sins of failing to teach and defend the truth
about the true meaning of the great gift of sexuality,
beginning with the truth about the evil of contraception.

And while the president’s contraception mandate
is fundamentally an attack on religious liberty,
the irony is we would never be in this situation
if for the last 40 years we had used our religious liberty
to proclaim the truth about contraception.

All Catholics, but especially priests and bishops, have to repent this sin.
And so, in the Spirit of Christ coming forth from the desert,
we must not remain silent any longer.
And we must vigorously support priests and bishops who tell the truth,
even when it is inconvenient, or painful to hear.

And so my friends, I say to you,
contraception is fundamentally evil,
and destructive to the good of marriage and the family
and degrading to the true meaning of sexuality.

This teaching can be difficult to understand, and to teach,
especially as conditioned as we are in secular mindset.

But think of this:
there is probably no greater grief to a family than the death of a child.
When that happens it just tears your heart apart.
But why?
Because human life is so incredible,
especially when we see it in all its innocence and wonder,
with all its potential wide open, in a child.

But then ask yourself: where does that incredible human life come from?
The truth is it comes from a particular act of human intimacy
that our culture increasingly tries to tell us
is no more meaningful than a handshake.
But if human life is so incredible,
wouldn’t the unique and very human act it comes from
be something pretty incredible too?
If human life shouldn’t be wasted, but respected and cherished as wonderful,
shouldn’t something of that be reflected in its origin?

It’s kind of like at Mass, when the priest says the words of consecration
and suddenly, miraculously, there on the altar
is the body blood soul and divinity of Christ—his very life.
And we see that moment, those actions and words,
as incredibly holy and awesome.

Then why don’t we see something incredible, holy and awesome
in the moment and action that transforms
simple human elements into the body and blood and even the soul
of a baby human life?

This is the thing.
This intimate act is designed by God to be the life-giving act.
And we don’t need the Bible to tell us this, although it does.
Because we see it in nature: we look at the physiology
and that is what the act is all about.

But because it involves the creation, or procreation, of not a mere plant or animal,
but of a human life—that incredible human child,
with all it’s potential and wonder—
we may begin at the physiology,
but we immediately see its meaning goes well beyond that.
The physical nature expresses a moral or spiritual nature—human nature.

Let’s go back to that young child who dies, and the heartbreak that death brings.
That heartbreak comes not simply because the child is dead,
but because the family loved that child in life,
and death separates us from living with the one we love.
You see, at the center of the meaning of human life is love!
Life is meaningless and empty without love,
and love is meaningless and empty without life!
In human beings, life and love,
are inseparable and at the heart of the very nature of mankind.

And so, the act of intimacy that is about so awesomely giving life,
must also be about awesomely giving love.
And because his parents should have
an unwaveringly committed to the life and love of that child,
they should also have a committed partnership
of sharing life and love together—in marriage.

So, that act that gives life to a baby
is intrinsically about giving both life and love
—both to the baby, and between the couple.
Any time that intimacy is expressed
without both a love-giving and a life-giving purpose,
in other words purposefully and intentionally rejecting
either of the two essential meanings of the act itself,
that intimacy and the dignity of the human beings involved
is mocked, degraded and abused.

And that, my friends is what happens in contraception.
It turns this most profound human act into a lie and a farce
—and it is inherently contrary to our human nature,
and so we call it both “inhuman” and “unnatural.”
And it degrades both the man and the woman,
and any child who might be conceived “by accident.”

Which is why in 1968 Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae
that these intimate acts belong solely in the context of marriage and
“must remain open to the transmission of life.”

And it’s why he warned us that the wide-spread use of contraception
would quickly lead to
increased “[marital] infidelity…
the general lowering of morality…
[and] the man, …los[ing] respect for the woman
and…considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,
and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

Look at the explosion of abortion, pornography, divorce, out of wedlock births,
and spousal and child abuse,
as well as the dramatic decline in marriage,
not to mention the widespread acceptance of homosexuality.
All this was made possible by the degradation of contraception.

My friends, this only scratches the surface.
There is much more to say—and to learn.
So go home today and read Humanae Vitae,
and look for opportunities to read or hear more about this teaching
—there are loads of solid books and DVDs and CDs easily available,
some in our library downstairs, but also on the internet.
And I promise to continue to try to give you more opportunities to learn about it..

But whatever we do, we must repent of our sin of silence.
We must reject the temptation of Satan,
and tell even the “wild beasts” of our culture about this beautiful teaching.
And we must support our bishops and priests, and pray for them,
that “driven” by the Holy Spirit and protected by the angels
they may bravely lead the Church in America out of its 40 years in the desert
to join Christ in proclaiming the good news of the Gospel,
especially the beautiful news about sexuality.

We are entering into a new time of persecution of the Church,
when we will see the stark differences between
the culture of the secular world and the life of the Church.
But from the Cross comes the Resurrection, through suffering comes redemption.
May this these 40 days of Lent be a time of true repentance and conversion
for each of us, for all Catholics in America,
and yes, for our beloved Country.

“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

February 26, 2012

As we begin the season of Lent let me commend to you a short excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s “Message for Lent 2012”:

“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters… The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15)….The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other…In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness…”

“LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS.” In discussions about the administration’s attack on religious liberty we keep hearing supporters of the administration say some variation of the line: “98 percent of Catholic women use birth control.” Well, surprise! It turns out that’s a lie. And, amazingly, even Glenn Kessler, the “Fact Checker” at the Washington Post agreed with me, in an article in last Sunday’s paper headlined “The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul.” [I will put his text in italics, with underlining indicating my emphasis].

Ever since the battle erupted between Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over providing free contraception coverage as part of health plans for workers, a striking figure has appeared in the news — that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives Kessler quotes Nancy Pelosi, National Public Radio, The New York Times, and The Washington Post itself referring to this statistic.

…But what does this figure really mean and where does it come from? The 98-percent figure first appeared in an April 2011 study written by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke of the Guttmacher Institute, which…promotes reproductive health and had started as an arm of Planned Parenthood. The study is titled “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.”

So the study was done by an offshoot of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of “reproductive health,” i.e., abortion, contraception and sterilization. Maybe a little bias involved here? One wonders how much one should trust a group who makes it’s living off of radical support for the abortion industry.

The study drew on data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, which relied on in-person interviews with 7,356 females from the ages of 15 to 44…

In other words, the survey group represents not 100% of “Catholic women,” but only about 49% of “Catholic women” (the percentage of women, Catholic or not, in the 15 to 44 age group, according to the 2010 U.S. Census).

The Guttmacher Institute, citing “confusion” over the statistic, on Wednesday posted the actual data behind it. It turns out it was based on a question that asked self-identified Catholic women who have had sex if they have ever used one of 12 methods of birth control….

First of all, I’m no expert, but this doesn’t seem to be a very scientific survey. I wonder how many good Catholic women would simply refuse to take part in a study conducted by the abortion industry? And how “Catholic” are the women who did participate–do they hold to the teaching Church on other matters, or feel free to pick and chose?

More importantly, the survey excludes women who have never had sex in calculating the “98%”. A closer look at the survey reveals that 53% Catholic women of child bearing age are not married, and that 31% of those have never had sex, so that roughly 16.4% of all Catholic women of child bearing age were excluded from the survey. Which leaves us with a survey of only 41% of “Catholic women”—not 100%, and not even 50%.

In other words, a woman may have sex only once, or she may have had a partner who only used a condom once, and then she would be placed in the 98 percent category. Jones said the correct way to describe the results of the research is this: “Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives.”

So, among the 41% of Catholic women included in the survey, the “98%” includes women and girls who may have had sex (and used contraception) only one time in their whole lifetime. Newsflash: I would guess at least 98% of the Catholic women in this study also failed to honor their parents at least once in their lifetimes. From that fact, should we infer that that “98% of Catholic women” think dishonoring one’s parents is okay and that the Church is wrong to call it a sin?

… But…the media has gotten it wrong. The journalistic shorthand has been that “98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.” But that is incorrect, according to the research.

Let this be a lesson learned. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear from the “main stream media” and other supporters of religious oppression. Well, at least not 98% of the time.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

February 19, 2012

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. This is a wonderful time of year, a time to reflect on God’s mercy and love, a love so great and unfathomable that it would lead Him to die for our sins. And so it is also a time to reflect on our failure to love Him in return: to consider our sins and to work to overcome them, by our commitment and His grace.

To this end, Lent brings a much busier liturgical schedule (See bulletin insert!). On Ash Wednesday we will distribute ashes at all the regular Masses (6:30am, 9am and 7pm) plus an additional 12 noon. Ashes may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. Also, we will be adding a 7pm Mass to every weekday in Lent, with confessions heard before those Masses beginning at 6pm.

