Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Sunday) 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 3, 2012

Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday.
It is wonderful day,
celebrating a magnificent mystery of God and of our Catholic Faith.
But is also a day dreaded by a lot of priests.
I say “dreaded” because who can explain the Trinity?
Have you ever tried to?
It’s really next to impossible to adequately explain the Trinity,
to try to explain the very essence of God Himself—his inner most being.
After all who can explain the inner most being of another human being,
much less the inner most being
of the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe?
It is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand.

First of all, what does this dogma of the Trinity hold?
We believe there is one God, who is three persons.
They share the same divine nature,
but each is God, whole and entire.
They are really distinct from one another—not simply different modes of being
–you can’t say we call God “Father” when he’s creating the world,
but we call him “the Son” when he’s on the Cross,
and we call him “the Spirit” when he dwells in us.
No: God the Son is a different person than God the Father
who is a different person than God the Holy Spirit
—but they are still one God.
In particular they are seen in relationship to one another:
relating as Father to Son, a son who is eternally begotten from the Father,
and the Spirit of the two that proceeds forth from them both,
some say the personification the love between the Father and Son.
Still, one God, three persons.

So all that’s clear.
No—it’s still difficult to explain and to understand.
And it always has been.
2000 years ago it was hard for the Jews believe.
After all, the central dogma of Old Testament Judaism
that there is only one God.
As we read in today’s first reading:
“Fix in your heart, that the LORD is God…
and that there is no other.”
But they kept hearing Jesus say things like: “the Father and I are one”
–so they called him a blasphemer and tried to kill him,
and eventually succeeded.

And it was hard for many wannabe Christians in the 2nd 3rd and 4th centuries,
heretics like the Gnostics: they couldn’t and didn’t believe it.

And it was hard for the rich Arab merchant who searched for the true God
and apparently found Him in Christianity, but rejected Him
because he could not accept the truth
that God is one, but 3 persons.
And so Muhammad made up his own religion, to suit his unbelief.

It is very difficult to understand, and, so, difficult to believe.
And yet we do believe.
But why?

Very simple: because we believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the one sent by God.”
And Jesus taught us the dogma of the Trinity.
For example, on the one hand,
Jesus himself proclaimed the central dogma of Judaism:
“The LORD our God is one.”
And yet, he called God his “Father,” and says:
“the Father and I are one”
Now, some might say, that Jesus was speaking metaphorically,
but when the Jews accused him of “making himself God”
and tried to stone him,
instead of saying, ‘no no, you misunderstood,’
he said to them:
“I am the Son of God….
know and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

And he kept on insisting on this.
Who can forget the last supper,
when he went on and on about his unity with the Father.
Particularly in his rebuke of St. Philip, who asked “show us the father”.
Jesus responds:
“Have I been with you so long,
and still you do not know me…?
He who has seen me has seen the Father;
how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?
Do you not believe that
I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

And not only did Jesus insist that he was one God with his father,
he insisted that the Holy Spirit was one God with them also.
He promised his apostles:
“I shall send to you …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”
but also promises:
“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”
Both the Father and the Son send the Spirit.
And why?
Because while Jesus calls him: “the spirit of the father”
St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit not only
“the Spirit of God” but also “the spirit of Jesus Christ”,
All the while insisting “there is one Spirit.”

We believe, because Jesus said it,
and because the apostles taught it.
and handed down from generation to generation
both in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition.
And so the Church has always accepted it
as not simply an interesting bit of trivia,
but as the first tenet of the Christian Faith:
if you do not believe in the Trinity,
you are NOT a Christian.

This has been so important to the Church
that the earliest summaries of the Christian faith,
like the Apostles Creed,
that some attribute to the apostles themselves,
at the first Pentecost,
are centered around the Trinity.
And when the bishops could all come together for the first time
since the death of the apostles,
at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD,
the most important thing they did was give us
a more elaborate formulation of the Trinitarian Creed:
the Creed we say at every Sunday Mass—the Nicene Creed.

The Trinity is the First Dogma of Christianity,
because the whole Church comes out of,
revolves around and moves toward this mystery.
Heaven is sharing in the communion of life and love of the Trinity.
The whole incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Christ are Trinitarian:
the Father gives his Son, the Son offers himself to the Father.
The Pentecost is Trinitarian:
the Father and Son send the Spirit so they can dwell in us,
and we can be one with them.
The Sacraments are Trinitarian:
in Baptism we enter into the life of
“the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”
in the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit
Christ makes us one with him and presents us to His Father.
The Church itself is Trinitarian:
it is one, because the Trinity is one,
and it is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Spirit to praise the Father.
Creation itself is Trinitarian:
God created man in his own image so he could invite us
to live and love in the life and love of the Trinity.

This is what we believe.
Still, all this is difficult to understand.

Does this make us stupid, or naïve or irrational?
No, because it would be stupid, naïve, irrational and the height of arrogance
to think that we could ever really understand everything about God
—especially about his inner most being.

Do you understand how God created the universe?
No; but you believe it, and it is very rational to do so.
Do you understand how God can love each one of us uniquely and totally,
even though you and I are like mere specks of dust in this huge universe?
Do you understand how God could become a man and die on the Cross,
and still be completely God?
Do you understand how God could truly come to us,
body, blood, soul and divinity,
under the appearance of a piece of bread we could eat?
No; you have some inkling of an understanding of these things,
but you don’t understand any of them completely.
But still, you believe them.

Think about it: It would be so much easier for the Church
to proclaim the Gospel without the Trinity
—who would make something so difficult to understand
the central tenet of their religion?
But some things we don’t understand,
we still believe because Jesus has revealed them to us.
These are what we call mysteries of the faith.
And by that we don’t mean just accepting it blindly and without understanding.
But rather, mysteries are truths that are hidden in God,
things too big or magnificent to us to understand,
and which could never begin to know anything about,
unless they are revealed by God.

As Scripture reminds us:
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
…and weighed the mountains in scales? …” like God has.

And if we can’t understand something like creation, or the incarnation,
how can we really hope to ever completely fathom
the dogma of the Trinity.
After all, this dogma is a peek into the very inner most life
of the eternal boundless God.
To believe this dogma is not to be foolish, but to accept a wondrous gift
—to know God in his deepest self,
to know something of the boundless and eternal
intimate love and life that the Three Divine Persons
share so perfectly and completely,
and of an invitation to us to share in that love and life
imperfectly in this world
and perfectly and forever in the next.

As I said at the beginning of this homily,
I dread this Sunday because the Trinity is impossible to explain.
And yet, I also love this Sunday,
because if I can even in some small way help others to understand
the wondrous truth of our Triune God,
the intimacy and awesomeness of his eternal life and love,
what a great thing to preach about.

As we continue with this Holy Mass,
let us turn to the Trinitarian mystery of the Eucharist,
the sacrifice of the Son to His Father
made present by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And by these sacred mysteries
may we now be lifted up
into the wondrous and intimate mystery of
the eternal life and boundless love of the Most Holy Trinity.

June 2, 2012

Today is The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The mystery of the Trinity is the central mystery of our faith, and yet one of the most difficult to understand and misunderstood dogmas of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 253-255) teaches:

The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire….

