TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 11, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is Laetare, or “rejoice”, Sunday,

which comes from the opening antiphon at the beginning of Mass

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.

Be joyful, all who were in mourning….”

But these joyful words stand in stark contrast

to the sad words of today’s responsorial psalm:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”
These words from today’s psalm, these words of mourning and lamentation,

are almost 2600 years old.

But in a sense, they are timeless: they belong to every age,

from the time of Adam and Eve, even till today.

 

This psalm was probably written during the Babylonian Captivity of Israel,

sometime between the year 586 and 538 B.C.

We read about this in the first reading:

“Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon,

where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans

and his sons.”

In 586, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, attacked and conquered Judea

and in the process destroyed Jerusalem—which is also called Zion

—and in particular, he leveled the Temple located in Zion.

And when he left Jerusalem he took almost all

of the educated and noble Jews, including the priests and scribes,

back with him to Babylon,

leaving only the poor and uneducated Jews behind.

In effect the Jewish nation was destroyed.

 

And so you can see how the exiles would mourn

and long for a return to their home.

But it wasn’t only their home they missed:

they missed the Temple of Jerusalem, which was God’s home.

As the 1st reading today reminds us:

“the LORD’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem …

[was] His dwelling place.”

 

The thing is, they knew that their exile was a punishment for their sins.

But now, how could they be reconciled to God,

since they couldn’t go into his Temple,

and worship the way He demanded?

And so, they sing not only of weeping as they remember their home,

but they mourn specifically because, as the psalm says:

“How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?”

How can they worship God where He does not live?

And all of this, because they sinned.

 

____

But as I said, this psalm really belongs to every age,

because it is a psalm lamenting sin and the consequences of sin:

lamenting the loss of our home with God because of sin.

So it belongs to all men, back to the age of Adam and Eve,

because by their sin they lost their home in God’s paradise,

and since then all of us, their sons and daughters,

have longed to return to that home.

 

But as we read in today’s 2nd reading: “God…is rich in mercy.”

And He would not abandon man to his sins,

and so He has, from the beginning had a plan to bring man home to him.

Of course, this plan began with the establishment of a special people,

His very own “chosen people,”

from whom would come forth the savior of the whole human race.

And so this song of lamentation for the home lost by sin

belongs particularly to Abraham and his ancient descendents

—the Israelites, the Jewish people of ancient times.

 

But even though they were the people whom God had chosen

to bring about the reconciliation of all men to himself,

the Israelites themselves repeatedly broke their own covenant with God,

and suffered for their sins—even to the point of loosing their home.

 

We see this, perhaps most dramatically in the Babylonian exile

that we read about today.

For almost 700 years they had lived under the law of Moses:

the explicit instructions given by God to Moses,

by which He taught them like a caring and patient father

exactly how to live with and love each other,

and how to love and worship Him.

But time and time again they broke His commandments and laws,

and they worshipped him with false acts of piety.

As today’s 1st Reading tells us:

“In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people

added infidelity to infidelity,

practicing all the abominations of the nations

and polluting the LORD’s temple

which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”

Time and time again He punished them for their sins

–sometimes by great defeats in battle,

sometimes by having to flee from their enemies.

And finally, about 600 years after Moses died, He allowed the Babylonians

to conquer them and take them from their home in Zion.

 

_____

But while their captivity in Babylon lasted only about 50 years,

the Hebrews would never really fully regain their home.

Because after the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon

and sent the Jews back to Zion,

they still remained subjects of the Persian King.

And when the Persians were defeated by the Greeks,

the Jews became subjects of the Greeks,

And when the Greeks were defeated by the Romans,

they became subjects of the Romans.

 

So we come to the time in the history of the world, about 540 years later,

a time which the Gospels refer to as “the fullness of time”:

the days when Caesar Augustus ruled

almost all of Western Europe, northern African and the middle East,

and his friend Herod the Great was his vassal king in Judea,

headquartered in Jerusalem.

The dwelling place on earth of the Most High

was held captive by pagans from Rome,

so that Christians of the 1st century would call Rome the new “Babylon.”

And so the people of that age also cried out in song:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”

 

But God would still not abandon man to his sin.

As He had promised Adam, and Abraham and Moses, and all the prophets,

He would redeem his people

—He would bring them home to live with Him,

not merely in the earthly Zion

that can be corrupted by sin or destroyed by enemies,

but with Him in the eternal life of the heavenly Jerusalem

—God’s true home.

 

And so, we read in today’s Gospel:

“God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish

but might have eternal life.”

God the Son entered the world, being born in the midst of the chosen people.

Once again God revealed himself to His people:

but this time not through mere laws or the words of prophets.

This time God Himself, the Son, physically comes to His people.

And so we read today:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus came not to prolong mankind’s exile, but to bring man home to God.

 

____

But again, many chose not to serve God, but to sin.

And so Jesus tells us:

“the light came into the world,

but people preferred darkness to light,

because their works were evil.

And so, as we read in today’s Gospel, “the Son of Man [is] lifted up.”

–“lifted up”, up on a Cross,

a cross just outside of the city of Jerusalem,

a cross overlooking Zion.

And the song of lamentation belongs to those who killed him,

–the Romans and the Sanhedrin–

to those who watched Him die,

–the Blessed Mother, John, Magdalene and the Holy women–

and to those for whom He died

–you and I, and all sinful mankind:

“By the streams of Babylon

we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.”
____

Throughout the long history of Israel, and even all the way back to Adam,

men and women have mourned their sins

and lamented losing their home with God.

This is the terrible fact of the history of mankind.

 

But the glorious fact of that history

is that for every time man has sinned and lost his home,

God has come back and offered them reason for hope.

So that in every age as he hangs his head in sorrow for his sins,

man also lifts his head to see God’s forgiveness.

So just as the Babylonians exiled God’s people

only to have the Persians send them home to Jerusalem,

in the same way,

just as Jesus is lifted up on the Cross to die for our sins,

he is also lifted up in the Resurrection to live eternally,

and to bring us all home to the heavenly Jerusalem.

 

Today, on this Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church reminds us that

even as we meditate on the darkness of our sins,

we remember that the light shines in the darkness,

and hope shines through our mourning.

Even as we fix our eyes during these 40 days of Lent on Jesus Crucified,

we also look through the Cross to see Him Resurrected.

And even as we lament our sins,

and mourn the loss of our heavenly home praying:

“we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
we also remember:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him might

…have eternal life.”

And so now, as we enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,

the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection,

the mystery of the eternal sacrifice of the heavenly Temple,

the mystery of God giving us His only Son to and for the world,

the mystery of the eternal Jerusalem descending now to us on earth,

and lifting our hearts into heaven,

we sing:

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.

Be joyful, all who were in mourning….”

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent

March 4, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus:

“made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.”

For many people today, this can be a very troubling text.

In fact, if this weren’t Jesus,

at a minimum, most Americans today would be confused by such behavior

and many would be outraged, finding it really “hateful.”

 

And as I thought about that this week,

I remembered that many of Jesus words and actions

would be considered hateful by a lot of folks today.

For example, He regularly insulted the Pharisees,

he treated men differently than he treated women,

and He taught that to go to heaven you have to keep the 10 Commandments,

that marriage is between one man and one woman,

and that sex outside of marriage leads to the fires of hell.

And in fact, many people today do reject Jesus, and even call Him “hateful,”

specifically, because He does these things.

 

But of course, it can’t be “hateful”: this is Jesus, God the Son—and God is love.

There must be love here.

 

This led me to think a little more deeply about why people would react this way,

and it became clear to me that this kind of symptoms of a larger,

societal problem.

That is, too many Americans have adopted

a corrupted understanding of the idea and meaning of “love.”

 

Put simply, over the last few decades we’ve more and more come to believe

that love is first and foremost all about feelings.

So that if you have strong feelings of attraction toward someone,

that must mean you love them.

Or if someone makes you feel good that must mean they love you.

And on the other hand, if someone makes you feel bad,

or uncomfortable or afraid or hurt or diminished in any way,

for whatever reason

that someone not only doesn’t love you—they must “hate” you.

 

Of course, this way of understanding love has always been with us,

but it’s also always been considered as childish

and detrimental to the true good of the person and society.

Instead, we had a more a more mature and truly human understanding of love.

The idea of love, sometimes defined as,

willing and striving for the good of the other”

–if you love someone, you want what is truly good for them,

and you do what you can to bring that good to them.

Notice, it has nothing to do with feeling good:

it’s about being good and doing good.

Good feelings are not necessarily reflective of true and objective good:

shooting heroin in your arm every night

might make you feel good for a while,

but there in no way is it truly, objectively good for you.

 

And yet that kind of feeling good

is what the popular culture promotes as “love.”

And so the culture finds it almost impossible to find love

in saying “no” to something that makes you feel good.

And so, for example, Jesus and His Church

are unloving when we say you can’t do whatever makes you feel good

with anyone that makes you feel good.

Or that we’re hateful when we say that if you don’t repent mortal sin

you will go to hell, even if that sin makes you feel really good…

 

But all the while the Church is only saying,

we truly love you, and we want only what’s good for you

and we’ll do only what we understand to be truly good for you,

which has very little to do with whether or not

it makes you feel good right now.

 

This dichotomy of these 2 meanings of love is seen nowhere more clearly

than in that which is the object of our particular reflection throughout Lent:

the suffering and crucifixion of Christ—or simply, “The Cross.”

The Cross has never made anyone feel good:

not the Blessed Mother, or St. John or St. Mary Magdalene

standing at the foot of the cross;

not Pontius Pilate or the Roman soldiers,

and not even Caiaphas and the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

It certainly doesn’t make you or me feel good.

And above all, it definitely did not make Jesus feel good.

And yet, it was the most truly profound expression of the Lord’s

willing our greatest good—our salvation,

and the greatest thing he could do to bring about our greatest good,

to win our salvation.

In short, the Cross didn’t feel good, but it was the greatest act of love ever.

 

2000 years ago St. Paul wrote, as we read in today’s 2nd reading:

“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

but we proclaim Christ crucified,

a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Today he might say:

Americans demand good feelings,

but Christians proclaim Christ crucified,

a stumbling block and foolishness to Americans.”

 

_____

Now, saying all this I might appear to be talking about

some nebulous culture “out there,”

or perhaps about people who embrace that culture—but still “out there.”

And I am to some extent.

But what worries me most is how that culture “out there”

has influenced us “in here.”

Because we don’t just stay “in here” in this church–we live out there,

where we are constantly surrounded by the culture and its values

—especially it’s strange notion of love.

It’s in the books we read, the movies and shows we see,

the news we watch, the lessons we learn in school,

and in the conversations we have with friends and family,

especially in social media.

It’s almost in the air we breathe.

You may think you avoid it,

but it’s almost impossible for it not to affect each of us in some way.

 

______

Again, think about how many Catholics today would be a little embarrassed

by our Lord’s actions in today’s Gospel when He whipped

and drove the moneychangers from the Temple.

And how many Catholics would be hard-pressed to explain

why He wasn’t being hateful.

 

And yet, Jesus didn’t hate the moneychangers,

anymore than He hated the scribes and Pharisees when He told them:

“…You serpents, you brood of vipers,

how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

 

He didn’t hate them, He loved them.

But some people are more thick-headed than others

—some can be corrected by a gentle word,

and some by an intellectual argument,

But some can only be corrected by plain, harsh criticism,

and some, apparently, only by a whip.

 

As St. Paul tells us, in his letter to the Hebrews:

“‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,

and chastises every son

he disciplines us for our good

For the moment all discipline seems painful;

later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness…”

 

“For our good.”

Not our good feelings.

 

I remember once when I was a just a little boy,

I ran into to the street and almost got hit by a car.

My mama, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest woman you ever met,

grabbed my arm, spun me around and slapped me right on the bottom.

It hardly hurt at all, but she definitely got my attention.

I had no doubt she loved me,

but I also had not doubt that I would never run into the street again.

 

______

In Lent, we remember all of this,

and, in effect, we invite the Lord to be brutally honest with us

—to show us, in whatever way is necessary, what is truly good for us.

In effect, we ask him to call out to us like he did to Pharisees

to break through our stubbornness.

And yes, we even ask him to take a figurative whip to us, if necessary,

but to drive out the sins and vices in our souls,

sins we act out with our bodies,

which are supposed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

And we even join him in this chastisement,

by figuratively taking a whip to ourselves, by our acts of penance.

 

Now, please, don’t write the bishop saying I told you to whip yourselves,

or that I’m advocating lawless violence—far from it.

But by simple things like giving up chocolate or meat or coffee—whatever—

and by adding prayers and acts of charity to your daily life,

you remind yourself that love is not about feeling good,

but about being and doing good.

And in fact, we remember that in the end,

sin hurts us more than any whip or penance could.

because sin keeps us from being good—being the best we can be.

And in the end, venial sins lead us to mortal sins, and mortal sins lead us to hell.

 

So, just as in love the Lord takes a whip to the moneychangers,

we ask him to take a whip to us, and we take a whip to ourselves.

But notice,

Scripture tells us “He made a whip out of cords.”

Doesn’t sound like a very formidable or whip

—it  doesn’t sound like it would hurt very much.

Kind of like the verbal whip he took to the scribes and Pharisees

—words of truth, that stung, but did no real damage or injury.

And the whip he takes to us is the mildest of discipline:

his yoke is easy, his burden light.

And the whips we take to ourselves, our penances,

honestly, they’re almost nothing.

 

But then we remember another whip

—a whip Jesus took to Himself,

or rather allowed others to take to Him,

as part of the penance He did for us on the way to the Cross:

what we call “the scourging at the pillar.”

History tells us that the whip wielded by his Roman guards

was not a harmless whip of cords,

but a vicious, even deadly, instrument of torture.

The “flagellum” consisted of several thongs of leather,

with lead balls or pieces of bone at the end.

It was not designed to get merely your attention,

but to violently rip open the skin, down to the muscle and bone.

 

Our Lord would never take such a whip to us.

But out of love He gladly endured such a whip for us.

Again, not for a good feeling, but for our true good—our salvation.

 

______

During Lent we turn our eyes and minds and hearts to meditate

on the suffering and death of Jesus.

Not because it feels good to watch Him suffer,

but because in His suffering we discover

the amazing depths of His love for us.

And in His love we discover the true meaning of love,

—that seeks not temporary good feelings,

but seeks and strives for the true good of the beloved,

no matter how painful it is to us, or to them.

 

As we move forward in Lent, by the grace of Christ scourged and crucified,

may our penances remind us of this love,

drive out all trace of sin from our lives,

and fix in their place a true abiding love for God and neighbor.

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018

Second Sunday of Lent

February 25, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

It’s a familiar story in the Gospels:

–Jesus takes his three closest friends and apostles,

Peter, James and John,

out to a Mountain, a secluded place to pray.

–and while Jesus prays, and the 3 apostles fall asleep,

suddenly he radically changes in appearance,

and a heavenly person joins him.

 

What’s wrong with this picture?

Some of you might have noticed that I said

Christ was joined by a heavenly person, not persons.

Because I wasn’t speaking about the event recorded in today’s Gospel,

but about another event, a few weeks later in the life of Christ

–not the Transfiguration but the agony in the garden,

on the night He was betrayed,

when not Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, but a comforting angel.

 

These two events in the life of Christ really happened,

but as the gospels present them

they seem almost mirror images of each other

and show how the two very different events

are essentially connected to each other.

But at the same time that the similarities show their connection,

the differences show us the deeper meaning behind these events.

 

In the agony in the Garden,

Jesus’ face doesn’t turn a dazzling white,

but instead St. Luke tells us that it became soaked with sweat

so that sweat fell from it like “drops of blood.”

And instead of a manifestation of his glory,

the garden was a manifestation of His “agony”.

And on Mt. Tabor Peter, overwhelmed by joy, doesn’t want to leave,

as he asks Jesus if he can set up three booths for them

so that they can stay there here, saying,

“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

–but in the agony, as the guards arrest Jesus,

they don’t want to stay, but to run away!

And even just a few hours later when a woman points to Peter

and says, “this man was with Jesus”,

Peter–overwhelmed by fear– replied,

“I do not even know the man,”

and again, ran away.

 

At the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, a voice comes from heaven saying

“This is my beloved Son….Listen to Him.”

But a few hours after the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,

Jesus tells the Sanhedrin at his trial:

“If I tell you, you will not believe.”

–they will not listen to him.

 

____

Most of us spend much of our times trying to be like God.

Sometimes that’s in a good way and sometimes that’s bad.

The good way is when we try to imitate Christ, when we try to be like Him

–to join Him in His relationship with his Father,

and follow His will for our lives.

But the bad way is when we try to put ourselves in the place of God

–when we strive for personal glory,

or when we try to make our will the center of the universe

–when we somehow in the recesses of our minds

see ourselves as sort of standing on that mountain

transfigured in glory, instead of Jesus.

But the thing is, light doesn’t stream from your face or mine.

And Moses and Aaron don’t come to talk to us about our mission

to save the world.

We are not God.

 

But the true wonder of the transfiguration and the agony

–in fact, the true wonder of the whole life of Christ,

is that even though light did stream from His face,

He hid that light, choosing to be like us,

even to the point of suffering for our sins,

enduring every kind of torture and humiliation and even death

because he loved us.

It was the same Christ

who spoke calmly to Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration,

as the Christ to whom the angel came to comfort in the Garden.

It was the same Christ who spoke to Moses and Elijah about his mission in Jerusalem,

as the Christ who prayed in the Garden that that cup pass from him,

but not his will, but His Father’s be done.

It was the same Christ whose face shown with heavenly glory,

as the Christ whose face also was drenched in sweat in the Garden.

 

To be like God, we must be like God’s Son who became man

–we must, out of love for him, not seek worldly glory,

but rather seek to find the true glory of Christ

by conforming to his will for us,

and enduring whatever suffering we endure,

with patience and love,

even when it means loving those who hate us.

 

_____

Last Sunday we read at Mass about how Jesus

went out into the desert for 40 days

to prepare himself for his public ministry.

Just as we try to imitate him by joining him

in our own 40 days of preparation for his death and resurrection

we look to these 2 crucial events in Christ’s last weeks on earth

and he instructs a little further in understanding how to be like him.

He tells us to go with him to a special place to be with him

–a high place close to heaven, like Mt. Tabor or the Mount of Olives.

He tells us to talk and pray about his passage into Jerusalem

–to meditate on the cup he must drink from, on his agony and his glory

–his death and resurrection.

He tells us to place ourselves in the company of the Church

–with Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James and John, and the angels

–first of all, by listening to their prophetic words

in the reading of Sacred Scripture,

but also, by uniting ourselves in prayer with them.

And He tells us to place ourselves in the company of the Church on earth

–with the successors of Moses and the apostles

and our brothers and sisters in this building and throughout the world.

And in this place and with these people,

He calls us to pray, to Him and with Him and in Him to His heavenly father.

 

Today in this Mass, we celebrate these very mysteries,

and we carry out Jesus’ instruction in a most profound way.

We come away with Him to a heavenly place

–this sacred place consecrated to heaven.

We come together in communion with the angels and saints,

in communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ

in this building and throughout the world.

And as we offer the prayers and sacrifice of the Mass

to Our Father in heaven through Christ, and with Him and in Him,

we enter the mysterious real presence

of His agony, death and resurrection in glory.

 

And in the light of this Eucharist we see the world in a new light

–the very light of Christ’s face,

and we see that:

–in the agony of life, we can find the hidden glory

of Christ’s death and resurrection.

–when we fall asleep in our faith

He remains constant in prayer for us before His father.

–in our lack of faith–when we do not believe—

God still calls to us as he did 2000 years ago:

“This is my beloved Son…Listen to Him.”

–when we deny of Him–in the times we’ve walked away from Him

–we see that it is so much better to remain with Him

–that in fact ” it is good for us to be here”.

TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2018

 

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

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

“Avoid giving offense, …just as I try to please everyone in every way…”

This is a very simple but important instruction,

but it is so often either ignored or misunderstood.

 

Nowadays it seems the people get offended much more easily than they used to.

And at the same time we have a phenomenon sometimes called

“political correctness,” which tries to regulate offensive speech or actions.

 

Now, some say what I call “political correctness”

is really just loving your neighbor.

But the thing is, it’s not really based on true love, but on arbitrary standards

–sometimes rooted in fear, sometimes on ideology–

that absolutely prohibit us from offending some groups

but permit us to offend others.

 

So it sometimes leads to utterly absurd results,

like when American government officials refuse to recognize

that an army of Muslim terrorists is, well, Muslim.

Or, consider how the media would never dream of saying a negative word about

the so called “gay community,”

but they wouldn’t hesitate to insult

tradition-minded Catholics Evangelical Christian.

 

It’s interesting how so many in the media claim “free speech”

when they say something offensive about Catholics or Evangelicals,

but if the Pope or an Evangelical preacher

says something which is a simple statement of our ancient faith

they call him a bigot, and his teaching “hate speech”.

No mention of “free speech” here, much less “freedom of religion.”

 

Some would say that on many issues,

Catholic priests, even the Pope, don’t following St. Paul’s advice to,

“Avoid giving offense …”

Unfortunately, they confuse “giving offense”

with charitably “giving good advice.”

 

Look at today’s readings again.

In the first reading God tells Moses that lepers should be

“declare[d] unclean,” and “shall dwell apart,” from the rest of the Jews.

On the other hand the Gospel tells that Jesus allowed the leper to “come to” him

and that Jesus was “moved with pity” and healed him.

Some would say that

the Old Testament seems judgmental and uncharitable to the leper,

while Jesus seems welcoming and charitable.

 

But the reality is that both attitudes reflect charity.

Moses didn’t have the power to heal lepers,

so all he could do, in charity,

was protect the community from being infected by leprosy

by requiring the lepers to dwell apart.

And notice that Christ does not rescind this law of Moses:

but since He does have the power to heal,

Jesus acts with particular charity for the leper and heals him.

And then, with charity for both the leper and the community,

Christ tells the man to obey the law and go to the priest

to reassure the community that the man is safe to associate with.

 

Also, notice what both the Old Testament and the New Testament do:

they both recognize leprosy for the terrible disease it is,

for both the person and the community.

Some people say that charity requires the Church

to be silent about some things it calls sins,

since some folks might be offended by what we say.

But that’s like saying that charity would require Jesus

to ignore the man’s leprosy.

That’s not charity, that’s simply political correctness at it’s most absurd.

 

But what about St. Paul’s instruction to, “Avoid giving offense…”?

Clearly what he’s talking about causing unnecessary offense.

Sometimes a life-saving surgery is painful, and that pain is necessary.

—but we still have the surgery,

and use anesthesia to avoid unnecessary pain.

 

Jesus Himself was constantly telling people their sins in order to save them.

Think of the story of the woman at the well.

Of course, this is the a great story of Jesus’ mercy and charity,

but when the woman runs to tell everyone about Jesus she doesn’t say

“come see a really nice guy”

but rather “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”

 

_____

Today’s gospel tells us that:

it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.”
It’s fascinating that both Jesus and the leper can’t enter town,

but for opposite reasons:

one is too popular, the other is too unpopular.

But in the end, Jesus will be as unpopular as a leper:

when the people figure out

that He didn’t come just to cure the sick,

but to preach about the true meaning of love and sin.

 

The Church is also popular when people see us

helping the sick and feeding the poor.

But when we exercise our freedom of speech and freedom of religion

to proclaim Christ’s teaching on love and sin,

the world also treats us lepers.

And they say we’re uncharitable.

 

_____

In charity we must always try to “avoid giving offense”,

trying always to be considerate of others.

But never be confused

between the charity of correcting moral evils,

and the foolishness of political correctness.

The Church—and all Christians—must always proclaim the truth

—true love, true charity, demands it.

Always following St. Paul’s instruction

not to give unnecessary offense to anyone,

but always keeping in mind first, as St. Paul also says:

“doing everything for the glory of God.”

TEXT: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Sometimes people like to pit what they call “the God of the Old Testament”

against “the God of the New Testament”

—as if there was a difference, or that somehow God changes,

gets kinder or mellows with age.

Of course, this is nonsense.

If we read carefully the pages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament,

we can see very clearly how God is consistent in both,

and how He fulfills his word and promises of the Old Testament

as He speaks to us in the New Testament,

and how the glory of Christ is foreshadowed in the Old Testament

for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

Today’s first reading and Gospel are prime examples of this.

 

In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy

Moses tells the people that one day God will send Israel

“a prophet like me.”

Now, what you have to understand is

that there had never been “a prophet like” Moses before

—and never would be again in all of Jewish history.

From the time of Abraham around the year 1700 BC

to the time of Moses around 1300 BC,

there was really no other prophet at all.

But then after 400 years of waiting

for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham

as they languished in slavery in Egypt,

suddenly God sent them Moses,

the great prophet who had actually seen and spoken to God

on Mount Horeb.

 

And with great signs and wonders

—the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea

–he shows that he is not only God’s messenger,

but that he is the instrument of God’s incomparable power!

Not only does Moses tell Pharaoh, “let them my people free,”

he himself frees them, with the power of God.

 

And then he takes them to Mount Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai,

where he goes up and receives the law from God Himself,

bringing it back to the people who accept it and renew the Covenant.

This time not with vague promises like those God made to Abraham,

but now with very specific promises and teachings: “the law.”

 

And God kept His promises,

and right at the center of everything Israel did for over 1200 years

was the law of Moses.

Of course, they didn’t always keep the law as they should.

So the Lord sent prophets like Elijah and Isaiah,

adding nothing really new,

but shedding light on Moses teaching,

—and warning the people when they strayed from it.

But, again, no other prophet ever compared to Moses.

Nowhere is this more evident in one important fact:

no one ever saw God as Moses had seen him on Mount Horeb

and even in some mysterious way in the Holy of Holies.

As the Book of Exodus tells us:

“the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,

as a man speaks to his friend.”

And it goes on to tell us that when Moses would encounter God like this,

“the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

And when …the people of Israel saw Moses, behold,

… they were afraid to come near him.”

 

They were frightened by Moses, because he had seen God.

But, they were also frightened because, in a very real way,

they had also seen God, if from a distance;

as Scripture tells us:

“when all the people perceived the thundering and the lightnings

…the people were afraid …

and they stood afar off, and said to Moses,

You speak to us, and we will hear;

but let not God speak to us, lest we die.””

The sight and sound of God in the thunder and lightning was

so magnificent that it scared the heck out of the people.

 

So when we read today how when Moses promises

that someday a prophet like him will come

he also promises that that prophet

will also be the intermediary between God and the people,

so they won’t have to see and be frightened by

the magnificence and holiness of God face to face:

As Moses says:

“This is exactly what you requested of the LORD…at Horeb.”

 

______

That’s the Old Testament.

Now see how it’s fulfilled in the New Testament, in today’s Gospel.

St. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Capernaum and went to the Synagogue

—reminding us that, like Moses before him, Jesus was a Jew,

coming to His “own kin,” just as Moses prophesied.

And then He teaches the assembly, just as Moses did.

And then it tells us:

“The people were astonished at his teaching,

for he taught them as one having authority

and not as the scribes.”

You see, the scribes and rabbis would teach

by strictly explaining what Moses had taught,

clarified by what the other lesser prophets had said.

They never proposed anything new on their own authority,

but only repeat and explained

what was handed down with Moses’ authority.

 

But then Jesus comes along and doesn’t contradict Moses,

but goes beyond him.

He doesn’t say “this is what Moses meant when he spoke to you,”

but rather “this is what God meant when he spoke to Moses.”

St. Matthew’s Gospel is full of examples of Jesus saying things like:

“You have heard it said, thou shall not kill…

…but I say to you… whoever says, ‘You fool!’

shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Or in another place:

Moses allowed you to divorce …,

but …I say to you: whoever divorces his wife…and marries another,

commits adultery.”

 

Back to today’s Gospel,

after this kind of new preaching, like Moses who parted the Red Sea,

Jesus shows the power of God,

driving a demon from a man right there in the synagogue.

And taking all this in, Scripture tells us:

All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?

A new teaching with authority.”

Elsewhere Mark records a similar event, and says:

“they were all amazed…, saying,

“We never saw anything like this!”

 

So the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled in Christ.

 

_____

But there is something more here.

As I explained before, the people in Moses’ time were afraid to see God.

 

To many today this might seem strange.

To some, this is because they try to recreate God in their own image,

to make him less awesome, less perfect, less radically different than us,

so that their own sins don’t look so back

when compared to their dumbed down image of God’s perfection.

 

But that’s not the way it was for Moses and his people:

they saw God as radically different—HOLY

and that they were radically unholy compared to him.

 

To others today, though, there is a more innocent explanation

of not being afraid of seeing God.

That’s because we have already seen God

—and not only survived, but flourished.

This is the gem right in the heart of these 2 passages of Scripture.

 

Because while Jesus was in fact a prophet “like” Moses

by revealing radically new things,

and changing the people and their covenant with God forever,

He was also like Moses in an even more important way:

like Moses he saw God face to face.

But unlike Moses he saw him not only on the Mountain or the Holy of Holies,

but all the time–constantly!

And not simply as Moses did, “as a man speaks to his friend”

but now as a Son speaks to His Father,

and even… as a man speaks to himself.

Because Jesus is not merely a human prophet like Moses,

but he is also the Son of God, and God the Son himself.

 

And also unlike with Moses,

with Jesus the people have no need to fear seeing God,

because in Jesus God comes to His people in a way that says

not, “behold my magnificence and holiness,”

but now “I am meek and humble of heart,”

“do not be afraid,”

and “peace be with you.”

He says, yes, I am glorious and all powerful,

but see that glory and power through the prism of my deep love for you.

Yes, you are sinners,

but I will pour my love out on you,

washing away your sins,

and joining you to myself,

so that you can be not simply God’s unworthy people,

but God’s own holy sons and daughters.

 

___

A few years ago, Pope Benedict explained this in a most beautiful way

in a Christmas homily.

He said: “from the time of Adam

[God] saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man….

Therefore God chose a new way.

He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.

Now – this God …says to us

you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

 

This began in His birth, but continued all through his life.

Do not be afraid, I come to heal you and drive the devil out of your life,

and to show you the way, the truth and the life of happiness.

Do not be afraid, I hang upon the cross, vulnerable, beaten and mocked,

so that my blood might wash your sins away.

Peace be with you, I have risen and conquered sin and death,

so that you may have eternal life.

Peace be with you, for behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.

 

God hasn’t changed, from the Old Testament to the New,

but in Christ He shows us first His humility and love,

and in this we see the true depths of His glory.

And so there is no reason to be afraid, only to love.

 

The Jews in Capernaum saw him this way 2000 years ago,

and we who love Him continue to see Him this way today.

We see and hear Him in the constant teaching and life

of His body on earth the Church.

And we hear Him every time His word is read in scripture.

And, most sublimely, we see Him every time we come to Mass,

and we touch Him every time we receive Him in holy Communion.

Again, He comes not in a fiery and thundering mountain top,

but in the least threatening way possible:

under the appearance of simple bread and wine.

And He says: “do not be afraid” …. “love me” “as I have loved you”…

“peace be with you.”

 

_____

Today the Old Testament and New come together,

as the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled:

the great prophet who not only teaches us about God

but brings us face to face with Him in His very being,

has spoken to us in His sacred word.

Continuing with this holy Mass let us open our eyes of faith

to recognize Him now as He comes to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us approach Him, not afraid that He will strike us down with lighting,

but only afraid that our sins may offend His Sacred Heart.

Let us remember that He is the Almighty God of Mt. Sinai,

and we are lowly sinners.

But let us rejoice and praise Him

because He gives us a new teaching with authority,

and comes to us in the form of bread, saying:

“do not be afraid,” “peace be with you.”