May 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The body speaks, but some will not listen.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

6th Sunday of Easter 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The body speaks, but some will not listen.

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

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

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

May 13, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

5th Sunday of Easter 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what “commandments” is St. John talking about?
A rich young man once asked that very same question of Jesus himself.
And Jesus admonished him, saying:
“You know the commandments…”
‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 6, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this is helpful.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

4th Sunday of Easter 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

3rd Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
April 22, 2012

For the second week in a row we read today the account
of Jesus’ appearing to his apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday
–last week we read St. John’s account,
and this week we read St. Luke’s.
As you would expect, the two accounts tell pretty much the same story,
each adding their own details and perspective.
But one thing that stands out in both accounts is their identical account
of the first words the Risen Christ said to his apostles:
“Peace be with you.”
Jesus told them just 3 days before, at the Last Supper:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Sounds a lot like what he says to those same apostles in today’s Gospel:
“Peace be with you…Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of
—it’s not just about nonviolence or a quiet atmosphere.
The peace of Christ is an internal peace—peace of the heart.
So that even when there’s all sorts of violence and disturbance around you
–like the apostles locked in the upper room,
afraid the Sanhedrin or the Romans would come
and arrest them and crucify them—
even then, you can have true and inner peace,
like the apostles go from being terrified to, as it says,
being “incredulous for joy.”

Moreover, this peace comes directly from Christ,
and we receive it only by being with Christ.
We see this in today’s Gospel as Jesus seeks to reassure his apostles
that he is really there with them, really alive:
by showing them his wounded hands, and eating with them.
And so that with him, there is no reason to fear or to have a troubled heart,
but only to be at peace.

Even so, at the very end of the last supper, he prays to his father:
“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us…
So we see that the fullness of the peace of Christ
comes not from merely being with him, but from being ONE with him,
being united to him.
So he continues praying at the last supper:
“…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…”

This oneness, or unity, or communion, is exactly what we find
in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the last supper,
and that we come here to celebrate today:
the Eucharist;
a sacrament that we call “Holy Communion”
at that point when Christ literally enters in to us
as we receive his Body: “I in them”…. and us in him.
So in a very important sense, the Eucharist,
or rather the Communion with Christ
that the Eucharist brings about and strengthens,
is the source of true peace.

And the Church reminds us of this at every Mass.
Right before we receive Communion, the priest prays to Christ,
recalling his words from the last supper,
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles,
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…
And then speaking of the Church he says:
“graciously grant her peace and unity ….”
And then he turns to the people and says:
“Peace be with you.”
And then he usually invites you to give each other a “sign of peace.”

Unfortunately, what’s happened over the years is
we’ve lost sight of what’s really happening here:
we forget “not as the world gives [peace] do I give [peace].”
So many times the sign of peace becomes entirely about worldly peace.
But It’s not about us, and good feelings of friendship,
and certainly not about saying “hello”
or “good to see you” to your neighbor,
It’s supposed to be about the Risen Christ present on the altar in the Eucharist
saying “MY Peace be with you, because I’m here”
and about the spiritual fruit of the truest peace
that comes not just from being in his presence
but being truly united with him in Holy Communion.

Now, it is true, that by receiving and being in Communion in Christ,
we come into or deepen our communion with each other:
as Jesus prays at the last supper: ““that they may all be one.”
But to understand the unity he’s talking about,
and the “they” he’s praying for,
we have to go back to the context.
He begins by first praying for the unity of his 12 apostles:
And then, continuing to pray for the 12 apostles, he asks his Father:
“…Sanctify them in the truth…
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.
And then he prays:
“I ask not only on behalf of these [the 12 apostles],
but also on behalf of those who will believe in me
through their word, that they may all be one.”

So you see, he’s praying for the unity,
first of the apostles,
and then of all those who come to believe in the truth they teach.
So unity with Christ and the fullness of true peace it brings,
also requires unity, or communion, with the apostles
and believing what they teach.

And not just with his first 12, but also with their successors in authority,
as they pass along the authentic true apostolic teaching.
As the Acts of the Apostles tells when the apostle Judas died,
St. Peter proclaimed, “’Let another take his office’…
and, Acts continues:
“and the lot fell on Matthias;
and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”
—the first of many successors of the apostles
—2000 years of Popes and bishops.

So ask yourself, when you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand
and say “peace be with you”
are you meaning to pray that he receive the everlasting peace
that flows from
the Sacramental Communion with Christ in the Eucharist
and faith in everything the apostles and their successors
teach to be certainly true?
Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?

And when you come up to receive Holy Communion
do you first examine your conscience
to see if you really are in communion with the apostolic teaching
of the Pope and bishops?
And if you’re not, do realize there can be no true peace for you
in the lie you commit by receiving Holy Communion
when you are not in communion?

Unfortunately, today there are many challenges to our communion
with Christ and his apostles.
And I don’t mean those brought by our separated Protestant brethren,
but rather the challenges that arise from within the visible boundaries
of the Catholic Church herself.
I could go on all day listing and discussing these challenges,
but let’s just focus on three that have been in the forefront in recent days.

Chief among the challenges is outright public dissent from papal teachings
—doctrines defined by the popes as absolutely certain.
The recent controversy over the president’s attack
on the Religious Liberty of the Church
has brought the issue of contraception to the forefront,
and the fact that most Catholics reject
the Church’s ancient and infallibly taught teaching on contraception.
The same could be said about the Church’s teaching on
sex, marriage and homosexuality.
And something like 70% of Catholics deny the church’s teaching
on the Eucharist as being truly the real Body and Blood of Jesus.
Some Catholics even deny the bodily Resurrection.

This last week, the Vatican, at the direction of Pope Benedict,
called attention to one group that has been a bastion of such dissent
for decades now,
as he called for a reform of the group called
the “Leadership Conference of Women Religious,”
an umbrella group composed of the leaders of most of
the orders of religious sisters and nuns in the United States.
The press has made it sound like there was a witch hunt
by a bunch of women-hating priests in Rome.
The reality is that this group of leaders has been a source
of widespread dissent against Church doctrine for decades.
Now, we need to be careful here,
because there are many good and faithful sisters
in the orders that these sisters lead
—but where leaders lead, many are sure to follow.
And when you consider that many of these leader-sisters
are in charge of the Catholic education of our children,
you can see the huge damage they have done.
And you wonder why so many Catholics don’t believe
in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
Or reject the infallible teaching on the grave immorality of
contraception, or pre-marital sex or homosexual acts?

A second challenge to Church unity is not so much in dissent,
but simple confusion regarding
the teaching of the apostles and their successors.
What I mean by this is that often times well-meaning priests and even bishops
will take a real teaching, an official doctrine of the Church,
and apply it to certain situations
and act as if their private opinion
is the same and as binding as actual doctrine.
An example of this came up this last week,
when a small committee of American bishops
came out with a statement critical of the budget
proposed by the House of Representatives,
saying it “fails to meet” the “moral criteria.” of the Bishops.
The problem is, that the moral criteria the bishops are referring to
is not actual binding doctrine,
but rather just their prudential judgment, really their opinion,
of what the moral doctrine would require.
It’s as if they say, Christ and His Church teach, as clear doctrine,
that we must feed the hungry—that’s true.
But the question comes up:
who are the hungry, and how do you define hunger?
and who must feed them
—the national government, the state government, the church,
charitable groups?
And do we feed them by buying them food,
or by making it possible for them to earn the money
to buy their own food?
And on and on.
The Church has no defined doctrine to answer these specific questions
—we must make prudential judgments, informed by doctrine,
but in the end we can disagree on how to proceed specifically.

But when well-intentioned and orthodox laity, priests and bishops
seem to present their prudential judgments, their opinions,
as if they are apostolic doctrine,
they muddy the waters when it comes to actual doctrine.
People begin to think,
well if I can disagree with the bishops on how to feed the poor,
I can disagree with them on using contraception or limiting religious liberty.
So much for unity.

Finally, a third challenge to Church unity today
is the scandal created by the sins of Catholics
—especially priests and bishops.
I could point to many examples of sins by both laity and priests.
But today my mind turns particularly to the sins of priests who have committed
despicable crimes of abuse of minors.
Of course, most horrible is the damage this abuse does to these children
—how do you fix that?
I wholeheartedly embrace the teaching of Christ that
“it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

And on top of that, we have the terrible secondary effect of these sins
as they undermining confidence in all priests,
and the moral authority of the Church in general.

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

We have been all too vividly reminded of this this last week
as the pastor of Holy Spirit parish was placed on administrative leave
because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.
We need to be careful to mind the Lord’s teaching not to pass rash judgment,
and so pray for both the priest and the alleged victim,
and that God’s justice will be done.
But whether or not the allegation is true or false,
can anyone deny that damage has already been done to the Church,
specifically to its peace and unity?
But friends, we cannot permit other people’s sins
to effect the peace and communion the Lord Jesus wants to give us,
any more than the 11 apostles allowed the sins of Judas
to keep them from rejoicing in the presence and peace
of the Risen Christ on Easter evening.

In the end, true peace comes only from unity with Christ.
But there can be no unity with Christ
without unity with the true teaching of the apostles and their successors.
As we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist at this Mass,
as we pray for the peace and unity that only
the sacrament of Communion with Christ and His Church can bring,
let us pray for those who threatened that unity,
whether through ignorance, or willful dissent,
or by confusing doctrine and prudential judgment,
or by scandalous behavior.
And as we approach the Lord in Holy Communion,
let us examine ourselves,
praying for forgiveness for any way we may have offended
the peace and unity of the Church.
So that we may approach our Eucharistic Lord
not with troubled hearts filled with fear
but with peaceful hearts filled with Easter Joy.

“Peace be with you.”

April 22, 2012

“You have set us free.” As we continue with our celebration of the Easter Season, I would like to call to your attention to that part of the Mass in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer when the people respond to the priest’s proclamation, “The Mystery of Faith.” There are several different responses that can be given, but the one that I have chosen to be sort of our “default” response, especially when it is sung, is this: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” There are many reasons for my choice of this response, but two key reasons are that it reminds us of the absolute importance of freedom in the Christian life and that Christ is the source of true freedom: freedom from sin and death, from enslavement to the devil and our own passions, and freedom to choose to love and serve God, to become, by Christ’s grace, the good men and women we were created to be.

Another related reason for my choice is the importance the idea of freedom plays in lives of Americans: freedom is fundamental to Christianity, but it is also fundamental to America. As Christians we remember the words of Christ, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” and the inspired words of St. Paul: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” And as Americans we cherish the unforgettable words of our Founders and our founding document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

For over 235 years American Catholics have understood that the freedom won for us by Christ is reflected in the liberty recognized by the Declaration of Independence, and the various freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, especially as these “human laws” recognize and protect the underlying liberty given by our Creator to all men. Nowhere is this more evident than in the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment—the first liberty/freedom listed in the Constitution.

As you all know three months ago our President and his administration launched an unprecedented assault on this freedom—specifically on the Religious Liberty of Catholics—as new regulations required the Catholic Church, and Catholic institutions and individuals, to provide employee health insurance to cover the cost of contraception, abortifacients and sterilization. The Bishops of the United States responded swiftly, unequivocally and bravely: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”
In the subsequent weeks the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Loverde and the priests of St. Raymond responded in various ways to this attack (see for example: http://www.straymonds.org/rights/index.html). But in the last few weeks you might have detected a certain decline in our emphasis on this issue. For my own part, as we moved deeper into the season of Lent toward Easter, I intentionally tried to focus our parish more on the central mysteries of our faith: the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord, and the life changing effects this should have on each of us here at St. Raymond’s. And I think this was the case for most priests and bishops.

But it would be wrong to think that the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of Christ have little to do with the battle to defend Religious Liberty. Because the freedom won for us on the Cross is the source and underlying meaning of any Christian’s love for the freedom protected by our nation’s laws and constitution. Our nation’s laws protect our freedom to choose to become good and great human beings, and most specifically and necessarily, as we understand it, to be good and great in the eyes of God—to live morally just and upright lives.

So do not think we have abandoned or sought to deemphasize the cause of Religious Liberty, or its fundamental importance to Catholics in America! Do not think we are retreating one inch from the battle the President and his minions have initiated against Catholicism, Christianity, and religion in general. What the Bishops wrote in defiance of this “unjust law” still stands, and will stand until, by the grace of Christ and the dedicated opposition of Americans of goodwill, our nation once again unambiguously recognizes and protects its foundational liberties, especially Religious Liberty.

To this end, on April 12, 2012, the Bishops issued a comprehensive statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the current situation and laying out specific courses of action they are calling on Catholics to pursue in the coming months. (See the parish website for a link to this document: www.straymonds.org). Most notably they have called on American Catholics to focus “all the energies the Catholic community can muster” in a special way during the fourteen days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, which they called a “Fortnight for Freedom”—“a great hymn of prayer for our country.” Individual dioceses and parishes will observe this in their own particular ways as a “special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action” emphasizing “both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.”

I look forward to this “Fortnight for Freedom” and hope to have several “events” planned for the parish, and to participate in any “events” Bishop Loverde will propose. We have, I think, already anticipated this call by our very successful and informative March 17th “Conference on Religious Liberty, Contraception, and the Catholic Church.” In this regard I can now invite and encourage all of you who missed the conference to visit the parish website where you can follow the obvious links to view the videos of this conference, and to share them with your friends.

There is a great battle ahead of us—a battle that must be peaceful and imbued with charity—but a battle nevertheless. But by the grace of Christ, and in the fullness of the freedom won for us by His Cross and Resurrection, I am confident we will be victorious.

“Living Your Faith in the Public Square.” In our fight to defend Religious Liberty, Pope Benedict has reminded American Catholics: “Here …we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with …the courage to counter a reductive secularism … in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” With this in mind, and to help prepare for this “public debate” I am pleased to invite you to attend a very special talk this Thursday evening, April 26, presented by Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia. General Cuccinelli’s topic is extremely timely: “Living Your Faith in the Public Square.” I strongly encourage you to take time from your busy schedules to attend this presentation by this outstanding Catholic layman.

Let us pray together: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”

Et oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles