TEXT: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 12, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 12, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


For those of you who have seen and heard me

working in this parish for the last 8 years you may have surmised

that I am not the best physical specimen on the planet:

I have all sorts of sinus and allergy problems,

and I have a bad shoulder and various other aches and pains.

Thankfully, none of these are that terrible, really only inconveniences,

and none are life-threatening.

But like many in this room, I’ve had that too.


When I was a boy, I thought I was indestructible:

but with all these illnesses and problems

—not to mention the reality of the effects of aging—

I have learned that

the smallest bacteria or the simplest bad habit,

can change your life—for the worse—forever.


Now, my situation is obviously not unique, and I have been very blessed.

Many people get sick or injured—deadly sick.

And many people struggle for years with terrible health problems.


And when they do, they search for

some medicine or food or vitamin to take to restore their health.

And especially nowadays, even if we’re not particularly sick,

people are more and more health conscience

and are very careful about what they put into their bodies.


So….what if you found a particular food or vitamin or medication

that would restore you to health when you were physically sick

or would change your out-of-shape  body

to perfect health and strength?

In today’s 1st reading, Elijah seems to find just such a food.

The Book of Kings tells us that Elijah was worn out from one day’s journey

–all he wanted to do was lay down and sleep–even die.

But when he eats the food brought by the angel,

he suddenly has the strength to travel 40 days and 40 nights

through the hot desert.

If you or I found food like that we’d make it the staple of our diet.



The spiritual life isn’t much different.

We all sometimes suffer from spiritual sickness or injury.

–maybe we do something sinful to injure our spirit;

–maybe we live in unhealthy spiritual environments,

sinful lifestyles or states of life;

–maybe we just take our spiritual health for granted and we become weak,

defenseless against temptations we might encounter:

we let ourselves get spiritually run down,

and we don’t, as it were, “eat right”.

If we allow this to go on long enough,

we wind up completely overwhelmed by spiritual illness—sin—

or, even spiritually dead.


But what if you found a food or a medicine

that would restore or perfect your spiritual health?

Wouldn’t you also make that food the central part of your diet.


Last week, this week and the next 2 weeks we continue to read

from John Chapter 6, “the Bread of Life Discourse.”

Today, Jesus tells us:

“I am the bread of life…whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

He is, of course, talking about the Eucharist, in which He offers us the perfect food,

the perfect remedy or medicine for spiritual nourishment and health

–He offers us Himself, and He is the all-powerful God!

Nothing else could offer us all the spiritual health we desire,

or bring us to spiritual perfection

–only He who is spiritual perfection Himself can be this food for us.



Someone might ask, well what does our body have to do with our spiritual life

—how can food for the body change our souls?

But the thing is, we are not just spiritual beings: we are soul and body.

If you hit my hand, you don’t just hit my hand—you hit me!

You cannot separate body and soul—except by death.

Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus tells us:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away….”

Our bodies can cause us to sin:

think, for example of all the things that go into our souls through our eyes

—the things we watch on television, on the internet or read in books.

Like junk food,

so many things in our daily lives

that enter into us through our bodily senses

seem at first delicious,

but in reality what they do to our souls is disgusting.


So, if our bodies can be so directly connected to the spiritual reality of sin,

and if things that go into our bodies

can be the source of spiritual sickness,

then why is it so hard to imagine

that our bodies and things that go into our bodies

could be a source of our spiritual health?

For example, the word of God doesn’t spiritually enter our souls,

it enters us first by the sound waves that our ears hear,

and then it effects our souls.

So imagine the incredible spiritual effect

of eating with our mouths the food which is in itself

the very body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.



Jesus gives us real physical food that has real spiritual effects.

“My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

But even though its effects are spiritual,

the Eucharist still acts a lot like all food does.


First of all, food can’t have any effect without some cooperation from the body.

As with physical food and physical life,

if there’s no spiritual life in the body, spiritual food can do nothing:

if you put steak in a dead man’s mouth, what good does it do?

The same thing with the Eucharist:

someone in the state of “mortal”—or “deadly”—sin

gets no good from the Eucharist.


Not only that,

but have you ever been in an Emergency Room

when someone was dying?

I have, and I assure you that last thing they’d do is try to feed the person.

If they did, the person would gag on the food and make matters worse,

since at that moment he’s in no shape to handle food

—as good as it might be for him.

NO, first they try to resuscitate the person, then later they nourish him.

In the same way, a spiritually dying person shouldn’t receive the Eucharist

until their spiritual life has been resuscitated

through repentance and the grace of the Sacrament of Confession.



But not every sinner is spiritually dead or dying,

most are simply spiritually sick or weak.

So it happens that many times after recovering from being sick,

the first sign of recovery is getting our appetite back:

our bodies are weak, but alive and hungry for the nourishment of food.

So they responded eagerly to whatever food we eat,

and then use that nutrition it to bring us strength.


That’s the way our souls respond to the Eucharist:

as long as we’re not spiritually dead in mortal sin,

even if we’re completely racked by spiritual diseases

but still have some small ounce of the life of faith in us.


Sometimes we only have the barest amount of the Christian life in us:

–perhaps we’ve neglected the practice of our faith, and we’ve become weak;

–or perhaps we’ve eaten too much spiritually unhealthy food

so we’re spiritually just barely holding on.

Still, the Body of Christ, the bread of life,

can take the tiniest response and start to rebuild our health.



And as you recover from spiritual affliction, sin,

the nourishment of the food of angels needs both proper exercise and rest

to restore full health and strength.

You need to actively cooperate and make yourself do things

to allow the flesh of Christ to enter and strengthen your whole person.

Like a person recovering from physical illness, you have to exercise.

You have to do spiritual exercises,

like walking the walk of Christian life,

by obeying the commandments, acting in charity, and praying;

like lifting the weights

that are the crosses that Jesus gives you to carry.

Maybe you start slowly in the beginning, but gradually, little by little,

with constant exercise, powered by the spiritual food of the Eucharist,

you can become more and more the perfect specimen of spiritual perfection.


And as you do this you’ll see more and more

the spiritually healthy effects of eating the Bread of Life.

Using the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading,

we can say that the nourishing effect of the Eucharist will help rid us of

“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling…along with all malice.”

Instead it will place in our hearts kindness, and compassion

and the ability to love and forgive others,

as Christ has loved and forgiven us on the Cross.

And as the prayers of the Mass tell us,

the Eucharist brings us to unity with God and His Church,

giving us a share in the fellowship—or Communion—of the saints,

now and in eternal life,

as it fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing.

In short, it  makes us more and more like what or who we eat:

the perfect one, Jesus Christ.



Jesus says that He is “the bread of life”:

He promises that if we eat His flesh we will have eternal life.

But that eternal life begins here and now.

It is a life born in Christ’s love, not a death resulting from our sin.

It is a life strengthened     by the food which is the very flesh of God,

not a life devastated by the sickness of evil.

And it is a life brought to perfection by cooperating eagerly with

the nourishment–the grace–received in Holy Communion.



Today, as we continue to move deeper into the sacred mysteries of this Mass,

we should reflect on the spiritual diseases and weakness

that plague our lives.

And we should thank Our Lord with all the strength remaining in us

for making it so easy to be revived,

and strengthened by simply eating the bread of life.

And let us open our hearts and receive Him

believing and rejoicing that His promise is fulfilled at this Mass:

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

TEXT: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 5, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 5, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Last week, today and for the next 3 weeks

the whole Church is reading and meditating

on the 6th Chapter of St. John’s Gospel

–St. John’s beautiful explanation of the Eucharist.

Last week we read about the multiplication of loaves.

This week we begin what’s called “the bread of life discourse,”

which begins with Christ’s promise of a sign.


There are many kinds of signs in the world.

Some signs tell us facts:

like the sign in front of the church that tells us the Mass schedule.

Still other signs symbolize something and bring it into the memory,

like a picture of a loved one.

And then there are the signs we call “sacraments”

signs that Christ himself has given us

which don’t merely communicate facts or memories,

but actually bring about and embody Christ’s

love and presence and power—His grace–in our lives.



Today’s Gospel picks up where we left off last week:

just after Jesus had fed the 5000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

Jesus had shown the people a great sign of His power:

–a sign communicating the fact of Jesus’ power

–and a sign that called to memory

the manna God sent from heaven for the Israelites in the desert

1300 years before, as we read in today’s first reading.


With all this, even though this miracle satisfied their physical hunger,

it had only served to arouse their much deeper spiritual hunger

to know that God was still with them

                   just as He had been with their ancestors in the desert.

And so they asked Jesus for something more

–a dramatic and definitive sign to convince them

that God had sent Jesus to assure them of His love and presence:

“What sign can you do,”

they say, “that we may see and believe in you?

…Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.”


But Jesus knows that no mere symbol would satisfy this hunger.

The only sign that could do that would be what we call the “incarnation”:

when God the Son Himself would become a man–

the true embodiment and the actual physical presence

                   of God in the world,

for all to know, to hear, to see and to touch.


Unfortunately, this was a sign that was not easily comprehensible

to simple human reason.

And so the crowd asks for a sign that will force them to have faith in Him,

something that will either conquer or convince their reason

and compel them to accept him.

But Jesus knows that they have it backwards:

they must have faith first before their reasonable minds

          will recognize this sign.

As He says: “This is the work of God: have faith in the One he sent.”



I mentioned before that pictures are a kind of sign.

Once when I was a little boy, I saw a picture of my Dad as a young man,

with his arm around a young woman

whose face was not visible in the picture.

Now, someone who didn’t know my dad might wonder

who that was that he had his arm around?

was it some old girlfriend?

was he cheating on my Mom?

But when I saw the picture, having faith in my Dad,

I knew without a second thought that the woman was my Mom.


That’s the effect faith has on the mind’s understanding of signs:

we see them in a whole different light—not illogically, but enlightened.

What was not even noticed before, suddenly becomes obvious.


This is what Jesus is talking about.

And it’s what St. Paul was talking about when He told the Ephesians,

as we read in today’s 2nd reading

“that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,

in the futility of their minds;

that is not how you learned Christ,…

you should … be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”


So in the light of faith,

when Christ says that “God has set his seal” on Him,

or when He says, “he who has seen me has seen the Father,”

we believe him.

And not because He has proven it beyond all rational doubt,

because our reason understands the signs in the light of our faith in Him.



But Jesus knows that He will not remain in the world:

that the sign of His presence, God’s presence,

that is his physical incarnate body

would eventually ascend bodily to His Father in heaven.

So He promises to leave behind another sign

another sign that is also not just a mere symbol,

but a sign which also personifies God

and makes Him substantially present in the world.


And so He says in today’s gospel:

“I am the bread of life…”

And next week, as we continue reading this text, He tells us:

“The bread I will give is my flesh…the bread I will give is real food.”

Jesus promises to give us bread that will remain with us as the continuing sign

of His real presence in the world.


But how does bread signify Jesus, God’s presence in the world?

Symbolically, the bread reminds us of several things.

First, bread was a sign of food in general—it is the most basic food of every culture.

In particular,

it reminded the Jews of the prophesies of the great and abundant feast

that the Messiah would bring.

And it reminds Christians of the wedding banquet of heaven,

what the prayers of the Mass call “the supper of the Lamb,”

recorded in St. John’s book of Revelation.


Bread was also a part of the ritual sacrifices offered in the Old Testament:

the Passover sacrifice itself was to include an offering of bread.

Bread was also offered every Sabbath, the “showbread,”

which was placed in front of the Holy of Holies, as sacrifice to the Lord

that remained continuously in His presence.

So that bread always reminded the Jews of the sacrifice that they continually offered God as a constant renewal of their Covenant with Him.

For Christians it reminds us, then, of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross,

the new Passover, and of the new Covenant he initiated there,

renewed continuously, at every Mass,

especially on the new Sabbath, Sunday.


But the most important sign value behind the bread is in the way

it communicates God’s real presence to us.

The manna God gave the Jews during their long exodus to the promised land

was more to them than simply physical food:

every morning when they woke and found the manna on the ground

it was the continuous daily sign

that God was truly present with them,

loving and caring for them everyday.

In the same way, the Eucharistic bread reminds us

that God is present with us everyday

–especially in the Eucharist–

providing everything we need to complete our journey to heaven.


These and other symbolic elements of the Eucharist grow out of Jewish symbols.

But there are some symbolic elements

that are unique to Christians and the Eucharist.

In particular, by choosing this rich symbol of bread,

Jesus communicates that He truly wants to be with us

—no longer simply nebulously present in a fiery cloud “out there”

sending us food “down here”.

No, Christ has come among us, in the flesh, and wants to remain with us,

in the flesh.

And so just as He entered into humanity by taking on our flesh,

in the Eucharistic bread Hhe actually enters into us

                   —into our mouths, into our flesh, into our bodies,

                             into our selves.

By eating the Eucharistic bread—which is no bread at all, but Jesus himself—

God enters into us and unites

His body to our body,

His spirit to our spirit,

His person to our person,

United by a symbol, but not merely symbolically

—but sacramentally and really.



When Jesus said “I am the bread of life”

did the apostles understand exactly what He was talking about?

Probably not.

But because they had faith in Jesus,

they had faith that somehow what He said would come to pass.


So at the end of the Bread of life discourse in John Chapter 6,

St. Peter professes his faith in what Jesus has said:

“You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced

that you are the Holy One of God.”

And a few months later, on the night He was betrayed,

in the midst of a long speech

in which Jesus said many confusing things like:

“I am in the Father and the Father in me,”

“I pray…that they may be one even as we are one,

I in them and thou in me.”

they saw Him take bread, bless, break and give it to them,

and remembered how He had done this same thing

right before He fed the five thousand.

And as He handed them the bread saying, “this is my body,”

they also remembered the words

He had spoken after feeding the five thousand:

I am the bread of life.”

And they believed in Him,

and so they believed that this sign was all He said it was.



Today, WE participate in this mysterious and wonderful sign.

As the priest holds the bread in his hands,

and says those very same words of Our Lord:

“this is my body,”

Jesus becomes actively and really and bodily present on the altar

— under sacramental sign of bread and wine.

Nothing we can do can change this fact,

but if we refuse to believe that this sign is what Jesus says It is,

then we will continue to hunger and thirst for other signs

to satisfy our desire to know that we are in God’s presence and love,

and we will never be satisfied.

If, however, we come to our Eucharistic Lord believing in Him

and the sacramental sign He gives us,

He will keep His promise to us:

“I am the bread of life;

whoever comes to Me will never hunger,

and whoever believes in Me will never thirst.”


TEXT: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 29, 2018

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 29, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


In today’s second reading, St. Paul writes:

“I…urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”


Each of us is called in Baptism to live a life of love for God and neighbor,

and keeping the commandments.

Even so, sadly, all of us, from time to time,

fail “to live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”


But some of us have special callings in the Church, and for the Church.

In particular, I think of priests, bishops and popes.

Each of these are men have a special obligation to strive

to live in a manner worthy of their very special calling,

for the good of the whole Church.

And when they fail, it has wider effects, and hurts the whole Church,

which as St. Paul reminds us today is “one body.”


Now all priests will fail in smaller ways,

and even larger ways that are not uncommon among men,

ways that may disappoint us, but not cause us to give up on them.

But sometimes, some priests fail miserably and in repulsive ways,

ways that seem to, as Scripture says, “cry out to God for vengeance.”


In the last few weeks we’ve heard in the news

that the former Archbishop of Washington,

one of the most powerful Cardinals of the Church, Theodore McCarrick,

has been accused of such failures

—terrible crimes and reprehensible grave sins.

Although the Pope suspended him from public ministry

until the investigations are concluded,

McCarrick has publicly denied all accusations.

But more and more have come out.

After years of hiding the stories and accusation—and evidence—

the media has finally started to report what they have known for years,

and lay out names, dates and documents.

So that finally, yesterday McCarrick resigned from the cardinalate,

and the Vatican announced he would “remain in seclusion

“for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him

are examined in a regular canonical trial.”


It seems that the former-Cardinal McCarrick

has tacitly admitted to grossly failing to

“living in a manner worthy of the call [he has] received…”

[The way the Church operates,

this is about as close to an admission of guilt that we’re going to get,

short a written admission.

The last time a cardinal resigned was 91 years ago

—it just doesn’t happen.

But it did.]


All of this will have terrible effects on the life of the Church in many ways,

from new priestly vocations, to our credibility in preaching the Gospel.


But of more concern to me today is the effect on you—the faithful.

This kind of thing has to be terribly hard on you, even devasting to some of you.


I understand that, because it has been hard on me—for about 28 years.

I hardly knew Bishop McCarrick,

but since I entered the seminary, I and most of my clerical friends

knew the accusations against him.

There was no evidence—most of his victims were too afraid to go public,

and the ones who did were ignored.

So nothing could be done: you can’t accuse someone publicly on hearsay.

But the thing is…. everybody knew.


So, many of us stood in disbelief as his personal charm and facade of kindness

led him to be promoted first to archbishop, then to cardinal.

And we were relieved when he retired,

when Pope Benedict accepted his retirement soon after his 75th birthday.

But we sickened as he became a powerful advisor to the current Pope,

even years after his retirement.



But as the Psalms tell us:

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man,

in whom there is no salvation.

…Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the LORD his God.”

I figured out a long time ago:

we don’t follow bishops or priests, or cardinals, or even popes,

as much as we might love them.

