TEXT: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 4, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

A few weeks back you may have heard about the sad situation

in our neighboring diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia,

as an investigation determined that their former Bishop, Michael Bransfield,

was guilty of years of sexual misconduct,

massive financial mismanagement,

and lavish spending of church money.

 

What might Jesus have to say to Bransfield today,

and to all bishops and priests?

Maybe,

“Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich,

one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

 

Of course this passage from today’s gospel,

as well as the related texts in today’s 1st and 2nd readings,

applies to all of us,

but in a particular way it must apply to bishops and priests,

who are given a most precious gift in their ordination,

and in that gift are, as Jesus says today, “rich in what matters to God.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that the man who is a priest is himself necessarily holy,

as we see in too many cases, as with Bransfield, that is not the case.

But the gift of priesthood itself is holy, no matter what.

And while a priest’s sins do insult the gift of priesthood,

they do not take away from the gift itself:

a sinful priest still can offer a valid Mass, and forgive sins.

 

____

Even so, a priest should do everything he can to be worthy of this immense gift

and to worthily share it with the whole Church.

 

Of course, this is necessary for the good of his own soul

–remember the servant who buried the talent given to him,

of whom the Master said:

“cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness…”

Or as St. John Chrysostom put it so succinctly in the 4th century:

“hell is paved with the skulls of [bad] priests.”

 

But more important than that,

since the priesthood is meant not for the priest’s good,

but for the benefit of the whole Church,

the priest must strive for personal holiness for the good of the Church.

 

Think about it.

A priest is called to confect the Eucharist, to give the Body and Blood of Christ

to his people, and to forgive sins and administer all the sacraments.

But he’s also called to teach about the life of Christ the Eucharist brings to us.

And as Pope Paul VI once wrote:

“modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers…”

And so, the priest is called to be a witness to Christ by leading a holy life,

and so instruct and encourage others to be holy in their own lives.

 

And a holy priest is open to the fullness of the graces God has in store for him.

For example, by the power of the sacrament any priest, even a terrible man,

can forgive sins in confessional,

but holy priest will also be guided by the Lord

to know what to say to aid and convert the penitent.

He will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit

in preaching, teaching, counseling and consoling His people.

 

And finally, a holy priest offers more efficacious prayer for his people.

St. James writes in Scripture:

“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”

Imagine a truly holy priest, a saintly priest,

standing at the altar with the Body of Christ in his hands

—what greater human prayer could there be in the world?

 

____

One of the great examples of this sort of priest

is a saint whose feast we normally celebrate today, August 4,

although not this year not liturgically, since it’s Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

The priest who is the patron saint of parish priests, and of all priests,

known to many as the “Curé of Ars,” St. Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney.

 

John Vianney was born in 1786, into a family of devout Catholic farmers

in small town near Lyon, France.

When he was only 4 years old the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror

began to wreak havoc on the Church in France,

executing, imprisoning or deporting tens of thousands of priests and religious.

During those years of persecution many faithful priests went underground,

and pious families gave them shelter, including the Vianney family.

 

It’s no wonder that young John, inspired by these holy and courageous priests,

fixed his sights as a child on following them into the priesthood,

so that when the persecution finally ebbed,

by God’s grace he was ordained a priest at the age of 29.

And 3 years later was named the pastor, or “curé,” of the tiny hamlet of Ars.

 

Ars had never recovered from the revolution

and Catholicism and morals were in shambles:

very few people went to Sunday Mass,

and in a town of only 230 souls there were 4 taverns.

But the new curé was determined to change this,

as he told a young boy on the road who helped him find his way:

“You have shown me the way to Ars,

I will show you the way to heaven.”

 

He began small, but with great zeal.

He spent his own salary to repair his church

and buy beautiful vestments and vessels

for more fitting worship of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

He visited his parishioners, especially the sick.

He preached and taught catechism regularly.

He spent long hours in the church,

praying and waiting for his people to come to confession.

And he celebrated Holy Mass with profound reverence

—nothing was more important to him.

As he would say:

“All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass,

since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God”.

 

Eventually, witnessing his personal holy example and unrestrained love for Jesus,

people started to come, at first from Ars, and then from all over France.

It’s estimated that by 1855, his 27th year in Ars,

nearly 20,000 pilgrims would come to Ars annually

to see this simple priest.

 

Well, not so simple.

Reports soon spread of his miraculous healings

of the sick, the deaf, the blind and the lame.

Word spread of the regular vicious attacks he endured from the devil,

who would sometimes physically assault him at night.

But the most phenomenal reports came

with regard to his ability to read souls in confession:

as he would often remind penitents, in great detail,

of sins that they had neglected to confess.

 

All these, of course, were special graces from God,

but they came to St. John because he had made himself

completely open to them.

In short they came because he was a truly, deeply, HOLY priest:

 

But while those things tended to attract the crowds,

it was something much simpler that led them to actual conversion:

the example of holiness that exuded from St. John.

His love for his for Jesus and his people was manifest in every word and action,

His example of purest chastity led many a sinner to purity,

as they would say “he radiated chastity.”

His poverty of life and sacrifices showed them how to give all for God:

he gave literally everything he had to his parish or to the poor;

he would fast constantly,

eating only one daily meal of cold potato soup, if that;

he would sleep only 2 or 3 hours a night

so he would have time to keep his heavy schedule,

especially his 12 to 18 hour days in the confessional.

And his humility was a hallmark of his life:

once, early on, the neighboring priests signed a petition to his bishop

demanding the Cure of Ars be removed for his incompetence;

but the bishop rejected it when he saw that the last signature on the letter

was that of the humble John Vianney himself.

 

But all who knew him would say all this came from and led back to

his love and devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

His poverty of spirit showed in the torn cassock he wore constantly,

but covered during Mass with beautiful vestments, for the glory of God.

His love for his people was evident as he tenderly called them

to receive our Lord in Holy Communion:

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it.”

His chastity shown like a beacon, as they said:

“He gazed upon the Host with immense love”

showing them his single-hearted desire for God alone.

His self sacrifice for his people,

shown through when ever he would offer Mass so devoutly:

“What a good thing it is” he would say

“for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!”.

And his humility was nowhere more evident

than in the presence of his Eucharistic Lord:

“I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle” he wrote

“like a dog at the foot of his Master.”

 

This is the example of holy priesthood that Holy Mother Church holds out

to all priests, including bishops.

But also to you, as She reminds you not to be discouraged by bad priests,

but to praise God for the gift of the priesthood, and for good priests.

And to demand that all priests and bishops at least strive to understand this.

And to pray for your priests that they be open

to the fullness of the graces of the priesthood.

 

For in spite of all the scandals, we must remember, the greatness of the gift.

As the Holy Curé of Ars saw it so clearly and wrote:

“O, how great is the priest! …”

“Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”

“Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die:

not of fright, but of love…”

 

These are no words of vanity or exaggerated self-importance,

but words from the humblest of men,

who was overwhelmed with awe for the sacrament and its responsibilities.

As St. John would say:

“The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.

 

____

It was a year ago yesterday that I first preached about the scandal

of now-former cardinal McCarrick.

And now we have the Bransfield scandal, and I know there are more to come.

 

All this can lead us to great discouragement, both priests and laity alike.

But then we remember that Jesus knew

there would always be weak and sinful bishops and priests

like Judas in the beginning,

and McCarrick and Bransfield and their friends today.

And so Jesus gave us bishops and priests like St. John the Apostle,

who stood faithfully at the Cross,

and his namesake, St. John Vianney, who stood faithfully in Ars.

 

And we remember that for all the truly evil bishops and priests,

we also know so many priests who sincerely strive

to imitate the truly holy priests, like those two Saint Johns.

 

So, we must not be discouraged, but re-invigorated.

 

___

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

let us recognize the incredible gift that the priesthood is to us.

And recognize the abuses of that gift.

But also thank God for the gift,

and for the good priests who accept and embrace that gift for all its glory.

And pray for those priests, and all priests,

that they may always strive to imitate the many great and holy priests

that have come before them,

especially their patron, St. Jean-Marie Vianney.

 

And pray that all of us, laity, priests and bishops,

may “Take care to guard against all greed” and lust,

and strive to be “rich in what matters to God.”

TEXT: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 28, 2019

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 28, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;

seek and you will find;

knock and the door will be opened to you.”

What more wonderful promise does Jesus make in all of Sacred Scripture?

In it we are completely disarmed by the generosity of God.

 

But at the same time,

we know that Jesus expects us to ask for things that are good for us:

“If you then, who are wicked,

know how to give good gifts to your children,

how much more will the Father in heaven give…

to those who ask Him?”

 

We don’t always know what’s good for us,

but Jesus, who made us, always knows.

And He knows that each one of us is created for and are in fundamental need

of really only two things:

two gifts which our whole Christian faith revolves around:

the gifts of Life and Love.

 

Today’s 2nd reading St. Paul tells us that Christ

“brought you to life along with him”

Elsewhere in Scripture St. John tells us:

God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us,

that God sent His only Son into the world,

so that we might live through Him.”

Life and love, go hand in hand in the mystery of being a Christian

–and really in the mystery of being human.

 

In fact we find this in the very first chapter of the Bible:

the story of the creation of man, in the book of Genesis.

In that story we find that God creates man not because He needs to

but because, this God who is love,

in whom living and loving are the same thing,

this God does not need to do anything,

but naturally wants to share His life and love.

So out of His life of love He generously gives life to us,

a life that receives God’s love and lives to return that love.

 

Genesis tells us “God created man in His own image:

male and female He created them.”

This one creature–Man–in his very being, is created sexually as two,

and this difference shows that in his very being

he is created to live and love with another

–and to do so most sublimely in the context of their sexual identities

as male and female, as partners in marriage.

 

But this is a very different view of things than the world has.

For the world we live in,

marriage is often reduced to whatever people want it to be

–a concept of marriage created by men in their own image.

A very different view of what marriage is,

and so, a very different view of the meaning of sexuality.

 

So for example, today civil marriages

can be legally terminated by the simple decision of a judge.

And two men or two woman can be civilly “married.”

Quiet different from the teaching of Jesus Himself in Matthew Chapter 19:

“from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female‘ …

they are no longer two but one flesh…

what God has joined together, no man can separate.”

And we see a culture that sees sexuality as a matter of

an absolute individualistic right to self-satisfaction

–not as a generous mutual self-gift of life and love.

We live in a world that in many ways would make

the people of Sodom and Gomorrah blush.

 

___

51 years ago tomorrow, on July 29, 1968, Pope Paul VI

wrote a very short but also very historical letter

reiterating the Church’s ancient understanding of

the essential integration and unity

of human life and love in marriage and sexuality

The letter was called “Humanae Vitae“: “On Human Life.”

 

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul called us to go back to Genesis Chapter 1.

He reminded us that married people are called to share life and love

generously in the image of God

–living this love in very human ways.

Sometimes this is in very ordinary ways,

such as living together in the same house.

But sometimes its in a very special way:

a most concrete, dramatic, intense, and wonderfully joyful way,

in human physical sexual intimacy:

a human act which is a sacramental expression

of the generous life-giving quality of God’s love,

and the love-giving quality of God’s life

found in the very creation of man described in Genesis.

 

This is what acts of sexual intimacy are intrinsically designed to mean

–and anything less is a corruption of this meaning:

an insult to the dignity of the human person, spouses, children,

and God Himself.

So that St. Pope Paul VI repeated what the Church has always taught,

that it is always morally wrong to intentionally separate

the life giving meaning of human sexual intimacy

from its love giving meaning.

So that any direct and intentional attempt

to render procreation impossible in the conjugal act

is absolutely contrary

to the divine meaning of human love and human life,

and to the eternal and unchanging will of God.

In short, contraception is always a grave sin.

 

____

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us:

“What father among you would hand his son a snake

when he asks for a fish?

Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”

What husband or wife among you would give your spouse

an act of only false intimacy and selfish sterility

when they ask you to give yourself completely

in an act of true love that is directed or open to

bearing the fruit of new life!

 

____

This is a very hard concept to accept,

especially surrounded by a world with a very different view of sexuality.

But if the world has clearly taken a contra-Christian approach

to the meaning of marriage

in its acceptance of divorce, adultery, and even homosexuality,

perhaps we can see that it has also gone very wrong

in its understanding of the fundamental meaning of sex itself.

 

____

I know so many people struggle with this–its so different.

For many of you this represents an immediate and intensely personal struggle

–a struggle with what you’ve been told by the world

and also a struggle with what your own passions.

Struggle, if you must, but keep trying, or begin today,

to think, pray and study about

what the Church really has to say and offer in its beautiful teaching

on the mystery of  human life and love.

 

And don’t be discouraged or feel overwhelmed

by what seems to be the impossibility of fulfilling its demands.

Take to heart the wonderful words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:

“ask and you will receive; seek and you will find;

knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Be persistent in your pursuit of the truth,

and beg the Lord, for whom nothing is impossible:

to understand His teaching,

and to give you the generosity necessary

to sacrifice personal pride or desires

to live in His love and conform to His eternal will.

 

Begin today, and persevere, and He will give you what you need

to understand and live the divine mystery of human love and human life.

TEXT: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 14, 2019

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 14, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

For many people that may happen with today’s Gospel,

as Jesus tells us that “to inherit eternal life”, to go to heaven,

we must first,

“love the Lord, your God,

with all your heart,…[soul],…strength, and …mind,

and second, “…[love] your neighbor as yourself.”

 

At first glance, at least to many, Jesus seems to be giving 2 new moral laws

that sort of overrule the moral laws of the Old Testament,

in particular, the 10 Commandments.

But a more careful reading shows something very different.

Notice, it’s not Jesus who says “love the Lord your God with all your heart” etc,

it’s the other guy in the reading, the one called the “scholar of the law.”

And he does that in response to Jesus’ question: “what does the law say?”

 

And he is not a scholar of some supposedly NEW law of Jesus,

he’s a scholar of the OLD law of Moses:

he is an expert on the old moral code

that some people think Jesus is wiping out.

In fact, again, if we look a little closer

we see that the scholar is actually quoting the old law.

If we go back to the Old Testament

in chapters 5 and 6 of Deuteronomy and 19 of Leviticus

where the 10 commandments are actually listed and explained,

right at the end of those passages you find the very words

the scholar quotes to Jesus today:

“love the Lord, your God,

with all your heart,…[soul],…strength, and …mind.”

and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

In short, these 2 “great commandments of love” don’t override

the 10 commandments, they summarize them;

they don’t set love in opposition to the commandments,

but show that the commandments concretely define and explain

what love of God and love of neighbor actually require.

How can you love me, God says, if you worship other gods?

And how can you love your neighbor if you kill them?

 

So what seems at first to be a new law of love,

turns out to be a re-affirmation of the old law of law of love

called “the commandments.”

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

 

But all this begs the question: who is my neighbor, that I’m supposed to love?

To some, in both Jesus’ time and our own,

the answer to this is not what it might at first seem.

In particular, some try to narrow down the definition of “neighbor”

to include only a few people they like.

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ time had great regard for people

like the priests and Levites, but couldn’t stand the Samaritans.

So Jesus points out, in effect:

“no, no, even the people you might otherwise despise are your neighbor.”

Or as he says elsewhere:

“You have heard that it was said,

‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I say to you, Love your enemies.”

 

Essentially Jesus makes it clear that your neighbor is…everyone.

And this is imbedded in the 10 commandments themselves:

notice, they say don’t say “you shall not steal from people you like,”

but simply “you shall not steal”—period.

 

On the other hand, some people effectively limit the definition of “neighbor”

to those who are strangers to us

—they like to think of their neighbor as the man

you find begging for money on the street,

or living in the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster.

In some ways it’s easy to love those folks:

you hand them a 20, or you write them a check,

and you’re done with your duty to love your neighbor.

And then you can ignore

the guy sitting in the next desk at work,

whose life is a shambles after his wife left him;

or the kid in the next bunk at summer camp who no one will play with.

 

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

 

Somehow it’s much easier to “love” our neighbor

when we can see them as an impersonal charity case

we can throw money at,

rather than a real person we know and have to live with.

 

The bottom line is that your neighbor is

whatever person Jesus brings into your life and says, “here, help him.”

 

____

But (again,) sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

 

In fact, first impressions of today’s parable lead many to think that

love of neighbor involves sort an egalitarianism:

that we should show no partiality or priority

in loving the different neighbors in our lives.

After all, in today’s parable the Jewish Jesus shows no partiality

to His fellow Jews, the priest and the levite:

it’s the non-Jew, the Samaritan, who He identifies as “neighbor.”

 

But here again, if we put this all into the context

of the way of love rooted in the commandments,

you get a different perspective:

there is a certain priority in who you are to love and how.

If you notice in the commandments, there’s a sort of a subtle shift

between the first three commandments and the next seven:

The first 3 are directly connected to loving God:

no false gods, no taking God’s name in vain, and rest on the Lord’s Day.

But the last seven are more directly about loving your neighbor:

do not kill your neighbor, etc.

And the very first of these 7 commandments about loving your neighbor

lays out a clear priority in loving,

as it tells us: “Honor you father and mother.”

 

Right there, Almightily God tells us, love your parents first:

these are the ones He brings to you

right from the beginning of your life and says,

“here, love them,

and learn from them how to love Me

and all your other neighbors.”

 

But the thing is, this isn’t just about loving our parents:

our parents are the beginning and root of the whole family:

from moms and dads come sons and daughters and brothers and sisters.

So that this commandment is also about the priority of loving your family,

and requires not only children honoring parents,

but also parents honoring their children,

and brothers and sisters, sons and daughters,

honoring, loving, each other.

 

Who is my neighbor that I must love?

First, Jesus says, love your family.

 

And yet, how often we fail to do that.

How often do families snipe at each other, or neglect each other?

How often do children think of some cultural figure as their hero or role-model,

and ignore the truly heroic efforts and great example

of their own parents?

How many times do brothers and sisters fight and argue with each other?

How many ways do parents find time to dedicate to some great charitable cause

and but have no time for the child God has personally entrusted to them?

How many times are husband or wives

too tired from helping out at school or church

to spend even a few minutes listening to their spouses’ problems

at the end of the day?

 

Unfortunately, all too often that’s the way it is with families.

And not just natural families.

By our baptism we have been given a share in Christ’s own life,

and so in everything He has–including his sonship.

As St. Paul says: “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God.”

 

So, then, as brothers and sisters in Christ we owe each other

a love that has a certain priority over others.

If Christians can’t love one another other as Christ has loved us,

how can we love unbelievers?

 

So, yes, we must love everyone

even if they hate us, or we find the way they think or act or believe

to be strange or even repugnant,

[even if they’re terrorists or Muslims or homosexuals],

we have to love everyone.

 

But loving begins with our families, and with our family of faith.

As St. Paul says:

“let us do good to all men,

and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Look around you: you, we, are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

And by the grace of God, I am your spiritual father, you my sons and daughters.

 

From all this, we can see that the love rooted in the commandments

is like a seed that blossoms into a beautiful rose bush:

in the context of “love,” “honoring” a parent or a child

means so much more than we might first think.

And so, Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”

And He explained that the fulfillment of the law rests in this:

“no greater love has a man than this,

to lay down his life for his friends.”

And He personally did that by laying down His life on the Cross,

for love of us, His friends and his family,

and love for all the world: His neighbors.

 

_____

Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving.

Sometimes we think someone is not our neighbor,

and then we discover, yes they are.

Sometimes we think we’ve been loving our neighbor,

and then we discover, no we haven’t.

Sometimes we think other people are just strangers in a crowd,

and then we discover no, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

My dear neighbors, my dear sons and daughters in Christ,

as we kneel before the Lord who lays down His life for us in this Eucharist,

let us recognize and learn from His example of love:

the love of keeping His commandments, and the love of the Cross.

And as He comes to us in Holy Communion,

let us pray that the grace of this sacrament of the love of Jesus may

transform each of your families in His love,

unite all in this parish, and all Christians,

in the love of the one family of Christ, His Church,

and give each of us the courage to love everyone God brings

to us to care for, whether family, friend, foe or stranger.

 

And let us begin anew to dedicate our lives to our most high calling in Christ, to

“love the Lord, our God,

with all our hearts,…[souls],…strength, and …minds,

….and our neighbor as ourselves.”

TEXT: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 7, 2019

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 7, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Last Thursday we remembered July 4th, 1776,

Independence Day, the birthday of our Country.

And we rightly celebrated with cookouts, parades, speeches and fireworks.

It is a day of great national love and pride,

and mutual goodwill among Americans.

A day celebrating patriotism.

 

But not for everyone.

As one newspaper headline read: “American patriotism is at a record low,”

as it cited a new Gallup poll that shows dramatic decreases

when people are asked how proud they are to be American.

We see this same sentiment expressed by the actions

of some NFL players and members of the US Women’s Soccer team

during the playing of the national anthem.

And we see it when Nike cancels a line of shoes with the original American flag.

 

That may anger some of us, but is it wrong?

Does God command us to be patriotic?

The answer is, yes.

 

Jesus tells us that the 2 greatest commandments are

first, to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,

and second, to love your neighbor as yourself.

As St. Thomas Aquinas explains that our first neighbor is our family,

especially our parents,

but after that our second neighbor, so to speak,

is our country, or our “patria” in Latin, and our fellow countrymen.

 

So that the 2nd great commandment applies first to parents and family

and second to country and countrymen.

We see this specified, if you will, in the 4th commandment:

“Honor your father and mother.”

God gives you parents and family to love and care for you,

and in return calls you to love and care for them—to “honor” them.

And in the same way, God gives us our country and fellow countrymen

to love and care for us,

and so we in turn must love and care for our country and countrymen

—we must honor it and them.

 

So, for example, we read in today’s first reading:

“Thus says the LORD: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,

all you who love her…”

This is talking about the virtue of love of country:

Jerusalem stood for the whole country of Israel.

This is Patriotism.

And we see the same virtue in Jesus Himself.

Once when Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the gospels tell us:

“when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it,”

because He saw how Jerusalem would reject Him,

and how this would lead to her destruction at the hands of Rome.

Loving our neighbor demands love of patria, country.

 

___

Of course, the people in other countries are also our neighbors,

and God commands us to love them also.

But it’s a matter of priorities:

we should love and help the people next door,

but clearly before that we should take care of our families first:

it’s a simple rule, “charity begins at home.”

 

And it’s the same thing with patriotism.

We should love people in other countries,

but first we should love, honor and care for our country

and our countrymen,

and then love and help folks in other countries.

 

__

Now, some today say that this is wrongheaded.

Many would equate, or conflate, “patriotism

with what has been historically called “nationalism.”

Even good patriots do this

—use the term “nationalism

when I think what they really mean is “patriotism”.

I wish they wouldn’t confuse the two.

 

Because historically “nationalism” is different from patriotism,

in that historical nationalism would say

not, “America first,” but “American, first, last and only.”

Historical nationalism would even allow us to conquer foreign lands

just because we think our nation is better

and has a right to take whatever we wants.

That’s nationalism, and that is wrong—that is sinful.

 

Patriotism does not do that.

A Patriot would not say, “American, first, last and only,

but rather, “American first, but then everyone else is second,”

or better yet,

“God, first, family second, and America third…and everyone else fourth.”

 

__

Now, some might say, but Father, what about people who aren’t citizens,

maybe they’re law-abiding non-citizen residents,

but not technically “American”?

Well, perhaps the meaning of the term “fellow countryman” might include them,

but even if it doesn’t, then it would simply mean that after citizens,

these good people would come next in priority over all others.

 

But what about people who come to or remain in our country illegally

—don’t we owe them honor and love too?

Yes, of course!

But in order of nature and nature’s God,

our priorities are family, countrymen, and then others.

 

___

Now we have to be careful.

First, as I said, I wish people would stop using the term “nationalism”

when they mean “patriotism.”

 

But also, just as patriotism isn’t historical nationalism,

patriotism also isn’t historical “nativism

—“nativism” means placing priority on people who are born here,

or even who’s great-grandparents were born here,

so they’d been here for generations,

and that would exclude immigrants.

Patriotism, on the other hand,

extends priority to all who share the same commitment

to be part of the fabric of our country

—including those whom God has moved here from other countries,

immigrants,

and who are sincerely committed to patriotism.

 

And Patriotism also isn’t the same as loving the government per se,

but rather honoring the government to the extend it is part of the country

and at the service of the people of the country.

For example, we don’t honor the president because he’s in charge,

or even because we like him as a person,

but because he holds an office that is an important part of our country,

and even a symbol of our country as a whole.

 

____

The thing is, patriotism is not just an ideal,

but has a practical everyday application.

 

First of all, it means learning the history of our country, both the good and bad.

But like a family that embraces the good memories and works to fix the bad,

patriots celebrate the greatness in our history,

even as we learn from and work to overcome our failures.

But a patriot does not allow past failures to cause us to dishonor our country.

 

Patriotism also involves participation in the life of our nation.

This includes everything from

working productively in school or at a job,

to raising a good and healthy family,

to paying taxes.

But it especially involves participating in the public square,

including voting whenever there is an election,

and even campaigning for candidates who truly want the best for our country.

 

Patriotism also means defending our country.

So many of you have dedicated your lives, or part of your lives, to this,

taking up arms and uniforms for our country:

thank you for your service, you are true patriots.

But defending America also includes simply standing up and speaking out

for the good of our country,

not being silenced by the politically correct crowd,

but using your God-given and constitutionally protected

freedom of speech and assembly to publicly promote

what you believe is genuinely good for our country.

 

And patriotism means truly striving for the good of each other.

This means both providing opportunities

for everyone to provide for their own well-being,

primarily through just laws and a sound economic system,

but also providing necessities for those

who truly cannot provide for themselves.

 

And it means respecting each other in word and action.

Like a family, we can argue, we can even call each other names.

But also like a family, there are lines we know we should never cross,

words we should never use,

because we know that would be too much, that would be a dishonor.

Too often today our public discourse crosses those lines of respect and honor,

and as patriots we cannot condone this.

 

And Patriotism means honoring the symbols our country.

I have pictures of my family all over the rectory;

they are just images on paper,

but they remind me of my family and help me to honor and love them.

It’s the same thing with the symbols of America.

So, when the American flag passes or the National Anthem is played

it is important to be patriotic and honor America

by standing and maybe placing our hands over our hearts,

whatever the custom is.

When I look at a picture of my mother or father,

I don’t think of the times they might have been unjust or too harsh with me

—no, I focus on what made them so good, and the love between us.

 

So we don’t burn the American flag, but salute it.

And when we see the original American flag that has 13 stars

—the so called “Betsy Ross Flag”—

we shouldn’t choose to see it as a sign

of the injustices that were tolerated at our founding,

but as a sign of the great and noble ideals enshrined in the founding

–ideas like “all men are created equal”–

that have propelled us to work to overcome those errors.

 

______

To some today, it seems patriotism is a dirty word, or a sign of partisanship.

It is not.

Patriotism is an essential part of what it means to be a virtuous person,

and a true Christian.

And to fail to strive to be a patriot is to sin.

 

As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass, let us pray for America.

And let us pray that all who live in our great country may join together as patriots

to cherish and honor her for the good she has done,

and work together to correct her faults.

And as we receive Our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion,

may give us the grace to love our neighbor as we ought,

and increase in us the noble and necessary virtue of patriotism.

 

TEXT: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 30, 2019

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 30, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This Thursday we celebrate the Fourth of July,

commemorating that great day in 1776

when our founders signed their names

to the Declaration of Independence,

giving birth to a new nation conceived in the radical notion that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,

that all men are created equal,

that they are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable Rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty

and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

A very simple statement, but a very profound ideal.

 

A few years later, having won their War of Independence,

some of those same men, along with other patriots,

came up with a plan to make that ideal of a nation become a reality.

The Constitution they gave us began with the words stating their purpose:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to

form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,

ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,

promote the general Welfare,

and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

 

Both of these foundational documents set an ambitious plan for the new nation,

that has led us to become perhaps the greatest nation

the earth has ever seen.

And at the heart of this greatness is the one key ideal

enshrined in both documents: Liberty.

 

Liberty—a precious word, a noble ideal, a principle to fight and die for.

But with all that, what does it mean?

 

Does it mean freedom to do whatever you want?

Freedom from any constraints—legal, social, economic, moral or religious?

 

But how could a nation survive like that

—if everyone just did whatever they wanted?

 

And on the other hand, if we put constraints on freedom

how could we really live in liberty?

 

The answer is that some constraints, which seem at first to take away freedom,

actually enhance freedom.

So, while, for example, self-discipline

seems to be an act against freedom to do as you feel like,

in reality it allows you to control your irrational emotions and appetites

so that you can make a rational choice of what is best for you.

As St. Paul reminds us today:

“do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;

….For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,

…these are opposed to each other,

so that you may not do what you want.”

 

It’s the same with all social disciplines—rules, laws, norms—

that help control passions and impulses

so that “we the people” can live together in

“a more perfect Union”, with “Justice,” and “domestic Tranquility,

and in all this “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

 

But all of this presupposes that we can all agree on basic principles,

that we share a fundamental set of common values

that help define and even limit the laws we enact to discipline ourselves.

 

And from the very beginning Americans have shared a common set of values.

And they begin with two principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

First: the idea that there are some “self-evident truths”

          –truths that we just know, that are obvious either at first sight,

or after careful rational consideration.

And second: that one of these self-evident truths is that there is a “Creator,” God,

who gives us not only certain unalienable rights,

but also gives us all the self-evident truths

that he writes into all creation: certain natural laws.

As the Declaration calls them, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

 

So we begin with these 2 most fundamental American values,

and from them flow all sorts of other American values

about the way things ought to be.

 

But nowadays, people blush or even get angry

if you talk about God ordering things.

But there it is, right in beginning of our nation.

And without that idea that God determines what is right and wrong

—not kings or lords or congressmen or presidents or judges—

without that there never would have been an America,

and America couldn’t have grown to be the great nation it became.

 

And the thing is, right from the beginning it wasn’t just a vague notion of

“a supreme being” or “creator” or nameless-“god” out there somewhere

that America looked to for guidance.

It was the God that almost every American worshiped and believed in.

The God that George Washington spoke of in 1783,

when he wrote the Governors of the States as he disbanded his Army, about:

“the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion,

…without an humble imitation of whose example in these things,

we can never hope to be a happy nation.”

 

He was speaking of Jesus Christ, and the “blessed religion” he founded,

that we call “Christianity.”

 

At the same time, Washington knew

that many Christians disagreed on certain tenets of the faith:

Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists

—they each had their own unique ideas about certain things.

Nevertheless, he called for us to tolerate those differences,

while at the same time recognizing and building

our United States of America

on the fundamental values we all held in common,

what he called, “the pure spirit of Christianity.”

Let’s be clear—the differences are important,

but the point is, so are the basic Christian values held in common.

 

Nowadays the different Christian denominations and Churches

have a lot of radical differences in their teachings, especially about morals.

But that’s not the way it was in 1776.

All Christians shared basically the same set of fundamental moral beliefs.

And those Christian beliefs formed the fundamental Common “American values.”

 

____

Unfortunately, our founding was imperfect

—because while it was founded on solid Christian principles,

it was also founded by men.

As Virginia’s James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, No. 51,

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

 

So, for example,

while professing the basic Christian value “that all men are created equal,”

and holding that, as St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free,”

the founders wound up tolerating a terrible exception to that norm:

slavery.

Eventually, it was devout Christians who organized the Abolitionist Movement.

But in the end the evil of slavery had to be cut out by force, by bloody Civil War.

As President Lincoln would admonish his fellow Americans, north and south,

after the Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in that war:

“we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain

that this nation, under God,

                                      shall have a new birth of freedom

                             —and that government of the people, by the people,

for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

A nation under God, given a new birth in freedom,

but this time even more closely aligned to the fundamental Christian values

“of the people”—“American values.”

 

____

Sadly, today, most Americans have lost any sense

of our foundation on Christian values.

And so the question must be asked:

can a nation founded on Christian values

survive if it casts off those Christian values?

 

If it replaces those Christian values

with Secular Humanist, Marxist or Atheistic values?

Values based on the false notion of liberty

as a freedom to do whatever you want, or whatever you’re told.

Values not ordered by self-evident truths that God wrote into our very nature,

but in the dictates from relativistic laws and even lies

that change almost from day to day.

Values that allow our feelings and impulses to dominate our reason

and blind us to ignore “self-evident truths,”

and so enslave us to our base desires and ignorance.

 

As St. Paul reminds us:

“For freedom Christ set us free;

so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

How can the nation conceived in liberty survive

if the values that keep liberty from becoming chaos and slavery

are ignored or cast aside?

 

____

Yet some Americans continue to do just that.

For example, some argue passionately that so-called “gay marriage”

is a matter of equal rights.

But from since 1776, and for over 200 years, in the same way

Americans believed it was a self-evident truth that

God created us all equal in dignity and rights,

Americans also believed that it was a self-evident truth

that God also created men and women different in their bodies,

so that, by their nature, they could be joined together

in a union ordered toward producing and raising children

–a union they called “marriage,”

a union which self-evidently excludes homosexual couples.

 

It’s absurd to say that what almost all Americans have believed for 2 centuries

is somehow inconsistent with the values enshrined in the Constitution.

 

You can see the same thing with those who promote “transgenderism.”

The way you feel dictates how others have to treat you,

even if that directly contradicts the absolutely clear “self-evident truth”

that boys are boys and girls are girls.

 

Or think about all the rhetoric about a woman’s absolute “right to choose.”

But since modern science clearly tells us what most Americans have always known,

that an unborn baby is a human life,

how does a woman have an absolute right to kill that baby?

How does that work—what about the equal rights of the baby?

 

And consider religious liberty.

Today leading politicians try to argue that “freedom of religion”

is actually “freedom from religion.”

And Christians who hold the same basic moral values as our founders,

are called “haters,” “bigots,” and even “immoral” and “un-American.”

They’re even questioned as being suitable for public office,

especially judgeships: remember, “the dogma lives loud within you.”

 

I could go on, but I won’t.

 

____

How can this be in America?

Are these the values George Washington and Abraham Lincoln proclaimed?

Are these the values Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King proclaimed?

Are these the values hundreds of thousands of Americans,

including so many of you in this church today,

have fought, sacrificed and even died for on battlefields around the world?

Are these the American values

that so many of you who are immigrants to our country

left home and family to pursue as you came to the “land of liberty”?

 

Yet it that’s where we are at today.

How can we survive this, especially if our Christian values are replaced by values

that directly contradict those Christian values?

We did that once, with slavery, when we tried to say

that mere human laws could redefine what it means to be a human.

For four score and seven years it ate at the fiber of our nation

until it almost destroyed it.

We can’t compromise the self-evident truth about the order that God created.

And we cannot maintain a nation that rose above all others

based on the common Christian values it embraced,

if we discard those values or embrace their opposites.

 

____

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July

we rightly thank God for the many gifts

he has bestowed upon our nation for these last 243 years.

But let us also pray for a renewal and rediscovery

of the fundamental American values

that for 2 centuries allowed us to use those gifts wisely

to become a truly great nation.

Values that are nothing less than the fundamental values of Christianity.

 

So that those values may, by the grace of Jesus Christ,

once again lead our nation to recognize the self-evident truths

written in nature by the God who created us all.

 

“For freedom Christ set us free;

so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”