October 7, 2012

Today is “Respect Life Sunday,” beginning “Respect Life Month,” in which the American Bishops call us to remember that over 3000 innocent Americans are killed every day by abortions, over 1.3 million a year, for a total of over 50 million dead since 1973.

But even as horrible as that death toll is, we can’t forget that abortion has other consequences as well—consequences that have been eating away at the moral and legal fiber of our nation and culture.

Of course, we cannot forget the consequence of abortion’s devastating effect on women. Especially the women who have been lied to and told, “it’s okay, it’s just a formless clump of cells.” But deep inside they know, or come to know, the truth of what they’ve done. These are the 2nd victims of abortion, but they are ignored and ridiculed for expressing their pain and feelings of guilt. We must not forget them, we must love them and do everything we can to help them heal, and to make sure that the evil of abortion will not continue to plague future generations of women. We must put an end to the real “war on women”—born and unborn.

But the consequences of abortion go beyond even that, as the establishment of a constitutional right to abortion is like a virus injected into the body politic slowly corrupting every other right, and the freedom that is the life’s blood of our great nation. Because there cannot be any human rights if human beings don’t have a right to life. If you’re not alive, you have no rights at all.

This is why, in 1776, when Virginian Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the only rights he felt it necessary to list were the most fundamental: “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—with the right to life being first.

At this point, some might be wondering, “what about the separation of church and state.” But as Pope Benedict told a group of American bishops gathered in Rome last January: “The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues….”

When most of us think of the separation between church and state we think of the Bill of Rights. What does it actually say? “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Notice, it’s not about protecting the government from the church, but protecting the individual and religions from the government.

Just as the “right to life” is the first right listed in the Declaration, the right to freely practice our religion is the very first right listed (in the very first words of the very First Amendment) in the Bill of Rights. And rightly so. Because the freedom of religion is essential to the freedom of thought, to decide for oneself what one believes to be true, right and good. How can we defend any rights if we don’t have that right? And how can we defend any rights as being given to us from God himself, as the Declaration states, unless we have a right to believe in God as we see fit?

But since the right to life necessarily precedes all other rights and liberties, when someone embraces a theory of man and society that rejects the right to life, he thereby perceives all other rights and liberties as not fundamental, natural or God-given, but simply invented by political expediency and political power. So that when those in power find that the exercise of a certain right or freedom is not politically expedient to their agenda, they will quickly dismiss that “freedom” or “right.”

In January 2012 our President did just that. After years of notoriously rejecting the right to life he issued regulations (now in effect) that, while exempting institutions that primarily serve Catholics (e.g., parishes), require most Catholic institutions and employers to provide health insurance for their employees that will cover contraception, abortion inducing drugs, and sterilization. This is repugnant to Catholic morals, but the president directly and willfully dismisses our constitutional and human right to freedom of religion. Moreover, he imposes draconian fines on those who defy him, fines that will bankrupt and close every faithful Catholic college, hospital, and charitable institution (e.g., Catholic Charities, Knight of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services) in the country.

The President says he is not attacking our liberty and that he strongly supports the “freedom to worship.” But as Pope Benedict has reminded us so often, religious freedom is not merely the freedom of worship. “Worship” is not what the First Amendment is about: the exercise of religion is actually practicing the tenets, putting faith into action. In other words, the work of Catholic hospitals, charities etc.—the very organizations the administration is attacking.

Is this direct assault on the Catholic Church aimed to punish the Bishops and faithful Catholic for their opposition to abortion, and our defiance of the President’s relentless promotion of the gay agenda and sexual promiscuity? Perhaps, perhaps not. In any case, just as they tossed out the most fundamental right to life, now they have thrown out the first right that flows from it. And if they can so easily cast aside the first right recognized in the First Amendment, what will keep them from ignoring the rest of the rights listed in the First Amendment: freedom of speech, the press, peaceful assembly, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances?

And if they can make Catholics provide contraception, etc., what else can they make us provide? Direct surgical abortions? “Gay weddings”? And if they can close down our charities, can they take away the Church’s tax exempt status or put your priests in jail for preaching against their attack on the Church? You might think it’s a stretch, but according the reasoning of the Supreme Court, the constitutional right to contraception was the basis for both the right to abortion and the right to sodomy. Once you ignore the natural rights of man, and replace them with their opposites, then anything is possible.

As Pope Benedict told the American bishops: “…[I]t is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political …spheres… Of particular concern are …attempts being made to limit …the freedom of religion.…. [and] the right of conscientious objection…”

So what do we do? There are many ways we can effect change. First, we can still exercise our First Amendment right of free speech to tell to our neighbors the truth about what’s going on. And in 4 weeks we can exercise our right to vote to elect congressmen and senators and a president who will defend our God given rights, and end this hellish persecution of Christ and His Catholic Church.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

September 30, 2012

SOCIAL JUSTICE. The Catholic Church coined the term “social justice” in the mid-1800’s as part of a systematic effort to apply traditional Catholic doctrine to address the new problems raised by the Industrial Revolution, and to counter the evil proposals advanced by Marx and other socialists, i.e., “the left.” This effort reached official “doctrinal” status when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, and almost every Pope since then has weighed in to further clarify and to apply the doctrine to their own times.

Unfortunately, the doctrine has often been misunderstood, and even hijacked by the ideologies it was meant to counter, so much so that now many good Catholics identify the term with secular leftist principles. Even so, those same “good Catholics” would readily support the actual Catholic doctrine and apply it in real life. So, for example, these Catholics would have no problem with the doctrine the we must care for the poor, and would support programs that effectively and efficiently assist the truly needy, assuming it had no significant negative moral side-effects.

At least two key difficulties arise. The first is rather straightforward, arising when ideologues replace the unchanging principles of Catholic “social doctrine” with their own immoral ideological principles; e.g., redefining “marriage.” The second is more subtle, arising when the unchanging (Catholic) principles must be applied by individuals to the particular situations of their times by the use of prudential judgment. This can lead to different proposed solutions to the same problem, each being morally valid but not necessarily equally successful; e.g., one person might try to address poverty by giving a man a fish, another might try by teaching a man to fish.

SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE COMING ELECTION. Three key principles that form the basic foundation of Catholic social doctrine are the right to life, the dignity of the family, and freedom of religion and conscience. In the last month two bishops spoke out on the effect of these principles on the coming election. Allow me to quote from them at length:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois (Catholic Times, September 23, 2012):

“Much attention was given at the Democratic National Convention held recently in Charlotte, N.C., …In 1992 Presidential candidate Bill Clinton famously said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” That was the party’s official position until 2008. Apparently “rare” is so last century that it had to be dropped, because now the Democratic Party Platform says that abortion should be “safe and legal.” Moreover the Democratic Party Platform supports the right to abortion “regardless of the ability to pay.” Well, there are only three ways for that to happen: either taxpayers will be required to fund abortion, or insurance companies will be required to pay for them (as they are now required to pay for contraception), or hospitals will be forced to perform them for free.

“Moreover, the Democratic Party Platform also supports same-sex marriage, recognizes that “gay rights are human rights,” and calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law signed by President Clinton in 1996 that defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

“…There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding “political” and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins…

“So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin…. One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils…

“Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia (National Catholic Reporter, “Chaput in Philly swims against ‘nostalgia and red ink,’” Sept. 14, 2012, interview with John L Allen Jr.).

“Reporter: …Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?
“AB Chaput: I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.

“Reporter: What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?
“AB Chaput: Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic. … You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, I’m speaking only for myself, but I think that’s a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but it’s certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that it’s somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesn’t make any sense at all.

“The Ryan budget isn’t the budget I would write. I think he’s trying to deal with the same issue in the government I’m dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone who’s actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them…It’s immoral for us to continue to spend money we don’t have. I think that those persons who don’t want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.”

DON’T FORGET THE PARISH PICNIC TODAY from 1pm to 4pm! All are welcome!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 30, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Sometimes we’re so busy seeing the differences between ourselves and others
that we fail to see the good things we have in common.
On the other hand, it is important to recognize those differences,
first of all to see the differences that we may want to overcome,
but also, to recognize and protect ourselves
against values that we don’t share.
This tension between recognizing both the good and the bad in others
is a source of particular difficulty for Christians
–we want to see the good in others,
but we don’t want the good that they possess to blind us
so that we fail to notice the goodness that they lack.

Its sort of like the apostles in today’s Gospel when they discover that a man,
a stranger who did “not follow” them
is performing miracles in the name of Jesus.
And it seems that the apostles are confused,
wondering if they should do something to stop him.
But even though this stranger lacks the fullness of the good that would come
with being in the intimate company of Christ,
Jesus tells the apostles:
“Do not prevent him….For whoever is not against us is for us.”

This need to recognize Christian works in those who are not fully in our company
leads us to understand the great importance
that the Catholic Church places on ecumenism.
We’re called to look for the things we have in common
with the various non-Catholic but Christian denominations,
and then to use those as a starting point for both mutual cooperation
in spreading the Gospel
and in beginning the process
of striving for the unity of all Christians everywhere.

And we’re not just called to recognize the goodness of Christ’s truth
in other Christians,
but also to recognize that goodness when it’s possessed by non-Christians
–even atheists.
Because even a non-Christian can come to recognize some of the truth of Christ
–even if they don’t recognize it as Christ’s
–to the extent they pursue the truth with an open and humble heart.
By working with tolerance with people of other denominations, or religions,
or even with atheists,
on issues that we share strong beliefs,
we can build a better and more just society,
and lay the foundation so that the Gospel of Christ might then take root
and spread to all men of goodwill.

And yet, as our ecumenism and religious tolerance increases,
we find ourselves in the dilemma I mentioned earlier.
Sometimes in our rush to see the good in others,
we confuse cooperation and toleration with indifferentism,
truth with ignorance and error,
and even sometimes good with evil.
The good that is present seems to overshadow or mask that which is lacking.

But its important to remember
that just as Jesus insists that we must recognize and respect
the truth that others possess,
he’s even more adamant that we can never compromise
on the fullness of the truth.
He tells his apostles: ” whoever is not against us is for us.”
but he immediately goes on to warn them:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

Now, I don’t mean to imply at that non-Catholics
should have a millstone tied around their neck.
The point is to consider the intensity with which Jesus insists
we not lead anyone astray from him in any way.
Notice that Christ calls us not to mislead his “little ones”
–but by that he means not only children, but all of us that he calls to
“become like these little ones.”
Its wrong to lead anyone away from Christ in anyway–even ourselves.

Leading people astray is easy nowadays
because there’s such a tendency in our society
to see the good in others and then immediately move
to accept everything about the person as good.
We see this everyday.
Sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in a radical and drastic way
by overtly rejecting Christ and his teachings or his Church.
For example, consider young couples living together before marriage.
How many Catholic parents have tolerated this in their adult children,
perhaps even letting the couples sleep in the same room
when they come to visit.
They focus on the good things about their children
and somehow let those excuse their gravely sinful behavior.
Those parents not only lead themselves astray,
they also lead these adult children astray,
and their younger children as well.
And in doing so cause all “these little ones …to sin.”

And I’m not going to point the finger at just lay people.
How many priests fall into this same trap?
And I’m not just talking about the terrible sexual scandals.
As terrible as those are, they are comparatively very rare.
More common are the times when priests lead little ones to sin
by the heresies they preach,
or the false compassion they show in the confessional.
For example, how many married couples tell me
“but Father, Fr. Smith told us contraception was okay.”
But Jesus had a much different approach to compassion:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off [He said].
It is better …to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go …the unquenchable fire.”

But sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in less dramatic ways,
such as when we accept anything less than the fullness of the faith,
either through ignorance, which is not knowing the fullness of the faith,
or through indifference,
which is disregarding the fact that this ignorance is a problem.
And this ignorance is a problem because while its not evil per se,
there’s no way that we’d ever say that this ignorance
–or lacking of the fullness of the faith–is a good thing.
So it would be wrong to mislead others by allowing them
to remain away from following the true Church of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
without making any effort to share the fullness of the Catholic faith with them,
whether it’s your fallen away Catholic brother,
who’s a great guy but just won’t go to Mass,
or your friend who’s a devout Evangelical,
and you think, well they love Jesus
so I don’t need to tell them about Catholicism.

But it’s easy to mislead people–especially ourselves.
It’s so very hard to walk the fine line between
on the one hand, recognizing the good that others do,
especially when they do it in Christ’s name,
and on the other, charitably rejecting what runs contrary
to the fullness of Christ’s teaching.

Of course all this has great practical application in our lives
—in our families, at work and in society in general.
But especially right now in the middle of a heated political campaign season,
it’s so easy to get confused—to be misled or mislead ourselves.
We so often look at a candidate and want to see the good in them,
and then let the good we see excuse some evil policy they embrace.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to focus on our differences with someone
and fail to recognize the good policies that they embrace
—the good values we have in common with them.

And in all this we fail to recognize, we mislead ourselves,
as to who is for us and who is against us.

For example, in our presidential contest.
We have one candidate who is of a completely different faith than we are:
he’s a Mormon.
And make no mistake about it, Mormons are not Christians.
They say they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior,
but they don’t mean what we mean by that:
they do not believe in the Trinitarian God
—one God in three persons;
nor do they believe in the co-equal and co-eternal divinity
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
and I could go on and on.

And yet, you look at the lives that Mormons lead, their moral values,
and you see people striving to live very much as Catholics are striving to live.
In particular, you see in this “Mormon candidate”
a man who not only has a record of
serving those in need,
both personally and with extreme financial generosity,
but also someone who recognizes and promises to uphold
the most basic values Catholics hold dear:
the right to life, especially of unborn babies,
the true meaning of marriage
between one male and one female,
and the God-given right to practice our religion freely
without government coercion or persecution.

And then we have the other candidate, our current President,
who shares the basically same faith as we do
—although not a Catholic, he emphatically claims to be a Christian.
And he wraps himself in Biblical ethos:
he speaks of being “your brother’s keeper”;
and says “from to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
And he seems like a decent man—a good father and husband.
And yet he has consistently undermined
the most basic Christians values:
promoting the most extreme positions on abortion,
championing so-called “gay marriage”
and repeatedly violating the religious liberty of Christians,
especially Catholics,
including trying to force us to provide insurance
to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Who really is for us, and who is really against us?
Who is leading us and our “little ones” astray?

We can never completely reject those who would—intentionally or unintentionally—
lead us astray of the Gospel in any way
because then we’d wind up rejecting almost everyone
and whatever truth they posses, or good they do.
But we must also be so careful not to let the good that we see in others
cause us to fail to recognize what is lacking
—and even the evil that is there.

In those who actively oppose Christ and His Church,
we must recognize evil,
even as we see the good they may do.
In those who love Christ but don’t share in the fullness of the faith,
we must recognize not evil but ignorance,
even as we see the true beauty of the faith they do have
–a faith that may be 10 times as strong as yours or mine.
And in those who love Christ but who cannot see
that God wants neither evil nor ignorance for his children,
we must recognize the sin of indifference.

Today, let us pray for the gift to see Christ’s truth
and his goodness in all those around us,
as we strive for Christian unity,
the conversion of the whole world,
and goodwill among all peoples.
But let us also pray that we may always discern clearly
what is for Christ and what is against him.
And let us pray that we may never, in even the smallest way
–either by our sin, or indifference or ignorance—
lead anyone, especially ourselves, away from the fullness of life with Christ.

September 23, 2012

Good News. I am happy to report that Fr. Joby Thomas has returned to his religious order in India. Thank you for your prayers for him.

Confessions with 2 Priests. Over the last few years our parish has been blessed to have multiple priests available for hearing confessions. Last year, for example, we had 4 priests in-house, plus sometimes Fr. Daly, so that on most Saturday afternoons there were 4 priests hearing confessions, and sometimes 5. However, as you know, we now have only 2 priests living here, and although Fr. Daly is still helping when he can, this will mean that most of the time we will only have 2 priests available on Saturday afternoons, and sometimes only have 1, and he may have to leave the confessional early to prepare to say 5pm Mass.

This will also affect other confession times besides Saturday—there may be some Sunday mornings when confessions will have to be canceled, and our past practice of hearing confessions every night during Advent and Lent seems to be practically impossible now.

I hope to maintain the current schedule as much as possible, but please be patient if and when things don’t work out as we hope. For example, if you stand in line for a long time waiting to go to confession only to have confessions end before you get your chance, instead of being upset, get on your knees and beg the Lord for more priests—both for our parish and for the diocese in general.

But there are some things we can do to make this a little easier on everyone. One thing is to consider the manner in which you go to confession. Some people approach confession as a counseling session, and tell the priest not only their sins but the problems that lead to sin, and even unrelated problems, and hope the priest can give them some good advice. Others tell the priest every detail of their sins, the background of why and when. There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches. Certainly the priest is happy to hear you out, and to give advice in difficult situations. Often it is helpful to the penitent (you) to get some things off your chest before the Lord. I understand that. But perhaps it is not necessary every time we go to confession, especially for those who confess frequently, and especially when there’s a long line waiting to confess. And if it is necessary, sometimes it’s better to schedule an appointment with a priest so that both you and he may talk freely without concern for the people waiting in line.

But sometimes these approaches simply stem from the fact that people don’t know what they should confess, or how to confess. For example, you might confess: “I had an argument with my wife. She wanted me to take the children to confession last Saturday, but I really wanted to watch the Notre Dame football game. I went to Notre Dame, my whole family did, all my brothers and sisters, and we’re all huge fans. So Saturday’s all about THE GAME. So we argued and called each other names, some pretty awful names. I called her one that really upset her, and I knew it would because her father used to use that with her mother, and she always hated it, and when I do that….Finally, she started to cry and took the kids to church herself. I felt really terrible about it right away, especially because not only did they see us fighting and name calling, but I love my kids and it looked like I loved football more than them. Plus I made it look like confession was unimportant to me, and it’s not! I love confession, always have. When I was a kid…”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, although it is a bit rambling. And I don’t write this to make fun, but to make a point. For most people, simply listing their sins, mortal sins being mentioned by kind and number, is adequate. Especially when 20 people are in line behind you, or one priest is hearing all the confessions. So instead, perhaps you might confess: “I have sinned gravely by viciously arguing with my wife, calling her very hurtful names, in front of my children. I also gravely scandalized my children by refusing to take them to confession because I wanted to watch football.” Or even, “I gravely sinned in arguing with my wife and scandalizing my children by demeaning the importance of confession.”

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Another true blessing in our parish is the opportunity to pray before our Eucharistic Lord exposed on the altar every Wednesday (8:30am to 7pm) and Friday (8:30am to 3pm). While I am pleased to see many people take advantage of this, there are some times of the day when it is difficult to find people to pray before our Lord, in particular 9:30am to 10:30am, and 5pm to 6pm (dinner time). I encourage all of you to take time to visit our Lord, whether reserved in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. And if you can, I ask you to sign up for an hour, especially one of those mentioned, so that our Lord would never be alone as He is exposed on the altar: “could you not watch with me one hour?” Please call Diane Spinelli (703.451.1779) or the parish office to sign up.

Fleur de lis. Several people have commented on the fleur de lis that decorate several of my vestments. Some think it’s the logo of the New Orleans Saints, and I wear it because I’m a fan of that team. Others recognize it as a symbol of France and think I’m giving a nod to my French ancestry. Not quite. The fleur de lis became a symbol of France (and thus the logo of New Orleans’ football team because of the city’s French roots.) because it is an ancient symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the people of France were, historically, deeply devoted. The fleur de lis (“the lily flower”) symbolizes Mary’s unique relationship to the Holy Trinity (the three petals of the fleur) and her unique purity: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens” (Song of Songs, 2:1-2). (Note: roses are also symbolic of Mary, the “rose of Sharon”).

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 16, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

“Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”
In a way, this question of Jesus is perhaps the most important question
any man can ask himself: “Who do I say Jesus is?”
And St. Peter gives the most important answer any man can give:
“You are the Christ,” the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord.

This is the answer every Christian must give
—it is the Christian’s fundamental profession of Faith.
Without this, then the rest of the Gospel is useless
—if for no other reason that Jesus admitted that he was the Christ
—and if Jesus wasn’t the Christ he was a liar—not to be believed at all.

But even more to the point,
if Jesus wasn’t the Christ,
then his death was useless and not salvific,
his promise to bring all those who love him
and follow his commandments to heaven.
and his promise to give us the grace to lead the life he calls us to
is empty.
Every thing he said is useless

But Jesus is the Christ
—and because we believe that, all the other things he said make sense,
and we can believe in them
and be open to the grace and the life they offer.

Faith in Jesus as the Christ—the redeemer the Messiah, the Son of God—
is the key to our salvation.

But is faith all we need?
Some of our protestant brothers and sisters, especially evangelicals, think so.
In the words of Martin Luther in the 16th century,
many protestants believe that we are “saved by faith alone”: “Sola Fide”.
Maybe you haven’t encountered this directly.
but I bet most of you have been asked, or at least heard,
the question:
“have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
This question is really another way of saying: “who do you say Jesus is”?
And to answer, “yes,” is to say, “I have faith in Christ.”
And because they believe that faith in Jesus is all you need to be saved,
when they ask this question, they are really asking “are you saved?”

Now, let me be clear: not all Protestants accept this doctrine nowadays.
But Luther and his modern day disciples,
believe that there is nothing we can do to be saved
—that Jesus did it all for us on the cross
and he pours the grace of the cross on us today
—so we can do nothing but believe in what Jesus does for us,
and that belief will save us.
It doesn’t matter what else you do—
—if you do or don’t sin, do or do not obey the commandments,
or if you do or don’t receive the sacraments,
or if you love your neighbor or not
—as long as you believe in Jesus.
As Luther wrote: “sin boldly, but believe more boldly”.

Now, Luther didn’t just make this notion of salvation by faith alone out of thin air
—he based it on several statements made by St. Paul,
and by Jesus himself.
For example, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
And Jesus says:
“he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
So if you were to take these kind of statements on their own,
they do seem to affirm that faith is the only thing that matters.

And Luther was not the first one to fall into this false understanding of faith.
Some of the early Christians were also tempted to make this same mistake.
And so St. James wrote to correct this error.
As we read in today’s 2nd reading from St. James:
“What good is it…if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
….faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

And as St. James goes on to say just a few verses later:
“Even the demons believe–and shudder….
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

And of course, St. James is not the only one to reject “faith alone”
and acknowledge that are works are essential to our salvation.
St. Paul also taught this.
As he went on to write the Romans:
“On the one hand, to those who persist in good work,
…he will give eternal life.
But for those who …reject the truth and follow evil,
there will be wrath and anger.”

But most importantly Jesus himself taught this.

He tells us to be saved we must be holy:
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
He tells us to be saved we must follow the commandments:
the rich young man
“came up to him, saying,
“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”
And he said to him, ….If you would enter life,
keep the commandments.”

He tells us to be saved we must love our neighbor:
“a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
….soul, …strength, and …mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

He tells us we must do good works:
“I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
….’Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,
you did it not to me.’
And they will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.”

And he gives us the sacraments which he tells us we must partake in:
For example, Baptism:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
And of course the Eucharist:
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”

Now some Protestants who follow “sola fide”
counter the idea of the necessity of doing good works
as simply being proof of our faith:
if you believe, naturally you’ll do good things.
You might ask, but what about people who do terrible things,
but claim they believe in Christ.
Luther’s response is that those people never really believed in the first place
—that if you really believe you won’t do terrible things,
because once you truly believe,
you can never ever lose your salvation.

But if that’s true why did St. Paul—who surely was filled with faith—
write that he was afraid of losing his salvation
by not doing what he should?
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
…I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air;
but I pommel my body and subdue it,
lest after preaching to others
I myself should be disqualified.”

Faith is the key to salvation.
But it is not all there is to salvation.
The key of faith opens the door
to all that we need to know and to do to be saved.

In today’s Gospel Peter is the first to declare the Church’s faith in Christ.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist records that Jesus tells Peter
that this insight has come from directly from God, his Father.
But later on when Peter refuses to believe Jesus
when he explains that he has to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die,
Jesus says: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Friends, to think as God does, is to believe in Jesus and His Gospel.
But the thing is, that Gospel has a content—Jesus taught us what God thinks,
and how God wants us to live, and do and love.
And to say we believe in Jesus,
but reject the content of his teaching,
including the things he said we must do to gain eternal life,
whether it’s keeping the commandments,
or loving God and your neighbor,
or being baptized,
or receiving and adoring the Eucharist as his body and blood,
or following the teachings and discipline
of Peter and his successors, the Popes,
if you reject those, well, as St. James says today: “what good is that?”

Jesus goes on to tell us today:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”
It is true that Christ’s Cross—and the love it expresses—
is the only thing that saves us.
But unless we live as he did, love as he loved, do as he commanded,
even if it means suffering for others,
or even losing our lives for the sake of what we believe–the Gospel
—we cannot live as he lives:
in the eternal and perfect joy and glory of heaven.

I am confident that our Protestant brothers and sisters who hold to “faith alone”
believe in Jesus Christ.
I am also confident that they also love the Lord Jesus,
and do many good works.
But we must not be confused between the relationship between faith and love,
and between believing and doing.
Eternal life comes to us not because we believe it will,
but because God loves us
and allows us to chose live in his love today and forever.

So let us have faith in Christ and believe and live the entirety of his teachings.
Including the teaching passed on to us by St. James:
“faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

September 16, 2012

Sad Announcement. Last Sunday I read the following statement at all the Masses. It was approved by both Bishop Loverde and myself:

Dear friends in Christ, as you know Fr. Joby Thomas left our parish last Wednesday. This came at the request of Bishop Loverde. As it turns out, Father [Joby’s] Superior General had not been aware that Father was ministering here and actually wants him to be with his community in India. So he is very grateful to Bishop Loverde for having asked Father to return and expects him to return soon. Unfortunately, Fr. Joby did not return [to India] on the day he was scheduled to leave. Therefore, to remove any confusion in the minds of the faithful, parishioners should know that Fr. Joby no longer has faculties to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Arlington. He is not permitted to say Mass, hear confessions, or preach. The best assistance to be extended to him is encouragement to return to India, in obedience to both our Bishop and his religious Superior.

I’m know this was a very difficult statement to hear/read, and that the situation has caused some of you particular distress and sadness. I also know it has generated quite a bit of conversation. I understand all this. So let me say that I am available if anyone needs to talk, or for any other assistance.

September 11. This last week America remembered that dark day in 2001 when Islamist terrorists viciously attacked our nation, and America finally entered a war that had been declared against us years before. We mourn the death of all those who died on 9/11/2001, and all those who have died in the “War on Terror,” most especially the American innocents, first responders, military and other brave supporting personnel. We pray for our beloved country, that the Lord send His holy angels to keep us safe, and that our hearts may turn to him so that we may be worthy to receive his tender mercy.

One of my most vivid memories of that terrible day and the weeks that followed is how the nation seemed to turn to God as one in prayer. We seemed to sense that despite our great military and economic power, in the end only God could keep us safe. And so the churches were filled and people were not ashamed to pray and talk about God in public. My, how things have changed in 11 years.

Did Democrats Delete “God,” and then “Boo” Him? In last week’s column I wrote about the Democratic National Convention and the party platform’s extreme positions on abortion. After I wrote that column it was reported that the party had also deleted the only specific reference to “God” from their platform. Then we watched on national TV as their leadership scrambled to put “God” back into it, and then as the crowd of delegates loudly booed their efforts. Were they booing “God”? Some argue “no”—they were voting and booing against the re-insertion of the language about Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or against the chairman’s obvious and distinctly un-democratic (in the widest sense) disregard of the actual voice-vote which seemed clearly to reject the amendments.

Perhaps. But why did they delete “God” in the first place? In 2004 (i.e., the first post 9/11 platform) “God” was mentioned by name seven times.

Now, many have pointed out that “religion” and “faith” are specifically discussed favorably in several places in the platform—so that this proves the party isn’t “against God.” But there’s a big difference between 1) respecting other people’s faith and religion, versus 2) declaring that there IS A GOD who gives us “rights” and “potential.” It is this latter principle that is at the foundation of our nation: God gives us rights, not any man or government. Failure to recognize this tends to delegitimize a political party, as they distance themselves from the most basic and foundational American principle.

To be fair and non-partisan, the 2012 Republican platform mentions “God” ten (10) times, and refers to “God-given” rights etc. seven (7) times. And, amazingly, it quotes George Washington: “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Gestures at Mass. It’s always interesting to me to watch the acts of personal piety performed during Mass by our congregants. One example is the way some make the Sign of the Cross over themselves during the prayer after the Confiteor as the priest says, “May Almighty God have mercy on us…” This gesture is neither part of the actual norms of the Mass nor is it part of our tradition. Let me clarify that: traditionally, in the “Old Mass” the Sign of the Cross was never made during this prayer, but rather it was made during a prayer before the Confiteor and a prayer after the “May Almighty God…” When the Mass began to change in 1965 or so, and those prayers were deleted, the practice of crossing oneself was so ingrained in the faithful that many continued to do it.

I supposed one could say this signing is “wrong” since it is not mentioned in the norms. Remember, the law is that, “no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the Liturgy.” But I would never say it is “wrong” to make this Sign of the Cross, considering that 1) the norms apply more strictly to priests and the congregation than to individuals, 2) it springs from an ancient practice, 3) it is a pious act, 4) it does not contradict an affirmative instruction (the norms don’t say you must not do this), and 5) many individuals perform much less pious and traditional gestures during Mass. So, as a liturgical purist it sort of causes me to pause, but as a pious pastor I appreciate the piety behind it.

Given that, I find it interesting that so many do this gesture and others, which are not required, and yet most do not do many of the gestures that are required. For example, most people don’t bow their heads, as the norms require, at the names of Jesus, Mary, and the saint of the day, or at formula “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” Also, many do not bow their bodies during the Creed at the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

Hey, it’s not the end of the world. And I don’t mean to pick on anyone. But let’s make a friendly deal: do your acts of personal piety (within reason), but also try to remember the gestures the norms require.

We Need Ushers. We are in great need of ushers at most Masses, especially adults. Please contact Paul DeRosa in the parish office if you are interested.

Parish Picnic. Remember to save the date of our annual picnic: Sunday, September 30, 1pm to 4pm. A great way to get to know your fellow parishioners.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

September 9, 2012

Welcome, Fr. Joseph Kenna. I’m sure you all join me in extending a warm and heartfelt welcome to Fr. Kenna, our new Parochial Vicar. It’s great to have him here, and I look forward to working with him to help you all draw closer to Christ and His Church. Of course, Father will need a little time to get his feet firmly on the ground, change is hard as we all know. But I know he’s looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work and to know all of you. Please join me this afternoon (Sunday) after the 12:15 Mass for a welcoming reception/lunch for Father in the Parish Hall.

Religious Education Classes (“CCD”) Starts Tonight! With school starting up for all of our kids in the last two weeks I’m sure they’ve all (at least the public school kids) have been chomping at the bit to get back to religion classes. All kidding aside, there is no more important thing a child studies than his/her religion; the First Commandment tells us: “I am the LORD your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.” If we dedicate time going to school to learn about secular subjects like math, science, and history, but don’t spend time learning about God, don’t we make those secular subjects into false gods and place them ahead of The True God? It is one of a parent’s most fundamental obligations, a grave duty, to educate his/her children in the faith. And children, how can you love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength—how can you love anyone even a little bit—if you don’t know about him?

So I look forward to seeing all of you in religion class this week, and throughout the year. But remember, you only get out of something what you put into it. I expect all students to prepare for class, do their homework, and participate actively in class. And parents, remember that you are the primary educators of your children: CCD is only here to help you. So you must continue their religious education at home, including by making sure your children take their CCD classes seriously.

And I know you will! God bless you all as you begin the new school year!

Voter Registration. Well, as is obvious to anyone who browses the internet, picks up a paper or turns on the TV, there’s a big election coming on November 6. Remember what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2240) teaches: “co-responsibility for the common good make[s] it morally obligatory …to exercise the right to vote…” Since the we, the citizens of the United States, enjoy supreme sovereignty in this democratic- republic, it is imperative that we exercise that sovereignty by voting for, or choosing, the officials who will represent us well in the government.

But you can’t vote if you aren’t registered to vote. So many times forgetting to do this very simple thing does what no foreign power has been able to do for 230 years—take away the individual’s right to vote. Most of us are already registered to vote here in Fairfax, but some of you tell me you haven’t voted in a while, and I know a lot of our parishioners have moved recently, and most every time you move you have to register to vote in your new state or county.

So, to help you in this regard, next weekend we will have folks manning a table in the narthex with forms and instructions to register you to vote in Fairfax County.

Also if you think you’re going to be away from home or otherwise might not be able to get to the polls on November 6, you should seriously consider voting absentee, if you are eligible to do so. You can vote absentee in one of 2 ways: 1) go into one of 7 special voting locations between October 17 and November 3, or 2) vote absentee by mail. Voting by mail is easiest for a lot of folks, but to do that you have to first apply for an absentee ballot. Next weekend’s table will also have Absentee Ballot Application Forms available for those wishing to exercise that option.

The last day to register to vote is Monday, October 15th, and last date to apply for an absentee ballot by mail is Tuesday, October 30th.

New Precinct Polling Location. You should also note that the voting/poll location for one local precinct has changed this year. Those of us in Precinct 806 will no longer vote at Hunt Valley Elementary School, but will now be voting at the Sydenstricker Methodist Church, 8508 Hooes Road, which is on the north side of the Parkway, just off Sydenstricker. Note that Precinct 807, which has also been voting at Hunt Valley Elementary School will remain at Hunt Valley ES. Your Precinct number is found on your voter registration card.

For more information go to: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/ (there is also a link on our parish website). You can also check on your registration status on this web page.

Democratic Convention. It is a terrible thing that one of our two major political parties, the Democrat Party, so stridently supports the right of a mother to kill her unborn baby, i.e., abortion. The week before last pro-abortion (so called “pro-choice”) pundits ridiculed a Republican Senate candidate for his opposition to abortion in the case of rape and incest (less than 1% of all abortions)—i.e., giving the death penalty to the innocent child for his father’s crime. But this week the Democrat Party, at its National Convention, trotted out speaker after speaker who actively support the most barbarically extreme positions on abortion—including partial birth abortion and allowing babies who survive abortions to die without medical attention. Not to mention, they once again nominated for President a man who holds those same extreme positions: Barrack Obama. Not only that, they released a platform document—their official statement of their political positions—that officially endorses all forms of abortion: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” This is basically the same position they’ve embraced for years, except that this year they added something new: “regardless of ability to pay.” In other words, they support taxpayer funded abortion, something that 72% of Americans oppose. They want to force you and me to pay for abortions Who is the extremist?

Tomorrow: Weekday Mass Changes to 8 A.M. Please remember that beginning tomorrow, Monday, September 10, Mass will no longer be offered at 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday, but will be moved to 8:00 a.m.. Let this be an opportunity for all you who find 6:30 Mass “too early” and 9:00 Mass “too late” to finally start coming to morning Mass at the “just right” time of 8:00. (The M-F 6:30am Mass will stay as usual, as will the Wednesday 7:00pm Mass and Saturday 9:00am Mass).
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 9, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

As you probably know at its founding America
was an overwhelmingly Protestant country.
But as time passed millions of Catholics began to immigrate in search of
new opportunities and freedom.
They found both of those, but they also found prejudice against them
—both because of their foreign habits and accents,
and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.
So many times they had to fend for themselves
—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,
and schools for their children.
And most of that time this assistance was organized by and in the Church.
Great Catholics like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann,
and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,
founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,
by simply helping their neighbor out when they needed a break.
Mr. Giovanni ran a tab for Mrs. Romano at the grocery store
—he knew she’d pay when she could.
And Mrs. O’Hara let the whole Callaghan family move into her house
when Mr. Callaghan died in a mining accident.