We follow Jesus Christ, “the God of Jacob,”

and we follow the Holy Catholic Church which he founded.

And by “Catholic Church,” again, I don’t mean just the priests, bishops or Popes,

who are merely men and princes.

I mean the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, full of sinners and saints,

but protected by the Blessed Trinity from destruction

and from passing on erroneous teaching to the generations.

I mean the centuries of great and faithful saints, fathers, doctors, theologians,

nuns, priests, bishops, popes and councils

who have passed on what they received down the generations

from the apostles,

and what the apostles likewise received from Christ Himself.

I mean the unfathomable treasury of beliefs, doctrines and wisdom

that we sometimes call the “Deposit of Faith.”


So when a priest abuses a child, it makes me want to vomit.

Or when a bishop maliciously covers up that abuse,

I want him thrown in jail, and the key thrown away.

And when a Cardinal corrupts young men entrusted to his care,

I can’t even tell you what I think ought to be done to him,

because I’d have to go to confession.


But in all that, it does not affect my faith.

O sure, it troubles me, it depresses me.

But my faith is not in men, but in God.

It is not in priests and bishops, but the Church.



Today’s Gospel helps us to understand this.

When he sees that the large crowd is hungry,

Jesus turns to one of His Apostles and says,

“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
In the other Gospel accounts, it says that Jesus told his apostles:

You give them something to eat.”

And in all accounts, including today’s, the apostles respond, basically,

‘that’s impossible: we can’t feed them.’


And then it says,

“Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,

and distributed them to those who were reclining.”

Again, in the other Gospel accounts, add an important clarification,

telling us:

“Then He gave [the loaves] to the disciples,

and the disciples gave them to the people.”


So what we have here is that on their own,

the apostles can’t do anything for the people:

if they had to rely on just the apostles, the people would starve.

But Jesus can do everything, and so He does something wonderful.

And then He uses the apostles as His instruments

to bring that something wonderful to the people,

He gives the apostles His gift so that they can hand it on to the people.



And what does He give them in this text? Bread.

Now bread is a very important symbol in Scripture,

a symbol that has at least 3 key meanings for Catholics.

First, as the most basic kind of food common to all cultures,

bread symbolizes the fundamental needs of daily life:

basic food, health, shelter, clothing, etc.

Second, as Jesus says elsewhere,

“Man does live on bread alone,

but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

So bread also symbolizes the Word of God

which man needs to truly live, and thrive, and be happy.

And finally, bread reminds us of the Eucharist

—the bread of life, the continuing real presence of Jesus in his Church—the Word of God made flesh that comes to us in the form of daily bread.


Every day the Church passes on all of this to us.

And even though priests and bishops are important instruments

of the distribution of these treasures to His people,

especially the Word and Eucharist, and grace,

they, as individuals, are not the source.

And even though the apostles handed all this down to us,

and they are absolutely important to the life of the Church,

they also, individually, are not the source.

Jesus Christ is the source—he is the word of God made flesh,

the source of all grace and heavenly Blessing.


And He doesn’t simply entrust those gifts to individual men, but to the Church,

His body with members that include not only sinful Cardinals,

but also saintly men and women in all generations,

from to St. Peter, to St. Augustine, to St. Raymond, to St. Catherine,

to St. Therese to St. John Paul II.



Now, all of this is not to lead you to distrust all priests and bishops.

Please don’t do that.

Most priests try very hard to “live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received.”

Many make great sacrifices for their people, and some are truly saintly.

They strive to be good shepherds, to take care of their flock,

even if they fail from time to time.

Rejoice in their goodness, and have mercy on their failures.

And love them, respect them, and support them.


But there a few that are not even trying to be shepherds,

but are more like wolves in sheep’s clothing,

preying on their flock.

Whether they teach false doctrine to tickle the ears of their people

so the people will like them,

[just using their flock, but leaving them to hell.]

or use their office to take advantage of the vulnerable.

Do not be afraid to hold those to account, always with charity and mercy,

but also always with true justice.


And do not be discouraged by them.

Our hope is in Christ, not in them.

And Christ is our hope, not our despair.

Discouragement comes from our own weaknesses, or from the devil himself.

The devil is loving the current scandal:

he wants you to be discouraged; he wants you to despair;

he wants you to give up.


But do NOT give up.

Remember simply two words: Jesus Christ!


And remember that Jesus gives us a great and glorious gift to strengthen us.

He gives us Himself.

We don’t come to Mass every Sunday just to see each other,

or to see or listen to the priest,

or to hope that some prince of the Church drops in.

We come to hear Him, the Word of God, speak to us in the readings,

and hopefully through the homily,

and to receive Him, the Word made flesh in the bread of life

—the Eucharist.



So now, fix your hearts and minds on Christ.

You have heard His word, now prepare for Him to come to us in the flesh

and to receive Him in Holy Communion.

Prepare to receive the peace that can only come from Holy Communion,

the peace of Christ that overcomes all distress.

And do not be discouraged by the failures of men,

but accept the grace to believe, hope and love in Christ and His Church.

And pray that all of us, priest and laity,

by the grace of this Most Blessed Sacrament,

may always strive to

“live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”




TEXT: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 22, 2018

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 22, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary time,

which means I should normally be wearing green, not white.

But don’t worry, the rules let me do this.

And the reason I’m doing so is that I designed this particular chasuble

to wear on the Feast of my favorite saint, St. Mary Magdalene,

which is today, July 22,

except that since it’s a Sunday we celebrate the Lord’s Day instead.

But this allows me to honor her in a special way today, so I hope you understand.



I know I’ve told you before, and I’m sorry to repeat myself,

but one of the reasons the Magdalene is so dear to me is that

16 years ago today, on her feast day,

I was miraculously and inexplicably cured as I was lying on death’s door.

Seriously: in the morning I was in a coma

and the doctors told us I would be dead by n the afternoon,

but in the afternoon I was sitting up, talking and eating

and pronounced cured—and no one could explain it.

