TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

2nd  Sunday of Lent

March 17, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today the Gospel tells us that:

“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.

Prayer, of course, is one of the 3 traditional forms of doing penance during Lent,

the others being almsgiving—or acts of charity—and sacrifice—or fasting.

If there were one thing I could improve about our prayer lives

—yours and mine—

this Lent it would be this:

that we would learn how to more devoutly and perfectly

pray the greatest prayer of the Church:

this prayer we’re doing right now: the Holy Mass.

 

Now, most people don’t think of Mass as a prayer.

Some think of it as something we do simply because we have to.

For these people the Mass often becomes an empty meaningless ritual.

 

Some think of it as sort of a series of prayers the priest says.

For these people the Mass becomes something they just sort of come to watch,

something that doesn’t really include them.

 

Still others think of the Mass something that should make them feel good,

For these people, Mass becomes a form of entertainment,

so that when it’s quiet, or the music isn’t to their liking,

or when the preacher isn’t funny enough,

or he challenges them in an uncomfortable way,

maybe, God-forbid, talking about sin and or morality,

they go away either bored, disappointed or even angry.

 

And still others think Mass is sort of performance or task to be done.

And they think if they are not physically active in the Mass in some notable way,

maybe serving, or lecturing, or distributing Communion,

or somehow moving around, or for some, even dancing,

they don’t feel like they’ve “done” Mass.

 

___

But Mass is a prayer

a magnificent prayer that involves all of us and each of us,

from beginning to end,

Although there are various different prayers in the Mass,

they all come together to form one prayer

—and when we understand that one prayer

and the meaning of that one prayer,

it becomes not only intensely personal and practical,

but profoundly meaningful and life-changing.

 

____

Again, let’s go back and look at the Gospel.

Why does Jesus take His disciples up the mountain to pray?

Can’t they pray wherever they’re at?

Besides, wasn’t Jesus in constant prayer, constantly talking to the Father?

 

While Jesus is God, He’s also a man, and can be distracted like all men.

And so He takes Himself and His very human apostles, Peter, James and John,

and takes them away to be alone to pray.

 

People often tell me they don’t need to come to Mass to pray

—they can pray anywhere.

And that’s true—just like Jesus.

But also like Jesus, and the apostles, to pray without distraction,

we also all need to go away to a quiet place where no one will distract us

—where no one will interrupt us and cell phones won’t find us,

someplace like a church.

 

But also, and most importantly we come to church to pray

for the same reason the apostles went up the mountain:

to be in the place where Jesus was.

Some say, but isn’t Jesus everywhere, spiritually speaking?

Sure.

But He has chosen to make Himself really and truly present in the church,

especially at Mass,

promising that the Eucharist would be His true presence among us:

taking bread and saying, “this is my body.”

So we come here to be in Christ’s true presence.

 

__

So….Peter, James and John go up the mountain

to be with Jesus and to pray with Him.

And what happens?

St. Matthew tells us:

“Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep.”

They went to pray, but got bored and distracted and fell asleep?

Sounds familiar.

How many of us have ever been at Mass and gotten bored or distracted

and fallen asleep?

Maybe physically taking a nap,

or maybe just mentally, letting our mind wander and daydream.

 

And what happens when the apostles fall asleep?

St. Matthew tells us a great miracle happens:

“[Jesus’] face changed in appearance

and His clothing became dazzling white.

And behold, two men were conversing with Him, Moses and Elijah.”

And all the while the apostles are asleep!

 

What happens when we fall asleep in Mass, physically or mentally?

A great miracle happens: Jesus appears on the altar,

and with Him, not only Moses and Elijah,

but the whole company of heaven—all the angels and saints, and Mary!

And we don’t even notice it, because we’ve let ourselves drift away.

 

Fortunately for the apostles they woke up before the transfiguration ended,

and they saw Jesus in his glory.

And they realized that in spite of the fact that “all” they were doing was praying,

this was no boring place and time,

this was a wondrous and momentous occasion!

So Peter doesn’t whine, “can we go yet?”

but rather gasps:

“Master, it is good that we are here;

And he doesn’t race to get away like so many do at the end of Mass,

but rather says:

“let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses,

and one for Elijah.”

In other words, he doesn’t want to leave!

 

You might say, well if Jesus appeared transfigured before us at Mass

we wouldn’t be bored or want to leave either!

But the thing is, He does!

He appears here just as surely as He appeared on Mt. Tabor,

the mount of Transfiguration.

Only here He appears transfigured not in glory, but in humility

—He is transfigured or transubstantiated

into the appearance of a piece of bread and a cup of wine.

Maybe not as glorious in appearance, but just as astounding and wondrous.

 

____

Of course there’s even more to the story

—the story of the transfiguration and the story of the Mass.

It’s interesting that Peter is the only apostle to speak in today’s Gospel,

while James and John remain silent.

Even so we know they must have been just as overwhelmed as Peter.

Which reminds us that it’s not only the ones who have, if you will,

active speaking roles that are involved in the miracle

—of both Tabor and the Mass.

 

Think particularly of St. John—the one called “the beloved disciple.”

Think of how all this affected this very young man

who became the great mystic and theologian of the apostles.

Imagine what he was thinking just a few weeks later when

he, John, stood on a different mount miles away

—not Mt. Tabor, but Mt. Calvary.

 

There he also stood looking up at Jesus.

And there he also saw Jesus with 2 other men, one on either side of Him.

But now Christ was no longer in transfigured in glory,

but in suffering and humility.

And the 2 men at His sides were not Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the prophet,

but 2 criminals.

 

Even so, with the same eyes that saw His glory on Mt. Tabor,

and with the same ears that heard His Father say from the cloud:

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him”

John began to understand what Jesus had meant when He had said:

“when I am lifted up from the earth, then will draw all men to myself.”

 

And he remembered how at Tabor, as we read today:

“Moses and Elijah…spoke of his exodus

that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

And on Calvary, as he looked up at the blood flowing from Jesus’ hands and feet

staining the wood of the Cross,

John remembers that that very day—Good Friday—

was the anniversary of the exodus of Moses out of Egypt

–the Passover, when the Hebrews were freed

by the blood of the Lamb

staining, not the wood of a cross,

but the wood of their door posts!

He remembers how St. John the Baptist had called Jesus

the Lamb of God who would save his people.

He remembers how

before Moses, Abraham himself had offered sacrifice for his people,

and how after Moses the prophet Elijah had also offered sacrifice

to save his people,

and that just the night before Jesus had said that his body

would also be sacrificed, or “given up,” for his people.

 

And on Calvary John sees the 2 thieves

taking the place of Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ sides,

showing how sin seems to have conquered

the promises of the law and the prophets;

but then he hears one of the thieves repent, and Jesus say to him:

“today you will be with me in paradise”

and John understands that the love of the Cross conquers sin,

and offers the glory of heaven to every man.

 

____

Today we stand in the shoes of St. John at Calvary

beholding both the suffering of Christ and his glory.

We see his bloody sacrifice of the Cross transfigured before us,

into the unbloody appearance of bread and wine.

But like John we look beyond what we seem to see

and with the eyes of faith we see what is truly present:

we see the glory and wonder of the love of Christ offering himself

on the Cross for our sins,

and through our Holy Communion

with His Crucified and glorified Body

transfiguring or transforming us to share in his glory.

Or as St. Paul says in today’s second reading:

“He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body

by the power that enables him also

to bring all things into subjection to himself.”

 

_____

Who could ever think this is

an empty ritual, or that it doesn’t include us?

Who could ever be disappointed or bored, or even angry?

We could, and often do and are.

We who come to Mass and are so easy distracted because,

as St. Paul says:

“Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”

But my friends, Paul also reminds us:

“our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior,

the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

___

Now, as we continue this Holy Mass,

let us go up the Mountain with Peter, James and John, and Moses and Elijah,

and with Mary and Joseph and Raymond

all the saints and angels of heaven

to pray with Christ.

Let us remember that

by the blood of Christ

we have become citizens of heaven

and for a few precious minutes

not let ourselves be bound by earthly ways of thinking.

Let us awake from sleep to see the magnificent miracle not of transfiguration,

but transubstantiation.

Let us see in what seems to be bread

the true glory of the Body of Christ Crucified for our sins.

Let us enter into the heavenly prayer of our Glorious Lord and his Church,

the Holy Mass.

Let us pray, and understand how truly “good it is that we are here.”

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2019

1st Sunday of Lent

March 10, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

So we have begun the season of Lent.

It is a season that turns us in particular way to focus our minds and hearts

on the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross

and on the fact that is we and our sins who brought Him there.

 

Unfortunately some insist that this is the wrong approach to this season:

they try to downplay the ideas of suffering, sacrifice and crucifixion

and turn our attention straight to the joy of resurrection

—why focus on the negative, when there’s so much positive?

