3rd Sunday of Lent 2013

March 3, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

The saying goes: “All roads lead to Rome.”
It’s been interesting to see this come to life in the last few weeks,
as the whole world seems to have been drawn to the events
transpiring in Rome, as Pope Benedict retired
and Church began its preparations to elect the new pope.
It reminds me of today’s first reading, as Moses sees the burning bush and says:
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”

In a certain way we welcome this world-wide media attention.
After all, Christ did command us to,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…”
What better way to teach all nations and bring them to the Church
than to have them come to Rome via the media,
and to focus on the faith of the Church.
Even if it is initially just out of curiosity, like Moses, to,
“look at this remarkable sight.”
Because like Moses, if they come
they may see much more than they bargained for
—the divine fire of Christ and His Holy Spirit
that does not destroy but enlightens the world.

In the Christian Tradition Moses is seen as a precursor or foreshadowing of Christ.
Moses comes to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery
and offers the Passover or Paschal sacrifice of the Old Covenant;
Jesus comes to free all mankind from the slavery of sin.
and offers the new Paschal sacrifice of the New Covenant—the Cross.
We can go on and on.
But let’s just add one more: both Moses and Jesus are shepherds:
Christ is the “Good Shepherd,”
and as today’s first reading begins:
“Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.”

And just as Moses is prefigurement of Jesus,
St. Peter, and his successors in the papacy—the Popes—
are a “post-figurement,” if you will, of Christ:
they stand in the world today representing him,
unique in authority as leaders of God’s holy people.
So we see Christ make Peter the chief shepherd of His flock,
commanding him: “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep….feed my sheep.”

And yet, Peter is much more than Moses.
In the words of Jesus:
“I tell you, you are Peter [Rock],
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now, Christ is ultimately and intimately in charge of His Church.
Peter merely tends Christ’s sheep.
So that when a pope dies or resigns,
we still have our True Shepherd and Spiritual Rock,
Christ, who never leaves his sheep untended,
and is, “with [us] always, even until the end of time.”

But even so, it is the will of Christ that there be one shepherd on earth
to lead One Catholic Church on earth in His name.
And so today, the world fixes its gaze on the Vatican waiting for a new pope,
and, as ever, all roads lead to Rome.

That saying, by the way, goes back to the ancient Roman Empire,
expressing the idea that Rome was the center of the world,
which was vividly seen in the vast Roman system of roads,
many built specifically to get to and from Rome.

2000 years ago St. Peter came to Rome,
perhaps on one of these ancient Roads.
Legend tells us that he at least left Rome on one of those roads,
the Via Appia, the Appian Way.

Roughly 33 years after the death of Christ, around the year 66 AD,
a fire broke out in Rome and raged through city.
To deflect the blame from himself the Emperor Nero accused
the strange new religious cult—the “Christians”—of starting the fire
and began to arrest and execute their leaders.
As the legend goes, and I believe the legend,
somehow St. Peter managed to escape from Rome into the countryside. But as he fled down the Appian Way he suddenly looked up and found himself
face to face with the Lord Jesus walking in the other direction
—toward Rome.
Peter froze in his steps and asked,
“Quo vadis, Domine?”—“Where are you going, Lord?”
And Jesus responded:
“Eo Romam iterum crucifigi”—“I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” So Peter turned around and went back to Rome,
where he was crucified by Nero on Vatican Hill.

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It’s interesting: today if you leave Rome on the Appian Way,
and continue for about 12 miles past the Church
that marks the spot of Peter’s encounter with Christ,
you come to a little lakeside town named Castel Gandolfo.
This last Thursday to signify his retirement
Pope Benedict left Rome and made this trip down the Appian Way
—albeit in a helicopter—to Castel Gandolfo.

Some say, in doing this he’s running away from his responsibilities as pope
—like St. Peter tried to do.
But the reality is quite different.

8 years ago, when he was 78 year old “Cardinal Ratzinger,
he wanted to retire and leave Rome.
But Jesus wanted him to stay, and made him Pope.
For 8 years he’s suffered on the cross of Peter.
And even now, as he steps down for the good of the church,
he promises not to leave and go home to his beloved Germany,
but to go back up the Appian Way,
returning to Rome to be with the new successor Peter,
living out his life in prayer, sacrifice, and obedience
—only yards away from the site on Vatican Hill where
St. Peter himself was crucified.

Like Peter before him, Benedict, Pope Emeritus, has asked the Lord:
“Quo Vadis Domine?” “Where are you going Lord.”
And he has followed where the Lord has led him.

And now the Church must do the same thing, asking,
“Where are You going Lord?”
“Where will You take us now?”
“Who will you send to replace the brave and bold St. Peter,
and the brilliant and humble Benedict,
to hold the keys to the kingdom,
to bind and loose in your Holy Name?”

Even now the Lord knows the name of that man, but he alone knows.

I mentioned earlier that in a certain way we welcome
the world-wide media’s attention to the conclave.
But on the other hand, not so much.
Because most of them come not in search of Christ, but of a story.
And in doing so they grasp on to rumors and allegations of scandals
in the Vatican and the Church.
Some of these may be typical media frenzy,
some may be standard anti-Catholic bias,
and some may even be an effort to influence the election.

But unfortunately, some of them may be will founded, even true.

Should this cause us concern?
Yes, inasmuch as we want every bishop and priest to be holy men.
But on a more circumspect basis,
we should neither be surprised nor overly concerned.
After all, one of the first twelve apostles actually sold Jesus to His enemies
and then hung himself.
You can’t get more scandalous or sinful than that.

But the Resurrection still happened and the Church continued without him.
And when it comes to the papal election,
ultimately we trust that Jesus will pick the next pope,
and the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to that man.

But at the same time, history tells us that in centuries past some very sinful men
have been elected to the papacy.
First to mind comes Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia,
who famously made 2 of his illegitimate sons cardinals.
And then maybe Pope Leo X, Giovanni de Medici,
who is quoted as telling his brother:
“Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.”

God alone knows exactly how these and other sinful men ever got elected pope.
But history would seem to indicate it was because other men
caught up in their own sins and weaknesses,
and led astray by temptation and distraction,
rejected the guidance of the Holy Spirit in choosing these popes.
For example, in some elections
the threats of kings or riots of mobs or bribes of princes
had more sway than the Spirit.
In short, in some elections not enough of the electors asked: Quo vadis Domine?

Now some of us may be discouraged by all this past,
and by the rumors currently floating around in the media—true or not.
Some may be afraid that the cardinals who are not holy and pious men
may elect a bad pope.

Like I said, it’s happened before.
But you know, it’s been hundreds of years since that happened.
Because beginning with the Council of Trent in the 16th century to Benedict,
the Popes have developed a system of carefully crafted rules,
refined over centuries,
to assure that the cardinals suffer the least temptations and distractions.

Some laugh at all these rules, and call them “medieval.”
Actually, they very specifically post-medieval—and they work:
for the last 400 years only good and devout men have been elected pope.
Not perfect men, but men who tried their best to serve God and the Church.

But it’s not just a bunch of rules that make this happen.
During Lent we make a bunch of extra rules for ourselves—penances—
to help us overcome the sins in our lives and control our temptations.
But in the end, all these penances can do is prepare us to receive and respond
to Christ’s grace and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Like the gardener in today’s gospel, who approaches the fruitless tree and
“cultivate[s] the ground around it and fertilize[s] it.”
preparing it to be able to bear fruit.

For almost 2000 years the Church has been filled with sinful people
—both in the hierarchy and in the pews.
In spite of all that, over all those years the Catholic Church
has constantly proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ
handed down from the Apostles through apostolic succession,
and in particular the Petrine succession.
This “miracle of the Church” is a radical witness
to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise:
“the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

But to be part of that miracle, and to make it fruitful in their lives,
the people at any given point in history must do everything they can
to prepare themselves for that grace.
And so one of the most important rules for the conclave,
that is made all the more clear in this season of Lent,
is that the cardinals do penance and pray;
not treating the conclave like some secular election,
but removing sin and temptation from their lives
and preparing their hearts to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and asking “Quo vadis Domine?”
“Where are you going Lord,
and who have you chosen as Peter to lead us there?”

And as we see them do this, and pray it’s truly from their hearts,
we remember that it’s Lent for us too,
and that there are no fewer sinners in the pews or the pulpits
than there are in the college of cardinals.
And just as we fear how their sins may corrupt effect the life of the Church,
we realize the same applies to us.
And so we renew our penances, and look at Christ crucified and ask:
“Quo vadis Domine?”

And perhaps in all this,
by the holy decision of the cardinals, and by our holy lives,
when all roads lead the world to Rome
—both in the sense of Vatican City
and our individual Roman Catholic lives—
those who come to “look at this remarkable sight,” of this burning bush
may discover the light of Christ and the fire of his love,
in the living, breathing Body of Christ on earth, His Church.
And then with his Church, be drawn to Him, and perhaps, perhaps, ask:
“Quo vadis Domine,”
and follow him to Rome, to the Roman Catholic Church.

As we continue in this Holy Mass, and the season of Lent,
and in this holy time when all roads are leading the world to Rome,
let us pray for all those who come to see this remarkable sight.
And let pray for the cardinal-electors, that they may be free of sin,
and commend them to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And let pray for our next pope, whose name is already known, but to God alone.
And let us pray that all Catholics,
from 7 year old first-communicants to 77 year old Cardinal-electors,
will continually ask the question,
“Where are you going Lord?” “Quo vadis Domine?”
And united with Peter, follow Jesus wherever he leads.

March 3, 2013

“Sede Vacante.” Literally it means, “the chair is vacant,” and it means the Chair of St. Peter is empty: we have no Pope.

Now His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, (his official title) is just another retired bishop, who will live out his remaining years in quiet prayer in a monastery in Vatican City, and the Church waits for a new chief shepherd.

Of course, Christ is our true and ultimate shepherd, and He is always with us, as He promised, “I will be with you always, even until the end of time.” Even so, a central part of His 3 year earthly ministry was to prepare His apostles so that they could carry on in His name as shepherds of His flock on earth when He had ascended to heaven.

And first among those apostles was St. Peter, to whom He gave the duty of representing Him as the chief shepherd of the flock, to “feed my lambs,…tend my sheep,…feed my sheep.” And to that end He made an incredible promise: “You are Peter [which means “rock”], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).

Roughly 33 years later, around the year 66AD, St. Peter was in Rome when a fire broke out and raged through city. To deflect the blame from himself the Emperor Nero accused the strange new religious cult—the “Christians”—of starting the fire and began to arrest and execute their leaders. Somehow St. Peter managed to escape from Rome into the countryside. But as he fled down the Appian Way he came face to face with the Lord Jesus walking in the other direction. Peter froze in his steps and asked, “Quo vadis, Domine?”—“Where are you going, Lord?” And Jesus responded: “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi”—“I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” So Peter turned around and went back to Rome to be crucified on Vatican Hill.

Quo Vadis Domine? The Chair of Peter is empty, and the Church asks the Lord, “Where are You going Lord?” Where will You take us now? Who will you send to replace the brave and bold St. Peter, the brilliant Benedict, to hold the keys to the kingdom, to bind and loose in your Holy Name?

Even now the Lord knows the name of that man, most probably one of 115 cardinals who will go into the conclave to elect the new pope. Of course it’s natural that we would wonder who it will be, and rumors abound. Will it be Cardinal Scola, Archbishop of Milan, or the Canadian Cardinal Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, both “disciples” of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI? Or perhaps an African, Cardinal Turkson from Ghana, now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace? Or a South American, perhaps Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga from Honduras, or Cardinal Scherer of Brazil? Or an American—Cardinal Dolan? Or a Vatican insider like Cardinal Sandri or Cardinal Ravasi. Or perhaps one of the “dark horses,” like Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines, Cardinal Ranjith of Sri Lanka, or Cardinal Erdő of Hungary. Or someone else? Who knows? Quo vadis Domine?

Scandals. As a prelude to the papal election rumors and allegations of scandals in the Vatican and the Church have been bouncing around the media. Some may be well founded, some may be typical media frenzy, some may be standard anti-Catholic bias, and some may even be an effort to influence the election. In any case, we remember that priests, bishops and even cardinals are mere men, subject to all the weaknesses and temptations all of us are. Many of the cardinals in conclave are saintly and devout priests, but perhaps some…not so much.

Should this cause us concern? Yes, as far as we want every bishop and priest to be holy men. But on a more circumspect basis, we should neither be surprised nor overly concerned. Remember, one of the first twelve apostles actually sold Jesus to His enemies and then hung himself. But the Resurrection still happened and the Church continued without him. And when it comes to the papal election, ultimately we trust that Jesus has picked the next pope, and the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to that man.

We all know that in centuries past some very sinful men have been elected to the papacy when other flawed men ignored the Holy Spirit in choosing these popes. [Note: Amazingly, sinful as they may have been, none of these popes ever led the Church astray in her doctrine]. For example, some elections were affected by the threats of kings or mobs, or by bribes. But that’s exactly why the current system of carefully crafted rules has been drawn up and refined over centuries to assure that the cardinals suffer the least temptations and distractions, e.g., the segregation of the cardinals from all contact with the outside world. (Note: the word “conclave” literally means “with a key,” i.e., “locked up”). As a result, the last several centuries have seen nothing but good and holy men elected to the papacy.

Keep in mind: for almost 2000 years the Church has been filled with flawed and even sinful people—both in the pews and in the hierarchy. Even so, the Catholic Church has constantly proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ handed down from the Apostles through apostolic succession, in particular the Petrine succession. This “miracle of the Church” is a radical witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Let us commend the cardinal-electors to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And let us pray for our next pope, whose name is already known, but to God alone.

