Palm Sunday

Holy Week. This week is the holiest week of the year, on at least three levels: historically, ecclesially (i.e., as the Church); and individually.

First, it is the holiest week historically because it holds the most sacred events of the history of mankind, that bring about our salvation: the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is amazing to think that on the Cross Jesus pays for the sins of all mankind—alive in the past, present and future—the debt of the love we owe God, the punishment we deserve for our offenses against God. Think of that: the all-powerful God the Son becomes a fragile human being so he can die for the sins we’ve committed against him—he is punished for what we did to him. Who would do that? Only a God who is Love itself.

In recognition of this love the Church establishes special prayers, rituals and customs to draw us into the profundity of those ancient historical events that remain present to us in mystery today. The Church comes together as one body in Christ by celebrating together in our churches with praying the same words and rituals used in Catholic churches around the world. As we carry our palms in procession, or shout “Crucify him, Crucify him,” or kiss the cross of Christ at the hour of his death, et cetera, this universal unity of prayers and rituals symbolizes and expresses, that we, though many, are made one and holy in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ.

Finally, it is about individual holiness. While we come together as one holy Catholic Church in Christ, God doesn’t just love “the Church” in abstract, but as the union of all of its parts, “members.” Christ died for the sins of all mankind, but also specifically for your sins and my sins. He loves and died for you. So during this week we personally strive to be worthy of that love. We weep for our sins for which he suffered and died, but with hope-filled hearts, realizing he did all this because of his astounding love for us. And we let that love overwhelm us, drawing us to Him, and His Father and Spirit, and transforming our lives, so that we can begin to love as he loves.

My children, it’s HOLY WEEK, so let us be holy! As I noted last week in my homily, this Lent has been filled with distractions—some good (“Habemus Papam!”), some bad. But now, for 7 days, lay all that aside. Turn to Christ with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and body, and keep your eyes fixed on him. Let your life be sinless by keeping his commandments, both in letter (and “the smallest part of the letter”) and in spirit. Live in charity with all, but especially with your family members—be kind, patient, helpful and forgiving to your parents and siblings, and to your spouses and children.

And be prayerful: talk and listen to Jesus, to His Holy Mother, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene. Stay in their presence every moment: walk the road to Jerusalem, sit at the table of the Lord’s Supper, stand in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house and of Pilate’s praetorium, kneel at the foot of the cross, lay weeping at the tomb. Do this in spirit, at home, at work, but especially here in church. And do this in union with the Church, especially by coming together in our parish church to pray the prayers, rituals and sacraments of Christ’s Church.

We have begun today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion. Perhaps you can continue this by attending the outdoor Stations of the Cross performed by our youth this evening (Sunday) after the 5pm Mass.

Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! I know it can be inconvenient for you, but so was carrying the Cross. And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from his side on the Cross.

On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral (all the priests and the Bishop celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood). But in the evening join us here in the parish as we celebrate The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood. The ritual includes the ceremonial washing of the feet, and procession with of the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray,” as he once invited his apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Then comes Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence (see the rules below), to share a taste of the suffering of the Lord. We should keep the day with quiet, reflection, and charity—even at work—especially from noon to three. There is no Mass, but we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. It is a powerful liturgy, so please don’t miss it, even if it means leaving work early. This liturgy includes the personal/individual veneration of the Cross by all present, by a kiss, or some other gesture. Once again, we are allowed to use only one cross for veneration. I was a little nervous about this last year, but it went beautifully: all seemed to be moved by the powerful symbolic meaning of kissing the “one cross,” and of waiting with the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. After veneration, the priests distribute Communion from hosts brought from the sacristy. After the liturgy is over, the Cross will remain in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Later in the evening, at 7:00pm Stations of the Cross are solemnly prayed with the priest.

On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood, as the Church encourages us to voluntarily continue to fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday. Mass is never offered during the day on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30pm (after sunset) the celebration of Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. It is the “Mother” of all liturgies with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing and presentation of the Easter Candle; the Exsultet; a greatly extended Liturgy of the Word; and baptism, reception into the Church, and confirmation for adults. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).

May this truly be a holy week for all of us.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Rules of Abstinence & Fasting
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.

March 17, 2013

Our New Pope. By the time you read this I am confident that we (will) have a new Holy Father. But as I write this, on the morning Wednesday the 13th, the cardinals in conclave have been through 3 unsuccessful ballots, and no pope yet. I guess they didn’t know about my deadline. In any case, assuming we have a new Pope, I’m sure you join with me in joyfully thanking the Good Lord for His great gift of our new Pope, and in pledging total support and obedience to our new chief shepherd, and pray that he may live and reign, as they say, “a thousand years.”