As time has passed that same attentiveness to public acts of mercy and charity
has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,
but it’s gradually been translated in very different ways.
As Catholics came to have more and more of a political voice,
we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions
to the problems of healthcare and poverty,
programs like
Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and aid to dependent children.

At the same time, as Catholics also became more economically prosperous,
they also became very supportive, financially,
of great Catholic charitable institutions
—building a huge system of first class Catholic
hospitals, schools and universities,
and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities,
and Catholic Relief Services.

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics
—it is a great expression of the honest and deep rooted Christian desire
to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,
who cured the sick, who “made the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
We can be proud of ourselves.

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,
and even a loss of true charity.
First is the danger of taking charity, an act of love,
and turning it over to bureaucrats.
I mean no disrespect to so many good folks who work hard
in government sponsored social welfare programs.
But even these folks have to admit that that there’s way to much bureaucracy,
which not only inhibits their effectiveness,
but can often also transform charity from an act of love
into an act of cold administration.
One way to counter that problem is the way Catholics have so often:
by directly supporting Catholic organizations,
like the Little Sister of the Poor, or the Missionaries of Charity,
who work with minimal administrative hassle,
and with the loving touch of Christ himself.

But, I must admit, even that doesn’t address the problem that really concerns me.
Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,
or giving a check to the good sisters,
giving money is not enough to satisfy the Christian duty to give charity.

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:
“Jesus went …into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment….”
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;
…and said to him, “Ephphatha!”…”Be opened!”
Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?
He’s\ God—he doesn’t have to go someplace to perform a miracle:
remember the words of the Roman centurion,
who asked Jesus to cure his servant, but then added,
in words now quoted 100s of 1000s of times every day:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”
Why does Jesus go to the man?
And why does Jesus touch the man, why does he speak to a deaf man?
He doesn’t have to do or say a thing to heal, he just has to will it.
Why does he do all this?

There are two basic reasons.
The first is to give us an example of love,
Christ has the power to heal from far away, but he chooses to go to the deaf man
to show that he, Jesus, personally loves that man.

We also have a power similar to Christ’s, although not as mysterious:
we also don’t have to go to people to help them,
we can simply write a check for a large amount of money,
money that seems to perform miracles for people
—people far away, that we never actually see in person.
Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where
that money in a way translates into human love,
by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.
But in the end, does it communicate your love?
In the end have you really given your love—or have you just given money?

The thing is, your act of love is not just necessary for the poor or sick person
—its necessary for you also!
God created you to give yourself, not to give a check.
You can never be happy, you can never become what God created you to be,
you can never be like Jesus Christ,
if you do not personally give your love to those in need of it.

The other reason Jesus healed the sick in person was,
to show that he was the messiah that the prophets had foretold,
and that he had the power of God himself.
As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:
“Here is your God,…
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
By showing this power, people begin to listen to him, and that’s what he wanted.
It’s no mistake that Jesus says out loud to the deaf man
who can’t even hear him:
“Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”
By performing this miracle of love,
the ears and hearts and minds of this man and his friends
would now be open to hear him,
and believe his words.

One of the problems with sending money
and letting other people do our charitable work
it that it can totally remove Christ and his power from the picture.
This is a huge problem with lots of organizations that help those in need,
especially with government social programs.
A government social worker can’t even say “God bless you,”
much less explain that the love of Christ
is the reason they’re doing their job.
And even some so-called Catholic charitable organization’s
have the same problem:
it wasn’t so long ago that one of the largest Catholic organizations
was giving funds to abortion providers.
I’d say they’d managed to take Christ out of charity with that.

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,
and we, individually, are the members of the Body.
You are his hands, you are his fingers.
He sends you out to show not only your love, but also his love, and his power.
He sends you to be like the people in today’s Gospel,
who couldn’t help but tell everyone about his power.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you all have to
volunteer to work full-time with some charity
–although that’s not a bad idea.
But it does mean that when opportunities arrive to show the mercy of Christ in
your life, you must do so.
Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,
every day Jesus brings someone to you who needs his mercy.

Sometimes this is in small things:
maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,
so you stop to tell them a joke.
Sometimes its’ in larger matters:
maybe your elderly parents are having a hard time taking care of themselves,
so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;
or maybe your neighbor’s lost his job, even his home,
and you let his family live in the basement apartment
your parents used to live in.

Now, not everyone who comes to us asking for help is sent by God.
Unfortunately, there are some very bad people out there
who simply try to take advantage of us,
and are not as need as they pretend.
So as St. Paul reminds us,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
And as Jesus tells us:
“be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
So you have to discern, maybe give yourself some objective rules to help your mind guide your heart.
Still, be willing and when it’s possible be ready
to show Christ’s love by your generosity.

Great acts of charity are a vital part of the history of the Catholic Church,
especially in America.
I hope that you will continue that great tradition by continuing
to give to the great Catholic charitable institutions.
But I also exhort you not to settle for that
—to remember that the power of the check book
cannot communicate your love,
and you cannot personally communicate Christ’s love through cash.
Hear what Christ is telling you in Scripture today: “Ephphatha, be opened.”
And open yourselves up to live in the charity of Christ.

September 2, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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