TEXT: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 12, 2017

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 12, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Most of us don’t like to think about death—it’s too sad and depressing.

But in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us we have to think about death, He says:

“stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour!!”

We have to think about death, but we have to think about it as it really is.

So St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading:

“We do not want you to be unaware

about those who have fallen asleep,

so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”

 

In other words, as Christians we should have hope in the promise Jesus makes

in today’s Gospel that

“those who [are] ready” when he comes

will go “into the wedding feast with him.”

The source of our hope in the face of death

is Jesus’ promise of heaven to those who love him

At the beginning of this Month, on All Saints’ Day we recalled this promise

as we remembered the dead who are already in heaven,

and saw in them the fulfillment of the promise given to us.

But hope also requires an understanding

of the feast we celebrated on the day after that

—on All Souls Day

when we remembered the promise of Purgatory.

 

Most people probably don’t think of Purgatory

          as a “promise” or a source of hope like heaven is.

Some Christians today even go as far as

rejecting the whole concept of Purgatory

as a remnant of medieval superstition

or preoccupation with sin and punishment.

But the origins of this dogma are found right in Scripture itself.

For example, the second book of the Maccabees tells us that

2 centuries before the birth of Jesus Jewish soldiers prayed for the dead,

[quote] “beseeching that the sin they had committed

might be wholly blotted out.”

And it concludes:

“to pray for the dead…was a holy and pious thing.”

 

Other people just can’t understand why Purgatory would exist in the first place

—they think if you’re good, when you die you go to heaven,

and if you’re bad you go to hell.

But perhaps we can begin to understand the “necessity” of Purgatory

if we recall a passage from the book of Revelation,

where St. John’s tells us that:

(quote) “Nothing unclean will enter heaven.”

 

So let’s think about this.

Let’s take 2 people–Mother Theresa of Calcutta

and a common ordinary sinner like, say, me.

The spiritual differences between her and I

are in many ways like the differences between day and night.

She was so pure and holy, so unattached to things of this world,

to even the most venial and small sins.

When Mother Theresa died, she was extremely ready to enter heaven:

she indeed seemed to have nothing unclean about her.

Which is why she’s a canonized Saint now.

But if I were to die today,

there’s no way that I would even try to argue the same about myself.

I don’t claim to be the worst sinner in the world,

but am still very much attached to things,

and I commit venial sins all the time:

I’m impatient, lazy, prideful, and on and on.

So it would seem that I’m in big trouble if I die today,

because according to St. John:

Nothing unclean will enter heaven.”

 

But there’s good news: St. John also tells us elsewhere in scripture:

“There is sin which is deadly [mortal]…

but there is sin which is not deadly [mortal].”

In other words: some sins don’t cause us to lose eternal life!

But since nothing unclean can enter heaven,

somehow between my imperfect life on earth

and my entrance into to the perfection of eternal life in heaven,

something must happen to transform me

                   and make me perfectly purified.

As St. Paul says elsewhere, somehow, I’ll be purified “like gold in a fire.”

And Purgatory—the place of purgation, or purification—is that “somehow.”

 

The teaching on Purgatory then, essentially reflects the great mercy of God.

Because God could simply say that anyone

not perfectly living out his will on earth cannot enter into heaven.

So, maybe Mother Theresa could go to heaven,

but most of us in this room would never have a chance.

But that’s not God’s way: He is Our Father who loves us so much that,

unless we cut ourselves off from Him by a willful act of serious sin,

a mortal sin,

He will bring us to his heavenly banquet.

But like a loving Father He first washes us–purifies us—

before we sit down with the family for the banquet.

 

______

Some who believe in Purgatory fear it as a place of terrible torture and despair.

There is pain in Purgatory, there seems no doubt about that:

that is also the constant teaching of the Church.

But there is nothing to be frightened of

if we understand what the Church teaches about the pain of Purgatory.

 

First, it’s like the pain associated with any change.

When we die we have to change from being attached to the things of this world

—we have to let go of our bad habits and sinfulness.

And this kind of change is hard: like an athlete getting himself into shape,

the practice and exercising are painful.

Or more common, it’s like trying to cure some deadly illness, like cancer:

the treatment can be terribly uncomfortable, even terribly painful.

 

But also, the pain of Purgatory is fundamentally the pain of deprivation:

in other words, in Purgatory the souls are so keenly aware

that they’re so close and yet still so far

from the perfect and complete happiness of heaven.

It’s like the person in today’s psalm who prays:

” O God, …for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts

like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.                                                                                                               Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see … your glory.”

Purgatory is painful, but both these understandings of pain

also show us how these souls also experience intense spiritual joy.

Like athletes preparing for the contest who find

that the exercise is making them stronger and faster,

making them more and more ready to when the contest.

Or like the cancer patient who rejoices that the painful treatment is working,

that they are being cured, that they are going to live!

In a similar way, the souls in Purgatory also experience joy

as they become more and more the perfect creatures

God created them to be,

as they are strengthen, and cured from their sins, vices and faults.

 

But most importantly, they experience the anticipation of the joy of heaven itself,

because they are absolutely sure of their salvation.

You and I only hope to go to heaven,

but they know and have no doubt that they will be in heaven very soon.

 

As St. Catherine of Genoa wrote:

“I do not believe it would be possible to find any joy comparable to that

of a soul in Purgatory, except the joy of the Blessed in Paradise.

For every sight, however little, that can be gained of God

exceeds every pain and every joy that man can conceive without it.”

 

_____

Some say that nowadays Purgatory is irrelevant or unimportant to us.

But in reality, the opposite is true.

First of all, it can be a tremendous source of hope and consolation.

As St. Paul says in today’s second reading:

console one another with these words.”

We all know people who can’t fathom how they could ever get to heaven

given the terrible sins they know or think they’ve committed:

the idea of Purgatory makes real sense to them,

giving them hope that God really can love them

and that heaven is in their reach.

 

Or think of the families who mourn their departed family members.

So often, especially as they deal with the immediate grief that comes with death

–they speak about the dead as if they were living saints

who went straight to heaven.

But when the immediate pain of loss subsides often the reality overcomes them

that their mother or father or spouse or child

wasn’t really as perfect as the eulogies said.

Or they realize that they themselves were somehow negligent

in showing their love for them when they were alive

–and they become overwhelmed by guilt.

Purgatory is a perspective on God’s love that gives them hope.

It makes it possible to understand that

not only Mother Theresa’s can go to heaven,

but that even a common sinner like you or I, or our moms and dads,

can also.

And it makes it possible to keep giving to them after they’ve gone,

by giving our love through our constant prayers for them.

 

And this is the greatest reason Purgatory is relevant and important to each of us:

they need our prayers!

Because if the souls enduring the cleansing fire are our brothers and sisters

we must love them enough to pray for them

–to assist them during their purification:

when one member of the body of Christ suffers in any way,

we all suffer and we must respond.

 

You loved your mother or sister or son or friend when they were with us on earth.

And I’m sure you prayed for them, especially if they were sick,

because you knew that you were so limited in how you could help them,

and the best you could do to help them, was to ask Amlighty God to help them.

Now that they’re dead you still love them,

so you still have to pray for them, to help them in their suffering.

 

You might so, Oh no, Father, my parents are in heaven.

That kind of thinking might make you feel good,

but if they’re in Purgatory it doesn’t make them feel good.

My mother was the most perfect person I ever knew, and I think she’s in heaven.

On the other hand, my father wasn’t the most perfect person I ever knew,

as he would be the first to tell you.

He was a great, loving, courageous and holy man,

but he lived a very hard life

that led him to be imperfect in some obvious ways.

And he knew that, and counted on Purgatory.

And I know and understand that if he’s there

he is happier than he ever was on earth

as he is finally becoming the perfect man he always longed to be.

I hope he’s in heaven with my mother,

but I pray for them both every day,

because I dread the thought of them suffering in Purgatory

even one moment longer than necessary

simply because I was too selfish to simply pray for them,

to help them on their way to heaven.

__

If we love them, we can’t just forget about them: we have to pray for them.

Which is why the Church dedicates this entire month of November

as a month for praying for the Poor Souls, the Holy Souls, in Purgatory.

Especially at Holy Mass, and by offering Masses for them.

We do this because the Mass is the greatest prayer we could offer for the dead,

since it’s simultaneously the sacrificial prayer of Christ on his Cross,

and the prayer of the Resurrected and Ascended Christ

at the right hand of the Father.

And to this perfect prayer Christ unites and perfects the prayers of each of us, and His entire Church.

____

It’s very easy to be afraid of dying and to avoid thinking about it.

But for a Christian, death should not be the source of fear, but the object of hope.

Because we know that even as Jesus warns us that we must:

“stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour”

when death will come,

He also reminds us that in facing death we have no reason to

“grieve like the rest, who have no hope.”

The promise of the perfect life of heaven is the source of our hope,

and the promise of Purgatory keeps that hope alive

                   in imperfect Christians like you and me.

V. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God,

rest in peace. Amen.

TEXT: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 5, 2017

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 5, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today’s readings are difficult for a priest to hear.

In the first reading, from Malachi in the Old Testament,

God calls out the Jewish temple priests, saying:

“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:

“If you do not listen…. of your blessing I will make a curse.”

And in the gospel Jesus similarly goes after the Jewish leaders of His day:

the Pharisees and their scribes.

He repeatedly derides them, saying things like:

“do not follow their example.

For they preach but they do not practice.”

 

__

It’s important to realize here that in Malachi, God is not criticizing the priesthood,

He’s not against priests as priests.

He’s against BAD priests.

And how does he define a “bad priest”?

“You have turned aside from the way,

and have caused many to falter by your instruction;

…you have made void the covenant of Levi

…. you do not keep my ways,

…. violating the covenant of our fathers…”

 

They’re bad priests because although they’ve been given so much,

they abuse and waste it all.

They are the custodians of all the treasures of God’s revelation

handed down through the teaching of Moses and the prophets,

but they don’t hand it on to the people, and they don’t live by it themselves.

Instead they lead the people into sin by their bad example,

so contrary to the covenant.

 

They’ve abused the blessing of the priesthood,

and now the priesthood will become a curse for them

—they will be punished for being bad priests.

 

__

And in the Gospel Jesus does the same thing to the Pharisees and scribes.

 

Now, as a backdrop,

remember that the chief priests of the Jewish temple during Jesus’ time

were Sadducees, not Pharisees.

But the Sadducees didn’t believe in the whole Old Testament, just parts of it,

and so they were not very faithful to “the covenant of their fathers”

–they weren’t very good Jews, much less good priests.

 

Which is why the pagan Romans put them in charge of the Temple.

So when Jesus says that it’s the Pharisees who

“have taken their seat on the chair of Moses,”

He is indirectly, but clearly, criticizing the Sadducee priests

for being the same kind of bad priests that we find criticized in Malachi.

 

So then He turns to the Pharisees as the only orthodox Jews around,

and recognizes them as the de facto leaders of Israel

—just as the priests should be.

But then He criticizes them for being bad leaders.

He says:

“They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

They love …seats of honor in synagogues…

and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’

 

Now, a phylactery is a tiny box that held a tiny piece of scripture in it.

And pious Jews would wear this on their foreheads or wrists

to show that they were obedient to the covenant.

Nothing wrong with that in itself—it’s like wearing a crucifix around your neck:

it was a public witness to their faith in God.

 

And tassels were nothing horrible either.

Pious Jews would wear them on the hems of their garments

as a sign of their faith that God had called them to be his very own people.

In fact, in the book of Numbers God tells them to do this:

“…make tassels on the corners of [your] garments

…that you may look upon it

and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them.”

Which is probably why Jesus himself wore tassels on his garment,

as the Gospel tells us in 4 different places.

 

The problem with the Pharisees and their phylacteries and tassels,

was not that they wore them, but that they made a big deal of them

and then didn’t live up to what they symbolized.

He’s calling them hypocrites:

they only pretend keep the covenant in an outstanding way,

when in fact they don’t.

 

Again, like the priests of Malachi’s time and Jesus’ time,

the Pharisees hold a treasure in their hands, but they abuse it,

using it to make themselves look good,

and leading their people to hell by their bad example.

They had received many blessings,

but now their blessings would become a curse.

 

_____

Nowadays we have the same problem in the Church.

For the last few decades we’ve seen too many priests

abuse their blessings as priests.

Most notably we saw this a few years ago with all the stories

of priests who abused their position of authority and trust

as spiritual fathers, to sexually abuse their children.

Despicable!

As Jesus says elsewhere of the hypocritical Pharisees:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers!

How will you escape the sentence of hell?”

 

But there has also been a less publicized way

in which priests abused their blessings,

a way that was, in an important sense, just as bad as those sexual cases.

 

Catholic priests are the custodians of all the riches of our Catholic faith,

handed down through the apostles and their successors,

and clarified by the great theologian saints through the centuries.

Truly what can be called, in the words of Malachi, “the covenant of our fathers.”

 

But all too often in the last few decades

too many Catholic priests have abused that blessing.

Like Malachi’s priests, they abandoned the covenant of our fathers.

Like Jesus’ Pharisees they made a big deal about their importance as teachers,

pridefully loving public attention, and being called experts, and visionaries.

These Catholic priests widened their metaphorical phylacteries,

pointing to all their special learning and knowledge of things

their predecessors didn’t understand.

And they lengthened their tassels, claiming to be the truly special ones,

chosen by God to enlighten the Church with new teachings that

the apostles, fathers and saints of ages past would have never recognized.

They exalted themselves, and humbled our fathers in the faith, priests like

St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis de Sales.

These modern priests knew more, they knew better.

This used to be called the heresy of Gnosticism,

but today these modern Pharisee-priests call it enlightened “discernment.”

 

____

Sadly, in the last few years, this type of priest has come to the forefront again,

using the blessings of their priesthood

not to serve but to master faithful Catholics.

They lay new burdens on people’s shoulders

which they themselves refuse to carry,

telling us we must accept the new things they teach,

even if we find it confusing or heretical,

while they themselves are so unaccepting of old things

that priests like St. Matthew, and even St. John Paul II, taught.

[In effect, they preach, what St. Paul called “a human word,”

and reject “the word of God.”]

 

So many priests—including bishops and cardinals—have abused their blessings.

And so, their blessing has become a curse.

Because of the sex abuse scandal, the Catholic priesthood itself

is demeaned and even the best of priests held suspect.

And because of the teaching abuse of bad priests,

the teaching of all priests is ridiculed as being “personal opinion,”

even when they are merely directly quoting from Holy Scripture itself.

 

_____

In today’s Gospel Jesus derides the Pharisees for taking pride

in being called “Rabbi”—or “teacher”—or “Father,”

reminding us that we have one Teacher, one Father–God.

But Jesus isn’t saying you can never call people “teacher” or “father”

—what else would you call that person who teaches you in school

or that man married to your mother?

And it’s right to call priests “teacher” and “father,”

and for priests to love to hear that,

as long you and they never forget that all authority comes from God alone,

and any priest who uses the authority given him from God

in a way contrary to God’s fatherly teaching is not a true teacher or father

—but a hypocritical Pharisee.

 

____

Now, no priest is exempt from abusing his position, his blessings as a priest.

No priest is perfect.

But even while the smallest abuse is wrong,

these grave abuses are contemptable and condemnable.

 

So this is the challenge to priests today:

to hold tight to the covenant God made with our fathers,

to humbly teach what has been handed down to us,

to lead our flocks with a servant’s heart,

and to practice what we preach.

 

It is a great thing to be a priest.

What a blessing to have all these gifts and graces.

And what an abomination and curse to abuse this blessing,

especially by not teaching what has been handed on to us.

 

We don’t need priests like that.

But we do need good and faithful priests.

 

We need this of the men already ordained

—so pray for your priests,

and encourage them to be faithful to the covenant of our fathers.

 

__

But we also need this of the men who will be ordained

—and we need men to come forward to accept this blessing,

of the vocation to the holy priesthood.

 

The priestly life is hard sometimes, but it’s not much harder than the life of any father.

We have to worry about keeping the house warm and the lights on,

and paying the bills and saving for the future.

Sometimes we have to get up in the middle of the night to take care of our children.

And sometimes we have to tell them hard things or tell them “no”

even that makes them angry with us, or say things like “I hate you.”

 

But there also so many blessings to be a priest.

To be loved and respected by so many,

because they see us as their fathers,

and believe WE sit in the seat of Moses.

To be custodians of all the treasures of God’s revelation,

and to share it with his children, our children,

to lead them to happiness and heaven.

To be so close to Christ as we stand in persona Christi,

especially in the confessional, and most sublimely at the altar.

 

___

So, with all these blessings, why don’t we have more vocations to the priesthood.

To a large part, I’m afraid, it’s because

the abuse of the blessings of the priesthood

has become a curse on priestly vocations.

Young men have seen the example of too many bad priests

who were not faithful to the covenant of our fathers.

Who would want to give up their whole life for that?

 

I know I didn’t, when I was younger, and saw the example of those bad priests.

Until much later,

when I realized that there were a lot of great priests I knew about,

especially Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Maybe I could be different, maybe I could be a good priest.

May God forgive me for my failures.

 

____

So we need more good priests.

Priests who will be strong and brave in the face of persecution and insult,

who will be fathers who bear the sword of truth,

and serve their children and their wife

—Holy Mother Church—

by laying down their lives to protect them

from all who would harm or lie to them.

Priests that who will not make the blessings of the priesthood

serve their selfishness,

but who will be faithful to the covenant of our fathers, in Christ.

 

So to all unmarried men and boys, I say:

have you ever thought or prayed about being this kind of priest?

You should.

And you should talk to your parents, and maybe to a good priest you know.

And pray for the courage and love to do God’s will.

 

Because we need you

—if God is calling you, and you want to be a good and faithful priest.

 

_

And if you’re a mom or dad, or a brother or sister,

who wants their son or brother

to have all the blessings God has in mind for him,

have you considered if those might include the blessing of priesthood?

—and have you encouraged and prayed for him in that?

 

And all the rest of you, you also need to pray for these men and boys,

and to encourage them.

Because we all need good priests.

 

_____

“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:

If you do not listen… of your blessing I will make a curse.”

As we enter more deeply into this holy Mass,

let us all [turn toward the Lord together and]

pray for all the priests of the Church,

and all those men and boys who are being called to join them.

That, by the grace of Christ, especially poured out in the Eucharist,

they may answer and always be truly worthy of the blessings of

their holy calling.

May they be courageous leaders and humble servants.

And may they always be faithful to the covenant of our fathers.

TEXT: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 29, 2017

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 29, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

One of the most important things to keep in mind

in order to find happiness in this life and the life to come

is the idea of keeping our priorities straight.

And using these priorities to shape and focus everything else in life.

This is the only way to make life both more understandable and peaceful:

remove or reduce everything that doesn’t fit with your priorities.

 

We might say: put first things first.

 

That’s what today’s Gospel is about.

A Pharisee scholar asks Jesus:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

In other words: “what’s the priority?”

“Which commandment helps us understand all the rest?”

And Jesus doesn’t skip a beat, but responds immediately:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,… soul, and …mind.

This is the greatest and …first commandment.

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

 

What He’s done is lay out priorities, or principles.

And the most basic first priority or first principle is:

“love God totally.”

And from that it naturally follows:

“if you love God, you have to love your neighbor,

because God loves them.”

That’s pretty much common sense, at least to Christians.

And these are the first and second priorities or principles

that govern every human life.

 

But these 2 principles aren’t anything new with Jesus.

Because He’s actually quoting the Old Testament

in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19,

where we find these 2 “great commandments”

laid out to explain and summarize the TEN Commandments.

So what we have here is a first principle,

“Love God with everything”

which is explained by the 2nd principle of

“love your neighbor”

and both are explained more particularly in these

10 sub-principles, the 10 commandments.

So that the 10 Commandments can only be understood

as how you love God and neighbor,

and the next level of fundamental principles

that govern all other practical choices in life.

 

_____

Many seem to think that loving God and our neighbor

override or even abolish, the 10 Commandments,

Of course, Jesus rejects that idea, saying elsewhere:

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets;

I have come not to abolish them …but to fulfill them.”

And He says: “If you love me you will keep my commandments…”

And, when the rich young man, asks Him:

“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus tells him:

“…keep the commandments:

‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, ….” etc.

In other words, first things first, follow the 10 commandments… of love.

 

____

Still, many people  have some very strange ideas of the meaning of “love”

ideas that radically contradict these principles.

One of the most bizarre of these is the notion

that 2 men, or 2 women,

can love each other the same way a man and a woman, husband and wife,

love each other.

 

Some even say, the Bible doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with this.

Please.

That little commandment #6, right after “You shall not kill”

the one that tells us “You shall not commit adultery.”

What do they think “adultery” is?

Again, going back to Leviticus, chapter 20,

God gives us a list of the acts that He includes

under the broad category of “adultery.”

And there we find listed, right after incest and before bestiality, this:

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman,

both of them have committed an abomination;

they shall be put to death.”

[Now, Christians would interpret this to mean “eternal death,

in other words, it’s a deadly, or “mortal” sin

—let’s not be stoning people for there sins!].

But in other words, homosexual acts are against the 6th Commandments,

and therefore are contrary to God’s definition

of loving your neighbor.

 

_____

Now some might say, well, you can believe what you want,

but we can’t make laws just based on what the Bible says.

But the thing is in the case of these fundamental principles

the Bible only clearly states what every human society has always believed

and what any rational human bein should recognize as self-evident in nature.

This is what is called the “law of nature” or the “natural law.”

 

_____

Another bizarre notion of love today, is that if we love women,

we will respect a woman’s right to choose to abort their babies.

But this is neither love or respect.

The very first commandment Jesus quotes to the rich young man is:

“you shall not kill.”

We need to remember that in every abortion there are at least two victims.

Most people don’t think about how the woman is victimized in abortion.

The mother, who by her very nature loves the baby in her womb,

but is so often she is coerced by others

into believing her only choice is to kill the one she loves.

Words can’t describe the deep wounds she suffers from her choice,

wounds that will fester for years to come.

True love and respect demand that

we not lie to our mothers, sisters and daughters any longer.

 

But of course, even more than that,

love and respect demand that we not allow doctors

to kill any more of our unborn babies.

The commandment “you shall not kill” is the fundamental principle

protecting innocent human life:

you cannot love God or your neighbor

if you intentionally kill innocent people.

And, again, this not just a matter of Scripture:

it is a basic principle of the natural law that all men should understand.

 

____

In less than 2 weeks Virginians will elect a new Governor and other state officials.

In every race in this area one candidate is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage,

and the other candidate is pro-abortion and pro-“gay agenda.”

How should Catholics, and other rational Virginians, cut through the confusion

to make these decisions?

 

Simple: put first things first.

The first principle to “love your neighbor”,

must be central to political choices and actions.

And certainly the commandments not to kill or commit adultery must be as well.

 

These, then, are the first principles of our political choices,

and all choices we make must be consistent with them,

flow from them, and protect them.

 

And in the coming state elections

we have clear choice when we apply these principles,

particularly when it comes to 2 issues:

abortion and so called “gay rights.”

 

____

So, how should we choose who to vote for?

 

First things first.

What are our priorities?

What are the priorities of the candidates?

Are they in line with the principles of Christ and nature,

or do they oppose them?

First things first:

Love God,

love our neighbor,

do not kill innocent human life,

do not commit adultery in homosexual acts.

 

How can we vote for candidates who reject the most fundamental human principles,

and hold the direct opposite priorities?

I can’t even begin to think of how anyone can do that.

 

_____

Some would say, but Father there are other issues we have to consider.

What about the economy and jobs?

And what about health care, immigration, discrimination, the environment ….

Don’t those involve those same principles?

Loving God and neighbor, and the Commandments?

 

Yes–but not as directly or with the same priority or in the same order

as abortion and the gay agenda.

For one thing, for all of these other problems

there is not one clear objectively determined solution.

As long as at every step along the always we strive to love our neighbor

and protect his life and health…

people of goodwill can differ on our practical solutions to these problems.

 

In the end it goes back to “first things first.”

Under the principle that “you shall not intentionally kill an innocent life”

is the sub-principle that we must also not

even intentionally injure or harm our neighbor.

And under that comes a lesser sub-sub-principle

that we should also try to take care of our neighbor in need:

to feed him when he’s hungry, to clothe him when he’s naked.

But first things first:

if innocent people don’t have the right to life,

they lose the right not to be injured,

and of course the right to be helped in need.

You don’t have a right not to be injured or to be helped when you’re dead.

 

Or look at it another way: which is most important, or fundament?

If you had the choice between someone killing you

Or someone hurting you or “oppressing” you, which would you choose?

Or if you had the choice between someone

beating you up or simply not giving you food,

which would you choose?

Better to be alive with a black eye and an empty stomach, than to be dead.

 

So first, don’t kill innocent people.

Then, don’t hurt them either.

Then, do what you can to get them a job, or give them health care, or whatever.

First things first: priorities and principles.

 

For example, take the issue of illegal immigration.

In the first reading today, God commands us:

“You shall not molest or oppress an alien.”

But what if that alien breaks the law, what if he steals something,

or even murders somebody?

Alien or natural born citizen, you break the law, you can be punished

—in the Old Testament God is very clear

in commanding punishment for various crimes.

And he’s also very clear in explaining that just punishment is consistent with love

toward both the law-breaker and the victims of his offenses.

God doesn’t stop loving when he punishes,

just as parents doesn’t stop loving their kids when they punish them.

So, in the case of illegal immigrants,

we must strive to love them,

and, of course, we must not kill them, or physically or emotionally abuse them,

and we must care for their genuine needs,

but we can disagree on whether or not

we should arrest them and deport them

or let them stay here and give them a path to citizenship.

 

But comparing that issue, as some try to do,

with abortion or even same-sex marriage,

is a case of equating first principles to merely personal opinions:

it makes no sense.

And equating them is not the teaching of the Church,

no matter what any priest or bishop might say.

We can disagree, and still respect and love each other.

 

____

As we continue with this holy Mass,

let us pray that in the hectic confusion of our daily lives

the Lord may grant us the grace to always remember His priorities,

and make truly them our own:

the most basic principles

of loving God and neighbor, and keeping the commandments,

taught by Christ and his Church

and by nature and reason.

And let us pray that in the coming days Our Merciful Lord will give us

not the leaders we deserve, but the leaders we need.

May Virginians, and all Americans, always remember: put first things first.

TEXT: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 22, 2017

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

This is a very interesting text to read less than 3 weeks before the elections

Some try to use this text to tell the Church to mind it’s own business

and stay out of public affairs, especially elections

Others, however, use it to promote the Church’s involvement in politics.

So what is the meaning of Christ’s dichotomy between Caesar and God?

 

Like most texts in Scripture, this one has multiple layers and facets.

First, Jesus is talking about relationship between the Church and the state.

Historically, the Old Testament tells us that

when God established Israel as a great nation

He made Moses it’s absolute ruler, as well as prophet and priest:

a true theocracy.

And it would continue as a theocracy for 700 years

until Israel was conquered and ruled for another 700 years

by a series of foreign pagan kings.

 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.

Here we see 2 groups who were deeply involved in the political struggles of Israel.

The Herodians who were the “pro-Caesar” Jews

and had no interest at all in a return to a Jewish religious monarchy.

And the Pharisees, devout Jews who longed for the coming of the Messiah

who would reestablish the Jewish religious state.

And into their midst walks Jesus, who seems to be the messiah,

which is why the Herodians feared Him.

But he’s not the kind of messiah the Pharisees were hoping for,

which is why they feared Him.

 

And so they joined forces to force Jesus to take sides in their political debate,

so that one or the other can have Him arrested and executed.

 

But He does not take sides.

He simply says:

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

 

He’s not terribly concerned about the state or creating an earthly kingdom,

but about the conversion of individual hearts and lives.

So in this short and pithy saying he rejects both

the wall of separation and the religious monarchy.

 

___

But He also means something more.

Remember what He says later to Pontius Pilate:

“You would have no power over me

unless it had been given you from above.”

And then remember the words from today’s 1st reading from Isaiah,

as God says to Cyrus the Persian,

one of the foreign pagan kings who ruled over Israel:

“For the sake ….of Israel…

I have called you by your name, giving you a title….”

But then He adds: “I am the LORD and there is no other.”

 

Now we see more clearly what Jesus meant:

civil authorities have their own proper authority,

but in the end that and all legitimate authority comes from God.

 

____

Now, some people today might say that teaching is un-American.

But to me it seems to echo in the words of our nation’s founding document:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,

that all Men ….are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable rights

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

 

Here the founder’s based our nation’s whole existence on God—the Creator—

and hold that our government exists only

to protect what God has given to man.

This seems to be very close to what Jesus told the Herodians.

 

Now, it is true that over the centuries the Church has often become

more involved in secular government than Christ would seem to have preferred:

sometimes for good and noble reasons,

but also, sometimes for the bad intentions of certain men in the Church.

In my opinion, the more closely the church directly has involved itself in secular government,

the more likely it was to be involved in calamities.

 

Eventually western society rejected the interweaving of the state and religion.

And this rejection came most radically

in the form of 2 great 18th century revolutions.

 

In one of these revolutions—the French Revolution—

the revolutionaries tried to eradicate the Church altogether,

killing or exiling 10’s of 1000’s of Frenchmen

who simply wanted to practice their Catholic faith.

In the end this was not a separation of Church and state

but merely a new example of the old problem:

a new state persecuting the Church.

 

But the other revolution was very different.

That was the American revolution.

It did not seek to banish God or Christ, or Christians from its shores.

In fact the founding fathers saw religion

not only as a fundament human right,

but also as essential to the success of the American experiment.

They believed that the only way America could have

a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people.

And they believed that religion was essential for this to happen.

As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,

religion and morality are indispensable supports….”

And he warned us that:

“reason and experience both forbid us to expect

that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

 

And here we come back to Jesus’ teaching about Caesar and God.

Yes, the government has a legitimate autonomy from the Church.

But no government can ever usurp God’s authority,

whether by suppressing the rights God has given to the people,

or by redefining good as evil, or truth and lies.

 

Granted, Churchmen have sometimes failed to recognize

the legitimate authority of the secular governments.

But when Churchmen have simply stuck

to teaching the truth and morality passed on to us by Christ

–of reminding Caesar exactly what it is that belongs to God–

they have fulfilled their God-given mission

and advanced the good of all mankind.

 

Of course, some today continue to vehemently disagree

even with this indirect “interference” by the Church.

They say, if people follow their Churches’ moral teaching when they vote

that would be imposing one denomination’s morals on the whole society?

 

The thing is, some basic moral principles transcend denominational teaching

—they are not merely the teaching of “the Church” but

part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,”

or what the Declaration of Independence calls

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

Moral principles so basic that any rational human being

should be able to figure them out all on their own without a priest teaching them.

For example, any rational thinking person can figure out

that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent people.

 

Unfortunately, though, all too often we don’t think rationally

—we let our passions, like hatred or greed, or envy or lust, lead us in our actions.

And sometimes we just don’t have time to sit and think things through,

as if we were all professional philosophers.

So it’s important for someone—like the Church–to call us to task,

to think, and to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”

—the Natural Law.

 

Because without that governments will inevitably enact laws

that are contrary to both human reason

and the good that our Creator intended:

and all we will have is codified confusion, legalized injustice.

For example, they might enact laws that deny the natural God-given

right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”;

or the God-given freedom of religion or speech.

 

Clearly, no merely “Human Law” can be “good” or just or even binding

if it contravenes “Natural Law.”

 

And so we see a 2nd facet of Christ’s saying today:

we must obey Caesar only as long as

Caesar is consistent with the truth that God imprints

in the hearts and reason of all men, religious or not.

Even if man needs to be reminded of these truths from time to time,

by the Church, or by amateur philosophers like the founders of our great nation.

 

___

But how do we apply Christ’s teaching about Caesar and God in 2017?

In today’s Gospel the Herodians come to Jesus with flattering words:

“we know … that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

…you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.”

But Jesus does not respond so sweetly.

Instead he calls them what they are: “hypocrites,”

because they don’t really want the truth from Jesus;

and they don’t really want him to “teach” them “the way of God”;

the pro-Roman “Jews”

they have chosen to render to Caesar what belongs to God alone.

 

Today millions of Catholics do the same thing.

44 years ago Human Law discovered something in our constitution

that no one ever knew was there: a false right to kill unborn babies.

“False” because it is directly in opposition to the natural law

that prohibits us from killing innocent human life,

and to particularly protect the lives of children.

But ever since the false right to abortion was discovered,

all sorts of other new false rights have followed,

like the right to force others pay for your medical costs,

like contraception, even when they consider them grossly immoral,

or the right for two men or two women to marry each other,

even though that is so obviously contrary to the natural law

that no society in the history of the world has ever recognized it.

 

The thing is, if we reject one part, or three parts of the Natural Law,

how do have a claim on the rest of it?

How can we say that God gives us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,

if we don’t believe that God has established any rights or duties at all

—natural law?

 

And yet, for 44 years isn’t this exactly what Americans have been doing

in the voting booth?

Any candidate who says he stands for human rights

but supports government policies that override

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,”

that candidate, like the Herodians,

has given Caesar authority over the things of God

and, like them, is also nothing less than a hypocrite.

 

And, frankly, any Catholic who supports or votes for that candidate

is an even worse hypocrite.

Because while Jesus calls the Herodians “hypocrites” once in today’s Gospel,

in the very next chapter of Matthew Christ turns on the Pharisees

and calls them hypocrites 6 times.

They’re worse than the Herodians

because they know the law of God

and should know better than to play games with it.

And Catholics know the Church teaches infallibly that

abortion, contraception and homosexual acts are grave moral evils,

as is forcing Christians to support these immoral acts.

But even so, millions of Catholics still give more credit

to public opinion polls, or to the opinion of the media or a political party,

than to the truth taught by the Church.

They should listen to the warning Christ reserves for Pharisees:

“”Woe to you, …Pharisees, hypocrites!

…You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

 

_____

Finally, some say,

“I vote for the candidate that will give me money, or help me pay my bills,”

and some say, “I vote for the candidate who won’t take my money in taxes,

and will allow me to make more money in a freer market.”

I am very sympathetic to economic concerns we all have.

But in today’s Gospel, what does Jesus have in his hand that belongs to Caesar?

A Roman coin: money.

This reveals a 3rd facet of this text: money isn’t that important to Jesus.

 

After all, who was it that gave you all you have

—or the money and skills, the health and the breaks, to get what you have?

Was it Caesar, or was it God?

And at night is it Caesar you pray to

or do you pray to God to bring us back from the precipice?

Can the government really guarantee your health and wealth?

Or can it, by itself protect us from the evil that might destroy us,

whether war, hurricanes, disease, old age…whatever?

Remember what Jesus says elsewhere:

“….seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,

and all these things shall be yours as well.”

 

___

Two weeks from now Virginians face some very important decisions.

But as you make those decisions, ask yourself: how will I explain this to Jesus?

How will you explain it to him if you rendered unto Caesar what really belonged to God?

What will you say to Christ?

And what will Christ say to you?

Let us pray that it will not be those 2 terrible words

He once spoke to both the Herodians and Pharisee’s:

                        “you hypocrite.”

TEXT: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 15, 2017

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 15, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somehow everyday we could go to heaven,

and not have to die?

If we could be with our friends and family one minute,

and then with God in heaven the next?

And then back with our family again the next?

 

But the thing is, we can do that—and we do do that

every time we come here to enter into the mystery of the Mass.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king

who gave a wedding feast for his son.”

Throughout the Old Testament one of the primary symbols

God uses to explain his relationship with Israel is the image of marriage:

over and over again God calls Himself the Bridegroom,

and Israel His Bride,

using the image of husband and wife to explain

His deep and undying love for His people.

In fact, there are two Old Testament books

that are almost entirely dedicated to this theme:

the Song of Songs and the book of the prophet Hosea.

 

So, we can see that even your average pious Jew listening to Jesus

would have clearly recognized something very important

in the parable in today’s Gospel.

For months they’d been hearing Jesus specifically calling God his “Father”,

and Himself “the son of the father”.

And now they hear Him say:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king

who gave a wedding feast for his son.”

Not only would they understand that God was the father in the story,

and that Jesus was the son,

but also that Jesus was making Himself

the Bridegroom at the heavenly wedding feast.

And to the pious Jew, the Bridegroom of heaven was God!

–so what they hear is Jesus calling Himself God!!

 

____

This imagery of the Bridegroom and Bride continues to show up

in the Gospel and the rest of the New Testament.

Two important examples are found

in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and St. John’s Book of Revelation.

 

In Ephesians St. Paul tells husbands:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church

and gave himself up for her.”

At every wedding the groom is supposed to give himself to his bride completely,

to enter into an attitude of loving her that is at its heart self-sacrificing.

On a daily basis he’s supposed to sacrifice his whole life,

giving himself even bodily

–in his physical work for her, and in his physical love for her

and even in being willing to literally die to protect her.

St. Paul tells us that this is what Christ does for His Bride, the Church:

He gave Himself entirely up for and to His Bride, the Church,

when He laid down His life, body and soul,

in the Sacrifice of the Cross.

 

In the Book of Revelation

St. John picks up on this theme of the Bridegroom’s sacrifice,

and ties it back to Jesus’ theme of the wedding feast.

In his vision of heaven,

John tells us that he sees Jesus in heaven standing as

“a Lamb who was slain.”

a reference to the fact that Jesus offered his sacrifice on the Cross

on the very same day as the Jews were offering

the most important sacrifice of the Old Testament:

the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb.

But John also sees a heavenly banquet,

recalling to mind the passage from Isaiah that we read today,

that in heaven:

“the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples

a feast of rich food and choice wines.”

But this is no ordinary banquet: it is, as St. John tells us:

“the wedding feast of the Lamb” and His Bride the Church.

 

In all this we see the sacrifice of the Cross,

as the total self gift of love of Jesus to and for his Bride,

and the “heavenly wedding feast” as our participation

in that gift of Jesus’ love:

in other words,

our sharing in every good thing God can give us.

 

But the thing is, we don’t have to wait to die to go to this wedding feast.

Because we begin to share in that feast right here on earth,

as we come to participate in the Eucharist.

We remember that on the night before his sacrifice on the Cross,

while He was eating the passover meal with his apostles,

He replaced the sacrificed Lamb of the Jewish Passover meal

with the Bread that he assured his apostles

was his very own Body.

And so every time we come to Holy Mass

and offer and consume the sacrificed lamb of the Cross,

“the lamb of God,”

it’s as if time is suspended,

and heaven opens up, and we’re swept up into the mystery of

the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb

—the great gift of love between Christ and his Church.

 

____

The thing is, this marital love is not a one-way street:

as Christ gives himself to his Bride,

the Church is also called to give herself completely to her Husband

—to dedicate her whole life to loving him.

And Jesus tells us how to love Him at the last supper.

Just minutes before He gave us the Eucharist,

and only hours before He went to the Cross,

He tells the apostles the secret to loving Him:

          “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

So that Jesus makes it absolutely clear:

His bride must keep the commandments if she is to be His loving bride,

if she is to enter into the wedding feast

—in heaven and in the Eucharist.

 

Now, one of the problems with the wedding analogy

is that it applies to the Church as whole—one bride–

so that individuals might have a hard time easily relating to it.

It’s true we can say each Christian is part of the Bride,

and in a certain way each one of us is a Bride of Christ.

But it’s not the easiest analogy to relate to—especially for men.

 

It seems to me that Jesus, who knows everything, understood this,

and because He wanted to make the point

that the invitation to the wedding feast

extends to each and every individual human being,

He added the twist of the “invited guests.

And this works, because each guest at the feast

is invited to join in the love of the couple

and share in all the good things that flow from that love–the feast.

 

_____

In today’s Gospel we read how at the wedding feast of heaven

the Father sends His servants out saying:

“The feast is ready…. Invite…whomever you find.’

The servants …gathered all they found, bad and good alike.”

This reminds us how generous the Lord is

to invite both the righteous and sinners to come to His kingdom.

Unfortunately, sometimes we can delude ourselves with this passage,

thinking that since God invites everyone to heaven and to Mass,

that everyone should actually enter heaven

and receive Holy Communion.

But according to the parable,

not everyone who is invited to the wedding,

gets to stay for supper.

Jesus goes on to explain that when the king discovered a guest

“not dressed in a wedding garment”

he had him bound and “cast him into the darkness outside.”

And He concludes: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

 

God invites all of us to His Son’s wedding banquet,

both in heaven, and in the Eucharist.

But He also tells us to prepare ourselves for the banquet

—and if we’re not prepared, He will not let us take part in, or eat, the feast.

 

____

Consider how the parable tells us how God judges who is prepared:

he looks at his wedding garment.

 

What is the wedding garment?

In the Book of Revelation, St. John tells us that the saints in heaven

wear white robes, as an angel explains:

“they have washed their robes and made them white

in the blood of the Lamb.”

Because of this, at our baptism, each of us was physically clothed in white,

symbolizing that we had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

And that’s why the priest and the servers wear white garments:

to symbolize their baptism,

and to symbolize that at Mass they are standing with the saints in heaven,

clothed in white at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

 

These outward white garments are only symbols,

but they remind us of how all of who wish to partake

of the wedding feast of heaven

—either when we die, or right here at Holy Mass—

must prepare beforehand, and present ourselves cleaned from sin,

especially the grotesque stains of mortal sins.

 

So How do you prepare yourself for Heaven and for Mass?

Is your spiritual garment the glorious white robe of the saints—unstained by sin?

 

Now, most of come here with at least some, if not many,

venial, or small, sins on our souls

–like specks of dirt or lent or crumbs, they don’t ruin the garment completely,

but we need to brush them off so we can be presentable.

And so we ask the Lord to forgive them all through the Mass,

especially in prayers like the Confiteor,

or the “Lord I am not worthy…” right before Communion.

And like a friend who puts the final touches

on the bride’s gown or the groom’s suit right before the wedding,

Christ will forgive them.

 

Sadly, though, sometimes we come to Mass with unrepented mortal sins,

which so disfigure the wedding garment that it’s not fit to be worn to the feast.

Like a white suit or dress that’s been rolled in the mud

and needs to go to a dry cleaner, and maybe even to a seamstress,

this garment has to go through the special cleaning and repair process

–given to us by Jesus Himself–

of a confessing and repenting before a priest, and being absolved by him,

in the Sacrament of Penance.

Otherwise, it really isn’t a wedding garment,

it looks nothing like the white robes of the saints at the heavenly feast.

 

Most of us would never go to a wedding

dressed in anything less than our absolutely best clothes.

But all too many Catholics expect to come and eat

at the wedding feast of the Lamb,

wearing the spiritually and morally tattered rags that are their mortal sins.

 

____

In a few minutes I will hold up the Body of Jesus Christ for all to see

and proclaim:

“Behold the Lamb of God,

behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.

Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

–a direct reference to the heavenly wedding feast

come down to this altar.

Think carefully, and search your soul, and ask yourself:

have I prepared well for the wedding feast,

have I been living the life of love

in truly keeping with the Commandments,

have I been purified of mortal sins by the sacrament of Confession,

and do I now repent all my venial sins?

Do I present myself in the wedding garment of the saints,

or I clothed in the rags of sin.

 

____

The Lord Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king

who gave a wedding feast for his son”

But he also says of those who are not prepared for the feast:

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

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

this foretaste of heavenly wedding feast,

let us rejoice and give thanks for this invitation

to share in the Love of the Bridegroom and His Bride.

But let us also examine ourselves with all truth and humility.

May we never either be emboldened by our sins so as to ignore them,

or be discouraged by our sins so as to allow them

to keep us from preparing for the feast.

May all receive the Lord Jesus worthily, at every Mass, and for eternity in Heaven.