September 2, 2012

More Priest Changes. First Fr. Pilon retired early. Then Fr. Lovell informed us he would not be coming back in the fall. And now we find out that Fr. Joby Thomas will be leaving us to return to his work in India on September 5, this Wednesday.

Fr. Joby has been a big help to me this last year, but especially this summer– don’t know what I would have done without his help. Many of you have told me how much you appreciate his preaching and his ability as a confessor, not to mention his personal kindness and example of prayer. But in the end, the life of a priest, especially a religious priest like Fr. Joby, is one of obedience. So when a priest’s superior says “go,” we go. Join me in thanking Fr. Joby for all his contributions to the parish and in praying for him as he returns to his home in India. There will be a small going-away “ice-cream” reception for Fr. Joby today (Sunday, September 2) after the 12:15 Mass. All are invited.

But there’s one more change: Bishop Loverde has decided to send us another priest. This Wednesday, September 5, Fr. Joseph Kenna will join us as Parochial Vicar. Fr. Kenna is a good, holy, intelligent and hard-working priest. He grew up with his 8 brothers and sisters in Pittsburg, PA. After attending Christendom College for a couple of years, he received his bachelor’s degree in math and economics from the University of Pittsburg in 1989. He went on to work for a few years for a government contractor before beginning his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Arlington in 1999, he has served as Vicar in four other parishes: All Saints, St. Mary’s (Fredericksburg), St. Bernadette’s, and Holy Spirit (where he is currently serving). Fr. Kenna and I are also old friends, going back to our seminary days at “the Mount,” where he was three years behind me, and as priests we’ve played a lot of golf together on our days off for about the last 7 years. It will be great to have him join me in service of this great parish.

Please join me in praying for Fr. Kenna as he makes this transition. Also, please come out to a welcoming party for him next Sunday, September 9, after the 12:15 Mass. A light lunch will be served.

Summer Ends, School Begins. This coming week many of our children go back to school. I hope and pray it will be a year of great intellectual and spiritual growth for all of them, and not too much stress for their parents. But remember, the most important subject our children need to learn about is their Catholic Faith. For those children going to Catholic schools, or who will be “Catholic homeschooled” using a daily religion curriculum, I encourage you study hard and take advantage of this great opportunity of being able to explore so deeply the treasures and wisdom of Christ and His Church.

For those who are not in Catholic schools or being Catholic homeschooled, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of St. Raymond’s excellent Religious Education program. How can you love and follow Jesus if you don’t know much about Him? So come, and learn! But don’t just learn about him for that one hour or so a week—make sure you do the homework and reading assigned by your teachers. And parents, remember you are the “primary educators” of our children: “CCD” is here only to help you to fulfill that important part of your parental vocation. So make sure you are actively involved in your children’s religious education, by supplementing and building on what they learn in class.

And also, to those parent and children in public schools, remember that the values they teach are often at odds with our Catholic Faith. You must be constantly on guard to efforts (wittingly or unwittingly) to undermine your faith and values. One mother told me last year how a local public school teacher, without the knowledge of the parents, gave the children in his English Literature class a project encouraging them to feel outrage at those who oppose “gay-marriage.” What does that have to do with English Lit, and who is he to sneak this past the parents? But that’s the world we live in.

In particular I warn you to be careful of so called “Family Life Education” programs, and to opt your children out of at least those parts that are most morally offensive, especially those concerning family living and sexuality. Different parents may make different prudential judgments about some portions of these programs, (e.g., drug abuse), but there is no doubt that the programs related to family and sexuality cannot be helpful to our children. How can anyone teach about family or sex if they don’t understand their fundamental meaning as part of God’s plan for our happiness? Moreover, there is no way to teach on these subjects without some a moral context—“this is right or okay, that is wrong”—and today’s public schools promote a morality which is largely contrary to Christian morality.

So remember the Lord’s warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And his counsel: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Who is the Extremist? For the last two weeks people have been lambasting Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin for remarks on his opposition to abortion in the case of rape and incest. There is no doubt he chose his words foolishly, and got some of his facts wrong. He should have simply explained that it is always wrong to kill any innocent and defenseless human being, and that babies should not receive the death penalty for their father’s crimes. Even so, despite all the rhetoric about his muddled words, this defense of all innocent babies is really why he is being called “an extremist.” Which makes all faithful Catholics extremists.

But who is the extremist? This week an audio recording surfaced from 2003 reminding us of then-State-Senator Barrack Obama’s opposition to a bill to protect babies who are born alive, living and breathing outside of the womb, after surviving an attempted abortion. He was the only member of the Illinois legislature to do so. A similar bill passed in the U.S. Congress with only 15 votes against it (out of 535). If you want to know what the real extreme position is on abortion, this is it. I encourage you to go to our parish website (http://www.straymonds.org) to read and listen to him defend his barbaric position.

Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

August 26, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

For the last 5 weeks we’ve been reading from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel
—one of the most important
and most misunderstood or neglected chapters in the bible.

5 weeks ago, we began with the feeding of the 5000
—the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.
Then we moved into what is often called the “bread of life discourse”
—Jesus’ explanation about how his flesh is the bread of life, the Eucharist.

It’s interesting that while the miracle of the multiplication of loaves
is reported in all 4 gospels,
only St. John reports the bread of life discourse.
Now, some say this discrepancy is because John made the whole thing up
—that Jesus never really said it.
But this is absurd.
As St. John writes at the very end of his Gospel:
“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things,
and who has written these things;
and we know that his testimony is true.”

What really happened is that John was the longest living of all the apostles
—he died at a ripe old age, maybe when he was 90 years old,
maybe as late as the year 100 AD.
And so he wrote his Gospel many years after the others,
maybe 30 or more years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke,
—and so it’s almost certain that he’d read them,
since they were widely circulated.
On top of that, we know that John’s Gospel is the most theologically profound
—perhaps because of all the years he’d had to think about it,
or perhaps because of his unique closeness to Christ
when he was on earth,
he was, after all, called “the beloved disciple.”
So after having lots of time to think and pray over the life of Jesus,
and reading what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written,
he wrote down his own recollection
—not making things up, not correcting the others,
but recording things he’d come to understand
were much more important than maybe they first appeared.

In particular, John came to focus on the central importance
of mystery of the Incarnation.
And so he begins his whole Gospel, by explaining:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
Through him all things were made… In him was life.”
And then he concludes:
“the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Incarnation—the taking of flesh by the life-giving God
—is at the heart of John’s understanding of the Gospel.
And so, while Matthew Mark and Luke recorded the multiplication of loaves,
and did so not only to impress us with Jesus power,
but also to help us understand Jesus giving us the Eucharist,
in chapter 6, of his Gospel John says, in effect,
‘but don’t forget what Jesus said after he multiplied the loaves’:
“I am the bread of life….and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Again, some people what to see this as John making something up
to make a point.
Still others today want to say it really happened,
but Jesus is talking in merely symbolic language.
John probably had encountered people like this in his own time.
And so years after Christ’s death,
and probably after years of hearing some arguing that Jesus had just
been speaking metaphorically about his flesh and the bread,
John finally sits down and writes to the whole Church
and very carefully reports
that Jesus himself insisted they were wrong.

And so John writes, at Verse 53:
“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”
Now, think about this: his followers think he’s talking about real food.
They don’t think he’s talking in symbols:
that spiritual grace is like food, or perhaps that his teaching is like food.
They’re upset because he sounds like a cannibal—
“How can this man give us [his own] flesh to eat?”

And how does Jesus respond?
He doesn’t change his teaching—he doesn’t say,
“no, no, I’m only talking in symbols”:
No:
“Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.”

Now, in the original Greek the word he uses here for “eat”
is very descriptive of physical eating:
the word “trogo”
doesn’t translate as “consume” or “sup upon”
but to physically “chew” or “gnaw.”
He’s saying, ‘you’re right: I’m not being symbolic.’
As then he goes on to say:
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Then you can see the disciples, thinking…
“how can he do this? That’s impossible.”
Or as John writes:
“Then many of his disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

How familiar these words are to us today
—we hear it all the time, maybe we say it ourselves,
even if only in the back of our minds.
It’s hard to believe that the bread Jesus gives us is his body.
But Jesus still doesn’t back down.
As John writes at verse 61:
“Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?”

And then Jesus reminds them that they’ve seen his power
—they’ve just seen him feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread.
And he tells them there’s more to come, as John records:
“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Now, some seize on Jesus words:
“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail,”
They try to argue He’s backing away from talk of flesh being real food
–that he’s somehow saying that,
“no, no, it’s the spirit, it’s all spiritual food, not really my flesh.”
But that would mean he’d be contradicting everything he’s been saying.
No, what he’s saying is, in effect,
“But you’re not remembering who I really am!
I am the eternal Word who created life itself
—“the words I have spoken are spirit and life.”
I multiplied the loaves to feed the bodies of 5000,
and one day you’ll see me ascending—bodily–into heaven.
I work in my body and through my body,
but don’t limit me to the power of normal human flesh.
I have spiritual power you can’t even imagine.”

That’s what he meant
—and that’s what the people there understood him to mean.
And that’s why they left.
As John writes:
“As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.”
Think of this—these were his disciples,
people who had believed in him and were following him from town to town.
They’d heard his beautiful words
and seen his great power.
And yet all because they could not accept this one hard saying
—because they couldn’t believe in the Eucharist—
they walked away.

And what does Jesus do?
Does he run after them saying,
“no, no, wait, come back…you misunderstood”…?
No.
Still he won’t back down.
Instead, as St. John records:
“Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
It’s as if He’s saying,
“What about you 12?
Those others refuse to believe me, what about you?
You have a choice—believe this “hard saying” about eating the bread
which will be my flesh,
or be on your way too!”
Where else in the Gospels does he give such a stack choice:
“Here’s the line—which side are you on?”

What a terrible moment this must have been for those 12.
It was in fact a hard saying, who could believe it?

But then we read:
“Simon Peter answered him,
“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and are convinced
that you are the Holy One of God.”
Words. Life.
So simple.
They believe because they believe he is the savior: they have no choice:
They believe because he said so.

Did they understand what he meant?
I would wager no, not really, at least not completely.
But they did understood that he meant what he said.
And so they believed, and struggled to understand.

And almost exactly a year later that understanding took a huge leap forward,
when they sat with Jesus at the Passover supper,
on the night before he died,
remembering the first Passover, the night 1300 years before
when the Jews believed the word of the God given through Moses
and ate the flesh of the sacrificed lamb,
and God saved their lives from the angel of death
passing over Egypt
and freeing them for a new life in the promise land.
When they were at supper,
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, and broke it,
just as he had when multiplied the 5 loaves into 5000 loaves.
But this time he said:
“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”
And with the cup: “take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”

They listened to these strange but absolutely clear words of Jesus.
And they remembered the words he had said
that day after multiplying the loaves,
his words about his flesh being the bread of life,
true food that he would give them and that they must eat.
And they believed.

For 2000 years the Church has held fast to this belief.
And through the years, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ,
And contemplation on the teaching of St. John and the other apostles,
we have come to understand it better.
But all of it goes back to what Peter said—we believe, because Jesus said so.

Unfortunately, there have always been those
who do not side with Peter, and his successors, the Popes.
Of course this begins with the early disciples
who loved what Jesus had to say,
and were impressed by his power,
but left him because they could not accept this hard saying.

But not all of the nonbelievers walked away.
As John tells today:
“Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.”
And as he goes on to tell us at the end of Chapter 6:
“Jesus answered them,
“Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”
He was referring to Judas…Iscariot;
it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”
Judas stayed, but he did not believe.
And it seems, according to John,
that, the Eucharist was the beginning of his unbelief and betrayal.

Today, many followers of Jesus do not believe His words about the Eucharist.
Even those who say “Scripture alone” and “it’s in the bible, so I believe it”
–they don’t believe what Jesus insisted on 5 times in John Chapter 6.
And even those who claim to be in the company of Peter’s successors
—many Catholics don’t believe,
even, it seems to me, too many bishops and priests.

Am I saying that they are like Judas—betrayers of Jesus?
I can’t say that—only Jesus knows their hearts.
And Jesus loves them and is more merciful than you or I can even dream.
What’s more, many of them love Jesus very much.

But there is a line that Jesus draws.
There is a word Jesus speaks.
There is a truth Jesus insists on.
There is a gift Jesus gives.
And there is a faith in all that—a faith held and proclaimed by Peter,
and all of his successors, the Popes of the Catholic Church.
It is this:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…
you do not have life within you….
For my flesh is true food….
..The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

These are hard sayings.
But as we enter into this great mystery here today,
let us not allow our weak faith,
our stubborn hearts,
or our limited minds,
to lead us to abandon Christ, or to betray him
as he gives us himself, his body, his flesh
to eat as the bread of life.
Rather let us hold firmly to the faith of Peter in the word of Christ:
“Master, ….You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe, and are convinced
….you are the Holy One of God.”

August 26, 2012

Change in Weekday Morning Mass Times. Several months ago I announced I was considering moving the weekday 9:00AM Mass to earlier in the morning, and asked for feedback. Since that time I have received scores of responses, for and against. After much careful consideration and prayer I have decided to change the Mass time, Monday through Friday, from 9:00AM to 8:00AM. The change will be effective Monday, September 10. The 6:30AM Mass stays as before and Saturday Mass will remain at 9AM (at least for the time being.)

The main reason for the change is that it allows for an earlier “start” of the day for many people, including the priests. And when I speak of “the priests” I am not speaking of a purely selfish motive, since an earlier start will help make our “work day” more efficient and productive as we serve all of you.

While I know many people will be happy with this change, I also know others will not be so happy: for some it may mean not being able to attend daily Mass, or having to go to another church for Mass (St. Bernadette’s, Our Lady of Angels, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Lawrence all have 9am Mass). I’m sorry for any inconvenience this creates, but I trust you will be understanding and supportive of my decision.

Parish Seminarians. As many of you know, St. Raymond’s has two young men studying to be priests for the Diocese of Arlington: Mr. Nicolas Barnes (entering 4th year Theology at the North American College in Rome) and Mr. Jacob McCrumb (entering 2nd Pre-Theology at the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio). Although both of them have been in town this summer they have been kept very busy serving at other parishes, until this week when they have been able to spend some time with us, serving Mass and having lunch with me. As we become more acutely aware of the need for vocations, and the need for us to pray for vocations, we also need to be encouraging of these young men who have answered the call and to keep them in our prayers as they prepare to return to their studies in the coming weeks.

Last week Mr. Barnes gave me some wonderful news: he has received the official “call to orders” from Bishop Loverde. This means he will be ordained to the diaconate (deacon) in Rome on October 2. This also means that, barring some serious cause, he should be ordained a priest next June here in Arlington. I’m sure you all share my joy in this news, and will keep him in your prayers in a special way.

Ordination to the diaconate is clearly an important event for any man as it gives them the sacramental grace of Holy Orders to serve the Church in a unique way. But for men preparing for the priesthood it takes on at least 2 other unique features: 1) it teaches them (and gives them the grace) to always be a servant when they become a priest (the word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant”); 2) it is at the Mass of diaconal ordination that they make their lifelong promise to both be obedient to their bishop and to live a celibate life. This latter promise, of celibacy, is both a gift they give to Christ and the Church, and a gift that Christ and the Church gives to them. To live always as “single-hearted” for the Lord and His Bride is key to their ministry and identity as they prepare to imitate Christ who gave himself totally to and for His Bride.

Beyond our prayers for Mr. Barnes I would like to propose that we now prepare a special tangible gift anticipating his ordination to the priesthood. In particular, I know he is planning to purchase a special vestment for his first Mass, and I would like the parish to purchase this vestment for him. He will pick the vestment (and it’s ancillary accoutrements) himself, perhaps even designing and having it made to order. If you would like to be included in this gift you can do so by putting your contribution in an envelope marked “Mr. Nicholas Barnes Vestment” (or some such) and either dropping in the Sunday collection basket or mailing it to the rectory (checks payable to “St. Raymond’s”). If contributions exceed the price of the vestment, that excess will be presented, in cash, to Mr. Barnes at his priestly ordination.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Bishop. Last week I wrote about Paul Ryan’s joining the Republican party’s ticket as nominee for Vice-President, and of the novelty of having 2 Catholics running against each other for the 2nd highest office in the land (Vice-President Joe Biden is also a Catholic). I also mentioned how some would wrongly attack Ryan for not supporting the social justice teachings of the Church.

This week two prominent bishops came to Ryan’s defense. First Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave a radio interview in which he called Ryan a “great public servant” and quoted from a letter he had written to Ryan: “let me applaud…your call for financial accountability and restraint and a balanced budget . . . and . . . let me also applaud your obvious solicitude for the poor.” While the Cardinal disagrees with some of the Congressman’s positions, he acknowledged: “Once again it comes down to that prudential judgment.” If we agree a basic good has to be defended or achieved, we are free to disagree on how best to achieve that good and still remain good Catholics.

The second defense was perhaps more important, as it came from Ryan’s own Bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino. Bishop Morlino took the unusual step of issuing a letter in which he wrote:

“…it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means [to protect the poor]. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)”

Like Bishop Morlino, I maintain that it “is not for the bishop or priests to endorse particular candidates or political parties.” And like Cardinal Dolan, I am “not trying to be an apologist” for Mr. Ryan. I’m just tired of people attacking this good Catholic man with false accusations, while at the same time pretending that Mr. Biden is a “good Catholic,” even though he strongly supports such terrible “intrinsic evils” as abortion, contraception, “gay marriage,” and attacks on the religious freedom of Catholics.

May God bless both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden. And may they be the best of Catholics, and the best of Americans.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

August 19, 2012

A Catholic Vice-President? It was an interesting week or so for Catholics in the American public square. Last Saturday, for the first time, the Republican’s nominated (albeit unofficially) a Catholic to their national ticket, Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. This also sets up another first for our country: both major parties’ candidates for Vice- President will be Catholic. It will make for an interesting race. It will also highlight a key problem in the Catholic Church in this country: the contrast between Catholics who faithfully follow the Popes’ doctrinal teachings and Catholics who prefer a more “cafeteria” approach—picking and choosing which doctrines they will follow and which they will ignore. Unfortunately the Democrat candidate and incumbent Vice-President, Joe Biden, falls into the latter category. This has been a source of great scandal to the Church in America, especially since Mr. Biden is an enthusiastic supporter of abortion, “gay marriage,” and his administration’s attacks on religious liberty—all of which classify him among those Catholics “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” and are therefore “not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 915). Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, is staunchly pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage, and pro-religious liberty, and by all accounts—including the public account of his Bishop—a faithful, devout and practicing Catholic.

Some will say Mr. Ryan is a “bad Catholic” because they say his efforts to balance the budget will adversely affect the poor. This charge rises largely from those 1) who misrepresent Mr. Ryan’s position on the issues and 2) misunderstand the Church’s teaching on social justice. This will also generate a very interesting discussion during the campaign, in as much as after hearing both Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan speak on social justice it is clear to me that Mr. Ryan has a much deeper and thorough understanding of Catholic teaching on social justice than Mr. Biden does. Personally, I can’t wait for Mr. Ryan to explain the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity to Mr. Biden (see my column on May 6, 2012). Not to mention the Church’s doctrine on abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

Obama invited to Catholic Banquet. This week we also found out that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, had invited President Obama to the annual “Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner,” a huge celebrity filled event used to raise mega-bucks for various Catholic charities in the Archdiocese. This has caused no little consternation among some Catholics, especially those who are fired up—under Dolan’s leadership—to defend the Church against the President’s attacks on the Church’s religious liberty, particularly manifested in his efforts to force Catholic employers to provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization to their employees. Many are concerned, thinking that, at a minimum, this will surely cause many ordinary Catholics to think that Cd. Dolan is backing off and signaling that all is well between the Church and the President—which it is clearly not.
I sympathize with this concern, but I also recognize that leaders have to lead; they have to make prudential judgments about how to fight the battle. While we can disagree with their prudential judgments on “tactics” we need to be careful not to rush to publicly condemn them or to privately presume the worst about them.

Cd. Dolan has publicly explained his reasons for inviting Mr. Obama to this dinner, and made it clear that the invitation, “in no way indicates a slackening in our vigorous promotion of values we Catholic bishops believe to be at the heart of both gospel and American values, particularly the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom.”

He explains that by inviting both candidates for the presidency, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, he hopes to show to them and to all the Church’s posture of active engagement in the public square, and to encourage respectful dialogue in public discourse (which is so sadly lacking today).

Frankly, I might not have extended the invitation. But then again, I’m not the Cardinal Archbishop of New York! And who knows, maybe His Eminence has a few choice and pointed words that he plans to deliver at the dinner… With charity and good humor (his hallmark), but also with clarity and truth. Who knows? In the meantime, let’s pray for him and all the bishops as they continue to lead the fight for our religious liberty, and the other critical causes of pro-life and pro-marriage.

Blessings during the distribution of Holy Communion. Many people have asked me why little children who are too young (or adults who are otherwise unable) to receive Holy Communion, but come up in the Communion line for a blessing do not receive that blessing from the priests at St. Raymond’s. Some point out that other priests have encouraged this practice. Unfortunately, after studying this matter carefully, I long ago decided that this practice is not only not the most preferable pastorally, but also that it is prohibited by the liturgical laws of the Church.

First of all, this is the Communion line, not the “blessing line.” It seems to me a very imprudent practice to mix the two, suggesting that a blessing somehow compares in worth to sacramental Communion. Moreover, just a few minutes later the priest blesses everyone before he sends them out into the world at ends the Mass. Why do we need to do it twice?

The reason most people seem to seek a blessing, especially parents for their children, is so that they will not feel “left out.” But is it so terrible to feel left out of something we are not ready for? It’s part of life, part of growing up for kids. Doesn’t it say to them: “this is something very, very special that one day, when you’re old enough, and if you prepare yourself, you will be able to join in”? Doesn’t that, in turn, enliven a true reverence and desire for the sacrament?

But even if you disagree with this assessment, careful study indicates that the priest is actually specifically prohibited from giving the blessing at this time. First of all, Vatican II, the Popes and Canon Law repeatedly admonish us: “no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the Liturgy.” Since there is nothing, either in our tradition or in the current liturgical books, that provides for or allows this blessing, this admonition clearly applies.

Some point out that blessings are given all the time at various parts of the Mass—e.g., blessings of catechists, extraordinary ministers, etc.. But the thing is, all these blessings come from the “Roman Ritual” (a set of official liturgical books of the Church) so the priest is not “add[ing] anything.” Moreover, the norms of the Roman Ritual specifically provide: “some blessings …may sometimes be joined with the celebration of Mass. This book specifies what such blessings are….No blessings except those so specified may be joined with the eucharistic celebration.” To me, this prohibition clearly applies to the blessings during Communion.

August 12, 2012

HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION. This Wednesday, August 15, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation—all Catholics must go to Mass (failure to do so is a mortal sin). Because of this we will have a special schedule of Masses: Tuesday Vigil Mass at 7pm, Wednesday 6:30, 9:00, 12:00 noon and 7pm. Confessions will be heard from 6:15pm until 7pm on Wednesday evening, but there will be no confessions after Mass.

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saturday, 15 August 2009

…Today’s Solemnity crowns the series of important liturgical celebrations in which we are called to contemplate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Indeed, the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Divine Motherhood and the Assumption are the fundamental, interconnected milestones with which the Church exalts and praises the glorious destiny of the Mother of God, but in which we can also read our history. The mystery of Mary’s conception recalls the first page of the human event, pointing out to us that in the divine plan of creation man was to have had the purity and beauty of the Virgin Immaculate. This plan, jeopardized but not destroyed by sin, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, proclaimed and brought into being in Mary, was recomposed and restored to the free acceptance of the human being in faith. Lastly, in Mary’s Assumption, we contemplate what we ourselves are called to attain in the following of Christ the Lord and in obedience to his word, at the end of our earthly journey.

The last stage of the Mother of God’s earthly pilgrimage invites us to look at the manner in which she journeyed on toward the goal of glorious eternity.

In the Gospel passage just proclaimed, St Luke tells that, after the Angel’s announcement, Mary “arose and went with haste into the hill country”, to visit Elizabeth (Lk 1: 39). With these words the Evangelist wishes to emphasize that for Mary to follow her own vocation in docility to God’s Spirit, who has brought about within her the Incarnation of the Word, means taking a new road and immediately setting out from home, allowing herself to be led on a journey by God alone. St Ambrose, commenting on Mary’s “haste”, says: “the grace of the Holy Spirit admits of no delay” …. Our Lady’s life is guided by Another: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38); it is modelled by the Holy Spirit, it is marked by events and encounters, such as that with Elizabeth, but above all by her very special relationship with her Son Jesus. It is a journey on which Mary, cherishing and pondering in her heart the events of her own life, perceives in them ever more profoundly the mysterious design of God the Father for the salvation of the world.

Then, by following Jesus from Bethlehem to exile in Egypt, in both his hidden and his public life and even to the foot of the Cross, Mary lives her constant ascent to God in the spirit of the Magnificat, fully adhering to God’s plan of love, even in moments of darkness and suffering, and nourishing in her heart total abandonment in the Lord’s hands in order to be a paradigm for the faithful of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 64-65).

The whole of life is an ascent, the whole of life is meditation, obedience, trust and hope, even in darkness; and the whole of life is marked by this “holy haste” which knows that God always has priority and nothing else must create haste in our existence.

And, lastly, the Assumption reminds us that Mary’s life, like that of every Christian, is a journey of following, following Jesus, a journey that has a very precise destination, a future already marked out: the definitive victory over sin and death and full communion with God, because as Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians the Father “raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2: 6). This means that with Baptism we have already fundamentally been raised and are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, but we must physically attain what was previously begun and brought about in Baptism. In us, union with Christ resurrection is incomplete, but for the Virgin Mary it is complete, despite the journey that Our Lady also had to make. She has entered into the fullness of union with God, with her Son, she draws us onwards and accompanies us on our journey.

In Mary taken up into Heaven we therefore contemplate the One who, through a unique privilege, was granted to share with her soul and her body in Christ’s definitive victory over death. “When her earthly life was over”, the Second Vatican Council says, the Immaculate Virgin “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory… and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords (cf. Rv 19: 16) and conqueror of sin and death” (Lumen Gentium, n. 59). In the Virgin taken up into Heaven we contemplate the crowning of her faith, of that journey of faith which she points out to the Church and to each one of us: the One who, at every moment, welcomed the Word of God, is taken up into Heaven, in other words she herself is received by the Son in the “dwelling place” which he prepared for us with his death and Resurrection (cf. Jn 14: 2-3).

Human life on earth as the First Reading has reminded us is a journey that takes place, constantly, in the intense struggle between the dragon and the woman, between good and evil. This is the plight of human history: it is like a voyage on a sea, often dark and stormy. Mary is the Star that guides us towards her Son Jesus, “the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history” (cf. Spe Salvi, n. 49) and gives us the hope we need: the hope that we can win, that God has won and that, with Baptism we entered into this victory. We do not succumb definitively: God helps us, he guides us.

This is our hope: this presence of the Lord within us that becomes visible in Mary taken up into Heaven. “The Virgin” in a little while we shall read in the Preface for this Solemnity “that you made to shine out as “a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way'”….

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CCD TEACHERS AND AIDS NEEDED. We are still in need of several CCD teachers and assistants. One of the most precious gifts the Lord has given us is our Catholic Faith. But this gift is not meant to be hoarded, or hidden under a bushel basket. Please consider sharing this gift with our children. If you are interested, please call our Religious Education office this week at (703) 440-0537.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

August 5, 2012

When it rains it pours. First, our Parochial Vicar, Fr. Pilon, retires and he is not replaced. Now, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago at some of the Masses, it turns out that Fr. John Lovell will not be returning to Virginia this Fall and so will not be available to help us as he did last year. So we’re down from 4 priests to 2, plus the good Fr. Daly on weekends. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Let’s all keep praying for vocations as I continue to work with the Bishop’s office to find another resident priest to help out in the coming year.

Boundaries and Registration. What makes someone a “member” of a particular parish? Many Catholics think that if you go to Mass at a particular church every Sunday that automatically becomes your parish. I can understand that—it’s where you feel at home, where you’ve made friends, and maybe a connection to priests. But officially, under Canon Law, a Catholic usually only becomes a member of a parish by living within the geographical boundaries of that parish. This comes as a shock to many Catholics, especially if they never knew parishes had boundaries! But almost every parish in the world does have boundaries, with very rare exceptions.

Now, before anyone starts to worry, it is the long established custom that a pastor may allow people who live outside his parish boundaries to register as “members,” or “parishioners,” of the parish. Many of the parishioners of St. Raymond’s fall into this category, and I’m delighted they do!

Some may think this boundary stuff is empty bureaucratic nonsense. But these rules are actually very important. One very important reason for boundaries is to make sure that every single Catholic knows he has a right to a particular priest’s (or priests’) help and pastoral care. When the Bishop sent me here as administrator 2 years ago every Catholic living within the geographic boundaries obtained an almost absolute right to my priestly care. If you call me in the middle of the night, or have a baby needing baptism, or you need to get married, etc., if you live in St. Raymond’s boundaries you are virtually guaranteed a right to my help, and I have a moral and canonical obligation to help you.

That’s important, and a good thing, don’t you think? But what happens if someone living in, say, Chancellorsville wants to be a parishioner of St. Raymond’s? Does she have that same right to my assistance? If I extend that right to her, doesn’t that somehow diminish the rights of the people in the actual boundaries—the Catholics whom the Bishop has actually entrusted to my care? And if St. Raymond’s had 300 parishioners in Chancellorsville and I’m constantly running down there to take care of them, might not the folks in Springfield rightly get upset and say: “don’t they have their own priest in Chancellorsville?”

This, of course, is an exaggeration, but I hope you see my point. Boundaries are important to make sure every Catholic is taken care of, and not only by the priest, but by their actual neighbors in the parish.

This is why, since my arrival at St. Raymond’s, I have followed a policy of recognizing the boundary rules in registering new parishioners. But I have also made many exceptions when I thought it was reasonable and warranted in a particular situation. Some factors I consider are, for example: how far outside the boundaries do they live? how long have they been attending Mass here? are they for some rational reason uncomfortable in their boundary-parish? are they in the military and so deserving of special accommodation? are they planning on making this their real spiritual home or are they only using it for some temporary personal benefit (e.g. they want to get married in our beautiful church but never come to Mass here)? are they in such need that no good Christian could turn them away? etc… And I always ask myself: is this consistent with the rights and true good of my flock?

If you live in the boundaries of St. Raymond’s and haven’t ever filled out a registration form, please do so—it makes things much easier when you need some particular assistance from the parish or priests. And if you live outside the boundaries and have never registered here but would like to be part of our parish, please feel free to submit a registration form and we can talk about it. And if you don’t register and are not an official parishioner, know that you are always truly welcome here as our brother or sister in Christ.

First Religious Liberty, now Freedom of Speech. This last week the viciousness and anti-Christian agenda of the “Gay Rights” crowd once again came out of the shadows into the light. A few days back when Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy was asked a question by an interviewer about his beliefs about “gay marriage,” he responded by stating basic Christian beliefs about marriage being only between one man and one woman. In response, all heck broke loose as the mainstream media, gay activists and “liberal” politicians excoriated Cathy as if he were a moral degenerate, and accused his company of selling “hate food.” Meanwhile, the mayors of Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston talked about banning the restaurant from their cities.

You know, when the Obama Administration attacked our Religious Liberty earlier this year, I warned that if the first liberty listed in the First Amendment could be set aside, so could the other liberties listed there:

“Congress shall make no law [1] respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or [2] abridging the freedom of speech, or [3] of the press; or [4] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and [5] to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Well now apparently the second liberty [2] is under attack: since when can’t an American state his personal beliefs in public without being threatened by government officials? Lay aside that his beliefs are the same as those that were held by almost all of our grandparents and are still held by most Americans. Forget the fact that if they are the beliefs of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. What about “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech”? Well, I guess “Congress” hasn’t passed a law, but the principle is the same: another original fundamental American value now seems to be less important than the new right to sexual libertinism. Which will fall next? Freedom of the press? To assemble? Why stop there? How about the right to vote? Surely hate-filled people like us Catholics shouldn’t be allowed to vote!

It wasn’t so long ago that “gay” activists just wanted their basic rights protected. But then they demanded that “gay marriage” be treated as a basic right. Now they want to oppress anyone who even thinks differently than they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 29, 2012

In today’s readings we find a situation not unfamiliar to the modern world:
so many people in need,
and the apostles lamenting that they don’t have
either enough food, money or know how to fix the problem.
An impossible situation.
In the Gospel Jesus has only 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 men,
not to mention the women and children.
Yet there is nothing to worry about, as Jesus says:
“Have the people recline”:
in effect, ‘tell them to relax.”
Because in his magnificent generosity Jesus, God the Son,
would provide not only enough for them all to eat they wanted,
but so abundantly that there were 12 baskets full of leftovers.
The generosity of God’s love is breathtaking.

Now, sometimes God’s generosity is very clear
—like when he feeds 5000,
or when you ask him for help on a test and you ace it,
or you ask for a cure for you daughter’s cancer and she’s healed.
But sometimes, even when he’s being most generous,
we don’t recognize it, and even think he’s asking too much of us.

The thing is, we don’t always know what’s good for us
–but Jesus, who made us, always knows what we need.
And he knows that each one of us
is created for and are in fundamental need of really only two things:
two gifts which our whole Christian faith revolves around:
the gifts of Life and Love.

Elsewhere in Scripture St. John tells us:
“God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent his only Son into the world,
so that we might live through him.”

Life and love, go hand in hand in the mystery of being a Christian
–and really in the mystery of being human.

But the New Testament isn’t the first place we find this idea.
We find it at the very first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament:
the story of the creation of the universe, and of man,
in the book of Genesis.
In that story we find that God creates man not because he needs to,
but because, as St. John says: “God is love.”
And so this God who is love, in whom living and loving are the same thing,
this God does not need to do anything.
But because love, by its nature, is naturally generous,
God by his nature generously wants to share his life and love.
So out of his life of love he generously gives life
to a new and wonderful creature,
a life that receives God’s love and lives to return that love.

Genesis tells us
“God created man in his own image: male and female he created them.”
This one creature–Man–in his very being, is created sexually as two,
and this difference shows that in his very being
he is created to live and love with another
–and to do so most sublimely in the context of their sexual identities
as male and female, as partners in marriage.

But this is a very different view of things than the world has.
Because for the world we live in, marriage is so often reduced
to whatever legislators or judges or Hollywood executives think it is
–a concept of marriage created by men in their image by the stroke of a pen.
A very different view of what marriage is, and as a result,
a very different view of the meaning of sexuality.

So for example,
we see that by the decision of every state legislature in this country,
marriages can be legally terminated by the simple decision of a judge.
And by the vote of unelected judges it may be that very soon
every state in the union will have to extend legal recognition
to so called “gay marriages.”
And television and movies make it clear that marital infidelity
has become more or less socially acceptable.
Quite different from the teaching of Jesus himself in Matthew Chapter 19:
“from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’
…’for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh ‘
… what God has joined together, no man can separate.”

And we see a culture that sees sexuality
as a matter of an absolute individualistic right to self-satisfaction
–with no inkling of its nature as a generous sharing of life and love.
We live in a world that in many ways
would make the people of Sodom and Gomorrah blush.
Fortunately, through the Cross of Christ,
God is more merciful to us than he was to Sodom and Gomorrah.

44 years ago this last Wednesday, on July 25, 1968,
a very wise but embattled man,
wrote a very short but also very historic letter
reiterating the Church’s ancient understanding
of the essential integration and unity of human life and human love
in marriage and sexuality.
The man was Pope Paul VI and his letter was called “Humanae Vitae”:
“On Human Life.”

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul called us to go back to Genesis Chapter 1.
He reminded us that married people are called to share life and love
in every moment and action of their lives.
And that while they’re called to live and love generously in the image of God
–they’re called to live out this love in very human ways.
Sometimes this is in very ordinary ways,
such as living in the same house and working,
and laughing and crying together.
But sometimes it’s in a very special way:
a most concrete, dramatic, intense, and wonderfully joyful way,
in human physical sexual intimacy:
a human act which is a sacramental expression
of the generous life-giving quality of God’s love,
and the love-giving quality of God’s life
found in the very creation of man described in Genesis.

This is what acts of sexual intimacy are intrinsically designed to mean
–and anything less is a corruption of this meaning:
an insult to the dignity of the human person, spouses, children,
and God himself.
So that Pope Paul VI taught,
repeating in modern language what the Church has always taught,
that it is always morally wrong
to intentionally separate the life-giving meaning
of human sexual intimacy
from its love-giving meaning.
Life and love go together in human intimacy,
so that any direct and intentional attempt
to render procreation impossible in the conjugal act
is absolutely contrary to the divine meaning of human love and human life,
and to the eternal and unchanging will of God.
In short, contraception is always a grave or mortal sin.

Contraception takes something God made to generously and dramatically express
his life and love, and the married couple’s sharing in His life and love
and at the same time mutually giving and sharing
in each other’s life and love together,
contraception takes this and changes, degrades it,
into something that it was never meant to be.
Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus asks:
“What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”

What husband or wife among you
would give your spouse an act of only false intimacy and selfish sterility
when they ask you to give yourself completely in an act of true love
that is directed or open to bearing the fruit of new life!

This is a very hard concept to accept, especially for those of us
who grew up in a world that teaches us a very different view of sexuality.
But if the world has clearly taken a contra-Christian approach
to the meaning of marriage in its acceptance of divorce and adultery
—and now even homosexuality—
perhaps we can see that it has also gone very wrong
in its understanding of the fundamental meaning of sexuality.
The world reduces sexual intimacy to little more than selfish pleasure,
but Christians see it as having meaning
—a wonderful, rich, joyful and divine meaning,
expressing what is most deepest to the human person.

I know so many people struggle with this—it’s so different.
And I don’t really expect that this homily
is going to cause an immediate mass conversion.
Especially among those of you who have to actually put it into practice.
I don’t have to worry about this in my personal life,
and a lot of the folks in this room are past the age of worrying about it
in their personal lives.
But for many of you this represents an immediate and intensely personal struggle
–a struggle with what you’ve been told over and over
as far back as you can remember,
and also a struggle with what your own passions
might lead you to assume.
Struggle, if you must,
but if you do take today as a new beginning of your struggle,
as you start, maybe for the 1st time,
to think about and pray about and study about
what the Church really has to say and offer
in its beautiful teaching on the mystery of human life and love.

And as you begin little by little to appreciate this beautiful mystery,
don’t be discouraged or feel overwhelmed
by what seems to be the impossibility of fulfilling its demands.
Remember those 5000 people in today’s Gospel
who had followed Jesus to listen to his teaching,
even though they were going out to a deserted place without food.
And in response to those who followed him to learn from him,
Jesus generously provided them with so much food
they had 12 baskets left over!
Will he be any less generous regarding the material needs,
as wells as their emotional and spiritual needs,
of Christian spouses who follow him and listen to his teachings today,
with a generous openness to life?

Some spouses will say,
but Father, this is so difficult and contraception is so easy.
Today Jesus tests Phillip by asking:
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
And Phillip replies, basically, “It’s humanly impossible.”
But then Jesus, God the Son, goes on to do what is humanly impossible,
reminding us of his words in Matthew Chapter 19,
as he finishes his instruction on marriage, children
and the treasures of the world:
“For man it is impossible; but for God all things are possible.”
God will provide every grace spouses need to become the men and women,
the husbands and wives,
that He created them to be from the beginning.

Do not lose hope, but be persistent in your pursuit of the truth, and beg the Lord,
for whom nothing is impossible,
to give you the generosity necessary to sacrifice personal pride or desires
to live in his love and conform to his eternal will,
his plan for your true happiness.

Begin today, and persevere, and he will give you what you need to understand
and to live the sublime divine mystery of generosity
that is the foundation of human love and human life.

July 29, 2012

Mature Theme
HUMANAE VITAE (Excerpts)
Pope Paul VI, July 25, 1968.
(Reaffirming the Church’s ancient and constant teaching on contraception)

8. Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, who is love….

9. …This love is first of all fully human… It is not, then, a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also, and principally, an act of the free will, intended to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection.

Then, this love is total, that is to say, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations. Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner’s self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself.

Again, this love is faithful and exclusive until death. Thus in fact do bride and groom conceive it to be on the day when they freely and in full awareness assume the duty of the marriage bond. A fidelity, this, which can sometimes be difficult, but is always possible, always noble and meritorious, as no one can deny…..

And finally this love is fecund for it is not exhausted by the communion between husband and wife, but is destined to continue, raising up new lives. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.”

10. Hence conjugal love requires in husband and wife an awareness of their mission of “responsible parenthood,” which today is rightly much insisted upon, and which also must be exactly understood. Consequently it is to be considered under different aspects which are legitimate and connected with one another.

In relation to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means the knowledge and respect of their functions; human intellect discovers in the power of giving life biological laws which are part of the human person.

In relation to the tendencies of instinct or passion, responsible parenthood means that necessary dominion which reason and will must exercise over them.

In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.

Responsible parenthood also and above all implies a more profound relationship to the objective moral order established by God, of which aright conscience is the faithful interpreter. The responsible exercise of parenthood implies, therefore, that husband and wife recognize fully their own duties towards God, towards themselves, towards the family and towards society, in a correct hierarchy of values.

In the task of transmitting life, therefore, they are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church.

11. These acts, by which husband and wife are united in chaste intimacy, and by means of which human life is transmitted, are, as the Council recalled, “noble and worthy,” and they do not cease to be lawful if, for causes independent of the will of husband and wife, they are foreseen to be infecund, since they always remain ordained towards expressing and consolidating their union. In fact, as experience bears witness, not every conjugal act is followed by a new life. God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves, cause a separation in the succession of births. Nonetheless the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by their constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act (quilibet matrimonii usus) must remain open to the transmission of life.

12. That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman. By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man’s most high calling to parenthood. ….

16. …If…there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.

The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation….[I]n the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. ….

17. Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men–especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point–have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.

Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. … Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious?…

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