TEXT: 4th Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 22, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we read the Gospel of the Good Shepherd.

What more beloved image do we have of our Lord Jesus, than

the image of the shepherd

who lovingly tends and feeds his lambs and sheep,

who goes searching for lost sheep,

and who not only fights off the wolves that prey on his sheep,

but is willing even to lay down his life for his sheep?

Who knows and cares for each one of his sheep individually,

and whose sheep know him, and follow him where ever he leads.

 

It is a beautiful image, and comforting and strong image.

And to a man who is called to stand in the place of Christ in the world, a priest,

it is an inspiring image, especially a man who is called to be a “pastor,”

which is, of course, the Latin word for shepherd.

 

And so, while today is called “Good Shepherd Sunday,”

the Church also calls it the “World Day of Prayer for Vocations,”

vocations to the religious life, but especially to the priesthood,

as it holds out the image of the Good Shepherd

and asks young men: are you called to follow in his footsteps?

 

As I said, this is an inspiring image to priests and would be priests.

But it can also be an intimidating image to them.

In today’s gospel Jesus points out that not all who tend the sheep

are true shepherds:

some are mere hired hands, who only care about the pay,

and not so much about the sheep.

 

Any priest who’s honest with himself recognizes the temptations that exist

to be more like the hired hand, than like the good shepherd.

Not that they are priests for the money, because the money’s pretty bad.

There have been times when that wasn’t the case,

when some men treated the priesthood as just another career opportunity.

For example, in the middle ages, in the noble families,

the first son would inherit the title,

the second son would serve in the army,

and the third son serve in the church,

maybe to become a bishop or an abbot,

and earn a good living as such.

Today this kind of thing still exists in some poorer countries,

where the standard of living is poor and some see the priesthood

as a way out of poverty—not so much to riches, but to security.

 

And when it wasn’t money or security,

it was often the other material perks that that attracted men to the priesthood.

Not too long ago, to be a priest was a position of great honor and prestige:

to be a pastor of a parish made you a force in the community, even in politics.

People gave you all sorts of gifts,

and even non-Catholics showed your deference,

for example, standing when you entered the room.

 

For the most part, most of those kinds of perks are gone today

In fact, the opposite is true:

the priest is more and more disrespected,

his peers make much more money and have much more financial security,

and, in some places in the world, he is the first targeted for martyrdom.

Even among Catholics, he’s looked down upon by many

who think there must be something wrong with him to want to be celibate,

or to hide from the real world.

And now, more and more even little children who used to stand in awe of priests,

are taught that we are bigots and haters.

 

But if a priest, or a would-be priest, is honest with himself,

he can still recognize that there are still lots of ways

to gain favor, prestige, and even wealth.

If he tries to entertain, or he tells people what they want to hear,

especially when he challenges Church moral teaching.

He can even give speeches and write books and articles

to make a little money as well, especially if it challenges Church teaching.

 

So, for every priest he must decide and commit himself

to one or the other model for his priesthood:

The Good Shepherd, or the hired hand.

Mind you, hired hands can enjoy their work

—they may even really like the sheep in their care,

and the shepherd they’re working for.

And so a priest might really like the work of the priesthood,

including, especially working with the people.

But in the end, it comes down to what happens,

as Jesus says in today’s gospel,

when the wolves come–then what does he do?

Does he run and leave the sheep to be eaten by the wolves,

or does he take a stand and protect his sheep,

even if it means he might suffer or even die?

Does he run, or does he lay down his life for the sheep?

Is he a priest who is a hired hand, or a good shepherd?

 

___

The same thing is essential in discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

Many young men will understandably get all caught up in asking themselves,

what do I want to do? What will make me happy?

But the question should be, what does Jesus want you to do?

What would make Jesus happy?

 

Now, as I say this, you should know that in the end,

what Jesus wants and makes Him happy,

is really what will make us happy.

Because Jesus loves us more than we love ourselves,

and He knows us better than we know ourselves.

So if we follow His will, it will lead us to happiness.

 

Because the thing is, we get confused about what will make us happy.

For most of us, most of the time,

it is material things and human comforts

that we recognize as giving us pleasure.

But we fail to recognize that our truest happiness

lies in becoming the best we can be, the best God created us to be.

So a young man may look at marriage, a career, interesting work and money,

and say, that’s really what I want.

And none of that is bad.

 

But did God make you to be a hired hand, or a shepherd?

Did he make you so you could satisfy yourself,

or so that you could care for others?

In short, did he create you to be selfish, or to love.

 

When we approach discernment this way, things change.

 

For a priest, this perspective causes him

not to focus on what will make him popular or comfortable,

but what will be best for his people, his flock.

For a young man discerning a call to the priesthood,

this will cause him to focus not on what will bring him satisfaction,

but what will be best for those God seeks to entrust to him.

He asks essentially, do I love myself more, or God and His Church more?

 

And if he is willing to do whatever God wants,

to lay aside his concerns for himself,

then he will be open to becoming the man God calls him to be.