 

But they are misguided:

they’ve lost sight of who Jesus really is and why He came into the world.

This is nothing new:

it’s the same problem the devil had in today’s Gospel reading:

The devil really seems not to understand who Jesus is.

For example, he says twice: “If you are the Son of God…” [do this or that].

And besides, if he knew that Jesus was really God,

he wouldn’t have even tried to tempt Him,

because he’d know that he’d fail miserably,

and the devil hates to be humiliated.

 

The devil has angelic powers and knowledge,

but he’s not all-powerful or all-knowing.

He knew Jesus was different than any creature he’d seen,

and he may have recognized Him as the Messiah,

but maybe he didn’t understand that the Messiah

would also be the “Son of God,” and “God the Son.”

Or maybe he just couldn’t accept that

the Creator of the Universe would choose to become

this weak pitiful creature starving in the desert.

Whatever the reason, it seems pretty clear that in the desert

Satan didn’t really understand who Jesus was.

 

But he does now.

And while he no longer even dreams of tempting Christ,

he still tempts the rest of mankind on earth.

And he tempts us to become like him,

—particularly by helping us to simply not recognize Jesus for who he is.

To forget that he is the God who, out of love for us,

was nailed to the cross by our sins.

 

But we mustn’t fall to this temptation.

And so in Lent we go out into the desert to face the devil and his temptations

just like Jesus did.

Mind you, we don’t go out looking to find new temptations

—but to become aware of the temptations we’ve been falling prey to

every day of our ordinarily lives.

 

___

In the desert the devil tempted Jesus to make bread out of stone

–to satisfy his appetite.

Every day the devil also tempts us to satisfy our appetites,

to seek the meaning of life in pleasure, not in suffering.

And so we don’t understand that Christ came to suffer and die

for the times we embraced the pleasures of the flesh,

trying to “live on bread alone,”

rather than “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

 

The devil tempted Jesus to have dominion over the kingdoms of the world

–to find his purpose and success in the world.

And the devil tempts us to find our success and purpose in the world

—in money, power and possessions.

And so we don’t understand how Jesus’ could find

success and purpose in poverty and humiliation.

 

Finally, the devil tempted Jesus to cast Himself from the parapet

and make the angels catch Him

–to prove He was God and had power over the natural order of creation.

And he tempts us to try to act like God,

to usurp God’s authority and manipulate the natural order of God’s creation,

by trying to control and redefine the meaning

of life and death and love,

not to mention sex, marriage and wealth.

And so we can’t understand how Jesus could come to be obedient to His Father,

even to point of submitting to His Father’s will to accept death on a cross.

 

____

Lent is 40 days of preparation for celebrating the Resurrection on Easter.

But before the glory of Easter comes the suffering of the Cross on Good Friday.

All of Lent, then, is, in a way,

a meditation on and an attempt to share in the Passion of Jesus,

and to become more worthy of His love.

 

We do this in various ways.

We make sacrifices, to our show our desire to pay for our own sins,

and to free ourselves from the temptation to be attached

to our appetites, to worldly power

and to trying to manipulate God’s natural order

And we also “give alms”— acts of charity, of love, for those in need,

just as Jesus did for love for us sinners, so desperately in need of his help.

 

But above all we pray.

In Lent we have particular ways of praying, praying that specifically leads us

to meditating on the love of the Cross.

One way we do this is by praying the Stations of the Cross

—either alone or together, as we do here

every Friday evening with the whole parish.

Other ways include the special Lenten Holy Hours and talks

we’re having every other Thursday during Lent

—I’ll be giving a ½ hour mediation each week on

“the Agony in the Garden.”

 

But above all, we have the greatest prayers of Church: the sacraments.

In Lent, as we focus on our sins and doing penance for them

the Sacrament of Penance comes to the forefront.

All of our efforts to recognize and confront our sins and temptations

and all the sorrow and all the firm resolve to amend our lives

bears fruit as we then bring them to Christ Himself,

and confess them to the priest standing in place of Christ.

Here the love of Christ pours forth from

from His pierced hands and feet and side

and we receive the grace both of forgiveness and to amend our lives.

 

And yet, when you consider that on any given Sunday

about 3000 adults attend Mass and receive Communion in this church,

it is a scandal that in any given week only 50 to 100 adults

attend Confession and receive absolution.

 

Perhaps this is because

we’ve not only forgotten what the Sacrament of Penance is,

but also what the Sacrament of the Eucharist is.

But in Lent the Church reminds us that the Mass is first and foremost

a re-presentation of the very same sacrifice

that Jesus offered on the Cross on Good Friday,

and we really, truly and completely

look upon Him whom we have pierced with our sins.

How can we look on Him, and worse yet,

how can we say that we love Him and receive Him in communion,

when we have failed to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness

in the manner He specifically gave us,

when He told the apostles:

“who’s sins you forgive are forgive,

whose sins you hold bound are held bound.”

 

Some will say, but Father,

the sacrament of penance is only necessary for mortal sins,

and only mortal sins make me unworthy to receive communion.

True, but there’s more to Confession than that!

How many of you are willing to stay seated during Communion today

denying yourself the chance to be one with Christ in this most sacred way under the logic, that well, I received last week, or last month or last year,

so I really don’t have to receive today.

And yet so many will tell themselves this week

I went to confession last month, or last year,

I don’t really have to receive the grace of Christ’s forgiveness today,

I don’t want to take time to think about how my sins

have pierced the hands and feet of my Savior,

and I don’t really need to bathe

in the love poured out from His wounded side.

No. I don’t want that, I don’t need that.

 

___

It’s so very easy to be tempted into misunderstanding who Jesus is,

and why He did what He did for love of us,

and how we do not do what we do out of love for Him.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This Lent, don’t listen to those who would confuse you about Jesus.

Do not seek Him in pleasure, but in sacrifice.

Not in works that lead to distraction or amusement,

but in works that lead to meditation and reflection.

Not in the world, but in His Church, His word, and His sacraments.

For these 40 days in the desert, focus your mind and heart

on the love of Christ poured out on the Cross,

and on the repentance of your sins that nailed Him there.

TEXT: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, March 3, 2019

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

March 3, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This last week we saw 2 outrageous failures committed by our leaders

that should make us all angry and bewildered.

Last Sunday, the leaders of the Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world

closed their Vatican summit with the Pope for the protection of children

with almost nothing really new accomplished.

And then on Monday, the democrats in the U.S. Senate defeated a bill called

“The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”,

which would have required that babies born alive after failed abortions

would receive the same life-sustaining medical care all newborns receive

—meant to counter the growing trend at the state level to legalize

the killing of these newborn babies, either directly or by neglect,

as was recently promoted by our own governor and delegate.

 

It is amazing to me that our leaders, in the Church and in our nation,

could fail so miserably to see the truth of the great sins and crimes

that lay so obviously before them,

that they could have prevented or corrected, but chose not to.

 

It’s as if they were blind.

Which begs the question Jesus asks us today:

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?

Will not both fall into a pit?”

 

How can the bishops plan to lead us,

when they are blind to the most basic problems staring them in the face?

How can they lead us to holiness, to purity, to the truth, to humility,

if they don’t see the impurity, lies, and pride that lead them

to abuse the vulnerable or to cover-up for or even promote those who do?

 

And how can senators lead us to be a nation

respecting the rights of human beings,

when they can’t even see that the most fundamental right to life

clearly applies to babies, at least once they’re born,

if not also while still in the womb.

If they can’t defend the most fundamental right to the life

of the most innocent and vulnerable among us,

how can we take seriously their claims to understand

what is good and necessary for the rest of us?

And if they are anti-human-life,

are they not also totally anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-minority?

 

___

Today Jesus tells us:

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,

nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.

For every tree is known by its own fruit.

 

Both our nation and our Church are fundamentally good trees,

and not just good, but great trees.

So why is it that both are bearing such rotten fruit nowadays?

The thing is, both are actually bearing both good fruit and rotten fruit.

The Church is producing great saints,

but there are also so many great sinners in our midst,

like the McCarricks we know and don’t know.

And America is doing great things, and yielding some great leaders,

but also some who are so foolish, or even downright evil.

 

So while both trees are fundamentally good,

there seems to be something like a disease infecting both.

And not surprisingly, it’s the very same disease: sin.

 

But the thing is, that sin infects the whole tree:

not just our cardinals and bishops, and senators and congressmen,

but also the people of the Church and the nation—you and me.

 

How do you think we got so many rotten leaders?

In politics, the people elected them.

And they elected rotten leaders fundamentally because of sin.

For example, the sins of greed, envy and lust:

too many times we vote for whoever will offer us the most of what we want,

instead of what is best for each and all of us.

Or maybe just the sin of sloth, laziness, as we were too lazy to get out and vote.

 

And in the Church, how many times did I hear Ted McCarrick,

when he was cardinal, praised for how nice he was,

how smooth and clever he was.

In all candor, he was never known as a great defender of the faith.

He used to say things that made people feel good, that would make him popular.

But he would run away from saying the hard things that Jesus Himself taught.

 

As the first reading from Sirach tells us today:

“the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had;

so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”

And as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;

but wanting to have their ears tickled,

they will accumulate …teachers …in accordance to their own desires…

No doubt St. Paul despises the false teachers,

but he places part of the blame on the “people”

who “want to have their ears tickled.”

 

___

Jesus goes on to say today:

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,

but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”

Now, I want to be careful here, because I don’t want to be misunderstood as

“blaming the victim.”

But let’s be honest with ourselves.

We can and should be mad as heck at the bishops or politicians

for being blind to the reality around us,

but don’t we also bear some part of the blame?

Aren’t we also blinded sometimes, by our own sins?

If not, how did all these bad politicians get elected?

 

Now, many of you did get out and vote, and you voted well.

And many of you do not want your ears tickled by weak priests and bishops,

and you’ve done your best to embrace sound doctrine.

But none of us is perfect.

People say that I’m pretty outspoken and forthright,

but how many times have I sat by and said nothing

when a bishop or priests preached heresy in the public square?

Maybe I did so out of wisdom or prudence,

but sometimes maybe it was just out of simple laziness or cowardice….

 

And maybe it’s not a great big “wooden beam” in your eye,

maybe it’s just a little “splinter.”

Fine.

But, a tiny splinter in the eye can cause the same pain and blindness as a beam.

So, paraphrasing Jesus:

“Remove the splinter or beam from your eye first;

“then you will see clearly to remove the beam or splinter

in your brother’s eye.”

 

____

This Wednesday we begin the Season of Lent,

a great time to “perceive” and “remove the splinters and beams from” our eyes.

So, as a rule during Lent, I try to avoid preaching about things

that touch on broader societal or Church matters, like abortion or abuse,

and instead try to focus on growth in personal holiness

and appreciation of Jesus’ love for us.

 

But as you see, the 2 are connected, intimately.

So as we look out on a country and a Church in the middle of real crises,

mired in the corruption of sin,

we also begin Lent, and so turn our eyes to ourselves.

For, lasting change in the world and in the Church can only come

from cooperating with the grace of Jesus Christ,

and that change and cooperation must begin with us.

Whether it’s simply changing our willingness to accept and be satisfied

with the self-serving promises of politicians or bishops,

or whether it’s a turning away from our more deadly personal sins,

even those reflected in the lives of those same politicians and bishops.

 

____

Lying to ourselves and ignoring the truth

has gotten our country and especially our Church into the mess we are today.

Don’t let it do the same to you.

Whatever it is, let’s be brutally honest with ourselves this Lent.

Let us no longer be blinded, by the beams or splinters of sin,

but by the grace of Christ, let us remove them from our eyes first,

“then [we] will see clearly to remove the splinter in [our] brother’s eye.”

TEXT: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 24, 2019

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Today’s Gospel reading is really one of the most beautiful texts in Scripture:

everything from the radically profound concept to

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”,

to the wonderful promise:

“Give, and it shall be given to you.

Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over,

will they pour into the fold of your garment.”

But as wonderful as these sayings are,

they are also very hard sayings to apply and live out:

“When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other;”

“Do not judge, …Do not condemn, ….Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”

 

If we’re honest with ourselves,

the whole idea of loving our enemy is very intimidating.

Why must we love our enemy?

In today’s 1st reading from Samuel,

we’re reminded of the story of Saul searching out David, to kill him.

And in this particular passage we see

where God has presented David with the perfect opportunity

to end his troubles as he comes across his enemy Saul

when Saul is asleep and completely vulnerable.

But David refuses to kill King Saul:

“Do not harm him,” he says,

“for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed.”

But, as we read elsewhere,

while David will not do anything to harm God’s anointed,

he does not hesitate to kill his other enemies

–in fact as he’s dying he tells his son Solomon to continue killing his enemies.

Clearly, King David has not yet understood the concept of loving his enemies,

or turning the other cheek.

 

It takes another son of David, the one who is the anointed one

–the Messiah or Christ–to introduce this teaching and to give it meaning.

At the last Supper Jesus told His apostles:

“Greater love has no man than this,

that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Here, Christ calls us to love our friends even to this radical extent, to die for them.

But what about our enemies?

The thing is, that at the Last Supper,

Jesus is speaking in the context of His knowledge

of the death that awaits Him the next day.

A death He endures, not just for His friends, but even for His enemies.

It’s true that only those who are His friends

can benefit from His death and resurrection,

but the thing is that in His death He invites all mankind

–His friends and His enemies–

to be not only His friends, but also His brothers and sisters,

sons and daughters of His Heavenly father.

He dies so that even His enemies can share in His very own life

–to truly become, through Him,  “God’s anointed”.

 

So in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell us that if we love our enemies:

“You will rightly be called sons of the Most High,

since he himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

The concept of loving our enemies

is not built on some sort of sick divine masochism,

but on the fact that these are the ones whom Christ

invites or calls to be his family,

to become “anointed ones of God” with Him.

 

____

Christ died for us all–friends and enemies—

and invites us to share in His sacrificial death–His greatest act of love for us.

And so just as He allowed His enemies to not only crucify Him but also

to curse Him, and to strip Him and take all of His clothes

                   –even to slap His cheek,

He tells us in turn to:

“bless those who curse you…

when someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well…

When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other.”

And even though He is falsely judged and condemned, He said on the Cross:

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

So He tells us today: “Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”

 

____

Jesus goes on and on with examples of loving our enemy,

because He wants this love to permeate every aspect of our lives.

This, as I said can be intimidating.

But we have to remember 2 very important things.

First of all, the examples Christ gives here are just that: examples.

Sometimes when our enemy strikes us

we should not simply silently let him strike us again.

For example, when Christ is being tried before the Sanhedrin, Scripture tells us:

“one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand….

Jesus answered him,

“If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong;

but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

Think about this: Jesus doesn’t just silently turn the other cheek to be slapped

–He asks, “why are you hitting me?”

He verbally and with reason pushes back

—because in His divine wisdom

and in love for the guard, the people around and for us,

He sees it as necessary that we hear Him correct the guard.

But also in love, He restrains Himself:

He could have hit the guard back, but He doesn’t.

In fact, as He told Peter just minutes before this,

He could have called down “more than twelve legions of angels”

to strike down the whole place.

 

____

What Christ is demanding in these examples

is that all of our actions should be made in the context of love

–even when dealing with our enemies.

The first response in love is patience and humility,

but sometimes, IN LOVE, for either the person, or the whole community,

we have to respond in another way.

Maybe we have to turn the other cheek, or walk away, or remain silent,

or maybe we have to speak up and correct, or even chastise,

or fight or even punish.

But whatever we do, it must not be done with hatred, bitterness or malice,

but in love, even if it’s painful to us personally.

 

____

There’s also a second more important factor to consider

when we think of the hardness of these sayings.

In Chapter 19 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives another set of hard sayings.

When the apostles show their frustration with the difficulties He’s presenting,

saying, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus tells them:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

For man, loving our enemies is impossible.

For some of us, turning the other cheek, or pardoning or not passing judgment,

may seem impossible.

But for Christ, our Lord and God, nothing is impossible.

–His incarnation, His death and resurrection show us this very clearly.

 

But think now: by our baptism we have been born again into a  new life

which is a participation in the very life of Christ Himself.

We have become not only friends, but family, and not only family,

but members of  Christ’s Body.

And in the Eucharist we are present once again

at the death and resurrection of our Lord,

His sacrificial laying down of His life for us and for all.

And in the Eucharist He calls us to take our sacrifices made in love

–the times we’ve turned the other cheek, given our coat or been patient,

or even painfully corrected someone in love—

and offer these to be united with His own sacrifice

so that they and we can be transformed by the love of the Cross,

and enter more fully into the life of the risen Lord.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in this sacrament of the Eucharist,

and in all the sacraments, we receive the power to live the life of Christ,

to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us.

 

Because it’s not merely our love at work, but the love of Christ Himself.

So that even if these things are impossible for us,

nothing is impossible for us when we live in Jesus Christ.

As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:

“Earthly men are like the man of earth,

heavenly men are like the man of heaven“—Jesus.

 

___

Christ’s call to “love our enemies” is at one and the same time

sublimely beautiful, and devastatingly hard.

But if the Cross is hard, so also is it beautiful

as the act of perfect love that leads us to the resurrection and eternal life.

As we now begin to enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist

let us ask Christ to unite our sacrifices to His own,

that we may have the strength to see everyone we meet as called to be

“God’s anointed” and so

–to turn the other cheek, to pardon and not condemn

–to lay down our lives as Christ lays down His life,

for those who are His friends

and those who are now His enemies

but whom He calls to be His friends.

And let us praise Him,

knowing that in that in this giving of ourselves in the life of Christ’s love,

He in turn gives us all  good things, in

“Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over.”

 

 

TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 17, 2019

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 17, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

… But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

 

I suppose we could use this verse

to talk about a lot of problems in the world today.

But let me focus on one you might not expect: the treasures of the Church.

 

If you think about, it would be pretty hard to call the Catholic Church “poor.”

In fact, we’re pretty rich.

Which might seem to run afoul of the saying “blessed are the poor, woe to the rich.

But of course, the wealth of the Church is not a problem in itself,

just as being poor is not a good thing in itself.

After all if being poor were in itself a good thing,

then we should never try to help the poor out of poverty.

 

Of course, Jesus is talking about how riches can corrupt us so easily,

as it’s so easy to love money more than God,

so that we must all be, as St. Matthew clarifies, “poor in spirit.”

 

And really, to some extent it’s good that the Church is wealthy.

For example, our wealth helps keep us independent from governments.

Or more importantly, most of the wealth we hold

is largely in beautiful religious art and magnificent churches,

built, often by the faithful poor,

as a sign of our love and praise for God.

But, given that, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if we lost all that

—we’d survive with God’s grace.

 

Because the Church really has two great treasures:

first, its material wealth,

but there’s a second treasure, much much more important.

 

You’ve all heard the story of the 3rd century martyr, St. Lawrence,

who was in charge of the finances of the Church in Rome.

One day the emperor demanded he turn over all the Church’s treasury to him.

So St. Lawrence came to before the emperor

and pointed outside to a huge crowd of poor, sick and suffering people, and said “These are the true treasures of the Church,”

The second treasure of the church is its people: you and me.

 

___

So clearly there’s nothing wrong with the Church having treasures of either kind.

The problem comes when priests and bishops use those treasures

for their own personal selfish gain or satisfaction.

 

Sometimes, this happens in simple and very common ways.

For example, using the money of the Church to build an opulent rectory.

Or…when a priest uses the people,

by avoiding preaching any hard teachings of the faith from the pulpit,

because he wants them to like him,

even at the risk of neglecting their souls.

He uses them for selfish emotional comfort.

 

___

But sadly, we also see it in more dramatic, terrible ways.

We see priests and bishops actually stealing money from the Church

to pay for extravagant hidden lifestyles.

And most horribly, we see it when priests and bishops abuse their people,

especially by stealing the innocence of the most vulnerable,

particularly children.

 

Of course of the abuses of the 2 kinds of treasures of the church,

the second, the abuse of the people, is by far the worst.

 

This last week our Bishop Burbidge, the Bishop of Arlington,

released a list of priests of the diocese

who have been at least, as he says, “credibly accused” of abuse of minors.

I hope you know that I believe strongly

that priests who are guilty of this sin are despicable,

and deserve every punishment they get in this world and in the next.

As Jesus says today:

“Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”

 

But as you consider that list, it’s important for your wellbeing of spirit

to remember a few things,

First, a “credible accusation” is not the same as being found guilty

—it might be compared to a civil judge saying

there’s enough evidence to have a trial.

But about half of these priests never had any kind of trial

in the church or in civil courts,

because they were accused after they had already died,

and so never had a chance to defend themselves.

And there are at least 2 who maintain their innocence.

In the case of one of those 2,

Rome has decided that there’s not enough evidence to find him guilty,

and they have allowed him to retire, as a priest, without any public ministry

–case closed.

 

Nevertheless, some of those on the list were found guilty by the Church.

Again, if they are guilty, let them be punished on earth and in hell or purgatory.

 

____

But as horrible as they are,

worse than the crimes and sins of mere priests

against the vulnerable in the Church

are sins and crimes of those who have been given

the highest responsibility to protect and care for

these treasures of the Church—bishops and cardinals.

Whether these sins are lying and covering up and facilitating the sins of priests,

or the bishop’s own actual assaulting or manipulating of the innocent.

 

If there was a list of these of offenders, which there isn’t,

right at the top of the list would be

the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

Today/yesterday (Saturday) the Vatican finally announced

that he had been found guilty of sexual abuse

of minors and adult seminarians, including in the confessional.

Guilty as charged of the worst kind of abuse, as a high-ranking churchman.