And I am absolutely convinced it was through Magdalene’s intercession.

16 years ago today.

So I honor her to praise the Lord for the gift of Life He gave back to me that day.



I was dying from sepsis, an infection that started with one microscopic bacterium

that found its way into one of my teeth.

One tiny germ, that turned into a toothache, that turned into sepsis,

and then almost took my life.


This is really amazing.

How can a little bitty germ make us so sick or even kill

a full grown healthy man or woman?


But what happens isn’t that complicated, not fundamentally.

Our bodies are built to function a certain way naturally,

and when something, no matter how small, enters our bodies

and interferes with that normal or “natural” functioning of the body

problems start.

First the body’s natural defense mechanisms kick in to defend itself,

and so, for example, you feel a fever as the fight heats up.

But if that natural defense isn’t strong enough

eventually the body itself starts to act in ways

that are not normal, not natural, to it.

So it’s not just fever and pain or coughing,

but now there’s unconsciousness, paralysis, and organs shutting down.

And then the ultimate unnatural thing for the body: death.


And this happens not just to the human body, but also to the human mind.

The mind also works in a certain way by nature.

But then when something contrary to that nature affects the mind

—a frightening thought, or a traumatic experience;

or a drug or physical wound to the head—

terrible things can happen.


And this is really the same in the whole of the natural universe.

We see it writ large, for example, in the environment.

Nowadays, for example, people say that

certain human-generated “greenhouse gases” are causing global warming.

So that, kind of like when a germ conflicts with the natural function of the body,

these greenhouse gases conflict

with the natural functioning of the atmosphere.

All this has a cascading effect, they say,

as the upper atmosphere traps excessive heat

this leads to abnormal heat or cold on the ground,

which leads to droughts or floods

which lead to famines

which lead to deaths by starvation.

And eventually, some say, the whole planet may die.


Now, I know a lot of other people disagree.

[And I’m not taking sides here—just using this as an example.]

But let’s just assume they’re right.

After all, it is a fundamental scientific fact,

that when something interferes with the normal or “natural” functioning

of a natural ecological system,

bad things happen to it.


And yet…

When it comes to human nature, many people seem to reject science

when it is culturally inconvenient.


They see clearly that when a germ, or even too much fatty food,

enters the human body,

or some traumatic event affects the human mind,

illness follows.

So that they agree we must protect the natural functioning

of the human body and mind.


But at the same time

they often also accept and promote things directly contrary

to the nature of the human body and mind.


This is why Pope St. John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis

have each reminded us that like the environment around us,

man naturally functions a certain way

we have a “human ecology,” a “human nature.”

And harming that nature is much more dangerous

than harming the nature of the environment.


But no Pope was more prophetic in his warnings about protecting human nature

than Pope Paul VI,

when on July 25, 1968, 50 years ago this Wednesday,

he exposed one of the most important threats to human nature

in his courageous and historic encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

And that threat was the unnatural act of contraception.


[Now, to protect innocent ears, I will use the term “marital act” to refer to the act

          by which human beings procreate—whether inside or outside of marriage.]


As Pope Paul reminded us,

according to the nature of the body itself, and as science clearly testifies,

the marital act is clearly primarily and totally

designed as the sole way that human life is created in nature.

Procreation is fundamental to the nature of the marital act.

And yet, science shows

that contraception is specifically designed to act

directly contrary to the natural functioning of the body.


Why is it that a culture so concerned about the natural environment

thinks it a good thing to do something so contrary to nature

as contraception?

Especially when the most commonly used form of contraception [in the US]

is a pill that is specifically designed to force a healthy woman’s body

to do what it would not do naturally, force it to be unhealthy?


And for a culture that thinks that this or that man-made activity

causes global warming that will lead to worldwide famines and death,

why isn’t anyone concerned about the potential danger of

such an unnatural chemical attack on a woman’s body?

Especially when the World Health Organization classifies the pill

as a carcinogen, in the same category as cigarettes?

Have you ever listened to the legal disclosures in those TV ads for the pill:

does anyone listen when they conclude that the pill: “may cause death”?



But looking beyond the bodily unnaturalness of contraception,

Pope Paul reminded us of the effect on human nature in its totality.

The marital act is designed to create new human life

—there is no greater thing in the world,

nothing more important to human nature!

So that must make the marital act extremely important to human nature.

So that just as a human body is devastated by tiny little germs,

how can a practice so contrary to human nature as contraception

not be a catastrophe to human beings and human society?


Think about it: if you strip the marital act of its central meaning

as the natural font that creates human life,

what difference does it make what you do with it after that?

It’s like putting feces into food,

and then arguing about whether it would taste better with paprika or sugar.

Who cares! It’s ruined! What difference does it make after that?


And if this most sublime part of human nature

could be so easily treated so unnaturally,

why would you care about protecting the less important aspects

of human nature?



And so in 1968 Pope Paul warned us that contraception

would lead to terrible consequences to individuals, families and society.

He warned it would lead to greater “marital infidelity,”

to a “general lowering of morality,”

and to rampant promiscuity among the young, particularly young men;


He also warned that governments would eventually impose contraception

on their people to solve social problems.


And finally, Pope Paul said it would ultimately lead to

“the man, …. los[ing] respect for the woman and,

…considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,

and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”


All these and more have come to fruition,

as divorce, abortion, pornography, child and wife abuse,

and out of wedlock births are at levels

no one in their worst nightmares would have dreamed possible

back in 1968.

And then there’s “gay marriage”

—people in 1968 would have thought you were crazy

if you told them that was going to happen.

In 50 years it’s almost become a different world.

But what do we expect when we introduce something so unnatural

into the human system?



So what do we do?

When we’re sick we go to a physician to bring the body back to its natural order.

Well, God is the Divine Physician.

The divine physician who not only heals and saves lives,

but who is the generous giver of life to begin with.


The Lord who is generous beyond all our dreams

wants us to be generous as well, especially when it comes to

sharing in His power to give life to babies.

But how are we to be generous?


For those who are married and still in your childbearing years,

God wants you to be generous toward Him

by being open to His plans for you,

and to be generous toward the children

that He may still be planning to give you.


Now, you don’t have to be foolish—just generous.

Some couples, I know, find themselves in difficult or challenging situations

and it doesn’t seem the wisest time to have a baby.

The Lord doesn’t tell you not to use your heads

when real problems seem to present themselves.

That would be contrary to your nature as a rational being.


So live according to your nature in reason,

but also live according to your nature in your sexuality.

If you think there’s a just reason for postponing the conception of a child right now,

consider using one of the very rational and scientific methods

of Natural Family Planning,

which cooperate with the nature of the marital act

and human nature itself.


Use the gift of your natural reason to plan,

but at the same time let your reason keep in your mind and heart

the scientific fact that the nature of the marital act

includes procreation.

So that if, contrary to your planning,

God should plan to generously give you a baby

you will rejoice in His generosity,

and in turn generously welcome that gift with open arms.



And for those who are single, or past your childbearing years,

you be generous by imitating Jesus, of who as today’s Gospel tells us,

“His heart was moved with pity for them,

…and He began to teach them many things.”


Go out and tell the world the truth about human nature

and Christ’s generous grace.

But do it with true wisdom:

learn about and share the Church’s teachings

and options like Natural Family Planning.

And do it with the true love that is at the heart of generosity,

and our human nature.



On this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I commend her to you all,

but especially to women and men who struggle

with the sin of contraception.

It is the ancient understanding of the Church that the Magdalene

is the exemplar of penitent saints

—of a person whose “sins were many,” but set all of them aside

through the grace of Jesus and for the love of Him.

The tradition particularly considered Magdalene to be guilty of sexual sins,

and to have been sexually abused by many men.

What greater patron can Our Generous Jesus

give men and women struggling with contraception,

than this great loving and compassionate saint.



It is a scientific fact that the world and everything in it

is created in a particular way:

whether the whole environment of earth,

or the human race

—everything has a specific nature.

And even the smallest act contrary to a thing’s nature can damage or even kill it.

This is just the way things are, this is the truth.

By the light of Christ and by His grace,

and through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene,

may we and our society grow in understanding and accepting this truth,        and so become the strong healthy creatures in body, mind and soul

that we are naturally meant to be.

TEXT: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 15, 2018

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 15, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we read a very familiar text of the Gospels:

Jesus sending out the 12 apostles

to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick and drive out demons.

I’m sure you’ve heard homilies addressing various aspects of this text,

but, and I may be wrong,

but I bet there’s one aspect you’ve never heard a homily about.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about today.


The text tells us: “they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

We hear this and usually focus on the fact that the apostles cured the sick,

but we almost always overlook how they did it: they anointed with oil.”


Yet in these 4 words we find one of the great treasures of the Church:

one of only 7 sacraments of the Church,

the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.


Now, a “sacrament” is defined as

“an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.”

It always amazes me when Christians

—specifically Protestants, but also many Catholics—

deny the existence or efficacy of the sacraments.

Because it seems very clear to me that Christ did in fact

give them to us for our sanctification.


For example, He told us that,

“unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit,

he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

And then we read how He supervised His apostles baptizing people,

and then commanded them as He ascended into heaven:

“go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them!”


Or take the Eucharist.

He tells His apostles,

“the bread which I shall give ….is My flesh

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man … you have no life in you.”

And then He took bread and said, “this is My body…Do this in memory of me.”


We are physical beings, and as such we communicate and understand and live

through physical realities.

We talk to each other by moving our tongues and then hear with our ears.

We comfort each other with the physical smiles of our mouths,

or with the physical embrace of our arms.

And Jesus knows this, because, as Creator, He made us this way.

And so to communicate His gospel, He doesn’t just send the Holy Spirit.

NO! First He comes in a body, to proclaim the gospel

with the words of His mouth,

and to suffer for our sins by the sacrifice of His body.


And to continue that communication after His bodily ascension into heaven,

He left us physical outward signs to communicate His grace.

On the one hand, we have the words He taught,

written down in scripture so that we can physically read and hear them.

On the other hand, we have the physical body of the Church,

the living family of Christ we can physically belong to and learn from.

Yes, the Spirit comes and works in us,

but first through and using these physical realities.


And the same thing with the sacraments, which Christ established

using physical outward signs to give grace,

to communicate what they symbolize.

So water symbolizes purification and life-giving, and so it’s used for baptism.

And bread symbolizes fundamental nourishment

necessary for sustaining and strengthening life,

and so it’s used for the Eucharist.


And in the ancient world oil was used as one of the most important medicines.

We still use it for that today.

But in the ancient world, oil was also used for many more things than that:

to give light, to cook, to clean, as a perfume, and on and on.

In fact, it was used for so many things that it became

a symbol of the generosity of all God’s gifts.

And so the ancient Jews used it as a religious symbol

of God giving someone a special gift.

For example, kings, and priests and prophets were anointed

to symbolize that God was giving them a gift of His special power.


So Christ took oil, this symbol of both healing and God’s abundant generosity,

and used it as the sign of the outpouring of His grace of healing.



You might say, but Father, that’s an awful lot to pull out of one short phrase.

True, but that is what the Church has always believed, right from the beginning.

And so we go back to Holy Scripture, to the letter written probably 20 years later

by the Apostles James, where he acknowledges this sacrament, writing:

“Is anyone sick among you?

Let him call for the presbyters (or priests) of the church;

and let them pray over him,

anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

and the prayer of faith shall save the sick person…

and if he has committed any sins, they shall be forgiven him.”


This was the belief and practice of the apostles:

this is the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.



So then, what exactly do we believe about this sacrament?

First of all it is a sacrament of healing.

But while this can certainly involve physical healing,

its primary effect and purpose is spiritual healing.

The Catechism summarizes the specific effects of the grace of sacrament, telling us:

— it unites the sick person to the passion of Christ;

— it spiritually strengthens them, giving them peace and courage;

— it imparts the forgiveness of sins,

if the sick person is not able to confess their sins;

— and it restores physical health, if that is part of God’s plan;

— and finally, it prepares the person to pass over to eternal life.


Now, it’s important to remember, physical healing is not the primary purpose

spiritual healing is.

So I’ve given the sacrament to many people,

and I’ve seen many physical healings,

sometimes spectacular and clearly miraculous.

But most of the times I don’t.

And that didn’t mean the sacrament didn’t work.

Because in almost every case, I’ve see a change in the disposition of the person

as they receive inner the strength to face their illness in faith and in peace.

The power of Christ to endure trial in peace, and even to allow it to purify them,

and draw them closer to Jesus.



The question then comes up, who can receive this powerful sacrament?

Contrary to a popular notion,

Anointing is not reserved to those who are on their death bed.

It is often rightly given on the death bed, and then as part of the Last Rites

we call it the “Last Anointing,” or from the Latin, “Extreme Unction.”

But it’s frustrating to me that sometimes

the first time I hear about a deadly illness

is when the family calls me to give the last rites.

I’m happy to give them, but I think, “if only you had called months before….”

Perhaps there could have been a physical healing,

but certainly their father or grandmother or spouse

would have been given the peace of spiritual healing.


On the other hand, the sacrament is not given

to those who have just any ailment or weakness, no matter how painful.

Rather, it is reserved for those who suffer from an ailment that causes them to

“begin to be in danger of death.”

In other words, generally speaking, unless your already dangerously weak,

if you have something like a bad cold or flu, back pains, or a broken arm,

you are not generally in “danger of death” and so we don’t anoint them.

However, if someone is in the early stages of cancer or heart disease,

or any other serious illness that truly does present a real danger of death,

even if only the “begin[ning]”, these persons may, and should, be anointed.

And if someone is truly weak due to “old age,”

then definition of danger of danger death might apply.


Also, Anointing can be repeated if the person gets worse

or has a relapse of the same illness, or comes down with another ailment.


It can even be given to someone who’s unconscious,

as long as they at least implicitly asked for it when they were able to

–in other words, for example, you go to Mass every Sunday,

so if you were in a coma I would assume that would want the sacrament.


There are however, some limitations on who the sacrament.

First, the priest can’t give it to someone who

“obstinately persists in a manifestly grave sin,” and refuses to repent.


Also, the sacrament can only be received by a Catholic who has

“reached the use of reason,” in other words, over, about, 7 years old,

essentially because before then a child can’t be guilty of sin,

and so, after Baptism, there’s in no need of the spiritual healing of Anointing.

Many argue, “but we want the physical healing of the sacrament.”

I get that, but that is simply not in God’s plan for the sacrament.

But remember, God is not limited by the sacraments, we are:

maybe I can’t anoint a person,

but God can heal anytime, anyplace, according to His Holy will and mercy.



Finally, one other important thing about this sacrament:

like all the sacraments, it can only be given to the living.

Nothing saddens me more than being called after a person has already died

—there’s not much I can do.

I remember one time, when I was newly ordained,

the hospital called at about 4 in the morning,

asking me to anoint a patient who had just died.

Now, I was young and foolish, and already been to the hospital twice that night.

So in my sleepiness and foolishness, I blurted out, “Right now? But he’s dead!”

Now this was stupid, and I knew it as soon as I said it.

So I went and prayed with family and blessed the body.

But I couldn’t give him the grace of the sacrament.



Now, understand, the Church and her priests

never want to deny the sacraments to those may receive them.

So we follow the rule:

If there is any doubt” whether the person

has reached the age of reason, or has a life-threatening illness,

or is unrepentant, or is dead,

we give the sacrament.



What a beautiful sacrament, what a great gift from Jesus.

And yet, like the short but powerful phrase in today’s gospel,

“they anointed with oil,”

it so often gets overlooked and forgotten.


Of course, this is probably because most of the time

we’re not suffering from life threatening illness,

so we don’t think about it or talk about it.


But now, I’ve talked about it, and now, you think about it.

If you or someone you love needs the sacrament, do NOT hesitate

to call me or Fr. Smith or any other priest, and we would be happy to help.



As we now move more deeply into the Mystery of the greatest Sacrament,

the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist,

as we prepare ourselves to receive Our Lord,

let us consider the great gift that this and each of the sacraments is:

that Jesus would so kindly give His little ones’ signs of His active love,

that He would literally show us His love

in such simple but understandable and powerful ways.

And let us pray for an ever-deepening appreciation of

these Divine and precious treasures,

especially the one revealed to us today:

“they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

TEXT: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 8, 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 8, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA



In today’s Gospel we encounter 2 very disconcerting facts.

First, it tells us that the people in Jesus’ tiny home town of Nazareth

His old friends and even family, “Took offense at Him.”

Second, it tells us: “So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”


Let’s look at these a little more carefully, beginning with the first one.

Why is it that the Nazoreans took offense at Jesus,

refusing to accept His teachings?

A lot of times we think,

“if only Jesus would come to me and speak to me

—that would strengthen me, and my faith, so much.”

So it’s kind of stunning to us

that even these people who knew Jesus so well, His own people,

who He came to and taught personally,

wouldn’t believe in Him.


But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising.

Jesus offended people all the time, saying a whole lot of things

that were hard for them to accept and believe.

For example, remember the Bread of Life discourse in John 6,

when He taught His disciples that He would give them

a bread that would really be His own body,

and they had to eat it to have eternal life?

Scripture tells us:

“Many of His disciples…said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

But Jesus, “Do you take offense at this? ….

…After this many of His disciples …no longer [followed] Him.”


Or remember Matthew’s chapter 19, where Jesus lays out 6 very hard sayings:

including the prohibition of divorce, and re-marriage after divorce;

and the teaching that some people are simply not capable of marriage

—their either born that way or made that way by others.

Scripture tells us the apostles,

“were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

In other words, even they had a hard time believing these hard sayings.


Why is this such a surprise that people in Jesus’ time

would take offense at his hard sayings?

—we see the exact same thing all throughout the last 2000 years,

and especially today.

The Church says: “no divorce and remarriage”;

and that “homosexuals just can’t marry each other,

whether they were born that way or made that way by others.”

Don’t people take offense at that?—and all it is, is the direct teaching of Jesus.

Even members of his Church take offense

—even sometimes bishops and priests—

“His own kin and in His own house,” as it were.

Why are we surprised that the people of Nazareth took offense?


Jesus can be offensive, if we cling to our sins, or refuse to have faith.



Which brings us to the 2nd disconcerting fact in today’s Gospel reading,

the fact that: “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

How can Jesus “not be able” to perform a miracle?

After all, He’s God, isn’t He?


But notice, in fact, Jesus is “able” to perform miracles in Nazareth.

The text goes on to say,

“apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them.”

So He did do miracles there.


To understand all this you have to remember

that Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:

either to show His power so that people would believe in Him,

or simply out of mercy to the afflicted.


The only thing that limits Jesus

is either His own divine nature or our human nature.

His divine nature limits him in the sense that,

for example, as God by nature He is not capable of doing any evil,

He is not capable of not loving.

And our human nature limits Him in the sense that

in His love for us He respects our free will

—and limits Himself according to our choices.


Here in Nazareth He is “amazed at their lack of faith.”

His own people are, in the words of today’s first reading:

“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”

There’s not a thing he can say or do to change their minds,

so there’s no reason to perform a great sign,

except out of mercy for “a few sick people.”


Think of all the times He performed great miracles,

and still the eyewitnesses didn’t believe in Him.

Again, go back to the Bread of Life discourse

—right before that

His disciples personally witnessed Him feed five thousand men,

“with five …loaves and two fish.”

And still many of them they left Him because His sayings about the Eucharist

were too hard to accept.


Same thing here in Nazareth, so He says, in effect,

“no miracles, believe or don’t, it’s up to you.”

The only thing limiting Him is His respect for their free will choice to reject Him



Of course, He faces the same problem today.

Through His holy Catholic Church He continues to proclaim the hard sayings,

and people still take offense because of a lack of faith.

Even His own people.

For example, Americans, 90% of whom were born into the Christian families,

but so many now reject Christ and His teachings.

And Europe, a civilization saturated in and founded on

Christian history and heritage,

and now the faithful are only a small minority.

And you and I—we also all too often take offense at His teachings

because all too often our faith is too weak.


Some people say, that’s why it would be great

if He’d show some great sign of His power.

But again, that didn’t work so well 2000 years ago:

remember the feeding of the 5 thousand.

And it really doesn’t work today.

In my opinion Christ has been performing an incredible mighty deed

for 2000 years—His Church.

The “miracle of the Church”—founded on the ministries

of men like St. Peter, a humble fisherman who denied Jesus 3 times.

Or St. Paul, who tells us in today’s 2nd reading that

he suffered from some unnamed weakness he describes as

“a thorn in the flesh …an angel of Satan.”


And for 2000 years it has been ruled by and filled with weak men and women,

even great sinners:

laymen, priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes.

And yet look at what she has done:

the Catholic Church has dramatically changed the world,

and still survives today as a strong dominant voice and force

for truth, worship and charity.


If that’s not a mighty deed of Jesus I don’t know what is.

And instead of inspiring awe and faith, it seems to draw only disrespect.


Of course, sometimes miracles can be helpful in strengthening faith.

But you know, sometimes God works more effectively

by not doing might deeds

—by remaining silent, or simply speaking in a quiet voice.



Let me give you a personal example.

I apologize if you’ve heard part of this story before,

and I’ll try to make a long story short.

29 years ago I was working at a moderately successful career

with one of the large international accounting firms.

But after a major restructuring in the firm, I decided to quit,

confident that I’d have my pick of jobs with other companies.

But it didn’t turn out that way, and days turned into weeks,

and weeks into months.


So I started to really get serious about my prayers.

And then I realized a couple of things:

first, what success I’d had, had really been a gift from God

—He had been doing mighty deeds for me all along.

And second, I realized that I was asking Him for a new mighty work

—“find me a great job”—

even though I had had very little faith in Him.


In short, by doing nothing, he forced me to my knees and to believe.

And then, He did do a mighty deed.

At first, it was a wonderful career opportunity.

But pretty soon it began to lead to where I am today.



Sometimes, it’s only when God holds back His might deeds

that we are able to see His mighty deeds

—because it is only when we realize how weak we are on our own

that we can begin to see Christ’s true might,

and how strong we could be with His grace.


For as Jesus told His apostles at the end of all the hard sayings in Matthew 19:

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

And as he said to St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

And so St. Paul summarizes: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”



Now some will surely say that all this merely wishful thinking,

or a psychological self-deception.

“Of course,” they say, “when you’re weak you can become desperate,

so you cling to religion as a way to explain things.”


They can believe that if they want to.


But that’s not what we believe.

We believe there is an all-powerful God, who loves us.

We believe that He came into the world to teach us how to live and love,

and to save us from our weakness, by the power of His grace.

And we believe that it’s only when we humble ourselves

to recognize our weakness and sins,

and the power of his words and grace,

that we can become the truly good men and women He created us to be.



As we now move deeper into this Holy Mass,

let us have faith in Our Lord Jesus

and in everything He’s taught us,

even the sayings that are sometimes offensive

to our sinful and obstinate hearts.

And let us kneel before Him humbly

firm in faith that by the power of His grace

“when I am weak, then I am strong.”