TEXT: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7, 2018

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Respect Life Sunday)

October 7, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This last year the topic of sexual abuse has been a dominant theme in the news.

Of course, in the Church,

this has taken on particular disgusting and sinister dimensions,

and we’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about that.

 

But sexual abuse isn’t the exclusive problem of the Church.

In the last year, society at large has become more acutely aware

that sexual abuse is a huge problem for all of us,

particularly the sexual abuse, including sexual harassment, of women.

 

And so we’ve seen the rise of the so called “me-too” movement:

women coming forward to reveal

that they have been sexually harassed or worse.

This was sort of initiated or at least publicized by Hollywood actresses

coming out about how powerful men in Hollywood had abused them.

 

Of course, this is kind of ironic, sadly, since Hollywood has been

one of the main promoters of the sexual abuse of women for decades

—just look at almost any movie and most tv shows,

and we see women constantly exploited for their sexuality.

 

But the thing is, Hollywood and it’s—for lack of a better word—“leftist” friends,

are turning to their unique set of values to solve the problem.

But they wind up making even greater problems,

because those values are largely morally bankrupt.

 

So for example, they’re promoting the idea

that we must now always believe the accusations of women,

and that men should never be trusted.

As one politician said recently,

“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions?

It’s the men in this country.

And I just want to say to the men in this country, just shut up….”

 

Of course, we do need to listen to women who claim abuse.

But the idea of always trusting the women and never trusting the man

only aggravates the problem

by turning man and woman further against each other.

 

___

The real solution is actually very simple, well known and ancient.

And it comes from Jesus Christ and His Church,

which for 2000 years has clearly and strongly upheld

the dignity of women

and the mutual respect and love male and female

should always, without exception, have for each other.

 

Actually, this goes back to the roots of our faith in Judaism.

In today’s first reading we literally go back to the beginning,

to the story of how God created man and woman

recorded in beginning of the Bible in the Book of Genesis.

In Chapter 1 of Genesis it tells us that God

“created man in His own image…male and female He created them.

Then in Chapter 2, that we read today,

it says that God created Adam first,

but that it wasn’t “good” that he be alone.

So God created the animals, but none of them could fill his loneliness,

none was a suitable partner for Adam.

And so God created Eve, from the very flesh and bones of Adam.

Adam looks at her in awe and says,

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

And it says, “a man clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”

 

All this is to say, in part, that women are not animals to be used

for man’s needs or selfishness.

They are made of the same stuff as males, equal to him in dignity.

But also made different, so as to complete mankind—so two can become one—

they are partners.

Different but equal, so that their equality must be mutually loved and respected

through their differences.

 

Jesus picks up on this theme in today’s gospel.

He quotes both Chapter 1 and 2 of Genesis, in his defense of marriage.

And in that defense he points out that women are equal in dignity to men,

first by citing Genesis’ teaching that both are made in the image of God,

and the 2 become 1 to complement or complete each other.

But also notice how he defends women from a terrible abuse:

men abandoning and divorcing their wives.

Not only does this leave the woman penniless,

but more fundamentally when the man marries another woman

he abuses the sexuality of his ex-wife:

in effect, he has used her sexually,

and now cast her aside as if she were trash

—that is at the heart of adultery.

 

And remember that Jesus makes it clear that adultery, this demeaning of women,

it isn’t just limited to bodily acts.

In the Sermon on the Mount he warns us:

“…that everyone who looks at a woman with lust

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

And so the Catholic Church promotes the dignity and rejects the abuse

of women.

It calls us to look at woman not as sexual objects to be used,

either by our eyes or with our bodies,

but to always treat them with love, chastity, and respect.

 

____

So, the Church has been right about this all along,

and the Church has the solution for the sexual abuse of women today.

 

But if the Church has been right on that moral problem for 2000 years,

what other moral problem might she have gotten right?

 

What about an equally, if not worse, kind of abuse of women,

that involves a different but still fundamental aspect of their sexuality:

motherhood?

And that is the abuse of women we call abortion.

 

Think about this.

We tell a woman, it’s not a baby so there’s nothing wrong with it.

But of course, it IS a baby, and in her heart she knows it’s a baby,

and that she has killed her baby.

 

But we tell her she’ll be fine afterwards, and she can move on with life.

But the reality is she will never forgive herself,

and she will be burdened, even crippled,

by guilt and even self-loathing for the rest of her life.

 

And we pretend it will empower her.

but in reality most of the time it only further subjects women

to the power of men, the fathers of their babies,

who so often force the woman to have an abortion

either directly or through fear of abandonment.

 

And we tell her it’s her free choice,

but then we don’t tell her about any of the other choices she has,

choices that are not deadly to the baby or traumatic to her.

 

___

It seems to me, that abortion is painfully similar to sexual abuse:

both take the woman’s sexuality

and turn it from an expression of joy, love and life,

to an experience of pain, hatred and destruction.

And the scars of both stay with them and effect everything they do

for the rest of their lives.

 

But the thing is, if we were honest with ourselves, as terrible as sexual abuse is,

abortion is even worse:

sexual abuse only injures,

but abortion always kills…a child—and not just any child,

but the woman’s baby girl or boy.

Given the right care, a woman can be greatly healed

from the traumatic effects of both sexual abuse and abortion,

but no one can bring the aborted baby back to life.

 

Sexual abuse must be stopped

God forbids it, reason shows it, and justice demands it.

And the abuse of women through abortion must also be stopped,

for the very same reasons—God, reason and justice.

 

____

3 months ago, the President nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh

to the Supreme Court.

To many of this, it was seen as a God-send:

we knew that Kavanaugh was a strongly pro-life judge

who would work to protect women and their children

from the terrible abuse of abortion.

We had been waiting, working and praying for him for 50 years.

 

But for the exact same reason, many others immediately decried his nomination.

One of the pro-abortion leaders called him “evil,”

and another promised that he would

“oppose him with everything I got.”

Because you see, abortion was on the line

—no matter what other qualification he has,

that was all that mattered to them.

 

And they did throw everything they could at him to stop him.

And in the end, when all else failed, they threw one final horrible accusation

that they thought would end his nomination.

The irony is thick here:

they accused him of sexual abuse of a woman

in order to protect their abuse of women in abortion.

 

In the end however, even though her testimony was compelling, his was too.

Who should we believe, when they both seemed believable?

Again, some said we should believe her no matter what,

and assume that he was guilty because, after all he is a man.

Thanks be to God, clearer heads prevailed,

and again turned to God, reason and justice for an answer.

When no corroborating evidence was presented,

we remembered the fundamental maxim of American Justice that

we must always assume someone innocent

until they are proven guilty.

And some us remembered the words of God the Son himself, Jesus:

“If your brother sins, ….take one or two more with you,

so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses

every fact may be confirmed.”

 

And in the end a majority of the senate voted yesterday

to confirm Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

And we will finally put an end to 50 years of a Supreme Court

that has sanctioned the abuse of women through abortion.

So that, thanks be to God, we will finally have

a truly pro-life, and pro-woman majority on the Court.

 

____

Sexual abuse of women is a despicable thing,

an abomination before God, reason and justice.

But we cannot show respect for women by throwing out our respect for men.

We can only do so by remembering that

we are created in the image of God as male and female,

meant to cling to each other in love:

to mutually respect and love each other in every aspect of life.

And by appreciating and standing in awe of

the God-given differences between male and female,

especially the sexual differences,

and never use them to exploit or abuse each other.

 

But all that means we must also respect the dignity of a woman’s sexuality

that is expressed in motherhood.

And we must end the abuse of women that comes through deception

and the rejection and distortion of that great gift through abortion.

____

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

let us ask our Lord Jesus to pour out His grace upon us,

so that we may truly understand and appreciate the gifts He has given us. Most especially that we may always respect and truly love women,

and protect them from any abuse

of the great and multifaceted gift of their sexuality.

TEXT: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 30, 2018

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 30, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s gospel beings with the words,

“John said to Jesus,

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name…”

This is one of many many times that Scripture

recognizes the existence of demons or devils,

and the reality of their objective of tormenting man and mankind.

We can also think of Satan personally tempting Jesus in the desert,

or Eve in the Garden.

 

Christians believe this, because God revealed it to us,

and because we see the work of the devil all around us.

 

But, thanks be to God, Christians also believe in the Angels,

the holy creatures who exist to love and serve God completely,

and because God loves us, they love and serve us also.

And they also are real, personal beings.

In fact, yesterday we celebrated the feast day of 3 of these persons:

the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

St. Michael is particularly important because he is the Prince of the angels,

the General of the heavenly army of angels,

leading them in constant battle against Satan and his minions,

protecting us, and leading us in the way of peace.

 

And so the angelic-satanic battle wages.

 

One person who never had to be convinced of all this was Pope Leo XIII.

Because one day in 1881, while he was praying after Mass,

he had a supernatural vision that vividly revealed Satan and his devils

and their work to conquer mankind.

The Pope never spoke publicly about what he saw,

and there are several different versions that come down to us.

One account tells us he saw the battle vividly raging.

Another tells us that, much like in the story of Job,

he heard Jesus allow Satan to have a freer hand to tempt mankind

for a period of 50 or 60 or 100 years, or for the whole of the 20th century,

depending on what story you believe.

You can believe this or not, but, just so you know,

St. John Paul II believed that Leo had at least had a vision

of the angelic battle being waged against the demons.

So I believe it too.

 

And I think the visions were clearly prophetic,

as the next century saw the horrors of World War I and World War II,

the rise of atheistic Communism and Marxism, and radical Islamism.

And then the mainstreaming of sexual abuse and perversion, contraception,

attacks on marriage, and abortion.

Have you ever wondered why all these things are happening:

why mankind is seemingly out to destroy itself

and its relationship with God?

Even if you don’t believe in the vision of Leo, it seems pretty clear

that it’s not merely some human conspiracy,

but the cunning and calculated plan of the enemy of mankind—Satan.

 

After all, he hates man, because Man is created in the image of God,

whom he hates with his whole being.

So he hates man and tries to destroy that which is most important

for man’s happiness and wellbeing: marriage and family.

And he hates man, so he seeks to destroy his confidence and trust

in the means of his salvation, the Church,

as he first tempts priests to commit sinful acts abusing their children,

even though Jesus warns, as we read today:

“it would be better for him if a great millstone

were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

And then the devil tempts bishops and cardinals to cover it up,

and promote the abusers.

 

And he hates man, so he seeks to take his life,

so he tempts us to kill each other by the thousands and millions in war.

But not only in war, but also in the scourge that must make him most gleeful:

killing millions of little babies in abortion.

 

___

Last week, as I watched the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh,

I couldn’t help but think about all this.

First, seeing the horrible pain that Dr. Ford seems to have been through,

the effect of the devil’s turning of the act of love into an act of hate,

and so turning man against woman and woman against man.

 

But then there was also the politicians’ despicable attempts

to aggravate this division by insisting that in every claim of abuse,

we must always “believe the woman”,

no questions, no alternative explanations,

and so never believe anything the man says,

and always presume he’s guilty and should just “shut up,”

even if by all accounts he is one of the finest men you’ll ever know.

Again, the satanic turning of woman against man, absolute distrust,

that goes on to destroy all societal relationships

A destruction that goes right back to the garden of Eden.

 

But even more than all that, I saw the devil’s hand manipulating events,

as politicians continued to abuse this woman,

using her pain as a weapon in their demonic battle to defend

what seems inexplicably most precious to them:

the killing of babies in abortion.

Because that’s what this appointment to the Supreme Court is all about:

for most of us here it was about ending abortion,

and for most of the left it’s about keeping abortion.

 

___

All this, from the scandals in the Church, to the violence on the streets,

to the rise of Marxism in our own country, to terrorism,

to the degradation of marriage and sexuality,

to abortion… all of this is part of Satan’s war on mankind and God.

 

And it can be overwhelming to us, and lead us to despair and to give up.

And wouldn’t the devil like that?

 

But we don’t have to give up.

Because it’s a war against not just man, but against God as well.

And God will not lose, and he will not abandon mankind.

 

If we think about it, Pope Leo’s vision was not just of the coming days,

but really also a vision of the last days:

it sounds a lot like a vision of St. John had in the “Book of Revelation.”

And there, in “Revelation,” just when the devil seems to be winning the war,

something remarkable happens:

“war broke out in heaven:

Michael and his angels fought with the dragon;

and the dragon and his angels …did not prevail

…the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old,

called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…”

 

And so, the story goes, when Pope Leo saw this vision,

he immediately sat down and wrote a prayer,

a prayer he commanded the whole church to pray after almost every Mass.

And that prayer was the Prayer to St. Michael,

that we pray here at St. Raymond’s after every Mass.

 

For some unknown reason, Pope Paul VI lifted that requirement in 1964.

But he didn’t say we couldn’t continue the tradition of Pope Leo it if we want to.

So I have included that prayer at the end of every Mass I’ve offered

during my 22 ½ years as a priest.

 

____

My friends, St. Peter tells us in scripture:

“Be alert and of sober mind.

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion

looking for someone to devour.”

 

So we must not pretend the devil’s not around, or harmless,

or not a thousand times more cunning and manipulative than we are.

That’s not to say that we can blame the devil for all our misfortunes or sins;

it is not true that, “the devil made me do it.”

No, men and women sin and do evil by their own free choosing.

But the devil is always there encouraging it,

and using our sins, coordinating our sins,

to try to destroy us, and to mock God.

 

So, we must, as St. Peter goes on to tell us, “resist him, solid in our faith.”

And we must continually call on the great Prince of the Heavenly Hosts

to defend us in our battle with Satan.

Confident, that by the power of God he will cast him and his minions

into hell forever.

 

___

Now, the name Michael is Hebrew for “who is like God.”

But we’re not sure exactly how to take this.

Catholic tradition tells us that before his fall from heaven

the angel Lucifer was so caught up in his own magnificence

that he did not want to serve, but wanted to be adored like God.

Of course, this which was his great sin, and God cast him out of heaven,

and now calls him the “enemy,” or, in Hebrew, “Satan.”

On the other hand, Michael, in his great humility, did not seek to be adored,

but to rather serve adore and lead others to serve and adore God alone.

 

So we can say, “who is like God?” as a question,

and Michael boldly answers “no one is like God.”

Or we say, “who is like God” as a description,

so that Michael in his humility is, in a way, “like God,”

like Jesus, in his humility.

 

So we not only seek Michael’s protection, but also, we seek to be like him.

First by resolutely fighting with him and his angels against Satan.

But also, by joining him in living life as he does

—humbly loving and serving God and our fellow men.

 

____

St. Michael defends us from Satan,

but perhaps the greatest thing he does for us is lead us to Christ.

And there’s no way he does this more importantly than in the Eucharist.

Many of the great saints have speculated that St. Michael was the angel

“assigned” as the guardian angel of Jesus when he was on earth.

And so the theory goes, after the Ascension, St. Michael was “assigned”

to stay as the guardian angel of Jesus on earth—in the Eucharist.

In fact, some wonder if he is not the angel referred to in the Eucharistic Prayer,

when we pray,

“command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel

to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty…”

In any case, it seems that whether in the tabernacle or on the altar

or in Holy Communion,

St. Michael is right there next to Jesus in the Eucharist,

not merely protecting and guarding him, but adoring him.

Because that is what all angels to first and foremost—they love and adore God.

 

___

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name…”

Today, be aware of the devil and all his minions that seek to harm you.

But do not be afraid.

Call on the gift God has given us to drive away all demons:

St. Michael and his angelic hosts.

And let the great Archangel not only protect you,

but also lead you to Jesus.

And as we join Michael in adoring and worshipping Our Lord

in the most Blessed Sacrament,

may we be open to receive the Eucharist grace, the true power of God,

to join the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts

in loving and serving God and our fellow man as we were created to.

TEXT: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 23, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,there is disorder and every foul practice.”

 

Phrases like this in scripture can be very troubling.

Not so much the thing about jealousy and selfishness,

but that apparent condemnation of “ambition.”

Is ambition wrong, or only “selfish ambition”?

What’s the difference between the two anyway, is there a difference?

Isn’t all ambition, at its root, selfish?

 

____

Actually, ambition in and of itself, is a good thing,

if we understand it as

“the will or desire to succeed or achieve a particular goal or end.”

You want to be all your talents and gifts allow you to be

—to be all you can be, to live up to your fullest potential.

You want your gifts not to be wasted, but to be used to their fullest extent.

You want to give your children the best things you can give them,

especially the best education and spiritual formation.

You want your children to be the very best they can be.

And you want to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
What’s wrong with that?

In fact, isn’t it actually wrong when we don’t want to do those things

—when we don’t want to be the best we can be?

 

Related to this is a humble but an honest assessment of our talents.

The fact is all of us have certain gifts and talents,

and some of you more than the rest of us,

and it’s important we recognize those gifts

—not to feel good about ourselves, or to be prideful,

but how can you use a gift, or be thankful for it,

if you don’t admit you have it?

 

Remember, God is the giver of all gifts, He doesn’t want us to waste them.

Think of the parable of the talents:

the master going on a trip gave his servants different amounts of money,

and to those who invested and grew that money

he rewarded them by giving them more,

but of the one who simply buried the little he’d been given

the master said:

“cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness.”

 

So, in this sense ambition is good and necessary.

But like all good things, it can be corrupted, especially by the passions

—our own selfish desires.

As St. James says today:

“where do the conflicts among you come from?

Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? ”

 

The key problem is selfishness

—placing yourself and your desires first,

thinking not so much of being the best,

but how to best meet your own self-interest,

whether that self-interest is oriented to

your personal pleasure, or to being famous,

or rich, or respected by society, .

“What do I want?…“How do I want to use my gifts.”

This is “selfish ambition,” and it’s directly related to jealousy:

“I want the best for me, and I want the best you have, for me.”

 

____

I’ve said it a million times, now a million-and-one:

God is love, and God created man in his own image, created us to love:

first to love God, and then to love his neighbor,

beginning with spouses, children and parents,

and then, ultimately every single human being.

God created us with a plan, at the pinnacle of a well-ordered world,

to be and live a certain way,

in a world of peace and serenity founded in God’s love and man’s love.

And all the gifts He gives us,

taken together as a whole, or individually as unique persons,

are all ordered to love as well.

So that when we use those gifts in ways contrary to love,

when we are driven by inordinate self-love, “jealousy and selfish ambition,”

everything gets confused, and messed up, as St. James says:

“there is disorder and every foul practice.”

 

But when love of God and our neighbor is our starting point and our goal,

and then we try our very best to use all our gifts to their fullest extent,

in keeping with self-less love

—when ambition becomes not selfish but self-gift

then life becomes more as it should be,

as it was created to be.

So that even in the middle of the disorder all around us,

our lives, and lives we touch, become, as St. James continues:

“peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,

without inconstancy or insincerity.”

 

____

In today’s gospel we read:

“They had been discussing among themselves on the way

who was the greatest.”

Jealousy and selfish ambition, right there among the apostles.

They argued about who was the greatest, but the greatest what?

the greatest martyr? the greatest example of charity?

I don’t think so.

They still hadn’t come to understand what being a disciple was all about.

“No servant is greater than his Master,” Jesus said.

Yet, they all apparently wanted to be masters, not servants,

even though their master had said:

“the Son of man came not to be served but to serve,

and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

And so He would tell them, as we read today:

“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him,

and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”

This was his plan, and His Father’s plan for the salvation of the world,

God’s plan to return things to their proper order,

where one man’s perfect life, and death, in love

–in humble service to the Father and to man–

could bring peace to those who would accept it.

 

_____

This, my friends, was true and perfect ambition:

Not selfish ambition, as Jesus constantly ran away

from those who wanted to make him a worldly king,

so that, as we read today, when he

“began a journey through Galilee,

but he did not wish anyone to know about it.”

His ambition was not even simply to reign in heaven as God, as is just and right.

No, His ambition was to love and serve His Father and us, no matter what it took.

So, as St. Paul’s writes elsewhere:

“…though he was in the form of God,

[Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,

…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death,

even death on a cross.”

And it is in that servanthood that He achieves His ambition,

reconciling man to the love of God.

 

But, as we read today, even after he tried to explain all this to his disciples:

“they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.”

What were they afraid of?

Maybe they remembered what he had told them only days before,

as we read last week:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

take up his cross, and follow me.”

 

Of course, eventually, his apostles came to understand and accept this teaching.

With the exception of Judas,

all of them became true servants of God and their neighbor,

and all but John followed their Master to a martyr’s death.

Making their own the loving and selfless ambition of Christ.

 

_____

All of us should be ambitious to be the best we can be,

to use the gifts God has given us,

whether they are small and humble, or prodigious and phenomenal,

in love for God and neighbor.

Because this is what we were made for

and this is what these gifts were given to us for.

And if this is not our ambition, we will always fall short of our true potential,

never truly be the best we could be.

And our lives will always be marked by “disorder” and “foul practice,”

and never know fully the “purity” and “peace,” the “mercy and good fruits”

God has planned for us.

 

___

Some say, but I pray every day,

asking God to help me be the best I can be, and yet I keep falling short.

But what do we pray to be the best at?

The best lawyer, or scientist, or doctor, or teacher or homemaker

or student or mother or father, or priest?

And how do we keep falling short:

in having fun or pleasure, or making lots of money or being famous

or well thought of by your peers or the public?

 

It’s fine to pray to be the best lawyer, doctor, teacher, homemaker or priest,

but only if we pray to do that as

the best servant of God and neighbor we can possibly be,

To be whatever God in his wisdom has planned and wants us to be,

what He created us to be and do?

Do we even care that we fall short of that constantly.

As St. James tells us today:

“You ask but do not receive,

because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

 

____

Today the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken to us in Sacred Scripture,

just as surely as he spoke to his disciples that day 2000 years ago.

And He comes to us, humbly under the sign of what looks like a piece of bread,

but truly the eternal glorious Word made flesh,

really present here in his crucified and risen body.

His greatest ambition now is to use all His gifts to save all mankind

—to save you and me from sin—

to pour the grace of his Cross into our hearts

and transform our selfish-ambition into selfless-ambition,

to lift us up to be the great men and women he created us to be.

 

But He cannot do this alone—this must be our ambition too.

Will we understand this?

Will we ask Him not for the wrong things, but rather:

“Lord, what is it that you, in your divine and perfect wisdom,

want me to do with these gifts you’ve given me

to serve you and your people?”

Will we ask Him, or will we, like those first disciples, be “afraid to question him”?

 

Friends, hear Him today,

and open your heart to His will and His grace, to His plan for you.

And let there be no more “jealousy and selfish-ambition”

no more “disorder and …foul practice” among us.

But rather open your hearts, and become selflessly ambitious,

to be the best you can be,

to love, and be “the last of all, and the servant of all.”

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

24th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 16, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is the answer every Christian must give

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

Without this, then the rest of the Gospel is useless

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

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

And everything He said and did was useless.

 

But Jesus is the Christ

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

and we can believe in them

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

 

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

is the key to our salvation.

 

___

But is faith all we need?

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

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

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

Maybe you haven’t encountered this directly.

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

the question:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But Luther and his modern day disciples,

believe that there is nothing we can do to be saved

—that Jesus did it all for us on the cross

and He pours the grace of the cross on us today

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

and that belief will save us.

It doesn’t matter what else you do—

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

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

or if you love your neighbor or not

—as long as you believe in Jesus.

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

 

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

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

and by Jesus Himself.

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

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

And Jesus says:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

And so St. James wrote to correct this error.

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

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

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

Even the demons believe–and shudder….

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

 

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

and acknowledge that our works are essential to our salvation.

St. Paul also taught this.

As he went on to write the Romans:

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

…he will give eternal life.

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

there will be wrath and anger.”

 

But most importantly Jesus himself taught this.

 

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

when the rich young man asks him,

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

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

 

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

when a lawyer asked Him:

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

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

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

….soul, …strength, and …mind;

and your neighbor as yourself.”

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

 

He tells us we must do good works:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

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

you did it not to me.’

And they will go away into eternal punishment,

but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

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

For example, Baptism:

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

he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

And of course the Eucharist:

“Truly, truly, I say to you,

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

you have no life in you.”

 

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

 

___

Now some Protestants who follow “sola fide”

counter the idea of the necessity of doing good works

as simply being proof of our faith:

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

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

then, they never really believed in the first place.

 

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

write that he was afraid of losing his salvation

by not doing what he should?

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

but only one receives the prize?

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

lest after preaching to others

I myself should be disqualified.”

 

______

Faith is the key to salvation.

But it is not all there is to salvation.

The key of faith opens the door

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

 

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

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

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

But later on when Peter refuses to believe Jesus

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

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

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

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

And to say we believe in Jesus,

but reject the content of his teaching,

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

whether it’s keeping the commandments,

or loving God and your neighbor,

or being baptized,

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

or following the teachings and discipline

of Peter and his successors, the Popes,

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

 

Jesus goes on to tell us today:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

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

but whoever loses his life for my sake

and that of the gospel will save it.”

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

is the only thing that saves us.

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

even if it means suffering for others,

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

—we cannot live as he lives:

in the eternal and perfect joy and glory of heaven.

 

____

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

believe in Jesus Christ.

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

and do many good works.

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

and between believing and doing.

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

but because God loves us

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

 

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

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

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

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

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 9, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

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

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

new opportunities and freedom.

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

—both because of their foreign habits and accents,

and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.

So many times they had to fend for themselves

—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,

and schools for their children.

 

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

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

and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,

founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,

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

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

—he knew she’d pay when she could.

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

when Mr. Murphy died in a mining accident.

 

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

has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,

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

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

we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions

to the problems of healthcare and poverty,

programs like

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

 

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

they also became very supportive, financially,

of great Catholic charitable institutions

—building a huge system of first class Catholic

hospitals, schools and universities,

and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities

.

 

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics

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

to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,

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

We can be proud of ourselves.

 

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,

and even a loss of true charity.

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

and turning it over to bureaucrats.

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

in government sponsored social welfare programs.

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

which not only inhibits their effectiveness,

but can often also transform charity from an act of love

into an act of cold administration.

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

by directly supporting Catholic organizations,

like the Little Sister of the Poor,

who work with minimal administrative hassle,

and with the loving touch of Christ Himself.

 

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

Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,

or giving a check to the good sisters,

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

 

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:

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

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

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

 

Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?

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

remember the words of the Roman centurion,

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

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

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

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

Why does Jesus go to the man?

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

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

Why does He do all this?

 

There are two basic reasons.

The first is to give us an example of love,

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

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

 

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

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

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

money that seems to perform miracles for people

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

Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where

that money in a way translates into human love,

by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.

But in the end, does it communicate your love?

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

 

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

—its necessary for you also!

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

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

you can never be like Jesus Christ,

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

 

_____

The other reason Jesus personally healed the sick was,

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

and that He had the power of God Himself.

As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:

“Here is your God,…

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,

the ears of the deaf be cleared.”

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

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

Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”

By performing this miracle of love,

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

would now be open to hear Him.

 

One of the problems with sending money

and letting other people do our charitable work

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

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

especially with government social programs.

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

much less explain that the love of Christ

is the reason they’re doing their job.

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

we sadly read all too often some otherwise good Catholic organization

is giving funds to abortion providers,

taking Christ completely out of their work with that.

 

_____

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,

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

You are his hands, you are his fingers.

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

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

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

 

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

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

–although neither is a bad idea.

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

your life, you must do so.

Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,

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

 

Sometimes this is in small things:

maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,

so you stop to tell them a joke;

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

Sometimes its’ in larger matters:

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

so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;

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

and you let his family live in the basement apartment

your parents used to live in.

 

_____

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

especially in America.

I hope that you will continue that great tradition.

But not simply by writing checks to Catholic charitable institutions.

But first and foremost by giving yourself:

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

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

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

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

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