16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 22, 2012

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

All of us need to do exactly this from time to time:
to relax, refresh, renew, and rejuvenate—to rest.
Of course, there are lots of ways we do this.
We go on vacations:
sometimes far away from home,
but sometimes we simply stay at home and relax.
Sometimes we just take a day or two off,
or maybe just an evening relaxing with friends.
Jesus used to do that too:
the Gospels tell us, in particular, how he used to visit the home
of his friend Lazarus and his sisters,
apparently just to get away from things and relax.

The need to rest is essential to man—not only physically and psychologically,
but spiritually as well.
In fact it’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God,
as Genesis chapter 2 tells us:
“God … rested on the seventh day from all his work.”
And so he made it one of the 10 Commandments:
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy…”
So to the ancient Jews, including Jesus himself,
the Sabbath was not merely a day to rest, but to rest with the Lord.

Of course, this means that when we go on vacation
you can’t leave God behind
—whether it comes to your morals, or to your prayer life,
or to Sunday Mass.

But more importantly this reminds us
that the highest and most necessary form of rest is prayer
—of being in the refreshing presence of God.

Think of what Jesus does when he rests.
Of course he sleeps, and he visits his friends.
But think of all the times he goes off by himself to a quiet place,
or up on a mountain, or to a garden, to pray.

And the highest form of prayer, and rest, is what we do here every Sabbath:
the Holy Mass.
Think about it:
the Mass is the ultimate getaway
—going ” away by yourselves to a deserted place.”
We really do, or should, leave the world behind
—this is very different, on purpose,
than anything we do in the world.
And we come here not to talk to or see each other,
but really to talk to and see God.
And of course, like all good vacations that rejuvenate and refresh us,
we come here to eat the most delectable and invigorating food
—the Holy Eucharist.

Last Sunday we read how Jesus had sent the apostles out
to preach the gospel, drive out demons and cure the sick.
In today’s Gospel the apostles have just come back from that mission,
and they’re exhausted.
So Jesus says, “Come away…to a deserted place and rest a while.”
But they can’t get away.
As St. Mark tells us:
“People saw them leaving and …[t]hey …arrived at the place before them.”

Why?
Because the people were desperate for what Jesus and his apostles had.
St. Mark writes that when Jesus
“saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
What shepherd were they “without”?

The answer is in today’s psalm, Psalm 23:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.”

This is the shepherd they were looking for.
This is the shepherd we are looking for.
And they, and we, find that shepherd in Christ, and his apostles.
The shepherd that would give them repose, rest and refreshment.

But as they follow this shepherd out to this deserted place,
they find themselves in a predicament: they have no food.
We stop just short of reading this today,
but in the next few verses after today’s text from the Gospel of Mark,
we find that Jesus responds
by feeding of the 5000 with a few loaves of bread.
And so the sheep are completely refreshed by the shepherd who
“spreads the table before me…” so that “my cup overflows”?

And here we are, at the Eucharist,
as the good shepherd spreads the table before us,
the bread of eternal life.

But this can’t happen without shepherds.
As we read in today’s first reading:
“I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them.”
Just as the Lord sent the apostles to preach his gospel,
he also sent them to be the shepherds of his sheep.
And he continues to send shepherds in his place.

Because without shepherds there can be no verdant pastures to repose in,
no refreshing of the soul, no table spread before us.
Without priests there is no Mass, no Eucharist,
no source of true and lasting refreshment and revivification.

So in a parallel text in St. Matthew’s Gospel,
when Jesus
“saw the crowds, he felt pity for them,
because they were …like sheep without a shepherd”
according to St. Matthew, Jesus added:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
pray therefore the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Perhaps the Lord is guilty of mixing his metaphors, but his point is clear:
there are lots of sheep waiting for a shepherd.

My friends, we need more priests.
We at St. Raymond’s have been discovering this in a rather painful way
in the last month.
But you know, I’m convinced we have lots of priests
sitting in the pews here every Sunday
—they’re just not ordained yet.
I’m convinced that Christ is calling literally dozens of the young men
here at St. Raymond’s to the priesthood, to be shepherds of his flock.

But will they answer the call?
And will their parents and brothers and sisters help them to answer the call?

A lot of young men are afraid to answer
—and a lot of their family members are afraid for them.
And understandably so: I won’t lie to you, it’s a hard life,
if you do it right, or if you try to.

But so is the life of a lay man, if you do it right, or try to.

The other day, after I finished Mass someone came to tell me
there was no toilet paper in the rest room.
I thought to myself,
yes, and there’s a financial statement sitting on my desk I have to review,
and scores of emails and phone calls I have to return,
and a column and homily I have to write.
Not to mention a $3 million mortgage I have to pay.
And meetings, confessions and Masses…
I felt like the apostles in today’s gospel,
trying to get away to a quiet place but pursued by the crowd.
That’s the life of a priest today.

But it also sounds a lot like the life of a married man with kids, too!
Who’s busier me or him?

People say, but Father, priesthood is such a lonely life.
Yes, it can be.
But then again, not so much.
Like Jesus and the apostles, the priest is never really alone
—there’s always a crowd following him.
And this can be very consoling:
literally 1000s of people love you, just for being a priest.
If I said right now “I have no food in the rectory,”
a dozen families would show up this afternoon with dinner in hand.

And most importantly, I know that 1000s of people pray for me, by name,
every day—can any of you say that?

And all because I stand in the place of Christ, and by his grace
refresh their souls by spreading the table of the Eucharist before them.
Only a shepherd can do this, only a priest.

My dear sons, why don’t you want this?!
Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of my sons
—why don’t you want this for them?

Of course there are sacrifices, but for a moment see with the eyes of Christ:
who “saw the vast crowd, [and] his heart was moved with pity …, for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
If you are called to be that shepherd,
to bring rest, refreshment and peace to his people,
why would you say “no” to that?
Or not even consider the invitation?

I know I’m a poor example of a shepherd,
but even my weakness should inspire you.
22 years ago I sat in the pew as a layman,
listening to another priest give one the of the worst homilies in history,
and I thought to myself: “I can do better than that.”
And something inside said to me: “Okay, smart-alec, why don’t you try”
And you sit there today thinking the same thing about me…So why don’t you try?

Now, you may be thinking, boy Father really needs a vacation.
Maybe.
Maybe I just need a few days off with some friends.
Earlier I mentioned that Jesus used to do that.
In particular he used to go to rest at the home of Lazarus,
and of course his sisters Martha and Mary, in Bethany.
Interestingly enough, today is the feast day of Mary of Bethany,
except that it’s suppressed to celebrate the Lord’s Day.
Although we don’t usually call her “St. Mary of Bethany,”
instead we call her by the other name she goes by in Scripture:
St. Mary Magdalene.

I won’t go through her whole story now
—I wrote some of that in today’s bulletin if you care to read it.
But it is the common teaching of the Church,
that this sister of Lazarus was once a terrible sinner,
who, by the love and grace of Jesus,
was lifted from the depravity of her terrible sins
to become one of the greatest saints:
the first to witness the resurrection and
and the one Jesus sent to announce the resurrection
to the Apostles.

This is the great St. Mary Magdalene.
She has been dear to me all my life.
You see, I was born, baptized and raised in a parish named after her
—it was there I first heard the call to the priesthood as a little boy.
And over the years she’s taken special care of me, in so many ways.
In particular, 10 years ago this very day, her feast day,
she intervened with our Lord as I lay in a coma dying in Fairfax Hospital:
in the morning all the doctors said I would be dead by the afternoon;
by the afternoon they were all shaking their heads in utter disbelief
that the illness was completely gone from my body.
She is a powerful saint and a tremendous friend.

Normally I recommend her as a particular patron of women
especially those who suffer from their own personal sins
or the sins committed against them.
But today, let me recommend her to those young men
who may have a vocation to the priesthood, and to their parents.
Because, you see, the Gospels tell us that she, along with certain other women
“used to follow [Jesus] and minister to Him” and the apostles,
“contributing to their support out of their private means.”

In other words, 2000 years ago she took care of the first priests of the Church,1
1 The tradition that holds that Magdalene traveled to France with her brother and sister also holds that her brother Lazarus himself became a priest, and perhaps a bishop…
and 2000 years later she still takes care of priests
—she takes care of me every day.
Let her take care of you, let her help you discover if you,
or your son or brother,
is a called to shepherd the flock of Christ.

It is written in our very nature that we all need to rest.
But that need is not only for physical rest
—in fact, the most satisfying and necessary rest
is resting with the Lord in prayer,
and being refreshed by the Bread of heaven.
As we now enter into this great mystery of the Holy Mass,
let us join the angels and saints, especially St. Mary Magdalene,
and leave behind the cares and troubles and sins of the world,
and let our Divine Shepherd lead us to repose in verdant pastures
and to refresh our weary souls.
at the table He spreads before us.
And let us be at peace, confident that the Lord will never deprive us of
this wonderful rest,
never leaving us like sheep without a shepherd.
Let us, “Come away …to a deserted place and rest a while.”

July 22, 2012

ST. MARY MAGDALENE. Today, July 22, is normally the feast day of my favorite saint, St. Mary Magdalene, but it’s suppressed this year because it falls on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. As I’ve written before, my devotion to the Magdalene originates in the fact that I was baptized and grew up in a parish named after her. Over the years my attachment to her has grown very strong, as she has come to my aid so often and so powerfully, even to the point of pulling me out of my death bed, 10 years ago today.

Although one of the great saints of the New Testament and greatly revered in the Church for centuries, she has gone largely ignored in recent years, especially in our country. That is except for her 15 minutes of fame when that horrible lying book and movie, The DaVinci Code, came out a few years back. Unfortunately, the false story of her life popularized thereby is all that many people “know” about her, which is to say they know a lie and not the great saint herself.

Of course, Scripture is clear that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who followed and took care of Jesus and the apostles. She was also both at the foot of the cross and the first to encounter the Risen Jesus. Her greatest fame is that she was personally sent by Jesus to inform the apostles of the Resurrection—“the Apostles to the Apostles,” as the ancient Church calls her.

But there is more to the story than that. According to the ancient Catholic tradition (not infallibly taught, but rooted in the Gospels and generally accepted since the early centuries), she was a great sinner, who became a great penitent saint. She is identified with the woman who, in Luke 7, washes the feet of Jesus with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints with precious oil from an alabaster jar, of whom Jesus says: “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” St. John seems to identify this woman with Mary of Bethany as she anoints Jesus feet in 11:2 and 12:1-8 of his Gospel. In the parallel texts to John 12 in the Gospels of Matthew (Ch. 26) and Mark (Ch. 14) we see the story of the unnamed sinful woman of Luke 7 clearly come together with the story Mary of Bethany of John 12—they are the same woman at the same banquet. Matthew and Mark also add the promise of the Lord about her: “wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Moreover, in John, Matthew and Mark, she is tied to the Lord’s burial, as, over the objections of Judas the betrayer who insists they sale her precious oil, Jesus responds, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial,” and thus identifies her with Mary Magdalene who went to Christ’s tomb to anoint his body on Easter morning (Mark 16;1; cf. Luke 24:1 ).

Although this link in identity between Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene may seem tenuous, it is strengthened by other scriptural connections. For example, the “many sins” of the woman in Luke 7 (Mary of Bethany) seem to reflect the “seven demons” (i.e., seven deadly sins) which Mark and Luke tell us Jesus cast out of Magdalene. Also, like the sinful woman (Mary of Bethany) who kneels weeping at Jesus’ feet, Magdalene is portrayed as falling at his feet and weeping at the Resurrection (Matt. 28:9 John 15:15, 17), and a similar scene is easily imaged as stands below him at the cross.

All these connections and others have been part of the Church’s common teaching about Magdalene, including its liturgical celebrations, since at least the 6th century, when Pope St. Gregory the Great taught on the subject. However, since St. Gregory is considered the most learned man of his time, and a protector of the ancient traditions of the Church, it must be presumed that what he handed on about Magdalene was simply what he had learned from other sources which believed to be true and of ancient origin. This tradition is still held up to us by the Church today, especially in the official prayers of her feast day as celebrated in the ancient Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

So to sum up, St. Mary Magdalene is the very sinful woman who repented and loved Jesus “much”, and washed and anointed the feet of Jesus. She is also Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and the woman who was faithful to Jesus to the end, standing at foot of his Cross, and the first witness to the resurrection.

Some say that identifying St. Mary Magdalene as such a terrible sinner is insulting to the Saint (according to St. Gregory her “many sins” included even prostitution). The truth is exactly the opposite. What greater tribute, what greater example, what greater sign of God’s love, mercy and power, can a Christian hope for than to rise from the depth of sins and depravity to the heights of holiness.

This is why I think she is such an important saint for us today, as our culture corrupts and abuses so many women and girls, especially through sexual sins. Many feel hopeless, even as they desire the love of Christ, but feel their sins or the sins committed against them are so many or so horrible they cannot share in Christ’s love or forgiveness. But then they encounter the Magdalene, and discover, through her life, the true depth and breadth of the love of Jesus, that can absolve and conquer all sins and bring them into the joy, the peace, the integrity, and the goodness they so earnestly desire.

And Magdalene is important also for men and boys, both as a reminder of the power of Christ’s mercy for all of us, and as specific lesson in the disrespect and abuse our culture encourages men to show to women, and the great dignity and pure love with which we should treat them.

So I commend this most blessed Saint, the great penitent, so dearly loved by Jesus, and my oldest and dearest spiritual friend, to your attention and friendship. St. Mary Magdalena, pray for us!

Knights of Columbus. I can’t let this week pass without congratulating and thanking Michael Welch for his dedication and great work in serving this last year as Grand Knight of our Knights of Columbus (St. John Bosco Council). As you step down from your post, I say thank you Michael—well done, good and faithful servant! Let me also congratulate and say I look forward to working with our new Grand Knight, Paul DeRosa. You follow in the footsteps of some very good men, Paul. I’m confident that you will live up to their great examples as you guide the Knights to another fruitful year at St. Raymond’s. God bless.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 15, 2012

Today’s second reading begins with one of the most lyrically and theologically beautiful texts in the Bible, taken from the first words of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

The first part of the reading in the form of a Canticle, and may have been written to be sung or recited by the early Christians—it has, in fact, been that for centuries in the Church as part of the chants of the liturgy of the hours. The second part is sort of a commentary on the first. But throughout we discover wonderful and essential teachings of the Church.

It’s main theme is that Christ is the center, reason and fulfillment for everything. It says the Father “has blessed us in Christ,” “adopt[ed]” us “through Christ” and “granted us” “his grace” “in the beloved” Christ. “In him [Christ] we have redemption by his blood.” All is a part of the Father’s plan, “a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.”

Without Christ, there is nothing. With Christ, we have “the riches of his grace…lavished upon us.” This is the heart of the Christian life and faith.

We celebrate this fundamental reality every Sunday, and in fact at every Mass —the canticle’s Eucharistic overtones are powerful. In particular, the Eucharistic prayer is absolutely about this, especially the first Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.

It begins: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:” It goes on to say the refrain “through Christ our Lord” multiple times, including as we pray that we “may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And at the very heart of the prayer the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood through Him, through his actions and words. And the prayer ends with, the powerful summary of the miracle that has taken place: “Through him, and with him, and in him, …almighty Father, …all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

This is the heart of our faith and life, and of the Mass.

Thank the merciful Lord that he has given us St. Paul and this beautiful text so that we should never lose sight this sublime truth and always let it inform the rest of our faith in Christ.

But, think about what we would lose if we didn’t have this text. Or if we didn’t have the rest of the letter to the Ephesians, or the other letters of the New Testament, and the Gospels themselves. If somehow they’d been lost or discarded by the early Christians.

You know, in the early Church neither this letter, or any of the books we now call the “New Testament,” were automatically considered as inspired Scripture.

And there were also different interpretations given to this and other texts, as there have been through the centuries. For example, one extreme interpretation is that it’s poetic setting tells us that it’s not meant to be read with theological precision, so that Christ really isn’t the center of things, so that he’s is not really essential to salvation.

These are the kind of huge problems we can run into, even in a wonderful text like this. How do we solve these problems? And how do we know which letters are inspired and belong in the Bible?

Some say, well the Holy Spirit guides each of us to understand these things. But that’s not what the early church thought.

Remember, on the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians, it wasn’t to the Holy Spirit inside of themselves that each Christian looked to teach them what God had in mind. Rather, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us: “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles….”

And as St. Paul goes on to write to the Ephesians, the Church is: “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone….” Again, the fundamental centrality of Christ, but now also the foundational quality of the apostles.

If the apostles said it, the first Christians believed it. Why? Because as St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel: “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Some people think the “authority” Jesus gave them was merely to cure the sick, but if we look carefully at the end of the text it tells us first: “So they went off and preached….” In fact, in St. Matthew’s account of this event Jesus commands them: “preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

Later Jesus makes this delegation of his authority permanent, first making Peter the first Pope, in Matthew 16:

“you are Peter, 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.”

And then, in Matthew 18, he extends the power to bind and loose to all 12 of the apostles together.

And that authority would not end with the death of the 12: the Scriptures make clear that others succeeded them in authority as apostles and bishops: first Matthias, then men like Barnabas, Timothy and Mark, and of course, St. Paul himself.

And it didn’t end with the apostolic age, but comes down to us through the successors of the apostles. And St. Irenaeus of Lyons would write in 180AD: “the faith preached to men, …comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.”

Still, some Christians don’t agree with this, even some who call themselves Catholics. Unfortunately, since popes and bishops have been very patient with dissenters over the last 50 years, many Catholics have come to think that dissent is okay. It is not: as Jesus said: “a house divided against itself will not stand.”

Some of this dissent is willful and intentional, but most of it is simply due to ignorance: most Catholics today have simply not been taught some of the most basic truths of the faith.

So for the last 20 years or so there’s been a strong push to re-catechize adults and to improve the quality of the catechesis of our children. And by “improve” I mean present the actual authoritative teaching of the Popes and bishops in union with him.

To help pastors to focus on their responsibility to teach the true Catholic faith, the rite of installation of pastors requires new pastors to publically proclaim, under oath, a Profession of Faith, that begins with the Creed we say at Mass, and concludes by affirming faith in the all the infallible doctrine taught by the Pope and Bishops, and submission to all their official teachings.

This last May Bishop Loverde decided it was a good idea to extend this public profession of faith to all the catechists and religion teachers in the parishes. I, along with the vast majority of the priests of the diocese, wholeheartedly agree. After all, the catechists—CCD teachers— are helping me do my job of teaching the faithful, and if my profession of faith helps me to focus on this responsibility, then why wouldn’t that also be helpful to my assistants, the catechist?

Now, I have no doubt that all of the catechists here at St. Raymonds will happily make that profession next September: they want to teach the Catholic faith not the “Me” faith.

Unfortunately, this last Thursday the Washington Post published a front page story about five CCD teachers at St. Ann’s in Arlington who refuse to make the profession of faith.

Now, this is the Washington Post, so I wasn’t surprised that the article was saturated with the Post’s standard anti-Catholic bigotry. I mean, how convenient to find a dissenting priest who would not so subtly compare Bishop Loverde to the Nazis. And how did a story about just 5 catechists out of the thousands in the diocese merit front page coverage?

But besides that, it was just bad reporting. I could go on and on, but let me just focus on a few of the key errors.

First of all, the Post writes that all teachers are required: “to submit “will and intellect” to all of the teachings of church leaders.” The Post seems to imply is that Catholics would have to accept every little thing a particular bishop or group of bishops might teach, even if it were absolutely irrational and unprecedented.

Not so. The profession is talking only about doctrines which are presented by the Pope or by all the bishops acting with the Pope— in such a way that they clearly intend to be official. All this really is like when I’m sick and I think my symptoms point to a cold, but all the doctors I consult say I have pneumonia. I don’t agree with them, but they’re the experts, so I “submit” to their decision.

The Post goes on to say that, “[the] ‘profession of faith’ asks teachers to commit to ‘believe everything’ the bishops characterize as divinely revealed.”

Not quite. The profession says: “I also believe everything …which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”

Friends, this is straight out of Vatican II, the language the council used [in Lumen Gentium] to define infallible teaching: teaching that is from God and cannot change. So it’s not simply what “the bishops characterize as divinely revealed,” as if one day the bishops might get together and say, “hey, let’s make a new doctrine.” Rather it’s talking about what doctrines the bishops simply repeat that have “been handed down” to them as the constant infallible teaching of the Church.

Finally, the article quotes several of the dissenting Catechists and one smart-alec priest at Notre Dame who keep singing the refrain: bishops make mistakes.

So what’s new? I mean, Bishop Loverde, God bless him, approved the designs for this beautiful church, but that included a lighting system where you can’t change a single light bulb without spending $20,000 for scaffolding. He didn’t know that, not his fault, but still, a mistake.

But we’re not talking about the mistakes they make in ordinary every day decisions. And we’re not talking about individual bishops, or even all the bishops alive today. We’re talking about the deposit of faith, the truth entrusted to the apostles and handed down and protected by the Holy Spirit, so that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” the Church built by Jesus Christ.

Now, some clever parishioner might look at today’s first reading and say, but Father, in that reading the priest Amaziah tries to silence Amos, a simple layman: “I was no prophet,” Amos says, “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” But God sent that layman to the priest to prophesy. Isn’t that just what the dissenting catechist are doing to Bishop Loverde?

Not at all. If you think about it, the priest Amaziah is a heretical priest —for hundereds of years God had forbidden any temple to be built outside of Jerusalem, but Amaziah was a priest of the Temple of Bethel. Amos, on the other hand, was sent by God from Jerusalem to uphold the ancient teachings against the dissenters in Bethel.

Amos is actually the exact opposite of the Post’s dissenting catechists. In fact, he’s more like the one faithful Catechist quoted in the Post, who said: “If you’re struggling with something, fine, [but] don’t teach.”

Today scripture reveals two great truths. The first truth is that Jesus Christ is the center of the universe, and it is God’s eternal will that only through and in Christ can we enter into the glory of heaven. And the second truth is that Christ has sent his apostles and their successors to teach us this first truth and every other
truth of his Gospel. He has not left us to false priests like Amaziah, but to Peter and His apostles and their faithful successors, the bishops.

As we turn, now, to our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember the teaching of St. Paul and open our hearts to receive every grace and heavenly blessing Christ lavishes on us, in the wondrous truths of our faith, and in this sacrament.

And let us recommit ourselves to accepting and sharing the ancient Catholic and apostolic teaching proclaimed first in Jerusalem, then in Rome, and now in the Diocese of Arlington.

And let us do all this, and all things, always, through him, and with him, and in him.

July 15, 2012

SUMMERTIME. I love the summer—even when it’s in the 90’s outside. All this heat reminds me of the summers of my childhood in San Antonio. Then summer was a time of freedom and adventure, even if that just meant riding my bike around the neighborhood or across town to visit friends or interesting sites. Some of those “interesting sites” were churches, or chapels, or open air grottos dedicated to the Blessed Mother. So summer also became, for me, a time of prayer. I look back on those days somewhat wistfully— would that I had today the freedom of my youth!

Unfortunately adulthood doesn’t allow for such a carefree summer, as most of us still have work and family responsibilities. Even so, most still make time to go on vacations. It is so necessary to recreate physically and mentally, and to renew and strengthen family bonds. Although I don’t know if I’ll get a vacation this summer, I will at least take an extra day or two off now and then, and try to take my regular day off every week—I need to do that for myself and for you.

But even when we work this summer, we still seem to live at a somewhat slower of pace—probably because others are vacationing. For me, my phone rings a little less often, and the number of emails go down a bit. I work about the same number of hours, but am a bit “freer” to work on things I’ve had to postpone the rest of the year—to catch up and to prepare for the future. So we work, but with a little less stress.

But as we lighten our loads somewhat or get away, we have to be careful not to forget our Catholic faith. Whether it’s skipping Sunday Mass, or neglecting our daily prayers, or leaving our moral compass at home when we travel, or forgetting simple rules of modesty in dress and behavior, summer is never a time to leave behind Christ. Rather, let it be a time to renew your faith and devotion to Him and His Church. For example, when you travel on vacation, make a point of visiting Catholic sites along the way—stopping and praying at the cathedral or shrines in the places you visit, etc.. (By the way, we stay open all summer, so please don’t forget your regular financial support of the parish.)

I conclude with some words our Holy Father has to say about vacation, as he escapes the oppressive heat of Rome and travels to his summer residence in the hills south of Rome on Lake Albano.

Stay cool, relax and stay close to Christ, and oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

***

Pope Benedict XVI, in his General Audience at Castel Gandolfo, August 3, 2011.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very glad to see you here in the square at Castel Gandolfo and to resume the audiences after the interval in July. I would like to continue with the subject we have embarked on, that is, a “school of prayer”, and today, in a slightly different way and without straying from this theme, I would also like to mention certain spiritual and concrete aspects which seem to me useful, not only for those who — in one part of the world — are spending their summer holidays like us, but also for all who are involved in daily work.

When we have a break from our activities, especially in the holidays, we often take up a book we want to read. It is on this very aspect that I would first like to reflect today.

Each one of us needs time and space for recollection, meditation and calmness…. Thanks be to God that this is so! In fact, this need tells us that we are not made for work alone, but also to think, to reflect or even simply to follow with our minds and our hearts a tale, a story in which to immerse ourselves, in a certain sense “to lose ourselves” to find ourselves subsequently enriched.

Of course, many of these books to read, which we take in our hands during our vacation are at best an escape, and this is normal. Yet various people, particularly if they have more time in which to take a break and to relax, devote themselves to something more demanding.

I would therefore like to make a suggestion: why not discover some of the books of the Bible which are not commonly well known? Or those from which we heard certain passages in the liturgy but which we never read in their entirety? Indeed, many Christians never read the Bible and have a very limited and superficial knowledge of it. The Bible, as the name says, is a collection of books, a small “library” that came into being in the course of a millennium.

Some of these “small books” of which it is composed are almost unknown to the majority, even people who are good Christians.

Some are very short, such as the Book of Tobit, a tale that contains a lofty sense of family and marriage; or the Book of Esther, in which the Jewish Queen saves her people from extermination with her faith and prayer; or the Book of Ruth, a stranger who meets God and experiences his providence, which is even shorter. These little books can be read in an hour. More demanding and true masterpieces are the Book of Job, which faces the great problem of innocent suffering; Ecclesiastes is striking because of the disconcerting modernity with which it calls into question the meaning of life and of the world; and the Song of Songs, a wonderful symbolic poem of human love. As you see, these are all books of the Old Testament. And what about the New? The New Testament is of course better known and its literary genres are less diversified. Yet the beauty of reading a Gospel at one sitting must be discovered, just as I also recommend the Acts of the Apostles, or one of the Letters.

To conclude, dear friends, today I would like to suggest that you keep the Holy Bible within reach, during the summer period or in your breaks, in order to enjoy it in a new way by reading some of its books straight through, those that are less known and also the most famous, such as the Gospels, but without putting them down. By so doing moments of relaxation can become in addition to a cultural enrichment also an enrichment of the spirit which is capable of fostering the knowledge of God and dialogue with him, prayer. And this seems to be a splendid holiday occupation: to take a book of the Bible in order to have a little relaxation and at the same time to enter the great realm of the word of God and to deepen our contact with the Eternal One, as the very purpose of the free time that the Lord gives us.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 8, 2012

In today’s Gospel we encounter 2 very disconcerting facts.
First, it tells us that the people in Jesus’ tiny home town of Nazareth
his old friends, “Took offense at him.”
Second, it tells us: “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

Let’s look at these a little more carefully, beginning with the first one.
Why is it that the Nazoreans took offense at Jesus,
refusing to accept his teachings?
A lot of times we think, if only Jesus would come to me and speak to me
—that would strengthen me, and my faith, so much.
So it’s kind of stunning to us
that even these people who knew Jesus so well, his own people,
who he came to and taught personally,
wouldn’t believe in him.

But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising.
Jesus offended people all the time, saying a whole lot of things
that were hard for them to accept and believe.
For example, remember the Bread of Life discourse in John 6,
when he taught his disciples that he would give them
a bread that would really be his own body,
and they had to eat it to have eternal life?
Scripture tells us:
“Many of his disciples…said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
But Jesus, “Do you take offense at this? ….
…After this many of his disciples …no longer [followed] him.”

Or remember Matthew’s chapter 19, where Jesus lays out 6 very hard sayings:
including the prohibition of divorce, and re-marriage after divorce;
and the teaching that some people are simply not capable of marriage
—their either born that way or made that way by others.
Scripture tells us the apostles,
“were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
In other words, even they had a hard time believing these hard sayings.

Why is this such a surprise that people in Jesus’ time
would take offense at his hard sayings?
—we see the exact same thing all throughout the last 2000 years,
and especially today.
The Church says: “no divorce and remarriage”;
and that “homosexuals just can’t marry each other,
whether they were born that way or made that way by others.”
Don’t people take offense at that?—and all it is is the direct teaching of Jesus.
Even members of his Church take offense
—even sometimes bishops and priests—
“his own kin and in his own house,” as it were.
Why are we surprised that the people of Nazareth took offense?

Jesus can be offensive, if we cling to our sins, or refuse to have faith.

Which brings us to the 2nd disconcerting fact in today’s Gospel reading,
the fact that: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”
How can Jesus “not be able” to perform a miracle?
After all, he’s God, isn’t he?

But notice, in fact, Jesus is “able” to perform miracles in Nazareth.
The text goes on to say,
“apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”
So he did do miracles there.

To understand all this you have to remember
that Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:
either to show his power so that people would believe in him,
or simply out of mercy to the afflicted.

The only thing that limits Jesus
is either his own divine nature or our human nature.
His divine nature limits him in the sense that,
for example, as God by nature he is not capable of doing any evil,
he is not capable of not loving.
And our human nature limits him in the sense that
in his love for us he respects our free will
—and limits himself according to our choices.

Here in Nazareth he is “amazed at their lack of faith.”
His own people are, in the words of today’s first reading:
“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”
There’s not a thing he can say or do to change their minds,
so there’s no reason to perform a great sign,
except out of mercy for “a few sick people.”

Think of all the times he performed great miracles,
and still the eyewitnesses didn’t believe in him.
Again, go back to the Bread of Life discourse
—right before that
his disciples personally witnessed him feed five thousand men,
“with five …loaves and two fish.”
And still they left him because his sayings about the Eucharist
were too hard to accept.

Same thing here in Nazareth, so he says, in effect,
“no miracles, believe or don’t, it’s up to you.”
The only thing limiting him is his respect for their free will choice to reject him

Of course, he faces the same problem today.
Through his holy Catholic Church he continues to proclaim the hard sayings,
and people still take offense because of a lack of faith.
Even his own people.
For example, Americans, 95% of whom were born into the Christian families,
but so many now reject Christ and his teachings.
And Europe, a civilization saturated in and founded on
Christian history and heritage,
and now the faithful are only a small minority.
And you and I—we also all too often take offense at his teachings
because all too often our faith is too weak.

Some people say, that’s why it would be great
if he’d show some great sign of his power.
But again, that didn’t work so well 2000 years ago:
remember the feeding of the 5 thousand.
And it really doesn’t work today.
In my opinion Christ has been performing an incredible mighty deed
for 2000 years—his Church.
The miracle of the Church—founded on the ministries
of men like St. Peter, a humble fisherman who denied Jesus 3 times.
Or St. Paul, who tells us in today’s 2nd reading that
he suffered from some unnamed weakness he describes as
“a thorn in the flesh …an angel of Satan.”

And for 2000 years it has been ruled by and filled with weak men and women,
even great sinners.
And yet look at what she has done:
the Catholic Church has dramatically changed the world,
and still survives today as a strong dominant voice and force
for truth, worship and charity.

If that’s not a might deed of Jesus I don’t know what is.
And instead of inspiring awe and faith, it seems to draw only disrespect.

Of course, sometimes miracles can be helpful in strengthening faith.
But you know, sometimes God works more effectively
by not doing might deeds
—by remaining silent, or simply speaking in a quiet voice.

Let me give you a personal example.
I apologize if you’ve heard part of this story before,
and I’ll try to make a long story short.
23 years ago I was working at a moderately successful career
as an accountant with a big firm,
But after some big changes in the firm, I decided to quit,
confident that I’d have my pick of jobs with other companies.
But it didn’t turn out that way, and days turned into weeks,
and weeks into months.
So I started to really get serious about my prayers.
And then I realized a couple of things:
first, what success I’d had, was really a gift from God
—he had been doing mighty deeds for me all along.
And second, I realized that I was asking him for a new mighty work
—“find me a great job”—
but I was doing very little to do anything like “mighty deeds” of faith in him.

In short, by doing nothing, he forced me to my knees and to believe.
And then, he did do a mighty deed,
and things started to fall into place for me.
At first, it was a wonderful career opportunity.
But pretty soon it began to lead to where I am today.

Sometimes, it’s only when God holds back his might deeds
that we are able to see his mighty deeds
—because it is only when we realize how weak we are on our own
that we can begin to see Christ’s true might,
and how strong we could be with his grace.

For as Jesus told his apostles at the end of all the hard sayings in Matthew 19:
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And as he said to St. Paul in today’s second reading:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
And so St. Paul summarizes: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now some will surely say that all this merely wishful thinking,
or a psychological self-deception.
“Of course,” they say, “when you’re weak you can become desperate,
so you cling to religion as a way to explain things.”
Maybe.
They can believe that if they want to.

But that’s not what we believe.
We believe there is an all-powerful God, who loves us.
We believe that he came into the world to teach us how to live and love,
and to save us from our weakness, by the power of his grace.
And we believe that it’s only when we humble ourselves
to recognize our weakness and sins,
and the power of his words and grace,
that we can become the truly good men and women He created us to be.

As we now move deeper into this Holy Mass,
let us have faith in Our Lord Jesus
and in everything he’s taught us,
even the sayings that are sometimes offensive
to our sinful and obstinate hearts.
And let us kneel before him humbly
firm in faith that by the power of his grace
“when I am weak, then I am strong.”

July 8, 2012

Due to July 4th I have a very early deadline this week, so just some quick notes.

Thanks. I was very pleased with participation in the parish’s Fortnight for Freedom Holy Hours and Masses. Thanks to Bob and Gerri Laird and Liz Hildebrand for their hard work to make the Fortnight such a “success.” Thanks to the Knights and other volunteers who made a great going away party for Fr. Pilon last Sunday. Thanks also to all those who made the special effort to come to my installation last Saturday.

New staff member. Patti Eckels has joined the parish staff as our new Religious Education secretary. A long time parishioner, Patti’s extensive experience in administrative and personnel work should prove a great asset to the parish. Welcome aboard Patti.

Storm After Effects. Thank the good Lord, the parish grounds and buildings had very little damage from last weekend’s wind storm. I hope and pray the same is true for your own homes and businesses. Please remember, if any family is in need of assistance due to the storm, or any other reason, don’t hesitate to call the office.

Collection. Overall Mass attendance was way down last Sunday, as would be expected given the storm effects (not to mention July 4). Unfortunately, this appears to have substantially effected the collections. If you were unable to make your usual donation last week please try to remember to drop it in the basket this or next Sunday, or mail it in.

As we wind up our Independence Day celebrations…

Prayer for Government
by Archbishop John Carroll,
first bishop and archbishop of Baltimore,
and of the United States

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

First Prayer of the Continental Congress, September 7th, 1774
Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.

St. Paul’s First letter to St. Timothy, 2:1-4.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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

July 1, 2012

I write this in the early hours of the morning of Wednesday, June 27. Just a few hours ago, at 12:00:01 a.m., I officially became the pastor, “parochus,” of St. Raymond’s. It has been a true privilege to serve you these 2 years, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to now be your pastor.

As you probably know by now, I take very seriously the title “Father.” Since solemnly promising celibacy to Christ and His Bride, the Church, at my diaconate ordination 17 years ago I have tried to more deeply live and interiorize that gift in union with Christ the Bridegroom, and to understand myself as wedded to His Bride, with all her children as my own. Every time someone calls me “Father” I am reminded of this. But now this fatherhood, in some ways, takes on a more direct and consequential meaning, since as your “proper pastor,” I am, before God, entrusted with the care of your souls and am profoundly obliged to do everything in my power to see that the eternal life you were born into at baptism grows ever stronger so that it may reach its fullness in the joy of heaven. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

But as you know, fatherhood is very challenging, and as you also know by now, I am only a weak sinner. So please, pray for me, that by God’s grace, I may eventually be the father and shepherd you need to help you get to heaven. “Oremus pro invicem”—“let us pray for one another.”

Installation. Some of you may be reading this after the 5pm Saturday Vigil Mass (June 30), in which case you are aware that I was ceremonially installed as pastor at that Mass by Fr. John Cregan, Vicar Forane (Dean) of Deanery II. I’m sorry I couldn’t get the word out to everyone, but Fr. Cregan called earlier in the week and told me that due to his busy schedule it was either this weekend or …who-knows-when. So, it’s not only “official,” but “ritualized” as well.

Good-bye. This last Wednesday was also a big day in Fr. Mark Pilon’s life as well, as officially became a “retired priest” (although he’s hanging around a few extra days to let Fr. Joby take some well-deserved vacation). We have all been so blessed to have Father with us these 3 years. He is truly a phenomenal teacher and preacher. But as he rides off into the sunset (literally, retiring to his little shack on the Shenandoah) I’m sure that after a brief hiatus we can talk him into coming back once in a while for a visit to say Mass or give a talk or two. In any case, I hope you will join us in a going away picnic for Father after he celebrates the 12:15 Mass today (Sunday, July 1). Please come out and thank Father for his many years of service to St. Raymond’s and the Diocese of Arlington.

Good-bye, Part II. This week also saw the departure of a long-time fixture of St. Raymond’s parish staff, as Janice Gorrie retired from her position as secretary for the Religious Education office. She will be sorely missed, not only by the staff but by all the parents, children and volunteers and other parishioners who worked with her over the last 7 years. I will particularly miss her—she has been a tremendous help to me in so many ways. Of course, she’s still going to be around—as a parishioner and active volunteer—but not quite as much as we’d like. God bless you, Janice, and thanks for all you’ve done for St. Raymond’s.

Prayers for Austin Smith. The week before last Austin Smith, brother of Kristin Smith, our Youth Director, was in a serious accident during the family vacation. He is doing better now, but is still in serious condition. Please keep him and his family, especially Kristin, in your prayers.

4th of July and the Fortnight for Freedom. So far I think the Fortnight has been a great success. Although the crowds at the evening liturgies have not quite been standing room only, I have been pleased that so many of you have attended each liturgy. And I am sure that all of you are praying devoutly and offering penances at home. The Fortnight continues this week, with Holy Hours (actually lasting half an hour) after 5pm Masses on Saturday and Sunday; 7:30pm Holy Hours, with Exposition and Benediction, on Monday and Tuesday; and 10am Mass on Wednesday, the 4th of July. Please try to come out to show your solidarity with your fellow Catholics, and raise up a might prayer for Religious Liberty.

The Fortnight concludes on the 4th of July, as we celebrate Independence Day, or we might say “Liberty Day.” What a great gift to live in this “land of the free.” But it is also, thank God, “the home of the brave.” So many heroes have given so much, even their very lives, to win and protect our liberty. They are truly “the brave.” But we too must be brave, and we too must fight to defend our liberty.

Liberty does not mean a freedom from responsibility, quite the contrary. Liberty is a demanding servant and master—it both benefits us and places demands on us. Liberty demands that we defend it—that we sacrifice and fight to preserve it. True liberty is a freedom for and freedom to: a freedom for becoming the good men and women we have the potential to be, the freedom to be who God calls us to be. As such, the most fundamental type or aspect of liberty is Religious Liberty, without which we cannot be truly free people God created us to be.

History tells us that when the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly in Philadelphia in July of 1776, the church bells of the city rang out in celebration, “ringing out freedom.” On this July the 4th listen for the ringing of the church bells of Catholic churches, including St. Raymond’s, at 12 noon, declaring to all who will hear that Catholics will not let our God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty be taken from us by a government which is supposed to be formed primarily “to secure these rights” for us. And as you hear the church bells peal, join your fellow Catholics and parishioners in humble prayer, in thanksgiving and supplication, to the Creator who endows us with the “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 24, 2012

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
It’s a very unusual feast.
Usually when a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday
we basically skip over it to celebrate the regular Sunday Mass
—the Lord’s Day.
Also, there are only 3 nativities—or birthdays—we celebrate:
Christmas, Mary’s Birthday, and this one.
Very unusual.
But we do this because St. John is a truly unique figure in salvation history.
He is the last of the Old Testament prophets
and the first of the New Testament
—a sign of the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in Christ and His Church.

And he’s also the first public disciple of Christ,
and so a model of Christian discipleship,
reminding us that every Christian is called
to proclaim Christ and his Gospel
to the world we live in,
even, if it means martyrdom,
as it did with St. John.

Given that, it seems extremely providential that this year
his feast falls on the first Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom
—the 14 days from June 21 to July 4th,
that the American Bishops have asked us to set aside
as a period of concerted prayer and penance
for the defense of the Religious Liberty.
Of course this is in response to the Obama Administration’s regulations
requiring all employers, including Catholics,
to provide their employees with insurance covering
contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing-drugs,
even though this runs absolutely contrary
to 2000 years of Catholic moral teaching.
In short, they’re trying to force us to commit a mortal sin.

This is almost unprecedented in the history of our nation,
which was founded on the principle that:
“that all men are …endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
and who’s Constitution goes on to specify
the most important of these rights,
in its Bill of Rights, in order to guarantee them.

And the very first right it specifically guaranties is Religious liberty.
The very first words of the very first amendment say:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

For 221 years the definition of “the free exercise of religion”
have been given a very broad definition,
and whenever anyone tried to narrow that definition
either the congress, the courts or the president
eventually stepped in to slap it down.
But never has a president tried to so widely and overtly
try to narrow the definition to such an extreme extent as this.

In effect, the president’s regulations say that the term “religion”
only includes institutions of religion.
—in effect saying, individuals don’t have a freedom of religion,
except to the extent they belong and act inside of
an institution of religion.
So for example, when a Catholic priest speaks about his faith to non-Catholics,
according to the president, he is not practicing his religion.
Or when a group of Catholics form an organization to serve the poor,
regardless of what religion the poor belong to,
that is not practicing our Catholic religion.
Or when a group of Catholic individuals form a college, like Notre Dame,
and open the doors to people of all faiths,
that is not practicing their Catholic faith.
Or when a Catholic business man tries to run his business
consistent with his Catholic values,
like charity, honesty, and solidarity with the poor,
that has nothing to do with practicing his religion.

What?
Did Jesus say, “when I was a hungry Catholic, you gave me to eat”?
Or “When you did it to the least of my Catholic brothers, you did it to me?”

Some point out that the president later gave what he called an “accommodation.”
First of all, shouldn’t we “honor” the most basic human right
—not merely “accommodate” it?
But more importantly, the accommodation provided that
Catholic institutions wouldn’t have to pay for this coverage,
instead insurance companies would cover it for free.
How stupid do we look?
There is no such thing as a free lunch
—everyone knows insurance companies will pass the cost on to the Church.
But even if it were free,
the Church would still be forced to provide this immoral benefit
to its employees.
If the insurance company gave us free poisonous Kool-Aid
would that make it okay for us to hand it to our people and say,
“here, drink the Kool-Aid”?

And besides, most dioceses are self-insured
—they are the insurance company,
and so they will pay for it.
And what about actual Catholic insurance companies
—like the Knights of Columbus: are they supposed to pay for this?
And finally, it still doesn’t apply
to independent organizations
like Catholic universities or Catholic Charities,
or to individual Catholic-owned businesses.

And so the U.S. Bishops rightly responded with bold defiance:
“we cannot, we will not, obey this unjust law.”

But besides redefining religious liberty,
the president and his supporters are attempting
to demoted “religious liberty” to sort of a 2nd class liberty.
To them, even though religious liberty has been specifically listed
as the first right in the Constitution for over 220 years
they believe that it is easily trumped by a very recently invented liberty,
found nowhere in the actual words of the constitution
and not even in the craziest of dreams of the founders,
but only in the imaginary penumbras and emanations of lawyers
over the last 50 years.
It usually goes by various nice sounding names,
like “the right to privacy” or “the right to choose.”
But ultimately, the underlying liberty being pursued
is simply “sexual liberty”:
—the freedom do whatever, however, whenever you want.
In the end, the so-called rights to contracept and abort flow from this,
as do the so-called rights to homosexual activity and “gay marriage.”

2000 years ago huge crowds came out to listen to John the Baptist preach:
the gospels tell us that,
“[all of] Jerusalem and all Judea
and all the region about the Jordan”
went out to hear him.
One of the people who, as scripture says, “liked to listen to him,”
was King Herod.
But eventually St. John crossed the line with Herod
when he publically outted Herod for committing adultery
with his own brother’s wife, Herodias
And so, Herod beheaded St. John.

Even 2000 years ago, sexual liberty trumped religious liberty.

Something similar happened in the 16th century,
with another king and another saint.
The king was Henry VIII of England,
who had also gotten caught up in sexual libertinism
and wanted to divorce his wife in order to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
And the saint was St. Thomas More,
whose feast we celebrated 2 days ago on Friday.
Thomas, a layman, was known throughout Europe
as one of the most brilliant of scholars, and greatest lawyers.
Like John the Baptist, he was also very popular:
people used to love to read his books,
or to come to listen to his arguments in court or Parliament.
And like Herod, King Henry also liked to listen to him
—in fact, he made Thomas one his most trusted counselors,
eventually appointing him Chancellor of England
—second only in power to the King Himself.
But then Thomas got in the way of Henry’s sexual freedom,
opposing his divorce and adultery,
not to mention his oppression of the Church when it refused the divorce.

And now we have the same problem with President Obama.
Oh, I know it’s not his own personal problem,
but it is his adamantly held position
that sexual liberty trumps everything.
Look at his support of gay rights,
including gays in the military, and now so-called gay marriage.
And his ultra-extreme positions on abortion,
including his barbaric support for partial birth abortion.
And now his all-or-nothing approach
to contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

None of this bodes well for Catholicism and Christianity in America.
Defenders of the president have already raised the false alarm
that the bishops are leading a “war on women,”
Combine this with years of accusations that the Church “hates” homosexuals,
and we see a frightening pattern.
If religious liberty is overridden by absolute sexual liberty,
and if Christians can be portrayed as truly at war and hateful,
they’ll have every excuse they need to pursue even further oppression
of Christians, especially faithful Catholics.

And remember, after the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom
it immediately goes on to guarantee
freedom of speech, the press, and to peacefully assemble.
If sexual liberty can override the first liberty of the first amendment,
how long will it take for it to override the rest?
And then how far off is the day when Catholic priests
won’t be able to preach, even inside our own churches,
that adultery, fornication, contraception, abortion and sodomy
are mortal sins?
And how soon before Catholic parents won’t be able to say the same thing
to their own children in their own homes?
How soon before close your churches, arrest your priests,
or take your children from your homes because you’re not fit to be parents.

They’re already trying to do this in other western countries.
Earlier this month the Canadian Province of Ontario
passed a law forcing all Catholic Schools to have clubs
to support openly gay students.
And government officials, including the Premier, are threatening
to penalizing teachers and administrators
if they say anything in these clubs that is negative toward homosexuality.

It can’t happen here, right?
Tell that to Californians who voted back in 2008 to prohibit “gay marriage.”
only to have their vote thrown out by U.S. District Judge,
who wrote in his decision:
“Religious beliefs that gay…relationships are sinful …
harm gays and lesbians.”

If that’s how the courts see things, and if sexual liberty trumps religious liberty,
wouldn’t the next logical step be to do something
to stop Churches from hurting gay people?

We must defend our religious liberty.
And not just the freedom to serve fellow Catholics,
or to worship as we choose
but the freedom to feed the hungry and educate the ignorant,
to proclaim the Gospel,
and to reject sin, coercion, lies and injustice.

We must fight the good fight.
Some of us will fight like St. John the Baptist,
with fiery words and bold public chastisements.
Some will fight like St. Thomas More,
with persuasive reason and logic.
.
But all of us must fight.

Not a war against women, or against sexual libertines,
but against religious oppression, and false notions of liberty.
And not with violence or hate, but with reason and love,
even for our enemies.
The only swords we will wield are the swords of truth and the Word of God,
and our most important weapon will be simple but constant prayer.

Today we celebrate a unique feast of a unique saint, John the Baptist.
As we ponder his unique place in the history of salvation,
let’s also recall something else unique about him:
his birth was announced by an angel to two different people.
The first announcement was to his father Zechariah,
the second was to the Blessed Virgin, Mary.
And to Mary he said,
“in her old age [Elizabeth has] conceived a son;
…her who was called barren.
For nothing is impossible with God.”

As we go forward today in our defense of religious liberty,
inspired by the example of St. John and St. Thomas,
let us keep these words in mind.
Let us trust that the Lord will allow no one to most rob us
of the most basic right he alone has given us:
the freedom to love and follow him in faith,
the precious divine gift of religious liberty.
Let be charitable, let us be courageous, let us be faithful, let us be determined,
knowing that “Nothing is impossible with God.”

June 24, 2012

FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM.

Our “great hymn of prayer” in defense of Religious Liberty has begun—the Fortnight for Freedom (June 21 to July 4). This fourteen days of prayer is a response to the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations requiring Catholic employers to provide their employees with insurance policies that cover contraception, sterilization and abortifacients (abortion inducing drugs)—directly contradicting our Catholic moral beliefs. But while this is the most recent, and most clear and egregious, attack on our religious liberty, it is not the first. For the last few years Christians, and Catholics in particular, have been the target of growing efforts on the part of local, state and national government efforts to restrict or direct the practice of religion.

In its recent document on Religious Liberty, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides a short list of recent attacks on the free practice of religion. Two actions are particularly noteworthy and troubling:

In the last two years the District of Columbia, Boston, San Francisco, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (MRS)in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the Obama administration recently changed its contract specifications to require all contract partners like MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services. A federal court in Massachusetts upheld this regulation, declaring, incredibly, that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs.

This, as well as the rhetoric we find in some of the media, lead us to recognize a disturbing trend of treating Catholic moral principles as either not something necessarily related to freely practicing our Catholic faith or, alternatively, as infringing on the fundamental rights and freedoms and others. In either case we see the gradual establishment of a new legal or societal norm that certain very newly discovered liberties and rights are more important than the liberty to practice your religious moral beliefs, even though the latter is specifically protected under the constitution.

In particular one type of newly discovered liberty/right seems to trump all others: the almost absolute right to sexual pleasure and expression, or sexual libertinism. The rights to contracept and abort, flows from this, as do the so-called rights to homosexual activity and “gay marriage.”

What seems to stand in the way of firmly establishing such a new society norm are the Christian morals, which have shaped America’s understanding of laws since before our founding in 1776. And even though many of the mainstream Christian denominations have grown ambiguous on ancient moral norms, or even explicitly reject them, the Catholic Church stands athwart this trend as the largest obstacle to this moral, legal and societal revisionism.

The current federal administration, being openly very supportive of these new moral norms and rights, seems determined to overcome Catholic and other Christian opposition by whatever means necessary. Even if it means trampling on the very first right listed and guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Amazing: the newly invented freedom of sexual libertinism trumps the first liberty guaranteed in the Constitution.

What does this mean for the future of Catholicism and Christianity in America? Defenders of the administration have already raised the alarm against a so-called “conservative” “war on women,” led by the Catholic bishops, and we hear many accuse Catholics of “hating” homosexuals. If religious liberty is overridden in favor of absolute sexual liberty, and if traditional Christians are truly at war and hateful, where will this lead? How can it not lead to even further oppression of Christians and, especially faithful Catholics?

Remember, after the first amendment guarantees religious liberty it immediately goes on to prohibit: “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” If the first part of the first amendment–religious liberty–is overridden by absolute sexual liberty, why wouldn’t the second, third, fourth and fifth parts of the first amendment–freedom of speech, the press, assembly and petitioning the government—also be overridden?

If so, how far off is the day when Catholic priests won’t even be able to preach inside our own churches that extra- or pre-marital sex, contraception, abortion and homosexual acts are sinful? Even closer to home, how soon before Catholic parents won’t be able to say the same thing to their own children in their own homes? How soon before these priests and parents will be behind bars?

They’re already trying to do this in other western countries. Recently in Canada—so like America some call it “the 51st state”—the government of the Province of Ontario (Toronto), passed a law forcing all Catholic Schools to have clubs called “gay-straight alliances” to support openly gay students, and there is open talk on the part of government officials, including the Premier, of penalizing teachers and administrators if they say anything in these clubs that is negative toward homosexuality.

It can’t happen here, right? Read the words of Judge Vaughn Walker, United States District Chief Judge, for Northern California, when he overturned the democratic vote of the free people of California to amend their constitution to prohibit “gay marriage”: “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”

We must defend our religious liberty. We must fight the good fight, and keep the faith. Not with a war against women, or sexual libertines, but a battle against religious oppression by our own government. We must not do so with hate, as we are accused, but with love even for our enemies. We will not harm others, but help them. We will not act with violence, but with reason and faith. We will not wield a sword, other than the swords of truth and the Word of God, and our main weapons will be simple but devout, earnest and constant prayers.

Please join in the Fortnight. Come to the liturgies (see below in this bulletin), or offer prayers and penance in private. Remembering the words of Jesus, “this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Father’s Day) 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 17, 2012

Life is filled with trials and challenges, especially nowadays
with so many problems that past generations never even imagined.
So it’s a great thing that in the summer we slow down and relax a bit,
and make opportunities to celebrate the good and important things in life.
So we celebrate work on Labor Day,
our great free nation on the 4th of July,
and motherhood on Mother’s Day.
And, of course, today we celebrate fatherhood, with Father’s Day.

Fatherhood truly is good, and absolutely essential to the wellbeing of society.
But there are a whole lot of folks who forget this.
And this forgetfulness is the cause of so many of those problems I mentioned.
You know the statistics:
63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway children,
71% of all high school dropouts all come from fatherless homes.
And I could go on and on.

Fatherhood is important, good fathers are essential
—and bad fathers are a disaster.

Scripture tells us that in the beginning,
God created mankind in his own image and likeness as male and female,
telling them be fruitful and multiply.
In other words, in God’s plan for the happiness of mankind,
the first thing necessary is marriage,
and the second springs from it: parenthood.
Because you see, love is the source of all true happiness.
And marriage and parenthood are the “school of love”
where all human beings are supposed to naturally
learn to love God and each other.
So that when marriage and parenthood are messed up
families and societies are in trouble.

Now, parenthood is a two sided coin:
on the one side motherhood, and on the other fatherhood.
Both of these are equally important in the eyes of God, and for the good of man.
It’s true that in the past society sometimes tended to over emphasize fatherhood
at the expense of motherhood.
So much was determined by who your father was,
and so much authority was placed in the hands of fathers.

But nowadays there’s a certain shift in the other direction, the other extreme.
For example, mothers now have an absolute right to decide
if their unborn children live or die—fathers have no say in the matter at all.
In fact, to a large extent, mothers get to decide
if a child is even going to be conceived or not.

And so today 40% of children are living in fatherless homes
and 41% of children are born outside of marriage.
And father’s drift away from the family, one way or the other.

But that is not how families and societies are meant flourish,
and it promises the destruction of both.

In today’s Gospel Jesus twice compares the Kingdom of God
to the seed of a plant.
Some today say that a fatherhood’s role is simply to plant the seed of his child
and then, more or less, walk away.
But fatherhood is much more than that.
Elsewhere in scripture Jesus uses another plant allusion, saying:
“I am the vine, you are the branches.”
And then he says: “and my Father is the vinedresser.”
A vinedresser doesn’t simply plant the seed and leave;
he remains to care for it, to help it become a full grown fruitful plant.
He waters and feeds it,
protects it from pests, varmints and unfriendly weather,
and he prunes away its dead and dying branches,
that drain it of his vibrancy and health.

Where there is a seed planted, a true father,
created in the image of God the Father, remains and cares for his children.
He feeds and waters them:
–first in a literal sense, he puts food on the table.
But a good father also feeds and waters them by seeing that
his children get a good education,
both formally and informally,
in practical matters, like hygiene and manners,
in secular matters, like math, science and history,
and in spiritual matters—teaching them the truth about God.
For a Catholic father this means taking responsibility
for personally teaching them the truths and practices of the Catholic faith,
as well as supplementing that by,
if possible, sending them to Catholic school,
or at least to CCD from K thru 12,
or homeschooling them with a solid Catholic curriculum.

And above all it means watering them with the water of baptism
and feeding them regularly with the Bread of Life!
What young plant or child would survive, much less flourish, without eating food
—and not just eating once in a while, but every day?
What child would survive, much less flourish, spiritually and morally
without eating the bread of life not just once in a while,
but at least every single week?
What kind of father lets his children starve?

A true father also protects his children.
A vinedresser might build a fence around his plants,
or cover them to protect them from ice,
or hunt down the varmints that try to eat them.
A good father tries to provide a safe home for his family,
and carefully watches who his children’s friends are.
He doesn’t let his children play in a busy street,
or stay out late at night unsupervised.
And he’s careful who he trusts to supervise his children
—never trusting them to anyone who would in any way
corrupt or endanger them.

And above all, he protects his children from moral or spiritual danger of any kind.
He’s not afraid to shield his daughter from boys who won’t respect her virtue.
And his son never does an overnight on Sunday if it means he won’t get to Mass.

God the Father, the vinedresser, also prunes away the dying or dead branches.
Likewise, a good, true father isn’t afraid of pruning the sickly or deadly things
from his children’s lives.
If they develop friendships with people who behave badly or sinfully,
a good father is not afraid to prune that friend out of their lives.
If their children start to develop bad habits,
good fathers aren’t afraid to discipline them.
If they don’t do their homework a true father doesn’t hesitate
to turn off the TV until they do.
If they speak or dress immodestly a good father isn’t afraid to set them straight.

Some fathers are overwhelmed by all this.
They feel like the man in today’s Gospel who plants the seed
and then wakes up one day and it’s all grown up,
and, as Jesus says, “he knows not how.”
Some fathers feel that they “know not how” to raise kids,
so they leave it to someone else,
to their wives, or teachers, or other “experts.”

Now, it’s true that when it comes to kids Moms do some things better than Dads.
But not everything.
For example, a Mom might think a dress looks really pretty on her daughter,
but a good Father knows that the boys won’t be thinking it’s just “pretty.”
A Mom may be able to tell her son, “you be a gentleman on your date,”
but a good Dad can show his son how to respect a woman
by the way he himself treats women, especially his wife.
.
And besides all the male/female differences,
there are a lot of simple things that Dad, for some reason,
does or understands better than Mom:
maybe math, or being patient, whatever.

And it’s true that teachers are better at teaching some things than Dad.
But a true father makes sure they don’t try to stray beyond their field.

Several months ago a Dad told me that he accidentally discovered
that his son’s middle school English literature teacher
had his class do a project examining
the supposed “injustice” that “gay people” are denied the “right to marry.”
What does that have to do with his expertise in English lit?

And believe me, this isn’t an isolated incident—it happens all the time.
Is your daughter’s biology teacher teaching biology, or sexual morals.
Is your son’s history teacher teaching historical facts, or ideological doctrine?

And, this isn’t limited to public schools
—sadly, it can happen with Catholic school teachers too.

A good father realizes that all the corruption he sees in our society
is flourishing because the seeds are planted in the schools.
A few seeds of immorality here, or radical ideology there.
Here a seed of heresy, there a seed of anti-Catholic bigotry.
And then one day you wake up and you wonder why
your children don’t share any of your values and reject your Catholic faith.
Again: “he knows not how.”

A good father doesn’t abandon his responsibilities to “experts.”

Now, some of you women may be saying, but what about me?
Ladies, of course a lot of this applies to mothers as well.
But let it also remind you to help your husbands,
and all the men in your life, to be good fathers
—especially to support them and praise them when they try.

And some of you men may be saying, that’s all fine and good,
but my children are all grown up.
Yes, but you can apply this to being a grandfather,
and to helping your grown son to be a better father.

Or maybe you don’t have any children.
But are you an uncle?
Uncles are sort of fathers once removed.
Or maybe you’re a teacher, or a coach,
or work in some field that affects fathers and their children.
Then it all applies to you to, one way or another.

And then some of you fathers might agree with everything I’m saying,
but you’re in the military and you have no choice
but to be away from your family, sometimes for months on end.
Of course, when you go away you have to rely on others—especially your wives– to do much of the feeding, protecting and pruning.
But even then, as you know better than I, you must still do your best
to provide whatever support you can to your wives.
Stay in contact with your kids as best you can,
and remind them not only that you love them,
but of your expectations of them, especially
that they respect and obey their moms,
and that they love and serve Christ and His Catholic Church.
And pray for them—and make sure they know that you pray.

And remember,
while we look to God the Father as the source of all true fatherhood,
Jesus also tells us:
“he who has seen me has seen the Father.”
By your imitation of Christ, who laid down his life for his friends,
your example of laying down your life for you children and for all of us,
is an incredible act of fatherly love
— a heroic effort to truly protect your children from real evil.

Finally, maybe you’re a member of one of those families
that I spoke about earlier
—living in the 40% percent of fatherless homes.
There are lots of reasons this happens,
and sometimes things are beyond our control.
But I’m sure everyone would agree that if they could change things,
they would make things more like the way I’ve described
than how they are.
And just because things aren’t the way they should be,
it doesn’t mean that God can’t or won’t find some way to help you
to make it through these difficult times.
He will if you let him, because he is the true Father of us all,
and he is always there loving us just the way we need him to.
You do your best, and then trust in God, and He will be there for you.

Our world is filled with problems,
many of which our grandparents would never have dreamed of.
But that’s because our grandparents would have never tolerated
the diminishment of fatherhood that we have.

Today, let us all celebrate fatherhood and praise its goodness and importance,
And as we continue with this Holy Mass,
the mystery which flows from the perfect love
between God the Father and Son,
let us pray that, by the grace of this sacrament,
we may always honor and love our fathers as we should,
and [that] our fathers may always
be the good and true fathers
we so desperately need them to be.