1st Sunday of Lent 2013

February 17, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

This last Monday the world woke up to the stunning news
that Pope Benedict XVI would resign, effective at the end of this month.
The first reaction of most of us seemed to be shock.
Which led to an initial response, even from the media,
that was very human:
one expressing human warmth and affection
toward this great and holy man,
and sadness that he would be leaving us.

But this didn’t last long—at least not for “the world” and it’s media.
As the surprise wore off, so did the positive news coverage,
as the message began change.
The coverage fell into the usual predictable paradigm
of seeing the Church as a merely human institution
And–surprise surprise—it turns out the media’s judgment
is largely that Benedict XVI was a failure as pope,
that under him the Church has become irrelevant
and that in order to make a comeback
his successor has to change the Church
to become more in line with the values of the world.

All this as we begin Lent, the holiest, most unworldly season of the year.

Today’s Gospel is a summation of Lent.
Like Jesus, for 40 days we go out into the desert,
to be purified and prepared to enter into our true mission,
which is to live and proclaim the Gospel of salvation.

In daily life it’s easy to get fixated on the good things of creation, “creatures,”
versus the goodness of the Creator,
and to make them more important, to love them more than God.
Whether its material stuff, like food or drink, or nice homes or money;
or even people that we genuinely care for or simply use for our enjoyment;
or popularity or merely acceptance.
It’s easy to cling to these things.
But in Lent we go into a spiritual desert with Christ
to try to strip away anything that leads us away from God,
any inordinate attachments to things, or to sins.

And so we do penances, in particular making sacrifices,
giving up things just as Jesus gave up everything in desert:
reminding us we are in the desert, trying to focus on the Creator.

And we pray: again, me and the creator.
And this prayer consists both in our private conversations with God,
and with the unified worship of the Church as the Body of Christ.
And so it includes most importantly the sacraments,
especially the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance,
where we encounter Christ most intimately,
both individually and as the Church, and he leads us to his Father.
His grace pouring out on us, strengthening us, and bringing us closer to him.
Me and Jesus.
Us and Jesus, alone in the desert with His Father and Spirit.

To me it seems Benedict’s resignation as we enter Lent is perfect timing.
Because it reminds us that like Christ himself,
the Church cannot go forward with its mission
unless we are constantly purified and renewed,
constantly stripping away the things of the world
and refocus on Christ and his grace.
Then and only then can we go forward to live and proclaim the gospel.

What a perfect atmosphere in which to pick a new pope,
who will lead us forward to live and proclaim the Gospel.

But that is the exact opposite of what we see in the media.
And let me stop here and say, this isn’t merely a critique of the media
—the media is simply all too often the voice of
what Jesus used to call “the world”:
the worldly values that put the creature before the creator.

The media sees the electing of the new pope in strictly worldly terms.
For example, it points to some corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy,
and makes the election about choosing a competent CEO/manager.
Or it points to declining Mass attendance,
or in the number of Catholics who disagree with Catholic moral teaching,
and it says we need a “progressive” pope to make changes
to modernize the church
And it points to the increasing importance of itself—the media—
and says we need a pope who has media-savvy,
and is a crowd-pleaser
and a great communicator, especially with the young.

And of course, they see the antithesis of this in Benedict:
they call him bookish, professorial, aloof, doctrinally rigid,
and managerially in over his head.

But the thing is, as Jesus reminded the first Pope, St. Peter, his job was to be,
“thinking …as God does, [not] as human beings do.”
And once when Peter failed to do that Jesus said to him:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”

Anytime we think merely as human beings do
—as sinners caught up in the things of the world—
we become obstacles to Christ and his mission in the world,
taking the side of Satan.

We go into the desert, now, to get away from all that—the world.
But notice what happens to Jesus at the end of the 40 days.
There’s that old Satan, the Devil, there to tempt him.
And notice how he does that.

First, he says: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
Now, Jesus had given up food for 40 days,
perfecting his self-discipline over the desires of the flesh
—even the good and natural desires.
Not because the flesh is bad,
but because all human desires and all good things can be corrupted
if we don’t remember what they’re for, and use them properly.
So, for example, even love can be corrupted: you can love someone,
but selfishness can corrupt that love
and wind up smothering the other person.

Christ goes into the desert, and we go into lent,
to focus on loving not the created good, but the Creator
and then asking letting the Creator tell us what he created this thing for.
And so Jesus answered the devil:
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

In the midst of the Pope’s resignation and succession,
so many are caught in focusing on the created things, not on the Creator.
Some people say: “the new pope has needs to change the teaching on xyz.”
But all they’re really saying is “focus on the creatures and what they say.”
But what the Church must do and say is,
“focus on the Creator, and what God says.”

In his second temptation the devil showed Jesus,
“all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant,”
and “said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Sometimes if you listen carefully, it seems like the world has its own religion,
that some call “secularism.”
Here again, the object of worship is the created thing, not the creator.
The feelings of the creature, and the enjoyment of created things
—this is what so many, including ourselves a lot of the time,
are devoted to.

And if you don’t think the devil is a working behind the scenes to promote this,
just look at the Gospels.
Notice how the devil tries to tempt Jesus:
he’s trying to appeal to what he sees in all other men
—this disordered love for created things.
He’s not inventing it, but he’s an expert at manipulating and confusing.
And in doing that, the devil places his word, not God’s word,
as the way of ordering our approach to creatures.
And so we wind up serving him—a creature!

But of course, Jesus isn’t like other men
—he sees things clearly and hears the Word of his Father distinctly.
And so he says in reply,
“It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Nowadays, everyone’s’ trying to tell us what we should think,
and telling us their own version of good and evil.
You hear people say, well everyone does it,
or the polls show that people think this is good or bad.

You know what?
Who cares?
Whether it’s in our own life or in the life of the Church,
whether it’s in personal moral decisions
or the election of new pope,
do we serve polls? do we serve creatures?
Or do we worship and serve the Lord, our God?

For his third temptation Satan led Jesus to the top of the temple,
“and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels …to guard you…”

Here he appeals to ultimate disordered corruption of the love of creatures
–where the creature loves himself above all things.
Again, thinking Jesus is just an ordinary man,
Satan appeals to his pride:
“you’re so wonderful, do what you want
and God will obediently come to your aid.”

Many of us think the same thing every day:
“God loves me so much, even though he says xyz is a sin,
he won’t hold it against me.”
So, the creator becomes the servant, God worships man.
And so “Jesus said to him …, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

If you listen carefully to what some are saying
about Pope Benedict and his successor, you hear this same thing
“The next pope needs change its teaching on
marriage, or whatever.”
As if the Pope can just change whatever he wants,
even when it goes directly against the teaching of Christ.
As if God will say, oh, okay, you know best…
I’m just the all-knowing, all-loving, all-power Creator of the universe,
and you are, after all, the Pope.

It just doesn’t work that way—he is God, and the pope is his servant,
not the other way around.

In Lent we go out into the desert with Christ to be purified by penance and grace,
to love God above all things.
This Lent the cardinal-electors in Rome must do the same thing,
and we must join them in solidarity.
God, Christ, comes first.
Me and Jesus, the Church and God.

And in his mercy, God has provided us with a magnificent example to follow: Pope Benedict himself.
It’s clear from the words of his resignation and everything he’s’ said since
that he made this decision not to serve himself, but God alone.

To him, nothing’s been more important than God.
Not food, as the devil tried to tempt Christ.
Not personal comfort, not a powerful job.

To him, it’s all about worshipping God, not the things God created.
Like Jesus’ response to the devil’s offer to worship him,
Benedict reminds us that we don’t worship the man who is pope,
we revere the office he holds, but worship God alone.
In stepping down, he reminds us that the pope is just a man,
and has authority only to the extent Christ gives it to him.

And to him, it’s not about pride or self-importance.
As he steps off the throne,
the murmurs of the media and his enemies grow louder and louder
—he was an ineffective pope, a bad manager,
a disappointment after John Paul II.
But he smiles, waves goodbye, and serenely entrusts the judgment of his papacy
not to the world or its media,
and not even so much to history,
but fundamentally to the judgment of God alone.

What a great gift the lord Jesus gives us in the office of Pope,
to shepherd his flock, to be rock of strength for 2000 years.
And what a great gift Jesus gave us in Benedict,
a brilliant, brave and clear-sighted shepherd,
but above all a humble, holy servant of God.

Would that we might imitate Benedict this Lent,
as he goes off to a life of prayer and reflection
—off to his own desert of sorts.
Him and Christ in the desert.
Let us pray that we and the whole Church may imitate him as he imitates Christ,
not clinging to the creatures of the world or seeking to serve them first,
but clinging to Christ,
and seeking serve our Creator,
Father Son and Holy Spirit,
First, last and always.

February 10, 2013

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As I’ve said many times, this is my favorite season, in as much as it calls us to meditate on the ineffable and immense love of God that it would lead Him to die for our sins. At the same time, then, it is also a time to consider our sins—how we have failed to love him—and to work to overcome them, through our diligent efforts and His grace.

Lent, of course, brings a much busier parish schedule, which we’ve laid out in detail in this week’s insert. Please keep this insert in a central place in your home to remind you of the many opportunities for spiritual growth the parish offers this Lent. Please also note, we will NOT be adding any Masses to our Lent schedule, e.g., we will have an evening weekday Mass only on Wednesdays (as usual). But we will be adding confessions every weekday evening (see the insert for details).

Ashes will be distributed at all 4 Masses on Ash Wednesday: 6:30am, 8am, 12noon and 7pm. Since ashes are merely symbolic, and not a sacrament, they may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. (Note: There are no confessions scheduled on Ash Wednesday).

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence, and every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence. Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is a grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days, and binds all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Even though these rules do not bind all age groups, all are encouraged to follow them to the extent possible. Children in particular learn the importance of penance from following the practice of their older family members. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.

Of course all Catholics are encouraged to do personal acts of penance throughout the season of Lent, traditionally of three types: almsgiving (including acts of charity), sacrifice (what you “give up”), and prayer. Please choose your penances carefully, considering your health and state in life. Challenge yourself, but pick things you can actually do, rather than things that are so lofty or difficult that you may easily give up on them. Offer all this in atonement for your sins and as acts of love for the God who, out of love, died on the Cross for your sins.

Sacrament of Penance. Confession is really key to our fruitful observance of Lent. In fact, it is one of the Precepts of the Church that all Catholics “shall confess your sins at least once a year,” which is usually tied to the Lenten season. I strongly encourage that you take advantage of our extended Lent confession schedule—confessions are scheduled every day in Lent (accept Ash Wednesday). However, I ask that you do not postpone your confession to the end of Lent, as many did last year, when we had to have four priests hearing long lines—literally “out the door”—every weekday evening in the last two weeks. This year, with only two priests, if that same phenomena occurs it will extremely difficult on all of us. So, again, please go to confession early on in Lent, especially if you don’t go to confession frequently. As I did in Advent, I am trying to get extra visiting priests to come and help with confessions—but this is not an easy task since confessors are in such high demand during Lent.

Also, I remind you that while we schedule confessions every Sunday morning, that is not the optimal time to go to confession, since only one priest is hearing confession and stops hearing once Mass begins (those attending Sunday Mass should normally be participating in the Mass, not in confession). Moreover, Sunday confession times are provided not as a mere convenience but mainly to meet the real needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days or are otherwise in need of the sacrament.

Lenten Series. As I mentioned last week, Fr. Paul Scalia will be giving a Lenten series every Thursday evening during Lent, beginning February 21st. His topic will be “The Beatitudes: The Ladder to Holiness.” I highly encourage all of you to attend these talks.

SCOUT SUNDAY and BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA. Today, Sunday, we will remember “Scout Sunday” at the 8:45 Mass, followed by a ceremony in the Parish Hall honoring all those involved in scouting in our parish: Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorers, American Heritage Girls, etc.. I am happy to recognize the good and hard work these children and their adult leaders do and the good qualities they take away from traditional scouting! So please join me in saluting and encouraging them all, especially our boys and girls and young men and women. God bless them all!

But on a national and international level, traditional scouting values have come on hard times. As I mentioned in last week’s column, this last Wednesday (Feb. 6) the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (NEB) was supposed to vote on whether to change their rules to allow actively “gay” persons to become members and leaders in Boy Scouts. This would have been the death knell for traditional scouting as we know it.

Thanks be to Christ, as I write this column (on Wed., Feb. 6) the word comes that the NEB has decided to postpone any decision and lay the matter before a vote of the 1,400 member National Council of the BSA at their National Annual Meeting in May. This surprise about-face is directly the result of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of complaints registered against the proposal in just in the last few days. So I want to thank all of you who prayed and called, emailed or wrote BSA—you made a difference! Unfortunately, though, this is just a postponement, and we must keep up our efforts to protect our boys from the potentially devastating effects of this still-proposed change, and to keep the Boy Scouts “morally straight.”

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

February 3, 2013

Last Week’s Bulletin. I apologize that we were not able to distribute the complete 6 page bulletin to you last week. I hope the single-sheet “abbreviated bulletin” we threw together was helpful, and I’m sorry if any group felt short changed if something they had running in the full bulletin was omitted. By now I hope you all received your copy of that full bulletin, mailed to each parish household courtesy of the bulletin company.

Lent Series. Lent is just around the corner and we will soon give you details about the Lenten schedule. But I wanted to announce early on that Fr. Paul Scalia (Bishop’s Delegate for Clergy) will be giving a Lenten series on five Thursday evenings, beginning Feb. 21. Father’s topic: “The Beatitudes.” Fr. Scalia is a bright and gifted speaker, and I am delighted he has agreed to speak. Please mark your calendar.

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As I wrote in last week’s column, St. Raymond’s will take part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” I hope you will be able to actively participate in all 5 parts:
1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour on every last Wednesday of the Month, from 6pm to 7pm.
2) Daily Rosary.
3) Praying for life, marriage and religious liberty at every Mass, both privately and in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful.
4) Meatless Fridays: abstaining from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year.
5) Observing a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the two weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA AND “GAYS.” Perhaps you’ve heard by now that after years of courageously fighting off efforts by gay activists the Boy Scouts of America is now considering repealing their national policy prohibiting membership by openly “gay” people (both at the scout and adult leader levels) and leaving it to the local chartering organizations (e.g., St. Raymond’s) to set policy for their particular troops. BSA’s statement reads in part:

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.

This change in policy is greatly disappointing: another huge loss for common sense, morality, Christianity and America. And although the proposed BSA policy change would allow troops like the one at St. Raymond’s to determine its own policy in this regard, Scout troops do not operate in a vacuum, but rather in conjunction and cooperation with other troops locally, statewide and nationally. On a practical level that means, for example, that since not all troops would keep the ban in place, our own local/parish policy would be useless any time our boys took part in any of the many activities open to other troops.

But there is more to this than the “practical.” What does it say when a group dedicated to forming men to fulfill their “duty to God and country” and to be “morally straight” doesn’t understand one of the most basic concepts of morality and human nature? What does it say when a group for years strenuously fights the forces of immorality, and then one day simply capitulates? What does it say that we continue as members of this group?

Consider the words of Jesus: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” First “gay” activists just wanted their basic rights protected, and we agreed because it was only just. Then they wanted special laws to protect them from hate, and since Christians are against hate, we agreed. But then they said that if we call what they do or feel a “disorder” or a “sin,” then we are the haters, and no organization can be tolerated that takes a position they deem to be “hateful” toward them. And now they demand that we call their perverted relationships by the sacred name of “marriage.”

The modus operandi is clear. If they win this victory at BSA, they will not stop there. Why should they? The next step will be to use this victory to attack the local chartering organizations, like the troop at St. Raymond’s.

Well, as for me, as pastor and the one responsible for the troop, who signs the charter agreement every year, if this change is made I will not let our parish be associated with this group or provide the opportunity for my spiritual children to be.

So if this policy change goes through, St. Raymond’s will severe its relationship with BSA. No more compromising with the devil.

Now, lets’ be clear: I very much want to keep Scouting at St. Raymond’s, and the change has not been made yet. But the BSA board meets this coming Tuesday to make a decision. So it’s not too late to do something , but we must act quickly. Please call the BSA at 972-580-2000 to tell them that this change must not be made. You might also contact them through their website, http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx. You can also contact The Catholic Committee on Scouting at NCCS@scouting.org.

But most of all, pray. Pray that God will spare this organization that has done so much for so many young men, to teach them to be dutifully serve God and country, and to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And pray, through the intercession of St. George (patron of scouting) and St. Raymond, that we will be able to continue to offer our boys the benefits of scouting.

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

January 27, 2013

Back from South Bend. As I wrote in my last column, I was out of town last weekend, officiating at a family wedding in South Bend, IN. It was a great weekend, not only because of the wedding, but also since I was able to visit with all my brothers and sisters and most of my nieces , nephews, grand-nephews and grand-nieces. But I have to apologize: it seems I brought the frigid cold weather back with me to NoVa. Sorry.

Fighting the Good Fight. This last week we witnessed 2 important events on the National Mall in Washington: on Monday it was the second inauguration of President Obama and on Friday it was the March for Life. It is a sad thing that these 2 events stand in opposition to each other, but they do, since the first involves the retaining of the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history, and the second involved, necessarily, standing in opposition to that president.

But even though Christians may find themselves feeling discouraged at the inauguration of a this man who is not only strongly pro-abortion but also actively promotes contraception, “gay marriage,” and oppression of religious liberty, we should also take heart. First, we remember that every presidential inauguration also celebrates the peaceful passing of power according to the free election of the people. So that it refreshes our hope that the “game is not up,” and we redouble our efforts to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, and look forward to seeing that bear fruit in future inaugurations. And second, with the gathering of hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers in the same location just 4 days after this inauguration we remember that we are not alone and are not defeated. Rather, with faith in Christ and in His grace, we begin again to “fight the good fight.”

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As part of this “good fight” I am inviting all St. Raymond parishioners to join me in taking part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” This initiative involves 5 parts:

1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour: Every Last Wednesday of the Month we will have a Holy Hour from 6pm to 7pm, and offer special prayers for life, marriage and religious liberty. This will take place during the last hour of the currently regularly scheduled Wednesday Exposition and Adoration. The first “Holy Hour for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty” will take place this coming Wednesday, January 30, at 6pm.

2) Daily Rosary: All parishioners are asked to pray the Daily Rosary, either individually or as a family, for life, marriage and religious liberty.

3) Intentions at Mass: We will continue to include petitions for the protection of life, marriage and religious liberty in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful, and I ask that those who attend weekday Mass keep these intentions in your prayers at those Masses.

4) Meatless Fridays: As I have often reminded you, the Lord taught his apostles that some terrible evils are conquered only through acts of penance: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). With that in mind, and following the Bishops’ current initiative, I encourage all parishioners to abstain from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year. (Of course, Catholics are required to do some form of penance every Friday of the year. Traditionally, the penance normally offered on Fridays is abstinence from meat, although most Catholics either replace it with another form of penance [which is permitted] or neglect to offer any penance at all [not permitted]. During Lent abstinence from meat is absolutely required on every Friday for all Catholics over 13 years of age. Note, however, except in Lent, failure to do Friday penance does not constitute a mortal sin).

5) This summer we will observe a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the 2 weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

These are just a few small things we can do to help keep up the good fight for life, marriage and religious liberty in our parish and our country. I add to this list my own continuing invitation to parishioners to join me in abstaining from meat and praying the Rosary (at least) every Wednesday as well. And while all these small efforts will be effective in their own way, they also serve as reminders that we must constantly look for new ways to promote and encourage others in the truth, always charitably, respectfully and peacefully.

Next Sunday, Blessing of the Throats. As most of you know, every year on February 3, the Feast of St. Blaise, the Church provides a special “Blessing of Throats.” This year February 3 falls on a Sunday, so the Feast of St. Blaise is suppressed, but the Blessing of Throats will still take place in abbreviated form. Because of the large number of people at Sunday Mass, rather than giving individual Blessings with the candles, the Blessing will be given once for all present at each Mass as part of the final blessing at all Sunday Masses.

A Note from Deacon Barnes. Our good seminarian-deacon asked me to publish the following note to you all. Let us keep him in our prayers.

I am extremely grateful and humbled by everyone at St. Raymond’s for their prayers and support over these past six years as I near the completion of my formation for the priesthood. In particular, as some of you may know, I received the very generous and gracious offer from the parish to buy my first Mass vestment. Fr. De Celles has been so kind to me and has assisted me greatly in this process. A first Mass vestment is very special and important. You will see me use it when I, please God, celebrate my first Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Raymond’s on June 9. Celebrating Mass for the first time is something deeply treasured by anyone preparing for the priesthood, and it is made all the more special by this gift. Now that the vestment is finished and paid for, I wanted to express how thankful I am that the parish would do this for me. It is a stunningly beautiful vestment but more than that, it will be a great and undeserved honor to wear it and to pray with and for you as a priest of Jesus Christ. I will always think of all of you whenever I will use it. My hope is that my first Mass will also be an occasion which inspires more young men and women from our parish to answer the Lord’s tremendous call to serve Him and His Church as a priest or as a consecrated religious. Your generous support will certainly play a significant role in that regard. May God Bless you and thank you so much, Deacon Nicholas Barnes.

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

January 20, 2013

March for Life. This coming Friday, January 25, hundreds of thousands of Americans will gather on the Washington Mall to march to the Supreme Court in peaceful protest on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the terrible decision establishing the right to abortion in our country. I hope you will be there with me and 3 bus loads of your fellow parishioners to peacefully show your rejection of our nation’s continuing indifference to the senseless killing of over a million unborn babies a year.

If you’ve never been to the March you really ought to think of joining us this year. It is an incredible experience. Some people hear “March on the Mall” and they think of some sort of angry, even violent, demonstration. But it’s nothing like that. It’s actually an amazingly uplifting and prayerful experience as you walk in common cause with thousands of good people, mainly solid Christians (mostly Catholics, or so it seems). One thing you’d be struck by is the number of young people: little kids in strollers or holding their Daddy’s hand, and teenagers and college students smiling and laughing together, in between rounds of praying the rosary or chanting some youthful cheer for life. And they’re from all over the country—thousands travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to be there. What a great thing—what a great sign of hope—to see the youth fired up about something as positive as life. But, again, not with anger, but with love.

Then there are older and middle aged people, men and women, and tons of priests and religious sisters. People from all ages, all walks of life, all there to stand in unity to defend life.

Sure, there some fools who show up and are loud and offensive. But those are very few and far between, and they come and go. Yes, there’s an occasional offensive sign, but there are thousands of other signs calling us to prayer and to witness for the love of Christ, and love for babies.

I have to admit something to you. Since the devastating elections in November, re-electing the most pro-abortion, anti-Catholic and pro-decadence president in our nation’s history, I’ve been trying to figure out where we go from here. What do we do to protect our nation and our Church from the evil that lies in store? I’m still thinking about it, but I know that one thing we have to do is pick ourselves up and, by the grace of God, stand strong when opportunities to be heard present themselves. And the March for Life is one of those opportunities. The forces of the Culture of Death have won a victory, but it will be fleeting. The Culture of Life is the Culture of Christ, and Christ cannot be defeated. Sure, sometimes we have our setbacks, but we rise again to fight and win another day. And that’s what I invite you to do in joining us on the Mall this Friday.

I know that many folks won’t be able to join us, for lots of good reasons. But if you can’t come down to the Mall, make sure you do something. Stop for a while at work and pray the Rosary. Come by the church (or a church near your work) and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Start a thoughtful and charitable conversation about the truth about abortion with your co-workers or friends. Do something to peacefully and prayerfully support the Culture of Life.

But if you can join us for the March, we have three buses leaving from the parish after a special 10:30am Mass. Space is limited, but still available, so sign up at the table in the narthex of the church. Come with us, and March for life!

No Priests, No Confessions. This weekend I’m away from the parish, off to South Bend, IN, to celebrate the wedding Mass of one of my nephews. Unfortunately, Fr. Daly is also away this weekend, but Fr. Daniel Hanley (an Arlington priest in graduate studies) and Fr. Philip Cozzi (chaplain at O’Connell High School) have volunteered to lend a hand. Even so, it still leaves a very hectic weekend for Fr. Kenna, so I decided to cancel confessions today, Sunday the 20th. Since the loss of 2 resident priests over the summer we’ve been able to keep most of the regular schedule intact. This Sunday is a rare exception, so I’m sure you’ll be patient and supportive.

But let this remind us all of the need to pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood—especially for the Diocese of Arlington. Over Christmas we were blessed with the assistance of the two seminarians from our parish, Deacon Nick Barnes and Mr. Jacob McCrumb. It’s heartening to see them coming forward to serve, but there is still a tremendous need for so many more priests. And those priests are going to have to come from within our own ranks—from our boys and young men. So pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood from our parish, and from your own families.

The Flu and the Sign of Peace. The flu epidemic is real, and it’s in our parish. Let’s keep each other in prayer so that those who are suffering will be comforted and healed quickly, and that those who are well will not be struck. Let’s especially pray for those who tend to be hardest hit by the effects of the flu, our oldest and youngest brothers and sisters. And thank you all for being so cooperative and understanding of my decision to forego the invitation to exchange a sign of peace at Mass in response to concerns over passing germs along.

My Letter on Fundraising/Collections. By now all of our parishioners should have received my letter presenting my request to prayerfully consider your current level of giving to the parish. Again, I don’t want to pressure you, and I respect your free and conscientious decisions in all this. But I do thank you for taking time to think about my request and respond as best you can.

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

January 13, 2013

Every year all priests are required to make at least a five day spiritual retreat. This last week I was on my retreat. You were in my prayers, but I hope you understand that I didn’t have time to right my column. So once again my favorite guest columnist…Oremus pro invicem, Fr. De Celles

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, January, 9, 2011

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am happy to give you a cordial welcome, especially you parents and godparents of the 21 infants to whom, in a moment, I will have the joy of administering the sacrament of baptism.…

According to the story of the Evangelist Matthew (3:13-17), Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John; in fact, all of Palestine flocked to hear the preaching of this great prophet, the announcement of the advent of the Kingdom of God, and to receive baptism, that is, to submit themselves to this sign that called to conversion from sin. Although it is called “baptism,” it did not have the sacramental value of the rite that we celebrate today; as you well know, it is in fact by his death and resurrection that Jesus instituted the sacraments and brings about the birth of the Church. [The baptism] administered by John was rather a penitential act, a gesture that invited people to humility before God, for a new beginning: Plunging into the water, the penitent acknowledged having sinned, he implored God to purify him of his sins and he was sent forth to change his erroneous behavior.

So, when the Baptist saw Jesus, in line with sinners, having come to be baptized, he is stunned; recognizing him as the Messiah, the Holy One of God, he who is without sin, John shows his confusion: He himself, the baptizer wanted to be baptized by Jesus. But Jesus tells him not to resist, to agree to carry out this act, to do what is proper to “fulfill all justice.” With this expression, Jesus shows that he came into the world to do the will of him who sent him, to do everything that the Father asks him; it is in obedience to the Father that he has agreed to become man. This gesture reveals first of all who Jesus is: He is the Son of God, true God like the Father; it is he who “humbled himself” to become one of us, he who became man and agreed to humble himself to the point of death on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:7).

The baptism of Jesus, which we recall today, fits into this logic of humility: It is the gesture of one who wants to be one of us in everything and gets in line with sinners; he, who is without sin, lets himself be treated as a sinner (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), to carry on his shoulders the burden of guilt of all humanity. He is the “servant of Yahweh” whom the prophet Isaiah spoke to us about in the first reading (cf. 42:1). His humility is determined by a desire to establish full communion with humanity, by the desire to achieve a true solidarity with man and his condition. Jesus’ gesture anticipates the cross, the acceptance of death for man’s sins. This act of abasement, with which Jesus wants to conform totally to the Father’s plan of love, manifests the total harmony of will and purpose that exists between persons of the Most Holy Trinity. For this act of love, the Spirit of God manifests himself as a dove and descends upon him, and in that moment a voice from above, which all hear, testifies to the love that unites Jesus to the Father for those present at the baptism. The Father openly reveals to men the profound communion uniting him to the Son: The voice that resounds from above attests that Jesus is obedient to the Father in all things and that this obedience is an expression of love that unites them. This is why the Father delights in Jesus, because he sees in the Son’s action the desire to follow his will in everything: “This is my Son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And this word of the Father also alludes, in anticipation, to the victory of the Resurrection.

Dear parents, baptism, which you ask for your children today, inserts them into this reciprocal exchange of love that exists in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; by this gesture that I am going to perform, the love of God is poured out upon them, inundating them with his gifts. By being bathed in the water, your children are inserted into the life itself of Jesus, who died on the cross to free us from sin, and rising, conquered death. So, spiritually immersed in his death and resurrection, [these children] are freed from original sin and in them the life of grace begins, which is the very life of the risen Jesus.…

….Receiving baptism, these children are granted an indelible spiritual seal, the “character” that marks forever their belonging to the Lord and makes them living members of his mystical body, which is the Church. While entering to be part of the People of God, for these children there starts today a path of holiness and conformity to Jesus, a reality that is placed in them as the seed of a splendid tree, which must be made to grow. Thus, understanding the magnitude of this gift from the earliest centuries, [the Church] has been concerned to give baptism to newborn children. Certainly, there will also be the need of a free and conscious adherence to this life of faith and love, and that is why it is necessary that after baptism they are educated in faith, instructed according to the wisdom of sacred Scripture and the Church’s teachings, so that the seeds of faith that they receive today can grow, and they can reach full Christian maturity. The Church, who welcomes them among her children, is responsible, together with the parents and godparents, for accompanying them on this path of growth. The collaboration between the Christian community and the family is much needed in the current social context in which the institution of the family is threatened from many sides and finds itself faced with many difficulties in its mission to teach the faith. The disappearance of stable cultural references and the rapid transformation that society continually undergoes, make the educational task truly difficult. Therefore, it is necessary that parishes increasingly strive to support families, the little domestic Churches, in their work of passing on the faith.

Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of the baptism of these your children…. Entrusting them to the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, we ask for them life and health so that they can grow and mature in the faith, and bear, with their lives, the fruits of holiness and love. Amen!

January 6, 2013

Thanks. As the Christmas Season continues, I’d like to add 3 more Christmas “thank you’s” to those from prior weeks. First, I want to thank all of you for your generosity in the Christmas collections. Between the collection for Sunday the 23rd and Christmas Day, and including special donations and second collections, you donated over $130, 000 to the parish. That is one of the highest collections for those combined days in our history. Thank you so much for your generosity. Second, on behalf of Fr. Kenna and myself, I want to thank all of you who dropped off baked goods and other treats and gifts for us in the rectory. You kindness is overwhelming. And last but not least, I want to thank 7 year old Holly Diamond who was very helpful to me at Christmas Midnight Mass, as she carried the statue of the Baby Jesus in procession for the Blessing of the Christmas Crèche.

The Epiphany of the Lord
Benedict XVI, Homily (Excerpts), January 6, 2012

“The wise men from the East lead the way. They open up the path of the Gentiles to Christ. … The experts tell us that they belonged to the great astronomical tradition that had developed in Mesopotamia over the centuries and continued to flourish. But this information of itself is not enough. No doubt there were many astronomers in ancient Babylon, but only these few set off to follow the star that they recognized as the star of the promise, pointing them along the path towards the true King and Saviour. They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). They explored this promise. They were men with restless hearts, not satisfied with the superficial and the ordinary. They were men in search of the promise, in search of God. And they were watchful men, capable of reading God’s signs, his soft and penetrating language. But they were also courageous, yet humble: we can imagine them having to endure a certain amount of mockery for setting off to find the King of the Jews, at the cost of so much effort. …For them it was a question of truth itself, not human opinion. Hence they took upon themselves the sacrifices and the effort of a long and uncertain journey. Their humble courage was what enabled them to bend down before the child of poor people and to recognize in him the promised King, the one they had set out, on both their outward and their inward journey, to seek and to know….

“The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a …a supernova, …one of those stars …in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs.”

Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort. Tomorrow, January 7, is the feast of our parish Patron. St. Raymond was born at Villafranca de Benadis, near Barcelona, in 1175. At only 20 years of age he became professor of canon law in 1195, and taught for fifteen years. He left Spain for the University of Bologna in 1210 to complete his studies in civil and canon law. He held a chair of canon law in the university for three years and published a treatise on ecclesiastical legislation.

Raymond returned to Barcelona to teach in 1219. Soon thereafter he received a heavenly vision in which the Blessed Mother, under the title of “Our Lady of Mercy,” instructed him to help St. Peter Nolasco found the Order of Mercedarians, which would be devoted to the ransom of Christians taken captive by the Moors (Spanish Muslims). Raymond did not join that order but rather received the habit in the Dominicans in Barcelona in 1222. As a Dominican, Raymond continued to teach and preach, and devoted considerable effort working to convert Moors and Jews, founding institutes at Barcelona and Tunis for the study of Oriental languages, as well as coaxing St. Thomas Aquinas to write his Summa Contra Gentiles to help in his efforts.

At the request of his superiors Raymond published the Summa Casuum, a book on cases of conscience for the guidance of confessors and moralists, the first guide of its kind. This work eventually led to his appointment as confessor and theologian to Pope Gregory IX in 1230. His expertise in juridical science led the pope to direct Raymond to re-arrange and codify the canons (juridical laws) of the Church, which required him to rewrite and condense decrees that had been multiplying for centuries, contained in some twelve or fourteen collections already existing. The pope published Raymond’s work in 1231, and commanded that it alone should be considered authoritative and used in the schools. From then on St. Raymond would be known as the “Father of canon law.”

After this, Raymond returned to Spain. In 1238 he was elected General of the Dominican Order, but he resigned two years later, claiming that at 63 years old he was too old for the job. He continued his writing, preaching and pastoral work, as well many important responsibilities entrusted to him by various popes, for another 37 years until his death in Barcelona on January 6, 1275, at the age of 100. He is the patron saint of lawyers, both canon and civil (the latter with St. Thomas More). (Based, in part, on an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia (www.newadvent.org)).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May St. Raymond pray for us and lead us to have a happy, holy and grace-filled 2013!

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

December 16, 2013

3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These feasts remind us that as this holy season of preparation and expectant joy continues we follow the example of she who was first prepared for the birth of Jesus, and who has always found the most joy in it, is His Blessed Mother, Mary.

Of course, in a certain sense Mary was prepared from all time for the coming of Jesus, as God promised in the Garden of Eden that he would send “the woman,” free from sin, who would bear a son, also free from sin, who would crush the devil and free us from sin. In fulfillment of that promise Mary was then conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin, and was filled with grace all her life, so that she never committed any actual sin herself. Thus prepared for Jesus’ birth, she was the perfect Mother for the Divine Son. In imitation of Mary we should be preparing for Christmas by ridding ourselves of sins, and accepting the grace the Lord pours out on us in this holy season. So that when Christmas day comes we can celebrate by presenting ourselves to Him as having truly welcomed and embraced His salvation.

But besides preparing ourselves we must also prepare others. When Mary had heard the news of the Incarnation she “departed in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and so truly bringing the tiny baby in her womb to Elizabeth, who responded with exuberant joy. Similarly, when the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531 she appeared to him as a pregnant young woman, again bringing Christ to all of Mexico, Latin America, and, in a sense, to all the “New World.” Our Advent preparation must also include this: imitating Mary by bringing Christ to those around us. We do this first by, as I wrote above, eliminating sin in our lives, and so live in charity and justice with our neighbors. But we must also be more pro-active: we must proclaim to all who will hear, a clear invitation to receive the Lord who came to us first at Christmas. Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth was the first such proclamation of this invitation, and she has continued this through the centuries, including her dramatic invitation in Mexico in the 16th century. And in Advent she reminds us and teaches us that we must do the same.

There are a thousand ways we can do this: giving presents that effectively communicate the Christian message (Bibles, Hand Missals, Rosaries, Catholic spiritual classic books, etc.); putting up Manger scenes (crèches); praying and singing holy Christmas songs with our families; talking about Christ and sharing our belief in and love of Him; and especially, bringing others (our children, fallen away family members, interested friends and co-workers) to church with us—to Mass, to Confession, to adoration, etc..

As Advent continues let us turn to our Blessed Mother to help us to prepare in joy for Christmas, by her example and through her intercession.

Giving. Of course, St. John the Baptist also teaches us how to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus during Advent. Today’s Gospel tells us, “The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’” Of course he tells them to stop sinning (last week we read that his first message was “repent”), but he also tells them: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. ” This reminds us that during Advent it is not only appropriate but necessary to give gifts to others.

But we should remember at least 2 things about gift-giving. First, we shouldn’t just think in terms of material giving: the gift of Christ and of faith in Him are much more important than a new toy, tie or sweater. This especially important in families. Parents in particular should consider if they are doing everything they can to give their children the gift of true faith in Christ: giving them a good example of Catholic living; teaching them about Jesus and His Church, and praying to Him, in their home; sending them to Catholic schools or CCD; and bringing them to Mass every Sunday and to Confession regularly.

And second, we shouldn’t just give to those we know and love, but also to those we don’t know but should love, especially those in need. Again, we should give them the gift of Christ, as I discussed above. But as St. James tells us elsewhere: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is that?”

At the first Christmas God gave Himself to us by stripping Himself of the glory of heaven, and becoming a baby born into poverty. So I encourage you to consider carefully what you will give to those in need this Advent, whether individuals you know or charitable organizations that continue Jesus’ work on earth.

I would recommend, however, that when you give you make sure the group is solidly in line with the teaching of Christ’s Church so that your money isn’t diverted to unworthy uses. Let me recommend a just few organizations (there are many more organizations worthy of your help): the Little Sisters of the Poor (this week’s 2nd collection), Catholic Charities of Arlington (thank you for your extreme generosity last week), House of Mercy, Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, AAA Women for Choice (a pro-life group in Manassas), Mary’s Shelter (a shelter for pregnant women in crisis in Fredericksburg), the Poor Clares, and, of course, Angelus Academy. One of my personal favorite charities is St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, VA, the wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily. And of course, St. Raymond’s itself still has a huge debt to pay off as it continue to strive to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners.

Thank you to all of those who gave to our Giving Tree and helped to provide Christmas to families in need.

Family Assistance. If you are aware of a family or person that is need of assistance this Advent, especially a parishioner, please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention.

Lessons and Carols. One excellent way to prepare for Christmas in joyful expectation is to come to Lessons and Carols this evening, Sunday, December 16, at 6:30pm. Adults and children alike will love this uplifting experience of Scripture readings laying out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son, and beautiful Advent music sung by and with the choir. (Hint: If you know someone who’s not quite ready to come to Mass, this is a wonderful way to help prepare them for the right celebration of Christmas). Please join us!

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

December 9, 2012

ADVENT, BAPTISM and PENANCE. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, not simply by buying presents or decorating the house, but by “prepar[ing] the way of the Lord” into our hearts and lives. We begin by reflecting on the words St. Luke uses in today’s Gospel to summarize the entire message of St. John the Baptist: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, for the baptized, these words might recall to us our baptismal innocence, especially if we were baptized as babies: a newly baptized baby is absolutely pure and holy in the eyes of God. As we get older, though, we lose some of that innocence, eventually finding ourselves willfully committing sins, even terrible sins we deeply regret, and we develop sinful habits, “vices,” we can’t’ seem to get rid of.

For us, who have lost our innocence after baptism, what do we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent when we here St. John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”? We can’t be baptized again, so what do we do?

First, we remember that Baptism is a sacrament that has no end: once baptized always baptized (so there is no “re-baptism”). And the Advent proclamation of St. John reminds us that we are not doomed to wallow or drown in our sin, but that as Baptized Christians we can and must make it a staple of our life to constantly “repent” and be open and eager to receive “the forgiveness of sins.”

And for that, even though we can’t receive the Sacrament of Baptism again, we can receive the sacrament many of the early Church Fathers compared to “a second baptism”—the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament our sins are once again washed away, so our souls are as pure as the soul of a newly baptized baby, and we have a new chance to start again to live the life Christ created us for and introduced us to in Baptism. But there’s a problem: while we have repented and sin is forgiven, all the sinful habits—vices—we’ve built up, and all our memories of past sins, and all our weaknesses developed over years of living in the world, all these remain. And they can become like valleys and mountains that seem so hard to get over, or like crooked and rough roads that cause us to stumble and fall in sin. Which is another reason we need the Sacrament of Penance, as it gives us the grace to level all obstacles, and to straighten the crookedness and smooth over the roughness our hearts, so that the sacrament becomes a fulfillment of the Advent prophesy and promise: “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

During Advent, we will be hearing confessions every single day (until and including Sunday, December 23); in addition to the regular confession times a priest will be in the confessional every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 6:15pm to 7pm (he may stay longer, but only if his schedule permits). Please take advantage of this sacrament to prepare the way of the Lord into your heart and life. But, please do not wait for the last minute, since we may only be able to have one priest hearing on some days and he may have to leave at the set time, even if the line remains. And don’t wait until Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, and get upset when the priest has to leave when Mass begins!

INFANT BAPTISM. As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus, who opened to us the gates of paradise, and while I’m on the subject of Baptism, I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that is a growing concern to us priests. Since the first century the Church has happily baptized infants, not as a merely symbolic rite of entrance into the Catholic Church but to wash away the original sin and open to them gates of Eternal Life. Christ made it very clear that the grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation (“no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”—John 3:5). And while the Church teaches that God sometimes gives the grace of Baptism in certain extraordinary ways, e.g., in the “baptism of blood” of the martyrs, the Church has always maintained that it does not know if anything like that applies to babies who die without baptism. And while Bd. John Paul II gave hope to all parents of unbaptized babies as he wrote to post-abortive mothers in Evangelium Vitae [99], “You can entrust your child to the same Father and to his mercy with hope,” this was not a change to official teaching. So, the Church continues to teach that we do not know if unbaptized babies go to heaven, and that, while we should always trust in God’s mercy we should also never presume on God’s mercy to do what we fail to do.

Because of this, and with loving concern for the eternal souls of babies, the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law, personally promulgated by Bd. John Paul, requires: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child….” [Can. 867 §1]

Unfortunately, many parents nowadays don’t seem to know about this “obligation” and delay their babies’ baptisms well beyond “the first few weeks.” So I write this, just as Bd. John Paul did, not to frighten or berate you, but out of love for babies and their parents, and to assure that all our babies will share in eternal life. Please keep this serious obligation in mind, and remind your Catholic friends and families as the case arises.

REMINDERS. I invite you all to join the choir, the lectors and me at 6:30pm next Sunday, December 16, for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Also, I will continue my Advent Series this Thursday evening, on the topic: “Re-Introduction to The Bible: An Overview.” Newcomers are more than welcome, especially those with little familiarity with the Bible! Finally, I remind all of you that the parish has a special fund set aside for families or individuals in need. Please let me know if you are aware of anyone, especially a parishioner, is need of assistance this Advent.

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

December 2, 2012

Advent. Today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Many people tend to forget that this season is about preparing for Christmas and instead spend these weeks pre-maturely celebrating Christmas. And then when the actual 3 week Christmas Season begins on Christmas Day, they put all the Christmas things away and go on with life!

As I mentioned last week, this pre-mature celebration isn’t a bad thing, if we see it as part of the strong influence of Christianity on our culture. For many Catholics this is largely what is going on—people around them start celebrating Christmas, and it’s such a wonderful feast they (Catholics) get all caught up in it.

But this phenomena is not completely harmless. First of all, much of this pre-mature celebration is driven not by a culture influenced by Christianity, but by commercial interests taking advantage of that culture. Whereas, not too many years ago we might see a gradual movement toward celebrating Christmas in the first weeks of December, nowadays Christmas is everywhere the day after Thanksgiving. Sadly, much of this is nothing more than retailers playing on our emotional attachment to Christmas, in order to increase sales. Increasing sales is not a bad thing, but the reduction of Advent to a period of rampant commercialism/materialism and emotionalism is. All but forgotten is the spiritual/faith preparation to celebrate the wonder of the birth of the Baby Jesus, our Creator come to redeem us from our sins.

As your spiritual father, I beg you, don’t let this happen to you and yours this Advent. This is not to say you can’t, to some extent, take part in the cultural celebrations, as long as you make sure to also spend time preparing for the celebration of the Day that changed the world forever. Here are some suggestions:
• Christians always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should do some small penance every day to remind us that nothing is more than Christ, and that everything we do is for Him.
• Add extra prayers to your daily routine. The Rosary is an excellent addition to our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
• Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps challenge yourself to choose one of the Gospels and read at least one chapter a day throughout Advent.
• Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to worthy charitable projects/institutions. The parish Giving Tree is one good way to do this, as are some of the special collections.
• Receiving the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go to Confession. Unfortunately, due to the reduced number of priests this year, we cannot schedule a 7pm Mass every weekday, but we will have confessions every weekday evening during Advent.
• Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Follow the 10 Commandments, live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind, patient, generous, and encouraging.
• Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish this Advent. Please find the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2012 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep in somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?).

Two parish “special events” I’d like to call your attention to in particular are:
Lessons and Carols. On Sunday, December 16, I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir at 6:30pm for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Weaving together prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular hymns and stretching their vocal wings in a few more complicated choral pieces. We started this Advent tradition 2 years ago, with a good-sized crowd the first year, and easily doubled attendance last year. Please come, because if you don’t, you’ll be missing something truly special.
Advent Series. I invite you all to attend the Advent Series I will be presenting on the 3 Thursday evenings of Advent: “The Word Became Flesh: Coming to Know God.” In this “Year of Faith” this will be sort of a re-introductory course to Faith in Christ and His Revelation. The first “class” this Thursday will look at the basic ways we come to know God, beginning with simple human reason and observation, moving to an overview discussion of Scripture and Tradition. This should not be just some dry theoretical discussion, but can help you to really grow in your understanding of God and our Catholic Faith. Please see the box on the next page and the bulletin insert for further info.

NOTE: Some of you may never go to special events like these, and feel awkward or hesitant attending anything but Mass. Some may feel you don’t “know enough” to come to, for example, a lecture series. You are exactly the people I am particularly hoping will come and take part in these and all the special Advent (and Christmas) events in the parish. I look forward to seeing you–all of you!

Family Assistance. Our parishioners have been very generous in contributing to our parish fund to help those who are in need of financial assistance, and I am pleased to say that we have been able to help many people with this fund. If you are aware of a family or person that is need of assistance this Advent, especially a parishioner, please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention. You can contact me directly, or contact the parish office. (Note: We also work with “institutions” that are giving direct aid to those in need; for example, a few weeks back we helped “House of Mercy” in their efforts to get emergency relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey).

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