Two quick points. Only one man is called to be Pope, but we need lots of people to do the more plentiful mundane work in our parish. During this time of Lent I particularly ask you to think and pray about volunteering to help on a committed basis in the parish. Be open to doing not so much what you enjoy, but what the parish needs. In particular, currently, we are in great need of adult ushers at Mass. Please call Paul DeRosa in the office if you are interested in ushering, or for information on other volunteer possibilities.

Finally, there’s been a lot of harsh and scary talk about the effects of the coming “sequestration.” No one knows what the fall out of this will be, but please remember that if anyone of you is truly in need of financial assistance, please do not hesitate to call the parish office. We are happy to help if we can.

Oremus pro invicem, et cardinales electors, et proximo Papa!
Fr. De Celles

2nd Sunday of Lent 2013

February 24, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

In today’s Gospel, as Jesus is Transfigured before Peter James and John,
and stands in the middle of Moses and Elijah,
Peter says something that is at once out of place,
and at the same time very profound.
Overwhelmed by the knowledge that he in the presence of the Christ,
revealed in his heavenly glory,
Peter wants to set up tents so they can stay there
—he never wants to leave.
And in awe he says: ““Master, it is good that we are here.”

During this season of Lent we have to ask ourselves:
do we say the same thing today?
First, do you say this as you come before our Lord in the Eucharist,
but more than that, do you say this as you live your day to day life
as members of the Catholic Church.
Do you believe that in this Church you are in His presence,
with Peter, and James and John, and Moses and Elijah,
and believe “it is good that I am here” in the Catholic Church?

Unfortunately, I think many people today would disagree with that
—even many self-proclaimed “practicing Catholics”.
Because it’s hard to be a Catholic
—to be in union with Jesus and Peter,
with the old testament prophets and the new testament apostles.

But it’s always been hard to be a Catholic.
After all, the Church has lots of very difficult teachings.
But the thing is, most of those difficult teachings
come directly from Jesus himself.

Of course, Jesus says a lot of wonderfully uplifting things,
but think of all the hard sayings of Jesus in scripture.
Let’s take a moment to consider just a few.

Regarding the moral life, he says:
–“love your enemies, bless those who persecute you”
–“love your neighbor as yourself.”
–“if you do not forgive men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
–”unless you …become like children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
–“If you would enter [eternal] life, keep the commandments….
You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother…”
–”everyone who is angry with his brother…and whoever says, ‘You fool!’
shall be liable to the hell of fire.”
–”whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery.”
–“everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has …committed adultery
…in his heart.…”
–“Depart from me…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil
…for I was hungry and you gave me no food…
sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ …
as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”

Consider what he says about the sacrifices we have to make:
–“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…’.
–“I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
….He who loves father or mother …[or] son or daughter
more than me is not worthy of me;”
–“they will lay their hands on you and persecute you,
…and you will be brought before kings and governors
for my name’s sake.”
–“pick up you cross, and follow me.”

Consider what he says about the sacraments:
–“unless a man be born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
–“ Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,
but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
–“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you”
–“this is my body…this is my blood
–“He said…to [the apostles]: If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

And consider what he says about St. Peter the Church:
–“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! … I tell you, you are Peter [Rock],
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
–“Jesus said to Simon Peter,
…‘Feed my lambs.’ ….’Tend my sheep.’ …’Feed my sheep.’”

And then of course perhaps the ultimate hard saying:
–“be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

All these are hard sayings, but they’re the sayings of Jesus Christ.
And they’re not impossible sayings to live by,
especially when we remember that
with the grace of Christ, “all things are possible with God.”.
In fact, while they may be bring some hardship for a while,
they are really what it takes to be truly human,
so we can never be truly happy without them.

So what do you say?
Do you agree with Peter, “it is good that we are here”?
And again, I mean here with Jesus and Peter in the Catholic Church,
living every day committed to embracing these hard sayings.

Some might like to be somewhere else.
And wouldn’t be the first.
In today’s 2nd reading this is exactly what St. Paul is talking about
in his letter to the Philippians.
He tells faithful in Philippi,
“b[e] imitators of me…and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.”
And then he talks about those who have effectively left the Church
by not living the way St. Paul taught them:
“For many, as I …now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

It’s hard to be a Catholic.
In the early days, the 1st through 3rd centuries this made for a very small church.
Consider that even after 3 centuries,
in the year 313, only about 10% of the Roman Empire was Christian.
First of all you had the persecution and martyrdom
that Jesus not only warned about but, in a sense,
promised those who would follow him.
But the main reason was simply that it was so demanding
—all those hard sayings.

In the 4th century it got a little easier to be a Christian:
the Roman persecution stopped
and Emperor Constantine made Christianity
the official religion of the Empire.
For centuries after that Western culture was sort of built up around the Church,
shaped more and more by Christian principles,
so that the secular and religious world walked the same fundamental path.
And that cultural support helped make it somewhat easier
to stay inside the Church, and to follow Christ’s teaching.

Today, though, things are changing, or perhaps, have changed,
especially the Western Society of Europe and North and South America,
which is rooted in 16 centuries of Christian culture.
More and more the western world follows the way of the fallen away Christians
that St. Paul talks about today:
“Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”

But that is not the way of Jesus and his Church.
As St. Paul says: “But our citizenship is in heaven,
We are called to live in the world, but not be of the world.
To enjoy God’s good gifts
as they were meant to be enjoyed in a good way,
which Jesus knows better than we do.

Even so, many Catholics today seem to want to follow the way of the world.
We see this in a dramatic way with the resignation, or retirement,
of Pope Benedict XVI.
As we face the upcoming election his successor
we hear a lot of talk about changing the Church.
For example, in yesterday’s Post a headline read:
“Will the Catholic Church become its own relic?”
The article proceeded to repeat a lot of pathetic lies
about the Church’s teaching,
in effect saying bishops and popes made up all the really difficult stuff.
But what about all those hard sayings of Jesus?
The article, like so many others recently,
goes on to say, in effect, it’s too hard to be a Catholic today,
so the Church needs to change it’s hard teachings
apparently including some that come directly from Scripture, all in order to keep up with the changing world.
.
But this is the same error that happened with the Philippians,
as St. Paul wrote:
“many…conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ…
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven.”

What’s happening is that while we say the Church officially has 1.2 billion members,
many of those do not agree with Peter when he says:
“Master, it is good that we are here.”
We were a small church in the beginning, and grew only when the secular world
allowed itself to formed by the hard sayings of Christ.
But now as Western society and culture divorces itself from those teachings,
the Church seems, once again, to becoming a very much smaller church.
At least if we measure it not by those who merely claim to be Catholic,
but by those who actually embrace and try to follow
the hard sayings of Jesus
—including the one about Peter and the keys,
and his power to loose and bind.

For the last 8 years we’ve been blessed to have a successor of Peter
who thoroughly embraced that saying of St. Peter—Pope Benedict XVI.
And for 24 years before that we were blessed to have him,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
serve as Pope John Paul II’s chief defender of the doctrine of the Church.
Always teaching with kindness and gentleness, but never wavering in the truth. Always holding to his belief, in word and deed,
that it is good that we are here,
in the Catholic Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter.

