May 15, 2011

Father’s Corner, Weekend of May 14/15, 2011

Today, Sunday, May 15, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Here is an excerpt of Pope Benedict’s message for this day.

The 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations….invites us to reflect on the theme: “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church”….

The work of carefully encouraging and supporting vocations finds a radiant source of inspiration in those places in the Gospel where Jesus calls his disciples to follow him and trains them with love and care. We should pay close attention to the way that Jesus called his closest associates to proclaim the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:9). In the first place, it is clear that the first thing he did was to pray for them: before calling them, Jesus spent the night alone in prayer, listening to the will of the Father (cf. Lk 6:12) in a spirit of interior detachment from mundane concerns. It is Jesus’ intimate conversation with the Father which results in the calling of his disciples. Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the “Lord of the harvest,” whether in parish communities, in Christian families or in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.

At the beginning of his public life, the Lord called some fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). He revealed his messianic mission to them by the many “signs” which showed his love for humanity and the gift of the Father’s mercy. Through his words and his way of life he prepared them to carry on his saving work. Finally, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1), he entrusted to them the memorial of his death and resurrection, and before ascending into heaven he sent them out to the whole world with the command: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

It is a challenging and uplifting invitation that Jesus addresses to those to whom he says: “Follow me!” He invites them to become his friends, to listen attentively to his word and to live with him. He teaches them complete commitment to God and to the extension of his kingdom in accordance with the law of the Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit ” (Jn 12:24). He invites them to leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfillment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it. He gives them an experience of fraternity, one born of that total openness to God (cf. Mt 12:49-50) which becomes the hallmark of the community of Jesus: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

It is no less challenging to follow Christ today. ….Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable them to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church…..

It is essential that every local Church [diocese] become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations – as Jesus did with his disciples – to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfillment of our aspirations.

“Proposing Vocations in the Local Church” means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life….

The Second Vatican Council explicitly reminded us that “the duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community…” (Optatam Totius). ….I turn to those who can offer a specific contribution to the pastoral care of vocations: to priests, families, catechists and leaders of parish groups. I ask priests to testify to their communion with their bishop and their fellow priests, and thus to provide a rich soil for the seeds of a priestly vocation. May families be “animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty” (OT) which is capable of helping children to welcome generously the call to priesthood and to religious life. May catechists and leaders of Catholic groups and ecclesial movements, convinced of their educational mission, seek to “guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine vocation”….

Other News. Well, tonight, the school year comes to an end for Religious Education classes for our children and teens. This ending was punctuated in a particular way last weekend when 95 second graders (and a few others) received their First Holy Communion. What a great day for the parish—and how beautifully and devoutly the children received Our Eucharistic Lord. I am absolutely positive I saw several future priests and nuns in the group. Think about it.

My thanks especially to Maria Ammirati and Janice Gorrie for their outstanding leadership this year. Thanks also to all the catechists and other volunteers for their dedication and hard work. Special thanks to the parents for their cooperation and for fulfilling the solemn promise they made at their children’s baptisms, “accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith.” And most of all, thanks to all the children and teens, for your commitment and perseverance throughout the year. God bless you all, and we’ll see you in class next year! And at Mass every Sunday between now and then! And you eighth graders: see you on June 1 for Confirmation!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

May 8, 2011

Last Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI joyfully beatified his predecessor, now called “Blessed John Paul II.” It was gratifying to see so many people, including many in the press, so interested and pleased—even overjoyed—by this declaration. At the same time, many seem to be confused as to exactly what this means—to be “beatified” or called “blessed.” Many in the press referred to it as “the last step” in the process of canonization or sainthood. While that’s true, it somewhat diminishes the importance of his beatification. Others say, “now John Paul is a saint,” which blurs the important difference between sainthood and blessedness.

Although I’m no expert, let me try to clarify. “Beatification,” or the declaration by the Pope that a deceased person may be called “Blessed,” represents the careful judgment of the Church, after meticulous and lengthy investigation, that the person lived an heroic life of holiness, and may be considered by the faithful as being in heaven. Now, you say, that sounds an awful lot like being declared a “saint.” It is, and it isn’t. The difference between the two is basically in that the decree of blessedness/beatification is more permissive while the decree of sainthood/canonization is more definitive.

Remember, this whole process of beatification and canonization usually arises from a desire of the faithful—the folks in the pew—to venerate a person as being in heaven; specifically, to pray to them and seek their intercession. While any of us can privately think that a deceased person is in heaven, and pray to them, it is up to the Church alone to decide if this should be done publicly (i.e., together in groups or in the liturgy). This is important because of the very clear risk of scandal and confusion: what if a group of Catholics regularly gathered to pray to a person that others know or believe to have been a scoundrel or unrepentant, grave sinner? Imagine the mockery and terrible moral confusion this would cause.

Even so, when a desire to venerate a deceased person in this way rises up among a great many of the faithful, the Church often begins the investigation that leads to beatification. Beatification effectively says that, after very careful consideration, it is reasonable for the faithful to think that the person is in heaven and so to pray to him/her, even publicly and in the liturgy. Note, however, there is still some caution expressed in the decree: the Blessed may only be venerated at the Mass in certain locations—not “universally” throughout the Church. Thus, while the Diocese of Rome and the Dioceses of Poland will liturgically celebrate the Feast of Blessed John Paul II every year on October 22, the rest of the dioceses of the world may not do so without specific permission of the Pope himself. Due to the widespread popularity of Blessed John Paul, Pope Benedict made a special exception to this rule by allowing that during the next year (by May 1, 2012) any bishop may permit the celebration of a Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the Blessed in his diocese. (Note: as of yet, Bishop Loverde has not given this permission, though I have a strong suspicion he will.) This “caution” is absent from the decree of sainthood/canonization. In proclaiming a person a “saint,” the Pope definitively holds that whole Church will venerate the person as a saint in heaven, and honor him/her as such at Mass.

In sum, note the difference between finding it “reasonable” to venerate the Blessed versus “defining” that a Saint should be venerated, and the difference between permitting certain local dioceses to liturgically honor the Blessed, versus placing the saint on the liturgical calendarof the whole Church. Note: so distinct are the differences here that, historically, many respected theologians have held that the declaration of sainthood is infallible, while the same theologians have universally rejected infallibility with regard to beatification. While canonization may or may not be infallible (the debate is not at all settled), the definitive character of canonization is clearly radically different than the “reasonable” character of beatification. This is in no way to diminish the honor due to Blessed John Paul, only to help clarify the important distinction.

In any case, it is clear that all the faithful are free to venerate the newly beatified pontiff and seek his heavenly intercession. I know I will.

Other News. It is fitting that Pope John Paul was beatified on the first day in May since he was so devoted to the Blessed Mother and May is the Month of Mary. Today (Sunday, May 8) after the 12:15 Mass, we will mark this devotion with the “May Crowning.” All are invited to join us. Also, I encourage all of you to keep this devotion by praying the Rosary during this month—even every day. I especially encourage all families to pray the Rosary together at least once a week. In the words of Blessed John Paul: “The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 41).

Also, Fr. Peter Odhiambo Okola leaves us this week. I would like to thank him not only for all his hard work in the parish these last two years, but also for the great example of priestly holiness he has shown to all of us, particularly to me. Thank you, Fr. Peter, and may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you, and His Mother keep you in her care, now and forever.

Finally, yesterday (Saturday, May 7) 95 of our children received their First Holy Communion. Congratulations to all of them! What a great day in the life of these children and the life of every Catholic! I’m sure all of us remember our First Holy Communion—I know I do, like it was yesterday. Seeing our little ones receive for the first time with such reverence, faith and love brings joy to all our hearts. Would that we could all receive Holy Communion at every Mass with the childlike devotion that we did that very first time. Let us pray that these children always keep that devotion, and let us pray that it be renewed in each of us. “Unless you become like little children….”

Oremus pro invicem. Blessed John Paul II, pray for us! Fr. De Celles

May 1, 2011

As we finish the Octave of Easter and continue with the Season of Easter (until Pentecost on June 12) I would like to once again wish all of you a Happy and Blessed Easter, filled with the spiritual joy and grace of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Thanks to so many. I have to say how pleased I was with the attendance at the Masses and Ceremonies of the Sacred Triduum. Both Holy Thursday evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper and Good Friday afternoon’s Celebration of the Lord’s Passion were filled to standing room only. I was especially delighted to see a full house on Friday, since this was the first time the parish had celebrated this rite in the afternoon. It just goes to show the great faith and devotion of our parishioners.

At the end of the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening I attempted to thank some of the folks who had helped to make Lent a great time of holiness for the parish and specifically to make the ceremonies of the Triduum so beautiful. I usually don’t do that since I inevitably forget some important contributor—which is exactly what happened on Saturday. So let me try again. First let me thank my brother priests, Fr. Pilon and Fr. Peter, and also Fr. Daly, for the hard work they put in with all the extra Masses and confessions, and for their excellent homilies. I want to thank Fr. Pilon in particular for his outstanding series on the Theology of Mass that was so well attended and received. So many parishioners have told me what a difference his talks made in making this a particularly prayerful Lent.

Let me also thank the choir who worked so very hard and “performed” magnificently— better than I could have ever hoped. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco for her hard work bringing them and all the music together. I also need to thank the altar servers and their leaders, Buz Buczacki and Mark Arbeen, who also acted as Masters of Ceremonies during the Triduum: their devout and careful efforts added so much to the solemnity of the rituals. Also thanks to the ushers, especially Paul DeRosa, who always have their hands full during Lent and the Triduum—I don’t know how they do it all. And I mustn’t forget to thank the lectors and the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, for their dedicated service.

Also, a word about our RCIA folks. A total of 10 persons were baptized, received into the Church, confirmed and/or given first Holy Communion at the Vigil. It’s hard for me to remember a more fired up group of neophytes in the 20+ years I’ve been working with RCIA. Congratulations to them—and let’s all keep them in our prayers. And I’m sure they join me in thanking Bob and Bev Ward for their dedication in teaching them so thoroughly, faithfully and zealously the Catholic faith week after week for the last 8 months.

Also, I can’t forget the Youth Group for their beautiful presentation of the Living Stations of the Cross on Palm Sunday evening. Thanks to all the kids, parents and Jill and Matt Wheeler who worked so hard and did such a wonderful job of bringing our Lord’s Passion to life for us.

Penultimately, several people have noted with disappointment the scarcity of Easter lilies in church this week. Well, I’m afraid I’m to blame: although I love lilies and think their perfect for Easter, I am also terribly allergic to them! So I’m sorry—but there isn’t much I can do about it. However, thanks to the resourcefulness of Carmelita Gamallo and all those volunteers who helped her decorate the sanctuary and church with flowers, and to florist/parishioner Dorothy Bryant, the church was positively radiant with floral splendor.

Finally, thanks to the parish staff for their hard work, but especially for being patient with me as the weeks of Lent rolled on and the Triduum approached. And thanks a thousand times all the important people I forgot to mention. God bless you all.

Angelus Academy Open House. In last week’s column I mentioned that Angelus Academy will be moving to a new location much closer to our parish, as they plan to purchase their own free-standing building at 7644 Dynatech Court in Springfield, near Rolling Road and Fullerton Road. Today (Sunday, May 1) they will be holding an open house at the new building from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm especially for St. Raymond parishioners. Please join me in supporting Angelus, as faculty, staff and friends show off their new digs for us.

Father Peter. As I mentioned in last week’s column, Fr. Peter Odhiambo will be leaving the parish on May 9th after nearly 2 years. Having finished his course work at the John Paul II Institute he will be moving out to St. John’s in Warrenton with Fr. Gould where he will be working to complete his dissertation. Fr. Peter will be celebrating his last Sunday Mass here at 12:15 on May 8th. All are invited to join in a Ice Cream Social immediately after that Mass to thank Fr Peter for his service and send him on his way with our best wishes.

Priest Shortage. Fr. Peter’s departure will leave us with only 2 priests in the parish, Fr. Pilon and myself. I have asked Bishop Loverde to assign another parochial vicar to assist us, please pray for that. But in the meantime we are working out details for another priest to be in residence for the summer, and for still another priest to live in residence during the coming school year. However, for most of May we will be feeling the effects of the priest shortage in the Church. This should serve as a reminder that we all must pray for priestly vocations, especially from our own families. Please be patient with me and Fr. Pilon as we try to serve you as best we can. The schedule will remain the same as usual, except that on Sundays May 15, 22, and 29 the Sacrament of Penance will only be offered before the 10:30am Mass. Please bear with us in the event of an unplanned, last- minute cancellation of a Mass or confession time.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 24, 2011

Father’s Letter April 24, 2011 – Easter

He is risen! He is truly risen!” What a glorious day when Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and opens paradise and eternal life to all those who follow him. I want to take this opportunity to personally, and on behalf of Fr. Pilon and Fr. Peter, wish all of you a glorious, joyful, holy and happy Easter. But this celebration is not ours alone. The joy of Easter is the joy of the whole Universal Church. So today, let’s hear from the pastor of the whole Church, Pope Benedict XVI:

“Et resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas – On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures”. …Every year, in the “Most Holy Triduum of the Crucified, dead and Risen Christ”, as St Augustine calls it, the Church relives the last events of Jesus’ earthly life in an atmosphere of prayer and penance: his condemnation to death, his ascent to Calvary carrying the Cross, his sacrifice for our salvation, being laid in the tomb. Then on the “third day” the Church relives his Resurrection: it is the Passover, Jesus’ passing from death to life in which the ancient prophecies were completely fulfilled. The entire liturgy of the Easter Season sings the certitude and joy of Christ’s Resurrection.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must constantly renew our adherence to Christ who died and rose for us: his Passover is also our Passover because in the Risen Christ we are given the certainty of our own resurrection. The news of his being raised from the dead never ages and Jesus is alive for ever; and his Gospel is alive. “The faith of Christians”, St Augustine observed, “is the Resurrection of Christ”. The Acts of the Apostles explain it clearly: “God has given assurance to all men by raising him [Jesus] from the dead” (17: 31). Indeed, his death did not suffice to demonstrate that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the awaited Messiah. How many people in the course of history devoted their lives to a cause they deemed right and died for it! And dead they remained. The Lord’s death reveals the immense love with which he loved us, to the point of sacrificing himself for us; but his Resurrection alone is our “assurance”, the certainty that what he said is the truth which also applies for us, for all times. In raising Jesus, the Father glorified him. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul wrote: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10: 9).

It is important to reaffirm this fundamental truth of our faith whose historical veracity is amply documented even if today, as in the past, there are many who in various ways cast doubt on it or even deny it. The enfeeblement of faith in the Resurrection of Jesus results in weakening the witness of believers. In fact, should the Church’s faith in the Resurrection weaken, everything will come to a halt, everything will disintegrate. On the contrary, the adherence of heart and mind to the dead and Risen Christ changes the life and brightens the entire existence of people and peoples. Is it not the certainty that Christ is risen which instills courage, prophetic daring and perseverance in martyrs of every epoch? Is it not the encounter with the living Jesus that converts and fascinates so many men and women who from the beginnings of Christianity have continued to leave all things to follow him and put their own lives at the service of the Gospel? “If Christ has not been raised”, the Apostle Paul said, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (I Cor 15: 14). But he was raised!

The proclamation we listen to constantly in these days is exactly this: Jesus is risen, he is the Living One and we can encounter him; just as the women who had gone to the tomb met him on the third day, the day after the Sabbath; just as the disciples encountered him, surprised and dismayed by what the women had told them; just as so many other witnesses met him during the days following his Resurrection. And after his Ascension, …[i]llumined by the Holy Spirit, the members of the early Church began to proclaim the announcement of Easter openly and fearlessly. And this announcement, passed on from one generation to the next, has come down to us and every year at Easter rings out with ever new power. (General Audience, March 26 2008)

Brent Society. I have the honor of being the Moderator of the Brent Society, which, as many of you may recall, last May honored Fr. Gould at its annual dinner with its “Bishop Thomas J. Welsh Distinguished Service Award.” This year this award will be going to Ken Cuccinelli, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, for his outstanding example of Catholicism in the public square. Please consider joining us on the evening of Monday, May 16, 2011.

Angelus Academy. St. Raymond’s parishioners have long-time close ties to Angelus Academy in Springfield–parish Masses were offered there for several years before the church was completed and approximately 40% of Angelus’ students are currently St. Raymond parishioners. In the coming months, Angelus will be moving to a new location much closer to our parish, as they plan to purchase their own free-standing building at 7644 Dynatech Court in Springfield, with lots of room for future growth. But Angelus is not a rich school with a huge endowment, so they need to raise a considerable sum of money from private donations. I encourage you to consider supporting this effort as generously as you can.

Father Peter. As you may have heard, Fr. Peter Odhiambo will be leaving the parish on May 9 after nearly two years. Having finished his STL course work at the John Paul II Institute Fr. Peter has decided to move to a more rural location to complete his dissertation—to St. John’s in Warrenton with Fr. Gould. I can’t say enough to thank Fr. Peter for all his hard work in the parish, and for his personal help to me these last nine months. I’ll have more to say about this in the next few weeks, but for now let me invite you all to join us in “farewell social” for Fr. Peter on Sunday, May 8th after the 12:15 Mass. More info will follow in next week’s bulletin.

Oremus pro invicem! Fr. De Celles

April 17, 2011

Father’s Corner April 17, 2011

Today, we begin Holy Week, the most important days of the Christian year, days in which we spiritually, mentally and emotionally enter into the profundity of the mystery of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. We begin with “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion,” as the crowds in Jerusalem greet Jesus with great anticipation, hoping he is the Messiah, whom they think will raise an army to destroy their Roman occupiers, and restore their nation to greatness. But as the week moves on and Christ refuses to do anything of the sort, they move from Palm Sunday’s jubilant shouts of “Hosanna!” to Good Friday’s hateful shouts of “Crucify him!” From the laying of palm branches at his feet, to nailing him to the cross.

In some ways, this tells the story of most of our lives: one day we praise Jesus by our love, prayers and good works, and the next day we crucify him by our sins. Every Sunday at Mass (hopefully) we praise Jesus, singing “Hosanna in the highest.” But how long until we betray him, as Judas did, by throwing his commandments aside as we go about our daily lives? How long until we deny him as we fail to pray to him? How long until we join the soldiers in scourging him, whipping our brothers with the lash of words of ridicule or gossip? How long until we place the crown of thorns on his head with petty sins of selfishness, and pride—and press it down into his skull as we crush our neighbors’ faith by our scandalous behavior? How long after that will it take for us to drive the nails into his hands and feet and the spear into his side, as our mortal sins open the wounds that kill him?
This week, see in his wounds your sins. But also see in them His love for you—the ineffable love of God the Son who stripped himself of the glory of heaven to hang on a cross, bleeding and gasping for air unto death. How great a love is this—and for us, who have betrayed him, mocked him and nailed him to his cross. Mourn for your sins, grieve for his pain, but also let yourself be overwhelmed by his love.

This is Holy Week—make it truly “holy,” which really means “set apart.” Set it apart from other weeks and days of the year. Yes, go about your business, but do so in the company of Christ at every moment. Pausefromtimetotimeandask,whatwasJesusthinkingthismorningofthe4th daybeforethecross,or this3rd eveningbeforehisscourging?Washealreadyexperiencingtheagonyinhisheartthatflowedover in the garden of Gethsemane? Was he thinking of me? Was he forgiving me, and all of us sinners, for what we were about to do to Him?

Remember to pray, keep your Lenten penances and to avoid all sin—to love one another as Christ has loved you! To truly try, every moment, to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
And take advantage of the very special means the Church provides to help you move more deeply into these mysteries—to set the days apart. Go to daily Mass, or come to church when no one else is here and spend an hour watching with the Lord in the Tabernacle. Remember to join the Universal Church in doing penance by abstaining from meat and fasting on Good Friday (mandatory) and Holy Saturday (strongly encouraged). Most especially, come to the unique liturgies of the week: the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3 p.m. on Good Friday (take the afternoon off!), and even the 2-hour Easter vigil on Holy Saturday night to celebrate Jesus’ true triumph: over sin and death in the Resurrection. Make this truly a Holy Week.

A few words of thanks. I want to thank Teri Tolpa, who has done a wonderful job of chairing our Respect Life Committee these last two years—much of that time commuting 60 miles after moving to Front Royal. Teri will be leaving us this summer to go to graduate school in Denver. Our deepest thanks for a job extremely well done!

Also, thanks to Mairim Bartholomew who has been producing this bulletin for last 10 years. Unfortunately for us, the demands of a full-time job make it necessary for her to hand on the bulletin to someone else. Most of us don’t realize how difficult it is to put a parish bulletin together, having to coordinate deadlines and information coming from all over the place—and a pastor who is constantly late in turning in his column—it’s a tough job. God bless you, Mairim, and thank you for all your dedicated service.

Blessing of Easter Food Baskets. Remember the blessing of the Easter Food Baskets on Holy Saturday at 12 noon in the church. This blessing goes back to ancient customs in various cultures to bless the food that would be consumed in the Easter meal, especially food that had been traditionally given up during Lent: meats, dairy products, eggs, etc. Also, bread is blessed to remind us of the Bread of Life.

Have a truly Holy Week.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

April 8, 2011

During this holy season of Lent, there’s been a lot of talk sin and repentance. Some sins are more obvious than others, because their effect is readily seen. For example, family members see the sins they commit when they hurt each other. But this isn’t always the case, so we need to be able to identify, in an objective way, the kinds of actions that are usually or always sinful.
It occurred to me recently that one category of sins that often gets overlooked is sins against the Church. These sins often go unnoticed, either because we don’t see their direct bad effects or because we simply don’t think of them as sins.

Nowadays, it’s not at all uncommon to hear a Catholic say something like, “I don’t always agree with everything the Church teaches,” and then claim to be a “good Catholic.” Of course, some Church teaching is open to development or change, but until the Church, through the authority of the Pope, recognizes those developments, it is a sin for an individual Catholic to ignore them. And while some positions commonly called “teaching” are actually the Church’s official guidance on difficult questions, even so, too many people who have no expertise in theology ignore these “teachings” because they don’t fit the way they live. Even this is usually sinful: it is against right reason to ignore the advice of experts, especially those appointed by God.

Even so, many of the teachings that Catholics tend to disagree with today are not changeable. For some reason, too many Catholics forget that Jesus handed on the authority to teach in His name to the apostles and their successors, the bishops, and especially to St. Peter and his successors, the popes. He said to the apostles:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (Matt 28: 19).

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt 10: 40).

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).

And to Peter specifically:
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 16:18-19).

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?…Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep….” (John 21:15-17).

This authority was firmly recognized in the 1st and 2nd centuries as having passed on to bishops, the successors to the apostles, especially the bishops of Rome (popes) as successors to St. Peter: “where there is the bishop, there is the Church” (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Smyrniots, c. 105AD).

“[regarding]…the … Church founded …at Rome by ….Peter and Paul;….it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority….” (St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus Haereses, III, 3, c. 175AD).

In the words of Christ, we are “bound” by the teaching of the Pope and bishops in union with him, especially when they indicate, either by constant and universal teaching over the centuries or by their specific words, that a particular teaching is to be definitely held.

Yet many of these definite teachings are the very ones many Catholics refer to when they say “sometimes I disagree with the Church.” A prime example of this is rejection of the teaching on the permanence of marriage and the grave sinfulness of divorce and remarriage (without annulment). While we should have genuine sympathy for those who find themselves in painful situations after ignoring this teaching, even so this Church teaching goes back to the apostolic teaching of Jesus’ own words (See: Mark 10:2-12; Matt 19:3-9; Matt 5:32).

Similar examples are found in the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and extra-marital sex, as well as the “Real Presence,” the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and the necessity of the sacramental of penance for the forgiveness of mortal sins. Even “controversial” teachings, such as the male-only priesthood, are definitive and unchangeable.

Dissent from these and other definitive teachings, publicly or privately, is usually grave matter, the stuff of mortal sins. Yet, so many otherwise good and even devout Catholics readily express this dissent. And while many will say “but that doesn’t make me a bad Catholic,” it most assuredly does, since a “bad Catholic” is one who sins gravely and without remorse.

As bad as sins of dissent are, there is still another kind of sin against the Church which can be equally deadly. One is called not only to accept Church teaching, but also to obey Church law, especially when the law is unambiguous and exceptionless, or rooted in Divine Law. This obedience is based on the 4th commandment to “honor your mother and father”: just as it is almost always sinful, and sometimes gravely sinful, for children to disobey their parents, willful disobedience of Church law is also often sinful, even gravely so.

Finally, there is another kind of sin against the Church: a sin against the love and unity of the Church. It is true, as Pope Benedict once said: “How much filth there is in the Church, …even among those…in the Priesthood…” But the Church is not just the priests, bishops, or even the Pope. It’s not just you and me, this parish, diocese, or the universal church on earth, in purgatory and in heaven. The Church is also the Mystical Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. Ultimately, listening to her counsel, accepting her doctrine and obeying her laws must all be rooted in love – for Christ and His Bride. To the extent this love is half-hearted or perfunctory, or nonexistent, there is sin.

May the Lord Jesus grant us an honest and thorough examination of conscience this Lent, and the grace to repent all our sins.

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. De Celles

p.s. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the angel statues will be going up on the façade of the church. This was part of the original design, and commissioned by my beloved predecessor, Fr. Gould. Let us rejoice and pray that these statues will remind all who enter or pass our church that the angels dwell in this holy temple, God’s house!

4th Sunday of Lent 2011

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

A few weeks ago Pope Benedict released his second volume
of his theological treatise “Jesus of Nazareth.”
As is usual some in the secular media have taken snippets of his writings
out of context and tried stir up trouble.
One thing some have been reporting that he supposedly wrote
that Catholics shouldn.t try to convert Jews.
Of course, if you read what he wrote that.s not what he said at all.
In fact, I had to laugh in reading the stories because they reminded me
that just a couple of years ago, at this same time of year,
the press was attacking Benedict for a prayer
that.s part of the Good Friday liturgy of “Old” Traditional Latin Mass.
Some said the prayer was anti-Semitic because it referred to “the blindness of”
the Jewish people, and prayed they may see “the light of ….Christ,
and “be rescued from their darkness.”

But the controversy got me thinking
about the fact that all mankind, including both Jews and Catholics,
are in need of conversion,
and that at one time or another, and all of us suffer from
spiritual blindness and darkness.
Which is why all of us need the one who called himself: “the light of the world.”

If we need any reminder of this all
we have to do is look at each of today.s 3 Scripture readings..
In the first reading from Isaiah we read:
“Not as man sees does God see.”
In the 2nd reading from St. Paul.s letter to the Ephesians we read:
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
And finally in the Gospel we read
the story of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind.

What is the meaning of all this?
Well, of course, light and dark, sight and blindness
are filled with rich symbolism in Scripture.
Let.s focus on 2 aspects of this symbolism today:
the symbolism of ignorance vs. knowledge,
and the symbolism of sin vs. holiness.

Let.s start with “ignorance.”
First, remember what the word “ignorant” means.
It doesn.t mean “stupid”, it means “not knowing,” or “unaware.”

So St. John and the Holy Spirit tell the true story of the man born blind
in part to remind us of all the people who are born into cultures or families
that have no real knowledge of Jesus, the light of the world.
Included in this group are, of course,
most Muslims and Hindus, Confucians, Shintos, and animists.
We also find some Atheists, especially so many raised in the
Communist and post-Communist regimes of eastern Europe and Asia.
And of course, we find our older brothers in the faith of Abraham,
the Jewish people.

Now, does this mean that all these folks are somehow intrinsically evil,
or less loved by God?
No, not at all.
As Jesus says:
“I came into this world…so that those who do not see might see.”

And it.s not just people from non-Christian cultures who are ignorant of Christ.
The 21st century finds so many people in the western countries
whose cultures are rooted in Christianity,
but who are now so ignorant of those origins.

And it.s worse than that, because so many people
who still call themselves Christians are also ignorant of Christ.
And their ignorance, is in many ways, worse than the others.
Because the have some knowledge of Christ,
but choose to live in ignorance of so much of what he taught.
In effect, they are, in a sense, not born blind,
but they choose to become at least partially blind to the light of Christ.
And to them Christ says:
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, „We see,. so your sin remains.”

So here we come to the 2nd meaning of blindness and darkness: sin.
Jesus said,
“I came …so that those who do not see might see,”
but then he added, “and those who do see might become blind.”
Those who are not ignorant,
choose to act as if they are ignorant—they sin—
and live a life with eyes closed,
choosing to be blind to what they should readily see.

You know, up until about 5 years ago
I had better than perfect 20/20 vision, physical speaking.
But years of overstraining my eyes finally caught up to me
and suddenly I.m up here wearing bifocals.
Some of this is simply aging,
but some is due to my own personal choices of behavior
that led me to loose some of my sight.
And the same thing happens to us when we sin:
my choice to ignore Christ weakens my ability to see Christ as he truly is,
and to see myself for what become.

I was reading the other day how people living in war zones
after awhile get used to seeing all the violence and hardship.
In other words, you sort of become blind to it.
It.s the same thing with people who live surrounded by other peoples. sins
or enmeshed in there own sinful lives.
They stop noticing the sin.

Think about this.
Imagine a good Catholic living in Northern Virginia in 1961
being instantaneously transported in time from 1961 to 2011.
They turn on the TV and find what they think is a channel
devoted entirely soft porn and sick humor.
And you come in the room and all you see is a primetime network sitcom.

Now, in a certain sense,
like the man in the Gospel today and his physical blindness,
all of us are actually born spiritually blind.
Again this is in the same 2 ways: ignorance and sin.

This time let.s talk about sin first.
All of us are born with “original sin.”
One of the effects of Adam and Eve.s first sin is
that none of us is able to see as clearly as we were created to.
For example, you see someone cut in front of you in traffic
and you think you see the meanest dumbest son of a gun you ever met.
And then you notice that the driver is actually a diminutive nun
who looks like of Mother Theresa.
Your vision wasn.t acting the way it was supposed to—it confused good and evil.

This confusion—part of what theologians call concupiscence—
is the result of being born partially blind in original sin.

How do we solve this blindness?
The same way Jesus does in today.s Gospel:
First he puts mud on the man.s eyes
—perhaps as a symbol of the much and filth of sin blinding our eyes.
But then he tells him:
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”
And the man washes, and he sees.
It doesn.t take a Scripture scholar to recognize this is a symbol of baptism
and the grace it pours out on us,
washing away the muck from the eyes of our souls
and opening them to see in the light of Christ.

All of us are also born in the blindness of ignorance.
Did you know that when born we really aren.t able to see very well?
—in a real physical sense all born partially blind,
and have to actually develop and learn how to see
with normal vision.

But babies aren.t only physically blind, also intellectually blind;
in other words, ignorant: they know nothing.
So parents have the duty to teach their children
how to see the world as it really is
—especially the truth of the teaching of Christ
passed down to us in His Church.
Any parent—and I would include spiritual fathers like priests in this
—who fails to do this leaves their child in ignorance and darkness,
and shows their own blindness—either in sin or ignorance.
Like Jesus says of the Pharisees, these parents and priests are:
“they are like blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man,
both will fall into a pit.”

Which lead us to the fact that not all blindness comes to us at birth:
some of us are born into families and cultures
that teach us about the truth about the Gospel,
but we choose to become ignorant,
by letting our good training lapse,
or failing to keep learning as adults.

Many of us—if not most—learned our faith as children:
how many of us have actually tried to seriously continue
to learn about our faith as adults?
When was the last time you sat down read the bible?
or the Catechism?
or one of the great Catholic spiritual classics
—Augustine.s “Confessions,”
or St. Therese.s “Story of a Soul.”
Like the blind man we have to constantly strive to learn more about the Messiah,
asking: “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

And the blindness of sin can also return, even after baptism,
with every actual sin we freely choose to commit in our lives.
As St. Paul tells us in today.s 2nd reading, Baptism makes us “children of light.”
Even so, we can still chose, as he goes on to say,
to “Take part in the fruitless works of darkness.”

But when we do, all is not lost—Christ will not leave us in darkness.
Jesus didn.t just cure the man born blind
—he cured lots of blind people who became blind during their lifetimes.
And so Christ washes our eyes clean of sin not only in Baptism
but also in the sacrament of Penance.
If only we will come to him and confess our sins with sorrow.
As St. Paul goes on to say:
“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them…
everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”

We see in all this that ignorance and sin are very much interrelated.
And we see that ignorance can lead to sin:
But it.s also true that ignorance can actually excuse of the guilt of our sins:
as Jesus says: “If you were blind, you would have no sin”
If you don.t know something is wrong, how can you be guilty?

Sometimes we can.t help being ignorant about something.
Moral theologians call this “invincible ignorance.”
For example, sometimes young Catholics tell me they didn.t know
it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday,
because no ever told them
—in fact priests and teachers in Catholic schools
told them it was NOT a mortal sin.
In one sense, who can blame you for not knowing when you were never taught,
or were betrayed and not taught the truth?

But we need to be careful here:
does your responsibility to learn about Christ end
with the last word you heard leaving Catholic grade school or CCD?
Does having a priest tell you that adultery or contraception is not a sin
negate the fact that even the secular press knows the pope calls it a sin?
Again, are we so blind,
that we can.t read the Catechism or the Bible for ourselves?
Some ignorance we can.t help,
but some is as easily washed away as mud from our eyes.

And we can.t stop with our ignorance.
What about the ignorance of others?
Christ came to be the light of the world,
and he puts his light in you,
and warns you not to “light a lamp” only to “put it under a bushel basket;”
commanding you to
“set it on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.”

You do this first of all by your actions:
your life should be a shining example of knowledge of the truth,
not of your ignorance or you turning a blind eye to the Gospel.

But you also need to talk to people about Jesus:
especially when they ask you questions.
You say, but Father, I don.t know what to tell people about Christ.
Well, then learn—prepare yourself.
And even if you get asked a question you can.t answer, don.t panic.
Look at the man born Blind going toe to toe the Pharisees.
Twice he honestly says “I do not know”,
but then he adds the simple but powerful and irrefutable observation:
“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

Lent is a time for us to recognize that we all live in a world full of darkness,
and some of that darkness is in our own souls.
So now, at this Mass, as we enter into the mystery of the Cross of Good Friday,
let us pray for all the peoples of the world,
that they may come to see and live in the light of Christ,
We pray in a particular way for the Jews,
because we love them in special way:
after all, it was a Jew, the son of David,
who died on the Cross of our sins.
But most of all, we pray for ourselves,
that the grace of Christ
may wash away the ignorance and sin that blinds us,
“rescue[ing] [us] from [our] darkness”,
to “Live as children of light.”

3rd Sunday of Lent 2011

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

“I thirst.”
Jesus said these words as he hung on the Cross.
But he also could have said them as he came out of his 40 days in the desert
where he was tempted by the devil.
And he also probably said them to himself
in the scene recorded in today’s Gospel,
as, tired from his long journey, he sat down by a well in the hott mid-day sun.

But, while Jesus’ thirst was genuinely physical in each of these cases,
his was also a spiritual thirst that came from being surrounded by sin
–from entering into sinful human life,
the life of those who had been cast out of the lush garden of Eden
into the starkness of the barren desert wasteland of sin.
The thirst of those deprived of the waters of ever-lasting life and grace.
It is not his thirst, just as it is not his sin, but he accepts it as his own.

And thus spiritually parched he encounters someone
who has contributed greatly to his thirst by her many sins:
A woman who comes out in the mid-day sun, the hottest time of the day,
in order to avoid her neighbors:
she is a notorious sinner–an adulteress—
both spurned by others and afraid of their animosity.

And yet this is exactly why Jesus is here
—he’s come specifically to meet her, because she is a sinner.

And Jesus deals with her the way he deals with all sinners.
First, he goes someplace he knows sinners will be.
For example, he goes to dinners with tax collectors,
because that’s where the sinners hang out.
And he goes to the temple, to meet the hypocritical priests and scribes
who worship God with their words, but not with their hearts.
And he goes to the Samaritan well in the middle of the day
to meet the woman who’s sins keep her away the rest of the day.

And just like he does with all sinners, he waits for her.
No matter how many times sinners ignore him or run from him,
he waits for them.
Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, he waits for them to return to him.
Patiently, he waits for you and me for years and even decades.
Tired and thirsty in the heat of the mid-day sun,
he patiently waits for the woman at the well.

And when she approaches, he is the first to speak
—he will not be silent in the face of sin.
And he speaks to her in very direct and clear tones: “Give me a drink”
Right to the point—and yet subtle in his own way,
as he draws her into conversation.
And right to the point—he quickly confronts her with the truth
Just as he spoke to the Pharisees, confronting them very directly with their sins:
“you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup …
but inside you are full of …wickedness.”
And to the money-changers in the temple:
“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
but you have made it a den of thieves.”
So he speaks to the woman at the well:
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.”

And finally, he treats each person uniquely
and does whatever is necessary to help the individual sinner:
—he knows very well that every sinner is different,
and that each needs a slightly different approach.
So sometimes, with sinners who needed it,
Jesus had to raise his voice in righteous anger:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
And sometimes he resorted even to physical force:
even making a whip to drive the money-changers out of the temple.
But sometimes, the sinner simply needs
a calm and gentle, but strong and clear, voice,
as with this broken, lonely woman at the well.
This is how Christ is: adapting to the person,
but always with directness and truth,
never compromising or backing down,
and no half-measures.

It’s incredible, all Jesus does just to save sinners.
He suffers for and because of our sins,
and yet he comes seeking us,
waits patiently,
tells us the truth
—even when that might mean we’ll walk away—
and he approaches each of us in the way best suited for us personally.

Yet even all this isn’t enough to win sinners back.
Because God loves us so much that he gives us the great gift of “free will”
–he gives us and respects our freedom to choose.
Two weeks ago we read how Adam and Eve made the wrong choice.
They chose in effect, as so many since them have also,
to live thirsty in the empty desert of sin,
rather than in the lushness of paradise
with its refreshing cool waters of grace.

And so it is with the woman at the well.
She must choose.
She brings her dry, empty water jar out
looking for a way to temporarily quench her thirst.
But rather quickly she discovers she has a choice.
She can choose to be satisfied temporarily with pleasures of the world,
and die in sin,
or she can accept the love and grace of Jesus and his Holy Spirit,
and live forever.
She can wallow in the filth of her own sin,
or she can be cleansed and refreshed in the waters of Baptism.

Like Eve before her, she must choose.
But unlike Eve before her, she chooses well.
So, unlike Eve, who hid from God when he came looking for her in the garden,
the Samaritan woman admits the sins of her past to God—Jesus—
and repents.
So that while before, she carried her empty jar as a sign
of her dependence on the pleasures of the world
now Scripture tells us:
“The woman left her water jar and went into the town.”
Now leaving her sins behind, she’s not afraid to run to her neighbors
and share the good news that she has found the Messiah.

The choice might seem simple and obvious to us.
But if it’s so easy, why do you and I have such a hard time imitating her?
Why don’t we leave behind our sins like an empty water jar
and run out and tell the good news to our neighbors?
To choose Christ is hard
—especially when it means rejecting a whole way, or pattern,
of sinful living accumulated over years.

Consider for example 3 patterns of life
that effect almost everyone in one way or another today
—patterns as old as the story of the Samaritan woman.

First consider the debasing attitude she had toward sex
—she had committed the sin of adultery over and over again.
Today we’re surrounded by this same mentality.
And the incredible saturation of society with immodesty and lust
makes it so overwhelming
that for some, sexual sins become almost like an addiction.
Whether large or relatively small, mortal or venial,
from the way they dress to they way act,
otherwise good people get so easily and unexpectedly caught up in it,
and try as they might can’t seem to find a way out.

Look, for the example,
at the pressure on young couples dating and struggling to be chaste.
–and consider how falling just once,
makes it seem impossible to return to chastity again.

Or look at pornography—or rather don’t look at it.
But it’s everywhere—and God didn’t make us for this kind of
constant and unnatural barrage of the senses and appetites.
Then there’s the terrible debilitating habits of masturbation and contraception
—both so easy to fall into,
but both so degrading to sexuality and the human person.
The woman at the well knew how hard this type of life is to put behind you
—and unfortunately way too many people today do too.

Then consider the related pattern of life that degrades marriage itself.
It became too easy for the Samaritan woman to set one man aside
and take another
—or perhaps for one man to set her aside leaving her prey for another.
The same is true today:
look at all the folks who so easily set aside their marriage vows
when times get tough,
or because their spouse isn’t quite
as young and pretty or handsome as they used to be;
or look at all the people who marry for all the wrong reasons,
and who wind up in miserable marriages, and then in divorce.
Or look at all the couples who are not married
but act like they are by cohabitating
—just like the woman at the well with her current man.

And finally, consider the world’s attitude toward women.
The woman at the well lived in a time
when men were forbidden to even talk to a strange women in public.
Today we pride ourselves on the progress we’ve made in respecting women.
But have we really progressed?
Then why is spousal abuse and abandonment so common?
And why does pornography overwhelming involve
the degradation of the female body?
And why does society degrade the women who want to be mothers,
and even insist that a really liberated woman
must be free to kill her unborn babies?
And why do we deceive women into thinking that contraception
will somehow give them greater freedom,
when in fact the exact opposite is true.
The woman at the well knew how it was to be trapped like this,
and so do many here today.

Sin and patterns of sin are hard to overcome.
The apostles realized this and once asked Jesus in frustration:
“if this is the case, then who can be saved.”
No doubt the woman felt this most of her life, no doubt we often do too.
And there is only one answer—the answer Jesus gave to his apostles:
“With men it is impossible, but not with God;
for all things are possible with God.”

Most of us don’t get to see Jesus face to face, like the Samaritan women did.
But even so, Jesus promised the apostles:
“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
And on the first Easter he told the apostles:
“as the father has sent me, so I send you.”
…whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”
And so he continues to come to sinners
in the person of His priests and in His sacraments.
In particular he comes to us in the sacrament of penance:
he comes to us, waits for us, speaks to us,
and meets us with the compassion or correction we need to start again
And in Jesus’ name the priest washes us clean from sin
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, how few take advantage of this wonderful sacrament.
Think about this:
last week we gave Communion to maybe 3000 folks
at Sunday Masses in this parish.
And yet we heard maybe 200 confessions all last week.
That’s less than 7 % of Communions.
I gave up being an accountant 20 years ago
—but as a priest, something about those numbers troubles me.
Especially when you consider that a lot of those folks who came to confession
go to confession at least once a month, if not more often.
Which means a huge number of folks just don’t go confession.

In just a few minutes we will call to mind how,
on the night before he died on the Cross
Jesus took bread and wine and said
first “this is my body… this is my blood”
and then “do this in memory of me”
So we know that in Holy Communion Christ comes to us sinners,
just as surely as he came to the woman at the well.
But remember, before Christ would give the Samaritan woman
the life giving water,
he first had her face and confess her sins,
and leave her life of sin behind, like she left her empty water jar.
How many of us need to confess and leave our sins behind
before we ask Christ to give us himself in the Eucharist?

Now, of course you only have to go to confession before Communion
if you have a mortal sin to confess.
Maybe you don’t have a mortal sin to confess
—but then again, maybe you do.
I’m not saying you’re all terrible sinners,
I just know that sometimes we just get so used to our sins
we sort of accept them as part of us,
like the woman at the well did—until Jesus confronted her with the truth.

But, even if you don’t have a mortal sin to confess,
why wouldn’t you want to go to confession
to be washed clean from all your sins—even venial?
To a get a brand new fresh start on life?
Why wouldn’t you want to take the time to examine your conscience well
and humbly confess your sins to Christ?
And more importantly,
why wouldn’t you go just to receive the grace poured on you
in the sacrament?
Remember, it’s not just a priest waiting for you in the confessional
—it’s Christ himself.
Just like he waited for the Samaritan woman at the well.

But in both of these sacraments, as in all things, he needs us to choose.
We can come to confession or not, we can make a good confession or not.
We can receive him worthily or unworthily in Communion…or not.
And we can be open to the grace of both Communion and Confession…or not.
We must choose.

This Lent, imitate the woman at the well
and recognize that Jesus comes to us and waits for us, and loves us
—sinners that we are.
As she leads us to Christ,
let us choose to allow him to change our hearts and our lives,
so that we will no longer seek the temporary satisfaction
of the empty pleasures of the world,
waiting to die in the thirst of our sins,
but instead choose to let Christ fill us to overflowing
with the waters of everlasting life,
and live in his love—now and forever.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2011

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

If we look careful at today’s Gospel story of the transfiguration
we see a story marked by stark contrasts:
We have first of all, the change Christ’s appearance, as we read:
“And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.”
And then we see the radical contrast between the transfigured Christ
and the ordinary human appearance of Peter, James, and John
And we also see the apparently contrasting attitudes of the apostles:
on the one hand Peter says: “it is good that we are here”,
and on the hand the text tells us:
“they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.”

This Gospel really is a window into the meaning of Lent.
We read:
“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
Like the 3 apostles, we also go away with Christ during Lent to be alone with him,
and in the mystery of contrast we begin to
discover more about who he really is
and who we really are.

That’s what the apostle did.
They saw His glory, but they also saw how different he was from them
—and not just in appearances:
they saw the infinitely stark contrast between his holiness,
and their own sinfulness..
They saw him standing and talking to the Moses
—the giver of the Commandments of God.
And they saw Christ standing with the prophet Elijah
and remembered how all the prophets had called Israel to repent their sins
and promised a Redeemer who would save them from their sins.
And then they heard the voice from heaven say:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And suddenly, in presence of the perfection
of the eternal God the Father and His only Son,
and reproached by the giver of the Law of God
and the warnings of all the Prophets of God,
as “good as it [was] to be there,”
they “were very much afraid,”
as they came face to face with their sinfulness.

Sometimes it is said that Lent is a season of joy.
But it can only be a season of true joy to the extent
that we allow it to first be a season of true sorrow.
A season of recognizing that, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus:
“it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured,….
he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”
The joy and glory of the resurrection
comes only through his suffering and death on the cross,
and the cross comes only because of our sins.

In short, what joy can be there if we don’t first feel sorrow for our sins?
Conversely, though…for a Christian, sorrow for sins
should never be a slippery slope to hopelessness or despair,
but the first step on the road to glory and the joy
of sharing in the love of Christ.

What is a sin, after all?
St. Augustine tells us that sin
is a turning away from the Creator toward the creature,
loving the things God created more than we love God himself.
To put it another way, sin is about not loving God the way we should.
Think about this:
God loves us so much, and yet we fail to love him so often,
or we love other things more than him.
That’s why the very first commandment is
“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”
But we do this all the time.
Sometimes we put things before God: money, power, being popular.
Sometimes we put people before God,
particularly by letting people tell us what’s right or wrong.
The most common person we put before God is ourselves.
We say, I know the commandments or the Bible or the Church
says I shouldn’t do this,
but I think in this case I can make an exception:
I know better…THAN GOD.

Sometimes we hear people say, I love Jesus and my neighbor,
so the commandments aren’t that important.
As if there was some sort of dichotomy between love and the commandments.
But the thing is, Moses himself summed up the 10 Commandments by saying,
in the old Testament:
“You shall love the LORD your God
with all your heart, …soul, and …strength..”
And on the night before he died, out of love for us, Jesus himself said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments….”
The commandments can never be opposed to love,
they are God’s explanation of how to love.

Some say, but father I keep the commandments.
I’m sure you do, most of the time.
But I’m also sure that everyday most of us break the commandments,
in large ways or small.
Remember, for example, how Jesus explained the 5th commandment:
“You have heard …it …said …., ‘You shall not kill…’
…But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother
shall be liable to judgment…
… and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire..”

That person cuts you off in traffic, you don’t get angry?
Your friend somehow unknowingly hurts your feelings,
and you don’t think, “that fool” or worse,
or go to someone else to gossip about what a fool he is?

We do this all the time—we fail to love: we sin.
Most of the time it’s in small ways.

Sometimes though we sin in more serious ways.
Children yell and scream at their parents,
or pick on or spread ugly rumors
about the weak or different kid at school,
Teenagers lie to their parents about where they’re going at night,
or use alcohol or drugs or other people’s bodies for entertainment;
Parents spoil their children with every material thing they can afford,
or they neglect them by not showing them affection, or correction,
or failing to give them the Catholic faith,
sometimes even failing
to simply bring them to Mass on Sundays.

Spouses act like they’re married to their careers or hobbies,
they abuse each other with ugly words or actions,
or by perverting their conjugal love with contraception.

And single adults honor their parents by graciously calling them….once a year;
career replaces commitment,
ambition replaces charity,
lust replaces love.

Older folks also…
some allow loneliness to turn to bitterness or fear,
physical disability to lead them to selfishness or despair.

And priests…
some spend more time working on their golf game than their homilies.
They preach more about things that make parishioners feel good,
than the truth of the Gospel—including things like the reality of sin.
Not to mention, of course, the other terrible sins we’ve read about.

Small or large, venial or mortal, we all sin.
And that’s why Lent is so great:
in the light of the Cross and Resurrection
we’re recognize the truth about Christ and about ourselves,
about his love and our failure to love.
Again, not to drag us into despair,
but lead us to love.

Now, inevitably when we talk about sin during Lent,
the subject of “doing penance” comes up.
There are, of course, 3 basic forms of Penance:
prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving.
But the question is: what do acts of penance actually have to do with sin?
Or put another way: how does giving up chocolate help me love God.

Before we get to chocolate, though, let’s begin with the penance of prayer.
Prayer is essentially a conversation with God,
or with someone who loves God so much she or he is in heaven
—a saint or angel.
Prayer makes us realize that God and our heavenly family
are actually and really there: always with us, always loving us.
And how do you come to love someone if you don’t talk to them?
If you ignore them?
So we pray.

In prayer we go to God for his help, for ourselves or others.
We go to praise and thank him, and to tell him we’re sorry.
Prayer is the first essential step in knowing God’s love,
loving him back, and growing in love.

Second, almsgiving.
The Last few Sundays we spent some time at each Mass
talking about how we can give alms to the Diocesan Church this Lent,
and today I encourage you to give alms to the people of Japan
in the second collection.
But as noble as that is, there are a million other ways we do this:
because “almsgiving” is just another word for “giving to those in need.”
So it’s not just giving money to worthy organizations,
or even to individual people who come to you in financial need.

Every day people come to you in need that has nothing to do with money.
Children, your parents come home from work tired:
they need you to help set the table,
and not to fight with each other.
Parents, I know you try hard to meet all your children’s needs,
but maybe sometimes you overlook the simplest things:
maybe sometimes they just need you to take time to talk to them.
And your spouses need you, your adult parents need you,
and your friends at work need you—in large ways or small.
And think of all the people you know
who desperately need to know about the love of Christ.
Who might even need you to point out that sins are not loving.

When you respond to any these genuine needs you are giving alms.
And you are replacing sin with love,
you are saying loving God and neighbor
are more important than my money or my time and effort,
or even my pride.
And you developing habits of love—you move toward true holiness.

And finally, sacrifices.
This is probably the most misunderstood and underappreciated
form of penance—yet it’s so important.
But how does giving up chocolate help you love God?

First, like almsgiving, it helps us to love God by recognizing that nothing
is more important than God.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
every time I look at that piece of chocolate in Lent I say
“I love God more than this chocolate.”
Small thing, but concrete, and effective.

Also, like almsgiving, sacrifice helps you recognize the sufferings of others:
every time your stomach rumbles or you crave that piece of cake,
you remember all the people who go hungry every day,
or suffer in any way:
the poor, the lonely, the oppressed, the ignorant.
And you hear the voice of Christ saying:
“whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

Beyond that is the aspect of self-discipline:
in the same way an athlete practices and exercises over and over again,
we practice self-denial we exercise our will, to strengthen our ability
to choose and do good even when it’s so hard,
and to persevere against evil even when it’d be so easy to give in.

Also sacrifice helps us to recognize that our sins
are in fact worthy of punishment.
We could never begin to repay the Lord for our transgressions,
but our willingness to accept self-punishment helps us to
express our sorrow and our deepest desire to make atonement,
and to recognize the depth of the wrong we have done.

Finally, and most importantly,
the penance of sacrifice helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ.
Every small pain or hardship coming from our sacrifices
reminds us how much he loved us,
that he would endure so much more for us.
And so, again, we return to the core of Lent:
the glory of his love for us,
a love that lifts us up even when we have freely chosen to fall.

But in the end, no matter what we do, it’s all straw if we don’t
allow our penance to open our hearts to the power of his love.
As St. Paul reminds us:
“He …called us to a holy life, not according to our works
but according to …the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.”

So in Lent we seek his grace because we know that
what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.
And we find his grace in so many ways and moments of Lent,
but most clearly and powerfully in the sacraments
of the Eucharist and Penance.

As all of Lent looks to the Cross of Christ,
the Eucharist is the sacrament of his Cross.
At every Mass we go up the mountain with all the saints and angels
to see the glory of the Lord Jesus
giving up his body and shedding his blood,
so that sins may be forgiven—your sins and my sins.

And as the Cross points to the Resurrection,
we remember that on the evening of that first Easter
Jesus appeared to his apostles, breathed on them, and said:
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
So in the sacrament of Penance,
where we confess and express sorrow for our sins
before God and the Church, in the person of the priest,
we believe and know that the power of Christ’s merciful love
pours out on us, and every single sin is washed away.
And we receive the grace of that love,
the power to love him and one another just as he has loved us.

During Lent we go away to be with the Lord
just as Peter, James and John once did.
And here, in the light of his glory,
we are stunned by the contrast between
the magnificence of his love for us,
and our own miserable failure to love him in return.
In this holy season the Lord calls us to recognize our sinfulness,
not so that we will wallow in self-loathing,
but to move us to change our hearts
and open our lives to his infinite grace.

Today, in the presence of our Eucharist Lord,
we imitate the apostles and fall prostrate before his glory.
Be afraid of what your sinful choices have done to you,
but see the Lord coming to you and saying
“be not afraid” to accept and return his love.
And let us thank the Lord
for the gift of this Holy Season of Lent,
saying with St. Peter: “it is good that we are here.”

1st Sunday of Lent 2011

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

This week we began 40 days and nights of Lent, in imitation of Christ
who, as we read in today.s Gospel, began his road to the cross
by going out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.
But why did Jesus do this in the first place—why did he go out into the desert?
It may surprise us to find that Scripture tells us:
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

Why did Jesus choose to be tempted?
Today.s 2nd reading reminds us that:
“just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
So we remember that Jesus came to reverse the sin of Adam and Eve.
And to do that he sets himself up to do the exact opposite of what Adam and Eve
did in the beginning.
So we go back to today.s 1st reading from the beginning of Genesis,
where we recall that original sin.
There we see the clear contrast between what Adam and Eve
did in the beginning,
and what Jesus did in the desert.

For example, first, Eve is tempted by the devil and gives in,
whereas Jesus is tempted and refuses to give in.
Second, Eve is living in perfect paradise that God created for man,
whereas Jesus is in the desert:
symbolic of the desolation that sin created for man.
And third, we see the obvious but often unspoken:
Eve is a female, and Christ is a male.

Now, before you start getting all defensive….I.m not going to pick on Eve.
Think of this: where is Adam when Eve is being tempted?
In the beginning Adam doesn.t defend his wife against the devil,
but Jesus comes to rid his bride, God.s people, of the attacks of the devil,
and will never abandon his bride to his temptations.
And even as Adam freely chooses to follow his wife into sin,
Jesus refuses to join his bride in sin,
but rather comes to save her from sins.
And so it can be said, as St. Paul does today:
“through …one man the many were made sinners,
so, through … one, the many will be made righteous.”

We.ll talk about more of these parallels later, but the point is,
Christ came into the world to undo everything Adam, with Eve did that day.
The victory was completed on the Cross on Good Friday,
but the battle was begun in the desert, where
like David his ancestor who went out to meet Goliath in battle,
Jesus also goes out to meet the devil in the battle to end all battles.

So as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter Sunday,
we begin by not only
joining Jesus in his 40 days and nights of praying and fasting,
but also joining him in all out war with our sins and temptations.

But what exactly is temptation?
It.s very simple, actually.
Temptation is when something bad appears to us to be good.
Think about it: we never do bad things because we think of them as bad
—we do them because they seem at the time to be good.
For example, when a diabetic gives in and eats a piece of chocolate cake,
he doesn.t do it because he says to himself,
“O goodie, if I eat this I.ll feel really bad”;
he eats it because he says to himself, “If eat this it will taste good!”
Or when that person cuts you off in traffic,
you don.t think
“I really want to do an evil thing right now”;
no, you think: “it would really feel good to yell at him!”

We see this in today.s 1st reading:
the devil doesn.t point out the terrible consequences of disobeying God.
No, he tells Eve:
“You certainly will not die!
No…your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods”!!
He manipulates the truth, making the evil seem to be good.

This is temptation, but there are also 2 basic sources of temptation:
internal temptation and external—temptation from within and from without.
Again, we see both of these in the 1st reading.
For example, we see the external temptation of the devil
—notice how it.s the devil who initiates the conversation—it says:
“The serpent asked the woman.”

But the temptation of the devil isn.t the only kind of external temptation:
external temptation also comes from other human beings.
And so Scripture tells us:
“[Eve] also gave some [of the fruit] to her husband, …and he ate it.”
Sometimes this kind of temptation is willful and intended,
but sometimes you don.t even know your tempting someone.
Eve might have talked Adam into it,
or he might just have followed her bad example.
Still, the fact is, Adam was tempted by Eve—from the outside.

And we also see internal temptation in this reading, but a bit more subtly.
Scripture tells us that before they sin everything is perfect in paradise,
but after the sin everything falls apart.
Before they sin happy and share themselves completely with each other
—Scripture tells us:
“they bec[a]me one flesh. [they] were both naked,
and were not ashamed.”
But after the sin the harmony is gone, as we read:
“they realized that they were naked…
and made loincloths for themselves.”
It.s as if now they couldn.t decide, “is this good, or bad?”

So, while before the original sin Adam and Eve
are only tempted from the outside, by the devil,
after sinned the confusion also starts to come
from inside themselves.
Traditionally we call this internal confusion between good and evil
–caused by the original sin–

All of us have this internal temptation because of the first sin,
and so St. Paul tells us today:
“through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”
Only Adam and Eve began life without this internal source of temptation.
that is, until Jesus—and his Mother Mary—came along.
So notice how Jesus—who is without concupiscence, just like Eve was at first—
is only tempted from the outside, just like Eve was before her sin.
And so Jesus comes, to begin everything new,
in the same moral place as Adam and Eve,
so that he can resist the temptation of the devil as they failed to do,
and reverse the sin that they committed.

Nowadays, some people say there is no devil,
or that there may be an evil force in the world,
but there is no personal evil, no person who is the devil.
But for Catholics, and for all Christians, this shouldn.t be a problem:
the Bible is very clear: there is a real live devil.
And he.s not alone—Scripture tells us that the chief devil,
called “Satan” or “Lucifer”,
is Lord over legions of other demons.

So it would be foolish to deny or ignore his existence.
Jesus didn.t: he knew him personally and went out to meet him and fight him.
And the devil hated Jesus and he hates us.
He tempted Jesus, and he still tempts us.

But he is not all-powerful: only God is all powerful.
And so Jesus beat the devil in the desert and he conquered him on the cross.
So when we face the fact of the devils temptations
and join Jesus in the desert this Lent and at the cross this Good Friday,
Jesus can and will save us from the devil.s temptation,
and protect us from the evil he tries to spread in our lives.

As I said, many people deny the existence of the devil, much to their sorrow,
because then they deny his temptations.
But not many deny the fact that people often tempt each other.
The problem is we usually don.t take it very seriously.
So during Lent we need to consider carefully the extent this kind of temptation
is present in our lives.

First, we have to consider how other people tempt us
—whether they mean to or not.
Consider the friends we have, and perhaps the bad influence they have on us.
Or consider the heroes we have, or the examples we follow:
—why someone like Lady Gaga,
is more important to our kids than someone like
Mother Theresa, or Maria Goretti, or Elizabeth Ann Seton?
For that matter, why do grown men place more importance
on reading an interview with Ben Roethlisberger
than a book written by Benedict XVI?

And while we have to consider carefully how others tempt us,
we also have to consider how we tempt others.
For example: do we gossip at work, and lead others into gossip.
Do parents fight in front of their children,
teaching their children to fight and bicker with each other?
What about tempting others in impurity—again, even unintentionally.
Now, eyes front!—no casting of judgmental eyes at your neighbors.
Think about the way you dress:
for example: ladies, do you realize that guys really do think differently
about the female body than you do?

That.s external temptation.
Then there is the internal temptation.
While baptism is like a medicine
that washes and heals the open wound of original sin,
concupiscence remains behind like a scar on our hearts.
And it confuses our own internal desires, we, in effect, battle ourselves.
That that more often than not, that little voice telling you,
“go ahead, no one will know,”
it.s not the devil talking,
but you confusing good and evil all by yourself.
I don.t know about you, but I don.t need anyone to tempt me
to eat chocolate cake,
no one needs to tell me “it.s good for you”
—I can do that all by myself.

Lent is a battle with all these temptations—internal and external.
And like any enemy, temptations come at us from all different angles
and try to turn our weaknesses against us.
Again, we see this as the devil tries to attack Jesus by appealing
to 4 common human weaknesses
—where concupiscence is particular prevalent.

First, he attacks the senses and the appetites:
— the Gospel tells us that Jesus “was hungry.”
and so the devil tempts him to
“command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
This Lent then, do something to mortify and discipline the senses and appetites.
For example, sacrifice a favorite food, or a favorite television show.

Second, the devil preys on our weakness to presume God.s mercy.
And so he tempts Jesus:
“throw yourself down.
For it is written:
„He will command his angels …
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone..”
How many sins do we commit every day thinking,
“well, it.s okay, God will forgive me.”
So during Lent, we make it a point to go to confession
to admit our sins to God, to the priest and to ourselves.
Or, how many times we sin on Friday night saying
“I.m going to confession tomorrow, so what the heck?”
So during Lent we make special sacrifices on Friday to remind us that
we should never presume to manipulate God.s love for us like that.

Then the devil appeals to our desire to possess things
—to our greed, avarice and lust.
So he
“showed [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world …
and said to him, „All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me..”
And so in lent we work on not wanting to posses things by
sacrificing things we like and giving our things to the poor
and by controlling where our eyes rove and what they watch on TV.

Finally, the devil preys on our greatest weakness: pride.
And so he badgers Jesus saying:
“If you are the Son of God.”
But as St. Paul writes:
“Jesus…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped at,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
And so in Lent, we practice humility,
trying to imitate God by become servants to each other,
performing good works and accepting the humiliation that life brings.

Today as we continue to imitate Christ.s 40 days and nights in the desert
we have to remember why he did all this:
that he went out “into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
–to face the same temptation that Adam and Eve had,
and to conquer it.
So this Lent,
let.s also go out with Jesus to do battle with our own temptations
—whether from the devil, from our neighbors, or from ourselves.
Not thinking we can defeat them on our own,
but remembering that Christ has gone before us
and is still with us today
giving us his mighty grace
to wage and win the battle.

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”