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

Also during Lent, all are encouraged to adopt personal acts of penance, traditionally of three types: almsgiving (including acts of charity), sacrifice (what you “give up”), and prayer. Please choose your penances carefully, considering your health and state in life. Challenge yourself, but pick things you can actually do, rather than things that are lofty but are too hard to do. Offer all this in atonement for your sins and as acts of love for the God who, out of love, died on the Cross for your sins.

The Herald This Week. This week’s Arlington Catholic Herald features a parish profile on St. Raymond’s. As of this writing (Wednesday, 2/15) I have not seen the article, but the reporter interviewed me and several of our staff and parishioners. I’m sure it will be an interesting read for all of us. If you have not received a copy of the Herald in the mail, extra copies are available near the church doors, and you can always go online to read. I’ll make sure a link is put on the parish website.

The Herald Last Week. Last week’s Herald had an excellent article on Bob and Bev Ward, well known to many of you as long-time parishioners, our former DREs, and current leaders of RCIA and Adult Bible Studies. It is an article about a truly Catholic marriage, one of romance but also deeply rooted in the true love of Christ. If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. I’ve posted a link to the online article on our website.

Altar Servers for the Extraordinary Form Mass. Fr. John Lovell has graciously agreed to train boys to serve the EF Mass. It will be more challenging than the regular “ordinary form” Mass the boys normally serve, so it requires a real commitment. Even so, it is not that hard to learn and it will be an exciting challenge. Any boys interested should contact me in the next 2 weeks at the parish office, by phone or email.

“Accommodating” Religious Liberty. On Friday, February 10, President Obama announced an “accommodation” regarding the HHS regulations requiring all health insurance policies to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. The media is presenting it as a great compromise—but it’s nothing of the sort. As Bishop Loverde has said: “Make no mistake: this ‘accommodation,’ as described, is no accommodation at all, but rather remains a direct violation to our right to religious liberty.” (See His entire statement in the bulletin insert.)

The President really didn’t change anything of substance—just played a little shell game. He says he won’t make religious institutions, like hospitals, buy insurance to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion. Instead he’ll make the insurance company provide those “services” “free” of charge. Does he really think that insurance companies will do that for free? There is no law in this land that can force them to do that. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch—inevitably the overall premiums will simply go up, and the Church, or individual Catholics, will wind up paying for it one way or another.
But even if somehow the laws of economics would be suspended, it’s not really about the money, it’s about providing immoral services. Think about this: the policy before forced church institutions to buy insurance policies that provide contraception, sterilization and abortion; the policy after forces church institutions to buy an insurance policies that provide contraception, sterilization and abortion. Nothing’s changed.

Beyond that, the president’s accommodation applies only to “religious organizations.” It does nothing for the individual Catholics who buy insurance for themselves, or the Catholic business man or woman who buy insurance for their employees. What about their right to free exercise of religion?

The Bishops have rejected the President’s proposal for these and other reasons, and have called for the HHS regulation to be withdrawn or for congressional action to override it. I have been extremely proud of the bishops’ courage and wisdom. But like all of us, bishops can fall, especially under the tremendous pressure that they are under. So they need our continued uncompromising support, especially our prayers. Pray for them, and for priests. And pray for our President, for his safety and conversion.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

February 12, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Have you ever wondered why, after exercising his divine power
in curing the leper in today’s Gospel, [why] Jesus tells him:
“go, show yourself to the priest …”
After all, Jesus is God,
why would he send the leper to a mere man, to be judged?

The thing is, Jesus recognizes
that for the leper to be welcomed back into the community
someone in authority had to determine
that he was physically “clean” enough to come back.
And he reminds us that the law, given to Moses by God himself,
in other words, by Jesus himself,
prescribes that only the priests have that authority.

Now, this was the law of the Old Covenant,
but we know that the Old Covenant foreshadows the New Covenant.
So in the New Covenant Jesus kept the office of priesthood,
but made it a new priesthood, and he was the one true priest.
Even so, he chose to share his priesthood with his apostles
for the good of the Church.
So he gave them the responsibility to offer the sacrifice of the New Covenant,
the Eucharist.
And he gave them the power to judge, not physical purity,
but spiritual purity:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
And he gave them authority to rule and teach in his name:
“whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
So just as by divine law the Jews turned to the priests of the Old Covenant,
the Church also turns to the priests of the New Covenant
for judgment and leadership.