But Benedict has also always recognized
that many do not agree with Peter’s saying,
so that the Church is really much smaller than it seems.
As far back as 1969 he wrote:
“The church will become small and will have to start afresh…”
But, this is no reason to lose hope, or think that Christ or His Church is a failure.
As Ratzinger continued:
“But when the trial of this sifting is past,
a great power will flow
from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.
Men … will discover the little flock of believers…
as a hope that is meant for them,
an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”

Jesus Christ founded his Church
to gather all mankind in every century to himself.
And he entrusted to His Church his teaching about the truth,
and he gave the Church Peter and his successors, the Popes,
to protect that teaching and pass it on to every generation.
This week as Pope Benedict steps down from Chair of Peter,
we thank the good Lord for the gifts of
His teaching, the Church, the office of Pope,
and this particular pope, Benedict.
And as we continue the Lenten season
we ask ourselves, do we believe in the hard sayings of Christ,
and see them not as a stumbling block,
but as the bricks that pave of the road to happiness and to heaven?
Do we cling to the things of the world,
or to the words of the one who came down from heaven
to transform the world?
Do we want to change the teaching of Christ and His Church,
or do we join in proclaiming that teaching, by our words and actions,
to a world who is always searching for it.
Do we want to remain, now and forever,
as true and faithful members of that Catholic Church?
standing united with Peter, and his successors, and saying:
“Master, it is good that we are here.”

1st Sunday of Lent 2013

February 17, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

This last Monday the world woke up to the stunning news
that Pope Benedict XVI would resign, effective at the end of this month.
The first reaction of most of us seemed to be shock.
Which led to an initial response, even from the media,
that was very human:
one expressing human warmth and affection
toward this great and holy man,
and sadness that he would be leaving us.

But this didn’t last long—at least not for “the world” and it’s media.
As the surprise wore off, so did the positive news coverage,
as the message began change.
The coverage fell into the usual predictable paradigm
of seeing the Church as a merely human institution
And–surprise surprise—it turns out the media’s judgment
is largely that Benedict XVI was a failure as pope,
that under him the Church has become irrelevant
and that in order to make a comeback
his successor has to change the Church
to become more in line with the values of the world.

All this as we begin Lent, the holiest, most unworldly season of the year.

Today’s Gospel is a summation of Lent.
Like Jesus, for 40 days we go out into the desert,
to be purified and prepared to enter into our true mission,
which is to live and proclaim the Gospel of salvation.

In daily life it’s easy to get fixated on the good things of creation, “creatures,”
versus the goodness of the Creator,
and to make them more important, to love them more than God.
Whether its material stuff, like food or drink, or nice homes or money;
or even people that we genuinely care for or simply use for our enjoyment;
or popularity or merely acceptance.
It’s easy to cling to these things.
But in Lent we go into a spiritual desert with Christ
to try to strip away anything that leads us away from God,
any inordinate attachments to things, or to sins.

And so we do penances, in particular making sacrifices,
giving up things just as Jesus gave up everything in desert:
reminding us we are in the desert, trying to focus on the Creator.

And we pray: again, me and the creator.
And this prayer consists both in our private conversations with God,
and with the unified worship of the Church as the Body of Christ.
And so it includes most importantly the sacraments,
especially the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance,
where we encounter Christ most intimately,
both individually and as the Church, and he leads us to his Father.
His grace pouring out on us, strengthening us, and bringing us closer to him.
Me and Jesus.
Us and Jesus, alone in the desert with His Father and Spirit.

To me it seems Benedict’s resignation as we enter Lent is perfect timing.
Because it reminds us that like Christ himself,
the Church cannot go forward with its mission
unless we are constantly purified and renewed,
constantly stripping away the things of the world
and refocus on Christ and his grace.
Then and only then can we go forward to live and proclaim the gospel.

What a perfect atmosphere in which to pick a new pope,
who will lead us forward to live and proclaim the Gospel.

But that is the exact opposite of what we see in the media.
And let me stop here and say, this isn’t merely a critique of the media
—the media is simply all too often the voice of
what Jesus used to call “the world”:
the worldly values that put the creature before the creator.

The media sees the electing of the new pope in strictly worldly terms.
For example, it points to some corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy,
and makes the election about choosing a competent CEO/manager.
Or it points to declining Mass attendance,
or in the number of Catholics who disagree with Catholic moral teaching,
and it says we need a “progressive” pope to make changes
to modernize the church
And it points to the increasing importance of itself—the media—
and says we need a pope who has media-savvy,
and is a crowd-pleaser
and a great communicator, especially with the young.

And of course, they see the antithesis of this in Benedict:
they call him bookish, professorial, aloof, doctrinally rigid,
and managerially in over his head.

But the thing is, as Jesus reminded the first Pope, St. Peter, his job was to be,
“thinking …as God does, [not] as human beings do.”
And once when Peter failed to do that Jesus said to him:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”

Anytime we think merely as human beings do
—as sinners caught up in the things of the world—
we become obstacles to Christ and his mission in the world,
taking the side of Satan.

We go into the desert, now, to get away from all that—the world.
But notice what happens to Jesus at the end of the 40 days.
There’s that old Satan, the Devil, there to tempt him.
And notice how he does that.

First, he says: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
Now, Jesus had given up food for 40 days,
perfecting his self-discipline over the desires of the flesh
—even the good and natural desires.
Not because the flesh is bad,
but because all human desires and all good things can be corrupted
if we don’t remember what they’re for, and use them properly.
So, for example, even love can be corrupted: you can love someone,
but selfishness can corrupt that love
and wind up smothering the other person.

Christ goes into the desert, and we go into lent,
to focus on loving not the created good, but the Creator
and then asking letting the Creator tell us what he created this thing for.
And so Jesus answered the devil:
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

In the midst of the Pope’s resignation and succession,
so many are caught in focusing on the created things, not on the Creator.
Some people say: “the new pope has needs to change the teaching on xyz.”
But all they’re really saying is “focus on the creatures and what they say.”
But what the Church must do and say is,
“focus on the Creator, and what God says.”

In his second temptation the devil showed Jesus,
“all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant,”
and “said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Sometimes if you listen carefully, it seems like the world has its own religion,
that some call “secularism.”
Here again, the object of worship is the created thing, not the creator.
The feelings of the creature, and the enjoyment of created things
—this is what so many, including ourselves a lot of the time,
are devoted to.

And if you don’t think the devil is a working behind the scenes to promote this,
just look at the Gospels.
Notice how the devil tries to tempt Jesus:
he’s trying to appeal to what he sees in all other men
—this disordered love for created things.
He’s not inventing it, but he’s an expert at manipulating and confusing.
And in doing that, the devil places his word, not God’s word,
as the way of ordering our approach to creatures.
And so we wind up serving him—a creature!

But of course, Jesus isn’t like other men
—he sees things clearly and hears the Word of his Father distinctly.
And so he says in reply,
“It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Nowadays, everyone’s’ trying to tell us what we should think,
and telling us their own version of good and evil.
You hear people say, well everyone does it,
or the polls show that people think this is good or bad.

You know what?
Who cares?
Whether it’s in our own life or in the life of the Church,
whether it’s in personal moral decisions
or the election of new pope,
do we serve polls? do we serve creatures?
Or do we worship and serve the Lord, our God?

For his third temptation Satan led Jesus to the top of the temple,
“and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels …to guard you…”

Here he appeals to ultimate disordered corruption of the love of creatures
–where the creature loves himself above all things.
Pride.
Again, thinking Jesus is just an ordinary man,
Satan appeals to his pride:
“you’re so wonderful, do what you want
and God will obediently come to your aid.”

Many of us think the same thing every day:
“God loves me so much, even though he says xyz is a sin,
he won’t hold it against me.”
So, the creator becomes the servant, God worships man.
No.
And so “Jesus said to him …, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

If you listen carefully to what some are saying
about Pope Benedict and his successor, you hear this same thing
“The next pope needs change its teaching on
marriage, or whatever.”
As if the Pope can just change whatever he wants,
even when it goes directly against the teaching of Christ.
As if God will say, oh, okay, you know best…
I’m just the all-knowing, all-loving, all-power Creator of the universe,
and you are, after all, the Pope.

It just doesn’t work that way—he is God, and the pope is his servant,
not the other way around.

In Lent we go out into the desert with Christ to be purified by penance and grace,
to love God above all things.
This Lent the cardinal-electors in Rome must do the same thing,
and we must join them in solidarity.
God, Christ, comes first.
Me and Jesus, the Church and God.

And in his mercy, God has provided us with a magnificent example to follow: Pope Benedict himself.
It’s clear from the words of his resignation and everything he’s’ said since
that he made this decision not to serve himself, but God alone.

To him, nothing’s been more important than God.
Not food, as the devil tried to tempt Christ.
Not personal comfort, not a powerful job.

To him, it’s all about worshipping God, not the things God created.
Like Jesus’ response to the devil’s offer to worship him,
Benedict reminds us that we don’t worship the man who is pope,
we revere the office he holds, but worship God alone.
In stepping down, he reminds us that the pope is just a man,
and has authority only to the extent Christ gives it to him.

And to him, it’s not about pride or self-importance.
As he steps off the throne,
the murmurs of the media and his enemies grow louder and louder
—he was an ineffective pope, a bad manager,
a disappointment after John Paul II.
But he smiles, waves goodbye, and serenely entrusts the judgment of his papacy
not to the world or its media,
and not even so much to history,
but fundamentally to the judgment of God alone.

What a great gift the lord Jesus gives us in the office of Pope,
to shepherd his flock, to be rock of strength for 2000 years.
And what a great gift Jesus gave us in Benedict,
a brilliant, brave and clear-sighted shepherd,
but above all a humble, holy servant of God.

Would that we might imitate Benedict this Lent,
as he goes off to a life of prayer and reflection
—off to his own desert of sorts.
Him and Christ in the desert.
Let us pray that we and the whole Church may imitate him as he imitates Christ,
not clinging to the creatures of the world or seeking to serve them first,
but clinging to Christ,
and seeking serve our Creator,
Father Son and Holy Spirit,
First, last and always.

February 10, 2013

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As I’ve said many times, this is my favorite season, in as much as it calls us to meditate on the ineffable and immense love of God that it would lead Him to die for our sins. At the same time, then, it is also a time to consider our sins—how we have failed to love him—and to work to overcome them, through our diligent efforts and His grace.

Lent, of course, brings a much busier parish schedule, which we’ve laid out in detail in this week’s insert. Please keep this insert in a central place in your home to remind you of the many opportunities for spiritual growth the parish offers this Lent. Please also note, we will NOT be adding any Masses to our Lent schedule, e.g., we will have an evening weekday Mass only on Wednesdays (as usual). But we will be adding confessions every weekday evening (see the insert for details).

Ashes will be distributed at all 4 Masses on Ash Wednesday: 6:30am, 8am, 12noon and 7pm. Since ashes are merely symbolic, and not a sacrament, they may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. (Note: There are no confessions scheduled on Ash Wednesday).

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence, and every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence. Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is a grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days, and binds 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.

Of course all Catholics are encouraged to do personal acts of penance throughout the season of Lent, 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 so lofty or difficult that you may easily give up on them. 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.

Sacrament of Penance. Confession is really key to our fruitful observance of Lent. In fact, it is one of the Precepts of the Church that all Catholics “shall confess your sins at least once a year,” which is usually tied to the Lenten season. I strongly encourage that you take advantage of our extended Lent confession schedule—confessions are scheduled every day in Lent (accept Ash Wednesday). However, I ask that you do not postpone your confession to the end of Lent, as many did last year, when we had to have four priests hearing long lines—literally “out the door”—every weekday evening in the last two weeks. This year, with only two priests, if that same phenomena occurs it will extremely difficult on all of us. So, again, please go to confession early on in Lent, especially if you don’t go to confession frequently. As I did in Advent, I am trying to get extra visiting priests to come and help with confessions—but this is not an easy task since confessors are in such high demand during Lent.

Also, I remind you that while we schedule confessions every Sunday morning, that is not the optimal time to go to confession, since only one priest is hearing confession and stops hearing once Mass begins (those attending Sunday Mass should normally be participating in the Mass, not in confession). Moreover, Sunday confession times are provided not as a mere convenience but mainly to meet the real needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days or are otherwise in need of the sacrament.

Lenten Series. As I mentioned last week, Fr. Paul Scalia will be giving a Lenten series every Thursday evening during Lent, beginning February 21st. His topic will be “The Beatitudes: The Ladder to Holiness.” I highly encourage all of you to attend these talks.

SCOUT SUNDAY and BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA. Today, Sunday, we will remember “Scout Sunday” at the 8:45 Mass, followed by a ceremony in the Parish Hall honoring all those involved in scouting in our parish: Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorers, American Heritage Girls, etc.. I am happy to recognize the good and hard work these children and their adult leaders do and the good qualities they take away from traditional scouting! So please join me in saluting and encouraging them all, especially our boys and girls and young men and women. God bless them all!

But on a national and international level, traditional scouting values have come on hard times. As I mentioned in last week’s column, this last Wednesday (Feb. 6) the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (NEB) was supposed to vote on whether to change their rules to allow actively “gay” persons to become members and leaders in Boy Scouts. This would have been the death knell for traditional scouting as we know it.

Thanks be to Christ, as I write this column (on Wed., Feb. 6) the word comes that the NEB has decided to postpone any decision and lay the matter before a vote of the 1,400 member National Council of the BSA at their National Annual Meeting in May. This surprise about-face is directly the result of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of complaints registered against the proposal in just in the last few days. So I want to thank all of you who prayed and called, emailed or wrote BSA—you made a difference! Unfortunately, though, this is just a postponement, and we must keep up our efforts to protect our boys from the potentially devastating effects of this still-proposed change, and to keep the Boy Scouts “morally straight.”

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

February 3, 2013

Last Week’s Bulletin. I apologize that we were not able to distribute the complete 6 page bulletin to you last week. I hope the single-sheet “abbreviated bulletin” we threw together was helpful, and I’m sorry if any group felt short changed if something they had running in the full bulletin was omitted. By now I hope you all received your copy of that full bulletin, mailed to each parish household courtesy of the bulletin company.

Lent Series. Lent is just around the corner and we will soon give you details about the Lenten schedule. But I wanted to announce early on that Fr. Paul Scalia (Bishop’s Delegate for Clergy) will be giving a Lenten series on five Thursday evenings, beginning Feb. 21. Father’s topic: “The Beatitudes.” Fr. Scalia is a bright and gifted speaker, and I am delighted he has agreed to speak. Please mark your calendar.

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As I wrote in last week’s column, St. Raymond’s will take part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” I hope you will be able to actively participate in all 5 parts:
1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour on every last Wednesday of the Month, from 6pm to 7pm.
2) Daily Rosary.
3) Praying for life, marriage and religious liberty at every Mass, both privately and in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful.
4) Meatless Fridays: abstaining from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year.
5) Observing a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the two weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA AND “GAYS.” Perhaps you’ve heard by now that after years of courageously fighting off efforts by gay activists the Boy Scouts of America is now considering repealing their national policy prohibiting membership by openly “gay” people (both at the scout and adult leader levels) and leaving it to the local chartering organizations (e.g., St. Raymond’s) to set policy for their particular troops. BSA’s statement reads in part:

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.

This change in policy is greatly disappointing: another huge loss for common sense, morality, Christianity and America. And although the proposed BSA policy change would allow troops like the one at St. Raymond’s to determine its own policy in this regard, Scout troops do not operate in a vacuum, but rather in conjunction and cooperation with other troops locally, statewide and nationally. On a practical level that means, for example, that since not all troops would keep the ban in place, our own local/parish policy would be useless any time our boys took part in any of the many activities open to other troops.

But there is more to this than the “practical.” What does it say when a group dedicated to forming men to fulfill their “duty to God and country” and to be “morally straight” doesn’t understand one of the most basic concepts of morality and human nature? What does it say when a group for years strenuously fights the forces of immorality, and then one day simply capitulates? What does it say that we continue as members of this group?

Consider the words of Jesus: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” First “gay” activists just wanted their basic rights protected, and we agreed because it was only just. Then they wanted special laws to protect them from hate, and since Christians are against hate, we agreed. But then they said that if we call what they do or feel a “disorder” or a “sin,” then we are the haters, and no organization can be tolerated that takes a position they deem to be “hateful” toward them. And now they demand that we call their perverted relationships by the sacred name of “marriage.”

The modus operandi is clear. If they win this victory at BSA, they will not stop there. Why should they? The next step will be to use this victory to attack the local chartering organizations, like the troop at St. Raymond’s.

Well, as for me, as pastor and the one responsible for the troop, who signs the charter agreement every year, if this change is made I will not let our parish be associated with this group or provide the opportunity for my spiritual children to be.

So if this policy change goes through, St. Raymond’s will severe its relationship with BSA. No more compromising with the devil.

Now, lets’ be clear: I very much want to keep Scouting at St. Raymond’s, and the change has not been made yet. But the BSA board meets this coming Tuesday to make a decision. So it’s not too late to do something , but we must act quickly. Please call the BSA at 972-580-2000 to tell them that this change must not be made. You might also contact them through their website, http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx. You can also contact The Catholic Committee on Scouting at NCCS@scouting.org.

But most of all, pray. Pray that God will spare this organization that has done so much for so many young men, to teach them to be dutifully serve God and country, and to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And pray, through the intercession of St. George (patron of scouting) and St. Raymond, that we will be able to continue to offer our boys the benefits of scouting.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

January 27, 2013

Back from South Bend. As I wrote in my last column, I was out of town last weekend, officiating at a family wedding in South Bend, IN. It was a great weekend, not only because of the wedding, but also since I was able to visit with all my brothers and sisters and most of my nieces , nephews, grand-nephews and grand-nieces. But I have to apologize: it seems I brought the frigid cold weather back with me to NoVa. Sorry.

Fighting the Good Fight. This last week we witnessed 2 important events on the National Mall in Washington: on Monday it was the second inauguration of President Obama and on Friday it was the March for Life. It is a sad thing that these 2 events stand in opposition to each other, but they do, since the first involves the retaining of the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, and the second involved, necessarily, standing in opposition to that president.

But even though Christians may find themselves feeling discouraged at the inauguration of a this man who is not only strongly pro-abortion but also actively promotes contraception, “gay marriage,” and oppression of religious liberty, we should also take heart. First, we remember that every presidential inauguration also celebrates the peaceful passing of power according to the free election of the people. So that it refreshes our hope that the “game is not up,” and we redouble our efforts to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, and look forward to seeing that bear fruit in future inaugurations. And second, with the gathering of hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers in the same location just 4 days after this inauguration we remember that we are not alone and are not defeated. Rather, with faith in Christ and in His grace, we begin again to “fight the good fight.”

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As part of this “good fight” I am inviting all St. Raymond parishioners to join me in taking part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” This initiative involves 5 parts:

1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour: Every Last Wednesday of the Month we will have a Holy Hour from 6pm to 7pm, and offer special prayers for life, marriage and religious liberty. This will take place during the last hour of the currently regularly scheduled Wednesday Exposition and Adoration. The first “Holy Hour for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty” will take place this coming Wednesday, January 30, at 6pm.

2) Daily Rosary: All parishioners are asked to pray the Daily Rosary, either individually or as a family, for life, marriage and religious liberty.

3) Intentions at Mass: We will continue to include petitions for the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful, and I ask that those who attend weekday Mass keep these intentions in your prayers at those Masses.

4) Meatless Fridays: As I have often reminded you, the Lord taught his apostles that some terrible evils are conquered only through acts of penance: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). With that in mind, and following the Bishops’ current initiative, I encourage all parishioners to abstain from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year. (Of course, Catholics are required to do some form of penance every Friday of the year. Traditionally, the penance normally offered on Fridays is abstinence from meat, although most Catholics either replace it with another form of penance [which is permitted] or neglect to offer any penance at all [not permitted]. During Lent abstinence from meat is absolutely required on every Friday for all Catholics over 13 years of age. Note, however, except in Lent, failure to do Friday penance does not constitute a mortal sin).

5) This summer we will observe a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the 2 weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

These are just a few small things we can do to help keep up the good fight for life, marriage and religious liberty in our parish and our country. I add to this list my own continuing invitation to parishioners to join me in abstaining from meat and praying the Rosary (at least) every Wednesday as well. And while all these small efforts will be effective in their own way, they also serve as reminders that we must constantly look for new ways to promote and encourage others in the truth, always charitably, respectfully and peacefully.

Next Sunday, Blessing of the Throats. As most of you know, every year on February 3, the Feast of St. Blaise, the Church provides a special “Blessing of Throats.” This year February 3 falls on a Sunday, so the Feast of St. Blaise is suppressed, but the Blessing of Throats will still take place in abbreviated form. Because of the large number of people at Sunday Mass, rather than giving individual Blessings with the candles, the Blessing will be given once for all present at each Mass as part of the final blessing at all Sunday Masses.

A Note from Deacon Barnes. Our good seminarian-deacon asked me to publish the following note to you all. Let us keep him in our prayers.

I am extremely grateful and humbled by everyone at St. Raymond’s for their prayers and support over these past six years as I near the completion of my formation for the priesthood. In particular, as some of you may know, I received the very generous and gracious offer from the parish to buy my first Mass vestment. Fr. De Celles has been so kind to me and has assisted me greatly in this process. A first Mass vestment is very special and important. You will see me use it when I, please God, celebrate my first Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Raymond’s on June 9. Celebrating Mass for the first time is something deeply treasured by anyone preparing for the priesthood, and it is made all the more special by this gift. Now that the vestment is finished and paid for, I wanted to express how thankful I am that the parish would do this for me. It is a stunningly beautiful vestment but more than that, it will be a great and undeserved honor to wear it and to pray with and for you as a priest of Jesus Christ. I will always think of all of you whenever I will use it. My hope is that my first Mass will also be an occasion which inspires more young men and women from our parish to answer the Lord’s tremendous call to serve Him and His Church as a priest or as a consecrated religious. Your generous support will certainly play a significant role in that regard. May God Bless you and thank you so much, Deacon Nicholas Barnes.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

January 20, 2013

March for Life. This coming Friday, January 25, hundreds of thousands of Americans will gather on the Washington Mall to march to the Supreme Court in peaceful protest on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the terrible decision establishing the right to abortion in our country. I hope you will be there with me and 3 bus loads of your fellow parishioners to peacefully show your rejection of our nation’s continuing indifference to the senseless killing of over a million unborn babies a year.

If you’ve never been to the March you really ought to think of joining us this year. It is an incredible experience. Some people hear “March on the Mall” and they think of some sort of angry, even violent, demonstration. But it’s nothing like that. It’s actually an amazingly uplifting and prayerful experience as you walk in common cause with thousands of good people, mainly solid Christians (mostly Catholics, or so it seems). One thing you’d be struck by is the number of young people: little kids in strollers or holding their Daddy’s hand, and teenagers and college students smiling and laughing together, in between rounds of praying the rosary or chanting some youthful cheer for life. And they’re from all over the country—thousands travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to be there. What a great thing—what a great sign of hope—to see the youth fired up about something as positive as life. But, again, not with anger, but with love.

Then there are older and middle aged people, men and women, and tons of priests and religious sisters. People from all ages, all walks of life, all there to stand in unity to defend life.

Sure, there some fools who show up and are loud and offensive. But those are very few and far between, and they come and go. Yes, there’s an occasional offensive sign, but there are thousands of other signs calling us to prayer and to witness for the love of Christ, and love for babies.

I have to admit something to you. Since the devastating elections in November, re-electing the most pro-abortion, anti-Catholic and pro-decadence president in our nation’s history, I’ve been trying to figure out where we go from here. What do we do to protect our nation and our Church from the evil that lies in store? I’m still thinking about it, but I know that one thing we have to do is pick ourselves up and, by the grace of God, stand strong when opportunities to be heard present themselves. And the March for Life is one of those opportunities. The forces of the Culture of Death have won a victory, but it will be fleeting. The Culture of Life is the Culture of Christ, and Christ cannot be defeated. Sure, sometimes we have our setbacks, but we rise again to fight and win another day. And that’s what I invite you to do in joining us on the Mall this Friday.

I know that many folks won’t be able to join us, for lots of good reasons. But if you can’t come down to the Mall, make sure you do something. Stop for a while at work and pray the Rosary. Come by the church (or a church near your work) and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Start a thoughtful and charitable conversation about the truth about abortion with your co-workers or friends. Do something to peacefully and prayerfully support the Culture of Life.

But if you can join us for the March, we have three buses leaving from the parish after a special 10:30am Mass. Space is limited, but still available, so sign up at the table in the narthex of the church. Come with us, and March for life!

No Priests, No Confessions. This weekend I’m away from the parish, off to South Bend, IN, to celebrate the wedding Mass of one of my nephews. Unfortunately, Fr. Daly is also away this weekend, but Fr. Daniel Hanley (an Arlington priest in graduate studies) and Fr. Philip Cozzi (chaplain at O’Connell High School) have volunteered to lend a hand. Even so, it still leaves a very hectic weekend for Fr. Kenna, so I decided to cancel confessions today, Sunday the 20th. Since the loss of 2 resident priests over the summer we’ve been able to keep most of the regular schedule intact. This Sunday is a rare exception, so I’m sure you’ll be patient and supportive.

But let this remind us all of the need to pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood—especially for the Diocese of Arlington. Over Christmas we were blessed with the assistance of the two seminarians from our parish, Deacon Nick Barnes and Mr. Jacob McCrumb. It’s heartening to see them coming forward to serve, but there is still a tremendous need for so many more priests. And those priests are going to have to come from within our own ranks—from our boys and young men. So pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood from our parish, and from your own families.

The Flu and the Sign of Peace. The flu epidemic is real, and it’s in our parish. Let’s keep each other in prayer so that those who are suffering will be comforted and healed quickly, and that those who are well will not be struck. Let’s especially pray for those who tend to be hardest hit by the effects of the flu, our oldest and youngest brothers and sisters. And thank you all for being so cooperative and understanding of my decision to forego the invitation to exchange a sign of peace at Mass in response to concerns over passing germs along.

My Letter on Fundraising/Collections. By now all of our parishioners should have received my letter presenting my request to prayerfully consider your current level of giving to the parish. Again, I don’t want to pressure you, and I respect your free and conscientious decisions in all this. But I do thank you for taking time to think about my request and respond as best you can.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

January 13, 2013

Every year all priests are required to make at least a five day spiritual retreat. This last week I was on my retreat. You were in my prayers, but I hope you understand that I didn’t have time to right my column. So once again my favorite guest columnist…Oremus pro invicem, Fr. De Celles

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, January, 9, 2011

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am happy to give you a cordial welcome, especially you parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a moment, I will have the joy of administering the sacrament of baptism.…

According to the story of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John; in fact, all of Palestine flocked to hear the preaching of this great prophet, the announcement of the advent of the Kingdom of God, and to receive baptism, that is, to submit themselves to this sign that called to conversion from sin. Although it is called “baptism,” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite that we celebrate today; as you well know, it is in fact by his death and resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and brings about the birth of the Church. [The baptism] administered by John was rather a penitential act, a gesture that invited people to humility before God, for a new beginning: Plunging into the water, the penitent acknowledged having sinned, he implored God to purify him of his sins and he was sent forth to change his erroneous behavior.

So, when the Baptist saw Jesus, in line with sinners, having come to be baptized, he is stunned; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, he who is without sin, John shows his confusion: He himself, the baptizer wanted to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus tells him not to resist, to agree to carry out this act, to do what is proper to “fulfill all justice.” With this expression, Jesus shows that he came into the world to do the will of him who sent him, to do everything that the Father asks him; it is in obedience to the Father that he has agreed to become man. This gesture reveals first of all who Jesus is: He is the Son of God, true God like the Father; it is he who “humbled himself” to become one of us, he who became man and agreed to humble himself to the point of death on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:7).

The baptism of Jesus, which we recall today, fits into this logic of humility: It is the gesture of one who wants to be one of us in everything and gets in line with sinners; he, who is without sin, lets himself be treated as a sinner (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), to carry on his shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity. He is the “servant of Yahweh” whom the prophet Isaiah spoke to us about in the first reading (cf. 42:1). His humility is determined by a desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to achieve a true solidarity with man and his condition. Jesus’ gesture anticipates the cross, the acceptance of death for man’s sins. This act of abasement, with which Jesus wants to conform totally to the Father’s plan of love, manifests the total harmony of will and purpose that exists between persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God manifests himself as a dove and descends upon him, and in that moment a voice from above, which all hear, testifies to the love that unites Jesus to the Father for those present at the baptism. The Father openly reveals to men the profound communion uniting him to the Son: The voice that resounds from above attests that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of love that unites them. This is why the Father delights in Jesus, because he sees in the Son’s action the desire to follow his will in everything: “This is my Son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And this word of the Father also alludes, in anticipation, to the victory of the Resurrection.

Dear parents, baptism, which you ask for your children today, inserts them into this reciprocal exchange of love that exists in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; by this gesture that I am going to perform, the love of God is poured out upon them, inundating them with his gifts. By being bathed in the water, your children are inserted into the life itself of Jesus, who died on the cross to free us from sin, and rising, conquered death. So, spiritually immersed in his death and resurrection, [these children] are freed from original sin and in them the life of grace begins, which is the very life of the risen Jesus.…

….Receiving baptism, these children are granted an indelible spiritual seal, the “character” that marks forever their belonging to the Lord and makes them living members of his mystical body, which is the Church. While entering to be part of the People of God, for these children there starts today a path of holiness and conformity to Jesus, a reality that is placed in them as the seed of a splendid tree, which must be made to grow. Thus, understanding the magnitude of this gift from the earliest centuries, [the Church] has been concerned to give baptism to newborn children. Certainly, there will also be the need of a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love, and that is why it is necessary that after baptism they are educated in faith, instructed according to the wisdom of sacred Scripture and the Church’s teachings, so that the seeds of faith that they receive today can grow, and they can reach full Christian maturity. The Church, who welcomes them among her children, is responsible, together with the parents and godparents, for accompanying them on this path of growth. The collaboration between the Christian community and the family is much needed in the current social context in which the institution of the family is threatened from many sides and finds itself faced with many difficulties in its mission to teach the faith. The disappearance of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation that society continually undergoes, make the educational task truly difficult. Therefore, it is necessary that parishes increasingly strive to support families, the little domestic Churches, in their work of passing on the faith.

Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of the baptism of these your children…. Entrusting them to the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, we ask for them life and health so that they can grow and mature in the faith, and bear, with their lives, the fruits of holiness and love. Amen!

January 6, 2013

Thanks. As the Christmas Season continues, I’d like to add 3 more Christmas “thank you’s” to those from prior weeks. First, I want to thank all of you for your generosity in the Christmas collections. Between the collection for Sunday the 23rd and Christmas Day, and including special donations and second collections, you donated over $130, 000 to the parish. That is one of the highest collections for those combined days in our history. Thank you so much for your generosity. Second, on behalf of Fr. Kenna and myself, I want to thank all of you who dropped off baked goods and other treats and gifts for us in the rectory. You kindness is overwhelming. And last but not least, I want to thank 7 year old Holly Diamond who was very helpful to me at Christmas Midnight Mass, as she carried the statue of the Baby Jesus in procession for the Blessing of the Christmas Crèche.

The Epiphany of the Lord
Benedict XVI, Homily (Excerpts), January 6, 2012

“The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ. … The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. No doubt there were many astronomers in ancient Babylon, but only these few set off to follow the star that they recognized as the star of the promise, pointing them along the path towards the true King and Saviour. They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. But they were also courageous, yet humble: we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort. …For them it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him the promised King, the one they had set out, on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know….

“The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a …a supernova, …one of those stars …in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs.”

Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort. Tomorrow, January 7, is the feast of our parish Patron. St. Raymond was born at Villafranca de Benadis, near Barcelona, in 1175. At only 20 years of age he became professor of canon law in 1195, and taught for fifteen years. He left Spain for the University of Bologna in 1210 to complete his studies in civil and canon law. He held a chair of canon law in the university for three years and published a treatise on ecclesiastical legislation.

Raymond returned to Barcelona to teach in 1219. Soon thereafter he received a heavenly vision in which the Blessed Mother, under the title of “Our Lady of Mercy,” instructed him to help St. Peter Nolasco found the Order of Mercedarians, which would be devoted to the ransom of Christians taken captive by the Moors (Spanish Muslims). Raymond did not join that order but rather received the habit in the Dominicans in Barcelona in 1222. As a Dominican, Raymond continued to teach and preach, and devoted considerable effort working to convert Moors and Jews, founding institutes at Barcelona and Tunis for the study of Oriental languages, as well as coaxing St. Thomas Aquinas to write his Summa Contra Gentiles to help in his efforts.

At the request of his superiors Raymond published the Summa Casuum, a book on cases of conscience for the guidance of confessors and moralists, the first guide of its kind. This work eventually led to his appointment as confessor and theologian to Pope Gregory IX in 1230. His expertise in juridical science led the pope to direct Raymond to re-arrange and codify the canons (juridical laws) of the Church, which required him to rewrite and condense decrees that had been multiplying for centuries, contained in some twelve or fourteen collections already existing. The pope published Raymond’s work in 1231, and commanded that it alone should be considered authoritative and used in the schools. From then on St. Raymond would be known as the “Father of canon law.”

After this, Raymond returned to Spain. In 1238 he was elected General of the Dominican Order, but he resigned two years later, claiming that at 63 years old he was too old for the job. He continued his writing, preaching and pastoral work, as well many important responsibilities entrusted to him by various popes, for another 37 years until his death in Barcelona on January 6, 1275, at the age of 100. He is the patron saint of lawyers, both canon and civil (the latter with St. Thomas More). (Based, in part, on an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia (www.newadvent.org)).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May St. Raymond pray for us and lead us to have a happy, holy and grace-filled 2013!

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles