31st Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

November 3, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

This is the second week in a row we have a gospel about a tax collector
—remember last week we had the parable of the tax collector
in the temple, praying: “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”
This week we have another tax collector who admits he’s a sinner.
Only this time, it isn’t a parable—it’s a true story from the life of Jesus.

Remember that tax collectors in Judea around the year 30AD
were usually Jews who were collaborating with the Romans.
And Caesar paid them by allowing them to keep
a certain percentage of the taxes they collected.
But these tax collectors were also notorious for collecting more tax
than was due, and keeping the excess for themselves.
So they were public sinners on two counts:
as traitors to the Jews, and as thieves.
And Zacchaeus must have been a particularly notorious sinner,
because his cheating had made him a “wealthy man.”

But look what happens when he encounters Jesus.
It says he was “seeking to see Jesus,”
but that he was so short that he couldn’t see over the crowd,
so he had to climb a tree to see Jesus.
Now, a being man of short stature myself,
I tend to see this not so much as a problem of being short,
but as a problem of the crowd being too tall, and getting in the way.

Today, you and I are also “seeking to see Jesus,”
along with millions of Christians around the world.
But all too often we can’t find him because the crowd gets in the way.
We get caught up in or distracted by the opinions of the people around us,
so that no matter what Jesus does
we can neither hear or see it clearly.
The crowd—our friends and family,
the media and public opinion in general—
become more important that seeing Christ,
much less listening to him, much less following him.
More than that, when the crowd moves, and we follow.

But Christians should be more like Zacchaeus:
we need to rise above the crowd to see Jesus as he is.

If all Christians did this life would be very different, especially in America.
I think in particular today of three terrible sins
that are destroying the foundations of our culture,
but that the society around us—“the crowd—
not only embraces but promotes:
sexual promiscuity,
and the corruption of marriage,
especially through so called “gay marriage.”
Everywhere we turn we’re told that these are not only “not bad”
but are actually “good.”
Everywhere, that is, except when we look past the crowd, to see Jesus.
Because even though Jesus loves all those people in the crowd,
we see that he still rejects all these evil things they embrace.
Because he sees those things for what they truly are:
things that are bad for us individually and for the crowd as a whole.

We hear the prophet say to God in today’s first reading:
“you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made….”
But the thing is, God did not “make” sin.

The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning
God created life, not death.
It was man’s choice to reject God’s plan, to sin, and that led to death.
So God created life: He did make abortion.

And in the beginning God created marriage as
a total mutual self-gift between a male and female,
so wonderful that it could bring forth new life in children.
God created marriage,
but he did not make “same sex-” or “gay” “marriage.”

Today’s gospel tells us Zacchaeus
“climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.”
But what tree do we climb to see Jesus over the crowd?

Genesis talks about 2 trees in the beginning of paradise:
the “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
Adam and Even sinned by eating the forbidden fruit
of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,”
but whatever happened to the “tree of life”?

In the New Testament,
in both the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation,
it tells us that “the tree of life” is another name for the Cross.
To climb up the tree then, for us,
means to climb or to share in the Cross of Christ:
especially to accept the life-giving graces that pour from the Cross.
And the first of those graces is the forgiveness of sins.

But to be forgiven, we must first repent.
And that’s the first thing Zacchaeus does when comes down from the tree:
he repents!
“Behold,” he says, “half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”

Notice he doesn’t say he’ll give back all his wealth,
but only “half,” which probably means
the money that he’d, in effect, stolen by overcharging taxes.
Many people nowadays are afraid to see and follow Christ because,
whether they admit it or not,
they know that much of what they have in their personal lives
comes from their acceptance of things that Christ rejects.
For example, some of us have friends who wouldn’t be our friends
if they knew we were pro-life or against “gay marriage.”
Some parents, are afraid of losing the affection of their “gay” sons
—or to lose the respect of their daughters who have “gay” friends.
Some women are afraid of being ostracized by their peers
if they don’t support abortion or contraception.
And how many men and women and boys and girls
would lose their boyfriend or girlfriend
if they suddenly decided to practice chastity?

To follow Christ then, means to give up anything related to sin,
including, if necessary,
any relationships that we can only keep alive by condoning sin.
We must not follow the crowd.

On the other hand, there are other Christians,
who don’t get caught up in following the crowd,
and constantly do look past the crowd to see Jesus clearly.
Sadly though, more and more of these folks find themselves
guilty of a different sin:
the sin of despair, or losing hope in Christ.
They see all their efforts to follow Christ and lead others to Christ
as useless and a failure because no matter what they do,
everyone around them, even their friends and family,
let the crowd come between them and Jesus,
or lead them away from Him.
And so these otherwise faithful Christians lose, or begin to lose, hope.

Frankly, we all fall into one of these sins from time to time, more or less
—either following the crowd or losing hope.

But I think today of one great Catholic
who had every reason to either follow the crowd or to give up hope, but never did:
the great St. Thomas More.
You all know his story.
He rose from the humble middle class in 15th and 16hth century England
to become a great scholar and lawyer,
and finally chancellor of England,
second only in power to King Henry VIII.
And yet he gave all that up because he would not go along
with the King’s efforts to divorce his wife and marry another
—instead he kept his eyes fixed on Christ
and followed Him and His Church
in support of marriage.
He lost everything, and was eventually imprisoned
and finally beheaded.
A man, like Zacchaeus,
who was willing to lose all for the sake of Christ.
Who rose above the crowd, as nearly all of his peers
sided with King Henry against Christ and His Church.
And yet, when we read St. Thomas’s writings during his imprisonment
we see not a shred of doubt or despair, but a man of hope.
Hope first that God might save him from the his troubles,
but also hope that God would use his suffering for some greater good.
And finally, hope that if he remained faithful to the end,
God would bring him to heaven;
as he told his executioner:
“You send me to God….
He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.”

Life is full of opportunities to choose between Christ and the crowd,
and to hope in Christ or to give up in despair.
This week we face opportunities for both as Virginians go to the polls
to elect our state and local leaders.
We have clear choices between
candidates who are strongly pro-life and pro-traditional marriage
and candidates who are strongly pro-abortion and pro-“gay marriage.”

We can choose to follow the crowd that tries to sell us the lie that
all the pro-life and pro-traditional marriage candidates
are a bunch of anti-women bigots and gay-bashers.
Or we can choose to follow Christ
and vote for those pro-life and pro-traditional marriage candidates,
because, like Christ, and like us,
they love all people—including “gays” and women—
but hate the sins that can destroy their lives,
and the culture as we know it.

And we can choose to give up to despair,
thinking our votes and other support are useless,
or we can hope in Christ and do everything
we can to elect those who follow him.

Last Sunday I asked you to join me in praying a novena to St. Thomas More.
I hope you will keep praying this novena, or begin to today,
because prayer is the most important thing we can do to in this situation.

And of course the greatest prayer is what we’re doing right now
—the Mass: Christ’s great prayer to His Father on the Cross.
As we enter now more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
this re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross,
let us now turn our eyes away from the crowd
and toward our merciful Lord Jesus on the Cross, the tree of life.
Let us forsake all that keeps us from him,
and climb up to him on the Cross, and remain with him there.
And as we eat the fruit of this tree of life, the bread of life,
may it keep us always close to him
filling us with true love for his children,
clear faith in his teaching,
and in steadfast hope in his mercy and power.
And as we leave here today,
let us be committed to do all in our power to share this love, faith and hope with all our neighbors in the great state of Virginia.

30th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

October 27, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

As most of you know,
I was born, bred, schooled and gainfully employed until the age of 31
in the Great State of Texas.
Texas is a unique state.
It has flown the flag of 6 nations, including the “Republic of Texas” for 9 years.
It’s massive expanse of land is bounded
on one side by the vast coastline of the Gulf of Mexico,
and on the other by the Rocky Mountains;
and in between it has the coastal plain, the piney woods,
the hill country, and yes, the desert.

But most of all it has it’s history: from it’s pre-colonial Indian tribes
to it’s colonization by Spain in 1519, to the modern day,
Texas history is filled with colorful characters and dramatic events.
Perhaps the best known of these is the story of its war for independence,
in particular the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio—my home town—
and it’s great heroes:
James Bowie, William Travis, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston.

So, as you can see, I am a proud Texan.
And it took a lot to get me to leave there 22 years ago when I entered seminary:
it took another Great State with a colorful history and tradition:
my new home, the Great State, the Great Commonwealth, of Virginia.

Like Texas, Virginia is a physically beautiful state.
Of course it doesn’t have the serene and starkly dramatic desert
—but it does have that stunning vivacious rolling greenery.
And it doesn’t have the shear size of Texas,
but what it lacks there it more than makes up for
in the size of its history and historical characters.
While Texas has it’s Crockett and Houston,
they are midgets in comparison to giants like
Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson,
and, of course, George Washington.

Now, you might wonder, what does any of this have to do with Jesus Christ
and the Catholic Faith?
Well, I’ll tell you.

Virginia has been a tremendously important state in the history of our nation.
And there can be no doubt that individual Virginians
have profoundly changed and shaped that history.
But Virginia and Virginians,
also have a terrible stain on their record:
200 years ago they supported an institution so horrible
that today we Virginians, and all Americans, still feel the guilt:
the despicable institution of slavery:
the treatment of a human being
as less than human
and so without basic human rights or dignity.

How could such a great state with great statesmen
ever support this inhumane institution?
Well, you can come up with lots of explanations:
different times, the effects of culture, the economics, etc.
And you can understand that while Jefferson and Washington
seemed to truly want to eliminate slavery, they found it impossible to do so
without ripping the fragile Union of States apart
losing their historic chance to establish
a government truly of “We the people.”

But then…why did they continue to own their own slaves
—Washington only freeing his in his will, Jefferson not even doing that?
Of course, again, there are lot’s of reasons,
and I’ve well aware of them so please don’t come to me after Mass
to educate me.
Understand me: I am not trying to knock down these giants
—their great and noble historical achievements stand for themselves
and do not merit attack from this pulpit.
And I will say it: I am a huge fan and admirer of Washington.

But no matter how we look at it, no reasons and no historical anomalies
eradicate the fact that slavery is—and always has been—
a grave moral evil.
And as great as these men were, no one could convince me that in 2013
Virginians would ever elect a Thomas Jefferson or George Washington
if they were around today and still supported slavery.

As we know that one stain was not isolated in its effects,
as it corrupted the whole society of the first part of the 19th century,
warping the economic, social and political systems,
eventually leading to over 500,000 dead in a bloody civil war,
which was followed by another 100 years
of the hatred and oppression of racism
that we bear the scars of even to this day.

All because certain states and even certain great men in those states
refused to recognize a particular class of persons as human beings
with human rights.

States and their governance are important, always have been.
It was, in fact, the states who came together and organized the United States,
and it is at the state level that many, if not most,
of the laws that effect the day to day life of Americans
are written and enforced.
This importance is reflected, at least to some extent,
in the American constitutional principle of “states’ rights”.

Unfortunately, nowadays,
“states rights” tends to have a negative connotation in some circles.
This is understandable inasmuch as that negative connotation
is rooted historically in state laws protecting slavery and racism.
But the problem is not with “states rights,”
but with the persons who are defining, defending and working out
the laws at the state level.
As long as state government officials were tolerant of slavery or racism,
their corruption would corrupt their states, and then the whole country.

So we see, the men and women we choose to lead our states
are critical to real justice in our country.
Remember that all of those heroic Virginians I mentioned
served in Virginia government before achieving national prominence
—both Henry and Jefferson served as Governor.

In less than 2 weeks we have a state election in Virginia.
But sadly too many Virginians seem to view this so called “off year” election
as really unimportant.
This baffles me, especially when you consider all the issues at stake,
especially in the election of Governor:
taxes, jobs, the economy, transportation, energy, etc..

But the thing is, no matter where you stand on those important issues,
what good is any of that if the man or woman you vote for
doesn’t get it right on the most fundamental issues?
For example, what if one of the candidates
seemed to have all the right answers,
but one day came out saying
that a certain group of people are inferior to others,
not fully human beings with fundamental human rights .
Who in their right mind would vote for him,
even if he was the 2nd coming of George Washington himself?

The thing is, there are candidates around today who say this very thing.
But this time the group they target is not people of African decent,
but people of every color and ethnicity
who have only one fatal defect:
they are simply unborn baby human beings.

One gubernatorial candidate, who is strongly pro-abortion,
is actually openly and viciously attacking his strongly pro-life opponent
for defending the fundamental right to life of unborn Virginians.
He tries to label him as “anti-women,”
but what he really means is that his opponent is ant-abortion.
For example, the pro-abortion candidate runs ads
accusing the pro-life candidate
of supporting new health and safety regulations
on all the abortion clinics in Virginia
just to shut down them all down.
As if shutting down all the clinics killing unborn baby Virginians
would be a bad thing?

The pro-abortion candidate says the pro-life candidate wants
to end women’s access to contraception.
In reality, the pro-life candidate supported a bill
recognizing that each unborn Virginian is a “person”
from the moment of their conception.
But the pro-abortion candidate won’t call the unborn babies “persons”,
just like the slave owners wouldn’t call their African slaves “person.”
And what the pro-abortion candidate calls “contraception”
is really drugs that induce abortion after conception,
and so we’re not talking contraception, but abortion.

Now, imagine if Candidate A criticized Candidate B for
trying to put restrictions a white man’s right to choose
to treat a black man as his property…or to lynch a black man.
Or if Candidate A criticized Candidate B because
Candidate B tried to pass a law saying that all blacks are persons.

The whole state would be in an uproar, and no one would vote for Candidate A.
Why don’t we have the same reaction to a candidate who says
that unborn babies are not persons and that we can kill them?

Jefferson and Washington were great men,
and they gave birth to a great nation, and a great state.
But what made them great was the founding principle,
carved into the foundation of our history by Jefferson himself, as he wrote:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,
that all Men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty,
and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

But in denying those self-evident truths as applying
to Africans and their descendants, those otherwise great Virginians
undermined the very thing that made for greatness,
and led our nation, our state, to disaster.
And the same stands true today in Virginia, as candidates
for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and assembly delegate
deny these self-evident truth—the “unalienable right…to Life”
when it comes to unborn baby Virginian.
How can you vote for them?
And how can you stay home and not vote against them?

Today’s gospel tells about the self-righteous Pharisee blinded by his pride,
and the penitent tax collector who, by humble openness to God’s grace,
saw himself as he truly was.
The Pharisee reminds me of the many Christian in the 18th and 19th century,
who were blinded by either their noble ambitions for our nation
or simply by greed
or by a prideful sense of both a moral and natural superiority
over the black race,
and so defended or even embraced the practice of slavery.

But the tax collector reminds me of the many others, who saw their error,
and humbly repented their involvement in slavery.

In particular he reminds me of another tax collector, a man named John.
You see, before he was a tax collector, John was the Captain of a slave ship.
Until one night his ship was caught in a terrible storm
and like the tax collector in the parable,
he called out to Jesus, and Jesus saved him.
But not only from the storm, but from his whole way of life, and as he became
one of the most outspoken opponents of slavery of his time.
He would put all this into the words of what has become
one of the most beloved Christians hymns, as John Newton would write:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”

How blind were John Newton, and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington,
to the great inhumanity called slavery?
How blind are we Virginians today to the great inhumanity called abortion?

Some of you may be thinking:
“preacher, mind your pulpit,”
or “there is a wall of separation between church and state.”
Tell that to the Reverend John Newton,
the former slave trader, turned tax collector, turned Anglican priest,
and to the other founders of the Abolitionist Movement,
that began in and was spread from the pulpits of that day
—first in England, and then in America!
There can be no wall that separates
man from humanity,
or truth from government.

22 years ago I moved from the Great State of Texas
to the Great Commonwealth of Virginia.
I am still a Texan at heart, but I am proud to be a Virginian too,
especially because of Virginia’s rich traditions of noble courage,
and great heroic figures that forged our great nation.
Even so, too many Virginians of times passed, including our greatest heroes,
were blinded by their times, culture, and fears,
and, yes, even blinded by their hopes for the future of America.
But as time would tell their hopes could never be fulfilled until
“all men” were truly treated as “created equal,”
and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
…Life, Liberty, an
d the Pursuit of Happiness…”

On Tuesday, November 5, I pray that we Virginians
will live up to what was best in our forefathers.
But I pray also that, by the grace of Jesus Christ,
we may see what they were so unpardonably blinded to.
I pray that we will all be true heroes, authentic moral giants,
defending the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
of all human beings, white or black, rich or poor, born or unborn.

God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia. Amen.

29th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

October 20, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today St. Paul tells us:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage
through all patience and teaching.”

On this Sunday which the US Bishops single out as “Mission Sunday”
we remember how for 2000 years
the Church has been proclaiming the word
to peoples of every continent and race.
Sadly, after 2000 years, we have not been entirely successful in our efforts.
And even sadder still, in many of the places we were once the most successful, we see the people slowly walking away from Christianity,
and from religion and God in general.

So is it any surprise that Jesus poses the question in today’s Gospel:
“when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

There are many reasons why Christianity is fading in the world.
There are the temptations of materialism, secularism and ideologies,
luring many away.
There’s also the demanding nature of the faith itself:
it’s hard to be a Christian, and especially hard to be good Catholic.

But there’s also something else at work,
something that many are trying to ignore.
And that is that Christians are increasingly being persecuted around the world.
Whether by the subtle restrictions of the laws of governments,
or the bullying voices of the popular culture and media,
or the violent and bloody attacks by both governments other religions,
the persecution of Christianity is real and growing throughout the world.

Of course, the worst kind of persecution is bloody persecution.
Over the last few months I’ve written several columns
about the persecution ramping up in Egypt:
Two months ago Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood had
looted and torched nearly 40 churches,
and attacked and heavily damaged 23 others.
They went on to trash a 115 years old Catholic school
and dragged the nuns through the streets shouting obscenities at them.
All in one week.

3 weeks ago Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 85 worshippers
at All Saints’ church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
A month ago Christians were also targeted by the Islamist fanatics
who attacked the shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya,
that killed more than 70 people:
“captives were asked questions about Islam,”
and “if they couldn’t answer, they were shot.”

And this is nothing new:
“On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad.”
And you may remember that in 2008,
“The archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, was kidnapped and killed.”
In Nigeria, in the last year hundreds of Christians have been murdered
and their churches invaded or fire bombed by Muslim fanatics.
In Syria, last month the Christians begged President Obama
not to attack the butcher President Assad,
because he is their only protection from the Islamist rebels.

And who can forget how, back in June, Syrian jihadist rebels beheaded
Franciscan Father Francois Murad,
and then posted the video on the internet?
Actually, probably most of us have either forgotten it
or not even seen or heard of it,
as the media and our government has been mostly silent on this,
and the other atrocities.

But what would we expect,
when the media and the current administration themselves
has such little patience for Christianity, especially Catholics,
who are faithful to their 2000 year tradition.
The media mocks us and calls us bigots and haters,
simply because we reject the immorality they embrace
because we must, as St. Paul reminds us today,
“Remain faithful to what [we] have learned and believed,”
from Sacred Scripture and our Tradition.

And the government continues to try to marginalize faithful Christians,
especially Catholics.
Of course, the most high profile of these attempts
is the HHS mandate related to Obamacare,
that requires Catholic employers to provide insurance for their employees
that pays for abortion inducing drugs
as well as contraception and sterilization.
I warned you about this over a year and a half ago
—and most of you seemed to understand, and were outraged.
At almost every Mass you stood and applauded me when I spoke about this.

But for many, the outrage seems to have faded
as we seem to have grown used to “accepting the inevitable.”
In spite of the fact that
over 78 businesses, charities, universities and Catholic Dioceses
have filed lawsuits,
the mandate has now gone into effect.
And just last month the Little Sisters of the Poor
had to join in those lawsuits or face millions of dollars in penalties because,
as one sister said: “We cannot violate our vows.”
Think of that: those beautiful little nuns,
who radiate the very love of Christ
and the Catholic faith lived out in charity,
who come here every year around Christmas
begging you to help them to fund their nursing homes.
The government says they aren’t really part of the Catholic Church
and they don’t have the right to practice their Catholic faith
in their work with the poor.

But the persecution doesn’t stop there, as it has seeped down to the state level.
Even in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

For most of the last year Virginians have been witnessing a race for governor
between, on one side,
a Catholic who, although not perfect,
is strongly faithful to the Church’s teaching
on the most important moral issues of our time:
abortion, traditional marriage and religious liberty;
I’ll call him “the faithful Catholic.”
And on the other side we find his opponent,
who also calls himself a Catholic,
but who is strongly opposed to those key teachings.

Now, we can all disagree with each other
on most of the various policy issues in the campaign:
on taxes, metro, roads, education, etc..
But for months, beginning before the two candidates
ever really began to discuss those issues,
the faithful Catholic has been attacked viciously and incessantly
by his opponent
for supposedly being “anti-women” and “anti-gay.”
And sadly, like the dishonest judge in today’s Gospel,
who gave in to the widow just because she wouldn’t relent,
too many Virginians have succumbed to believing these relentless lies.

How many times did I see an ad attacking the faithful Catholic
for being “anti-woman” simply because he was against abortion?

For example, how many times have they attacked him
because he supports new restrictions on abortion clinics.
But who is anti-woman:
the faithful Catholic that wants to protect women
from unsafe and unsanitary clinics,
or his opponent who doesn’t seem to care?

And how many times have they attacked him
because he supposedly wanted to take away women’s contraception?
What he actually did was support a law that would
define the tiny baby as a person from the moment of conception.
That has nothing to do with contraception,
which by definition takes place prior to the moment of conception.

But the most despicable is the way his opponent
supposedly quotes the faithful Catholic as saying
“gay people are soulless.”

But, the faithful Catholic is a faithful Catholic, so he never said that.
As the Washington Post reported last week, and I quote:
“What [he] actually said in February 2008 ….was,
“When you look at the homosexual agenda,
I cannot support something that I believe
brings nothing but self-destruction,
not only physically but of their soul.”
Where does the supposed quote “gays are soulless” appear in that statement?
That’s not a man who thinks homosexuals are sub-human, or hates them.
That’s a Catholic who is concerned for homosexuals
because he believes their behavior hurts them.

Now you might say, “okay Father,
but he’s not being persecuted for being a Catholic,
they’re just attacking his political positions.”
But ignores the context all this takes place in.
It is undeniable that the Catholic Church
stands as the major stumbling block to those advancing the secular
pro-abortion, pro-promiscuity, pro-gay agenda.
And so they systematically attack the Church and all faithful Catholics,
through the media, regulation and political campaigns.
And in the end they effectively say
that all faithful Catholics are disqualified from holding public office
because they are bigots and haters;
after all, they say, that’s what faithful Catholics are, by definition.

And that, my friend, is, by definition, religious persecution.

But it shouldn’t be this way—not in America.
After all Article VII, Section 2, of our Constitution provides:
“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification
to any office or public trust under the United States.”
And the 1st Amendment to that Constitution guarantees that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And it especially should not be this way in Virginia,
which planted the seed of American religious liberty,
when, in 1779, Thomas Jefferson introduced
the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
“…[A]ll men” it said, “shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain,
their opinions in matters of Religion,
and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect
their civil capacities….”
Because to do so, it said, would “be an infringement of [a] natural right.”

Brothers and sisters,
religious persecution of Christians abounds in today’s world,
even in American, even Virginia.
And no one seems to care.

But we care, don’t we?
Because WE ARE Christians:
and when they persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ
they persecute us.
As St. Paul writes elsewhere, we are the Body of Christ,
and “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it…”
And as Pope Francis asked, just a few weeks ago:
“Am I indifferent to that,
or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?
… Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me….?”

Do we not care about the Christians in Syria? Or in Egypt? Or Africa?
Or China, or North Korea or Vietnam?
Are they too different or too far away for us to care about them?

Do we not even care about our fellow countrymen?
Are the Little Sisters of the Poor too insignificant for us to care about?
Is the faithful Catholic running for office too damaged by false accusations
for us to care about him?

Who will defend Christians attacked if Christians won’t—if we won’t?

So we must.
But what can we do?

In today’s Psalm we prayed:
“Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
And today’s first reading tells us that with the help of the Lord:
“Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people….”
But to make that happen we read that:
“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight….”
Moses raised his hands to heaven in the classic posture of the priest at prayer,
and God answered his prayer and protected Israel.
So, as we read in today’s gospel,
“Jesus told his disciples
…about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”

So we must first trust in the Lord and his power,
and then we must not cease to call on that power in constant prayer.

But besides praying, the first reading also tells us:
“Moses, ….said to Joshua,
“Pick out certain men, and …go out and engage Amalek in battle.”
So we must take action as well.
One very important action we must take, is to, as St. Paul says:
“proclaim the word”!
We must be silent no more when our brothers and sisters are persecuted.
We must speak out in our homes, our jobs, and our schools,
with our family and friends, and with our government officials.
And we must, as St. Paul insists:
“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand,
[and] encourage through all patience and teaching.”

And finally, remember, in this country “We the People” are sovereign,
including Christian people.
So we must participate in the political process.
In particular, faithful Christians must run for political office.
And when those faithful Christians run for office
the rest of us must support them, to the extent possible,
with our prayers, time, voices, and money.
And, my friends, with our votes!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, look up now at the Crucifix,
and see the ultimate persecution of Christianity.
But notice, that, like Moses,
Jesus on the Cross is lifting up his hands in prayer to His Father.
We now prepare to move more deeply into the mystery
of this most powerful prayer of the Cross made really present today
in the Eucharist.
As I lead you in this prayer with my hands lifted up
let us unite our prayers to Christ’s, begging his Father
to give us the courage to proclaim the Word,
whether it’s convenient or inconvenient;
the love to care for and defend our persecuted brothers and sisters,
whether they live across the globe or down the block;
and the grace to remain faithful to what we believe as Catholics,
whether in times of peace or oppression.

And as we leave here today, filled with the courage, love and grace of Christ,
let us, like Joshua, “go out and engage …in [the] battle.”
So that, by the grace of God,
when the Son of Man comes he will, indeed, find faith on earth
especially in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

26th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

September 29, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

I know today’s Gospel is a very powerful story,
and I would really like to preach on it.
But I hope you will excuse me if I preach about something else instead.
Because you see today /tomorrow is
the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
And although we don’t celebrate their feast this year because it falls on a Sunday
—the Lord’s Day—
I don’t think the Lord would mind if we talked about them,
and especially one of them: the great and glorious St. Michael.

You may recall the historic scene about 3 months in July
when Pope Emeritus Benedict joined Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens
to consecrate Vatican City to St. Michael.
So let’s talk about this St. Michael, who is so important to these two Popes,
and to us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells that us angels are:
“purely spiritual creatures angels [with] intelligence and will:
they are personal and immortal creatures,
surpassing in perfection all visible creatures.”
The word that keeps coming up in that description is “creatures”
angels, like us, were created by God.
Now, Scripture is silent about how or when they were created,
but we do know that they were already around before Adam and Eve.
In fact, there are 2 angels in chapter 3 of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve.
The one most easily recognizable is, as it says,
“the cherubim [with] the fiery revolving sword”
that God set as a guard over the gates of paradise
when he cast Adam and Even out.
But there’s another angel also, who’s much harder to recognize
—at least as an angel.
That’s because he is a fallen angel,
—he is the serpent—also known as the devil.

So in first chapters of Genesis we see the basic division of angels
between glorious angels and fallen angels
—or what we commonly call “angels” and “devils.”
And this points back to the ancient Jewish teaching
recorded by St. Peter in the New Testament,
that sometime before the creation of the visible world,
some of the angels sinned and were cast out of God’s presence.

Tradition tells us that God created the angels to glorify him by their service,
but also by their beauty or greatness—or their “glory.”
And here was one angel who out-shown all the rest.
So magnificent was his glory that he was described as a bright shining light
and named “the bearer of light”— or in Latin: “LUCIFER.”
Yes, the greatest angel in heaven,
the prince of the heavenly hosts, was the one we call today Lucifer.

Now, as the Catechism teaches, angels, like human beings,
have both intellect and will.
And Lucifer—being the greatest of the angels—
had the greatest intellect as well,
and his magnificent intellect told him
that he was in fact the greatest of all creatures.

But tradition tells us that at some point
God called all the angels together to tell them
that he was going to create man, and create him in his image and likeness.
And then he told them, not only was he going to create man,
God the Son was going to become a man.

This was impossible: Lucifer understood serving God,
but if God became man, he Lucifer would have to serve a man as well,
a measly sub-angelic earthbound creature.
How could God do this?
It made no sense to Lucifer’s great intellect, as it became blinded by pride.
And so he uttered those works as the Fathers of the Church attribute to him:
“non serviam”: “I will not serve.”
He refused to be man’s servant,
and so he refused to obey God and be his servant.

And so by his own free will, he set his mind and will against God and man,
and was cast out of heaven into the fires of hell,
creating that great irreconcilable division Jesus refers to in today’s gospel:
“between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”

Now the prince of light, had become now the prince of darkness.
His angelic wings turned to the scales of a serpent, a dragon.
No longer the humble servant of God,
but now the prideful “enemy” of God—and that became his name:
“enemy”, in Hebrew “Satan.”

He is God’s enemy—and man’s as well.
Because he sees man as the cause of his fall.
And so he has set himself to destroy man,
and to keep man and God apart forever.
And we see this right in the beginning of the creation of man,
as the serpent lies to man about God,
and causes man to sin and to also be thrown out of paradise.

So that is the state of affairs:
and there is the spiritual battle waged through all of history.

But is there no one to stand up for God, for man,
and for the God-man, Jesus Christ?
Is there no one who will meet this terrible and powerful fallen angel in combat
as God’s champion?

Lucifer was not the only magnificent angel in heaven.
And right behind the bright and proud Lucifer
stood another who was humble and strong.
This is the angel that God chose to send to lead his angels
as they cast Lucifer and his angels out of heaven
—as the Book of Revelation tells us:
“Then war broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels
battled against the dragon…and its angels
….He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,
which is the Devil or Satan,
…and threw it into the abyss.”

“Michael”!—the Hebrew name which means “Who is like God.”
Now, there is some debate over exactly what the significance of this name is.
Most scholars say that it proposes the question: “who is like God?”
and implies the answer “no one is like God”—least of all Lucifer.
But some suggest that it proposes the question “who is like God”
and implies the answer “Michael is like God.”
I think both these meanings are correct.

Unlike Satan, who in his pride tries to make itself God’s equal,
as if the answer were “Lucifer is like God”,
Michael, humbly serves God by fighting against that pride,
and in his humility doesn’t seek to be God’s equal,
but to be good, “like God” is good
—Michael is not a god, but he is godly.
In fact in his humility he is very much like God the Son who became a man,
and came to earth “to serve, and not to be served.”

The humility of Jesus eventually led him to die for our sins on the Cross.
And it is this humility that conquers the pride of Satan, and Adam and Eve.
Elsewhere in the Gospels we read that Jesus said:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth;
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
I mentioned earlier that when God banished Adam from paradise
he placed an angel with a fiery sword in his hand to protect the gate.
Who was that angel?
Several of the early fathers of the Church say it was none other than St. Michael.
And what was his sword?
It was, I think, none other than the sword of Christ himself:
the sword of humility, which Christ wielded on the Cross
to defeat the pride and sin of the devil.

On the Cross Christ won the war,
but the enemy refuses to admit defeat, and the battles continue.
There is no peace on earth today
—there can be no peace as long as, in the words of St. Peter:
“Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for (someone) to devour.”
And so, Michael continues to fight the battle.
Just as he has from the beginning when he drove
Lucifer and his cohorts from heaven,
and as he stood—sword in hand—at the gates of paradise,
and as he defeated the enemies of Israel—as the book of Daniel tells us,
and as he will until the end of time as the Book of Revelation tells us.

Look around at the world, and you see the battle joined.
The enemy—whom Jesus calls “a liar” and “a murderer” “from the beginning”—
is frantically busy sewing lies and death at every corner.

The last century saw more death by wars than all of recorded history.
At the same time even more were killed by genocide,
10s of millions in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russian, and Mao’s China.
And today millions more stand to die
as evil men plot to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
But even more terribly,
how many 100’s of millions have been killed in the last 40 years
from abortion?

God told created Adam and Eve as male and female
and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”
What lies Satan spreads today about this great gift of sexuality.
Lies that lead to 41% of all babies in America being born out of wedlock.
Lies that lead to men trying to “marry” men.
Lies that lead priests to fail in their vows of celibacy,
and even commit the most heinous crimes.

The Lord also told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it.
But the Father of lies tells us that means it’s okay to be greedy,
or fixated on possessions.
God created us love each other
and commanded us to love our neighbor as ourself.
But the father of lies tells us to ignore the those who are in need
or who can’t help themselves,
that they are someone else’s responsibility, not ours.

The battle of Michael and Satan goes on.
But it’s not just Michael and the angels who are called to fight—so are we!
As St. Paul’s tells us in Scripture:
“Fight the good fight.”
And: “Put on the full armor of God,
…to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

But how do we fight this battle?
We fight it by yielding the same sword as Michael: Christ’s sword of humility.
We fight it by being humble before God
by being his servant, obediently keeping his commandments
—all 10 of them, even if it means we suffer as He did.
And we fight it by being humble before our fellow man,
by serving our neighbor,
whether our neighbor is a family member,
a fellow parishioner, our coworkers,
and especially
“the poor man …covered with sores…
who would gladly eat his fill of the scraps
that fall from our table.”

Today at this Mass,
in the company of St. Michael the Archangel, with Gabriel and Raphael,
and all the heavenly hosts of Angels: [the Virtues, Powers, Principalities,
Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim….]
let us enter into the humility of Jesus Christ, God the Son,
who became a man to serve us,
and who continues to serve us under the humble disguise
of a piece of bread.
Let this bread of angels make us like the angels.
Let this Body of God the Son make us like God the Son.
Let this sacrifice of Christ’s obedience make us humble servants
of the Father, and of each other.
Let us enter into the battle with the sword of humility
—the sword of Christ our Savior,
the sword of St. Michael the Archangel.

25th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

September 22, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today’s Gospel is full of practical advice.
Jesus even commends the dishonest steward
because he uses what he’s stolen very well,
from a practical perspective.

But then he gives us practical advice about how
we shouldn’t trust people who are not trustworthy,
like the dishonest steward.
He tells us:
“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones.”
And then he tells us how to discern whether someone is trustworthy:
“No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

So that when we are wondering whether we should trust someone,
we look to see where they’re coming from
—what are their priorities, and, if you will, their principles.
So, we see the dishonest steward, and we see his priorities
are not to serve his master or to pay back what he as stolen,
but to protect himself.
His Mammon is himself, he loved himself and hated his master,
and so the master rightly sees him as untrustworthy and fires him.

Who do you trust?
That’s a broad question, so let me narrow it down.
I presume that, since you’re here,
all of you want to follow Jesus Christ,
and to love God and not Mammon;
and to be good and faithful Catholics.
So, whom should a good and faithful Catholic trust?

Answer: when it comes to knowing right and wrong,
and to following Jesus,
we should be very leery about trusting those
who serve Mammon rather than God.

This would sort of seem obvious.
So I am continually shocked when the opposite happens.
In particular, I’m mystified when Catholics believe
everything they read or hear in the secular media.
I mean, if there’s one place today that does not serve God,
especially as Christians, and Catholics in particular,
have understood him for 2000 years, it’s the media.
After all, they have other priorities than we do.
Of course, they’re out to make a money—nothing wrong with that.
But their priority is money over truth.
They print or report what sells, not necessarily what is true.
So they serve money, not truth.

But more importantly,
they all seem to embrace a common ideological perspective,
that is definitely not Christian:
some call it liberal or progressive;
I tend to call it secular relativism or humanism.
In any case, their ideology basically rejects traditional Christian values.
And so they are “devoted to one and despise the other”:
devoted to their anti-Christian ideology and despise Catholicism.

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

So why would any Catholic trust the media,
especially when it comes to matters related to morality or eternal truths,
or to the Church itself?

We find ourselves with 2 great examples of this just this week.

First, as I write about in my column this week,
earlier this week the Washington Post had an editorial with the headline:
“Virginia’s next governor will determine
whether most abortion clinics close.”
But while the headline may be true,
the editorial went on to twist the truth, and even lie,
to present its case in support of abortion
and keeping these abortion clinics open.
And in the process tearing down the pro-life and faithful Catholic candidate
and promoting the pro-abortion and unfaithful Catholic candidate.

So think about it: when the vehemently
pro-abortion, pro-“gay”, pro-contraception, anti-Catholic Washington Post
says outlandish things about a faithful Catholic
for believing what Catholics believe about abortion,
why would you trust anything they say?

And then you have the second example:
Friday’s reporting throughout the media about
a long interview given by Pope Francis.
Everywhere you looked, the media were spinning the Pope’s words,
taken out of context,
to make it seem as if Francis was being critical
of traditional Catholic teaching and practice.
For example, they quote him saying:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to
abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.
This is not possible….
it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

First of all, what the pope said is true, but the media’s spin was false.
We can’t “only” preach on those topics, and
“it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
And we don’t: neither the Church as a whole nor any priests I know does that.
But the media presented this as the Pope rejecting Catholics,
especially priest and bishops,
who give these issues priority over other issues,
even suggesting that it meant
the Pope didn’t care that much about these issues,
and thinks other issues have greater priority.

But that is not what he said, and not what he meant.
In fact, the very next day, today/yesterday,
the Holy Father himself spoke out strongly against abortion,
and the Post’s headline read:
“Pope blasts abortion in olive branch of sorts
after denouncing church’s obsession with rules.”

And if you read the actual text of the Pope’s interview itself,
you see something very different.
You see that the pope was saying nothing different
than Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI said before him:
that is, you have to present all Catholic teaching
in the context of the mercy and love of God,
because that’s the only way they can be fully understood.
Isn’t that exactly what John Paul did in his encyclical on abortion,
Evangelium Vitae, “the Gospel of Life”?
Isn’t that exactly what Benedict did in his first encyclical,
Deus Caritas Est, “God is Love,”
where he beautifully explained the love of God,
and explained how abortion as contrary to that love.

But you didn’t get that from the press.

Perhaps the New York Times’ headline summed up the medias spin the best:
“Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.”

And yet the Francis said no such thing.
What he said is that the Church “cannot be obsessed
with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.”
In other words, we have to present not “disjointed” doctrines,
as if abortion wasn’t intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love,
but explain, simply but clearly how abortion is wrong
because radically it opposes God’s love.
And he spoke of how this cannot “be imposed insistently.”
Which is the same thing both John Paul II and Benedict XVI said before him:
“the Church proposes, it does not impose.”

But in the end, as most of the media had to admit,
though buried near the end of their coverage:
“no doctrine was change.”

Now, one thing we have to remember,
sometimes Pope Francis can be hard to understand, even confusing.
And you might easily misinterpret some of what he says
—especially if you love your own ideology
and hate the teaching of the Catholic Church.

His style, both in speaking and writing is very different from
John Paul II and Benedict,
especially Benedict who was one of them most brilliant
but also clear and concise writers you will ever read.
Francis is also brilliant—if you read the interview you will see that.
But he’s not always very clear, especially when he’s talking off the cuff.
And when he tries to be concise, it often comes out as an oversimplification.

I am not attacking the Pope here, I’m just talking about his style.
The journalist that did the interview described this:
“The pope had spoken earlier about his great difficulty in giving interviews.
He said that he prefers to think
rather than provide answers on the spot in interviews.
…the pope interrupted what he was saying in response to a question
several times, in order to add something to an earlier response.
Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas
that are bound up with each other.”

And His Holiness says of himself, in the interview:
“I am a really, really undisciplined person”

Another thing to remember is that both John Paul and Pope Benedict believed
they needed to clarify the teachings of the Church,
after the confusion of the 1960s and 70s,
and so they were very careful and precise in how they taught.
But Pope Francis seems to think that they did their job, that the teaching is clear,
and not he wants to emphasize trying to simplify the manner
in which people are invited to learn and experience that teaching.
As he says in the interview:
“The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant.”
Is he criticizing or rejecting his predecessors approach?
No—he’s just proposing his own approach, building on them, today.

Moreover, in an effort to present himself as more accessible,
he does things, as I said before, more off the cuff—like this interview.
But as I wrote in a column several weeks ago:
“This “folksy,” or impromptu approach of Pope Francis
may be leading many people to turn to the Church for a second look,
but it also may carry the risk of causing
some confusion and misunderstanding,
and providing the opportunity for some to try to
set Francis against Benedict and John Paul.”
And that is exactly what happened with this interview.

In that column I also wrote about the need to follow what
Pope Benedict use to call the “hermeneutic of continuity”
—the idea that we must read what one Pope says
in the light of all that came before in the Church,
including his predecessors writings,
assuming continuity between Popes
and rejecting the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”
–trying to set one Pope against another.
So I had to smile at one of Pope Francis’s responses in the interview:
“Yes,” he said, “there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity.”

Today Jesus asks us in the Gospel: “who will trust you with true wealth?”
Who does a Catholic trust nowadays,
especially when we want to know what the Pope is saying or doing,
or what the Church teaches on faith and morals,
or even what is right and what is wrong?
Whether it’s about a papal interview or the race for governor of Virginia.
Do we trust those who love and serve God and His Church?
Or do we trust those who are hate the Church and her teachings,
and love and devotedly serve themselves and their own ideologies?

“No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013

September 15, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today’s readings talk about turning.
What we have in all the readings are people turning away from God
and going their own way,
but then God calling them back, and they return to him.
So in the first reading from Exodus, when Moses is up on the mountain
receiving the Law from God,
God tells Moses:
“Go down at once to your people…,
They have soon turned aside
from the way I pointed out to them…”
And then in the Gospel, when the prodigal son comes home,
the servant says to the older brother,
“Your brother has returned.”

In both of these readings, this turning away from God, or the father,
involves moral corruption:
In the 1st reading God says:
“Go down at once to your people,…for they have become depraved.
And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us the prodigal son
“squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation,”
and “swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

But notice, something about the first reading.
The moral depravity of the Israelites reflects itself in the way they worship.
God says:
“They …turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God…”
They not only don’t behave the way God “pointed out to them”,
but they also don’t worship the way God “pointed out to them.”

Fundamentally this reflects that the fact that
when they don’t obey God’s moral law they, in effect,
make themselves greater than God
—they know better than he does.
So, in effect, in their moral lives, they worship themselves.

And this is reflected in the way they actually liturgically worship, :
they invent a God out of gold, of their own creation,
what they want God to be,
and they worship him the way they want, not how he wants.

Of course, this is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do.
Worship is not supposed to be some empty ritual
that somehow entertains God or satiates his need for praise,
much less entertain us or satiates our need to praise.
Rather it’s supposed to essentially reflect the reality of our lives,
and, in turn, effect the reality of our lives.

For example, for the ancient Jews and for Christians today,
the most important form of liturgical worship is the sacrifice.
The sacrifice of the Old Testament was usually the ritual slaughtering of animals, and the sacrifice of the New Testament is Christ’s death on the Cross.
But God isn’t pleased by simply killing and giving him dead animals.
As we read in Psalm 50:
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”

And he certainly isn’t pleased by the death of His Son.

What sacrifice is all about in both the Old and New Testament
is a symbol of the actual giving to God of the whole life,
not of the animal,
but of the person himself.
So when someone sacrificed a lamb, it symbolized giving themselves to God.

But a person doesn’t give themselves to God if they don’t obey him.
So when Jesus died on the Cross, he didn’t just die,
but rather gave himself up in total obedience to the Father:
“not my will, but thine be done.”

When the Hebrews in today’s first reading disobeyed God’s moral laws
they were not giving themselves to him,
they were obeying themselves and keeping themselves to themselves.
So their sacrifices reflected that:
they sacrificed to a fake god of their own making:
they worshiped themselves.

The same is true of the prodigal son in the Gospel:
his disobedience of his father by the actions of his immoral life
is reflected in his leaving his father.
But his rejection of immorality, his desire to obey his father,
is reflected in his returning to his Father’s home
and promising to serve him.

All this is captured today as we read part of Psalm 51:
“My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”
And if we could continue reading the rest of that Psalm we would find the words:
“Then you will desire the sacrifices of the just,
burnt offering and whole offerings;
then they will offer up young bulls on your altar.”

Of course, as Catholics we believe that the sacrifice of the New Testament
—Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross—
is re-presented at every Mass, in the Eucharist.
But actually, there are two sacrifices in the New Testament:
Jesus’ sacrifice of the Cross,
offering himself in total obedience to the Father,
and the sacrifice of every Christian,
offering ourselves in total obedience to the Father
As St. Paul says in Romans:
“offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God
–this is your true and proper worship.”

At every Mass that’s what we do: the bread and wine represent us
—our bodies, our lives, everything we do: US.
And so we offer up, or “lift up our hearts to the Lord.”

But as we all know, the only sacrifice of real consequence,
the only truly worthy sacrifice, is Jesus sacrifice.
And so we ask Christ to take our sacrifices and unite them to his own:
and so he takes the bread and wine symbolizing us,
and unites our sacrifice to his own sacrifice
by changing them into His Body and Blood sacrificed on Calvary.

But what good are our symbolic offering of bread and wine
if we don’t really give ourselves?
And how do we give ourselves if our lives are disobedient
to his teachings and his moral law?
If our lives out there in the world are not united to the life of Christ,
how can we ask him to unite the gift of our lives to his in the Eucharist?
How do we worship him when we do not obey him
—when we really worship ourselves in the false gods our sins create?

Sadly, the words of God to Moses so often apply to us:
“…they have become depraved.
They have …turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God.”

In today’s first reading we see that when the people disobey God’s moral laws,
they often reflect this in the actual way they disobey God’s liturgical laws.
This continues in throughout the Old Testament:
we read of it here in Exodus, 2nd book of the Old Testament,
and we read of it 43 books later, or 800 years later,
in the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, where God says:
“O priests, who despise my name….
[b]y offering polluted food upon my altar. …
When you offer blind animals in sacrifice…
And when you offer those that are lame or sick,
is that no evil?”
They were supposed to offer their very best to God, instead they offer the worst.

It’s fascinating to me that this same phenomena seems to manifest itself
throughout the life of the Church as well.
Over the centuries as we look back and see
the ebb and flow of the moral life of Christian peoples and cultures,
we usually also see a corresponding ebb and flow in their liturgical life
—as people worship God less in their hearts and lives
we see them worship him less in the liturgy.
And conversely, when we see the great liturgical reforms of the Church
—in the Gregorian reform of the 6th century,
the Carolingian Reform of the 9th century,
the 2nd Gregorian reform of the 11th century,
the Tridentine reform of the 16th century—
all of them were intimately connected with the reform of morals
of the people and priests.

In a certain way, the liturgical reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s
also had this in mind,
as they called for all the faithful to take up
a more active participation in the Mass.
But by “active participation” they didn’t mean something that was
merely exterior, not just moving around and doing things at Mass,
but it meant something principally and primarily interior.
As Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy tells us:
“Before men can come to the liturgy
they must be called to faith and to conversion…
Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation …
so that all men may know …Jesus Christ …
and may be converted from their ways.”

“Called …to conversion…”
“Converted from their ways.”

The word “convert” comes from the Latin, “conversio”,
from 2 Latin words: “cum” meaning “with,” and “vertere” meaning “to turn.”
So “covert” means to “turn with,” or “turn toward.”
So that in Christianity, to “convert” means to turn toward the Lord.

And conversion is not something reserved for non-Christians:
it is the calling and the constant striving of every Christian, every Catholic,
to recognize, that like the ancient Hebrews, we have, in so many ways,
“turned aside from the way [Christ] pointed out to” us.
Like the prodigal son, every day we must recognize that we have,
in so many ways,
turned away from our father and squandered his inheritance.
And that we must once again come home, we must, return to him.
We must convert.

This conversion begins in the heart, but it is proclaimed at every Mass,
as we, all and each of us, lift up our hearts to the Lord in sacrifice:
pledging Him our lives, our love, our humble obedience.
And pray the Lord Jesus to unite our little tiny imperfect lives,
to his magnificent and perfect life
offered once for all on the Cross,
and made present to us, once again, miraculously, on this altar.

As we now enter more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us, dear friends, now “turn aside” from sin, and disobedience,
and re-turn to the Father.
Let us turn away from the false worship of ourselves.
And let us together turn toward the Lord and worship Him in truth.

22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

September 1, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today’s readings clearly center on the theme of humility.
But I think there’s something more here that we can look at:
something the Lord is telling us
about the role of humility in what we’ve come here today to do:
that humility is at the heart of the proper worship of God,
especially when we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist.

The book of Genesis tells us that it was Adam’s sin of pride
that cost all mankind eternal life with God.
Adam and Eve believed the servant’s lie
that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
then they would be like God.
This is the epitome of pride,
and it is the antithesis of worship–they said in effect:
“I will not worship God, I will worship myself.”

What a radically different picture we find in Christ
–whom St. Paul calls the “new Adam.”
In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul writes:
“though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at,
rather … he humbled himself ….even unto death, death on a cross.”

It is the humility of Jesus to worship the Father
that defeats the effects of Adam’s pride,
and brings about our salvation.
And it is the Cross which is the ultimate act of his humility.
And because of the Cross, Philippians goes on to say:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him
…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

In today’s first reading from the book of Sirach,
God the Father tells his only begotten Son, Jesus:
“My son, conduct your affairs with humility.”
In today’s Gospel Jesus passes this instruction on to us:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
Rather, …take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’”

Jesus lived out his father’s (instruction and his own) perfectly, so that by taking
“the lowest place”
–humbly accepting death on the Cross
–his Father came to him and said
“My friend, move up to a higher position”,
raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in glory.

In the Mass we come to worship God
but we do it in the context of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
We call it a sacrifice because in it we truly come face to face
with the sacrifice of the Cross.
And it’s through this mystery of Christ’s own humility in the Cross,
that we can join him in his heavenly glorify.

So, essential to our participation in this mystery of worship,
the Eucharist, the Mass
essential to our being united with Christ crucified and glorified,
is the absolute necessity, on our part,
of an overwhelming sense of personal humility.

The readings today reflect this very eloquently.
The Gospel begins by saying:
“On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine” or “to eat a meal.”
But at that meal, Jesus points to another very special type of meal,
as he tells the parable of the wedding feast,
which, in the language of Scripture, is nothing less than heaven itself:
the wedding banquet of Christ and his bride the Church.

Today is the Sabbath, and today we also come to a meal.
But this meal is also no ordinary meal,
because as we find ourselves in the presence
of the mystery of the humility of Christ on the Cross,
we also find ourselves somehow mystically present
at glorious wedding banquet of heaven.
And Jesus reminds us that to worthily enter into this banquet
we must “not sit in the place of honor…but in the lowest place”
–we must enter into this banquet in humility.

And so, the Mass is full of prayers and signs
calling us to and expressing humility.
Let’s take a moment to consider some.

We begin the Mass with the penitential rite, recalling humbly that we are sinners.
One reason I almost always use the Confiteor, the “I confess”,
is because if we say it sincerely we’re making a great act of humility:
humility before God and before our neighbor,
“I confess to almighty God,
and to you my brothers and sisters
that I have greatly sinned…”
And then the beautiful and radically humbling triple “through my fault.”

And after the prayer of penance, we go the Gloria, as if to say humbly,
while we are humble sinners, you are the Lord God and heaven king,
and so we first beat our breasts,
but then “We praise you,…bless you,…adore you,…glorify you,
[and] give you thanks …”
“You alone are the Holy one”—not us.

Then we go into the Liturgy of the Word, and again we express our humility
–this time not in what we say,
but by not saying anything, and instead humbly listening,
listening to God speaking to us through the Scriptures
and in the Homily.
The first reading from the book of Sirach today anticipates this liturgical humility:
“conduct your affairs with humility,…
an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.”

The Mass proceeds and we come to the offertory,
as we offer our the humble gifts of bread and wine,
which symbolize the gifts of ourselves.
Just simple bread and wine, symbolic of the fact that we know
nothing we have and nothing about us
is truly worthy to offer the Lord.
And so we ask him to change them into the only worthy gift:
Jesus himself, given on the Cross.
And the priest prays in a low voice that God
“be pleased with the sacrifice we offer” him
“with humble and contrite hearts”.

Then we come to the Eucharistic Prayer, the heart of the Mass.
Today’s second reading is from the letter to the Hebrews
–the epistle that so beautifully explains the mystery that Jesus
is both the priest and victim of the sacrifice.
In this context, we read:
“you have approached Mount Zion…the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven…”
As we begin this Prayer
in which we are truly drawing nearer and nearer every moment
to the coming of heaven to earth in the Eucharist,
we begin by joining the angels and the saints assembled with us
as they sing their song of praise:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

But the letter to the Hebrews most especially points out
that in this heavenly Jerusalem we:
“have approached… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”
As we now reach the most holy part of the Mass we hear the words:
“this is my body….this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new…covenant.”
And we finally are present with all of glorious heaven,
at the foot of the bloody cross of Christ’s humility.

All throughout the Mass we show external signs of our internal desire
to become humble before the Lord and with one another.
We bow our heads at the name of Jesus,
we bow to the altar as a symbol of Christ,
we strike our breasts three times in the Confiteor.
But now as we reach the summit of the Divine Liturgy,
we show our greatest outward sign of humility.
In St. John’s book of Revelation as he describes
his vision of the entrance of Christ into the heavenly liturgy,
he tells us that the angels and saints
“fell down and worshipped” “before the Lamb, who was slain.”
As Christ personally and physically enters into our Liturgy,
present under the appearance of the Eucharistic bread and wine,
we join the angels and saints and fall to our knees.
And we kneel again a few moments later before the Lamb of God,
saying in all humility:
“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

Finally, after preparing ourselves to approach this heavenly wedding banquet
with truly humble hearts,
Christ himself, the host of the banquet approaches and says:
“my friend, move up to a higher position..”
And then we draw nearest to Christ, who takes us to the highest place,
as we receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

It’s Christ’s humility that allowed him to come to us in the form of a man
and to die on the Cross,
and it’s Christ’s humility that conquers Adam’s pride.
It’s Christ’s humility that allows him to come to us
under the form of simple bread and wine,
and it’s Christ’s humility that brings us into his glory.
But its only to the extent that we prepare ourselves
and open our hearts to share in his humility
that we can truly enter into the mystery of the gift
of his Cross and his glory.

My brothers and sisters, taking the words of today’s Scriptures:
let us conduct our liturgy with humility.
Having listened with an attentive ear
now approach…the heavenly Jerusalem, and Jesus,
the mediator of a new covenant.
But do not seek honor at this the heavenly wedding feast,
instead go and sit in the lowest, most humble place,
so that when the Lord approaches you he will say,
“My friend, move up to a higher position.”
For he “who humbles himself will be exalted.”

21th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 25, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Awhile back I was talking with an old friend I grew up with.
Though we both went to the same Catholic grade school,
we wound up very different in life:
I became a priest and he became a fallen away Catholic.
He excused himself by saying:
“what difference does it make?—we all believe in the same God,
we just take different roads to get to him.”
I’ve heard this a million times, and so have you.
And it has a certain attraction to it.
But then we run into some problems,
like when the one we believe to be “God”
tells us:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.”

In this phrase Jesus is saying that their aren’t many different roads to God,
at least not in the indifferent kind of sense my friend was using.
We see this especially when we remember other sayings of Jesus
we find elsewhere in the Gospels,
for example:
“Enter by the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the way is easy,
that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.”
And: “Whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
…is a thief and a robber….
Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

Sure, we all live different lives, and so in a certain sense we “take different roads.”
But in the end, we all have to stop when we come to that one narrow gate
that is Jesus,
and enter, and follow the one road, His one way, to the Father.

Some argue:
but look at texts like the one we find in today’s first reading, where it says:
“I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.”
Doesn’t that mean that all peoples
—even non-Christian peoples—will go to heaven
no matter what their religious beliefs?
The thing is, the text goes on to say:
“They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
…to Jerusalem, my holy mountain
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.”
In other words, one day the God of the Jews will come to earth
and bring all nations to come to worship HIM
so in the way the HE would tell them to.

(Now/And) as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is, in fact,
the incarnation of the God of the Jews,
and who did come to earth to tell all nations the way.
He said:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father, but by me.“
And he told his apostles:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them…,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Some might argue, well then as long as someone’s a Christian,
that’s’ good enough.
Again, we turn to Christ’s own words:
Speaking to Simon Peter:
“And I tell you, you are Rock,
and on this rock I will build my church…”
Or speaking to all his disciples:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”
Or to his Father:
“I pray Father….that they may become perfectly one.”
The only religion we find that follows these teachings of
the primacy of Peter, the centrality of the Eucharist
and the unity of the Church
is in the Catholic Church.
So, following Jesus is a narrow gate that leads through the Catholic Church.

Now, it’s true that many Christians who aren’t Catholic,
and even many people who aren’t even Christian,
try every day to enter the narrow gate.
They truly seek God even though, through no fault of their own,
they have not been able to come to know Jesus Christ
or the fullness of his teachings in the Catholic Church.
And if they truly believe and accept the way and truth of God,
as best they can come to understand it,
of course God won’t deny them salvation.
Still, it’s hard to know which gate to walk through
when you don’t share in the full teaching and instruments of grace
that Christ has entrusted to his Catholic Church.
So that, in fact, as Jesus says elsewhere:
“the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.”

Unfortunately, this last saying also can apply equally to Catholics:
just because you’re outwardly a Catholic
doesn’t mean you’re going to heaven.
Even if you’ve memorized all the teachings of the Popes back to Peter,
and even if you come to Mass every Sunday and
“eat the flesh of the Son of Man”,
if you do not follow the way, the truth and the life
that Christ and His Church has taught you
you really haven’t entered the narrow gate.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says to these Catholics:
“then will you stand outside …saying,…
‘We ate …in your company
and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.’”

As we read last week:
“to whomever much is given, of him much shall be required.”
And as Jesus says this week:
“some are first who will be last.”

The fact is many self-proclaimed “practicing” Catholics,
including too many priests,
choose the wide gate, the easy road, all the time.
And instead of recognizing this about themselves,
they blame the Church for being too narrow-minded,
out of step with the real world.
It needs to change it’s teachings and stop thinking it has the one truth faith.

Now, most of you, would probably never say these things.
You accept the Church’s teachings and you try to follow them.
That’s great, and I’m very proud and edified by you.
But is even that enough?

By telling us to “enter the narrow gate”
Jesus isn’t calling us to become
some sort of unthinking, unfeeling narrow-minded rule-bound bureaucrats.
His rules and doctrine are essential:
there is a particular way to go, truth to believe, and life to live.
But you can’t understand any of that if you don’t first understand
that the narrow gate is first and foremost a person,
and in fact one particular person.
“I am the Gate,” Jesus says; “I am the way.”

All of us go through life with some sort of rules that determine how we live
—even if we make them up for ourselves.
That’s relatively easy.
But it’s a whole lot harder
to give and commit your life and love to another person.
Because no matter how wonderful and inclusive and multifaceted a person is,
every person is unique, specific and demanding.

And so it is true that the gate is narrow:
you must give your life to the particular person
who is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
And you must truly love Him and His Father and Spirit
with all your heart, mind soul and strength.

This week we celebrate the feast of a saint who, like most of us,
struggled with entering the narrow gate.
He was a uniquely talented man:
a brilliant scholar, a rising star in academia and the political life of his time.
But he not only walked down the wide road
but ran and danced as fast as he could all around it.
His life was filled with pride and avarice and greed and lust.

But there was always a problem:
something in his brilliant mind and in his sensitive heart told him
“there’s something missing….something more….”
And so gradually he narrowed his road down, bit by bit.
He moved from being a pagan,
to a monotheist,
to being a kind of heretical Christian.
All along he saw the narrow gate,
and was frightened by what seemed to be it’s limits, and sacrifices.
For example he prayed, “Lord give me chastity….but not yet.”

Until one day, confused and torn
he heard a voice of a child say to him:
“Take up and read; take up and read.”
So he picked up and read the only book in front of him—the New Testament:
The words jumped out at him:
“put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
In other words:
leave behind the wide gate and the easy road
and enter through the narrow gate: Jesus Christ.

And in an instant his whole world changed
and he discovered why he had been so unhappy:
as he would write years later,
“Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in you.”

If you haven’t guessed it yet,
that man went on to become
the most important philosopher and theologian in the history of the Church,
and one of her greatest saints:
St. Augustine of Hippo.
He entered that narrow gate, but didn’t see it as confining or restrictive,
but as a love that freed him to become
the great man he was created to be, in Christ.
And so he wrote:
“Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you….
You were with me, but I was not with you…
You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness….
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.”

Today hear the voice inside of you calling:
“Take and read…“take and read.”
And read what Scripture says:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
And as you approach the altar today to eat the flesh of the Lord,
as He enters into you, let yourself enter into him:
enter the narrow gate.
And as you leave here today do not go back outside that gate,
but go forward on that road that opens wide your heart and mind
to the infinitely boundless,
and yet particularly personal,
love of Jesus Christ.

20th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 18, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

It is one of the great comforts of Christians
to hear the wonderfully consoling words
that the Lord Jesus so often speaks to us in Sacred Scripture.
For example, the words of Christ’s high priestly prayer for unity
at the Last Supper:
“that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…”
Or words that we hear at every mass:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”
But today we hear something very different
from the mouth of the one we call the Prince of Peace:
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.”

The Gospels record Jesus saying things like this on several occasions.
For example, St. Matthew records him saying something very similar, but even more harsh:
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
How can Christ promise peace and unity,
and also claim that he comes not to bring peace and unity,
but the sword and division?
There’s only one way that makes sense
–a way that is clearly consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Christ does come to bring peace
–but not the peace of the world, rather, his peace.
And he comes to bring unity–but not unity with the world,
rather, unity with him, and his heavenly father.
Jesus knows that just as surely as he brings unity and peace into the world
to those who follow him in love,
he also brings division between himself and his own on the one side,
and those who chose not to follow him on the other.

The division is clear and spectacularly simple;
elsewhere in Scripture he tells his apostles:
“He who is not with me is against me.”
And we shouldn’t be surprised since it was predicted at his birth,
when the prophet Simeon told his mother in the temple:
“This child is destined to be
the downfall and the rise of many in Israel,
a sign that will be opposed.”
It was even promised almost from the beginning of time,
from the very first time man put himself in opposition to God,
as God promised the serpent in the garden of Eden:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed…”

Jesus knew that he was calling for a radical change in his disciples,
that by placing yourself with Him
you will often discover yourself to be in opposition to the world.
And He knew that living this life would be a truly difficult struggle,
and that it would often require great sacrifice:
I remember one time in the seminary when we were discussing
how to preach about some difficult moral teaching;
the guest speaker cautioned us:
“you really can’t preach about this to a congregation;
good Lord, they’d kill you.”
We all looked at each other rather stunned, until a brave voice in the back reminded him: “Like they killed Jesus?”
And then another voice said:
“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
It’s true for priests, and its true for all faithful Christians.

This opposition, sometimes even violent opposition,
means that we are in a battle,
but not a battle in the sense the world normally fights battles,
because this is a battle involving Christ.
So it’s not a war inspired by hatred for the opposition
–but a war inspired by love for those who hate us.
It’s not a war that seeks to bring death to the enemy,
but a struggle to bring life to the entire world.
And unlike any merely human battle,
the promise of peace and unity is still experienced
–even in the heat of conflict—
by all who, as St. Paul says,
“keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.”

We are called to this radical new life in Christ.
He calls us not to be afraid,
but to allow our hearts to be ablaze with the fire he brings into the world:
the fire so vividly seen on Pentecost
as the Holy Spirit descended upon the first disciples–on his Church.
That fire still burns in the Church,
though, unfortunately, not so brightly in all her members.

Ask yourself: does the fire of Christ burn brightly in your life
so that, living in the world, you truly live
“as a sign that will be opposed.”
Do you live and love like you really believe in Christ and his Church?
Or do you live in fear of being seen as being different
or in opposition to the “normal” world?

It’s very hard to do this, to live as a “sign opposed”.
Sometimes you even find yourself opposed by your own family,
as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel.
I know many of you have experience this.
Some of you parents find it difficult to correct your children,
to teach them your values—the values of Christ.
Sometimes it seems you’re fighting a losing battle,
with the media and sometimes even the schools
teaching your kids a completely opposite set of values,
reinforced by the music they listen to and movies or television they see.
You tell your son to respect authority and say “yes sir” and “no ma’am”,
then his favorite athlete is arrested
for trashing his hotel room and resisting arrest.
You try to teach your daughter to dress modestly
with true respect for herself and her body,
but her favorite website tells her if she does she’s a prude,
and besides, all her friends dress like that.
Or you have older children
who’ve stopped going to church,
or who are cohabiting with their boyfriend or girlfriend,
or who have married outside the laws of the church.
Or a son who tells you he’s “gay.”

And kids, you really want to do the right thing,
to live clean and sober and in chastity,
but your friends make fun of you
and pressure to abuse alcohol or drugs or sex.
Sometimes it even comes from your parents:
you want to go to Mass or confession, but your parents are too busy.
Or maybe your interested in being a priest or a nun,
and they look at you like your crazy.

There is a vast division between the life Christ has called us to
and the life of the world we live in.
But the divisions don’t end there:
there’s still another troubling division
that exists in the life of everyday Christians
–the very real state of division that exists
in the separation of Orthodox and Protestant Churches
from fullness of unity with the Catholic Church.
Many of these non-Catholic Christians truly stand for Christ,
opposed by the world,
but at the same time they place themselves in opposition
to the fullness of grace, truth and faith
that Christ gave to his apostles and their successors
to be protected and shared with his people.

And again the division don’t stop here:
Everyday we see painful divisions among Catholics.
Sometimes we suffer more from fellow Catholics
than we do from those who categorically and formally oppose the Church.
Many of you know that I was born and raised and lived most of my life
in San Antonio.
In fact it was it was only 22 years ago tomorrow that I left San Antonio
to move to Arlington to begin my studies for the priesthood.
I firmly believe that it was divine providence—the very hand of God Himself—
that led me here.
But I never would have left San Antonio if the church there
hadn’t been in such a state of division:
priests and laity alike, especially the professors in the seminary,
in open opposition to the Pope and the teachings of the Church.

Divisions exist, not only between the Christian family and the world,
but even in the heart of families and even in the heart of the Church.
And they can be a terrible source of discouragement.
But, remember the admonition of St. Paul in today’s second reading, and
“[do]not grow weary and lose heart.”
Don’t let division’s —either in the family, or with the world or in the faith—
lead you to give up on what you believe,
to compromise God’s eternal truth
for some false and passing unity in or of the world.
Rather, as St. Paul advises us today:
” [let us] keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith..”
Do not let opposition dampen your spirits or drown your faith,
but let the fire of Christ blaze and strengthen your zeal.
Don’t let it be a fire of hatred of your enemies, but a fire of love for Christ.
Let his fire purify your intentions,
and spread from you
to warm the hearts of those who are cold or luke-warm to Christ.

My brothers and sisters,
Christ loves us and wants us to live in peace.
But his love is also a sword,
not a sword that kills or wounds,
but a sword that cuts away truth from lies,
dividing good from evil.
Let us pray for ourselves, for one another,
that we may truly live life in union with the Lord Jesus,
and never place ourselves in opposition to him.
Let us pray also for our families, and our friends,
that Christ may heal all divisions,
and enliven the fire of his truth and love in us.
Let us pray for all Catholics,
and for all Christians
who are divided from the full unity with the Catholic faith,
and for those divided from the Church entirely.
Let us pray that the burning fire of the Holy Spirit may well up in his Church,
transforming us into one consuming blaze
that will burn out of control, spreading into all the world,
burning away all walls of that divide us
from the perfect unity and peace of Jesus Christ.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we turn
there’s bad and even frightening news:
the War on Terror,
unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosures,
furloughs, political discord,
the loss of privacy, the power of government,
the attack on marriage, the decline of morals….
Not to mention more personal tragedies:
illness, loneliness, abandonment, death…
I could go on and on.
Facing all this it’s easy to become sad and discouraged.
So easy to slip into fear, or even to lose hope.

But then we come to a day like today:
a day filled with joy as we celebrate
the Assumption of the BVM to heaven.

We celebrate with joy because of the event itself:
that the Blessed Mother, the Mother of Jesus and Our Mother,
when her earthly life was ended,
was assumed, body and soul, into heaven,
and now reigns in glory with her Son, Jesus Christ,
as queen of heaven and earth.

We imagine her joy of being in the glory of heaven
before the throne of God the Father and Son,
united to them in the fullness of the Holy Spirit,
and in the company of the angels and saints.
Perfect happiness, perfect love, perfect peace, perfect joy.
Tonight we read the words she spoke on that day
she visited her cousin Elizabeth,
with the Baby Jesus newly conceived in her womb,
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
Surely that day she meant every word and they were pure and true,
but now in heaven those words take on
a whole new meaning and perfection.
“Her spirit rejoices in God her savior,
for he has lifted up his lowly servant
and placed her in the center of his heart,
in the love of the Father Son and Holy Spirit,
surrounded by the angels and saints,
and in the midst of all the prayers and praise
of the faithful on earth.

She is filled with incomprehensible joy,
and, because she is our Mother, how can we not rejoice in her happiness.

And in her happiness we find even more joy for ourselves
—for as our Mother she longs for us to share her joy completely.
She longs for us to go where she has gone,
to live in paradise as saints forever.
For us to share eternally in the promise Her Son made to all of us,
that if we would love Him and believe in him
and hope in him and follow him,
we might have eternal life—life in abundance.
“Rejoice and be glad” he said,
“for the kingdom of God shall be yours,” he promised.
“Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him
[shall] have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The promise that his faithful followers would go heaven,
not just in spirit or with their souls, but in their whole being: body and soul.
So that all the fears and pains and suffering we endure in body and soul
in our life in this world would be wiped away and rewarded,
and every joy we celebrate on earth in body and soul
will be fulfilled and perfected.

And he has kept his promise.
First with His Mother as he took her, body and soul into heaven.
The first disciple of Jesus, the one who, as Elizabeth says of her, was the first to
“believe that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
So she was the first to receive the fullness of His promise,
and her assumption into to heaven stands as a pledge to us
that where the first disciple, the first believer, has gone,
the rest of His disciples will follow.

If, if, only we are true disciples as she was.
If we believe and hope and accept His grace to live and love as she did,
in conformity with his will, his commandments his word.
Only if we “believe that what was spoken to [us] by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
as she did.
Only if we obey his word as she did, saying with word and deed:
“Let it be done to me according to thy word.”

This is our joy:
that our mother is in heaven rejoicing in the perfect love of God.
And this is our joy: that there she is preparing a place for us,
a place won for us by her divine son
who fills us with his grace and love here on earth
that we may bear all suffering, resist all temptation,
and carry all crosses.
And this is our joy: that as we travel in this earthly valley of suffering and fear,
our Mother in heaven is always there to brings her Divine Son to us,
just as she brought him (in her womb) to Elizabeth so long ago.
And that she comes to comfort and assist us at every moment,
even the darkest moments,
just as she came to help ‘Elizabeth so long ago.
And this is our joy: that her Divine Son who loved his mother so much
that he filled her with his grace and love on earth,
and then finally brought her, body and soul,
home to the joys of heaven,
(that he) loves us also, and longs to do the same for each of us.

Every day all around us we see and hear news that can
fill us with sadness, and discouragement,
even overwhelm us fear and hopelessness.
But then we come to a day like today:
a day filled with joy as we join the angels and saints
in celebrating the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, Mary,
into heaven.
And in the arms of our Mother, and by the Grace of her Son, Jesus Christ,
all fear and sadness slips away.
And we join her in saying to Him:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”