TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

3rd Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s first reading tells us how in the months following

the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus,

the Apostles were arrested for preaching the Gospel.

As I think about this, what strikes me most strongly about the apostles’ attitude,

after their abiding faith, is their amazing courage.

 

But their courage isn’t expressed in the way we usually think of it

–they didn’t pick up weapons and fight the soldiers,

or try to cleverly argue in the courts.

Instead we find that they went meekly before the Sanhedrin,

just as Christ meekly accepted His sentence

by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.

Like sheep led to the slaughter.

 

Now, when the situation required it, the apostle’s courage did lead them

to fight to defend themselves—not with swords, but with truth and wisdom.

In fact, in today’s Gospel they do a little of that, saying,

“We must listen to God, not men.”

But also see in the reading the greatest example of their courage as Christians

was becoming what Jesus called them to be:

like little children, or, as meek as lambs or sheep.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells St. Peter to: “Feed” and “tend my sheep.”

It is as sheep that Christ calls us to follow Him.

And so it is that one of the earliest paintings of Christ

is found in the Roman catacombs of the Christian martyrs,

where He is pictured as a Shepherd carrying his little lamb on his shoulders.

 

To follow Christ is to be like Christ–to share His life.

And so today’s 2nd reading from the book of Revelation tells us of a vision

of those who are already in heaven, saved by “”the Lamb that was slain.”

So we see Christ as THE Lamb, the lamb of sacrifice.

Salvation comes only when Christ becomes a lamb before His heavenly father:

as we read the words of Isaiah on Good Friday:

“Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers,

he was silent and opened not his mouth.”

Hearing the voice of his Father and following it: “not my will, but yours be done.”

So by laying down His life as the Lamb of God,

Christ the Lamb becomes Christ the Shepherd.

As the book of Revelation goes on to say:

“the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them.”

 

To follow Christ, then, we must be like lambs or sheep,

in part because he is a lamb.

Sometimes we find it difficult to think of ourselves as sheep.

On the one hand, the idea of being gentle little lambs

that Jesus will always take care of is a comforting thought.

But what can disturb us is that sheep, generally speaking, are pretty stupid animals.

They follow their masters voice without question.

 

Now, Christ does not call us to be stupid:

in the garden of Gethsemane Christ was not being stupid.

Christ made a free intelligent choice,

a wise choice to hand over His will to His Father in love.

And Christ calls us to be like Him:

to intelligently and wisely choose to listen to Him and follow Him,

but to do so with absolute trust at every moment

and in every action of our lives.

 

But how do we know if we are truly following the voice of Christ the Shepherd?

In the book of Jeremiah God promised:

“I will give you shepherds after my own hearts.”

And Jesus did give us such shepherds,

Christ commissioned St. Peter to be a shepherd with Him, commanding Peter,

“Feed my sheep.”

And elsewhere Christ tells His apostles: “He who hears you, hears me.”

 

In Latin the word “shepherd” is “Pastor.”

And so from the earliest times

listening to the Shepherds or “Pastors” of the Church

has been the yardstick to measure whether a Christian

is hearing the voice of Christ the Shepherd, and following Him.

 

But it must be remembered that just as Christ the Shepherd is first the Lamb of God,

in a similar way pastors of the Church must first be lambs of Christ.

To be true shepherds of his flock–to feed  his sheep—

a priest must follow only him and listen only to his voice

and in turn be his voice to his sheep.

Just as he did, they must proclaim good news of the love and mercy of God,

the resurrection, and the promise of everlasting life.

But they must also proclaim the hard news,

including the hard sayings about the Cross,

repentance from sin and everlasting death.

 

And as the Pastors preach,

the sheep must hear the voice of Christ the Shepherd, and follow him.

 

We must receive his word like lambs:

not like the leaders of the Jews in today’s first reading,

that arrested Peter and the apostles,

or like the Romans who put Peter to death in Rome,

but like the saints in heaven, described in today’s second reading

who sang, “to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might,

forever and ever.”

and then, “fell down and worshiped.”

 

____

Now, this can sometimes present a problem:

sometimes different priests, and even bishops,

preach very different things from each other.

What’s happened here is that some pastors refuse to be lambs,

and follow the voice of Christ the Shepherd’s voice.

Instead, they listen to another voice:

perhaps the voice of their own pride or fear,

or perhaps the voice of popular ideas,

or even the voice of the Father of lies.

 

It’s unfortunate, but very often we have to ask the question,

which pastor do you believe?

To this I  can only say:

listen to the pastor who is repeating what Christ and his pastors

have always taught.

So we look to Sacred Scripture

which was inspired by the Holy Spirit

and written down by the human hands of the first pastors of the Church,

and to the Sacred Tradition that has constantly and officially taught

by their successors, especially the chief shepherds of the Church,

the successors of St. Peter, the popes.

 

But that’s not all we do.

We also, very importantly, listen to God in prayer,

never taking prayer as a new source of God’s revelation,

but asking the Christ the Shepherd to lead us

to an ever deeper understanding of the words He has given us

through Scripture, Tradition, and the preaching of our pastors.

Praying that we may be His sheep, listening to His voice and following Him.

And also in prayer, praying for our pastors, that they may also be His sheep,

before they try to be our shepherds.

 

____

From the earliest days of the Church the image of Christ the Shepherd

was precious to those who had to courageously sacrifice their lives

because they believed in Him.

As we approach the altar of sacrifice let us remember that to be our Shepherd,

Jesus first had to be the Lamb of God, “the Lamb who was slain” for us.

And let us remember that to be like Him, to share His life,

we must become lambs also:

laying down our lives, hearing His voice and following Him.

TEXT: Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 21, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Tonight/today we celebrate the most important day in history.

Because today we celebrate the historical fact that 2000 years ago

the man known as Jesus of Nazareth,

who had been killed by the leaders of Romans and the Jews

on a Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday.

And He didn’t rise like one of the walking dead or a vampire,

but in a real living body marked by His suffering and Cross,

and perfected and glorified by His Resurrection.

And not only did He rise, He lives now forever, with His body,

at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

 

Now, we believe this to be an historic fact, not a private whimsy.

To be sure, it is a matter of personal faith

—we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But it is not merely personal faith—it either happened or it didn’t.

 

If it did NOT happen, then all of us here are well-meaning,

but mistaken, and more or less wasting our time here today.

And to the extent we allow our faith in the resurrection

to effect the rest of our lives, we waste that effort too.

 

But if it DID happen…

What should that mean for us? and for the world?

If it is true, it was the most incredible and important event ever,

and the world and time and all people

should literally revolve around that event.

It should clarify once and for all what it means to be a human being.

And it would testify to the truth of all the things

Jesus of Nazareth taught in His lifetime,

and set those up as the foundational principles of all good human living.

 

Think of it.

It would mean that there really is a God who made us just to love us,

and so we could love Him and our neighbor.

That He loved us so much He really did send His only begotten, co-eternal Son,

into the world to destroy sin by His suffering and death on the Cross.

And that Divine Son really did strip Himself of His heavenly glory

to become a human being, just like you and me in all things, but sin.

 

It would mean He is looking for you,

like a Good shepherd searches for his one lost sheep.

That He calls all who are weary and find life burdensome to come to him,

and He will give you rest.

That He loves His people with all His heart, like a bridegroom loves his new bride.

 

It would mean He loves you personally—it was He who chose you.

That if you believe in Him, even though you die, you will live.

That He has gone before you to prepare a place for you

in His Father’s heavenly house.

 

But it would also mean that “unless you turn and become like children,”

and “unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit,”

and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood,”

“you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”

 

It also means that “if we love Him” and if we want to “inherit eternal life” with Him,

we must:

“keep the commandments…

You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …

Honor your father and mother,”

and “keep holy the Sabbath”

It would mean:

“that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”,

and “that every one who looks at a woman with lust

commits adultery with her in his heart.”

 

And while all this sometimes seems impossible,

if Christ is truly risen from the dead, then it must be true that

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

And that He told us all this so that:

“[his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

 

Imagine if Jesus really did rise from the dead.

It would mean that He established Simon Peter as the Rock

on which He built His Church,

giving Him the keys to the kingdom of heaven,

and promising the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

And that, as He prayed at the Last Supper,

all might be one with Him in that one Church with Peter.

 

Imagine….

…if Jesus Christ really did, in time and history,

rise from the dead and open to us the gates of paradise….

wouldn’t that make today

the most joyful glorious day of the year?

 

But wouldn’t that mean we’d have to change a lot of the way we live?

 

Some say, well, it’s just what I believe, not what I know to be true.

Friends, I do not know how man ever landed on the moon.

And I don’t even know for a fact that man ever did land on the moon.

But I believe it to be true.

Partly because I’ve heard and read about it;

partly because I have confidence in the people who told me about it.

Heck, I believe it partly because so many other people seem to believe it,

and I believe it though there are, apparently,

a lot of people around the world who do not believe it.

But I believe, even though I don’t know it perfectly as an eyewitness.

 

Regardless of how we came to believe, if we believe in the Resurrection

we believe that it is a fact, not a myth,

historical not whimsical,

real not hypothetical.

 

And if we believe it really happened, why don’t we act like it really happened?

Sure, tonight/today we do, at least for a couple of hours.

But what about tomorrow and the rest of the year?

Why don’t we act like Jesus

has realigned everything man understands and lives for,

that we understand and live for?

 

And why are we so timid to talk about it with others?

Why do we act like it’s some sort of fairy tale we should be ashamed of?

 

Alright, maybe it is a little hard for some to believe

—but if you believe it why can’t they?

I mean, after all, if it’s true, it’s the best news they’ll ever hear—

it will bring them happiness and peace they’ve never known to be possible,

yet have been searching for all their lives.

 

Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll lose a friend.

So what?

Maybe you’ll change their lives and you’ll gain the best friend you ever had!

 

Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe as much as we think we do.

But why not, when Christ has done all He has for us?

Think of all the times you’ve prayed to Him and He’s come to your aid.

Think of the times you’ve gone crying to His side, and He gave you peace.

The times you prayed for a miracle and—voila–it happened.

 

Then again, maybe you don’t recall these things happening in your life.

Maybe you haven’t had the experience of Christ

that you wish you could have.

Or maybe you don’t understand or know much about Him

—or maybe you don’t agree with some of the things the Church

says about Him.

Okay.

Then let’s change that.

Don’t settle for lukewarm Catholicism—who would want that?

Certainly not Christ, who said if we were lukewarm He would “spit us out.”

 

[In tomorrow’s Gospel, St. John tells us that He didn’t understand]

[Today, St. John tells us in his Gospel that he didn’t understand]

what Jesus had meant when He had told them

He would rise on the third day;

John didn’t understand until he saw the empty tomb

—notice, not the risen body, just the empty tomb.

But when he sees the empty tomb: “he saw and believed.”

 

We also read that St. Mary Magdalene,

didn’t believe at first either.

Scripture tells us:

“she ran and …told them,

‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb,

and we don’t know where they put Him.’”

But if we read on in the next few verses

we see that Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb

and after awhile saw a man there she thought was a gardener.

So she said to him: “Sir, if you carried him away,

tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
And then:

“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” …Teacher.”

And she believed.

 

Here are 2 of Jesus’ most devout followers.

And yet at first they didn’t believe.

But when John opened his eyes to what Jesus had told him,

“he saw and believed.”

And when Magdalene finally asked Jesus

He called out to her, and she believed.

 

Some today would like to think that belief in Christ and His resurrection

and the effect they have on individual lives is coming to an end.

But we know otherwise.

You are here because you believe.

Maybe not as fervently as you should or would like to.

Maybe you don’t allow that belief to permeate your life,

to change the way you live.

Maybe you don’t share your faith with others nearly enough.

But you believe, or you wouldn’t be here.

You believe, even as you want to believe even more deeply.

 

Tonight/Today, hear our Risen Lord calling out to in His word,

and in whatever truth resonates in my words.

See Him in the believers assembled here today

members of His Church, united with millions more throughout the world.

And see Him most especially in His body and blood in the Eucharist.

Hear. See. And believe.

 

And may your faith and the joy and the power of the Risen Christ

change your life today,

tomorrow and in eternity.

TEXT: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 18, 2019

Thursday of the Lord’s Supper

April  18, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Last Monday we looked on in stunned sorrow

at images of the fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris.

As I saw the grand spire topple to the ground, my heart dropped with it.

 

Most of the civilized world, certainly most Westerners and Christians,

were at least saddened if not deeply moved by the loss

of this 850-year-old great wonder of art and architecture.

 

But as I have listened to and read reactions

from people around the world, especially the French themselves,

it seems most people really don’t understand what we’ve lost.

French President Macron vows to rebuild in 5 years,

but it seems he doesn’t really understand what it is he’s seeking to rebuild.

 

Because Notre Dame is not merely a stunning accomplishment of human genius,

nor is it merely an historical architectural artifact,

nor is it a merely grand monument to the glories and tragedies

of French and European history.

 

Rather, Notre Dame was built as an expression of deep faith in and love for

Jesus Christ.

It is a love poem, in wood and stone, to God and to His mother,

poured out in the sweat and blood of thousands of French craftsmen,

sons and daughters of the eldest daughter of the Church,

Catholic France.

And most specifically, it is an articulation of their Catholic faith and understanding

of the magnificence, beauty and splendor

of what we have gathered here this evening to celebrate: the Eucharist.

A temple built with human hands and minds,

but more than that, with human faith and divine grace.

 

____

Of course, the first Eucharist was not celebrated

in such magnificent surroundings,

or with hardly any such outward expression of faith and understanding.

It was, in fact, a very simple affair, at least outwardly.

But don’t ever let that fool you.

Because if we step back and look at it we see something entirely different.

 

Think of it.

There were present all 12 of the first apostles,

11 of whom would be destined to be

the very foundational pillars of the Church,

to sit on thrones before the throne of God in heaven,

as Jesus Himself tells us.

 

And of course, the priest of the first Mass

was none other than Jesus Christ Himself,

God the Son, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World.

And there He offered Himself to the Father

in the supreme sacrifice that was the salvation of the world,

as He miraculously made present the very sacrifice

of His own body on the Cross,

taken out of time from the next day, Good Friday,

and placed on that table of the last supper on Holy Thursday.

His sacrifice of love beyond all telling.

love or us and for the Father.

His death paying for our sins and the sins of all mankind,

from Adam and Eve until the end of time.

On that table.

 

And so what happened that night would

have seemed, to the eye of man, to be pretty simple,

but to the eyes of the angels, it was more glorious

than all the most magnificent cathedrals in the world combined.

 

___

Now, the outward simplicity was completely in keeping

with the one who was in charge: Jesus.

Because Jesus never sought to glorify Himself outwardly.

Even though He saw it as right and just that others do that.

For example, at the transfiguration, He allowed Peter, James and John

to fall on their faces before Him.

And just 6 days before the Last Supper, He allowed Mary Magdalene

to anoint His feet with oil that today would cost $45,000,

and Jesus said of this:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me…”

 

___

But the outward simplicity of the first Mass might have contributed

to the misunderstanding of what was really happening

—misunderstanding by many in and out of the Church

for the last 2000 years,

but that began that night.

For clearly, although Jesus knew exactly what He was doing,

the Apostles seemed to barely understand at all.

Jesus had told them that He would give them His body as bread

for the life of the world,

and that it unless they ate His body and drank His blood

they would not have life within them.

So they probably had some idea, and some faith.

But it clearly was woefully incomplete.

 

Because instead of them falling on their faces in adoration,

as at the transfiguration,

now there’s not a word of them even acknowledging what He’d done.

And just moments after they received First Holy Communion,

Judas left to sell Jesus to the High Priest,

and over the next 3 to 6 hours,

Peter would deny he even knew Jesus,

and 9 others would abandon Him.

So much for their faith in Jesus and the Eucharist.

 

___

Of course, after the Resurrection, all that changed.

Then they understood not only the meaning of

His Passion, Death and Resurrection,

but also the entirety of His gospel,

including the ineffable gift of the Eucharist.

So that the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first Christians

devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”

And as we read in today’s second reading,

St. Paul tells us the established belief of the early Church that:

“as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,

you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

 

____

For next 3 centuries poverty and persecution would force Christians

to continue offering the Mass with few outward displays of grandeur,

But once the persecutions stopped we quickly saw

the development of rich and elaborate liturgies,

as well as the dedication and building of beautiful churches

in which to celebrate.

In fact in 313, the year the persecution of Christians ended in the Roman Empire,

the palace of the rich Laterani family was given to the Christians

to be used as church,

which today is the Cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran.

 

And over the centuries, as the Church’s understanding

of the richness of the Eucharist continued to grow and deepen,

so did her churches become more and more beautiful,

as did the vessels, vestments, music and liturgies.

 

____

Sadly, though, just as there were sinful men at the Last Supper,

there are always sinful men in the Church and at Mass.

So, sometimes, while the external beauty of the Mass remains,

the interior lives of the faithful fades.

 

And that leads to two terrible problems.

 

First, to some who lack interior understanding or faith,

the beautiful churches and liturgies become meaningless,

and so they try to redo them to appeal to their confused or faithless hearts.

And so we see once beautiful churches gutted and redecorated

to look like modern theaters,

and once-splendorous liturgies rewritten to be more entertaining

to the weak in faith.

 

And second,

much like a church where the façade remains beautiful,

while the hidden wooden beams and girders decay and rot,

in the same way sometimes the Catholics

that externally hold themselves out to appear most holy,

especially some priests, bishops and cardinals,

internally have little or no faith or true love for Christ,

much less His Blessed Sacrament.

And when the fire of the devil’s temptations comes

it quickly engulfs and destroys the rotted timbers of their souls.

 

_____

And so the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral reminds us

of what we can so easily lose sight of: the Glory of the Eucharist.

But it also reminds of the second sacrament Jesus instituted that same night

at the Last Supper: the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priesthood.

Just as with the Eucharist, this great sacrament of the priesthood

was also not fully appreciated that night:

the 11 apostles who betrayed, denied, or abandoned Jesus

after the first Mass

were all newly ordained priests.

But they did not understand that

He had not only given them custody of the Most Blessed Sacrament,

but also that He had ordained them to be His personal representative

to the world, to stand in for Him, in persona Christi.

And so they did not understand that like Him,

they must not merely wash other’s feet,

but live a life of sacrificial service united to Him

who came not to be served but to serve

and to give His life on the Cross as a ransom for many.

So that when a priest says, “this is my body which will be given up for you,”

while he is above all saying the words of Eucharistic consecration,

he is also stating the pattern Christ calls the priest to live out

in his own body, every day, giving up his own body for the Church,

in union with His Crucified Lord.

 

____

But, again, after the Resurrection,

the Church came to understand, appreciate and embrace

the great gift Jesus had left them in the sacrament of priesthood.

So history tells us that the 11 faithful apostles went on

to give their whole lives for Christ,

first proclaiming the gospel untiringly,

and then being martyred or imprisoned for love of Jesus.

And we read that the people too understood the gift,

as the Acts of the Apostles tells us that just as the early church

devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”

they also , “devoted themselves to…the teaching of the apostles.”

 

And as the years passed, we saw the outward signs of appreciation

of the sacrament of priesthood grow.

We saw Christians begin to call their priests “Father” and “Reverend.”

And we saw priests celebrating Mass wearing beautiful vestments

not to adorn themselves,

but to adorn the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the Eucharist.

 

But, again, just as with a beautiful church, and with the Eucharist,

too often the interior is neglected,

and like 11 of the 12 apostles, newly ordained as priests,

too often priests bishops and cardinals betray, deny and abandon Christ.

 

_____

All this, we remember tonight, at this Mass.

We remember the night Jesus gave us the awesome gifts

of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

But we also remember the lack of faith and understanding of these gifts

that all of us, in large ways or small, show all too often.

 

Tonight, as we prepare to commemorate

the Lord Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross on Good Friday,

on this Holy Thursday, we stand in awe of love

Jesus reveals in His crucified Body and pours out in His Precious Blood.

And we are overwhelmed that He would allow us to share in this love

at this and every Mass:

to stand at the foot of His Cross,

to participate in His salvific sacrifice of the New Covenant,

through the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

 

Let accept the grace God gives us tonight

to always understand and believe in these sacraments,

and appreciate them as precious treasures of our salvation.

May we continue to give Our Lord Jesus beautiful outward signs

of devotion, adoration and worship of Himself

truly present in the Blessed Sacrament

whether they be beautiful churches, like Notre Dame or our very own,

or beautiful vestments, vessels, liturgies, hymns, prayers and gestures.

But above all, let us always accept the grace Jesus gives us in the sacraments,

so that even the most beautiful of these outward signs

will only be as so much wood and stone compared to

the beauty of the true and profound devotion and faith and love that

that Our Lord sees inside our hearts.

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

5th  Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

One of the most important figures in the Gospels

is a great saint most people don’t think about very much,

and if they do, many have a very confused understanding of her.

But hopefully you know the truth about her, since she’s my favorite saint,

and I talk about her quite frequently: St. Mary Magdalene.

 

I say she’s important because, for example,

she’s mentioned by name more often in the Gospels

than most of the Apostles,

she was at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother,

when all the Apostles but St. John weren’t,

and, of course she was the first to see the Risen Christ on Easter,

and He sent her to tell the news to the Apostles.

For this, the Church sometimes calls her, “the apostle to the Apostles.”

 

Sadly, if you read a lot of modern so-called scholars,

you might think that she was actually even more important than that

—that she was actually an Apostle herself,

and some even say, bizarrely, that she was actually Jesus’ wife.

She was important, but not that important: those are lies, or sloppy scholarship.

 

____

Now, there is clearly more to the life story of the Magdalene

than what’s explicitly in the Bible.

In fact, in the Catholic tradition the story of Mary Magdalene

has always been commonly thought to include the story

of the woman Scripture calls the “sinful woman,”

the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears

at the home of Simon the Pharisee—that was the Magdalene.

Tradition also considers Magdalene

to be the same person known as “Mary of Bethany”

—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

But unlike other modern portrayals of Magdalene,

all this Catholic tradition is based on or at least consistent with Sacred Scripture,

and handed down by centuries of faithful Catholic scholars and saints.

 

____

The thing is, there is also an ancient Catholic tradition, less widely accepted,

but reasonable and pretty widespread,

that the woman in today’s Gospel— “the woman caught in adultery”—

is also Mary Magdalene.

 

But this ancient tradition poses a problem for some people today.

For some, it’s a problem because it’s not explicitly in Scripture.

To them I say, “relax,” because we Catholics, along with most secular scholars,

have a long history of respecting oral and extra-biblical traditions,

as long as they come from credible sources,

and don’t contradict the teachings of Scripture or the Church.

 

But to others, this tradition proposes a completely different and huge problem.

They say that portraying Magdalene as a sinner

demeans her and deprives her of her rightful high stature in the Church.

The really radical ones claim

that this is a prime example of the anti-woman male-dominated Church,

trying to oppress all women by portraying the heroines of Christ’s life

in some sort of negative light.

 

___

These people couldn’t be more wrong.

Jesus tells us:

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And of the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears He says:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

Anyone who thinks that calling a Christian a “repentant sinner”

is an insult or degrading, misses the whole point of the entire Gospel.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”

For me, to say that the Magdalene was a terrible sinner,

but a sinner who has been forgiven and repented and reformed

and loved the Lord so much that His death seems to crush her with grief

–to say this is to give the greatest praise,

and recount the most noble achievement.

Magdalene, especially understood as the adulterous woman in today’s gospel,

is the ultimate rags to riches story:

from terrible sinner to magnificent saint,

from the depths of despair and wretchedness

to the heights of sublime and perfect bliss

.

 

To repent and be saved—that’s not demeaning, it’s exalting.

And it’s the center of the life and the love of Jesus—

the reason and meaning of His suffering and death and resurrection.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

“he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;

….and with his wounds we are healed…”

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die,

and all because He loved and wanted to save sinners.

 

____

The woman in today’s Gospel stands condemned

by God’s law, called Law of Moses

—and under that Law she deserves to be stoned.

And Jesus, God the Son, knew that law very well:

1300 years before His Incarnation in the womb of Mary,

it was He, the Eternal Word of God, who gave that Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

 

But Jesus surprises the crowd, in the way he applies that law

by doing exactly what his Father sent him into the world to do:

“not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Some people think that this means that Jesus rejects the old Law,

or even all notions of sin and punishment.

If that’s the case, you can see why they can’t understand why

Magdalene’s sins can be important to Christians.

Of course they forget Jesus makes it very clear elsewhere in the Gospel

that he’s going to come back some day to judge the living and the dead,

and then he will condemn unrepentant sinners, as he says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory

…Then he will say to those at his left,

….depart from me into the eternal fire…”

 

In today’s gospel Jesus does not deny this woman’s sin, or her guilt,

or even that she deserves punishment.

He simply gives her a second chance—it’s not time for him to condemn, yet:

he wants to save her.

But it is time for her to repent, so he commands her: “go and sin no more.”

 

____

And if you notice: Jesus doesn’t actually say, “your sins are forgiven.”

He just tells her he doesn’t “condemn” her—or pass final judgment on her—

and to stop sinning.

In other words, “repent.”

It seems to me, that Jesus knows she’s not completely sorry for her sins—yet.

She’s not ready to repent: right now she’s in shock,

and overwhelmed by Jesus’ mercy.

 

And so she leaves and ponders his instructions: “go and sin no more.”

To me, this is part one of the story completed later in part two

when she comes back as the so called “sinful woman”

and approaches Jesus at Simon’s house

and falls at his feet, washing them with her tears.

She wasn’t ready in today’s gospel, but when she comes back later,

then she’s ready, and her tears tell us what words cannot

of the depth of her sorrow for her sins.

And then, after she has so lovingly and heartfeltly repented,

Jesus not only forgives her, but he praises her:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

____

It seems to me that we need this story, and the great figure of St. Mary Magdalene,

penitent saint, now more than ever.

In the end, those who want to rewrite the Gospels

actually want to glorify women by what they call “liberating their sexuality.”

But sexual liberation has been tried for over 50 years

and it’s led not to the enhancement or liberation of women,

but to their further enslavement to the lusts of men,

and to the myopic expectations of radical feminist ideologues.

Just look around at the explosion of

pornography, contraception, abortion, and divorce,

not to mention out-of-wedlock births and the poverty that comes with them.

Who are the ones who suffer the most as a result of all this?

Women!

 

__

Jesus Christ is the only true liberator of women, their only Savior.

He is the Savior of the woman caught in adultery, the Magdalene,

and every single woman before and since

who has been burdened by the weight of sin

—either their own sin, or the sins of others against them.

What a glorious promise to women weighed down

with the guilt of a past abortion.

What a sign of hope to the women today who are told over and over

that careers are more important than loving babies or husbands.

What a blessing to a young woman

who thinks she has to torture or demean herself

to look like a supermodel or a porn star,

so that some undeserving man will love her.

Now, more than ever, women need to know that Christ loves them,

and can make all things new.

 

­­­____

But of course, this story isn’t just about women, or sex.

Jesus also tells the men who brought her to Him

“let he among you without sin, cast the first stone.”
Ultimately, this story is about all of us: men, women, boys, girls

–none of us is “without sin.”

Whether our sin is adultery and lust in its many forms,

or the sin of pride, or avarice, envy, anger, gluttony, or sloth,

or the sin of self-righteousness.

Whether we sin in large ways, or small ways.

Whether we’ve been caught in the act, or hide our sins in secret.

We are all sinners—and Christ is speaking to us.

 

And He invites us, especially during this season of Lent,

like the woman caught in adultery,

first, to be dramatically confronted by our sins

and the fact that they are worthy of punishment,

and then, to recognize that Christ wants to save us from all that!

If only we will mourn our sins, and repent, and change

and accept his love and love him in return, from the depths of our hearts,

like the repentant Magdalene washing his feet with her tears,

who, even though “her sins… [were] many,” was “forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

____

As we enter this Passiontide, these last days of Lent,

let us walk hand in hand with the great Saint Mary Magdalene,

and let us kneel with her, once again weeping at Jesus’ feet,

but this time as he hangs upon the Cross.

And let us ask her to teach us what these days are all about.

And through her example and intercession,

let us discover that there is no greater privilege or honor in heaven or earth,

than to be a repentant and forgiven sinner.

And there is no greater blessing than to be made new

by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

poured out from the wounds of his suffering and death.

And there are no more sublime or loving words

than the words Jesus once said to Magdalen, and today says to all of us:

“neither do I condemn you…go, and sin no more.”