This is especially so in the case of the successors of the apostles,
the Pope and bishops.

But there are many who would like to usurp that apostolic authority.
We see this nowhere more clearly than
in the current attempt to force Catholics
to purchase insurance to cover
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

We see, for example,
how the presidents of the Catholic Health Association
and the University of Notre Dame
have repeatedly placed their judgment over
the judgment of the bishops of the United States.
Some in the media, and even Planned Parenthood
think they should speak for Christ and his Church.
And some argue that opinion polls of Catholics should speak for the Church.

But most appalling of all is that we see this same arrogance in our president.
He reminds me of King Henry VIII in the 16th century
who declared himself head of the Church of England
because the pope and the English bishops, at least initially,
would not consent to his judgment of what was moral and immoral.
In a similar way our president has the gall to claim
he has the authority to tell the bishops that they, and the pope,
are mistaken in teaching that contraception, sterilization and abortifacients
are contrary to God’s law.
And because of that he feels he has the authority to force the bishops,
and all Catholics, to do what they find morally repugnant.

In the reversal of today’s Gospel,
he treats them not like the priest, but like the leper,
not as leaders but as someone to be shunned
and cast out of the community.

Now, we all know that bishops make mistakes.
They are certainly not infallible in all things:
they are sometimes foolish, sometimes sinners,
and sometimes even heretics.
Look at the bishops in England under Henry VIII
–initially they fought his heresy but in the end all but one caved in,
abandoned the pope and joined Henry’s church.

But when bishops are in union with the Pope,
and pass on the moral teaching that popes and bishops
have consistently taught for 2000 years,
there is no doubt that they speak for Christ and His Church.
And that is exactly what our bishops are doing when they teach that
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients are gravely sinful.

So, when it comes the free exercise of religion,
we Catholics do so by following the Church’s ancient moral teachings
faithfully taught by our bishops.
No one else,
not Planned Parenthood,
not the Catholic Heath Association or Notre Dame,
not the media or public opinion polls,
and definitely not the President of the United States,
can tell us what is moral or immoral,
or what it means to exercise our Catholic religion.
And when we oppose them, they cannot treat us like lepers,
as second citizens.

I don’t really want to preach about this today:
the story of the leper is very beautiful,
and there are lots of things I’d like to say about it.
But I have to, because last Friday our president announced an “accommodation”
on this insurance issue.
The media is presenting it as a great compromise—but it’s nothing of the sort.
Once again, the president claimed the authority
to tell us what is moral and immoral,
and he continues to ignore our religious liberty.

Now, I’ve been paying pretty close attention,
and unless I’m gravely mistaken,
he really didn’t change anything—just played a little shell game.

He says he won’t make religious institutions, like hospitals and universities,
buy insurance to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Instead he’ll make the insurance company provide those “services”
“free” of charge.

First of all, does he really think that insurance companies will do that for free?
There is no law in this land that can force them to do that.
And there’s no such thing as a free lunch
—inevitably the overall premiums will simply go up,
and the church will wind up paying for it one way or another.

But even if somehow the laws of economics would be suspended,
it’s not really about the money,
it’s about being providing immoral services.
Think about this:
the policy before
forced church institutions
to buy insurance policies that provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion;
the policy after
forces church institutions
to buy an insurance policies that provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Nothing’s changed.

Beyond that, the president’s accommodation applies only to
“Religious organizations”.
It does nothing the individual Catholics who buy insurance for themselves,
or the Catholic business man or woman
who buy insurance for their employees?
What about their right to free exercise of religion?

Right now the Bishops are still considering
the proper response to the president’s shell game.
So far I have been extremely proud of their courage and wisdom.
But like you and me, bishops can fall,
especially under the tremendous pressure that they are under.
Remember that in 16th century England, in the end
all the English bishops abandoned the Catholic Church to side with Henry.
All, that is, but one: Saint John Fisher,
who was martyred for his fidelity.

I think our bishops are made of stronger stuff than those English Bishops
—some are even made of the same stuff as John Fisher.
But they need our continued uncompromising support.
And they especially need our prayers.
Pray that they may take to heart St. Paul’s admonition today:
“whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
And pray that by standing strong together
with the grace of their ordination as priests of the New Covenant,
they may imitate the fidelity and courage of St. John Fisher
but be spared of sharing in his martyrdom.