Sometimes people ask me why we call the successor of Peter “Pope” and “Supreme Pontiff.” The word “pope” comes from the Latin and Italian “papa” which is just what it looks like—what a child calls his father. Its usage is to refer to the Bishop of Rome goes back to at least the 3rd century. The term “Pontiff” comes from the Latin “pontifex,” which literally means “bridge builder” (bridge: pons, make: facere—priests build bridges between God and man), and was a term used to refer to the highest ranking priests in the pagan religion of ancient Rome—the “Pontifex Maximus” being the “high priest.” Some say that taking this title from the pagans is inappropriate, but any time Christianity translates itself into a new language we can only use the words of that new language to communicate equivalent ideas from the “old language.” So the Latin word used to name the ordinary “priests” of pagan Rome was “sacerdos”, and so that is what Christian priests were called. Likewise, “pontifex” became a common term for bishops, and Pontifex Maximus (“Supreme Pontiff”) for the pope.

Passiontide. As Lent continues, today we enter into that part of the season called “Passiontide,” a time when we more intently and somberly focus our attention Christ’s Passion. We try, in effect, to take ourselves 2000 years back in time and walk with Jesus in those last days before Good Friday. We mark this in a very dramatic way by covering the statues and crucifixes in our churches: Good Friday has not yet happened, so there is no cross yet; Easter has not happened, so no saints are in heaven. (This year we hope to cover the main cross hanging from the ceiling over the altar. If it works, thanks to Jane and Rick Steele who worked so hard to make it happen; if it doesn’t, sorry, it’s my fault…). Keep this in mind in the coming days: “I’m walking with Jesus, and Peter and the apostles…With Judas. With John, and Mary Magdalene… Walking toward Jerusalem, stopping in Bethany, going to the temple….I’m in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper…In the house of Caiaphas…In the palace of Pilate…Standing with Blessed Mary as they scourge her little boy….”

The bodily/physical reminders of these days are so important to our experiencing the meaning of the season—Jesus created us in bodies, and came and spoke to us and suffered and died in His body. Which is why it’s so important to experience the mysteries of this season “in the flesh.” So, please, come to the church and physically take part in the various sacraments, liturgies and other pious activities of the Church and parish in the next few weeks.

I strongly encourage all of you to take advantage of the extra Mass and confession times (we’ll have at least 2 priests hearing at most times, and sometimes 3 or 4), as well as opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In particular, please participate in praying the Stations of the Cross, especially in the church, and particularly on Friday evening at 6:30, led by the priests.

I also strongly encourage you to attend next Sunday’s (Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24) Living Stations of the Cross acted out by our youth group a little after the 5:00pm Mass. As last year, the Living Stations will take place outside (pray for good weather! If not, we will be in the Parish Hall). Come and both support our youth and enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s suffering.

Also next Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, March 24, please consider coming to the 8:45 Mass and joining in the Solemn Procession with Palms at the beginning of Mass. Those who would like to join in the procession should gather inside the Parish Hall before 8:45 and then, after some prayers and a Gospel reading, process outside, and enter the church from the front, taking their pews as normal. All this should take about 10 minutes. We will be reserving pews for those who join in the procession, if they call (703-440-0535) or email ( the office during the week (you need not call to join the procession). If you attend the 8:45 Mass you may also simply take your seats in the church before Mass as usual and listen over the speakers in the church to everything said/sung in the Parish Hall.

Holy Week. Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is, of course, the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday we will include a schedule for Holy Week, but I ask you to plan ahead today. These are the most solemn and sacred days of the Christian year, marked by special and unique liturgies, including Holy Thursday’s evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, with the washing of the feet and the solemn procession and silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament until midnight—“can you not watch one hour with me?” Then there’s Good Friday’s Celebration of the Passion of the Lord, with the Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion, which begins at 3pm—the hour of the Lord’s death. And finally, the Easter Vigil at the end of Holy Saturday evening.

As your spiritual father I beg you, from the bottom of my heart, to try to participate in all of these liturgies, that are so important to experiencing the fullness of Catholic prayer in Holy Week. I especially recommend that you attend the 3pm Good Friday service, with the Veneration of the Cross. Last year I was so edified and moved to see a standing-room-only church, as well-over a thousand people stood in line patiently, many in tears, to venerate the cross of Christ. Some say, “but it’s a work day!” But I say: “it’s the hour of the Lord’s death! The most sacred hour in all time! Why would any Catholic want to be at work?”

And finally, I remind you that on Holy Saturday afternoon—a day which is supposed to be marked by the quiet somberness of Good Friday—we will once again be showing Mel Gibson’s incredible film “The Passion of the Christ” in the Parish Hall, beginning with a short talk by myself. This powerful movie is so helpful in reminding us what Holy Saturday is all about. (Note: Parents should use their discretion in bringing children to this graphic movie).

Oremus pro invicem, et pro novo Papa nostro. Fr. De Celles

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare) 2013

March 10, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells one of His most beloved and famous parables: the story of the Prodigal Son.
When we read this we tend to focus on the forgiveness of the Father
–and rightly so—this is largely the point of the parable,
as it helps us to understand the infinite love of God.
We might also tend focus on the prodigal son,
either on his sins, or on his repenting of his sins—or both.
And again, rightly so, because we can’t understand the love of the father
unless we understand the wretchedness of the son.

But I don’t’ think we can understand
either the love of the father or the sins of the son,
until we understand one basic thing:
the inheritance that the son “squandered.”

The Gospel doesn’t tell us exactly what it is he inherited, but we can imagine.
First of all we know the father was probably very wealthy.
We know he had multiple servants.
And that he had property so large that when the older son was “out in the field”
he was apparently so far away they couldn’t get word to him
that his brother had come home.
And we know the father wasn’t just a farmer with a lot of land
—he also had lots of nice things,
so that he could order:
“Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and …
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.”
And then think about this:
when the father “divided the property”
and the younger son “collected all his belongings and set off,”
it’s not like the son walked off with land and cattle and sheep.
No… It seems like his father had enough in currency
—coins and jewels and such—
that he could pay his son off in that and the son could take it with him.

And amazingly enough, even after giving half of his estate to his prodigal son,
he clearly still had a huge estate left.
In short, the father was really rich.

But you know, odds are he didn’t just earn that overnight.
He probably worked hard for what he had.
I mean, look at his eldest son—he was out working in the field,
a lesson of hard work he clearly learned from the father he idolized.
Even so, there’s a good chance that the father
probably inherited a lot of his wealth from his father,
who had probably inherited something from his father and so on…
Each generation building up and adding to what the inheritance
he’d been entrusted with.

This is what the son demands to have from his father—half of this.
And all this vast wealth this is what the son
“squandered ….on a life of dissipation.”

As Catholics we also have a great inheritance.
A huge estate larger than anyone can begin to fathom,
has been passed down to us from our forbearers.
A treasury of doctrine, spirituality, liturgy and prayer.
An understanding of God and the World, of morality,
and profound theological insights into all this,
so that we understand the teachings of Christ not cold worthless words,
but as rich lustrous multifaceted gems.
An incredibly vast and rich treasure rooted in scripture,
handed down by the apostles,
clarified and illuminated by the writings of
the great, brilliant and holy fathers, doctors and saints of the church:
in successive generations:
Wojtyla and Ratzinger in the 21st century,
building on the work of Saint Theresa in the 16th,
who built on Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th
who built on Saint Gregory in the 7th,
who built on Saint Augustine in the 5th,
who built on Saint Irenaeus in the 2nd,
who built on the teaching of Apostles themselves.
Giants standing on the shoulders of giants.
Treasure compounding on treasure.

We’ve inherited all this.
But like the rich young man, we are wont to squander it all in a life of dissipation.

Earlier this year Pope Benedict asked us to celebrate a “Year of Faith”,
in particular, to mark the beginning, 50 years ago, in 1963,
of the second Vatican Council—Vatican II as it’s popularly called.

At that council the bishops from all over the world gathered under the leadership
of first Pope John and then Pope Paul,
not to define any new dogma or to condemn some heresy,
but merely to figure out how to share
that rich inheritance of wisdom and holiness with modern man,
so that the great treasury might not be hidden or hoarded away,
or thrown away or wasted or lost,
but rather wisely invested in modern man, if you will.
Not to spend it on foolish on passing things,
like one enjoys rich foods one night and goes hungry the next,
but to enjoyed as a family buys a beautiful new house with lots of land,
and lives in happiness with their children and grandchildren.
Kind of like the father in today’s parable.

But as Pope Benedict used to remind us so often,
something strange happened after the Council.
Some in the Church began to demand and take their inheritance
and in a very real sense, to squander it.
For example, some took the rich moral teaching of the Church,
and instead of building on it,
wasted it to buy into heresies and worldly philosophies
that make a mockery of our inheritance.
Suddenly, for them, all sorts of sins just disappeared, especially mortal sins
—as the ethics of the secular culture became their standard
rather than the inherited wisdom of Christ and His Church.
Many traded the church’s profound wisdom
on the fundamental goodness of marriage and sexuality
reflecting the love of God himself
and the innate dignity of each human person
–they traded this for a relativist and utilitarian view of man,
“if it feels good do it.”

Some took the treasury of liturgical rites of the Church,
and traded reverence and communion with God
for banality and trendiness.

Some took the vast and profound treasury of spiritual theology and prayer,
and exchanged it for faddish psychological therapy
and even pagan practices.

So much we inherited, such a vast treasury.
And so much squandered away by so many.

On the other hand, in many ways the Popes of the last 50 years
have resembled the father in today’s parable.
Pope Paul, in particular was like the father at the beginning of the parable,
trying to be a loving and respectful
and allowing some of his precocious spiritual children
to take and experiment with their inheritance,
investing it in new ways, if you will.
All too often, as I say, they turned out to be prodigal sons.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on the other hand,
were in some ways like the father at the end parable,
recognizing what had been wasted,
but also welcoming the prodigal children
to come home and share with the great wealth still preserved there.

I think particularly of Pope Benedict.
When he was just a Cardinal in charge of protecting the Doctrine of the Faith,
I remember how patient he was with theologians
who were teaching the craziest things.
How patiently he dealt with the famous theologian, Fr. Hans Kung,
a brilliant mind, but an absolute heretic.
And yet Cardinal Ratzinger spent years trying to reason with him,
always ready to forgive, to welcome him home.
So much so that just months after his election as Pope
he invited Kung to the Vatican—again, trying to coax him back home.

I also think of Benedict’s efforts to reconcile with the Orthodox and Anglicans. —especially his efforts to make it easy for Anglicans to come home.
Granted, the Anglicans left the Church almost 500 years ago,
but when large groups of Anglicans
wanted to come home to the Catholic Church.
their Holy Father Benedict ran out to meet them,
offering them all sorts of concessions
to help them preserve the precious inheritance
of their unique ancient English but Catholic heritage.

And I think of his many efforts to bring back the Traditionalist Catholics
who had distanced themselves from the rest of the Church.
Although many were trying to protect the Church’s inheritance,
in the process many wound up disobeying the Popes time and time again,
and so becoming like the older son in today’s story
—who had stayed at home,
but now refused to enter his father’s house.
Like the loving father in today’s parable, Benedict also went out to bring them in,
praising their fidelity,
but gently coaxing them to take their place at their father’s table.
And so he restored the ancient rite of the Mass so important to all of us,
because it is a rich jewel in our inheritance.

In all these and many more ways Pope Benedict, and John Paul before him,
have welcomed so many home to share
in an inheritance so vast and profound,
that though some may squander their portion,
the fundamental treasury can never be lost.
Especially since it’s protected by a security system more impenetrable
than Fort Knox or Norton or McAfee
—the grace and power of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Which is, of course, made manifest in a particular way
through that priceless heirloom of having a spiritual father
to watch over and increase our inheritance: the Pope.

All this is why Pope Benedict called us to celebrate
“A Year of Faith” in the Church.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II,
and a call to re-consider and to re-appreciate the Church’s inheritance,
and to consider how that’s so often been squandered.

We think of all of this in a particular way
as the conclave to elect a new pope opens this Tuesday.
And we so realize how important this is,
and also trust that the Lord will provide a good and loving Holy Father
to guide us in the appreciating our inheritance.

And we also think of this in a particular way today, at the half-way point in Lent,
about how we ourselves as individuals
have squandered our Catholic inheritance.
By our baptism you and I inherited this vast spiritual wealth of the Church,
but what have we done with it?
Have allowed ourselves to follow the prodigal sons
who squandered their Catholic inheritance after Vatican II,
trading them in for worldly philosophies and values?
Have we traded the rich prayer life of the Church
for browsing the internet or watching cable?
Have we treated the treasure chest of Scripture as just a bunch of pious sayings,
paying lip service to the ones that make us feel good,
and completely ignoring, or even rejecting the ones
that are even the slightest bit demanding?
Do we follow the Church’s moral teaching,
an amazing treasure chest full of wisdom
explaining how to discern truth from lies, good from evil, right from wrong?
Or do we trade that in for values we see on TV or the movies,
or the opinions of social activists?
We’ll spend hours at the gym or on the golf course recreating ourselves,
but do take a few minutes to go to confession
or time in the morning to go morning Mass,
to let the Lord work on re-creating us?

But as we admit to ourselves how we’ve squandered so much,
we also remember how eager God to bring us back into his Home,
to share with us even greater riches than we ever imagined.
Because even though we may have been wasting our share,
the treasure of our Catholic faith is never really depleted.
The only thing that’s really wasted is our time and our lives.
But if we come home and admit our sinfulness—our waste—
he will welcome us home and open to us the riches of his Kingdom
stored up, protected and increased all these centuries in His Church.

As we continue now in the celebration of Holy Mass,
perhaps the most magnificent jewel in our inheritance,
we thank the good Lord for his ineffable generosity
poured out on us from the Cross,
and stored up, built up and measured out to us in his Church.
Let us remember the great gem of our inheritance, the papacy,
that guides and protects this treasure,
and pray for the cardinals has they elect our next Holy Father on earth.
And let us pray that our heavenly Father
will forgive us for squandering so much of what he has given us,
confident in his mercy,
and rejoicing in his promises of immeasurable treasures yet to come.

4th Sunday of Lent 2013

Let us pray for the cardinal-electors, and for the election of the new Pope.

And as we continue with our Lenten penances, I republish this column slightly modified from previous years, since it seems to have been helpful to many of you…

While the Sacrament of Penance (or “Confession”, or “Reconciliation”) is particularly important during Lent, as we meditate both on the sins that permeate our lives and the forgiveness Christ pours out on us from His Cross.

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

In particular we need to look for mortal sins, i.e., a sin that involves all three of the following criteria: 1) grave matter, 2) full knowledge of the sinful character of the act, and 3) complete consent. Note, if any one of these is lacking the act is not a “mortal sin” (although may still be a “venial sin.”)

“Grave matter” means the act involves some very serious moral evil, found either in 1) the act itself or 2) the intention behind the act. Grave matter can sometimes be difficult to identify, but sometimes it is not. Clear examples of grave matter include (but are not limited to): violence (in word or deed) against parents; children disobeying parents in a serious matter; neglect of elderly parents (in serious need); serious parental neglect or abuse of their children (including neglecting proper formation in the Catholic faith or unnecessary postponement of the sacraments, especially baptism); murder; abortion; euthanasia; drunkenness; denying just and serious assistance to family members; abandoning a spouse or children; remarriage after a divorce (without annulment); sexual activity before or outside of marriage (including “petting”); viewing pornography; masturbation; contraception; direct intentional sterilization (including vasectomies and tubal ligations); theft of valuable items; unjustly or unnecessarily and seriously damaging reputations; lying about important matters; perjury; cursing someone using God’s name; “dabbling” in occult practices or witchcraft; willful dissent from Church doctrine or dogma; serious and unjust infringements on religious liberty; serious and unjust discrimination; missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day; receiving Holy Communion unworthily; . direct material cooperation in another’s mortal sin (e.g., paying for a friend’s abortion; voting for a pro-abortion politician when a viable alternative existed); directly leading another into mortal sin.

Note that there are many “guides” available to help us with our examination of conscience (several are found in pamphlet form in the church, and several are available online and as “apps” for smart phones).

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

Also, you must give the number of times you committed particular mortal sins. Sometimes this is difficult to do, e.g., if you haven’t been to confession in a while. In that case, give the priest some idea of the frequency or number; for example, “at least once a month for several years,” etc..

Besides mortal sins, we should also consider venial sins, especially any vices (sinful habits) or other venial sins that are particularly problematic—perhaps they lead to mortal sins, or cause others unnecessary pain, etc..

Next comes going to confession. Here’s a step-by-step guide you may cut out and take with you to Confession:

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

After greeting the priest, you begin by making the sign of the cross saying:
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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

  • You say these or similar words:
    “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been [number of days, weeks, months, years] since my last confession.”
  • It is then helpful to reveal your “state in life”: e.g., “I am a married man,” etc…
  • Then say: “These are my sins.”
    • List by number and kind all mortal sins you have recollected in your examination of conscience.
    • You may also describe the types of venial sins you have committed, and list any which are of particular concern to you.
    • Close with these are similar words:
      “For these sins, and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

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

The priest then gives you a “penance” to perform. If you know you can’t fulfill his penance, tell him so he can give you another penance; (sometimes you don’t know the particular prayer, or you have limitations due to physical impediment).

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

Either during or immediately after your prayer the priest will say the prayer of absolution which concludes with the words (as he makes the sign of the cross):
“I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

You make the sign of the cross and respond: “Amen.”

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

  • Priest: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.”
    You respond:“His mercy endures forever.”
  • Priest:“Go in peace.”
    You respond:“Thanks be to God.”

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

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.

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.
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.
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, You can also contact The Catholic Committee on Scouting at

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