Thanks be to God!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t revel in his crime, or even in his misfortunate,

but I do rejoice that justice has finally been served

and this evil tumor is ripped from the bowls of the Church.

 

___

That’s a good start.

But as I told you months ago,

Mister McCarrick’s abuse had been widely known

among seminarians, priests and bishops for almost 30 years,

but most of us couldn’t do anything about it

because we had no evidence, only persistent third hand accounts.

But the thing is, people who were in a position to know,

and could have investigated with authority, did nothing about it.

And he kept rising in the Church, from bishop, to archbishop to cardinal.

 

Finally someone did something about it—Pope Benedict XVI prohibited

the retired McCarrick from exercising public ministry,

requiring him to live a life of seclusion and penance.

But for some reason Pope Francis lifted those sanctions

and made McCarrick one of his trusted advisors,

some say giving him great influence on the selection

of new bishops and even cardinals in America.

 

Now, we shouldn’t assume a person’s guilt

until it’s been proven in a legitimate trial, or until they admit it themselves.

But there are accusations that specific named Vatican officials

ignored or hid official internal reports about McCarrick’s crimes

to support his promotion up the ranks.

And there are even accusations that this is part of a wide-ranging

sub-culture of homosexuals in the hierarchy.

I don’t know if any of that is true,

but since these accusations come from several highly placed sources,

including the former nuncio, to the United States, Archbishop Vigano,

it would seem that those accusations are at least as “credible”

as the “credible accusations” against the priests on the list released this week.

So, in justice they also must be thoroughly investigated,

or it’s all a bunch of hypocrisy.

 

____

But if Mr. McCarrick is simply a scapegoat–“move along, nothing to see here”–

then we are only allowing the cancerous filth to continue

to corrupt the body of the Church.

And we are begging for even great disaster.

 

___

This week the leaders of all the Bishops Conferences around the world

will gather in Rome for a Summit with the Pope

to discuss the problem of clerical child abuse,

especially the role of the bishops.

Many people hope this will be the beginning of a true reform.

 

But the signs are discouraging.

For example, Pope Francis said last week that

“The expectations need to be deflated…

The problems of abuse will continue.

It is a human problem, everywhere….

 

Moreover, the Pope named one of McCarrick’s alleged protégés,

Cardinal Cupich of Chicago,

to be one of the cardinals in charge of the summit.

Much as McCarrick was one of the bishops in charge of the Dallas meeting

17 years ago, when the bishops exempted themselves from the rules

they wrote for investigating abusive priests.

 

And lastly, last week, the Pope named another McCarrick protégé,

Cardinal Kevin Farrell,

to be the Vatican Camerlengo: the Cardinal who will be

temporarily in charge of the Church when the Pope dies or retires.

As they say, the optics are bad.

 

____

Now, maybe I’ve depressed you.

Some days I get a little depressed too.

Some of you may even be tempted to give up hope.

Be we can’t do that.

 

Earlier I mentioned that the Church has 2 treasures:

material wealth and the people of God.

But I intentionally left out the 3rd and by far the greatest treasure we have:

          Jesus.

Jesus, and His Body on earth, the Church, that contains and hands down to us

all the spiritual gifts of Christ, including Scripture Tradition, Doctrines,

the sacraments, His Grace, and all the great Catholic saints.

 

As Jeremiah tells us in today’s first reading:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,

who seeks his strength in flesh.

but, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,

whose hope is the LORD.”

 

I’ve said it before, we trust and follow Jesus and His Church

–we do not follow mere human beings,

even if they are bishops or priests, or cardinals, or even popes,

Yes, trust bishops and priests if they are they are following Jesus,

and helping you to do so also.

And thank God for them, and love them, respect them, and support them.

But in the end, we all, laity and priest alike,

must place our hope and trust together in Jesus and His Church.

And if we do that, as Jeremiah says today, we will be:

“like a tree planted beside the waters

that stretches out its roots to the stream:

it fears not the heat when it comes;

its leaves stay green;

in the year of drought it shows no distress,

but still bears fruit.”

 

____

As we now move more deeply into the great mystery of this Holy Mass,

let us thank the Lord for the purification He is manifesting in His Church.

But let us pray that by His almighty power,

He will continue to cleanse the filth from His Church.

And let us pray for all priests, bishops and cardinals,

that they always recognize that the treasures of the Church

are not theirs for plundering,

but they are merely poor stewards of these riches

that Christ hands on to us.