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.

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'”….


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
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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

As we wind up our Independence Day celebrations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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