February 12, 2012

“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Last Sunday we read a letter from Bishop Loverde and Bishop DiLorenzo (Richmond) addressing the President’s new regulations requiring the Church and individual Catholics to purchase medical insurance that covers sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, thereby casting aside the 1st Amendment and our freedom of religion and conscience. Kudos to our Bishop for taking a courageous stand: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Wow. At several Masses the congregations broke into loud applause. Although I’m not generally a fan of applause at Mass (following Pope Benedict’s lead), sometimes, in extraordinary situations, spontaneous and heartfelt applause seems appropriate—so at one Mass I joined in the applause for the Bishop. Let’s all keep in our prayers Bishop Loverde and all the bishops, that they may have the wisdom, faith and courage to see this through to the glory of Christ and the good of His Church.

I mentioned at several of the Masses a very troubling development in this saga: during the preceding week the Army Chief of Chaplains ordered the Army chaplain-priests under his command not to read from the pulpit a similarly courageous letter that their bishop, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, had given them. In other words, an Army Major General ordered Catholic priests to disobey their bishop—directly contrary to the vows they took at ordination, not to mention the oath they swore as officers to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” After some back and forth, the Army relented, and allowed the letter to be read. But this was apparently only after the Archbishop told the chaplains to be ready to face military discipline, and promised legal support. Kudos to Ab. Broglio! And shame on the Army Chief of Chaplains, who is, himself, a Catholic priest: Father Donald L. Rutherford! Pray for bishops and chaplains, and all priests.

What will be the outcome of all this? It seems to me that in the end the Church will not back down, but the president probably will—if only because of the unified opposition of Catholics, who make up about 27% of the electorate. But even if we “win” this issue, we have to ask ourselves: what does this say about this president that he would so blatantly ignore the constitution and willfully discriminate against Catholics. Was it simply a “faux pas,” or a “misunderstanding,” as some say? Or was it a fundamental lack of respect for the basic human right of religious liberty; or retribution for opposition to his pro-abortion, pro-gay, anti-marriage agenda; or both? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

For more information on this topic, and for suggestions for what you can do to help defend the Church and religious liberty, please go to this excellent website:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Many of you may have followed the story of how the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which raises money to find a cure for breast cancer, decided first to end it’s funding for Planned Parenthood (PP) and then reversed that decision after coming under scathing attack from pro-abortion leaders.

Komen’s efforts to cure cancer are noble indeed, and many good people have supported them in various ways, including running in the “Race for the Cure.” Moreover, Komen has restricted it’s funding to PP for use in breast cancer screenings. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t mean much in when it comes to PP. As you know, PP is the leading provider of abortion in America, not to mention one of the leading providers of contraception.

We need to remember is that cash is “fungible.” For example, let’s say you’re at a ball game and you want to buy a hot dog for $10 and a coke for $5, but all you have is $10 dollars. So you decide to go hungry and just buy the coke, when suddenly your friend gives you $5 to pay for the coke. Guess what? He also made it possible for you to spend $10 on the hot dog. Same thing with Komen and PP: if Komen gives PP $600,000 for breast cancer screenings that frees up the rest of PP’s funds for other things, like abortion (and contraception). Which is why the loudest attacks against Komen came from the pro- abortion crowd.

Because of Komen’s well-known good intentions and “restrictions” on funding, and the indirect nature of the connection between contributions to Komen and abortion (and contraception) funding for PP, many people have thought it morally acceptable to support Komen. Now, however, after Komen has willingly becoming identified with pro-abortion crowd, things have changed. All the facts aren’t completely clear, but if things continue to work out along these lines, it would seem to me it’s time to for serious Catholics to end support for Komen in any form. That’s a shame, because they were, and are, trying to do good and important work. But you can’t dance with the devil and not get burned.

Proposed Mass Time Change. I’m considering changing the Monday to Saturday morning Mass time from 9am Mass to 8:30am. (No change to the time for the 6:30am Mass). Many people have asked for this for various reasons, including that it makes it possible to “start the day” a little earlier. But I am interested in hearing what you have to say about this. So if you have any input that might be helpful, please email me or call the office and leave a message. Please don’t just say “yes” or “no”; rather, please give me reasons why it should be “yes” or “no” that will help me make my decision.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles