TEXT: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Sunday May 13, 2018

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Sunday May 13, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven,

meaning the real historical fact that 2000 years ago Jesus,

who was born in Bethlehem,

and was Crucified and Rose from the dead in Jerusalem,

at the end of 40 days after the Resurrection,

physically rose in His body up in the air,

and went up into the sky into heaven.

It really happened.

 

But it’s more than historic fact—it didn’t just happen and it’s over.

Rather it happened 2000 years ago, but it continues to happen now,

in the sense that Jesus is still in heaven, in His body,

seated, in some way, on His throne next to God the Father

ruling over the universe.

 

This is all, of course, very hard to understand.

How did Jesus, in effect, fly up to heaven in His body?

And where is heaven, and is it a physical place, and is it a physical throne?

—it must be somehow, someway, since His real body is there.

Even so, we don’t understand how.

But the thing is, it’s not terribly important whether we understand how,

as long as He understands how.

 

What it is important for us to understand, however, is why.

 

Now, with God, we never understand every reason why He does what He does.

There are so many mysteries

—divine truths we know about and understand somewhat,

because Jesus has told us,

but at the same time things we can never understand completely,

because they are so profound, so complicated.

After all, they come from the mind and life of God, not man.

 

This is the way with the mystery of the Ascension

—it has so many meanings, and ramifications,

most of which we only begin to scratch the surface of understanding.

 

But let’s try.

To begin with, very simply put,

Jesus Ascended into heaven because that’s where He belongs.

Remember how the Gospels tell us that

God the Father “sent His only Son into the world,”

and that Jesus said repeated that He had “come down from heaven.”

God the Son belongs in heaven because that’s where He is from.

The unusual thing is that He was on earth at all!

It was a great blessing for us to have Him for as long as we did,

but He came to redeem us, and when He had accomplished that,

He returned to His place beside His Father.

 

Again, it is fitting, because that is where He is from and where He belongs.

But it is also fitting because from there He can rule over the whole universe,

all creation,

not sitting at a campfire in Judea ruling over 12 apostles,

or even in a huge stadium ruling over 100,000 people.

But in heaven looking over all of us, guiding and protecting us,

and being worshipped and adored

by all the angels and saints and all believers.

 

_____

And that leads to another reason for the Ascension

God the Son returns to heaven WITH His human nature.

As amazing as it is that God came down to earth,

more amazing still is that he was here as one of us:

God the Son became a man

—keeping His divinity, but united it to our humanity;

the Creator of all things became one of His creatures.

God entered into the nitty gritty of every part of everyday human life,

including sin–ours not His own.

 

This is the mystery of the Incarnation,

and what we sometimes call the hypostatic union:

that God the Son united His divine nature to a human nature,

so that He was one person with two natures,

completely God and completely Man.

Again, we don’t completely understand it,

but what we do understand is awesome and beautiful.

 

And now His divinity has taken His humanity into heaven,

where it is truly sitting next to, or standing before, God the Father.

Now we can say, that a man truly sits on the throne of God,

reigning over the universe, heaven and earth.

 

Think of that.

He is still the God who created everything out of nothing,

but now He returns to heaven as also Man.

And not just “a man,” but, in a sense, “Man” or “mankind,”

as He represents all of us.

Showing us that we, mankind, all and each of us,

are created with this capacity to be like God, and to share in His Divinity.

Not grasping at being God’s equal or replacement like Adam and Eve did.

Not opposing God, but obeying God.

Not rivaling God but loving God.

Not trying to seize God’s power, but to accept His free gift of sharing in His life.

Not to be above Him or against Him, but to be one with Him.

 

And so, Jesus as the Eternal Creator God the Son

and as the Crucified and Risen Man, sits next to God His Father forever.

And there He is our priest, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us,

Jesus always lives to intercede for” us before His Father.

Not only as the only Son of God, but as one of us, a Son of Man,

who understands us not only as a Creator understands His creation,

but as Creator who lived the life of a creature.

As Hebrews goes on to say:

“we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,

…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize

with our weaknesses,

but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are

—yet he did not sin.”

 

And so, He pleads for us as God the Father’s only begotten Divine Son,

but also as one of us.

And the Father looks at Jesus standing before Him,

and then looks down at us.

And He sees and loves in us, what He sees and loves in His most beloved Son.

 

And Jesus not only intercedes for us,

but He also stands before His father and praises Him,

not only as the Divine Son, but as the representative of Man.

So that it is true, that:

“Through Him, and with Him, and in Him…all honor and glory is”

the Father’s “for ever and ever.”

 

_____

Think of all of that….

Then think of how we were created for this.

As divinity is united to humanity in Jesus,

our humanity was created to be united to His divinity,

so that where Jesus the Man has gone,

we men, male and female, hope to follow.

 

We were created to live with God in paradise.

But not just as soulless spirits: as Christ is bodily in heaven,

we are meant to be with Him in heaven in our bodies.

We profess this every Sunday, when we say:

“I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

And be believe not just the resurrection of the body,

but also the ascension of the body—our bodies.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere: [in 1 Thessalonians]:

“will be caught up together with them in the clouds

to meet the Lord in the air,

and so we will always be with the Lord.”

And as St. John tells us: “we know that when He appears we shall be like Him…”
Think about what this means for us,

for the nobility of being a human being,

for the dignity of the human body.

Of the excellence this brings to our earthly lives lived in the body

that is meant to live forever in heaven,

 

And think of how it is so contrary to our good,

to the meaning of human life

to abuse our bodies or other people’s bodies.

Think of how this offends and wounds the body of Jesus enthroned in heaven.

 

Of course, there’s sexual abuse of the body, that is so rampant today,

like of contraception, sex outside of marriage,

and especially pornography, and homosexual acts.

And also think of the other ways we abuse the body:

through drugs or alcohol or gluttony,

or through the mutilation of healthy bodies in sex-change procedures.

 

But also, think of how we abuse other people’s bodies,

when we selfishly refuse to assist those with true bodily needs:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

….thirsty and you gave me no drink,

….a stranger and you did not welcome me,

…naked and you did not clothe me,

sick …and you did not visit me….”

 

 

Think of all that, and think of Christ’s human body enthroned in heaven.

 

____

Now, I have said, it’s fitting that Jesus be in heaven, and it is.

But His being in heaven doesn’t keep Him from being with us on earth,

as He promised:

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

So we remember how He explained to the apostles at the last supper:

“it is to your good that I go away, for if I do not go away,

the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.

But if I go, I will send him to you.…”

 

And so even has Jesus has bodily ascended into heaven,

His Holy Spirit has descended upon us

in the sacrament of Baptism, and dwells in our hearts.

And where Jesus’ Spirit is, there is Jesus, and His Father, as well.

So by the action of His Holy Spirit Jesus does remain in each of the Baptized

and in the Church, His body on earth.

And He remains in His Word handed down by the Apostles and their successors,

by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

And most sublimely, by the action of the Holy Spirit,

Jesus remains with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

—the Holy Eucharist.

Just as He ascended to heaven 2000 years ago, body, blood, soul and Divinity,

at every Mass He descends from heaven, body, blood, soul and Divinity,

to the altar.

And we worship Him,

first and foremost in His body Sacrificed once and for all on the Cross,

but also in His risen and gloriously Ascended Body.

He comes down to earth and we go up with Him into heaven.

As Hebrews says:

Since then we have a great high priest

who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,

let us …. then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace….”

 

____

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

let us turn to our Lord enthroned in Heaven,

begging Him to join our prayers, petitions and praise to His own,

and present them to His heavenly Father.

And as He descends to the altar with all His angels and saints,

to make us one with Him in Holy Communion,

transforming our human lives by His divine life,

let us accept this heavenly gift with exultation

and live the life He created us for and that He calls us to.

The life lived in this world, with a body and soul created for the glory of heaven.

TEXT: 6th Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 6, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The center of our faith, the reason we exist, is Love.

But not just any love: God’s love.

 

Scripture brings this home to us over and over again.

Today, St. John tells us: “God is love”.

And taking that central truth about who God is,

we remember that Genesis tells us that,

“In the beginning… God created man in His own image.”

So, we are a creature made in the image of a God who IS love.

Which means that we are created fundamentally, to live in the image of God

–to love as God loves.

 

But in order to know how to love as God loves–to be like God

–God first has to reveal Himself to us, and teach us to love as He does.

So in the Old Testament, when God gives Moses the 10 commandments

we find that they’re not just an arbitrary set of rules,

but a true revelation of who God is

–how He lives and loves,

and how He created us to live and love.

When Christ entered the world He completed the revelation of who God is,

not coming, as He tells us, “to abolish [the law] but to fulfill [it]. ….”

–not to throw it out, but to explain it.

And His explanation comes most sublimely in today’s Gospel.

First He tells us to obey the ten commandments

–“You will live in my love if you keep my commandments,

just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in His love.”

Notice, to Jesus to love and to keep the commandments

are mutually inclusive.

And also notice that Jesus goes on to clarify the commandments of love,

by pointing to Himself who is the Law made flesh, Love made flesh:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another

as I have loved you.”

 

And Jesus Himself teaches us how to love by His own example,

first by keeping the 10 Commandments in His own life,

and then by His own ultimate act of love.

He tells us:

“Greater love has no man than this,

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

He has loved us by laying down His life for his friends–for us–on the Cross.

 

Loving as Christ loves is living not for ourselves, but for God and our neighbor.

And that is what the Cross is about: about sacrifice out of love.

To be who we are created to be,

we must live in His image, and love as God the Son loves.

We must lay down our lives of sin

–and rise up in the life of love lived out in the commandments.

 

—–

It’s easy to lose sight of all of this, nowadays.

In our world, “love” usually has very little to do with sacrifice:

love is usually reduced to a feeling that makes you happy.

And love is hardly ever at all equated with following the commandments

–on the contrary, love is usually seen as an uncontrollable impulse

that leads us to whatever attracts us

–and the commandments just get in the way of love.

 

But when you’re tempted to tell God, “who is love,”

that His definition of “love” is wrong,

or to tell the creator of man that He doesn’t know

what is natural to His own creature,

it’s time to lay down your own selfish pride, or your irrational logic.

 

——

Sadly, not only do we often confuse the irrational feelings we have

with true love,

sometimes we even confuse true love with hate.

So that all too often if you talk about the commandments

you’re accused of “hate-speech,

and even called “un-Christian.”

But the thing is, this isn’t hateful, and it certainly is not un-Christian.”

If anything, this is Christ-like.

Sometimes telling the truth, especially telling the truth about the commandments

is the most loving thing, the most Christ-like thing, to do.

 

Think about it: Jesus loved everyone,

even the scribes and Pharisees, which is why He said things like:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,

[you] hypocrites!…You serpents, you brood of vipers.”

That’s not hate-speech—that’s the language of love.

As Scripture tells us elsewhere:

“The Lord disciplines and him whom he loves

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

 

——-

Of course, we need to be very charitable and prudent

when we talk about things the world doesn’t understand.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be passionate about it.

Yet so often when people disagree over something passionately,

especially when they strongly and forcefully argue and even fight

to defend what they believe is right,

they are called “hateful.”

Some people in the world we live in believe that all fighting is hateful.

But sometimes fighting—and even war itself—is about love:

love for one’s friends, one’s country,

or the defenseless, or the persecuted or one’s ideals.

How many have loved us by fighting with all their energy to defend us,

even by “laying down their lives for their friends” in time of war?

 

Some might say, but Father, Jesus said:

Love your enemies.”

But you can love a man and still fight him when he’s wrong or evil.

 

For some it’s hard to understand:

how can you love your enemy and still fight them?

One the best examples I’ve seen, where it was lived out vividly and dramatically,

was a story told about our soldiers in Iraq a few years back.

One of the imbedded reporters in the Iraq invasion, told the story of how

a company of US Soldiers had come to guard one of the

most sacred Muslim sites

but the crowd of Muslim civilians thought they’d come to capture the place,

and began to move to stop the GI’s.

Let me read what the reporter for Time wrote:

“These soldiers had just fought an all-night battle.

They were exhausted, tense,

and prepared to crush any riot with violence of their own.

But …when their battalion commander…ordered them to

take a knee, point their weapons to the ground, and start smiling,

that is exactly what they did….

          Since then, I have often wondered how we created an army of men

                   who could fight with ruthless savagery all night

                   and then respond so easily to an order to “smile”

                             while under impending threat.”

 

It is hard for people to understand all this,

it seems “natural” for a man who fights

to vent his anger and rage uncontrolled

–to let his feelings of anger dictate his actions.

That would be logical deduction of the “feel good” culture

our society is slipping into.

But thank God there remains a few remnants and effects

of the Christian culture we once were.

 

This, my friends, is loving your enemy par excellence.

They fought the enemy—for what they believed to be right and necessary—

with the most devastating of martial skill,

willing to lay down their lives for the defense of their country.

But when the time for fighting stopped they were not ruled by feelings,

–not by feelings of anger or even of fear,

as their own lives were still in danger.

But instead, even though it meant an added risk of laying down their lives,

they were ruled by the echo of the words of Love Incarnate:

“Love one another as I have loved you….Love [even] your enemies.”

 

If only our whole of our society could return to these Christian roots.

To understand that love is something more than feeling good,

but rather about being good and doing good for one another.

That love is not about doing as you please,

but doing what is pleasing to God: what is right and good,

and becoming like God, in whose image you were created.

That the greatest love involves sacrifice, laying down your life for your friends:

loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

 

——

As we read today’s Gospel and contemplate on

the meaning of Christ’s commandment of love,

we should remember that this text comes right in the middle

of Jesus’ prayer during the Last Supper.

A prayer for that perfect love be restored between God and man

by the perfect act of love between God and man: Christ’s death on the Cross.

Where God the Son laid down His life out of love for His friends,

but also for His enemies,

Caiaphas and Pilate and the Roman soldiers were His enemies,

but died for love of them too.

At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated that sacrifice

both in His prayer and His actions.

So that today, 2000 years later, we can come together,

and enter into the sacred mystery of that sacrificial love.

In this Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist

Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes into our bodies,

and fills us with the perfect love of the Cross.

Today, open your heart to be transformed by the love of the Cross.

Transformed into the person you were intended to be in the beginning

when man was created in the image of the God who is love.

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 29, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Most years we would celebrate today, April 29th,

as the feast of one of the greatest Saints of the Church.

But since today is Sunday, and a Sunday of Easter, the Lord’s Day takes priority,

so her feast is liturgically suppressed.

 

But nothing keeps us from talking about her, so we will.

She was a completely uneducated girl, a tiny wisp of a nun

who died over 600 years ago at the young age of 33.

But in her short life she was such a powerful instrument of God’s grace and love,

that she is now recognized as a great

teacher, foundress, healer, mystic, writer, diplomat,

spiritual counselor to peasants and popes,

and even proclaimed one of the 36 “Doctors of the Church.”

She was named Caterina Benincasa,

but we have come to know her as St. Catherine of Siena.

 

Yet with all the words that this great saint wrote none can really summarize her life

better than the words of her one true love, words she read–as we do today—

from St. John’s Gospel:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine was given the great gift to understand from the early age of 6

that there was no life, no love,

that could compare to the life and love of Jesus Christ.

And so she sought her whole life not to live her life, but to live his life:

to live in Him, and let Him live in her.

She realized that without Him she could do nothing.

Like a small vine withering in the heat of the sun

she had been born to the human race,

but in her baptism she had been grafted

onto the great strong vine who is Christ.

She had become part of Him, and she strove all of her life to remain part of Him

and to open her heart to receive from Him

every goodness he wanted to give her.

And like a vine pouring nutrition into its branches,

Christ poured His life and love into her.

And in that, she did not whither, but grew and bore tremendous, abundant fruit

that we still cherish today.

 

The first fruit in this life was her personal holiness and a closeness to God

that made her the natural instrument of His goodness to others.

St. Catherine never forgot our Lord’s promise that we find both in today’s Gospel

and today’s second reading, as we read:

“If you remain in me…

ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.”

When we look at the life of St. Catherine

we’re astounded by the amazing things she did,

or rather amazing things Jesus did in response to her prayers:

–spoke and read languages she had never been taught,

cured the sick, read the hearts of sinners,

converted notorious sinners, saw prophetic visions,

and brought peace to her country.

There’s even the story of how,

when she heard that her mother had died without confessing her sins,

St. Catherine spent the night in deep prayer–“laying siege to heaven”

–and in the morning found her mother restored to life, and perfect health.

 

How was it that S. Catherine lived in Christ so well

so that so much of what she asked of him was given her?

First of all, she had been grafted onto Christ by the gift of Baptism

–that great sacrament that marks the beginning of our life in Christ.

But the branch can easily whither on the Vine if it’s not properly cared for.

So St. Catherine constantly worked at keeping herself alive in Christ

by striving to follow the instruction of St. John in today’s 2nd reading:

“Those who keep His commandments remain in Him and he in them.”

So she strove to eliminate all personal sin from her life,

to do only “do what pleases him”

by serving God and her neighbor.

And having removed all obstacles between her and her beloved,

she entered into a life of such intimate and unitive prayer

that Our Lord granted her a share in His own five wounds of the cross

–the stigmata.

But also, in answer to her desperate prayer made out of deepest humility,

the agonizing wounds remained invisible to all but herself

until the moment of her death,

when they became clearly visible on her lifeless body.

 

St. Catherine truly depended on Christ the Vine for her whole life,

uniting herself completely to Him.

And just as she saw very vividly how in baptism she had become a small branch

grafted onto the strong life-giving Vine of Christ,

she also saw that the Vine poured its life into her

by the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity

under the appearance of earthly food–bread

–His life was poured into her Body and Soul.

So great was her love for the Our Lord in the Eucharist

and so deep her understanding

of her complete dependence on this sacrament for life,

that God granted her 2 very rare and special gifts.

First, when she would receive communion at Mass

she would fall into an ecstatic prayer

–in raptured joy, completely oblivious to any of her senses,

and sometimes even physically lifted into the air.

And second, and perhaps most remarkable of all the gifts Christ gave her,

from about the time she was in her late teens until her death at 33

St. Catherine ate no earthly food

other than the Body of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Vine fed His precious branch directly and only with the food of heaven.

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches.

Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,

because without me you can do nothing.”

St. Catherine is in heaven now, but she continues to produce abundant fruit

through her powerful intercession and shining example.

And her example reminds us that we too are called to live the same life she did:

not her life, but the life of Christ.

 

But do we answer this call?

Are we truly living in Him,

so that all H\his life and goodness can flow into our daily existence?

It’s difficult to do that, or even know how to start.

We’re probably not all going to be great saints like St. Catherine,

but we all have to start in the same place that she did.

First, by entering the life of Christ in Baptism.

Then also by nurturing and protecting that life by “keeping his commandments”

as St. John instructs us, freeing ourselves from our attachments to sin.

And then as the obstacles of sin begin to clear away,

we enter can enter a deeper relationship with our Lord

in prayer, prayer that opens us more and more to receive his life and love.

Finally, when we’ve removed the serious sins, and prepared ourselves in prayer,

we will still have no power to live, and no strength to love,

unless we receive the food pouring from the Vine into us His branches:

the food that is Christ Himself present in the Eucharist.

 

Not everyone in this room is called to be a St. Catherine of Seine.

But you may be surprised to realize that everyone of us

is called to a level of holiness comparable to hers.

I know I’m not anywhere near that level.

Through baptism, I am a branch attached to the Vine of Christ.

But if only I could be a branch abundant with fruit like St. Catherine was.

If only I my prayers could cure plagues, convert sinners, or restore life

in the name of Jesus.

If only I could love my God and my neighbor the way I should

–if only I could free myself from sin.

If only my prayers would lead me to such intimate union with Christ

that I would could see his blood flow from my hands.

If only I could approach the Eucharist and see with the eyes of perfect faith

the real presence of Jesus Christ,

and recognize more clearly that this is the food pouring out of the Vine

to give life to His branches.

If only I could live in Him and He in me, because apart from Him,

it is clear that I can do nothing.

 

Still, if a simple, tiny, uneducated, medieval girl

named Caterina Benincasa can do it,

why can’t you and I?

We have baptism; we have His commandments, we have His prayer,

and we His Body in the Eucharist.

We have Him.

He is the Vine, and we–just like St. Catherine of Siena–are the branches.

Why don’t we live in Him, and let Him live in us,

so that we may produce fruit abundantly?

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 22, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we read the Gospel of the Good Shepherd.

What more beloved image do we have of our Lord Jesus, than

the image of the shepherd

who lovingly tends and feeds his lambs and sheep,

who goes searching for lost sheep,

and who not only fights off the wolves that prey on his sheep,

but is willing even to lay down his life for his sheep?

Who knows and cares for each one of his sheep individually,

and whose sheep know him, and follow him where ever he leads.

 

It is a beautiful image, and comforting and strong image.

And to a man who is called to stand in the place of Christ in the world, a priest,

it is an inspiring image, especially a man who is called to be a “pastor,”

which is, of course, the Latin word for shepherd.

 

And so, while today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday,”

the Church also calls it the “World Day of Prayer for Vocations,”

vocations to the religious life, but especially to the priesthood,

as it holds out the image of the Good Shepherd

and asks young men: are you called to follow in his footsteps?

 

As I said, this is an inspiring image to priests and would be priests.

But it can also be an intimidating image to them.

In today’s gospel Jesus points out that not all who tend the sheep

are true shepherds:

some are mere hired hands, who only care about the pay,

and not so much about the sheep.

 

Any priest who’s honest with himself recognizes the temptations that exist

to be more like the hired hand, than like the good shepherd.

Not that they are priests for the money, because the money’s pretty bad.

There have been times when that wasn’t the case,

when some men treated the priesthood as just another career opportunity.

For example, in the middle ages, in the noble families,

the first son would inherit the title,

the second son would serve in the army,

and the third son serve in the church,

maybe to become a bishop or an abbot,

and earn a good living as such.

Today this kind of thing still exists in some poorer countries,

where the standard of living is poor and some see the priesthood

as a way out of poverty—not so much to riches, but to security.

 

And when it wasn’t money or security,

it was often the other material perks that that attracted men to the priesthood.

Not too long ago, to be a priest was a position of great honor and prestige:

to be a pastor of a parish made you a force in the community, even in politics.

People gave you all sorts of gifts,

and even non-Catholics showed your deference,

for example, standing when you entered the room.

 

For the most part, most of those kinds of perks are gone today

In fact, the opposite is true:

the priest is more and more disrespected,

his peers make much more money and have much more financial security,

and, in some places in the world, he is the first targeted for martyrdom.

Even among Catholics, he’s looked down upon by many

who think there must be something wrong with him to want to be celibate,

or to hide from the real world.

And now, more and more even little children who used to stand in awe of priests,

are taught that we are bigots and haters.

 

But if a priest, or a would-be priest, is honest with himself,

he can still recognize that there are still lots of ways

to gain favor, prestige, and even wealth.

If he tries to entertain, or he tells people what they want to hear,

especially when he challenges Church moral teaching.

He can even give speeches and write books and articles

to make a little money as well, especially if it challenges Church teaching.

 

So, for every priest he must decide and commit himself

to one or the other model for his priesthood:

The Good Shepherd, or the hired hand.

Mind you, hired hands can enjoy their work

—they may even really like the sheep in their care,

and the shepherd they’re working for.

And so a priest might really like the work of the priesthood,

including, especially working with the people.

But in the end, it comes down to what happens,

as Jesus says in today’s gospel,

when the wolves come–then what does he do?

Does he run and leave the sheep to be eaten by the wolves,

or does he take a stand and protect his sheep,

even if it means he might suffer or even die?

Does he run, or does he lay down his life for the sheep?

Is he a priest who is a hired hand, or a good shepherd?

 

___

The same thing is essential in discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

Many young men will understandably get all caught up in asking themselves,

what do I want to do? What will make me happy?

But the question should be, what does Jesus want you to do?

What would make Jesus happy?

 

Now, as I say this, you should know that in the end,

what Jesus wants and makes Him happy,

is really what will make us happy.

Because Jesus loves us more than we love ourselves,

and He knows us better than we know ourselves.

So if we follow His will, it will lead us to happiness.

 

Because the thing is, we get confused about what will make us happy.

For most of us, most of the time,

it is material things and human comforts

that we recognize as giving us pleasure.

But we fail to recognize that our truest happiness

lies in becoming the best we can be, the best God created us to be.

So a young man may look at marriage, a career, interesting work and money,

and say, that’s really what I want.

And none of that is bad.

 

But did God make you to be a hired hand, or a shepherd?

Did he make you so you could satisfy yourself,

or so that you could care for others?

In short, did he create you to be selfish, or to love.

 

When we approach discernment this way, things change.

 

For a priest, this perspective causes him

not to focus on what will make him popular or comfortable,

but what will be best for his people, his flock.

For a young man discerning a call to the priesthood,

this will cause him to focus not on what will bring him satisfaction,

but what will be best for those God seeks to entrust to him.

He asks essentially, do I love myself more, or God and His Church more?

 

And if he is willing to do whatever God wants,

to lay aside his concerns for himself,

then he will be open to becoming the man God calls him to be.

 

And that may be as a priest—or as a layman, married with children.

Because husbands and fathers can also approach their marriages and families

like a hired hand:

seeking what pleasure they can get from their wives and children,

and ignoring the hard parts of leading a family.

And then I guarantee you—no one will be happy,

as the family will fail, and fall prey to the wolves, or scatter.

 

____

So the key for all of us, young men and women, and old men and women,

priests and religious brothers and sisters,

to discerning what we should do in life

is not first and foremost what makes you happy,

but what would make God happy, what is God’s will

—because whatever that is, will, in the end, make you happy.

 

Even if he calls you to be a teacher, architect soldier or a construction worker,

rather than a priest.

Or a father whose wife gets cancer,

and whose children get caught up in the evils of the world.

A husband, who doesn’t run away, because he doesn’t get paid enough for this.

But a father who stays and lays down his life for his sheep.

 

Or if he calls you to be a priest, to do the same.

 

Today on this Good Shepherd Sunday,

we thank the Lord Jesus for being our true good shepherd:

for tending and feeding us,

for seeking us out when we go astray and bringing us home,

for knowing and loving each one of us so tenderly,

and for standing and fighting off the wolves,

and laying down his life for us.

But let us also pray for our priests and bishops, and our Pope,

that they may always follow the way of the Good Shepherd,

and never fall to the temptations of the hired hand.

And let us pray for vocations to the religious life and especially to the priesthood:

may all of our young people make choices

after careful and grace-filled discernment,

not of what they want, but what God wants for them.

That they may not seek to be hired hands,

but true shepherds in whatever path Christ calls them.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For the second week in a row we read today the account

of Jesus’ appearing to His apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday

–last week we read St. John’s account,

and this week we read St. Luke’s.

As you would expect, the two accounts tell pretty much the same story,

each adding their own details and perspective.

But one thing that stands out in both accounts is their identical account

of the first words the Risen Christ said to His apostles:

“Peace be with you.”
Think about this.

On what other occasion does Jesus tell His apostles: “peace be with you”?

If you recall, it happened just 3 days before Easter,

when at the Last Supper He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;

not as the world gives do I give to you.

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

 

Sounds a lot like what He says to those same apostles in today’s Gospel,

taken from Easter:

Peace be with you…Why are you troubled?

And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

 

The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of

—it’s not just about nonviolence or harmony between people,

although those can certainly flow from the peace of Christ.

But the peace of Christ is first and fundamentally an internal peace

—peace of the heart.

So that even when there’s all sorts of violence and disturbance around you

–like the apostles locked in the upper room,

afraid the Sanhedrin or the Romans would come

and arrest them and crucify them—

even then, you can have true and inner peace,

like the apostles go from being terrified to, as it says,

being “incredulous for joy.”

 

Moreover, this peace comes directly from Christ,

and we receive it only by being with Christ.

We see this in today’s Gospel as Jesus seeks to reassure his apostles

that he is really there with them, really alive:

by showing them his wounded hands, and eating with them.

And so that with Him, there is no reason to fear or to have a troubled heart,

but only to be at peace.

 

Even so, at the very end of the last supper, He prays to His father:

“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,

may they also be in us…

So we see that the fullness of the peace of Christ

comes not from merely being with Him, but from being ONE with Him,

being united to him.

So He continues praying at the last supper:

that they may be one, as we are one, I IN them and you IN me…”

 

This oneness, or unity, or communion, is exactly what we find

in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the last supper,

and that we come here to celebrate today:

the Eucharist;

a sacrament that we call “Holy Communion

at that point when Christ literally enters in to us

as we receive his Body: “I in them”…. and us in him.

So in a very important sense, the Eucharist,

or rather the Communion with Christ

that the Eucharist brings about and strengthens,

is the source of true peace.

 

__

And the Church reminds us of this at every Mass.

All throughout the Mass, we pray for peace.

For example, right at the beginning of the Mass, we sing:

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to people of good will.”

 

Then in the Eucharistic prayer we pray for peace 4 times, including:

the prayer that God will “order our days in [His] peace…,”

 

Then, right before we receive Communion, the priest prays to Christ,

recalling his words from the last supper,

“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles,

Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…”

And then speaking of the Church he says:

“graciously grant her peace and unity ….”

And then he turns to the people and says:

“Peace be with you.”

And then he usually invites you to exchange a “sign of peace” with each other.

 

The exchange of the sign of peace can be a powerful symbol

as we prepare to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Unfortunately, what’s happened over the last 50 years is

we’ve lost sight of what’s really happening here:

we forget “not as the world gives [peace] do I give [peace].”

So, many times the sign of peace becomes entirely about worldly peace.

But It’s not about us, and good feelings of friendship,

and certainly not about saying “hello”

or “good to see you” to your neighbor,

It’s supposed to be about the Risen Christ present on the altar in the Eucharist

saying “MY Peace be with you, because I’m here”

and about the spiritual fruit of the truest peace

that comes not just from being in his presence

but being truly united with him in Holy Communion,

of him being in us, and us being in him.

 

___

Now, it is true, that by receiving and being in Communion in Christ,

we come into or deepen our communion with each other:

as Jesus prays at the last supper: ““that they may all be one.”

But to understand the unity he’s talking about,

and the “they” he’s praying for,

we have to go back to the context.

He begins by first praying for the unity of his 12 apostles:

And then, continuing to pray for the 12 apostles, he asks his Father:

“…Sanctify them in the truth…

As you have sent me into the world,

so I have sent them into the world.”

And then he prays:

“I ask not only on behalf of these [the 12 apostles],

but also on behalf of those who will believe in me

          through their word, that they may all be one.”

 

So you see, he’s praying for the unity,

first of the apostles,

and then of all those who come to believe in the truth they teach.

So unity with Christ and the fullness of true peace it brings,

also requires unity, or communion, with the apostles

and believing what they taught about Christ.

 

And not just with his first 12, but also with their successors in authority,

who have passed along the authentic true apostolic teaching,

over the last 20 centuries.

 

So ask yourself, when you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand

and say “peace be with you”

are you meaning to pray that he receive

the everlasting peace, the peace that passes all understanding,

that flows from

the Sacramental Communion with Christ in the Eucharist

and faith in everything the apostles and their successors

teach to be certainly true?

Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?

 

Think about that….

 

And when you come up to receive Holy Communion

do you first examine your conscience

to see if you really are in communion with the apostolic teaching

handed down through the centuries through

popes, bishops, councils and great fathers and doctors of the Church?

And if you’re not, do realize there can be no true peace for you

in the lie you commit by receiving Holy Communion

when you are not in communion?

 

____

Unfortunately, today there are many challenges to our communion

with Christ and his apostles.

And I don’t mean just those brought by our separated Protestant brethren,

but rather the challenges that arise from within the visible boundaries

of the Catholic Church herself.

 

Whether it’s challenges to our communion by those who call themselves Catholic

but reject the Church’s ancient, apostolic and constant teaching on things like

the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,

and its effects on us, the Communion it brings with Christ,

or the real historical bodily Death and Resurrection of Jesus,

or the truth about marriage and sexuality,

or the dignity of every person, poor or rich, born or unborn.

 

Or whether it’s challenges brought by Catholics who simply spread confusion

regarding the constant teaching of the Church.

For example, when well-meaning priests and even bishops

will take an official doctrine of the Church,

and apply it to certain situations and act as if their private opinion

is the same and as binding as actual doctrine.

For example, some will take a clear doctrine of the Church,

like, the moral necessity that we must provide for the needs of the poor,

but then imposes their opinion as to the best way to do that,

and try to make us think that their opinion is doctrine.

But attempts to impose unity

where legitimate differences in judgment should be respected

does nothing but confuse the faithful and so undermine true communion

—and so, peace.

 

___

In the end, true peace comes only from unity with Christ.

But there can be no unity with Christ

without unity with the true teaching of the apostles and their successors.

As we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist at this Mass,

as we pray for the peace and unity that only

the sacrament of Communion with Christ and His Church can bring,

let us pray for those who threatened that unity,

whether through ignorance, or willful dissent,

or by confusing doctrine and prudential judgment.

And as we approach the Lord in Holy Communion,

let us examine ourselves,

praying for forgiveness for any way we may have offended

the peace and unity of the Church.

So that we may approach our Eucharistic Lord

not with troubled hearts filled with fear

but with peaceful hearts filled with Easter Joy.

So that the Lord may say to us: “Peace be with you.”

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 8, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

April 8, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

There are 2 central themes that come up over and over again

in the earliest preaching of the Church,

2 themes that are fundamental

to any true understanding and belief in Jesus Christ.

These are the themes of the historical reality

of both Christ’s bodily death on the Cross

and His bodily resurrection

–the fact that the same body

that was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

also died on the Cross, and rose from the tomb on Easter.

 

The teaching of the apostles repeats this theme over and over.

For example, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we find:

“With great power the apostles bore witness

to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

They bore witness because they had seen Him in His body.

And this is a particularly important theme of St. John’s teachings.

In today’s 2nd reading from St. John’s 1st letter,

St. John rejects the false teachings that Jesus had not really died,

or that Jesus was not really a human being

but merely a spirit who appeared to be human.

He says: “[Jesus Christ] is the one who came through water and blood,

not by water, but by water and blood.”

He insists that Jesus came in flesh and blood,

blood that spilled out on the Cross.

And then in today’s Gospel

St. John reminds us that in order to emphasize the necessary connection

between belief in Christ and belief in his bodily resurrection,

Jesus directly confronted St. Thomas’s unbelief in that resurrection:

“Put your finger here and see my hands,

and bring your hand and put it into my side,

and do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

 

To understand why belief in the bodily death and resurrection of Christ

is so important,

we have to remember that human beings are created not as merely spirits,

but as spirits who are joined to bodies.

Our body is not just something we use to move our spirits around,

or to give our spirits pleasure.

Our bodies are part of us, part of who we are–part of the whole person.

So when we slam a door on our finger we don’t just say “my finger is in pain,”

we say “I am in pain.”

When the body hurts–even the smallest part of the body—

the whole person hurts.

 

So, in order to redeem man, Jesus had to redeem the whole man he created

–body and soul.

He did this by physically undergoing the death of the body on the Cross,

and then raising that human body of his up

to the fullness of life in the resurrection.

This is the life that he promises us

–eternal life that is not just a life of our bodiless souls

roaming around some timeless and spaceless heaven,

but a life of the whole person living in complete happiness,

when the body and soul are reunited

in the glory of the resurrection of the dead.

 

____

But the meaning of the resurrection of the Body isn’t just important

as an insight into how things will be in heaven.

It has a very real meaning to us in this life on earth.

Some of the earliest heresies of the Church,

even starting within a few years after the death of Christ,

center on the body and the bodily resurrection of Christ.

In particular, the Gnostic heresy, which arose during the time of the apostles,

and which they specifically and adamantly rejected,

as we see especially in the writings of St. John.

A heresy which is still having an effect today,

not only in secular ideologies and quasi-Christian theologies,

but also as we see it as the basis for books and movies

like “The Da Vinci Code.”

 

This heresy, Gnosticism, said that the body was bad,

it was mere carrier of the soul,

and in it the soul was a prisoner.

And they argued that since the body was just a carrier of the soul,

it was then just an object for the use of the soul.

So, to them, it wasn’t terribly important what you did with your body

as long as your soul–or your “heart”–was properly disposed toward God:

as long as you internally loved God,

it wasn’t terribly important what you physically did

with your external actions, your bodily actions.

 

But all this is in direct opposition to the meaning of the Resurrection.

The body is us, or at least part of us.

Through our body we express and communicate–knowingly or unknowingly—

who we are: we express our loves and our hates,

our belief and our unbelief.

And we express this not as an object used by the soul to express itself,

but as the real physical presence of ourselves in this physical world.

 

As I said, this same gnostic heresy

is alive and well today, infecting and devastating the world around us.

 

We see this in many ways.

First, we see it most fundamentally when we think that

the way we act or the gestures we make with our bodies,

or the words we say with the mouths of our bodies,

doesn’t matter, as long as what’s in our “hearts” is good.

So we can call someone an ugly name, or we can avoid sitting next to someone, or refuse to feed someone who is hungry,

and still say, that’s okay, cuz in our hearts we love them.

 

We also see it in more devastating ways.

For example, when people judge the value of a human life

based on the size or health of the body.

So that when the human body is the size of the head of a pin or even softball, it has no value, so you can kill it in her mother’s womb.

Or when it is sick and in pain, or old and feeble, you can kill it

to take him, you, or society out of misery.

 

We also see it when we look at the way society view sexual intimacy.

While Christ and His Church would say,

that bodily sexual intimacy is meant to express the total self-gift

of the whole person, body and soul,

and so the ultimate acts of bodily intimacy are supposed to express

the ultimate act of total self-gift, which is marriage.

And any other use of this bodily intimacy is a dastardly lie,

a horrible contortion, and despicable abuse of the gift.

 

But the modern Gnosticism says, the body has no meaning,

so what does it matter if we have sex with whoever we please,

however we please.

Whether it’s outside of marriage, or with someone of the same sex, or alone,

or even if its inside of marriage, but in some unnatural act.

 

And finally,

in perhaps the ultimate rejection of the importance and meaning of the body,

we see it today in what is called “gender ideology” or transgenderism.

When some say that your body means nothing and tells you nothing about yourself.

So even if your body

—from your genitalia, to your bone structure,

to every single one of the cells of your body—

screams, “I am a male,” or “I am a female,”

that means absolutely nothing, if your emotions seem to tell you the opposite.

 

___

God created us to live our lives both on earth and in heaven

in both soul and body.

And He redeemed us by loving, living, dying and rising this way–soul and body.

And so, being keenly aware that the whole person includes the physical body,

He has given us with certain physical gifts to communicate His life

and make Himself present to us through our bodies.

 

One of these physical gifts is the Church–His visible “body” in this physical world.

And at the head of the Church He left us not only His Holy Spirit,

but His Holy Spirit acting through the visible and audible leadership

of His apostles and their successors, the popes and bishops.

And through the apostolic ministry Christ has given us His teachings

in audible and visible form, in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

 

In these teachings we find that Christ has left us

certain physical signs and means

of participating in his life of the resurrection:

signs that we call “the sacraments.”

And just as our bodies are not mere objects used by us

to merely symbolize our spiritual dispositions,

the sacraments are not mere objects

that merely symbolize the spiritual gifts of Christ.

Just as our bodies are the real physical presence and communication

of our whole person to this physical world,

the sacraments are also the real physical presence and communication

of Christ and his power in this physical world.

 

Today’s Scriptures directly speak of at least 4 of the 7 sacraments.

The 2nd reading reminds us of the water of baptism

and the body and blood of the Eucharist:

“Jesus Christ…came in water and blood.”

And the Gospel reminds us of the sacrament of Holy Orders–the priesthood—

as He said to the apostles, His first priests:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

And that priestly authority is exercised in a special way by the forgiveness of sins

in the sacrament of penance:

“If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them;

if you hold them bound, they are held bound.”

 

Today as we end the octave of Easter,

and continue to celebrate the season of Easter,

we celebrate the most fundamental and important of these sacraments

–the Holy Eucharist.

I call it the most “fundamental” because

the Eucharist is the real re-presentation

and our personal bodily and spiritual participation

in Christ’s bodily sacrifice on the Cross and His bodily Resurrection

—it is the source of all graces, the source of all sacraments,

[and on this Divine Mercy Sunday,

we remember it is the source of all mercy.]

–it is the source of all life in the Resurrection of Christ.

As we enter into these sacred mysteries of the sacrament of Eucharist,

let us remember that those who proclaim faith in Christ

must embrace the resurrection of the body,

and allow this Eucharist and all the sacraments to transform our lives,

not only in our hearts but also in our bodies,

not only in what we feel about God, but also in what we do.

 

May the grace of this sacrament open our ears and our eyes

to hear and read the teachings of Christ

presented to us by His Mystical body, the Church,

through it’s Scripture and Tradition

handed down from the apostles and their successors.

May it give us the wisdom and faith

to never be confused by lies that attack these teachings,

lies that blaspheme the truth about the reality

of Christ’s real human life, death and resurrection,

lies that demean the human body,

the apostolic church, and the sacraments,

whether these lies are found in ancient heretical books,

or popular in philosophies and ideologies

or in our schools or media.

And by the grace imparted from the Cross and Resurrection

through the sacrament of his Body

may we always love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and bodies,

and show in our bodies that we accept truth of Christ’s resurrection

and obey His instruction given to the doubting St. Thomas:

“do not be unbelieving, but believe!”