TEXT: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2018

24th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 16, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”

In a way, this question of Jesus is perhaps the most important question

any man can ask himself: “Who do I say Jesus is?”

And St. Peter gives the most important answer any man can give:

“You are the Christ,” the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord.

 

This is the answer every Christian must give

—it is the Christian’s fundamental profession of Faith.

Without this, then the rest of the Gospel is useless

—if for no other reason than Jesus admitted that He was the Christ

—and if Jesus wasn’t the Christ He was a liar—not to be believed at all.

And everything He said and did was useless.

 

But Jesus is the Christ

—and because we believe that, all the other things He said make sense,

and we can believe in them

and be open to the grace and the life they offer.

 

Faith in Jesus as the Christ—the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Son of God—

is the key to our salvation.

 

___

But is faith all we need?

Some of our protestant brothers and sisters, especially evangelicals, think so.

In the words of Martin Luther in the 16th century,

many protestants believe that we are “saved by faith alone”: “Sola Fide”.

Maybe you haven’t encountered this directly.

but I bet most of you have been asked, or at least heard,

the question:

“have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

This question is really another way of saying: “who do you say Jesus is”?

And to answer, “yes,” is to say, “I have faith in Christ.”

And because they believe that faith in Jesus is all you need to be saved,

when they ask this question, they are really asking “are you saved?”

 

Now, let me be clear: not all Protestants accept this doctrine nowadays.

But Luther and his modern day disciples,

believe that there is nothing we can do to be saved

—that Jesus did it all for us on the cross

and He pours the grace of the cross on us today

—so we can do nothing but believe in what Jesus does for us,

and that belief will save us.

It doesn’t matter what else you do—

—if you do or don’t sin, do or do not obey the commandments,

or if you do or don’t receive the sacraments,

or if you love your neighbor or not

—as long as you believe in Jesus.

As Luther wrote: “sin boldly, but believe more boldly”.

 

Now, Luther didn’t just make this notion of salvation by faith alone out of thin air

—he based it on several statements made by St. Paul,

and by Jesus Himself.

For example, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

“a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

And Jesus says:

“he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,

and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

So if you were to take these kinds of statements on their own,

they do seem to affirm that faith is the only thing that matters.

 

And Luther was not the first one to fall into this false understanding of faith.

Some of the early Christians were also tempted to make this same mistake.

And so St. James wrote to correct this error.

As we read in today’s 2nd reading from St. James:

“What good is it…if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?

….faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
And as St. James goes on to say just a few verses later:

Even the demons believe–and shudder….

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

 

And of course, St. James is not the only one to reject “faith alone”

and acknowledge that our works are essential to our salvation.

St. Paul also taught this.

As he went on to write the Romans:

“On the one hand, to those who persist in good work,

…he will give eternal life.

But for those who …reject the truth and follow evil,

there will be wrath and anger.”

 

But most importantly Jesus himself taught this.

 

He tells us to be saved we must follow the commandments:

when the rich young man asks him,

“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”

Jesus replied: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

 

He tells us to be saved we must love our neighbor:

when a lawyer asked Him:

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied: “What is written in the law? How do you read?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

….soul, …strength, and …mind;

and your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus replied, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”

 

He tells us we must do good works:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

….‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,

you did it not to me.’

And they will go away into eternal punishment,

but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

And He gives us the sacraments which He tells us we must partake in:

For example, Baptism:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,

he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

And of course the Eucharist:

“Truly, truly, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,

you have no life in you.”

 

Think of all that: that’s a lot we have to do to be saved.

 

___

Now some Protestants who follow “sola fide”

counter the idea of the necessity of doing good works

as simply being proof of our faith:

if someone believes, naturally they’ll do good things.

And if they say they believe but don’t do good things,

then, they never really believed in the first place.

 

But if that’s true why did St. Paul—who surely was filled with faith—

write that he was afraid of losing his salvation

by not doing what he should?

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,

but only one receives the prize?

…I do not run aimlessly…but I pommel my body and subdue it,

lest after preaching to others

I myself should be disqualified.”

 

______

Faith is the key to salvation.

But it is not all there is to salvation.

The key of faith opens the door

to all that we need to know and to do to be saved.

 

In today’s Gospel Peter is the first to declare the Church’s faith in Christ.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist records that Jesus tells Peter

that this insight has come from directly from God, his Father.

But later on when Peter refuses to believe Jesus

when he explains that he has to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die,

Jesus says: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Friends, to think as God does, is to believe in Jesus and His Gospel.

But the thing is, that Gospel has a content—Jesus taught us what God thinks,

and how God wants us to live, and do and love.

And to say we believe in Jesus,

but reject the content of his teaching,

including the things he said we must do to gain eternal life,

whether it’s keeping the commandments,

or loving God and your neighbor,

or being baptized,

or receiving and adoring the Eucharist as his body and blood,

or following the teachings and discipline

of Peter and his successors, the Popes,

if you reject those, well, as St. James says today: “what good is that?”

 

Jesus goes on to tell us today:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake

and that of the gospel will save it.”

It is true that Christ’s Cross—and the love it expresses—

is the only thing that saves us.

But unless we live as he did, love as he loved, do as he commanded,

even if it means suffering for others,

or even losing our lives for the sake of what we believe–the Gospel

—we cannot live as he lives:

in the eternal and perfect joy and glory of heaven.

 

____

I am confident that our Protestant brothers and sisters who hold to “faith alone”

believe in Jesus Christ.

I am also confident that they also love the Lord Jesus,

and do many good works.

But we must not be confused between the relationship between faith and love,

and between believing and doing.

Eternal life comes to us not because we believe it will,

but because God loves us

and allows us to chose live in his love today and forever.

 

So let us have faith in Christ and live out the entirety of his teachings.

Including the teaching passed on to us by St. James:

“faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

TEXT: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2018

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 9, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

As you know in 1776 America was an overwhelmingly Protestant country.

But as time passed millions of Catholics began to immigrate in search of

new opportunities and freedom.

They found both of those, but they also found prejudice against them

—both because of their foreign habits and accents,

and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.

So many times they had to fend for themselves

—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,

and schools for their children.

 

And most of that time this assistance was organized by and in the Church.

Great Catholics like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann,

and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,

founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,

by simply helping their neighbor out when they needed a break.

Mr. Giuseppe ran a tab for Mrs. Scalese at the grocery store

—he knew she’d pay when she could.

And Mrs. O’Boyle let the whole Murphy family move into her house

when Mr. Murphy died in a mining accident.

 

As time has passed that same attentiveness to public acts of mercy and charity

has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,

but it’s gradually been translated in very different ways.

As Catholics came to have more and more of a political voice,

we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions

to the problems of healthcare and poverty,

programs like

Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and aid to dependent children.

 

At the same time, as Catholics also became more economically prosperous,

they also became very supportive, financially,

of great Catholic charitable institutions

—building a huge system of first class Catholic

hospitals, schools and universities,

and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities

.

 

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics

—it is a great expression of the honest and deep-rooted Christian desire

to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,

who cured the sick, who “made the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

We can be proud of ourselves.

 

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,

and even a loss of true charity.

First there’s the danger of taking charity, an act of love,

and turning it over to bureaucrats.

I mean no disrespect to so many good folks who work hard

in government sponsored social welfare programs.

But even these folks have to admit that that there’s way too much bureaucracy,

which not only inhibits their effectiveness,

but can often also transform charity from an act of love

into an act of cold administration.

One way to counter that problem is the way Catholics have so often:

by directly supporting Catholic organizations,

like the Little Sister of the Poor,

who work with minimal administrative hassle,

and with the loving touch of Christ Himself.

 

But, I must admit, even that doesn’t address the problem that most concerns me.

Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,

or giving a check to the good sisters,

giving money is not enough to satisfy the Christian duty to give charity.

 

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:

“Jesus  went …into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to Him a deaf man who had a speech impediment….”

He put His finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;

…and said to him, “Ephphatha!”“Be opened!”

 

Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?

He’s God— He doesn’t have to go someplace to perform a miracle:

remember the words of the Roman centurion,

who asked Jesus to cure his servant, but then added,

in words we now quote, or paraphrase at every Mass:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,

but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”

Why does Jesus go to the man?

And why does Jesus touch the man, why does He speak to a deaf man?

He doesn’t have to do or say a thing to heal, He just has to will it—but He does?

Why does He do all this?

 

There are two basic reasons.

The first is to give us an example of love,

Christ has the power to heal from far away, but He chooses to go to the deaf man

to show that He, Jesus, personally loves that man.

 

We also have a power similar to Christ’s, although not as mysterious:

we also don’t have to go to people to help them,

we can simply write a check for a large amount of money,

money that seems to perform miracles for people

—people far away, that we never actually see in person.

Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where

that money in a way translates into human love,

by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.

But in the end, does it communicate your love?

In the end have you really given your love—or have you just given money?

 

The thing is, your act of love is not just necessary for the poor or sick person

—its necessary for you also!

God created you to give yourself, not just to give a check.

You can never be happy, you can never become what God created you to be,

you can never be like Jesus Christ,

if you do not personally give your love to those in need of it.

 

_____

The other reason Jesus personally healed the sick was,

to show that He was the messiah that the prophets had foretold,

and that He had the power of God Himself.

As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:

“Here is your God,…

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,

the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

By showing this power, people begin to listen to him, and that’s what He wanted.

It’s no mistake that Jesus says out loud to the man who can’t even hear Him:

Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”

By performing this miracle of love,

the ears and hearts and minds of this man and his friends

would now be open to hear Him.

 

One of the problems with sending money

and letting other people do our charitable work

it that it can totally remove Christ and His power from the picture.

This is a huge problem with lots of organizations that help those in need,

especially with government social programs.

A government social worker can’t even say “God bless you,”

much less explain that the love of Christ

is the reason they’re doing their job.

And even some  so-called “catholic charities” have the same problem:

we sadly read all too often some otherwise good Catholic organization

is giving funds to abortion providers,

taking Christ completely out of their work with that.

 

_____

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,

and we, individually, are the members of the Body.

You are his hands, you are his fingers.

He sends you out to show not only your love, but also His love, and His power.

He sends you to be like the people in today’s Gospel,

who couldn’t help but tell everyone about His power.

 

Now, this doesn’t mean that you all have to

volunteer to work full-time or even part time with some charity

–although neither is a bad idea.

But it does mean that when opportunities arrive to show the mercy of Christ in

your life, you must do so.

Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,

every day Jesus brings someone to you who needs his mercy.

 

Sometimes this is in small things:

maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,

so you stop to tell them a joke;

or a friend is in the hospital and you go to visit.

Sometimes its’ in larger matters:

maybe your elderly parents are having a hard time taking care of themselves,

so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;

or maybe your neighbor’s lost his job, even his home,

and you let his family live in the basement apartment

your parents used to live in.

 

_____

Great acts of charity are a vital part of the history of the Catholic Church,

especially in America.

I hope that you will continue that great tradition.

But not simply by writing checks to Catholic charitable institutions.

But first and foremost by giving yourself:

your time, your presence, your sweat, your patience, your love.

Remember that the power of the check book cannot communicate your love,

and you cannot personally communicate Christ’s love through cash.

Hear what Christ is telling you in Scripture today: “Ephphatha, be opened.”

And open yourselves up to live in the charity of Christ, every day, every moment.

TEXT: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 2, 2018

22nd  Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 2, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

“From within people, from their hearts,

come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,

adultery, greed, malice, deceit,

licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly…”

And He adds,

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

 

Sad to say, that sounds like a list drawn up to describe

certain cardinals and bishops and priests caught up

in the abuses, lies and unchastity reported in the news the last few weeks.

As we continue to struggle with that scandal,

I was hoping not to have to address that this week,

but to preach about something a little more spiritual or uplifting this week.

 

But then came Archbishop Vigano’s statement and all uproar about that.

So, I’m back to square one.

 

For those of you who aren’t keeping up with the news,

about a week ago the former papal nuncio, or the Pope’s Ambassador,

to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Vigano,

issued an 11-page statement that proports

to shed new light today’s scandals.

Included in this, were accusations that top Vatican officials, whom he named,

are involved in what he calls a ‘homosexual current” in the hierarchy,

and that they knew about McCarrick’s abuses for over a decade.

He also stated that in 2010 Pope Benedict secretly punished

the retired McCarrick by prohibiting him from exercising public ministry

and requiring him to live a life of seclusion and penance.

But then, Vigano says, when Pope Francis was elected

Francis lifted those sanctions and made McCarrick his trusted advisor,

in spite of the fact that he, Vigano,

had personally told Pope Francis all about McCarrick’s abuses.

So, he says, Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s’ behavior for five years,

and not only didn’t punish him, but effectively promoted him.

 

Now, these are just accusations, they’re not proven.

And such accusations against Pope is almost unprecedent in modern times.

And, if this were just some rumor, it would quickly be dismissed.

But this accusation is coming from an archbishop who before his retirement

had held numerous high offices in the Vatican,

he was the governor of the Vatican City State,

and sort of the head of all the papal ambassadors in the world,

before coming to the United States.

And when he was here, he was revered by American bishops

as a man of integrity and truthfulness—and he still is.

 

And he states that most of what he says is documented

in the files in the Vatican and Washington,

and can be corroborated by others.

 

So the charges are credible:

in fact, if an accusation with this level of credibility were leveled at a priest

he would be immediately suspended from office, pending investigation.

So, even if, hopefully, they’re wrong, they cannot be ignored,

even though the Holy Father seems to be trying to do just that.

 

____

So what do we do?

First, as I I’ve said before, we rally together, we do not run away.

We stand and fight for Jesus and the Church He founded—the Catholic Church. Because we place our faith and hope in them,

not in the mere men who are the princes of the Church.

 

But we also try to see all this in the context of the fullness of our Catholic faith.

In fact, we try to see how our faith has prepared us

specifically for moments like this.

 

_____

Since many of us were babies, every time we’ve entered the Church

the first thing we’ve done is to make the Sign of the Cross over ourselves.

And almost every time we’ve prayed as Catholics, we’ve done the same thing:

made the Sign of the Cross.

And every time we begin Mass and end Mass, the same thing.

And every Catholic Church, and almost every Catholic home has a Crucifix in it.

In fact, the center of the whole Mass, and so the center of our Sunday worship,

the Eucharist, which we believe is

first and foremost a re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross.

So St. Paul tells us:

“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,

but we preach Christ crucified….”

 

The Cross, and more clearly, the Crucified Body of Jesus,

is at the center of our faith.

Now, of course, we know that Jesus Rose and Ascended to Heaven.

But all that comes from the Cross: the Crucifixion changed everything.

 

The thing is… the Crucifixion took place at a specific point in historical time,

from noon to 3 o’clock on a particular date in March or April

around the year 30AD.

But in another sense, it also took place in eternity.

Because in Jesus, the Eternal God became man,

He is the nexus or meeting of earthly time and heavenly eternity.

So that while the Cross took place in time,

but it is also eternal and timeless.

 

Which why we are able to benefit from it 2000 years later.

And it’s how Jesus could die not just for the sins of people alive at His time,

but the sins of all people of all times,

the sins of Adam and Eve in the beginning,

and the sins of you and me in 2018.

And so we look to the Crucified Body of Jesus

and in the wounds and the blood and the spittle

we see the effects of all the sins of all times and places.

 

__

But when we look to the Crucified Body of Jesus we also see something else:

we remember what St. Paul repeatedly tells us:

that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth.

So in the bloody, beaten, and pierced Body of Jesus, we see His Church as well.

And not just today, but everyday for the last 2000 years.

 

For ever since Calvary the Church has been persecuted

from both within and without, just as Jesus was.

And so, few months after the Crucifixion and Ascension,

when St. Paul was going to Damascus to persecute the Christians there,

a voice spoke to him saying:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?…

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

 

So we see ourselves, and the whole Church, as the Body of Christ,

always on the Cross.

 

____

Now let’s think, who was there at the Crucifixion 2000 years ago?

One of the saddest truths of that day was that

there was only 1 of the 12 Apostles standing there—St. John.

Even sadder and more terrible still, was that one of the 12 was not there

because he’d killed himself after he had betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot.

 

Think about that: 1/12th of the apostles, about 8%.

So 8% betrayed Jesus completely,

but also, only 8% stood with Jesus completely.

So why would we be surprised today if as many as 8% of the cardinals,

or 17 cardinals,

would betray Jesus today,

or if only 17 stood solidly, bravely with Him?

I’m not saying this is the case today numerically,

just that it shouldn’t completely surprise us, if it was.

It should make us angry and maybe depressed

—just as the thought of the betrayal of Judas

and the solitariness of John does at the Cross.

But, it could happen, despite God’s best laid plans.

 

And why isn’t St. Peter, the first pope, there at the Cross?

Even though he didn’t betray Jesus, he did deny Him after the fact.

So why should it surprise us that in the last 2000 years

we’ve even had popes who went bad.

I think of Pope St. Stephen VI;

newly elected he ordered that his predecessor’s body

should be dug up from his grave, dressed up as pope,

put on the papal throne and tried for all sorts of crimes and heresies;

and then he dumped his body in the Tiber River.

That’s a  bad pope.

 

Or of Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope, who had several mistresses,

and 9 illegitimate children, one of whom he made a cardinal.

Or of Pope Leo X, whose decadence was so bad,

the whole Church,

it set off Martin Luther and the whole Protestant Revolt, or “Reformation,”

in the 16th century.

 

Now, I’m not trying to scandalize you, but it’s there.

And popes sin, right from the beginning

—some popes obviously worse than others.

 

And where were the other apostles?

They hadn’t betrayed or denied Jesus, but they were afraid of suffering with Him.

So they kept their heads down, safe in the locked doors of the upper room.

So, why should we be surprised today

if many otherwise good cardinals and bishops and priests,

also choose to keep their heads down,

and say and do nothing that would cause them to suffer with Jesus.

Again, that should make us angry, and disappoint us,

but it should not surprise us:

in the beginning 84% of the bishops and priests did that.

 

__

So only John was there, and the other 11 apostles were not.

But who else was there?

Scripture tells us that the faithful women were also there at the foot of the Cross.

In particular Mary Magdalene, the great sinner who became the great saint.

To me, she represents all the lay people of the Church today,

who despite being sinners, truly strive to be saints,

and when in their weakness they fail, repent and constantly try again.

That doesn’t make them hypocrites;

hypocrites are people who say, “you do this, but I can do that.”

This just makes them Catholics who want to be saints.

 

Magdalene and the holy women did not run

from the suffering of the Body of Christ, even when 11 apostles did.

They were not afraid or embarrassed by the wounds in his precious flesh,

they did not hide in shame in the face of mockery.

They wept and moaned, and perhaps they felt angry and confused,

You weep and moan and are angry and confused today.

But you must not run and hide in embarrassment or shame,

but rather, like the Magdalene and the others,

stand with Jesus and His Church, on the Cross.

 

____

So we look at the Cross, and we see today’s Church.

The bloody, torn and spit upon Body of Christ.

But for Christians, whenever we see the Crucifixion,

we should also always see and understand it

in the light of the Resurrection and Ascension.

Just as part of the Church suffers on earth,

another part of the Church is already glorified in Heaven.

And just as the Body of Christ rose from the dead and walked the earth,

we also see the Body of Christ gloried even on earth today,

as it preaches of the truth about God and man

and struggles to live out that truth in the lives of ordinary Catholics.

And we see it glorified in the sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist,

as the Crucified Jesus pours out his strength, peace and forgiveness

on the members of his Body.

 

And we see that glory as sinners, like Mary Magdalen,

become devoutly in love with Jesus.

And we see it as a few cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests

are not afraid to publicly stand with Christ and the Truth,

at the foot of Cross even when it means suffering.

 

___

Who else is at the foot of the Cross, standing with Jesus?

Of course, Mary, His Mother.

Mary is always with Jesus when He needs her.

She was there when He was a needy baby and growing boy.

And she was there when He needed her on the Cross.

And she is with Him now bodily, in the glory of heaven,

and she is here with us, as His body continues to suffer on earth.

She would never abandon Jesus, and she would never abandon us.

____

As I mentioned before, the Church teaches that

the Eucharist is first and foremost the sacrifice of the Cross.

And so we come here every Sunday, not simply to pray or to hear God’s word,

but to stand at the foot of the Cross

—and to be united with the Body of Christ Crucified in the Eucharist.

With Mary, we unite our suffering to Jesus’s suffering on the Cross:

as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God

–this is your true and proper worship.”

All the suffering we endure, and all the good we do.

And he unites ours to His, and His to ours.

 

___

My dear brothers and sisters, my sons and daughters in Christ,

today we can’t get past the suffering inflicted on us

by too many bad priests, bishops and cardinals.

And we are confused and frightened by the accusations against our Holy Father,

and pray they are not true.

But no matter what, we will not give up hope or faith,

we will not turn and run and hide.

 

And as we now move more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,

and kneel at the foot of the Cross of Christ

made really substantially present on the altar,

let us stand with John, and Magdalen and Our Mother Mary,

and join them in uniting all our sufferings to His.

And in Holy Communion,

let our unity with Jesus and His Church be strengthened,

as one Body of Christ, suffering and glorified,

filled with every grace and blessing, every peace and virtue,

that flows from the pierced Heart of Jesus.

TEXT: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018

21st  Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 26, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s gospel begins by telling us:

“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?””

What exactly is the hard saying they’re talking about?

To understand the question we have to remember that for the last 5 weeks

we’ve been reading from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel

—one of the most important

and yet most misunderstood or neglected chapters in the bible.

 

5 weeks ago, we began with the feeding of the 5000

—the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.

Then we moved into what is often called the “bread of life discourse”

—Jesus’ explanation about how to “have eternal life.”

We must eat his “flesh,” which “is the bread of life.”

That’s the hard saying.

 

It’s interesting that while the miracle of the multiplication of loaves

is reported in all 4 gospels,

only St. John reports the bread of life discourse.

Now, some say this discrepancy is because John made the whole thing up

—that Jesus never really said it.

But this is absurd.

As St. John writes at the very end of his Gospel:

“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things,

and who has written these things;

and we know that his testimony is true.”

 

What really happened is that John was the longest living of all the apostles

—he died at a ripe old age, maybe when he was 90 years old,

maybe as late as the year 100 AD.

And so he wrote his Gospel many years after the others,

maybe 30 or more years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke,

—and so it’s almost certain that he’d read them,

since they were widely circulated.

On top of that, we know that John’s Gospel is the most theologically profound

—perhaps because of all the years he’d had to think about it,

or perhaps because of his unique closeness to Christ

when he was on earth,

he was, after all, called “the beloved disciple.”

 

So after having lots of time to think and pray over the life of Jesus,

and reading what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written,

he wrote down his own recollection

—not making things up, not correcting the others,

but recording things he’d come to understand

were much more important than maybe they first appeared.

 

In particular, John came to focus on the central importance

of mystery of the Incarnation.

And so he begins his whole Gospel, by explaining:

          “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

Through him all things were made… In him was life.”

And then he concludes:

“the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

 

The Incarnation—the taking of flesh by the life-giving God

—is at the heart of John’s understanding of the Gospel.

And so, while Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded the multiplication of loaves,

and did so not only to impress us with Jesus power,

but also to help us understand Jesus giving us the Eucharist,

in chapter 6, of his Gospel John says, in effect,

‘but don’t forget what Jesus said after he multiplied the loaves:’

I am the bread of life….and the bread that I will give

is my flesh for the life of the world.”

 

Again, some people want to see this as John making something up

to make a point.

Still others today want to say it really happened,

but Jesus is talking in merely symbolic language.

John probably had encountered people like this in his own time.

And so years after Christ’s death,

and probably after years of hearing some arguing that Jesus had just

been speaking metaphorically about His flesh and the bread,

John finally sits down and writes to the whole Church

and very carefully reports

that Jesus Himself insisted they were wrong.

 

And so John writes, at Verse 53:

“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,

“How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”

Now, think about this: His followers think he’s talking about real food.

They don’t think He’s talking in symbols:

that spiritual grace is like food, or perhaps that His teaching is like food.

They’re upset because He sounds like a cannibal

“How can this man give us [his own] flesh to eat?”

 

And how does Jesus respond?

He doesn’t change His teaching—He doesn’t say,

“no, no, I’m only talking in symbols”:

No: “Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood,

you do not have life within you.”

 

Now, in the original Greek the word He uses here for “eat

is very descriptive of physical eating: the Greek word “trogo

doesn’t translate as “consume” or “sup upon”

but to physically “chew” or “gnaw.”

He’s saying, ‘you’re right: I’m not being symbolic.’

As then He goes on to say:

“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

 

Then you can see the disciples, thinking…

“how can he do this? That’s impossible.”

Or as John writes:

“Then many of His disciples who were listening said,

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

 

How familiar these words are to us today

—we hear it all the time, maybe we say it ourselves,

even if only in the back of our minds.

It’s hard to believe that the bread Jesus gives us is His body.

But Jesus still doesn’t back down.

As John writes at verse 61:

“Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this,

He said to them, “Does this shock you?”

 

And then Jesus reminds them that they’ve seen His power

—they’ve just seen him feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread.

And He tells them there’s more to come, as John records:

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending

to where He was before?

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

 

Now, some seize on Jesus’ words:

“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail,”

They try to argue He’s backing away from talk of flesh being real food

–that He’s somehow saying that,

“no, no, it’s the spirit, it’s all spiritual food, not really my flesh.”

But that would mean He’d be contradicting everything He’s been saying.

No, what He’s saying is, in effect,

“But you’re not remembering who I really am!

I am the eternal Word who created life itself

—“the words I have spoken are spirit and life.”

I multiplied the loaves to feed the bodies of 5000,

and one day you’ll see me ascending—bodily–into heaven.

I work in my body and through my body,

but don’t limit me to the power of normal human flesh.

I have spiritual power that goes way beyond human limitations.”

 

That’s what He meant

—and that’s what the people there understood Him to mean.

And that’s why they left.

As John writes:

“As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life

and no longer accompanied Him.”
Think of this—these were His disciples,

people who had believed in Him and were following him from town to town.

They’d heard His beautiful words and seen His great power.

And yet all because they could not accept this one hard saying

—because they couldn’t believe in the Eucharist—they walked away.

 

And what does Jesus do?

Does He run after them saying,

“no, no, wait, come back…you misunderstood”…?

No.

Still He won’t back down.

Instead, as St. John records:

“Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

It’s as if He’s saying,

“What about you?

Those others refuse to believe me, what about you?

You have a choice—believe this “hard saying” about eating the bread

which will be my flesh,

or you can leave too!”

Where else in the Gospels does He give such a stark choice:

“Here’s the line—which side are you on?”

 

What a terrible moment this must have been for those 12.

It was in fact a hard saying, who could believe it?

 

But then we read:

“Simon Peter answered Him,

“Master, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced

that you are the Holy One of God.”

Words. Life.

So simple.

They believe His words because they believe He is the savior,

so they have no choice:

They believe because He said so.

 

Did they understand what he meant?

I would wager no, not really, at least not completely.

But they did understand that he meant what he said.

And so they believed, and struggled to understand.

 

And almost exactly a year later that understanding took a huge leap forward,

when they sat with Jesus at the Passover supper,

on the night before He died,

remembering the first Passover, the night 1300 years before

when the Jews believed the word of the God given through Moses

and ate the flesh of the sacrificed lamb,

and God saved their lives from the angel of death

passing over Egypt

and freeing them for a new life in the promised land.

When they were at supper,

Jesus took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, and broke it,

just as He had when He multiplied the 5 loaves into 5000 loaves.

But this time He said:

“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”

And with the cup: “take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”

 

They listened to these strange but absolutely clear words of Jesus.

And they remembered the words He had said

that day after multiplying the loaves,

His words about His flesh being the bread of life,

true, or real, food that He would give them and that they must eat.

And they believed.

 

For 2000 years the Church has held fast to this belief.

And through the years, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

And contemplation on the teaching of St. John and the other apostles,

we have come to understand it better.

But all of it goes back to what Peter said—we believe, because Jesus said so.

 

Unfortunately, there have always been those

who do not side with Peter.

Of course this begins with the early disciples

who loved what Jesus had to say,

and were impressed by His power,

but left Him because they could not accept this hard saying.

 

But not all of the nonbelievers walked away.

As John tells us today:

“Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe

and the one who would betray him.”

And as he goes on to tell us at the end of Chapter 6:

“Jesus answered them,

“Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”

He was referring to Judas…Iscariot;

it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”

Judas stayed, but He did not believe.

And it seems, according to John,

that, the Eucharist was the beginning of His unbelief and betrayal.

 

Today, many followers of Jesus do not believe His words about the Eucharist.

Even those who say, “Scripture alone” and “it’s in the bible, so I believe it”

–they don’t believe what Jesus insisted on 5 times in John Chapter 6.

And even those who claim to be in the company of Peter’s successors

—many Catholics don’t believe,

even too many bishops and priests.

 

Am I saying that they are like Judas—betrayers of Jesus?

I can’t say that—only Jesus knows their hearts.

And Jesus loves them and is more merciful than you or I can even dream.

What’s more, many of them love Jesus very much.

 

But there is a line that Jesus draws.

There is a word Jesus speaks.

There is a truth Jesus insists on.

There is a gift Jesus gives.

And there is a faith in all that—a faith held and proclaimed by Peter,

and the Catholic Church for 2000 years.

Faith in the words of Jesus:

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…

you do not have life within you….

For my flesh is true food….

..The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

 

These are hard sayings.

But as we enter into this great mystery here today,

let us not allow our weak faith,

our stubborn hearts,

or our limited minds,

to lead us to abandon Christ, or to betray him

as He gives us Himself, His body, His flesh

to eat as the bread of life.

Rather let us hold firmly to the faith of Peter in the word of Christ:

“Master, ….You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe, and are convinced ….”

TEXT: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 19, 2018

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 19, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Today I’m going to be a little more personal than I like to be in homilies,

since homilies shouldn’t be about the priest.

But I think this approach might be helpful today.

 

___

Four weeks ago we all heard the news

about the disgustingly reprehensible behavior

of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

And then this week, like a one-two punch,

we heard the nauseating news

about the multiple accusations of sexual abuse and systemic coverup

by priests and bishops, in Pennsylvania.

 

I am sure most of you are devasted and angry.

And I am too.

Angry, no, infuriated, at the priests, bishops and cardinals

who either committed unspeakable crimes with children

or abused their positions of trust with vulnerable adults,

or used their clerical celibacy to cover their revolting homosexual lifestyle,

or lied and schemed and organized to cover it all up.

 

Three weeks ago I preached about the whole McCarrick situation.

And I told you that we need hold to account and punish

those who are merely wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

 

But also I strongly urged you not to be discouraged or to lose hope,

because our faith and hope are not in cardinals, bishops, priests,

or even popes,

but in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church He founded.

And I reminded you, there are still many good priests out there

striving to be good shepherds, who need your support and trust.

 

But in the light of revelations from the grand jury in Pennsylvania this week

all that needs to be reiterated.

 

And there’s something else we need to talk more about.

That is, the tendency to suspect all priests and bishops,

and so not only distance ourselves from them, but from the Church itself.

 

This was brought home to me the day after the Pennsylvania news came out.

A parishioner came to me and said a friend of hers had told her

that she should keep her children away from all priests,

and shouldn’t let her son consider becoming a priest.

 

My friends, this is the master plan of the devil unfolding:

first, corrupt a few priests and bishops, directly or indirectly,

then devastate the lives of victims,

then destroy all trust in all the clergy,

and finally drive good people from the Church.

 

My friends, we cannot let the devil and his evil cooperators win.

 

____

So let me tell you a little story.

I was born, raised, educated and worked as a professional

in San Antonio, Texas—I lived there all my life, until I was 31 years old.

I loved San Antonio, and l loved Texas—I am a Texan through and through.

I never thought anything could take me away from my home.

 

But 27 years ago today, August 19, 1991,

I got in my car and left my home forever

to drive to Maryland,

to study for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary,

for the Diocese of Arlington—our diocese.

 

I had spent much of the previous year talking to and working with

the Archdiocese of San Antonio about studying for the priesthood there. But in the end, I just couldn’t do it.

Because the more I looked and knew about

the seminary and the clergy of the archdiocese,

it became clear there were 2 huge problems:

first, they were corrupted by false teachings,

and second, they were infected by the sin of lust,

in particular homosexual lust.

So I knew there was no way I could study or be a priest for San Antonio.

 

But the call would not go away: I still felt called to be a priest.

So after consulting Catholic friends and family all over the country,

and looking at different Dioceses,

I decided to come here to the Diocese of Arlington.

And I have never regretted for one moment.

 

____

The Arlington Diocese is not at all perfect.

We are not immune from false or weak teaching.

And we have not been impervious to scandalous and even reprehensible

behavior of priests.

 

But I can tell you, as a priest who finds all this false doctrine and sexual abuse

repugnant to my very being,

there’s nowhere in the world I would rather be than Arlington.

I thank God every day that I am a priest of Arlington,

where I can say that there are so many fine priests,

like no other diocese I know,

and where, to my knowledge, the incidents of this kind of wrong doing,

especially sexual abuse and homosexuality, has been very rare.

 

Now, let me be clear—even one act of evil perversion in the priesthood,

especially against a child,

or covering up that act,

is an abomination and deserves the swiftest and most violent retribution.

But I do believe that with all the evil in the world, and in the Church,

parents need not be afraid of the priests of Arlington

any more than they would be afraid of their child’s doctor, or teacher,

or anyone else in a position of trust.

 

Now, clearly, be careful: trust but verify.

And make sure your children know that they can and should tell you if anyone,

including a priest,

hurts them, or touches or speaks to them inappropriately.

Be careful not to jump to rash conclusions, act with charity and justice,

but feel free to call a wolf a wolf.

 

Even so, please, do not assume that all priests are evil or to be distrust us.

 

And do let the devil, and all his cooperating evil or weak priests and bishops,

keep you or your children away from good priests

or from the Church.

And do not discourage your sons, or yourselves,

from answering the call to priesthood.

 

____

I told you a moment ago about how I decided to come to Arlington.

But I didn’t tell you why, even after knowing all the bad stuff I did,

I still decided to be a priest.

 

Of course, I felt the call, after much prayer and discernment, to the priesthood.

But all that could easily have been more than offset

by all the crud I was aware of

—who would want that for the next 60 years?

 

No, in the end what overcame all that crud

was the realization that it didn’t have to be that way.

 

That there were, in fact, many good priests struggling to do Christ’s work.

That a priest could strive to be holy, faithful and chaste,

and do great things for God’s people.

And that without new men joining the good priests in the struggle,

they and the whole Church

would be left to suffer at the hands of all the bad priests and bishops,

and the devil would win.

 

____

So, it came down to this: if not me, who?

 

Now, that sounds a little arrogant

–there were literally thousands of other men who could do it,

and do it much better than I could.

But, that begs the question: if Jesus was truly calling me, why not me too?

And false or exaggerated humility

can easily be an excuse for cowardice or laziness.

In the end, we need all the able bodied and souled priests we can get.

Men who know exactly what they were getting into,

and are willing to make sacrifices to be faithful to the Gospel.

To try to be truly good shepherds, and truly loving fathers to God’s children.

 

____

Sometimes when vocation promoters talk about the priesthood

they make it sound kind of like the Peace Corps:

you go out and do nice things for people.

But the priesthood isn’t the Peace Corps:

it’s got to be more like the Marine Corps.

With brave, strong, intelligent, and dedicated men.

Men who will sacrifice everything for Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Men who will go into spiritual battle every day,

and never be discouraged by the wickedness or strength of their opponents.

Men who will strive constantly, with the grace and power of Jesus Christ,

and reinforced by an army of angels and saints,

to clean up the spiritual mess that the Church is becoming.

Men who know that they are as likely to be shot in the back

by so called “friendly fire” as by enemy fire,

but still have the fortitude to go forward.

 

Now, again, that sounds a bit arrogant,

and makes us all sound like a bunch of heroes and saints.

Clearly, we know, not even all the good priests are heroes and saints,

and I am definitely not,

[my father was a Marine, and my mother was a saint,

and I’m neither.]

But so many priests I know, especially in Arlington,

but also all around the Church, are striving to be just that.

What more can you ask of them?

 

And what more can you want for you son or brother,

if God calls him to priesthood?

And what more could a real man, a real Catholic young man, want for himself?

 

___

Today is kind of like the Church’s 9/11.

But this time the evil doers didn’t crashed into

the high and mighty Twin Towers or the soldiers at the Pentagon,

they took down a high and mighty cardinal,

and so many the soldiers of Christ, His priests.

 

But remember what happened after 9/11, 2001?

Remember how the whole nation seemed to come together

to rally against the evil perpetrated against us?

And remember how so many young men and women came forth proudly

to fight to defend us—even to lay down their lives for us?

 

Today, in the face of the evil we have seen trying to destroy our church,

will we rally, or will we run?

And will we and our sons stand up and be the men and women

God has called us to be,

or will we allow the Church, the Bride of Jesus Christ,

to be controlled, abused and dissipated by weak and evil men?

 

___

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:

“Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,

you do not have life within you.”

Let me tell you another story.

When I was growing up, I was a very devout kid,

and I especially loved the Eucharist and the Mass.

But in college I stopped going to Mass.

Lots of reasons for that, but one of the most important was

all the really weak priests I knew.

I mean, it seemed to me that they didn’t believe, so why should I?

 

Well thanks be to God, I came back a few years later,

because I had to admit to myself

that regardless of whatever those foolish priests said or did,

I believed in Jesus, and all He taught, especially about the Eucharist.

And all that could only be found in only one place:

in the Church he founded, the Catholic Church.

So I started going to Mass again.

And even when I knew the priest was not very faithful,

I always knew he gave me the one thing I need more than anything else:

the bread of life, Jesus in the flesh.

And that in turn helped to reawaken the call to the priesthood in my heart:

I thought, “someone has to do this better, more faithfully.”

 

Again, if not me, who?

 

___

That is the question not only for men called to priesthood,

but really, also the question all Catholics should answer today.

As St. Peter tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion,

seeking someone to devour.

Resist him, standing firm in your faith….”

Who will resist and fight the good fight, if not you?

Who will help purify the Church of all this filth?

Who will stand up to the corrupt bishops and priests?

If not me and you, who?

 

And who will preplace them in the pulpit and at the altar,

not as wolves, but as true shepherds and fathers,

who will give us the Bread of Life, if we have no priests?

If not me and your sons, who?

 

____

Do not give up your faith in Christ and His Catholic Church.

Do not waiver one iota.

Love Him and His Bride, with all your hearts.

And fight for them both.

Do not settle for platitudes, or new policies and procedures

from the bishops, or the Vatican.

But demand a wholesale moral purification of the Church,

most especially her priests and bishops.

Support with all your hearts the ones who are clearly trying

to be good shepherds.

And with the power and might of Jesus Himself,

who comes to you in the Holy Eucharist,

oppose with all your strength

the wolves and the lions seeking to devour us.

 

If not you and me, who?