February 19, 2012

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. This is a wonderful time of year, a time to reflect on God’s mercy and love, a love so great and unfathomable that it would lead Him to die for our sins. And so it is also a time to reflect on our failure to love Him in return: to consider our sins and to work to overcome them, by our commitment and His grace.

To this end, Lent brings a much busier liturgical schedule (See bulletin insert!). On Ash Wednesday we will distribute ashes at all the regular Masses (6:30am, 9am and 7pm) plus an additional 12 noon. Ashes may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. Also, we will be adding a 7pm Mass to every weekday in Lent, with confessions heard before those Masses beginning at 6pm.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence. The law of abstinence requires that no meat (or milk) may be eaten on these two days, as well every Friday in Lent, binding 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.

Also during Lent, all are encouraged to adopt personal acts of penance, 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 lofty but are too hard to do. 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.

The Herald This Week. This week’s Arlington Catholic Herald features a parish profile on St. Raymond’s. As of this writing (Wednesday, 2/15) I have not seen the article, but the reporter interviewed me and several of our staff and parishioners. I’m sure it will be an interesting read for all of us. If you have not received a copy of the Herald in the mail, extra copies are available near the church doors, and you can always go online to read. I’ll make sure a link is put on the parish website.

The Herald Last Week. Last week’s Herald had an excellent article on Bob and Bev Ward, well known to many of you as long-time parishioners, our former DREs, and current leaders of RCIA and Adult Bible Studies. It is an article about a truly Catholic marriage, one of romance but also deeply rooted in the true love of Christ. If you haven’t read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. I’ve posted a link to the online article on our website.

Altar Servers for the Extraordinary Form Mass. Fr. John Lovell has graciously agreed to train boys to serve the EF Mass. It will be more challenging than the regular “ordinary form” Mass the boys normally serve, so it requires a real commitment. Even so, it is not that hard to learn and it will be an exciting challenge. Any boys interested should contact me in the next 2 weeks at the parish office, by phone or email.

“Accommodating” Religious Liberty. On Friday, February 10, President Obama announced an “accommodation” regarding the HHS regulations requiring all health insurance policies to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients. The media is presenting it as a great compromise—but it’s nothing of the sort. As Bishop Loverde has said: “Make no mistake: this ‘accommodation,’ as described, is no accommodation at all, but rather remains a direct violation to our right to religious liberty.” (See His entire statement in the bulletin insert.)

The President really didn’t change anything of substance—just played a little shell game. He says he won’t make religious institutions, like hospitals, buy insurance to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion. Instead he’ll make the insurance company provide those “services” “free” of charge. Does he really think that insurance companies will do that for free? There is no law in this land that can force them to do that. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch—inevitably the overall premiums will simply go up, and the Church, or individual Catholics, will wind up paying for it one way or another.
But even if somehow the laws of economics would be suspended, it’s not really about the money, it’s about providing immoral services. Think about this: the policy before forced church institutions to buy insurance policies that provide contraception, sterilization and abortion; the policy after forces church institutions to buy an insurance policies that provide contraception, sterilization and abortion. Nothing’s changed.

Beyond that, the president’s accommodation applies only to “religious organizations.” It does nothing for the individual Catholics who buy insurance for themselves, or the Catholic business man or woman who buy insurance for their employees. What about their right to free exercise of religion?

The Bishops have rejected the President’s proposal for these and other reasons, and have called for the HHS regulation to be withdrawn or for congressional action to override it. I have been extremely proud of the bishops’ courage and wisdom. But like all of us, bishops can fall, especially under the tremendous pressure that they are under. So they need our continued uncompromising support, especially our prayers. Pray for them, and for priests. And pray for our President, for his safety and conversion.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

February 12, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Have you ever wondered why, after exercising his divine power
in curing the leper in today’s Gospel, [why] Jesus tells him:
“go, show yourself to the priest …”
After all, Jesus is God,
why would he send the leper to a mere man, to be judged?

The thing is, Jesus recognizes
that for the leper to be welcomed back into the community
someone in authority had to determine
that he was physically “clean” enough to come back.
And he reminds us that the law, given to Moses by God himself,
in other words, by Jesus himself,
prescribes that only the priests have that authority.

Now, this was the law of the Old Covenant,
but we know that the Old Covenant foreshadows the New Covenant.
So in the New Covenant Jesus kept the office of priesthood,
but made it a new priesthood, and he was the one true priest.
Even so, he chose to share his priesthood with his apostles
for the good of the Church.
So he gave them the responsibility to offer the sacrifice of the New Covenant,
the Eucharist.
And he gave them the power to judge, not physical purity,
but spiritual purity:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
And he gave them authority to rule and teach in his name:
“whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
So just as by divine law the Jews turned to the priests of the Old Covenant,
the Church also turns to the priests of the New Covenant
for judgment and leadership.

This is especially so in the case of the successors of the apostles,
the Pope and bishops.

But there are many who would like to usurp that apostolic authority.
We see this nowhere more clearly than
in the current attempt to force Catholics
to purchase insurance to cover
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

We see, for example,
how the presidents of the Catholic Health Association
and the University of Notre Dame
have repeatedly placed their judgment over
the judgment of the bishops of the United States.
Some in the media, and even Planned Parenthood
think they should speak for Christ and his Church.
And some argue that opinion polls of Catholics should speak for the Church.

But most appalling of all is that we see this same arrogance in our president.
He reminds me of King Henry VIII in the 16th century
who declared himself head of the Church of England
because the pope and the English bishops, at least initially,
would not consent to his judgment of what was moral and immoral.
In a similar way our president has the gall to claim
he has the authority to tell the bishops that they, and the pope,
are mistaken in teaching that contraception, sterilization and abortifacients
are contrary to God’s law.
And because of that he feels he has the authority to force the bishops,
and all Catholics, to do what they find morally repugnant.

In the reversal of today’s Gospel,
he treats them not like the priest, but like the leper,
not as leaders but as someone to be shunned
and cast out of the community.

Now, we all know that bishops make mistakes.
They are certainly not infallible in all things:
they are sometimes foolish, sometimes sinners,
and sometimes even heretics.
Look at the bishops in England under Henry VIII
–initially they fought his heresy but in the end all but one caved in,
abandoned the pope and joined Henry’s church.

But when bishops are in union with the Pope,
and pass on the moral teaching that popes and bishops
have consistently taught for 2000 years,
there is no doubt that they speak for Christ and His Church.
And that is exactly what our bishops are doing when they teach that
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients are gravely sinful.

So, when it comes the free exercise of religion,
we Catholics do so by following the Church’s ancient moral teachings
faithfully taught by our bishops.
No one else,
not Planned Parenthood,
not the Catholic Heath Association or Notre Dame,
not the media or public opinion polls,
and definitely not the President of the United States,
can tell us what is moral or immoral,
or what it means to exercise our Catholic religion.
And when we oppose them, they cannot treat us like lepers,
as second citizens.

I don’t really want to preach about this today:
the story of the leper is very beautiful,
and there are lots of things I’d like to say about it.
But I have to, because last Friday our president announced an “accommodation”
on this insurance issue.
The media is presenting it as a great compromise—but it’s nothing of the sort.
Once again, the president claimed the authority
to tell us what is moral and immoral,
and he continues to ignore our religious liberty.

Now, I’ve been paying pretty close attention,
and unless I’m gravely mistaken,
he really didn’t change anything—just played a little shell game.

He says he won’t make religious institutions, like hospitals and universities,
buy insurance to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Instead he’ll make the insurance company provide those “services”
“free” of charge.

First of all, does he really think that insurance companies will do that for free?
There is no law in this land that can force them to do that.
And there’s no such thing as a free lunch
—inevitably the overall premiums will simply go up,
and the church will wind up paying for it one way or another.

But even if somehow the laws of economics would be suspended,
it’s not really about the money,
it’s about being providing immoral services.
Think about this:
the policy before
forced church institutions
to buy insurance policies that provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion;
the policy after
forces church institutions
to buy an insurance policies that provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Nothing’s changed.

Beyond that, the president’s accommodation applies only to
“Religious organizations”.
It does nothing the individual Catholics who buy insurance for themselves,
or the Catholic business man or woman
who buy insurance for their employees?
What about their right to free exercise of religion?

Right now the Bishops are still considering
the proper response to the president’s shell game.
So far I have been extremely proud of their courage and wisdom.
But like you and me, bishops can fall,
especially under the tremendous pressure that they are under.
Remember that in 16th century England, in the end
all the English bishops abandoned the Catholic Church to side with Henry.
All, that is, but one: Saint John Fisher,
who was martyred for his fidelity.

I think our bishops are made of stronger stuff than those English Bishops
—some are even made of the same stuff as John Fisher.
But they need our continued uncompromising support.
And they especially need our prayers.
Pray that they may take to heart St. Paul’s admonition today:
“whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
And pray that by standing strong together
with the grace of their ordination as priests of the New Covenant,
they may imitate the fidelity and courage of St. John Fisher
but be spared of sharing in his martyrdom.

February 12, 2012

“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Last Sunday we read a letter from Bishop Loverde and Bishop DiLorenzo (Richmond) addressing the President’s new regulations requiring the Church and individual Catholics to purchase medical insurance that covers sterilization, abortifacients and contraception, thereby casting aside the 1st Amendment and our freedom of religion and conscience. Kudos to our Bishop for taking a courageous stand: “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.” Wow. At several Masses the congregations broke into loud applause. Although I’m not generally a fan of applause at Mass (following Pope Benedict’s lead), sometimes, in extraordinary situations, spontaneous and heartfelt applause seems appropriate—so at one Mass I joined in the applause for the Bishop. Let’s all keep in our prayers Bishop Loverde and all the bishops, that they may have the wisdom, faith and courage to see this through to the glory of Christ and the good of His Church.

I mentioned at several of the Masses a very troubling development in this saga: during the preceding week the Army Chief of Chaplains ordered the Army chaplain-priests under his command not to read from the pulpit a similarly courageous letter that their bishop, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, had given them. In other words, an Army Major General ordered Catholic priests to disobey their bishop—directly contrary to the vows they took at ordination, not to mention the oath they swore as officers to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” After some back and forth, the Army relented, and allowed the letter to be read. But this was apparently only after the Archbishop told the chaplains to be ready to face military discipline, and promised legal support. Kudos to Ab. Broglio! And shame on the Army Chief of Chaplains, who is, himself, a Catholic priest: Father Donald L. Rutherford! Pray for bishops and chaplains, and all priests.

What will be the outcome of all this? It seems to me that in the end the Church will not back down, but the president probably will—if only because of the unified opposition of Catholics, who make up about 27% of the electorate. But even if we “win” this issue, we have to ask ourselves: what does this say about this president that he would so blatantly ignore the constitution and willfully discriminate against Catholics. Was it simply a “faux pas,” or a “misunderstanding,” as some say? Or was it a fundamental lack of respect for the basic human right of religious liberty; or retribution for opposition to his pro-abortion, pro-gay, anti-marriage agenda; or both? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

For more information on this topic, and for suggestions for what you can do to help defend the Church and religious liberty, please go to this excellent website: www.usccb.org/conscience

Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Many of you may have followed the story of how the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which raises money to find a cure for breast cancer, decided first to end it’s funding for Planned Parenthood (PP) and then reversed that decision after coming under scathing attack from pro-abortion leaders.

Komen’s efforts to cure cancer are noble indeed, and many good people have supported them in various ways, including running in the “Race for the Cure.” Moreover, Komen has restricted it’s funding to PP for use in breast cancer screenings. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t mean much in when it comes to PP. As you know, PP is the leading provider of abortion in America, not to mention one of the leading providers of contraception.

We need to remember is that cash is “fungible.” For example, let’s say you’re at a ball game and you want to buy a hot dog for $10 and a coke for $5, but all you have is $10 dollars. So you decide to go hungry and just buy the coke, when suddenly your friend gives you $5 to pay for the coke. Guess what? He also made it possible for you to spend $10 on the hot dog. Same thing with Komen and PP: if Komen gives PP $600,000 for breast cancer screenings that frees up the rest of PP’s funds for other things, like abortion (and contraception). Which is why the loudest attacks against Komen came from the pro- abortion crowd.

Because of Komen’s well-known good intentions and “restrictions” on funding, and the indirect nature of the connection between contributions to Komen and abortion (and contraception) funding for PP, many people have thought it morally acceptable to support Komen. Now, however, after Komen has willingly becoming identified with pro-abortion crowd, things have changed. All the facts aren’t completely clear, but if things continue to work out along these lines, it would seem to me it’s time to for serious Catholics to end support for Komen in any form. That’s a shame, because they were, and are, trying to do good and important work. But you can’t dance with the devil and not get burned.

Proposed Mass Time Change. I’m considering changing the Monday to Saturday morning Mass time from 9am Mass to 8:30am. (No change to the time for the 6:30am Mass). Many people have asked for this for various reasons, including that it makes it possible to “start the day” a little earlier. But I am interested in hearing what you have to say about this. So if you have any input that might be helpful, please email me or call the office and leave a message. Please don’t just say “yes” or “no”; rather, please give me reasons why it should be “yes” or “no” that will help me make my decision.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

January 29, 2012

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
U.S. Constitution, 1st Amendment.

As was mentioned at most of the Masses last Sunday, the Obama Administration has announced plans to require that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all employer provided health care insurance plans, including those provided by most Catholic charitable and educational organizations. This is a direct frontal assault on the religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and it cannot be allowed to stand. In the weeks ahead I will be advising you on opportunities to let your voice be heard on this matter. In the meantime let me draw your attention to some important statements made by the Catholic hierarchy in the last few days. Please also visit our parish website (http://www.straymonds.org/), where links to these and other important statements are available. I also invite you to read Fr. Pilon’s excellent homily on the subject available on the parish website. My homily is also available on the website.

Statement of Bishop Paul Loverde, Diocese of Arlington

The decision by the Department of Health and Human Services is a direct attack against religious liberty. This ill-considered policy comprises a truly radical break with the liberties that have underpinned our nation since its founding. I have just returned from Rome, where I and my brother U.S. bishops discussed with Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials the vital importance of religious liberty to human freedom and the proper functioning of a just society. While there, I was deeply troubled to learn of this terrible lapse in judgment by our civil leadership here at home.

I am absolutely convinced that an unprecedented and very dangerous line has been crossed that goes to the heart of the freedom of religion, and that this action does intolerable violence to our First Amendment rights. Catholic hospitals, charitable organizations, colleges and other Church-affiliated entities, as well as individual Catholic employers who seek to follow their consciences in the provision of healthcare to their employees, will be required to cover sterilizations and artificial contraception, including abortifacients, in insurance plans, violating the clear teachings of the Church. The meager religious exemption grudgingly allowed by the Obama Administration is structured so narrowly that any Church institution that serves a considerable number of non-Catholics would not be protected, directly harming our various ministries throughout the community.

I will speak out consistently in the weeks and months ahead on this gravely important struggle for the freedom to practice our faith as full citizens of this great nation. I urge the faithful of Northern Virginia and all citizens of good will to understand what is at stake in this unavoidable confrontation, which has been thrust upon us, and to be prepared to engage in a strong defense in the civil arena of the basic human right of religious liberty. I have been gratified to see the strong reaction so far against this outrageous decision in newspapers and among Americans of all faiths. For now, we should all be united in prayer that President Obama and Secretary Sebelius will reconsider the action they have taken.

Transcript of Video Statement of Cardinal-Designate Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB
Religious liberty is certainly front and center in conversations these days. And that’s very good. Some days ago so many Americans of all creeds, or none at all, cheered a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court, remember?

The court ruled that churches have the fundamental freedom to choose their own ministers without government interference. Nothing could be truer. All nine justices of the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s incredibly narrow and unprecedented interpretation of religious liberty in that celebrated case. The court’s decision was a homerun for the 1st Amendment and for our democracy.
But I am afraid the administration is on the wrong side of the Constitution again. Now it has ordered almost every employer and insurer in the country to provide sterilizations and contraceptives, including some abortion-inducing drugs, in their health plans. And it is requiring almost all Americans, even those with ethical and religious objections, to pay for this coverage.

The administration offered a very narrow religious exemption to some employers such as churches, but the government will still require most Americans to pay for this coverage even if it violates their consciences. That’s a foul ball by any standard. Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.

This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights. How about letting our elected leaders know that we want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and the administration’s mandate rescinded? We can’t afford to strike out on this one.

The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand. The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.

Pope Benedict XVI, Address to American Bishops in Rome, January 19, 2012 [excerpt]

“The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation….[I]n is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience….Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well- formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society….”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

p.s. Thanks to all who participated in the March of Life last Monday. Especially to Liz Hildebrand who organized 3 parish buses, Kirsten Smith who led almost 40 of our youth and chaperones (bringing an official parish attendance to around 200!), Diane Spinelli who led prayers in the church before the March, and Julie Bailey who organized the delicious chili dinner afterwards.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

January 22, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Today, is the 39th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court’s decision
in Roe v. Wade, establishing the right to abortion in our country.
To me, that day seems to be the most terrible day in American History,
as since then over 3000 innocent Americans have been killed every day
by abortions,
over 1.3 million a year, for a total of over 50 million dead since 1973.

But even as horrible as that death toll is,
we can’t forget that Roe v. Wade had other consequences as well
—consequences that slowly but surely have been eating away
at the moral and legal fiber of our nation and culture.

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

But the consequences of Roe/Wade go beyond even that.
Because the Court’s decision to establish a constitutional right to abortion
has been like a virus injected into the body politic
slowly destroying every other constitutional right,
and the freedom that is the life’s blood of our great nation.

You see, there can not be any human rights
if human beings don’t have a right to life.
If you’re not alive, you have no rights at all.
What good is the right to vote, or freedom of speech
if someone else has the right to kill you before you can vote or speak?

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

Now, some point out that 15 Years later,
when fellow Virginian James Madison spearheaded
the ratification of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution,
it made no mention of a specific right to life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.
But that was because those rights were so well established already
—in so many places, including the Declaration of Independence—
that they were presumed as the foundation of the Bill of Rights.
Does anyone honestly think the founders changed their minds
between 1776 and 1791?
“Well, we need to protect the right to a speedy trial,
but forget the right to not to be killed.”

Now, some of you may be saying, Father,
this is supposed to be a Catholic homily, not in a U.S. government lesson.
True enough.
So let’s focus on Catholic moral teaching.
And that is this:
no government on earth has the right to deny
the fundamental human right to life.
And if they do deny the right to life,
they deny every other human right that flows from being alive.

It seems that sometimes Catholic morals and government laws overlap.
And necessarily so.

“Careful Father, remember the separation of Church and state.”
Okay, let’s remember the separation of Church and state.
And let’s begin by considering what Pope Benedict said in Rome
just this past Thursday
to a group of American bishops, including Bishop Loverde:
“The legitimate separation of Church and State
cannot be taken to mean
that the Church must be silent on certain issues….”
Now, when most of us think of the separation between church and state
most of us think of the Bill of Rights.
So I guess I have to go back to the constitution again.
Here’s what it says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Notice, it does not say anything about
the church, or priests, keeping out of the affairs of the state;
it’s not about protecting the government from the church,
but protecting the individual’s right
to belong to the religion he or she chooses
and to practice that religion freely
—it’s a protection of the individual and religion from the government.

Most people never notice, that among all the rights listed in the Constitution,
this right to freely choose and practice our religion
is THE VERY FIRST RIGHT mentioned,
in the very first words of the very First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
And this no accident.
In 1776, just a few months before Jefferson wrote
the U.S. Declaration of Independence,
George Mason and James Madison
wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
And while Mason was its primary author,
Madison’s contribution was the article on freedom of religion,
which Mason put as the very last right in the long list.
But 11 years later when Madison proposed the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791,
he deliberately moved it from last to first.

And rightly so.
Because the freedom of religion is essential to the freedom of thought,
the freedom to decide for oneself what one believes
to be true, right and good.
How can we defend any rights if we don’t have that right.
And how can we defend any rights as being given to us from God himself,
as the Declaration of Independence states,
unless we have a right to believe in God as we sees fit.

But as I said earlier, without the right to life,
there are no other rights, no liberties.
So that when someone embraces a theory of man and society
that rejects the right to life,
that system of thought makes all other rights and liberties
not fundamental, natural or God-given,
but simply invented by political expediency and political power.
And when those in power find that the exercise of a certain right or freedom
is not politically expedient to their political agenda,
they will dismiss that “freedom” or “right,”
just as quickly as they dismiss the right of an innocent unborn baby to live.

All this brings us to something that happened on just 2 days ago,
as the news reported that our president,
who has notoriously rejected the right to life of unborn babies,
called Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan,
Archbishop of New York
and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops,
to give him some very bad news.
That is, that federal regulations related to his new health care plan
will definitely require the Catholic Church in America
to pay for health care insurance, for the vast majority of its employees,
that will cover contraception – including drugs that cause abortion –
and sterilization.
A few Catholic entities like parishes, the bishop’s curia,
and maybe Catholic elementary and high schools
will be exempt.
But not Catholic colleges, or hospitals,
and not Catholic Charities,
or virtually any other Catholic group or institution.

Any Catholic knows, and any politician who’s breathing knows,
that this law is repugnant to the moral teachings of Catholicism.
And yet the president will attempt—attempt—to force us to comply,
and so has directly and willfully
dismissed our constitutional and human right to freedom of religion.

And this just a week after the Supreme Court unanimously held
that the first amendment broadly prohibits the government
from interfering in the hiring practices of churches.
The court ruled:
“The present case….concerns government interference
with an internal church decision
that affects the faith and mission of the church itself.”

I’m no lawyer, and this regulation isn’t about hiring anyone,
but who in their right mind would argue
that hospitals and colleges and assisting the poor
are not part of “the mission of the church itself”?

Apparently the president and his administration would.

Of course the administration will deny this.
They’ll say, as they have over and over again, that they completely support
the “freedom to worship.”
But the thing is, as Pope Benedict told the Bishops on Thursday,
we can’t allow governments to
“reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship…”
“Worship” is not what the 1st amendment is about
—worship is going to Mass,
and the administration doesn’t have a problem with that:
“just go pray and leave us alone.”
But exercise of religion is actually practicing the tenets,
putting faith into action.
In other words, the work of Catholic hospitals, charities etc.
—the very organizations the administration is attacking.

Is this intended as a direct assault on the Catholic Church?
Was it aimed to punish the Bishops and faithful Catholics
for their opposition to abortion
—especially as it comes out just 2 days before
the anniversary of Roe v Wade?
Or is it retribution for our defiance of the administration’s relentless promotion
of the gay agenda and sexual promiscuity?
You may disagree, but at the very least it looks awfully suspicious.

In any case, just as they tossed out the most fundamental right to life,
now they have thrown out the first right that flows from it.
And if they can so easily cast aside
the first right recognized in the First Amendment,
what will keep them from ignoring the rest of the rights
listed in the First Amendment.
You know, little things like:
“freedom of speech,
“[freedom] of the press,”
“the right …[to] peaceably …assemble,”
“and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

And if they can make Catholics pay for contraception and abortifacient pills,
what else can they make us pay for?
Direct surgical abortions?
Can they make priests officiate at gay marriages
—or prohibit us from doing any weddings
if we refuse to do “gay weddings”?
You might think it’s a stretch,
but according the reasoning of the Supreme Court,
the constitutional right to contraception
was the basis for both the right to abortion
and the right to sodomy.
Once you ignore the natural rights of man,
and replace them with their opposites,
then anything is possible.

And this new regulation is living proof.

I know some of you may be very angry with me right now,
but I cannot be silence.
As Pope Benedict, again, just this last Thursday, told us:
“…[I]t is imperative
that the entire Catholic community in the United States
come to realize the grave threats
to the Church’s public moral witness
presented by a radical secularism
which finds increasing expression in the political …spheres…
Of particular concern are …attempts being made
to limit …the freedom of religion.….
[and] to deny the right of conscientious objection…”

I am also sure that some of you aren’t agree with me, but at the government.
But at the same time you may feel helpless.

But you can’t think that way.
Because there are many ways we can effect change:
we can exercise our first amendment rights
of free speech to tell to our neighbors
the truth about what’s going on.
And tomorrow, 10s, even 100s of thousands
will gather on the Mall in Washington at the March for Life,
exercising our 1st amendment rights to
“peaceably …assemble, and to petition the Government
for a redress of grievances.”
And in November we can exercise our right to vote
to elect congressmen and senators and a president
who will defend our God given rights.

We can never give up hope.
In today’s first reading we read how even
the depraved ancient city of Nineveh
repented and reformed when confronted by the prophet Jonah.
And as Jesus says elsewhere: “but you have one greater that Jonah here.”

We do have one greater than Jonah: we have Jesus himself.
And by the grace of Jesus Christ our country can change.
And like the apostles Peter, Andrew, John, and James,
Jesus calls out to us today to help him bring that change about.
He says “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
He calls us to join him as he casts his net to draw all hearts and minds
from the dark confusion of the sea of lies,
into the light of His truth.

This week, as we remember Roe/Wade and that dark day exactly 39 years ago
let us also remember that by the grace of Jesus Christ,
oppression and lies can be overcome by truth and faith.
And let us freely accept the call of our Catholic religion,
boldly defending the unborn and their mothers,
and the freedom to worship the God who gives us
the right to life,
and all the other wonderful rights that flow from it.

January 22, 2012

Idiosyncrasies. All of us have our little idiosyncrasies—little habits, tendencies, etc., that people notice and wonder, “why does he do that?” Well, I guess I’ve got more than my share of these. For example, people ask me about the funny black hat I wear sometimes, called a “biretta”: “A square cap with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface,” (Catholic Encyclopedia at newadvent.org). Although it’s origins go back at least to the 13th century as the hat worn by those awarded advanced academic degrees (the origin of the “mortar board” caps worn by graduates today), the biretta has been a standard part of the diocesan priest’s clothing (and some religious priests’) since the 16th century. Symbolically it represents the teaching role of the priest. Although it is not strictly a liturgical garment, it was required to be worn during parts of the Mass up until 1965, and may be still be worn at Mass today. Even so, nowadays priests don’t wear it very often, although bishops and cardinals wear it regularly (it is the cardinals’ “red hat”). That being the case, people ask me why I wear it. The answer is very simple: I’m bald and if I don’t wear a hat in the winter I catch a cold. I wear several hats depending on just how cold it is, but the biretta is the only hat I own that is actually proper to wear with the cassock (the long black robe), i.e., it’s part of the “uniform.”

Another idiosyncrasy of mine is that occasionally when I preach about something that is near to my heart I can become very emotional; my priest-friends kindly refer to this as my being “passionate.” Fortunately, the topics which can sometimes rouse my emotions to their peak are rather limited and specific: abortion, the Blessed Mother, the priesthood, the Eucharist, and a few others. But sometimes when my “passion” gets the best of me as I preach about these subjects, it manifests itself in an awkward way: weeping. Sometimes this manifestation is delayed a bit, e.g., I may preach calmly about the Eucharist in the homily, and then tear up during the consecration. Some who witness this idiosyncrasy of mine think it is a good thing in that it shows my passion for my topic, particularly for the Eucharist. Others find it foolish and unmanly, and I tend to agree with them. My doctor assures me there is nothing unhealthy in this, and reminds me it runs in my family: my father and his father were the same way. In any case, it is embarrassing and distracting, and I apologize. When it does happen, please forgive me and simply try to ignore it as one of my many idiosyncrasies.

Sunday Confessions. Like many of you I am very pleased that St. Raymond’s is able to offer so many opportunities for parishioners to receive the Sacrament of Penance. Even so, some have asked me to expand these opportunities on Sunday morning between Masses. I appreciate this request, but, as I explained in a previous column, while I am happy to offer Sunday confessions before 3 Masses (no other parish in the area does this), my main intention in doing so is to make the sacrament available to those who truly cannot make it to confessions earlier in the week as well as those in immediate need of the sacrament. Now, of course, all are welcome on Sunday, but I would ask and strongly recommend that those who can come to confession earlier in the week do so, and leave Sunday morning for those who can not.

One of my concerns in this regard is that we have become a people that does everything based on convenience. Now, I love convenience as much as anyone, but I think we have to be very careful not to let this attitude seep into our relationship with God. Which is why I encourage you to make Sunday about worshipping God at Mass, and make another day of the week your day of reconciling with God at confession. In particular, I recommend Saturday confession (for generations the traditional day of confession), and I try to encourage this practice by providing ample confession times every Saturday morning and afternoon. In that regard, if you don’t like waiting in long lines for confession, come at about 4pm on Saturday when 4 priests are hearing and there’s usually no waiting.

Day of Penance and Prayer, and the March for Life. In remembrance of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the abominable Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in America, the U.S. Bishops have declared tomorrow, Monday, January 23, a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. To this end, three buses of St. Raymond parishioners will be driving over to join in the annual March for Life on the Mall in Washington. If you didn’t sign up for the buses, I still encourage any of you who can, especially those who work downtown, to join us on the Mall as hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers from all over the country march and pray for the end of the Culture of Death. For those who can’t make it to the March I invite you to join us at the parish at 10:30 for Holy Mass before the buses depart, and then to remain after Mass in the church praying the rosary and other pro-life prayers (until about noon). And if you can’t make any of these “events,” I strongly urge you to join in “remotely,” by praying the rosary sometime during the day—at your desk, in your home, wherever—and offering various acts of penance. (You are also invited to join us for a chili dinner in the parish hall after the March, at about 4:30 or 5pm).

May God save America from the scourge of abortion. And May God forgive us.

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

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

January 15, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Well, Christmas and Advent are over.
For most of you it means things like
putting away the decorations,
and going back to being grumpy.
But to priests it has a particularly unique meaning:
it means that when we stand up here on Sundays
we see a whole lot fewer people sitting in front of us,
at least until Easter.

And so I’d like to take a moment to consider the question:
why is it that so many Catholics don’t come to Mass every Sunday?

If you ask the Christmas & Easter Catholics,
this question you get a lot of different answers.

Some will tell you they don’t come
because the Bible doesn’t say we have to go to Mass on Sunday.
And it’s true: the 3rd commandment only says: “Keep holy the Sabbath Day.”
Can’t we keep Sunday holy some other way than going to Mass?
maybe by praying at home,
or even by going to an Evangelical Church instead?

It’s true, the requirement to go to Catholic Mass on Sunday isn’t in the Bible.
But let me tell you what is in the Bible:
today we read:
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas”
– which is translated Peter.”
Jesus Called Simon “Peter” which means “Rock
and he told him
“and on this rock I will build my church, and ….
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
And Peter, or rather his successors, the Popes,
have for centuries bound us to going to Mass on Sundays.
It’s not a commandment,
but it is what we call a “precept of the Church”
And it is a mortal sin to disobey it.

Still, some would say,
but why does the Church make me come to Mass every Sunday,

Well there’s lot’s of reasons.
One reason is that we need to “keep the Sabbath Holy.”
Unfortunately, if we didn’t go to Mass, most of us
wouldn’t do anything at all to keep it holy.
By requiring we go to Mass the Church causes us
to center the whole day around God,
—even though it’s only one hour
it effects all of our plans for the rest of the day.

But more importantly,
by coming together to celebrate the same Mass
celebrated by 100’s of millions of Catholics all over the world.
we remind ourselves and the world
that there is one Christ, one faith one baptism, one Church
and that this oneness, this unity, must stay with us week in and week out,
in everything aspect of our lives.

Some offer other excuses for not coming to Mass every Sunday.
They say, but I just don’t enjoy going to Mass.
To them I quote the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“What are you looking for?”
What is it that you’re expecting to find at Mass?
Some want to be entertained with lively music or beautiful Gregorian chant,
or by a erudite or funny priest.
Some want the priest to tell them how great they are,
or to make them feel good;
or they want their fellow parishioners to be particularly welcoming,
or even to be of a certain color, or a ethnicity.
And when they don’t get what they’re looking for
they become like Samuel in today’s first reading:
they fall asleep “in the temple of the LORD.”

But when Jesus asks Andrew and John: “What are you looking for?”
all they say is
“Teacher, where are you staying?”
They’re don’t have a set of demands or expectations,
all they want is to be with the “teacher”
so he can teach them what he has to teach them.

So the Gospel continues:
“[Jesus] said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.”

You shouldn’t come here today to be entertained,
but because Jesus is here.
Yes, I know, Jesus is God, so in a certain sense he’s everywhere.
But ever since Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem
God has made it clear that his temple was a special place of his presence
a place he wanted his people to come to,
away from all distractions,
just to be with him, in his house.
Because he knew that wherever we go there are all sorts of things to
distract us from recognizing his presence.
And Jesus also knew this, and repeatedly went to the Temple
to be with his Father
—even though He was never really not with the father
wherever he was.
Remember how the Gospels tell us
“he was filled with zeal for his Father’s house”
as He drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip?

And we come here and to other Catholic Churches on Sunday
because Jesus is here, like he is no where else.
He’s here in His People gathered as his Body, as St Paul tells us today.
And He’s here especially in His Word proclaimed in the Gospels
and in the preaching of the priest.
And so you come here listen to him, as Andrew and John did.
You come here to the temple, like Samuel when he finally wakes up, to say:
“Speak, [Lord,] your servant is listening.”

Sometimes people tell me,
but Father, the homilies are too complicated or too long
or simply useless and boring.
But in all the rambling of your priests is it not possible
to recognize something of the echo of the voice of God.

And even if you can’t hear Jesus in what I say,
or in the assembly of the Churcn
hear him in his own words in the Gospel, as it says:
“He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw ….and …stayed with him.

Hear him calling you to come to see him and to stay with him here.
Because here, and only here, do we see him truly present in the Eucharist.
“This is my body” Jesus said at the last Supper.
His body is in the tabernacle, right now.
And the bread on the altar will soon truly become his body.
Here and only here at Holy Mass can we truly say
–as the Gospel begins today, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
as he offers himself as the Lamb of sacrifice for our sins.
“‘Come and see’….So they went and saw.”

Finally, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a 1000 times:
Father, I just don’t get anything out of Mass.
Let’s think about that: I don’t GET ANYTHING out of Mass.
Again, I have to ask: “What are you looking for?”
Because you see, it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.
And it’s not about what the priest or choir or the congregation give us,
but what we give to Jesus
and what he gives to us.

In a few minutes I’ll say to you:
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”
and you’ll respond: “it is right and just.”
This is what we come here to do:
to give God thanks!
We drag our lazy bodies out of bed or off the couch,
and sit and stand and kneel and bow and sing and pray out loud
in order, as St. Paul says, to: “glorify God in your body.”
And we come, as the psalm says today,
to sing “a new song…a hymn to our God”;
to “announce his justice in the vast assembly…”
And it is “right and just” to do so.

But that’s not all we come to give.
I’ll also say to you:
“Lift up your hearts to the Lord”
and you’ll respond: “We lift them up to the Lord.”
Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re saying here.
A lot of people think this is simply an expression of joy
—our hearts are lifted up.
But that’s not at all what we mean.

In the Old Testament, the highest form of worship
was the ritual sacrifice of an animal or grain.
But these sacrifices were primarily symbolic
of the sacrifice of the person:
you gave the life of the animal to God
to symbolize that you were giving your own life
completely and totally to God.

Unfortunately, over time people started just going through the motions:
offering the animal or bread as if that would placate God.
But God rebuked them in the psalms:
“Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”
And even as He continued to require ritual sacrifices
he taught Israel that he wanted their sacrifices to mean something
—he wanted them to give themselves,
to love him with all their hearts!
So we read in today’s psalm :
“Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
…and your law is within my heart!”

So today our sacrifice of bread and wine,
is meaningless if it doesn’t truly represents a gift of ourselves to God,
unless we lift up not bread and wine
but “Lift up our hearts to the Lord.”
And we lift up our hearts not by simply saying so
but by uniting ourselves, and conforming our hearts,
to Christ and his teaching, and to his Church.

Still, the gift of ourselves is very small thing,
and not very much to offer God
in thanks for the many gifts he has given us.
And so Jesus, in his infinite love for us,
takes our tiny gift and unites it to his own.
He perfects our thanksgiving by joining it with his thanksgiving,
and transforms our symbolic gifts of bread and wine
into the sacrifice the Lamb of God,
his very own body and blood in the Eucharist.
And then he unites us to himself as gives himself to us in Holy Communion.

This is amazing!
Where else could you find anything like this?
How could we think even the most entertaining choir,
the most welcoming congregation,
or even the most moving preacher could even touch this?
Much less, praying at home, or, God forbid, going to a soccer game?

I realize I’m sort of preaching to the choir today,
and I hope I haven’t put you all to sleep like Samuel (in the Temple).
But I also hope that in something I’ve said today
you’ve heard an echo of the voice of God calling out to you.
And as you leave here today I pray
that just as Andrew went to Peter
you will go to your own brothers and sister
and bring them back with you next Sunday
to this holy temple
to stay with the Lord for an hour or so,
to be united with His Church,
to listen His word,
and to lift up their very hearts to Him,
and to be transformed by the grace of the Most Holy Sacrifice Mass.

Ask them: “What are you looking for?”
And promise them: “Come, and you will see.”

Epiphany 2012

January 8, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “the showing.”
And so today’s Feast of he Epiphany celebrates that day when
the Lord Jesus was manifested, or shown,
not just to his family or his people Israel,
but to the whole world, symbolized by the arrival of the magi from the East.

Of course what was “shown” or “revealed” was not just a tiny baby,
but the Creator of the Universe, God himself, made flesh in this tiny baby.
But while the birth of Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God,
it’s not the first time God has revealed himself to the world.
For 1700 years before that God had been speaking to Jewish prophets,
and going back even further we see how God spoke to Noah,
and of course to Adam and Eve.
But even before all that, before a word was spoken,
God revealed himself in an even more basic way:
through the wonder of his creation.

As far back as we can tell man has been looking to creation
to understand what it has to tell us.
In fact, the magi in today’s Gospel probably spent quite a bit of time
dedicated to that very effort.
There’s been a lot of speculating about who these men were.
Some have said that since they were obviously rich
and were greeted with great deference by King Herod,
they themselves must have been kings.
That may very well be true, or not,
but one thing that seems certain is that they were essentially
scholars, learned in many subjects,
—the word “magi” refers to this, as does the term “wise men”.
In particular, they were clearly knowledgeable of astronomy,
—so they were able to not only spot the unusual “star”
that had arisen in the sky toward their west,
but to identify it as a completely unusual phenomenon.

That same fascination with nature and understanding it’s order continues today.
We spend billions of dollars every year for wise men—scientists—
to study the stars and the earth, and the whole creation around us.
At the same time we see a growing non-scientific appreciation of nature,
of its simple and yet majestic beauty and wonder.
And in all this interest a common theme seems to emerge:
an appreciation for the order of things in nature:
that there is a way things ought to be in nature.

We see this in the formulas and laws of scientists,
but also in the way non-scientists speak about the environment.
For example, we hear people talk about preserving “pristine forests”,
and protecting “delicate eco-systems.”

And as they recognize that there is an order in nature,
some also recognize that even the slightest disturbance in that order,
is a potential problem, either short term or long term,
And so many have come to see
the order written in nature as being inherently good,
and conversely that anything “unnatural” is somehow potentially bad.

What a great new insight.
Except it’s exactly what the Catholic Church has been teaching for 2 millennia.

The only surprising piece of news in all this is that for many
this appreciation for the nature of the world around us
ceases when it comes to 2 very important players in all this:
God and man.

It’s amazing to me that seeing the order, the logic and the beauty
of the environment
so many people cannot see that something, or someone, made it this way:
that all this is not simply “the environment” but “creation,”
which is laid out with an immeasurable genius by a Creator.
Even so, billions of people throughout the world and history
have made this connection.
And not just the uneducated or unscientific.
Take the words of Albert Einstein in the middle of the last century:
“The more I study science the more I believe in God.”
Or more recently, take the writings of Francis Collins,
currently Director of the National Institutes of Health,
and the former head of the Human Genome Project,
who wrote a book just a few years ago called “The Language of God”
all about how his study of DNA led him to belief in the Creator God.

But even if you can’t see God in his creation,
why is it that so many can’t at least see man as part of “nature”?
Why is it that so many don’t recognize
that man is also created to be a certain way?

Now, certainly everyone recognizes that man’s body works a certain way
—that’s what medical science is all about.
But more and more that information is used to manipulate the body
rather than to simply help the body do what it’s naturally supposed to do.
The more outrageous examples of this are things like sex-change operations,
or efforts to manipulate genes to make a sort of super race.
But a more common example would be the use of the contraceptive pill
—which is designed to prevent a woman’s body from doing
what a normal healthy female body naturally does.

But even more important, it’s clear that man is created to live a certain way,
in interpersonal social relationships.
Why is it that so many can recognize the need to protect “delicate eco-systems”,
but they look at man, study him,
physiologically, psychologically, and historically,
and can’t see that he is designed to function in certain normal healthy way,
and that any deviation from that causes a disruption the
“delicate eco-system” of human society.

Why, for example, can’t they see that man is created to love?
History and medical science prove
that human society is healthiest and happiest
when man lives in love with his neighbor.
And why can’t we see that some things people call “love” are
are not love at all, but rather are unhealthy because they’re not natural
—it’s not the way we are designed.

Nowhere is the social nature of man so clearly seen as the life of
marriage, family and sexuality.
Again, why can’t we look at the body and see it was made for,
or naturally ordered to,
certain kinds of acts of sexual expression,
and that acts outside of or contrary to this natural order
are clearly unnatural, and even physically unhealthy?

Why can’t we look at the way family life has been lived for all of recorded time
and see a certain natural form of family life
—and that anything else is less than desirable for human beings
and sometimes disastrous.
Why is it we can’t see that man’s nature leads him to live in a stable family,
of one husband and wife, open to the birth of children.

Why is that when we are so concerned how 1 degree of temperature change
might create global catastrophe,
but don’t think huge fundamental changes in the structure of families
will have an effect on society at large?

As Pope Benedict once stated:
“The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection,
but man merits no less than the creature…”
“[We] ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air
as gifts of creation….
[We] ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself.
What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man,
understood in the correct sense.”

“Ecology of man”: it’s a theme you hear him come back to over and over again,
in one way or another.

Benedict went all to say:
“When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being
as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected,
it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic.
It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation….”

Now let’s return to our magi from the east.
The thing is, they didn’t just study creation,
they also studied what other peoples had to say about the Creator.
In particular they were well versed in the Jewish Scriptures,
including the prophesy of Balaam
that one day God would send a great king to Israel
and that a star would be associated with his birth:
“A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a staff shall rise from Israel….
and Jacob shall overcome his foes.”
And so the magi asked Herod: ““Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

Today, we can read many things in nature about the truth about man.
But as much as we learn, it’s hard, really impossible,
to know everything about man by observing nature alone.
But one thing nature does clearly tells us is
that man longs to communicate with his Creator:
belief in and prayer to the Creator is a common theme
throughout human history.
And this is what the magi did 2000 years ago, with sacred Scripture.

Unfortunately, today there are those among us who fancy themselves
“wiser men” than the rest of us
and try to manipulate and twist the clear words of Scripture
to convince others to support unnatural lifestyles.
For example, I remember a couple of years ago, right before Christmas,
the cover story of Newsweek Magazine.
was all about basically trying to argue
that the Bible supports homosexuality and homosexual marriage.
This is a lot like Herod in today’s Gospel,
who called in the scribes and Pharisees—the Jewish scholars—
to find out where Scripture prophesied the infant king would be born,
but then ignored the fact that the scripture said
Herod was supposed to worship the child,
and instead used the prophesy to try to kill him.
In much the same way people nowadays, like that Newsweek writer,
try to take some of the words of Scripture, ignoring the inconvenient ones,
and then twisting them in order to
put to death what they actually revealed.

This reminds us of something else: as I mentioned before, according to some,
the magi might have actually been kings.
If that is accurate, look at the contrast in the kings we find in today’s Gospel:
the kings from the east discover the Holy Family
by following nature and the Scriptures, and when they come to them:
“They prostrated themselves and did him homage…”
King Herod, on the other hand, plots to kill him.

Today many modern kings—and so called wise-men—have the same choice:
to humbly but rationally follow nature and Scripture to the Creator
and to a true understanding of man and the family,
or to ignore nature and nature’s Creator
and impose self-serving ideologies and policies
that spell the death of man and family.
To quote Pope Benedict again:
“It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation,
the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man.”

Some say, but Father, look at all the messed up families and marriages,
is that your idea of nature?
No, it’s not.
The problem in these families is not nature, it’s going contrary to nature,
especially man’s nature to love:
to love God, spouse and children, our neighbor.
Most unhappy families are unhappy because of lack of true love
—not love that is self-centered
or warped beyond all truly human recognition,
but love that is truly human, unselfish and self-giving.

Which is, in the end, at the heart of the meaning of the Epiphany.
God loves us and has given us the wonderful gift of
coming to us to tell us about himself, and us, as the Baby Jesus.
In that Baby we see the pure love that man is naturally created for:
out of unselfish love for man,
God the Son strips himself of his heavenly glory
to be born in a dirty manger and die on a Cross.
Truly wise men learn from this and imitate this love:
like the magi who recognized the gift he gave them,
humbly bowed before him
and gave all they had to him in return.

In a few moments our Lord will come to us in the Eucharist,
just as surely as he came to those Magi in a stable 2000 years ago.
Like the magi, let us prostrate ourselves before him
and give him all the love we have.
And let us beg him to give us and our world the grace
to rediscover the simple truths
that nature reveals to us about God our Creator,
and “the ecology of man.”
And that the truth he revealed in Bethlehem and in his Scripture and his Church,
may lead us not only to understand God and man more completely,
but also to live and love as He created us to.

January 8, 2012

Epiphany and the End of the Christmas Season. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit and adoration of the magi to Christ in Bethlehem. It has historically been celebrated on January 6th since at least the 3rd century, but is celebrated in the U.S. on the Sunday falling between January 2nd and January 8th (inclusive). In the Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches it also, effectively, celebrates the birth of Our Lord, i.e., Christmas. The visit of the magi is rich in symbolic meanings for Christians, first of which is as the revealing (“epiphany”) of the Christ to the gentile world, as even foreign wise men travel great distances to adore their new heaven-sent King. Thus it is fitting that this year it marks the end of the Season of Christmas, as we remember the Savior came not just for us to celebrate His birth but for us to reveal Him to the nations.

Generosity of Our Parishioners. I am constantly overwhelmed by the generosity of all of you. First of all, relating to the Giving Tree, because of your kindness we were able to help 25 families (42 adults and 86 children) celebrate Christmas: 13 families from Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, and 12 local families. In addition the parish provided funds (from your “family assistance” donations) for Christmas gifts and other necessities for at least 15 other families with 21 adults and 34 children, bringing our grand total to 40 families with 183 people.

Also, I join parishioner Zac Iseman in thanking all those who assisted him in his Eagle Scout Project, by donating non-food items for the Lorton Community Action Center on December 17 and 18. “I had to make 3 full car load trips….All 3 trips combined came to 800 pounds from St. Raymond parishioners….”

Finally, I have to thank you for coming through on the Christmas collections. As I noted a few weeks ago, with Christmas falling on Sunday this year many pastors were afraid we’d effectively “lose” either the Christmas or Sunday collection. In the end I had no reason to worry: the combined collections for Christmas and Sunday were down only 10% from last year. This is truly amazing-I was worried we’d see a drop of between 50% and 30%. I should have known better, with my incredibly generous parishioners. God bless you all.

One More Christmas “Thank You.” Last week I had a long list of “thank you’s” for Christmas support in the parish, and I noted that I would forget someone. But one “thank you” I shouldn’t have forgotten was 6 year old Kateri Mantooth who was very brave and helpful to me at Midnight Mass as she carried the statue of the Baby Jesus in procession for the Blessing of the Christmas Crèche. So, thanks, Kateri!

Old Hand Missals. With the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, many parishioners have asked me what they should do with their old “daily missals”? Even if such a missal was not blessed by a priest, since it was used as an integral part of your worship at Mass, and contains the Word of God and the prayers of Mass, it should not normally be simply thrown in the trash. If you don’t want to keep your old missal in your library as a keepsake for posterity I would suggest that you either burn it, disposing of the ashes in some respectful place, or bury it in a similar place. If you like, you can bring it by the rectory for me, and I will dispose of it. By the way, similar care should be taken of any blessed objects, which I will also gladly accept for reverent disposal.

Holy Name of Jesus. Finally, a word about a feast we celebrated this last Tuesday, January 3: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Knowing a person’s name is usually very important in establishing a relationship with them-if we don’t know a person’s name it often indicates we’re not very close to them, or don’t care much about them, or that they don’t care much about us (pastors of large suburban parishes excepted, of course). This is very important in Scripture, especially when it comes to the Name of God. When God appears in the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3:13-14), the revelation of the Divine Name, “Yahweh” or “I am (who am)” is a huge step forward in God’s relationship with His people Israel. The same is true for the revelation of the Name of the Savior, a name chose by God for Himself, and revealed to both Mary and Joseph through the angel Gabriel: “Jesus” (“Yeshua” in Hebrew), which means “Yahweh saves.”

But note the stark difference in the way Israel treated the Name “Yahweh” and the way Catholics treat the Name “Jesus.” Israel considered that Name so Holy that they would never even say it: in Scripture once the Holy Name is revealed in Exodus any other reference to it is replaced by the word(s) “(the) Lord,” (“Adonai” in Hebrew). Just as they would not make any paintings or statues depicting God, because that would be seen to be reducing God to a mere human-like image, so they would not make use of His Name,

lest they even think of Him as merely human-like. But all that changed in the incarnation when God became man, so that from the earliest days of the Church His image is recreated all about us and His Name is shouted from the rooftops and invoked powerfully in prayer (see John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23; and Mark 16:17). Even so, it is also never to be taken in vain and always to be reverenced; as St. Paul tells us: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Although many people don’t seem to know it, the Church incorporates this Pauline admonition in the gestures of Holy Mass by requiring priest and laity alike to bow their heads whenever the Name “Jesus” is said at Mass (recognizing the impracticality of constant repetitive genuflection). Note this not a simply a suggestion, but has been a requirement of liturgical law for centuries, even since Vatican II. Just as we are required to kneel during the Eucharist Prayer we are also required to bow our heads at every mention of the Name “Jesus.” (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 275. a); Note: there are other head bows required at Mass, but I’ll leave that for another column).

Perhaps during this time of adapting to the new words of so many of the prayers at Mass, we can also take the opportunity to more carefully observe this ancient law, as beautifully meaningful act of love for Jesus and His most Holy Name.

Merry Christmas!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

Christmas 2011

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

It was cold, rainy and muddy day in the winter of 1914,
when German and Allied forces faced each other
in the trenches of Belgium and France.
But as midnight approached, and the snow began to fall,
the Allied soldiers heard a strange but familiar sound
—the enemy soldiers were singing Stille Nacht: Silent Night.
Soon reports were widespread of German and Allied soldiers
coming out of their trenches to exchange Christmas greetings.
The spontaneous and unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 had begun.

What is it about this day that has this kind of effect on Christians
—even nominal, marginal or merely cultural Christians?
Why do wars pause?
Why are estranged families reconciled?
Why do strangers greet each other with warmth and good cheer?
More amazing still:
why are drivers kind to each other as they leave the church parking lot?

It is surely a day like no other day of the year.

And it’s been that way since that very first Christmas day, 2011 years ago.
A day that was so radically unlike any previous day
that it astonished even the angels in heaven.
The angels had seen so many amazing and wondrous things
almighty God had done.
They saw Him create the world out of nothing, and man in his very own image.

They had, literally, seen it all.
Still, they had seen nothing like this.

Majesty became humility.
Omnipotence became vulnerability.
Eternity entered time.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a baby boy.

How could this be, the angels asked?
And yet they knew the answer, and told us:
“nothing is impossible for God.”

And so, completely stunned, but with irrepressible joy,
they spontaneously broke into a jubilant song of praise to God,
As St. Luke tells us:
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host …
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

They were completely overwhelmed to see how far
the love of God would go to give his love
to sinful man.

For the angels knew man well.
They had seen how in the beginning Adam and Eve
had thrown away their unique friendship with God,
and how mankind had suffered from that loss ever since.
How, created in God’s image, man yearned and longed
to love and to be loved completely and perfectly.
And yet the angels also saw how men, in their weakness,
would be continually
confounded by God’s vastness and omnipotence;
confused by his incomprehensible wisdom;
and intimidated by his seemingly impossible call
to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
In short, the angels knew
that as much as man longed for God’s love,
man could never find the way to vanquish his fear of God.

But God had always known the way.
And he had told it to the angels,
but even they couldn’t completely understood it.
But now—now they understood it, because they saw it.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
“God chose a new way.
He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.
Now – this God …says to us
– ‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.’ ”

And so the angels proclaim to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid…”
They say:
“For today …a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

Think about that: God has been “born,” become a baby, “for you.”
Not because it pleased him, or would add to his glory.
But simply “for you.”

Christmas is about God coming to us for us,
so that nothing would keep us from sharing in his love.
How often do we think about God as if he were so far away from us.
That he’s so much greater than us, he has no time for us.
And so we excuse ourselves from making time for him.
But at the first Christmas he said, in effect:
“Look at me—I have stripped myself of the glory of heaven,
I made myself weak, so that you could know me and love me.
So that I could to enter into a personal relationship of true love with you.”

Sometimes people say that Catholicism fails to emphasize this critical truth,
of Christ’s invitation to have a personal relationship with him.
Some say we emphasize God’s power and majesty too much,
especially in our rituals, like the Mass,
at the cost of obscuring the importance
of having a personal relationship with Him.

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I have never, in all my life,
felt that way about the Catholic faith.
Because the Church sees God and man as the angels do—just as they truly are.

The truth is that God is Almighty,
and majestically sits on His throne in heaven
while angels adore him and sing his praise,
and not only did he create this vastly complex universal
but continuously sustains it and orders it according to His will.
And the truth is we are merely lowly, sinful creatures.
And yet, the truth is also that
that all-powerful God, came into the world as a tiny baby,
all so he could be our brother, our friend, our most intimate companion.

We can never forget this dichotomy.
If we do, we reduce this tremendous gift to almost nothing
—just another guy who wants to hang out.
So what?

But that is not Christ, and that is not Christmas.
And that is not what makes
enemy armies lay down their guns,
or feuding families lay aside bitterness,
or sinners lay aside their sins.
Yet all this can happen when like the angels,
we see the whole picture:
He is a baby, so we can’t help but love him,
but he his God so we can’t help but adore and praise him
for his incredible generosity.

And where do we see this more wonderfully than at Holy Mass?
Where do we encounter more profoundly his invitation
to enter a personal relationship with the eternal God?
It is no mere coincidence that we call this day “Christmas,” or “Christ-Mass.”

We begin Mass by recognizing our sins
—humbling ourselves before God has he humbled himself before us.
We then join in the very song of the angels on Christmas morning,
stunned with wonder at God’s offer of reconciliation and friendship:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Then, like the shepherds listening to the proclamation of the angels,
we listen attentively to the readers and priest as they,
“bring [us] good news of a great joy.”

Then we all stand and profess our faith.
We begin by acknowledging,
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things…”
But then we add:
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,
…[who] came down from heaven…and became man.”

Then we go on to the offertory.
Like the three kings offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,
we offer our gifts of bread and wine.
And this is where things start to get truly wonderful.
Because these gifts are meant to symbolize us
—they represent us giving ourselves to God.
That’s why we say “lift up your hearts to the Lord”
—meaning give your very heart to him, give your very self in love!
Friends, how can the Mass not be about a personal relationship with Christ,
if it’s about giving ourselves to him—person to person?

And then we pause to remember, yet again, that the angels are here,
and that the one we worship is not merely a baby,
but also the God of heaven and earth,
as we sing the song of the angels from Isaiah:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And we sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Who is that, but the Babe in the manger?

And then, we enter into the most incredible part of the Mass,
where God the Son himself, once again,
comes down to earth to be with us, in the flesh!
Once again, he humbles himself to hide his glory,
this time not in the appearance of a Baby,
but a simple piece of bread.
All so that we can approach him not in fear of his majesty, but in love.

But how can God come to us as bread?
How can God come to us a baby?
As the angels remind us, “nothing is impossible for God.”
And just as surely as the angels testified that the
“the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,”
Christ himself testified about the bread: “this is my body.”

And then we approach Our Lord in the sanctuary,
just as the shepherds and kings once approached Him in the manger,
and “fell down and worshiped him.”
Then, just as Mary tenderly received her Divine Baby
into her arms,
we receive our Lord onto our tongue or onto our hands.

And here the mystery of Christmas,
of God coming to us in the flesh to enter a personal relationship with us,
is manifest in a most profound way,
as he gives himself to us and we give ourselves to him
in our Holy Communion with the Body of Christ.

My friends, the mystery of the Eucharist and Holy Communion,
is nothing less than a renewal and strengthening
of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And that is the heart of Christ-Mass:
Almighty God the Son once again comes to us saying:
“‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

Today is an incredible day.
But the thing is, as wonderful as this day is, every day can be this way.
Because Christmas is not simply about that one day 2011 years ago,
and it’s not even just about December 25th each year.
It’s about Almighty God’s tremendous love for us,
and his determination to let nothing hinder us from accepting his invitation
to enter into a deep personal relationship of love,
as his friend, his brother or sister.
And that invitation and friendship is renewed daily, constantly,
in the life of his family, his Church,
in so many ways,
most especially in this great gift we celebrate here today—the Eucharist.

Today is a day like no other day.
Warriors lay down their arms,
families set aside differences,
strangers cheerfully exchange acts of kindness.
And even angels are astonished by
the Almighty and Glorious Creator of the universe
who humbles himself to become one of his own creatures.
All so that he can beg man not to run from him in fear,
but to run to him in love.

“Do not be afraid…For today …a savior has been born for you
who is Christ and Lord.”