The divine persons are really distinct from one another. …”Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son” …

The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: “In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.” Indeed “everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship”…

The dogma of one God in three persons is both unique and essential to Christianity. But it is so difficult to fathom that it seems that if there were any doubt whatsoever about its veracity or necessity it would never even have been mentioned by the apostles, much less be handed down, unchanging, uncompromised, for 20 centuries.

But it was handed down exactly as Christ revealed it. Because, as unfathomable as it is, “It is the mystery of God in himself” (CCC 234). As such, what else could it be but unfathomable and terribly complex—understanding your best friend or your spouse is difficult, what would we expect when we try to understand God?

And this is the key to the mystery: God Son came to us as a man so he could reveal God to us, so that we could better know Him, be open to His love and more profoundly love Him in return. This is why Jesus reveals the mystery of a Trinity, as if he is saying, “I know this is hard to understand, but let me show you who I really am, who this God is who loves you…That God is a communion of three persons living one life in one love. A life of love so intense, so infinite, so eternal, so perfect, that it is truly One.” And the best part for us, He adds: “and by My death and resurrection you are invited and made capable of sharing in this ineffable one divine life and love.” Each of us enters into this mystery, this relationship, at our baptism, the first step of the sublime sharing of the divine life and love that is perfected in heaven.

I encourage you to read and learn more about the mystery of the Trinity. The CCC, beginning at paragraph 232, is a great place to start. There are also several good resources in our parish library, as well as in the online library found at

Catholics Defend Their Religious Liberty. On May 21st forty-three Catholic institutions around the country joined in filing 12 separate lawsuits to overturn the Obama Administration’s regulations which force Catholic employers to provide employees with health insurance covering contraception, abortifacients and sterilization. This is a massive counterattack on the Administration’s willful and calculated assault on religious liberty, and we should applaud it, support it, and pray for its success.

This is truly an historic effort, not only in its subject matter but also in its size—it might, by some measurements, be the largest legal action in the history of American jurisprudence. And yet, the media has paid it very little attention. The Media Research Center reports that on the day of the filing, the three major broadcast television networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, dedicated only 19 seconds to covering the story—and all of that was on CBS.

How can we explain this—both the Administration’s attack and the media’s complicity? Jesus tells us: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you….” (John 15:18- 20).

To understand the lawsuit better, I refer you to two important articles which I have posted to the parish website. The first is an excellent commentary in the Wall Street Journal written by Harvard Law School professor (and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See) Mary Ann Glendon on May 22. The second is the very insightful analysis found at National Review Online written by George Weigel, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (and author of “Witness to Hope,” the best-selling biography of John Paul II).

I also encourage you to continue to join me and other parishioners in abstaining from meat and praying Rosary every Wednesday for the protection of religious liberty and for our bishops. The success of these new lawsuits would nicely fall under these intentions.

Next week’s Corpus Christi Procession. Next week we celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday. At the end of 12:15 Mass we will carry our Lord’s Eucharistic Body in procession around the parish grounds as we sing and pray. It is a great way to teach our children and our neighbors, and remind ourselves, of Jesus’ true and real presence in the Eucharist. Last year over 200 parishioners joined in. I especially encourage our new First Holy Communicants and their families, and all families, to join us this year—but all are welcome and invited! Also, this year we are adding a short ice cream social after the procession and final benediction to add to the festiveness of the day!

Confirmation. Congratulations to all the young men and women that received the sacrament of Confirmation this last Wednesday. This year we were honored once again to have Bishop Loverde administer the sacrament. Thanks to His Excellency, to Maria Ammirati and Janice Gorrie and all the catechists and volunteers who helped make this day possible and come off so well. Please keep these young people in your prayers. The word “confirm” means to “strengthen”— in this case to strengthen their baptismal gifts and to give new divine gifts to make them strong as they face the temptations and challenges ahead of them. They will need this grace and our prayers as they face and proclaim the Gospel to the very secular world, and yet remain “not of the world.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 27, 2012

Today is the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day the Father and Son sent their Holy Spirit into the Church, filling the first disciples with the gifts necessary to not only to proclaim the Gospel to the world but to live out the Gospel in their daily lives. This week this same gift will be given to 78 of our children in the sacrament of Confirmation. Let us pray for them today, and for ourselves, that we may always be open to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and rejoice in His consolation.

Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI Pentecost, June 12, 2011 (Excerpt)

In the liturgy of Pentecost Psalm 104[103], which we have heard, corresponds with the account in the Acts of the Apostles of the birth of the Church (cf. Acts 2:1-11): a hymn of praise of the whole creation which exalts the Creator Spirit who has made all things with wisdom: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures…. May the glory of the Lord endure forever, may the Lord rejoice in his works” (Ps 104[103]:24, 31). This is what the Church wants to tell us: the Spirit Creator of all things and the Holy Spirit whom the Lord caused to come down from the Father upon the community of the disciples are one and the same. Creation and redemption belong to each other and constitute, in depth, one mystery of love and of salvation. The Holy Spirit is first and foremost a Creator Spirit, hence Pentecost is also a feast of creation. For us Christians, the world is the fruit of an act of love by God who has made all things and in which he rejoices because it is “good”, it is “very good”, as the creation narrative tells us (cf. Gen 1:1-31). Consequently God is not totally Other, unnameable and obscure. God reveals himself, he has a face. God is reason, God is will, God is love, God is beauty. Faith in the Creator Spirit and faith in the Spirit whom the Risen Christ gave to the Apostles and gives to each one of us are therefore inseparably united.

Today’s Second Reading and Gospel show us this connection. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes us recognize the Lord in Christ and prompts us to speak the profession of the Church’s faith: “Jesus is Lord” (cf. 1 Cor 12:3b). “Lord” is the title attributed to God in the Old Testament, a title that in the interpretation of the Bible replaced his unpronounceable name. The Creed of the Church is nothing other than the development of what we say with this simple affirmation: “Jesus is Lord”. Concerning this profession of faith St Paul tells us that it is precisely a matter of the word and work of the Spirit. If we want to be in the Spirit, we must adhere to this Creed. By making it our own, by accepting it as our word we gain access to the work of the Holy Spirit. The words “Jesus is Lord” can be interpreted in two ways. They mean: Jesus is God, and, at the same time: God is Jesus. The Holy Spirit illuminates this reciprocity: Jesus has divine dignity and God has the human face of Jesus. God shows himself in Jesus and by doing so gives us the truth about ourselves. ….In the Creed — which unites us from all the corners of the earth and which, through the Holy Spirit, ensures that we understand each other even in the diversity of languages — the new community of God’s Church is formed through faith, hope and love.

The Gospel passage then offers us a marvelous image to clarify the connection between Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father: the Holy Spirit is portrayed as the breath of the Risen Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 20:22). Here the Evangelist John takes up an image of the creation narrative, where it says that God breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). The breath of God is life. Now, the Lord breathes into our soul the new breath of life, the Holy Spirit, his most intimate essence, and in this way welcomes us into God’s family. With Baptism and Confirmation this gift was given to us specifically, and with the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance it is continuously repeated: the Lord breathes a breath of life into our soul. All the sacraments, each in its own way, communicate divine life to human beings, thanks to the Holy Spirit who works within them.

In today’s liturgy we perceive another connection. The Holy Spirit is Creator, he is at the same time the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but in such a way that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God. And in the light of the First Reading we may add: the Holy Spirit gives life to the Church. …The Church is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The images of wind and fire, used by St Luke to portray the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:2-3), evoke Sinai, where God revealed himself to the People of Israel and granted it his Covenant. “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke”, we read in the Book of Exodus, “because the Lord descended upon it in fire” (19:18). Indeed Israel celebrated the 50th day after the Passover, after the commemoration of the flight from Egypt, as the feast of Sinai, the feast of the Covenant. When St Luke speaks of tongues of fire to represent the Holy Spirit, this Old Covenant is called to mind, established on the basis of the Law received by Israel on Sinai. Thus the event of Pentecost is represented as a new Sinai, as the gift of a new Covenant in which the Covenant with Israel was extended to all the peoples of the earth….[This] is represented by St Luke with a list of peoples….(cf. Acts 2:9-11). With this we are told something most important: that the Church was catholic from the very outset, that her universality is not the result of the successive inclusion of various communities. Indeed, from the first moment the Holy Spirit created her as the Church of all peoples; she embraces the whole world, surmounts all distinctions of race, class and nation; tears down all barriers and brings people together in the profession of the triune God. Since the beginning the Church has been one, catholic and apostolic: this is her true nature and must be recognized as such. She is not holy because of her members’ ability but because God himself, with his Spirit, never ceases to create her, purify her and sanctify her.

Memorial Day. Tomorrow, Monday, May 28, we remember all those who have given their lives in defense of our nation and the many gifts, rights and freedoms we enjoy as Americans. We honor and thank them with our respect, love and prayers. May the Good Lord reward them for their heroic sacrifices.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 20, 2012

“HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN AND IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER.” Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. What a glorious day, as we celebrate not simply the event of his ascent, but the rich and profound meaning it has for the life of the Church. We remember that Christ is forever seated next to His Father in heaven, constantly interceding for us, and making our salvation possible. But he does this not only as the Eternal Son of God, but also as the God who became a man in the Incarnation, perfectly uniting His Divinity to His humanity (the “hypostatic union”), and still remains a man, forever, before His Father. The Son offers Himself completely to the Father in total love, and in doing so He offers all those who are united to him, part of His Body, the Church, and intercedes for all humanity. At the same time, the Father looks at His Son and sees the Church and all humanity, and looks at each one of us and sees His Son, seeing and loving in us what He sees and loves in His Son. And in their love for each other they send forth their Holy Spirit, the personification of Their love, to dwell in the Church and to set the world ablaze in Their love. What a joyful and wondrous mystery, and what a glorious day in the life of the Church!

New Hymnals! As a small way of marking this great day you will notice something new in our pews: The St. Michael Hymnal. Just as Jesus bodily sits next to the Father continuously praying for us, we are also called to pray through our bodies: kneeling, standing, bowing—and SINGING! For 2 years I have been very much wanting to purchase a permanent hymnal, but was delayed due to the changes in the Missal. Now, after a careful review of all the newly revised hymnals, we present this St. Michael Hymnal. Take a chance to look it over. It begins with the Order of the Mass (in English and Latin), then presents multiple musical settings for the Mass prayers, and then unfolds an extensive selection of hymns chosen from the rich musical treasury of the Church. All of this will greatly expand our musical repertoire. More importantly, it will help us to sing! So open the hymnal, and SING TO GOD!

Same-Sex “Marriage.” The bodily Ascension of Christ also reminds us of the profound dignity and meaning of the human body. When God created Man in His image, He created us to love as He loves, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love each other in the Trinity. But He also created us with bodies, which are not just as some sort of outer shell we accidentally walk around in, but rather they are the outward expression of who we are inside—our bodies are us communicating ourselves to others, especially in love.

But, to love there has to be an other to love, and so God created us as two, male and female. Both created in His image, both equal in dignity, but also both are radically different so that through their differences they can love each other.

And that love is expressed in their bodies, because their bodies physically express the differences that are in their inner nature, as male versus female, inner differences which are not random, but rather complement, or complete, each other. So that as these complementary inner differences are expressed in their bodies, their bodies also complete each other—they literally “fit” together. And as their bodies “fit” together in the act of love, the two persons become as if “one flesh,” one body, doing together what they cannot do alone—cooperating as one with God to give life through love. So this act, and these complementary aspects of their bodies, specifically express their love for and their self-gift to each other, as male and female.

The body speaks to us and tells us about our very nature. And we don’t need the Bible to tell us this—the language of the body is a natural language that’s been understood for all of history by every society, which have understood what nature and the body say about the love and union of males and females in marriage, and that marriage is about giving love and life to each other and to children.

But nowadays, a lot of folks deny the natural language of the body. A week and a half ago President Obama joined in this unnatural chorus, as he denied the true meaning of marriage by supporting the right to so-called same-sex “marriage,” even going so far as to claim that Christ is on his side.

Nonsense. These people try to twist the language of the body just as they try to twist the language of Jesus Himself. The body communicates its meaning loud and clear, and so does Jesus, telling us in Matthew Chapter 19: “he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall …be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”

Some say this is a matter of justice and discrimination. But justice is rendering what is due to a person, and discrimination is only wrong when you deny someone something they have a right to. Where in nature is a person due or have a right to same- sex marriage? The language of the body recognizes no such duty or right: they are not complementary, they do not “fit.”

Some say this position is “not loving.” But Jesus said, “love one another as I have loved you.” How many times did Jesus show His love by telling people the hard truth, like the woman at the well: “the man you have now is not your husband;” or the Pharisees: “from the beginning [he] made them male and female.” It’s never loving to lie to people about what is right and wrong, what is natural or unnatural.

Some say: “it’s not fair not to let them marry if they love each other.” But there lots of situations where you can’t marry the person you love. In fact, our Lord talks about this, again in Matthew 19: “Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Not everyone is capable of marriage, for one reason or another. This is the case with those who are overwhelmed by same-sex attraction. Our hearts go out to them, but as with all limitations in life, we need either to try to overcome them—not ignore them—or to accept things as they are, and figure out what God wants us to do going forward. “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

The body speaks, but some will not listen.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

6th Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
May 13, 2012 (Mother’s Day)

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In this text Jesus, at the Last Supper, says with words
what He will say with His body in just a few hours,
as He’s nailed to the Cross.
There, His suffering and dying body speaks to us loud and clear, saying:
“I love you, and give myself to you and for you,
completely, totally and without reserve.”

But this not the first time God speaks to us through the human body.
Because right from the beginning He created the human body
to communicate to us the truth about man and about God Himself.

St. John tells us in the 2nd reading today: “God is love.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that God is a warm and fuzzy feeling.
It means that God, in is very nature is all about self-giving.
But in order to give, there needs to be an other person to give to.
And there is: as Christ reveals to us, God is a Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
three persons in one God:
their mutual love and self-gift is so intense, complete and perfect,
that they truly share one life.

But as gift, love doesn’t limit itself: love overflows,
continually seeking to give to others.
And so we see in Scripture that God
created, or gave life to man, just so He could love us,
and give us a share in the one life and love of the Trinity.

In order for us to do that we had to be like Him—we had to be able to love.
And so He created us like Himself, in the image of God, the God who “is love.”
But creating us in His image He also created us with bodies.
And our bodies aren’t just some sort of outer shell we accidentally walk around.
No, our bodies are us!
They are the outward expression of who we are inside,
—they are us communicating ourselves to others.
And since we are created for love
our bodies are also fundamentally created to communicate love.

But, again, to love there has to be an other to love
—and so God created us as two, male and female.
Both in His image, and so both equal in dignity,
but also both radically different so they would truly be other to each other:
so that through their differences they could love each other.
And these differences, which go to their very nature, are expressed in their bodies.

Note, their bodily differences are not merely accidents
but rather they physically express the differences
that are in their inner nature, as male versus female.
And these inner differences are also not random,
but rather they complement, or complete, each other.
So that as these complementary inner differences
are expressed in their bodies, their bodies also complete each other
—they literally “fit” together.
And as their bodies “fit” together in the act of love,
the two persons become as if one flesh, one body,
doing together what they cannot do alone
—cooperating as one with God to give life.
No other bodily act requires the body of another
—only the act that imitates the Creator giving life and love to mankind.
So this act, and these complementary aspects of their bodies,
specifically and radically express
their love for and their self-gift to each other, as male and female.

My friends, the body speaks to us and tells us about our very nature.
We don’t need the Bible to tell us this
—the language of the body is a natural language
that’s been understood for all of history by every society.
Every generation has understood what nature and the body
say about the love and union of males and females in marriage,
and that marriage is about giving love and life to each other
and to children.

But nowadays, a lot of folks deny the natural language of the body.
Amazingly, in a time when so many demand
that we pay greater attention to the natural order of the environment,
many of those same people demand
that we ignore the natural order of the human body.

This last week President Obama joined in this unnatural chorus,
as he denied the true meaning of marriage
by supporting the right to so-called same-sex marriage.
Of course, he’s not alone.
He joins scads of politicians, some of whom even claim to be Catholic,
like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
who like him, have the gall to blasphemously claim
that Christ is on their side.

Nonsense, all of it.
These people try to twist the language of the body
just as they try to twist the language of Jesus Himself.
The body communicates its meaning loud and clear
when it comes to sex, marriage, and family.
And so does Jesus Himself, telling us in Matthew Chapter 19:
“he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,
and said, ‘For this reason a man shall …be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.’”

Some say this is a matter of justice and discrimination.
But justice is rendering what is due to a person,
and discrimination is only wrong when you deny someone
something they have a right to.
Where in nature is a person due or have a right to same-sex marriage?
The language of the body recognizes no such duty or right,
in fact it recognizes the opposite:
they are not complementary, they do not “fit.”

Some say this position is “not loving,”
after all, Jesus told us to “love one another.”
Yes, but Jesus also said, “love one another as I have loved you.”
How many times did Jesus show his love by telling people the hard truth:
like to the woman at the well:
“the man you have now is not your husband;”
or to the Pharisees:
“from the beginning [he] made them male and female.”
It’s never loving to lie to people, when the truth will set them free.

Some say: “it’s not fair not to let them marry if they love each other.”
But there lots of situations where you can’t marry the person you love.
In fact, our Lord talks about this, again from Matthew 19:
“Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Not everyone is capable of marriage, for one reason or another.
Maybe they’re born with some severe emotional disability,
or maybe they’re upbringing makes them incapable of loving.
Or maybe they’re born with or raised so that they suffer from same-sex attraction.
Whatever the case, our heart goes out to them,
but as with all infirmities and limitations in life,
we need either to try to overcome them—not ignore them—
or to accept things as they are,
and figure out what it is that God has planned for us to do going forward.
“Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

But the news is not all bad this week.
In fact, today the news is fantastic.
Because, today the whole country stops to listen, if ever so briefly,
to the natural language of the body as we celebrate Mother’s Day.

Short of Christ dying on the Cross,
what better expression do we find of the saying,
“No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Where else does the language of the body speak so boldly and yet tenderly:
“I love you.”

Think of it: for 9 months, a mother sacrifices her whole body for her little baby,
from morning sickness in the first months
to contractions and all sorts of discomfort in the last.
Often risking her very life and health,
as her body sacrifices its own well-being
to nourish the life of her hidden child.
And, of course, what pain is comparable to the pangs of child birth?

And then, holding her tiny baby in her arms,
for months she feeds him at her breast,
her tender voice coaxing him to sleep,
all the while her very body chemistry seems to shift into super human gear
allowing her to forgo any normal human sleep pattern for herself.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there.
My mother practically slaved away for 5 kids for almost 30 years,
keeping us fed, clothed, clean and educated.
Staying up with us when we were sick, even when she was sicker than we were.
Spanking our bottoms when we were extra naughty,
and drying our tears when we were extra sad.
Even going to work—outside the home—to help pay the bills.
And on the worst of days, when the whole world seemed against us,
she made everything all right,
with her beautiful smile, or her warmest of hugs.

The language of the body cries out to us in no uncertain terms:
Moms have a God-given and naturally tremendous capacity
for giving love and life.
Today we celebrate this, and we thank them,
even those who have gone ahead of us to judgment.

Even so, some today wish to ignore motherhood or to redefine it.
Some think they know better than Moms what their children
should eat or drink or learn, or how their children should act or think.
Like the school officials in North Carolina
who wouldn’t let a four-year-old little girl eat the lunch
her mother had packed, a turkey sandwich,
because they decided it wasn’t healthy enough.

And then there are those who encourage pregnant mothers
to ignore their maternal instincts and “terminate” their pregnancies.
Or who encourage women to take a pill
to stop their bodies’ natural and healthy openness to motherhood.
Or the ladies in the checkout line who mock the mothers of large families.
Or the politicians who say that stay-at-home-mom’s
never work a day in their lives.

The body speaks, but some will not listen.

Now, you may say, but father, what about women
who don’t or even can’t have babies?
The thing is, all women are by nature mothers,
in the sense that they have this deep natural capacity
to love and nurture life.
And that capacity is a gift that shouldn’t be wasted.
But because it’s a gift from God,
every woman should consider how God wants them to use this gift.
Some He calls to be celibate religious sisters
—freely renouncing physical motherhood for the sake of the kingdom,
in order to become spiritual mothers.
Some are unable physically to conceive;
perhaps God calls them to be adoptive mothers.
Some can’t seem find the right husband;
perhaps God wants them to exercise their motherhood
by in some way caring for those who are alone
or otherwise in need of love.

Like the text I quoted earlier from Matthew,
they should consider their situation and God’s will for them, and
“Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
Not with sadness and despair,
but with joy and hope, confident that God would not give them this gift
without some plan for them to use it in some wonderful way.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As we look at the image of the Crucified Christ,
and we remember in His awful physical suffering and death
we hear His body telling us in the most clear and powerful way possible,
“this is how much I love you.”
The body of the Son of God speaks and we joyfully listen.
But the human body He created for all of us
speaks to us every day, and through it He
reminds us who we are,
what is natural and unnatural to us,
what is good and evil.
Let us listen to our nature, let us listen to Christ.
And let us hear Him say:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.”

May 13, 2012

MOTHER’S DAY. Of course, today is Mother’s Day. While this is a secular holiday, how can Catholics not enthusiastically join in the celebration? After all, what group of people celebrates motherhood with more joy and reverence than the Catholic Church? Who else sees motherhood as a uniquely holy and dignified vocation, and mothers as specially lifted by God himself for our respect, honor and love?

Of course all human beings have a natural inclination toward a deep affection for their own mothers. In spite of this western culture has gradually been subtly degrading the dignity of motherhood and mothers, discouraging motherhood by pushing contraception, sterilization and, of course, abortion, and stressing “careers” over maternity. Mothers of more than 2 children are often treated as oddities, and mothers of larger families are publicly ridiculed. Women who leave the work place to be “stay at home” moms are belittled, and accused of wasting their lives and “not working.”

Against all this stands the Catholic Church, which recognizes motherhood as a holy vocation, and mothers as the heart of the family. We recognize this dignity in all women, even before their first tiny baby rests in their wombs—women are created with this great gift written into their nature, with this tremendous capacity and potentiality to give life and love not only to their children and families, but to the world itself. Moreover, we give special praise, care and defense of mothers from the very first moment their tiny babies are conceived in their bodies.

Furthermore, the Church sees in motherhood the model for her own relationship with God’s children: “she” is the bride of Christ, and so also “Holy Mother Church.” From motherhood the Church takes its lead in giving eternal life and love to the baptized, and with a mother’s heart she looks on the unbaptized throughout the world, longing to take them into her embrace and bring them to Christ.

And finally, the Church recognizes that one of the greatest gifts Our Lord Jesus has given to us is His own Blessed Mother, Mary, to be our Mother: “Son behold your Mother!” Who is more dear to us than her, who tenderly comforts her children in their times of sadness, fear and loneliness? Who teaches and protects women as they learn the true meaning of motherhood? Who draws children and husbands to show a deeper love and respect for mothers, wives and all women? And who more forthrightly brings us to her son, and teaches us “to do whatever He tells you?

Today we honor all mothers, living and dead. And we especially try our best to show our own mothers, in various ways, just how deeply we appreciate all they do for us, and how much we truly cherish and love them. But the best thing we can do for our mothers is to pray for them: to commend them to the care of our Blessed Mother, and to the love of her son, Jesus, who love our moms even more than we do. God bless you, dear mothers!

Mary’s Month. Today may be Mother’s Day, but the whole month of May is Mary’s Month. We will recognize this in a particular way today at the end of the 12:15 Mass, as we have the May Crowning: the First Communicants bring flowers to the statue of Mary, as one of our older girls places a crown of flowers on the head of Our Lady. What memories this brings back to me from my childhood, as every year all the children in my parish school joined in an elaborate May Crowning ceremony that included a lively procession, a living Rosary, and Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. All drawing us closer to our loving Blessed Mother.

I encourage all of you to make special efforts this month to nurture this devotion to Mary in yourselves, and in your families. Perhaps you can set a goal to pray the Rosary, or at least a decade of the Rosary, every day in May. Maybe you can say it as a family, or maybe young couples can pray it together to strengthen their chaste love and mutual respect. If you already do that, maybe you could make it your May project to learn a new prayer or hymn to the Blessed Mother. You could also place a statue or a picture of the Blessed Mother in a prominent place in your house, or read a good devotional book on Our Lady, or maybe tell some friends about this great gift that Christ has given us in our Mother. Let May be a time that will truly bring you closer to your Mother, and through her to her Son.

First Holy Communion. Speaking of First Communicants, yesterday (Saturday), about 100 of our children received their First Holy Communion. What a wonderful thing for them, to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for the first time, to be so close to Him in body and soul. And what a great thing to witness: such devotion, love and faith. May we all learn from their example. And may they each grow in devotion and persevere in their faith all the days of their lives!

Ascension Sunday. This coming Thursday much of the Catholic world celebrates Ascension Thursday as a Holy Day of Obligation. For us, however, the Feast of the Ascension is moved from Thursday to next Sunday—Thursday is not the Ascension nor a Holy Day of Obligation! So prepare your hearts this week to celebrate this most holy feast next Sunday with fitting joy and solemnity!

Fr. Jerry Daly. Last Wednesday, May 9, Fr. Daly celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. After serving his country through a long, distinguished and heroic career as an Army helicopter pilot, he chose to continue his life of service, but now dedicated to the service of Christ and His Church as a priest. Thanks be to God for that decision, and for the gift of this holy and hardworking priest. Serving as his vicar at St. Michael’s for 2 years I can attest to this personally, and I am honored and humbled to have him assisting me on weekends here at St. Raymond’s. May God bless him and grant us many more years of his holy priesthood in our midst! Congratulations Father Daly!
Two other priests. Fr. Joseph Okech will celebrate today’s 5pm Mass in thanksgiving for completing his doctorate at Catholic University, which he worked on for several years while also serving our parish. Congratulations, Fr. Joseph!

Also, as school winds down, we say farewell to Fr. John Lovell as he returned home this week for the summer to Rockford, IL. But he will be back in August to finish his studies and to assist us on weekends. Let’s keep him in our prayers.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

5th Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
May 6, 2012

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times:
St. John’s writings are some of the most spiritually rich and profound in Scripture.
Unfortunately, St. John is also sometimes a bit confusing,
as he is in today’s 2nd reading and Gospel:
Still, even in confusion, St. John always has an important point to make
—as he does today.

To oversimplify things, let me suggest that there are basically 2 kinds of Christians:
lets’ call the first kind the “Me-first Christian,”
In today’s 2nd reading St. John says:
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask.”
The Me-first Christian hears these words
and sees God as sort of an indulgent grandfather:
ask anything and He gives it,
do anything and he just smiles in approval.
He thinks, “as long as it feels good in my heart, I should do it,
or if it feels bad I should avoid it.”
He thinks, “only God can know everything,
so he understands, and doesn’t care even if I mess up.”

But there’s a problem with this attitude.
St. John’s focus in all of his writing is never on you or me: it’s always on Christ.
So St. John doesn’t write: “do whatever makes you happy”;
he writes: “do what pleases him”–Jesus.
He doesn’t say “do what ever you feel in your heart”;
he writes: “keep his commandments.”
St. John understands that it’s not all about how we feel, or even what we think.
All of that is useless, if it doesn’t begin and end with Jesus.
And so he reminds us that Jesus said:
“I am the vine, you are the branches”
“without me you can do nothing.”
“Remain in me, as I remain in you.”

Think about it.
Personal feelings are important:
sometimes our sensitivity to Christ helps us to discern his will.
And personal intelligence and reason are also essential to the Christian life:
no one should ever act in an unreasonable way.
But feelings and intelligence are meaningless if they aren’t at all times
based on, and moving toward one thing: the truth!

But what is “truth”?
Some people say there is no one truth, no objective truth:
there’s only subjective truth:
your truth, his truth, my truth—and none of them are the same.
If that’s the case we have a huge problem.
What if someone’s truth is that
God wants them to blow up the Twin Towers in New York
and the Pentagon in Arlington?
My friends, the road of subjective truth is the road of fools,
and leads to anarchy and ruin.

Other people say that there may be objective truth,
but there’s no way we could ever know it, so why even try?
But this is nonsense: they assume that this statement is true:
“no one can know truth.”
But how do they know that statement is true, if “no one can know truth.”

The fact is each of us needs real truth to hang on to.
What would a scientist do if he couldn’t rely on the truth of his rules and principles?
What would you or I do if we couldn’t rely on the truth of a promise, or of a love?
Life would be hopeless, and that road would lead to despair and annihilation.

Everyone searches for truth all their lives,
from the time a baby looks into his mother’s eyes,
until the time he draws his last breath in old age.
From the truth of where the floor is beneath my feet, to the truth of a mother’s love.
Either there is objective truth in the world, or life is nonsense.

And then Jesus comes along and says:
“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
And he tells us that he, the truth, never changes:
he: “is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”

This leads me to the 2nd kind of Christian: the “Jesus-first Christian”.
While the Me-first Christian begins with himself at the center of things,
with his own subjective truth, to which God good-naturedly conforms,
the Jesus-first Christian begins with Jesus a the center of things
as the one and unchanging truth,
and the Christian conforms himself to Christ.

The Jesus-first Christian believes and lives as if
Jesus really is the vine, and we are merely branches.
And He believes that the truth that he longs for flows from Christ into his branches.
So he tries to “remain in” Christ, and hears the words of St. John:
“Those who keep his commandments remain in him.”

But what “commandments” is St. John talking about?
A rich young man once asked that very same question of Jesus himself.
And Jesus admonished him, saying:
“You know 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.’”

The Jesus-first Christian doesn’t see love as simply a feeling,
but a choice to accept the truth.
And in each of the 10 commandments he hears
the truth about who God is,
and how we can truly love him
and our neighbor.

Unlike the Me-first Christian,
the Jesus-first Christian doesn’t consider his feelings to be above the truth.
In fact, a lot of the time his feelings run completely contrary to the truth.
Sometimes he even suffers for doing what’s true, for remaining in Christ,
–like St. Paul in today’s 1st reading who we’re told:
“spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.…with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.”

So the Jesus-first Christian,
when he’s in grade school, kids make fun of him for being obedient to his parents.
When she’s in high school
she’s embarrassed because her friends mock her for “saving herself” for marriage.
When he’s at work he watches as less competent co-workers get promoted over him
because he refuses to cheat or lie or steal,

All this causes the Jesus-first Christian’s heart to ache:
“am I doing the right thing?”
“if this is the truth, why does God let me suffer?
But then he hears the words from St. John today:
“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.”

The Me-first Christian hears these words as an excuse to do as he pleases.
But the Jesus-first Christian hears them as “reassurance of his heart”
that he “belongs to the truth”;
that even when our hearts ache or doubt,
God knows everything,
from the truth of right and wrong,
to the glory that his plan with bring from our suffering.

Finally, the Jesus-first Christian begins and ends everything in the truth of Christ.
So his heart isn’t focused on what he wants,
but rather on the truth about what God wants.
So much so that when he hears the words:
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
…have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask.”
he realizes that his heart often wants things contrary to his own good,
but that God, who “knows everything,”
always knows and wants only what’s truly best for him.
And so the Jesus-first Christian prays: “thy will be done”, not “my will be done.”
So that “whatever he asks” for is only what God wants to give in the first place.

St. John’s words are often confusing
Still, whether they’re simple or complex, they are always profoundly true.
Today their complexity and profundity give us an opportunity
to consider what kind of Christian we are.
Which kind are you?
Which kind am I?
Are we Me-first Christians, or Jesus-first Christians?
Unfortunately, the truth is probably that most of us are a little of both,
because we’re all sinners.

But it doesn’t have to be that way: the truth is,
God is the master vine grower—even when a branch has fallen from the vine,
he can lift it up and graft it back on.

Still the truth is also, that if it’s not on the vine, it’s dying.
And in the end, if it’s been pruned away from the vine
“people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.”

Brothers and sisters, it’s so easy to talk about loving Jesus,
and still put ourselves 1st before him in everything.
Today, Jesus Christ, through the writings of St. John,
calls us to be truthful, and remain in Him
in everything we do.
We can choose to wither and fall to the ground to be burned,
or we can choose cling to Christ and bear fruit in his joy and glory.

“Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.”

May 6, 2012

Cuccinelli. The Thursday before last (after the deadline for last week’s column) St. Raymond’s was honored to host Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who spoke on living the Catholic life in the public square. He also gave us an insightful analysis of the liberty we enjoy as Americans, and how defending that liberty is consistent with our Catholic faith. The large crowd of about 250 responded enthusiastically. Thanks to all who came and all who made it possible.

Mother’s Day. Next Sunday is Mothers’ Day. I hope you all have great plans for your mothers. The parish will honor the Blessed Mother of all Christians, at the conclusion of the 12:15 Mass with the May Crowning. It’s a delightful little ceremony, and I encourage all to attend.

Also, as we do every year on Mothers’ Day, the second collection with be for “special parish needs.” Once again this year’s collection will go toward paying down the parish debt, which now stands at just below $2.9 million. People, especially new parishioners, are always telling me how beautiful our church is. This is an opportunity to show your appreciation to the Lord for giving you such a beautiful place to praise him. Please be generous.

Fast and Pray for Religious Liberty. During Lent I invited parishioners to abstain from meat and pray the Rosary every Wednesday, for the protection of religious liberty and for our bishops. Many of you joined in, and felt it was a helpful and important way to defend the Church and to keep the issue in the forefront. But why stop with Easter? I would like to reinstitute this Wednesday day of penance going forward for the rest of the year until Christmas. Please join me.

Social Justice and Subsidiarity. In my homily last Sunday I briefly touched on the topic of “subsidiarity.” Many of you were unfamiliar with this doctrinal principle and asked for more information. What follows is borrowed largely from an article I wrote on the subject for Catholic World Report three years ago during the health care debate. Although I leave health care as my example for simplicity’s sake, the same principles apply to things like feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc..

Although often overlooked, subsidiarity has been one of the key principles of Catholic social teaching since Pope Leo XIII wrote the foundational social doctrine encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in 1891. As Pope Pius XI wrote in 1931, it is a “most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, [and] remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy” [Quadragesimo Anno 79].

Pope John Paul II defined the “principle of subsidiarity” as: “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the [lower] of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society…” [Centisimus Annus 48]. Pope Pius XI [QA79] and Pope John XXIII [Mater et Magister 53] called such interference “a grave evil.”

For example, the family is the most basic unit of society, “a community of a lower order.” Government as “a “community of a higher order” may never interfere in the internal life of a family except in cases of real need. Similarly, a neighborhood, a locality, or state government must be left to do the things they can handle on their own without the interference of the federal government. And this applies to any organization in society, including businesses and unions.

This principle of subsidiarity is based on the fundamental dignity of the individual human person, who is created to live in personal relationship with others. This is the foundation of society, at all its graduated levels of family, neighborhood, city, etc., up to the national and even global level. The more we get away from real interpersonal relationships, the more easy it is to lose sight of the person and compromise his dignity and personal freedom.

Now some functions are clearly and naturally the province of national governments, because individuals, families, and localities couldn’t possibly perform them, e.g., defense of the nation.

Some things, however are more naturally suited for “lower orders” of the community. Think about it: Who is best suited, on a simply natural level, to give aid and care to a sick person? Those closest to that person: his family, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and the local doctor or nurse. Health care (or feeding the hungry, or sheltering the homeless) is fundamentally about persons tending to the real immediate needs of other persons. Government, especially a remote federal government, just isn’t very well suited to that task [Cf. CA 48].

Most significantly when the government, especially the federal government (“higher order”), takes over what more properly belongs to a “lower order” of the community, including businesses operating in a free market, we see an increase in impersonal and inefficient bureaucracy and decrease in personal attention, responsibility, choice, and freedom. While big businesses may include some of the same problems, these are mitigated by the “free market”: e.g., you can choose to change insurance companies, but can’t so easily choose to change to another government, especially federally.

As Pope John Paul II wrote: “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients….” [CA 48].

Pope Benedict XVI echoes this in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Subsidiarity …fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others….” [CV 57].

This does not mean that governments should never assist. But if government does step in, local and state governments should be the first to do so. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “in exceptional circumstances the state can also exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems …are not equal to the task at hand” [CA 48].

One thinks of natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, where local and state governments were absolutely overwhelmed and the federal government had to step in. Yet even in these circumstances Pope John Paul II offers a caution: “Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons … must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of state intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom” [CA 48].

As Pope Benedict XVI writes that “subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. …”[CV 57].

Still, some might say “solidarity” with the poor trumps subsidiarity. But solidarity and subsidiarity are not opposed. Indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI tells us, separating them leads “to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need,” [CV 58].

I hope this is helpful.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

4th Sunday of Easter 2012

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

One of the most cherished images that Scripture gives of Jesus
is the image of the Good Shepherd.
The Shepherd who not only goes out seeking and bringing home the lost sheep,
but who, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel,
“lays down his life for his sheep.”

Of course, when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd”
he’s reminding us that he’s fulfilling God’s promise
in the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel, that
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.”
God the Son himself has come as the perfectly Good Shepherd
to care for his people.

But of course, in the Old Testament God also promises,
through the prophet Jeremiah:
“And I will give you shepherds [plural] after my own heart.”
So before Christ ascended bodily into heaven
he left his sheep with shepherds to continue his work,
men close to his heart,
men he had trained and gave special grace—His apostles.
In particular he gave the role of chief shepherd to St. Peter,
as after the Resurrection he gave him the trifold command:
“feed my lambs” “tend my sheep” “feed my sheep.”

And so we find Peter in today’s first reading taking up that command.
And remembering the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
” I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Peter begins to feed Christ’s sheep
with the knowledge and understanding
of Christ’s salvific death and resurrection.

Of course, this is just the beginning of Peter’s 30 years
of shepherding Christ’s sheep.
But before he and the other apostles died, they also left new shepherds behind.
And so the promise of the one Divine Good Shepherd lives on in the Church
in every generation since then
in the office of pope, bishop and priest.

Unfortunately, as Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel,
some of those shepherds have acted like
“A hired man, who is not a shepherd…
because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”
History is full of examples of this.
We look back, to the very beginning, to Judas,
who cared more for 30 pieces of silver than for the flock.
Or to the 15th century, to men like Pope Alexander VI,
a notoriously immoral man who made his two illegitimate sons Cardinals.

Sadly, though, we don’t have to look back centuries to find bad shepherds
—in the last decade we have been all too aware
that some priests today have behaved
like wolves in shepherds clothing, preying on the lambs,
and some bishops who have been more willing to
lay down the lives of their sheep,
than to lay down their lives for their sheep.

But there’s also another kind of false shepherd we see today
who’s devastation we don’t read about in the press.
Because the primary role of the shepherds of the Church is spiritual:
the shepherd feeds his flock “with knowledge and understanding”
of the truth of Jesus Christ.
And he tends them by protecting them from lies and false teaching.
This is what Christ did, and what Peter did,
and what so many good and holy popes, bishops and priests,
including our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict,
have done for all these 20 centuries.

And yet there have always been pastors in the Church who have failed to do this.
From the infamous heretical bishops and priests of the early Church
like Nestorius and Arius,
to the false-“reforming” bishops and priests like
Thomas Cranmer and Martin Luther in the 16th century.

And today, sadly, it continues.
You know this as well as I do.
You read the papers and you travel across the country
and you can’t help but hear priests preach or write
defending such things sins
as pre-marital sex, contraception and so-called gay marriage,
or denying dogmas like the Resurrection,
the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
or even the divinity of Christ.
Sad but true.

But there’s also another, even more subtle way that shepherds fail the flock.
When we talk about the “teaching of the Church,”
what we’re normally talking about is dogma or doctrine
—things that are definitively taught by the Church
as certainly and always true.
—doctrine that, as Catholics, we cannot deny.
These are not imposed on us,
but are gifts given to us, by Christ, the Good Shepherd.

On the other hand,
not every situation in life is directly addressed by the magisterium
—or the teaching authority of the Church.
Everyday you and I make decisions
on what the right thing to do is in a particular situation.
For instance, there is no dogma that tells me:
“This is how thou shall always respond
when someone gets angry at you about a homily.”
Instead, I apply the doctrine that is clear
—things we know to be true about charity and humility,
as well as justice and fraternal correction.
And we don’t reinvent or ignore or manipulate that truth,
but once we learn it we have to apply it
as best and as honestly as we can to the particular facts at hand.

This is part of what we call “the conscience.”
And in applying our consciences we make what we call “prudential judgments”
—given the truth of Christ, taught by His Church,
we then judge what would be prudent,
or best in this situation.

Now, here’s where the problem with some shepherds come in.
Sometimes shepherds teach things that are their own prudential judgments,
the conclusion of their own consciences,
as if they were, in fact,
the doctrine of the Church.

For example: the Church clearly teaches
that direct abortion is always gravely sinful.
But on the other hand, the Church also teaches that
defending ourselves from an unjust aggressor, even killing him,
is not a sin at all.
And this right to self defense also extends to war,
and, partially, to capital punishment.
So the Church teaches that while abortion is always wrong,
some wars and even some executions
are just and necessary–depending on the facts in the case.

So, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote
less than a year before he became Pope Benedict:
“…There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion
even among Catholics
about waging war and applying the death penalty,
but not however with regard to abortion….”

The fact is that most decisions in life—large and small—
are the matter of individual consciences
—not consciences independent of the truth or doctrine,
but conscience formed and bound by the unchanging truth
taught by Christ’s Church.

Now, sometimes bishops and priests feel obliged
to offer their judgments to their flock
—and sometimes they should.
For example, how many times have I recommended you give generously
to this particular second collection or that
—many of you appreciate my opinion, but many of you ignore it.
Fine—both ways.
Sometimes even in homilies I’ll give you an opinion,
as a Father shares his personal insight with his children.
But whenever I do that, I have to be very careful to make clear,
and you have to be very careful to discern,
the difference between my opinion and advice,
and the Church’s truth and doctrine.
[On my part, I try to use words like “I think, or “it seems to me”
when I’m giving my personal judgment.]

Unfortunately, sometimes the shepherds of the Church—myself included—
either out of zeal to be helpful,
or out of self-centered self-importance,
are tempted go beyond teaching doctrine
and beyond giving simple advice
and try to override consciences,
by presenting their personal judgments as if they are doctrine.

We’ve seen this on issues like the death penalty and war,
when bishops and priests act as if you are bound
by their personal judgments.
And in the last few months we’ve seen it on several other important issues.
For example, consider the political debate over the budget,
especially providing safety nets for the poor,
and reform of entitlement programs:
some bishops and priests give the impression
that in order to be a good Catholic
you have to take a particular side in these complicated debates,
and that Catholic doctrine is absolutely on that one side.

But it is not.
Of course, the “social teaching” of the Church
does tell us that society should provide for the poor and needy,
and that governments have a role to play in that.
But it also teaches the principle called “subsidiarity”
—a principle, a doctrine,
that the popes of the 20th century repeatedly called
“unshaken and unchangeable.”
Under that principle,
Bd. Pope John XXIII taught, in his famous encyclical Mater et Magister,
and quoting Pope Pius XI:
“it is …a grave evil …
for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself
functions which can be performed efficiently
by smaller and lower societies.”1
1 “Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to a community what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too it is …a grave evil for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower societies.”

[In other words,
if the family can handle a certain responsibility,
the government should stay out;
if the local government can handle a certain responsibility,
the federal government should stay out.]
And as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2005 encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”: “The State which would provide everything,
absorbing everything into itself,
would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy…

Things like food and health care are fundamental rights,
but no one can say that the Church teaches
that this specific way of providing food or health care to the needy
is better than that way,
or that the federal government has to take the lead
instead of the state government,
or this much regulation is necessary
or that much free enterprise is too much.

All the moral principles and doctrines have got to be weighed and applied
to the facts as we individually understand them,
and then we Catholic Americans can and must
make our own free prudential judgment:
what does the Good Shepherd demand in this situation?

Let me be clear, my point is not specifically about
war or the death penalty, or the budget,
or health care or entitlement reform.
And, by the way, if you listened carefully
you’ll notice I haven’t given you my opinion on any of these issues.
What this is about is confusing Church doctrine with personal judgment,
and vice versa.
Because if we aren’t careful it will lead, as it always does, to all sorts of problems.

For example: it will inevitably lead to some people
—even some good and well-meaning Catholics—
treating all doctrine as mere opinion,
or treating some mere opinions as if they were doctrinally certain.
In the end this will both
undermine the Church’s credibility
–when bishops and priests express
conflicting opinions as if they were doctrine,
who’s right?
and it will reinforce the credibility of those
who dissent from church doctrine
–the bishops disagree, so why can’t I.

Not only that, but sometimes the bishops judgments
are wrong—even nonsensical.
How does that add to the credibility of doctrine,
if people are confused between doctrine and opinion?

And last, but not least,
how many times have good Catholics
come to me burdened with heavy feelings of guilt
just because they disagree with the mere opinion of some priest?
How many times have sheep wondered away from the flock
in confusion and distress
because some false shepherd tried to impose his opinion
as if it were dogma.

There is no clearer image of the love of Jesus for each of us
than the image of Christ the Good Shepherd.
And there is no greater sign of the Good Shepherd’s love for His Church today,
and in every generation,
than the good and faithful shepherds
Christ continues to send to tend and feed his sheep.
Today, let us thank the Good Shepherd for giving us good Pope Benedict
and all the bishops and priests who faithfully help him
in his pastoral ministry.
And let us pray for them, and for all the pastors of the Church,
that they may keep their eyes and hearts fixed on Christ,
and lay down their own lives
–lay aside their sins,
their dissenting theologies
and their personal opinions—
and be lifted up in the grace of the Risen Christ,
to feed and tend His sheep with the love and truth
of the one Good Shepherd.

April 29, 2012

Peace. The first words the Risen Christ said to His apostles on Easter were: “Peace be with you.” We read this and remember that just 3 days before, at the Last Supper Jesus had told them: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of—it’s not so much an external peace (quiet, nonviolence), as it is an internal peace of the heart.

Moreover, this peace comes directly from being with the Risen Christ, as the apostles were on Easter. Even so, the fullness of the peace of Christ comes not from merely being with him, but from being one with him. And so He prayed to His Father at the Last Supper: “…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…” And this oneness, unity, or communion, is exactly what we find in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the Last Supper and that we celebrate at every Mass: the Eucharist, which we call “Holy Communion” as Christ literally enters in to our bodies: “I in them…”

But this peace of Christ, rooted in unity/communion presupposes another unity. At the Last Supper Jesus prayed first for the unity of his 12 apostles, and then for “those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” So unity with Christ and His peace also requires unity/communion with the apostles through belief in their teaching, and the teaching of their successors, the popes and bishops.

Holy Communion and the Sign of Peace. The Church reminds us of all this at every Mass, as right before Communion, the priest recalls Christ’s words from the Last Supper, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” And then speaking of the Church he prays, “graciously grant her peace and unity…” And then he says to the people, “Peace be with you,” usually inviting them to give each other a “sign of peace.”

Unfortunately, many of us have lost sight of the meaning of this sign of peace, forgetting that Jesus does give peace “as the world gives peace.” When you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand, saying, “peace be with you,” are you meaning to pray that he receive the everlasting peace that flows from Communion with Christ in the Eucharist and communion of belief in the teaching of the apostles, popes and bishops? Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?

Challenges. Today there are many challenges to our communion with Christ and the apostolic teaching. Three of these challenges have been in the news in recent days. First of all, we have outright public dissent from doctrines defined by the popes and bishops as absolutely certain. This last week, the Vatican, at the direction of Pope Benedict, called for the reform of one group that has been a bastion of such dissent for decades now, the “Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” an umbrella group composed of the leaders of most of the orders of religious sisters and nuns in the United States. While there are many good and faithful sisters in the orders that these sisters lead, the fact remains that where leaders lead, many are sure to follow. Consider that many of these leader- sisters have been in charge of the Catholic education of many of our children for the last few decades. Is it any wonder that so many Catholics reject so many infallible doctrines?

A second challenge to Church unity is not so much dissent, but simple confusion regarding doctrine. For example, the week before last a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the budget passed by the House of Representatives, saying it “fails to meet” the “moral criteria” of the bishops. The problem is, that the “moral criteria” the bishops refer to are not actual principles of doctrine, but rather the bishops’ prudential judgments (carefully considered opinion), of what the doctrine would require. In other words, it’s the clear doctrine of Christ and His Church that we must feed the hungry, but reasonable, faithful Catholics can disagree on how best and who must do that—e.g., should the government or charities (the Church?) feed them? should it be the federal or local government? do we feed them by buying them food, or finding them jobs? The Church has no defined doctrine to answer these specific policy questions—we must make prudential judgments, informed by and obedient to doctrine, but in the end we can disagree on how best to proceed specifically.

Even so, many people too easily confuse prudential judgments and definitive doctrine. But in doing that, they muddy the waters when it comes to the actual doctrinal teaching of the pope and bishops. Then people begin to think, well if I can disagree with the bishops on how to feed the poor, I can disagree with them on using contraception.

Finally, a third challenge to Church unity today is the scandal created by the sins of Catholics. My mind turns today particularly to the sins of priests who commit despicable crimes of abuse of minors. Of course, the most horrible effect of these sins is the terrible damage done to these children. “It would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” But add to that the terrible secondary effect of these sins of undermining confidence in all priests and in the moral authority of the Church in general, and we see the depth of the depravity of these sins.

On the other hand, almost as bad is the crime of false accusation of innocent priests: where do they go to get their reputations back, and how do you fix the damage done to confidence in priests and the Church itself?

We have been all too vividly reminded of this this last week as the pastor of Holy Spirit parish was placed on administrative leave because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor. We need to be careful to mind the Lord’s teaching not to pass rash judgment, and so pray for both the priest and the alleged victim, and that God’s justice will be done. But whether or not the allegation is true or false, can anyone deny that damage has already been done to the Church, specifically to its peace and unity?

Easter. This Easter Season should be a season of growing Christ’s peace. Let us not permit anything—whether dissent, confusion or scandalous sins, whether they be ours or other’s—to come between us and the peace and communion the Lord Jesus wants to give us, any more than the 11 apostles allowed the sins of Judas to keep them from rejoicing in the communion and peace of the Risen Christ on Easter evening. “Peace be with you.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles