TEXT: Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Sunday June 24, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 24, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

It’s a very unusual feast.

Usually when a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday

we basically skip over it to celebrate the regular Sunday Mass

—the Lord’s Day.

Also, there are only 3 nativities—or birthdays—we celebrate:

Christmas, Mary’s Birthday, and this one.

Very unusual.

But we do this because St. John is a truly unique figure in salvation history.

He is the last of the Old Testament prophets

and the first of the New Testament

—a sign of the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in Christ and His Church.

 

And he’s also the first public disciple of Christ,

and so a model of Christian discipleship,

reminding us that every Christian is called

to proclaim Christ and His Gospel to the world we live in,

even, if it means martyrdom, as it did with St. John.

 

Given that, it seems extremely providential that this year

his feast falls on the Sunday of Religious Freedom Week

—the week from June 22 to June 29,

that the American Bishops have asked us to set aside

as a period of concerted prayer and penance

for the defense of the Religious Liberty.

 

___

We are in an unprecedented moment in the history of our nation,

which was founded on the principle:

“that all men are …endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable Rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

and who’s Constitution goes on to specify

the most important of these rights,

in its Bill of Rights, in order to guarantee them.

 

And the very first right it specifically guaranties is Religious liberty:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

 

For 229 years the definition of “the free exercise of religion”

has been interpreted very broadly,

and whenever anyone tried to narrow that definition

either the congress, the courts or the president

eventually stepped in to slap it down.

But in recent years the federal and state governments,

have tried to narrow the definition to extreme extents.

 

Take as an example the case of the Colorado Baker

who refused to make a wedding cake for a so-called “same sex marriage,” on the grounds that it was contrary to his Christian faith.

The State of Colorado found him guilty of illegal discrimination,

and ruled that the so-called “gay rights” of the same-sex couple

were more important than the Baker’s religious beliefs.

 

Thank goodness the Supreme Court just overturned the state’s ruling,

but it did so on a very narrow finding that the State

had exercised a specific bias against the religious beliefs of the Baker.

In other words, the Supreme Court didn’t insist,

as the constitution does, that you,

“shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise …” of “religion”’.

Instead, they just said, ‘the state can’t show a bias against religion,’

as they clearly did when they, the Colorado officials, had said things like,

“freedom of religion has been used

to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history,

whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”

 

But that means that the Court left open the question

of whether the “right to gay-marry” can outweigh the freedom of religion.

 

___

Even so, a win is a win.

But it also means we still have a fight on our hands going forward.

 

Thank goodness we now have a president, love him or hate him,

who is trying to defend our religious liberty,

appointing a strong pro-religious liberty Justice to the Supreme Court,

and overturning the prior president’s anti-religious liberty policies,

especially in health insurance and education.

 

But a lot of folks out there,

including many congressmen, judges and state and school board members,

continue to try to demote “religious liberty” to sort of a 2nd class liberty.

Even though 229 years ago our founders

refused to approve our Constitution unless it specifically guaranteed

the fundament right to religious liberty,

these government officials today believe that it is easily overridden

by a very recently invented liberty,

not found even in the craziest of nightmares of the founders.

 

This newly minted liberty usually goes by various nice sounding names,

like “the right to privacy” or “to choose.”

But ultimately, the underlying liberty being pursued

is simply “sexual liberty”:

—the right do whatever, you want,

however, whenever and with whomever you want.

In the end, the so-called rights to contraception, abortion, and “gay marriage”

flow from this.

Rights which our founding fathers would have called not “liberty” but “libertinism,”

which they unanimously condemned.

 

____

2000 years ago huge crowds came out to listen to John the Baptist preach.

One of the people who scripture says, “liked to listen to him,” was King Herod.

But eventually St. John offended Herod when he publicly accused him of adultery.

And so, Herod beheaded St. John.

 

Even 2000 years ago, sexual libertinism overrode religious liberty.

 

__

Something similar happened in the 16th century,

with another king and another saint.

The king was Henry VIII of England,

who had also gotten caught up in sexual libertinism

and wanted to divorce his wife in order to marry his mistress.

And the saint was St. Thomas More,

whose feast we celebrated 2 days ago on Friday.

Thomas, a layman, was known throughout Europe

as one of the most brilliant of scholars, and greatest lawyers.

Like John the Baptist, he was also very popular:

people used to love to read his books,

or to come to listen to his arguments in court or Parliament.

And like Herod, King Henry also liked to listen to him

—in fact, Thomas was one his most trusted friends and counselors.

But then Thomas got in the way of Henry’s sexual liberty,

opposing his divorce and adultery,

and then his oppression of the Church when it refused the divorce.

 

___

And now we have the same problem with so many government officials today.

But this time it’s not the personal problems of individual officials,

but it is their adamantly held position

that sexual liberty overrides everything else.

From states trying to force Christian florists and bakers

to participate in gay weddings,

to school boards deciding that clergy are no longer “trusted adults”

that children should talk to about their sexuality.

And don’t forget how Obamacare threatened to stop the Little Sister of the Poor

from taking care of our poor senior citizens

if they refused to pay for employee insurances providing for

contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

 

____

None of this bodes well for Catholicism and Christianity in America.

Combine this with years of accusations that the Church “demeans women”

and “hates” homosexuals,

and we see a frightening pattern.

If religious liberty is overridden by absolute sexual liberty,

and if Christians can be portrayed as truly demeaning and hateful,

they’ll have every excuse they need to pursue even further oppression

of Christians, especially faithful Catholics.

 

And remember, right after the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom

it immediately goes on to guarantee

freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly.

If sexual liberty can override the first liberty of the first amendment,

that means it will soon override those liberties as well.

And then how far off is the day when priests

won’t have the freedom to speak about Catholic morality,

even inside our own churches?

And how soon before Catholic parents will lose the freedom

to speak about it to their own children in their own homes?

How soon before governments close your churches, arrest your priests,

or take your children from your homes because you’re not fit to be parents.

 

It can’t happen here, right?

Tell that to the Supreme Court who in 2015 wrote that

the reason states had outlawed same sex “marriage was, [quote]:

“to disparage and to injure” homosexuals.

If the Court sees opposition to “same sex marriage” as an attempt to “injure,”

and if sexual liberty overrides religious liberty,

wouldn’t the next logical step be to do something

to stop Churches from “injuring” homosexuals?

 

___

We must defend and fight for our religious liberty.

And the fight is winnable.

Yes, St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More were beheaded,

but sometimes a we find a happier outcome.

 

In the year 1293 the 93-year-old St. Raymond of Peñafort

was invited by King James I of Spain to join him on a trip to Majorca,

an island off the coast of Spain that the King had recently recaptured

from the Moors, or Muslims.

Like Herod and St. John,

King James liked to listen to St. Raymond preach,

and like Henry VIII and St. Thomas,

King James was actually a pretty good Catholic

and a close friend of St. Raymond.

But there was a problem: like King Herod and King Henry,

sometimes King James let his sexual appetite get the best of him.

And when St. Raymond arrived in Majorca to preach

he discovered that King James had brought his mistress along.

The Saint begged and pleaded and exhorted the King

to repent and send her away, but the King refused.

 

So in response, Raymond announced he was leaving Majorca

and going back to Spain immediately.

The problem was, they were on and island,

and the King threatened to jail anyone who allowed Raymond board a ship.

 

But Raymond was undaunted: he simply walked down to the beach,

said a prayer,

took off the large Dominican cape,

stepped on one end and held the other end out to catch the wind.

And off he went out across the water, sailing 160 miles back to Spain

using his cape as both his skiff and his sail.

And hundreds of eyewitnesses testified to the fact—both in Majorca and Spain.

 

And the king repented, sent his girlfriend away and went back to his wife.

 

____

Sometimes we seem to win, sometimes we seem to lose.

Sometimes we make a convert, sometimes WE are made a martyr.

 

But all of us must fight for religious liberty.

 

Not a war against persons,

but a war against religious oppression, and false notions of liberty.

And not with violence or hate, but with reason and love,

even for our enemies.

The only swords we will wield are the swords of truth and the Word of God,

and our most important weapon will be simple but constant prayer.

 

___

Today we celebrate a unique feast of a unique saint, John the Baptist.

As we ponder his unique place in the history of salvation,

let’s also recall something else unique about him:

his birth was announced by an angel to two different people.

The first announcement was to his father Zechariah,

the second was to the Blessed Virgin, Mary.

And to Mary he said,

“in her old age [Elizabeth has] conceived a son;

…her who was called barren.

For nothing is impossible with God.”

 

As we go forward today in our defense of religious liberty,

inspired by the example of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Raymond,

let us keep these words in mind.

Let us trust that the Lord will allow no one to most rob us

of one of the most basic rights He alone has given us:

the freedom to follow him in faith,

the precious divine gift of religious liberty.

Let be charitable, let us be courageous, let us be faithful, let us be determined,

knowing that “Nothing is impossible with God.”

TEXT: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 17, 2018

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Life is filled with trials and challenges, especially nowadays

with so many problems that past generations never even imagined.

So it’s a great thing that in the summer we slow down and relax a bit,

and make opportunities to celebrate the good and important things in life.

So we celebrate our beloved dead on Memorial Day,

the dignity of work on Labor Day, the gift of liberty on the 4th of July,

and motherhood on Mother’s Day.

And, of course, today we celebrate fatherhood, with Father’s Day.

 

Fatherhood truly is good, and absolutely essential to the wellbeing of society.

But there are a whole lot of folks who forget this.

And this forgetfulness is the cause of so many of those problems I mentioned.

You know the statistics:

63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway children,

71% of all high school dropouts all come from fatherless homes.

And I could go on and on.

 

Fatherhood is important, good fathers are essential

—and bad fathers are a disaster.

 

Scripture tells us that in the beginning,

God created mankind in his own image and likeness as male and female,

telling them be fruitful and multiply.

In other words, in God’s plan for the happiness of mankind,

the first thing necessary is marriage,

and the second springs from it: parenthood.

Because you see, love is the source of all true happiness.

And marriage and parenthood are the “school of love

where all human beings are supposed to naturally

learn to love God and each other.

So that when marriage and parenthood are messed up

families and societies are in trouble.

 

Now, parenthood is a two-sided coin:

on the one side motherhood, and on the other fatherhood.

Both of these are equally important in the eyes of God, and for the good of man.

But sometimes the importance of fatherhood is forgotten,

and many people seem to think that its actually UN-important.

And so we see the results:

today 33% of all children are living in fatherless homes

and 40% of all children are born outside of marriage.

And father’s drift away from the family, one way or the other.

 

But that is not how families and societies are meant flourish,

and it promises the destruction of both.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus twice compares the Kingdom of God

to the seed of a plant.

Some today say that a fatherhood’s role is simply to plant the seed of his child

and then, more or less, walk away.

But fatherhood is much more than that.

Elsewhere in scripture Jesus uses another plant allusion, saying:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.”

And then he says: “and my Father is the vinedresser.”

A vinedresser doesn’t simply plant the seed and leave;

he remains to care for it, to help it become a full grown fruitful plant.

 

Where there is a seed planted, a true father,

created in the image of God the Father,

remains and feeds and waters his children

–first in a literal sense, he puts food on the table.

But a good father also feeds and waters them by seeing that

his children get a good education,

both formally and informally,

in practical matters, like hygiene and manners,

in secular matters, like math, science and history,

and in spiritual matters—teaching them the truth about God.

For a Catholic father this means taking responsibility

for personally teaching them the truths and practices of the Catholic faith,

as well as supplementing that by,

if possible, sending them to Catholic school,

or at least to CCD from K thru 12,

or homeschooling them with a solid Catholic curriculum.

 

And above all it means watering them with the water of baptism

and feeding them regularly with the Bread of Life!

What young plant or child would survive, much less flourish, without eating food

—and not just eating once in a while,  but every day?

What child would survive, much less flourish, spiritually and morally

without eating the bread of life not just once in a while,

but at least every single Sunday?

What kind of father lets his children starve?

 

____

A true father also protects his children.

A vinedresser might build a fence around his plants,

or cover them to protect them from ice,

or hunt down the varmints that try to eat them.

A good father tries to provide a safe home for his family,

and carefully watches who his children’s friends are.

He doesn’t let his children play in a busy street,

or stay out late at night unsupervised.

And he’s careful who he trusts to supervise his children

—never trusting them to anyone who would in any way

corrupt or endanger them.

 

And above all, he protects his children from moral or spiritual danger of any kind.

He’s not afraid to shield his daughter from boys who won’t respect her virtue.

And his son never does an overnight on Sunday if it means he won’t get to Mass.

 

____

God the Father, the vinedresser, also prunes away the dying or dead branches.

Likewise, a good, true father isn’t afraid of pruning the sickly or deadly things

from his children’s lives.

If they develop friendships with people who behave badly or sinfully,

a good father is not afraid to prune that friend out of their lives.

If their children start to develop bad habits,

good fathers aren’t afraid to discipline them.

If they don’t do their homework a true father doesn’t hesitate

to turn off the TV until they do.

If they speak or dress immodestly a good father isn’t afraid to set them straight.

Of course, always with love, avoiding bitterness;

sometimes with tenderness, but always with strength.

And always remember St. Paul’s simple instruction:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
____

Some fathers are overwhelmed by all this.

They feel like the man in today’s Gospel who plants the seed

and then wakes up one day and it’s all grown up,

and, as Jesus says, “he knows not how.”

Some fathers feel that they “know not how” to raise kids,

so they leave it to someone else,

to their wives, or teachers, or other “experts.”

 

Now, it’s true that when it comes to kids Moms do some things better than Dads.

But not everything.

For example, a Mom might think a dress looks really pretty on her daughter,

but a good Father knows that the boys won’t be thinking it’s justpretty.”

A Mom may be able to tell her son, “you be a gentleman on your date,”

but a good Dad can show his son how to respect a woman,

especially her dignity and her virtue,

by the way he himself treats women, especially his wife.

 

And besides all the male/female differences,

there are a lot of simple things that a particular Dad, for some reason,

does or understands better than a particular Mom:

maybe math, or being patient, whatever.

 

And it’s true that teachers are better at teaching some things than Dad.

But a true father makes sure they don’t try to stray beyond their field.

 

And believe me, parents tell me it happens all the time.

Is your daughter’s biology teacher teaching biology, or sexual morals.

Is your son’s history teacher teaching historical facts, or ideological doctrine?

 

And, this isn’t limited to public schools

—sadly, it can happen with Catholic school teachers too.

 

A good father realizes that much of the corruption in our society

is flourishing because of the seeds planted in the schools.

A few seeds of immorality here, or radical ideology there.

Here a seed of heresy, there a seed of anti-Catholic bigotry.

And then one day you wake up and you wonder why

your children don’t share any of your values and reject your Catholic faith.

Again: “he knows not how.”

 

A good father doesn’t abandon his responsibilities to “experts.”

 

___

Now, some of you women may be saying, but what about me?

Ladies, of course a lot of this applies to mothers as well.

But let it also remind you to help your husbands,

and all the men in your life, to be good fathers

—especially to support them and praise them when they try.

 

And some of you men may be saying, that’s all fine and good,

but my children are all grown up.

Yes, but you can apply this to being a grandfather,

and to helping your grown son to be a better father.

 

Or maybe your man without any children.

But are you an uncle?

Uncles are sort of fathers once removed.

Or maybe you’re a teacher, or a coach,

or work in some field that affects fathers and their children.

Then it all applies to you to, one way or another.

 

And then some of you fathers might agree with everything I’m saying,

but you’re in the military and you have no choice

but to be away from your family, sometimes for months on end.

Of course, when you go away you have to rely on others—especially your wives– to do much of the feeding, protecting and pruning.

But even then, as you know better than I, you must still do your best

to provide whatever support you can to your wives.

Stay in contact with your kids as best you can,

and remind them not only that you love them,

but of your expectations of them, especially

that they respect and obey their moms,

and that they love and serve Christ and His Catholic Church.

And pray for them—and make sure they know that you pray.

 

And remember,

while we look to God the Father as the source of all true fatherhood,

Jesus also tells us:

“he who has seen me has seen the Father.”

By your imitation of Christ, who laid down His life for His friends,

your example of laying down your life for you children and for all of us,

is an incredible act of fatherly love

  • a heroic effort to truly protect your children from real

 

___

Or maybe you’re a member of one of those families

where things are not as I describe:

maybe there was or is no father in your home,

or maybe you had a very less than perfect father growing up.

There are lots of reasons this happens,

and sometimes things are just beyond our control.

But I’m sure everyone would agree that if they could change things,

they would make things more like the way I’ve described

than how they are or were.

And just because things aren’t the way they should be,

it doesn’t mean that God can’t or won’t find some way to help you

to make it through these difficult times.

He will if you let him, because He is the true Father of us all,

and He is always there loving us just the way we need Him to.

You do your best, and then trust in God, and He will be there for you.

 

___

And finally, Fathers, all this is not to pick on you.

It’s tough being a Father: it’s hard enough being a spiritual Father, but

to be the Dad of a family nowadays is so difficult

—sometimes I say, “thank God for celibacy!”

So many of you are great fathers, or trying your very best to be.

Thank you, and God bless you.

All this is just to remind you and to encourage you

to always strive, with God’s grace, to be the very best father.

And to emphasize how important that is, how important you are.

 

____

Our world is filled with problems,

many of which our grandparents would never have dreamed of.

But that’s because our grandparents would have never tolerated

the diminishment of fatherhood that we have.

 

Today, let us all celebrate fatherhood and praise its goodness and importance,

And as we continue with this Holy Mass,

the mystery which flows from the perfect love

between God the Father and Son,

let us pray that, by the grace of this sacrament,

we may always honor and love our fathers as we should,

and [that] our fathers may always

be the good and true fathers

we so desperately need them to be.

TEXT: 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 10, 2018

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 10, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

The devil.

Most people don’t like to talk about him, nowadays.

And when they do, they often reduce him to something that’s easy to deal with:

they marginalize him as a myth,

reduce him to a mere superstition,

make him the boogey man of our nightmares and horror movies,

or perhaps make him merely a misunderstood rake.

Even many Christians tend to do this: we’d like to believe he doesn’t exist

 

But the thing is he does exist.

He is real, personal and powerful.

Scripture and tradition are absolutely clear.

In today’s gospel we hear Jesus talking about the devil

with a certainty that presumes his reality.

And He does this, not only because He’s God the Son,

who’s known the devil from the beginning,

but because as a human being He personally encountered him,

face to face, when He went out into the desert for 40 days,

where Satan repeatedly tried to tempt Him.

 

And “the Devil” is not one, but many.

So today’s Gospel speaks of “demons,” plural.

 

Scripture and tradition tell us that the devils are actually fallen angels,

who were created like all the other heavenly angels,

but who chose to follow Lucifer, or “the bearer of light,”

the greatest of all the angels,

who was so glorious he wanted to be “like God.”

 

One strain of tradition tells us that God informed all the angels

that he was planning to create man in his own image,

and that God the Son would become a man

—and that the angels would serve Him.

But Lucifer and his friends couldn’t countenance the idea

that they would have to serve such a lowly creature as man,

and famously responded, “Non servium,” “I will not serve.”

 

He did not serve, and still does not serve either God, or man.

Rather he hates them both—he hates God and he hates man.

 

And we see this in today’s first reading from the book of Genesis,

part of the story of the fall of Adam and Eve.

God asks Eve why she disobeyed him and ate from the forbidden tree,

and she responds: “The serpent tricked me into it….”

Remember, the serpent, meaning the devil, had told her that

God had lied to her about the tree, that it was a good thing to eat:

“You certainly will not die!” As God had said.

“God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened

and you will be like gods….”

 

Notice, he implies that God is the liar, not himself,

and he preys upon the fact that she imagines that being “like gods”

might be a good thing.

He lies, and manipulates, and so brings about Adam and Eve’s,

and all mankind’s, fall from grace, and eventually death.

 

As Jesus tells us about the devil:

“He was a murderer from the beginning,

…. he is a liar and the father of lies.

And so he calls him is “the Enemy” of God and man, or in Hebrew, “Satan.”

 

And so St. Peter tells us elsewhere in Scripture:

“Be sober and alert.

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion

looking for someone to devour.

Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”

 

____

Now, the roads to heaven or hell, the life of love or the life of sin,

are choices that each human being makes.

When He created in His image, God gave us the free will He has,

and His love prohibits him from taking that away from us.

But the thing is, the devil can’t take it away from us either:

he can’t force us to sin.

But he can tempt us, he can try to deceive and lie and manipulate us,

to freely choosing to sin.

 

So how does the devil do that?

 

First, remember who he is: he is, or they are, fallen angels,

so they are spiritual beings with the vast supernatural power of angels.

The most important thing to know about their powers

is that they are incredibly intelligent

—much much smarter than we are naturally,

and they’ve been around forever, so they’ve seen it all—

they know how human beings work,

and like a great chess player, they see 10 moves ahead of us.

 

And so even though they can’t read our minds–only God can do that–

they know us so well that it’s almost as if they can read our minds.

They remember how we responded to this or that event in the past,

and they know exactly what we’re going to do the next time.

They can see the change in our eyes, or our skin tone,

or the tenseness of our mouth or muscles,

and they know what we’re thinking

—they’ve seen it since we were babies,

and they’ve seen it in centuries of human beings before us.

 

And most importantly, they know our personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities

—physical, mental and emotional—

and they prey on them: they know exactly how to “push our buttons.”

 

So, for example,

the devil knows you’ve had a long day,

and that you have a little bit of quick temper when you’re tired,

and that driving makes you a little anxious.

So you’re driving home, and someone is driving a little too close behind you,

and the devil whispers,

“who does he think he is? you should make him pay for that….”

And the rest is predictable.

 

Or he whispers: “go ahead, look at that, it’s okay…”,

“go ahead, take that, know one will know…”

 

He’s not forcing you, but the father of lies is manipulating you,

and you play right into his hands.

Especially if you don’t even want to admit that he’s doing it,

much less that he even exists!

 

____

Clearly, the devil is around today, in our lives and throughout society.

Not only tempting us individually, but tempting society as a whole.

He tempts the high school kid to shoot up his school.

He tempts the terrorists with the lie of 70 virgins in paradise.

He tempts the frightened woman with an unplanned pregnancy.

He tempts the young person who struggles with their sexual identity.

He tempts the successful businessman to think that wealth is more important

than family or caring for his neighbor.

 

And the thing is, all the demons tempt us all together, there is a plan.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel:

“How can Satan drive out Satan?

…if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Satan’s house is not divided: all the demons stand together, against us.

And so we look around and see not only a bunch of individual sins,

but a world that seems to be systematically warping into a whole culture of sin.

 

____

Have I scared you a little bit?

I hope so.

We should be scared of the devil.

Remember what Jesus says in Scripture:

“be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

But on the other hand, remember what Jesus said right after that:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?

Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.

…. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

 

You should be afraid of the devil,

but kind of like I’m afraid of burglars breaking into my house.

I mean, bad folks are out there, so I lock the doors at night, turn on the alarm,

and maybe I keep a pistol next to my bed…Maybe.

And then I ask God to watch over my rectory and fall to sleep like a baby.

 

The thing is, the devil is not all-powerful or all-knowing—but God is.

With God all things are possible.

And so we go back to today’s first reading,

and we see that God looks down on the devil crawling on his belly,

and says to him:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

 

This is the promise that God the Son would become a man, born of a woman,

and while the devil will cause his problems,

the all-powerful Son will inevitable crush his head.

The promise of Jesus and His victory on the Cross.

 

And so we read in Scripture:

“If God is for us, who can be against us? ….

neither angels nor demons, …. will be able to separate us

from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And again: “Submit yourselves, then, to God.

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

 

And so, while we have to be alert to and cautious of the damage he can cause,

we don’t have to be afraid, if we allow God to help us.

If we, as St. Paul says elsewhere, we:

“put on the full armor of God,

so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

 

____

Jesus tells us today:

“no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property

unless he first ties up the strong man.”

So don’t tie up the strong man!

In particular, don’t keep Jesus tied up by your sins,

but let him loose in your life by keeping His will.

And don’t lock Him out of your house—let Him in by your prayers,

and by being open to the fullness of His grace.

 

In particular, be open to the two great sources of grace

Jesus gives us to fight the devil:

the sacrament of Confession, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Go to frequent confession to untie the strong man,

to allow Jesus to forgive you and to live inside of you,

and to receive the grace to make you strong with His own power.

And don’t ever be discouraged by sins:

Christ is our hope; and discouragement comes from the devil.

Remember, as Jesus says today,

“Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies will be forgiven them.”

 

And there’s the second and the greatest sacramental weapon: the Eucharist.

There is nothing the devil fears more, nothing that better fends off his assaults,

than the sacrament that makes the sacrifice of the Cross really present to us,

and unites our bodies with the very body and blood of the Crucified Jesus.

Because it is by the Cross that Jesus crushed the serpent’s head,

and it is by the cross that Jesus says

to both the God the Father and the mankind,

not “I will not serve,”

but “I came to serve and to give my life as a ransom for the many.”

 

____

These are the greatest armors and weapons God has given us.

But there’s so many more.

There’s St. Michael and his legions of angels.

And there is, of course, Mary, of whom God spoke when he promised the devil,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman!”

The devil runs in fear from the very presence of the Mother of God.

Cling to her, and she will protect you.

 

___

The devil is no myth, no superstition, no harmless rake, no joke,

He is real, powerful, and he hates us.

We must be sober and alert of him and his temptations.

But we must also have faith and confidence that Christ will crush his head for us.

 

As we now enter more deeply into this holy Mass,

surrounded by all the heavenly angels and saints,

with St. Michael and Our Blessed Mother, and St. Raymond too,

let us bow deeply to worship and adore before the Son of God made man,

Jesus Christ, as He descends from heaven to this altar.

And as gives Himself to us in Holy Communion,

let us give ourselves to Him as well,

and so be united to the one who serves both God and man,

and have His strength to resist the temptations and snares of the devil,

the enemy of God and man: who says, “I will not serve.”

TEXT: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 3, 2018

 Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 3, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Imagine that you’re sitting at dinner with your best friends.

Suddenly one stands up takes a piece of food and says: “This is my body, eat it.”

I don’t care how good a friend he is,

all of us would think he was either kidding or crazy.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened one night to the 12 apostles,

as they sat at supper with their dear friend Jesus.

He took a piece of bread and a cup of wine and said

“Take and eat this, this is my body…take and drink this, this is my blood…”

But instead of thinking he had gone mad, and trying to get Him under control,

they quietly took the bread and the cup and ate and drank.

 

Did  the apostles understand what Jesus  was doing?

They may not have known exactly what He meant,

but they knew that this was the same man

who had fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread

—on 2 different occasions;

who had walked across the water and calmed the storm at sea;

who had raised 3 people, including their friend Lazarus, from the dead;

who was transfigured standing with Moses and Elijah on Mt. Tabor;

and who had said “I have come… to bear witness to the truth.”

 

They might not have known exactly what Jesus meant,

but they remembered all He had done,

that they had come to believe in Him.

And so they took it and ate and drank.

 

This was a night of remembering: it was the night of the Passover.

The apostles remembered how God had saved Israel from slavery

on that 1st Passover, 1300 years earlier,

by the blood of the sacrificed lamb  that they sprinkled on their doors.

They remembered how at the base of Mt. Sinai

God and his people entered a covenant

sealed by a sacrifice of animals and the sprinkling

of the blood of the sacrifice on the people,

as Moses said: “This is the blood of the covenant.”

They remembered all this as they heard  the  Son of God say to them:

“This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant.”

 

They also remembered how during that Exodus out of Egypt

God gave His people bread from heaven –manna.

And they remembered that just a few months before Jesus had said:

I am the living bread come down from heaven….

The bread I will give you is my flesh for the life of the world. ”

They remembered how so many of His disciples had left HIm that day, saying:

“This is a hard saying who can listen to it.”

And they remembered that in response Jesus didn’t chase after them saying,

“no, no, you misunderstood me: I was just speaking symbolically…..”

But instead He simply turned to the apostles and asked them:

“will you also leave me?”

And they remembered the sublime words of faith of St. Peter, in response:

“Lord,…You have the words of eternal life;

we have come to know and to believe,

that you are the Holy One of God.”

They remembered all this as they heard  the “Holy One of God” say the words:

“This is my body.”

 

They heard Him, they may not have completely understood,

but they believed because He said it.

And they ate and drank as he commanded.

 

And beginning with the fundamental faith in the words

“this is my body…this is my blood”

and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit,

remembering the words and actions of the Old Covenant,

and all Jesus had said and done

during His life, death and resurrection,

especially His great love for us,

a love so great He reminded them at the last supper:

“no greater love has a man than this,

to lay down his life for his friends”,

a love so great He promised as He ascended to heaven:

“behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.”

…remembering all this they very quickly began to understand

the profound meaning of the Eucharist.

The belief that the under the appearance of bread and wine

the one sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us

in the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ

truly, substantially and really present to us,

even until the end of time.

 

____

How deeply do we believe our Lord’s words, “this is my body”?

Well, think, how do you prepare before Mass?

For example, a little thing: how do you dress for Mass?

If you were going to the White House to meet the President,

I guarantee you that you wouldn’t come in shorts and a tee shirt.

Now, nobody look around—

there are lots of good reasons someone

might be dressing down a bit at Mass.

But how many times do we not have a good reason?

 

Or when you’re at Mass, how do you prepare before Communion?

Do you examine your conscience to see if you’ve committed a mortal sin that

the Church teaches you must confess before you receive Communion?

Are you living a life style, or publicly promoting teachings

that are gravely contrary to the teachings of the Church?

How can you receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion,

when you’re not in Communion with the Body-of-Christ-the-Church?

 

And how do you come up to receive Holy Communion?

Do you do you rush up, looking around,

letting yourself be distracted the whole time,

or do you come up with love for your God, Jesus,

focusing on Him and nothing but Him,

receiving Him with reverence and profound humility,

rejoicing that the all-powerful God

who died on the cross for love of you,

is coming now personally to you.

 

____

Another strong self-test of our belief in the real presence

of Christ in the Eucharist

is found in our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament

outside of the celebration of Mass

–as His body is reserved in the Tabernacle,

or exposed on the altar for adoration.

Some people tell me that it’s not so important to adore Christ in the Eucharist,

as much as it is to serve Christ in one another.

But while it’s important and true that we should see and serve Christ in others,

you have to admit Christ

is present in a way completely different and unique in the Eucharist.

 

If Jesus came down from heaven right now, and walked right into this room,

the difference between His Real Presence in this room

versus His presence in any one of us

would not only be obvious, it would be overwhelming,

and would compel us to fall to our knees.

The reverence due to God Himself is always different than

that we  give to any creature–even an angel.

In the book of Revelation St. John tells us

that when he fell down on his knees before the angel,

the angel scolded him:

“You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you….

Worship God.”

Yet over and over again St. John tells us in that same Book of Revelation

that in heaven everyone falls down on their faces

to worship the Lamb that was slain, Jesus Christ.

 

 

Sometimes people tell me that since the Eucharist is food,

that it’s meant to be eaten, not worshipped.

But as St. Augustine  wrote in the 4th century:

No one eats of this flesh without having first adored it . . .

we would sin if we did not do so.”

 

 

And so the Church strongly recommends that all of us

regularly spend time praying before the Eucharist in adoration.

 

Our parish is blessed to be able to leave our church doors open

for over 14 hours every day

so that anyone who wants to can come and pray before and adore

Christ in the Tabernacle.

And every Wednesday and Friday we expose the Body of Christ on the altar,

from 8:30am until 7:00pm on Wednesday and 3pm on Friday.

And while many people do take advantage of these opportunities,

it amazes and saddens me, that so many, the vast majority of us, don’t.

It reminds me of what a Protestant friend once told me:

“Father, if you Catholics really believed Jesus

is really physically there in the Eucharist,

why aren’t Catholic Churches packed day and night

—why don’t Catholics act like Jesus is there?”

Indeed; why don’t we?

 

 

Still many very good Catholics wonder:

“what do I do when I pray before our Lord in the Eucharist.”

Do what you would do if Christ walked into the room right now!

Fall down in adoration as John did in His vision recorded in Revelation.

Fall down on your faces as Peter, James and John did at the Transfiguration,

–worshipping in praise and thanksgiving His magnificent glory.

Fall down at His feet like Mary Magdalene so often did

–in repentance of your sins.

Or, simply sit at His feet quietly as Magdalene did in her home in Bethany

–listening with love to what he has to say to you.

 

Kneel or if you want, sit there,

pray any prayer you want, the rosary or prayers form the heart;

read the Bible or a spiritual book

–all the time in the loving presence of our Lord

–talking to Him or listening to Him.

And by meditating and praying before the Blessed Sacrament,

you’ll be drawn right back to the sacrificial meal of the Mass

because you’ll develop a deeper, more sincere hunger

to worthily receive in Holy Communion the Lamb who was slain.

Not only to receive Him in our mouth,

but in doing that receive Him with our hearts.

 

____

Today and every day the Church calls us to go before Christ

and humble ourselves by kneeling in front of what looks like

a little piece of Bread.

To some this seems irrational and foolish; but not to us.

Because while difficult to understand,

it is nevertheless eminently reasonable to us.

Because we remember and make our own the words of St. Peter:

“Lord, …You have the words of eternal life…”

So, for us it would be irrational and foolish not to believe,

as we remember and believe in the words of Jesus Himself:

“THIS IS MY BODY.”

TEXT: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, May 27, 2018

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

May 27, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday.

celebrating a magnificent mystery of God and of our Catholic Faith.

But as I say, it is a “mystery,”

meaning that we only know about it because Jesus revealed it to us,

and we will never really understand it completely.

 

I mean, it’s really next to impossible to adequately explain the Trinity,

to try to explain the very essence of God Himself—His inner most being.

After all who can explain the inner most being of another human being,

much less the inner most being

of the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe?

To say the least, it is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand.

 

First of all, what does this dogma of the Trinity hold?

We believe there is one God, who is three persons.

They share the same divine nature,

but each is God, whole and entire.

They are really distinct from one another—not simply different modes of being

–you can’t say, as some try to,

that we call God “Father” when He’s creating the world,

but we call Him “the Son” when He’s on the Cross,

and we call Him “the Spirit” when He dwells in us.

No: God the Son is a different person than God the Father

who is a different person than God the Holy Spirit

—but they are still one God.

In particular they are seen in relationship to one another:

relating as Father to Son, a son who is eternally begotten from the Father,

and the Spirit of the two that proceeds forth from them both,

some say the personification the love between the Father and Son.

Still, one God, three persons.

 

So all that’s clear.

No—it’s still difficult to explain and to understand.

And it always has been.

2000 years ago it was hard for the Jews to believe.

After all, the central dogma of Old Testament Judaism

is that there is only one God.

As we read in today’s first reading:

“Fix in your heart, that the LORD is God…

and that there is no other.”

But they kept hearing Jesus say things like: “the Father and I are one”

–so they called Him a blasphemer and tried to kill Him,

and eventually succeeded.

 

And it was hard for many wannabe Christians in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries,

heretics like the Gnostics: they couldn’t and didn’t believe it.

 

And it was hard for the rich Arab merchant who searched for the true God

and apparently found Him in Christianity, but rejected Him

because he could not accept the truth

that God is one, but 3 persons.

And so Muhammad made up his own religion, to suit his unbelief.

 

It is very difficult to understand, and, so, difficult to believe.

And yet we do believe.

But why?

 

Very simple: because we believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the one sent by God.”

And Jesus taught us the dogma of the Trinity.

For example, on the one hand,

Jesus Himself proclaimed the central dogma of Judaism:

“The LORD our God is one.”

And yet, He called God His “Father,” and says:

“the Father and I are one.”

Now, some might say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically,

but as we read in John, chapter 10,

when the Jews accused Him of “making himself God”

and tried to stone Him,

instead of saying, ‘no no, you misunderstood,’

He said to them:

“I am the Son of God….

know and understand

that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

 

And He kept on insisting on this.

Who can forget the last supper,

when He went on and on about His unity with the Father.

Particularly in His rebuke of St. Philip, who asked “show us the father”.

Jesus responds:

“Have I been with you so long,

and still you do not know me…?

He who has seen me has seen the Father;

how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?

Do you not believe that

I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

 

And not only did Jesus insist that He was one God with His father,

He insisted that the Holy Spirit was one God with them also.

He promised His apostles:

I shall send to you …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”

but also promises:

“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”

Both the Father and the Son send the Spirit.

And why?

Because while Jesus calls him: “the Spirit of the Father”

St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit not only

“the Spirit of God” but also “the spirit of Jesus Christ”,

All the while insisting “there is one Spirit.”

 

We believe, because Jesus said it,

and because the apostles taught it

and handed it down from generation to generation,

both in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition.

And so the Church has always accepted it

as not simply an interesting bit of trivia,

but as the first tenet of the Christian Faith:

if you do not believe in the Trinity,

you are NOT a Christian.

 

This has been so important to the Church

that the earliest summaries of the Christian faith, like the Apostles Creed,

which some say the apostles themselves wrote at the first Pentecost,

are centered around the Trinity.

And at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD,

when all the bishops of the world could all come together

for the first time since the death of the apostles,

the most important thing they did was give us

a more elaborate formulation of the Trinitarian Creed:

the Creed we say at every Sunday Mass—the Nicene Creed:

“I believe in one God, the Father….the Son… the Holy Spirit.”

 

The Trinity is the First Dogma of Christianity,

because the whole Church comes out of,

revolves around and moves toward this mystery.

Heaven is sharing in the communion of life and love of the Trinity.

The whole incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Christ are Trinitarian:

the Father gives His Son, the Son offers Himself to the Father.

The Pentecost is Trinitarian:

the Father and Son send the Spirit so they can dwell in us,

and we can be one with them.

 

The Sacraments are Trinitarian:

in Baptism we are baptized

“in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,”

and receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls,

and where the Holy Spirit is there also are the Father and Son,

and so we begin our sharing in life of the Trinity.

And in the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit

Christ makes us one with Him and presents us to His Father.

[We see this reflected in the whole Mass: the Mass itself is Trinitarian:

we begin and end the Mass in the name of

“the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”;

and throughout the Mass, listen carefully to the triple repetitions,

subtly reminding us we are praying to a Trinitarian God:

“Holy, Holy, Holy,”

“through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,”

the triple “Agnus Dei,”

“this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”.….]

 

The Church itself is Trinitarian:

it is one, because the Trinity is one,

and it is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Spirit to praise the Father.

Creation itself is Trinitarian:

God created man in His own image so He could invite us

to live and love in the life and love of the Trinity.

 

This is what we believe.

Still, all this is difficult to understand.

 

Does this make us stupid, or naïve or irrational?

No, because it would be stupid, naïve, irrational and the height of arrogance

to think that we could ever really understand everything about God

—especially about His inner most being.

 

Do you understand how God created the universe?

No; but you believe it, and it is very rational to do so.

Do you understand how God can love each one of us uniquely and totally,

even though you and I are like mere specks of dust in this huge universe?

Do you understand how God could become a man and die on the Cross,

and still be completely God?

Do you understand how God could truly come to us,

body, blood, soul and divinity,

under the appearance of a piece of bread we could eat?

No; you have some inkling of an understanding of these things,

but you don’t understand any of them completely.

But still, you believe them.

 

Think about it: It would be so much easier for the Church

to proclaim the Gospel without the Trinity

—who would make something so difficult to understand

the central tenet of their religion?

But some things we don’t understand,

we still believe because Jesus has revealed them to us.

These are what we call mysteries of the faith.

And by that we don’t mean just accepting it blindly and without understanding.

But rather, mysteries are truths that are hidden in God,

things too big or magnificent for us to understand,

and which we could never begin to know anything about,

unless they are revealed by God.

 

As Scripture reminds us:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

…and weighed the mountains in scales? …” like God has.

 

And if we can’t understand something like creation, or the incarnation,

how can we really hope to ever completely fathom

the dogma of the Trinity?

After all, this dogma is a peek into the very inner most life

of the eternal boundless God.

To believe this dogma is not to be foolish, but to accept a wondrous gift

—to know God in His deepest self,

to know something of the boundless and eternal

intimate love and life that the Three Divine Persons

share so perfectly and completely,

and of an invitation to us to share in that

relationship of divine, eternal and boundless love and life,

imperfectly in this world, and perfectly and forever in the next.

 

___

As we continue with this Holy Mass,

let us turn to the Trinitarian mystery of the Eucharist,

the sacrifice of the Son to His Father

made present by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And by these sacred mysteries

may we now be lifted up

into the wondrous and intimate mystery of

the eternal life and boundless love that is the Holy Communion

of the Most Holy Trinity.