 

And that may be as a priest—or as a layman, married with children.

Because husbands and fathers can also approach their marriages and families

like a hired hand:

seeking what pleasure they can get from their wives and children,

and ignoring the hard parts of leading a family.

And then I guarantee you—no one will be happy,

as the family will fail, and fall prey to the wolves, or scatter.

 

____

So the key for all of us, young men and women, and old men and women,

priests and religious brothers and sisters,

to discerning what we should do in life

is not first and foremost what makes you happy,

but what would make God happy, what is God’s will

—because whatever that is, will, in the end, make you happy.

 

Even if he calls you to be a teacher, architect soldier or a construction worker,

rather than a priest.

Or a father whose wife gets cancer,

and whose children get caught up in the evils of the world.

A husband, who doesn’t run away, because he doesn’t get paid enough for this.

But a father who stays and lays down his life for his sheep.

 

Or if he calls you to be a priest, to do the same.

 

Today on this Good Shepherd Sunday,

we thank the Lord Jesus for being our true good shepherd:

for tending and feeding us,

for seeking us out when we go astray and bringing us home,

for knowing and loving each one of us so tenderly,

and for standing and fighting off the wolves,

and laying down his life for us.

But let us also pray for our priests and bishops, and our Pope,

that they may always follow the way of the Good Shepherd,

and never fall to the temptations of the hired hand.

And let us pray for vocations to the religious life and especially to the priesthood:

may all of our young people make choices

after careful and grace-filled discernment,

not of what they want, but what God wants for them.

That they may not seek to be hired hands,

but true shepherds in whatever path Christ calls them.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For the second week in a row we read today the account

of Jesus’ appearing to His apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday

–last week we read St. John’s account,

and this week we read St. Luke’s.

As you would expect, the two accounts tell pretty much the same story,

each adding their own details and perspective.

But one thing that stands out in both accounts is their identical account

of the first words the Risen Christ said to His apostles:

“Peace be with you.”
Think about this.

On what other occasion does Jesus tell His apostles: “peace be with you”?

If you recall, it happened just 3 days before Easter,

when at the Last Supper He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;

not as the world gives do I give to you.

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

 

Sounds a lot like what He says to those same apostles in today’s Gospel,

taken from Easter:

Peace be with you…Why are you troubled?

And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

 

The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of

—it’s not just about nonviolence or harmony between people,

although those can certainly flow from the peace of Christ.

But the peace of Christ is first and fundamentally an internal peace

—peace of the heart.

So that even when there’s all sorts of violence and disturbance around you

–like the apostles locked in the upper room,

afraid the Sanhedrin or the Romans would come

and arrest them and crucify them—

even then, you can have true and inner peace,

like the apostles go from being terrified to, as it says,

being “incredulous for joy.”

 

Moreover, this peace comes directly from Christ,

and we receive it only by being with Christ.

We see this in today’s Gospel as Jesus seeks to reassure his apostles

that he is really there with them, really alive:

by showing them his wounded hands, and eating with them.

And so that with Him, there is no reason to fear or to have a troubled heart,

but only to be at peace.

 

Even so, at the very end of the last supper, He prays to His father:

“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,

may they also be in us…

So we see that the fullness of the peace of Christ

comes not from merely being with Him, but from being ONE with Him,

being united to him.

So He continues praying at the last supper:

that they may be one, as we are one, I IN them and you IN me…”

 

This oneness, or unity, or communion, is exactly what we find

in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the last supper,

and that we come here to celebrate today:

the Eucharist;

a sacrament that we call “Holy Communion

at that point when Christ literally enters in to us

as we receive his Body: “I in them”…. and us in him.

So in a very important sense, the Eucharist,

or rather the Communion with Christ

that the Eucharist brings about and strengthens,

is the source of true peace.

 

__

And the Church reminds us of this at every Mass.

All throughout the Mass, we pray for peace.

For example, right at the beginning of the Mass, we sing:

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to people of good will.”

 

Then in the Eucharistic prayer we pray for peace 4 times, including:

the prayer that God will “order our days in [His] peace…,”

 

Then, right before we receive Communion, the priest prays to Christ,

recalling his words from the last supper,

“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles,

Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…”

And then speaking of the Church he says:

“graciously grant her peace and unity ….”

And then he turns to the people and says:

“Peace be with you.”

And then he usually invites you to exchange a “sign of peace” with each other.

 

The exchange of the sign of peace can be a powerful symbol

as we prepare to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Unfortunately, what’s happened over the last 50 years is

we’ve lost sight of what’s really happening here:

we forget “not as the world gives [peace] do I give [peace].”

So, many times the sign of peace becomes entirely about worldly peace.

But It’s not about us, and good feelings of friendship,

and certainly not about saying “hello”

or “good to see you” to your neighbor,

It’s supposed to be about the Risen Christ present on the altar in the Eucharist

saying “MY Peace be with you, because I’m here”

and about the spiritual fruit of the truest peace

that comes not just from being in his presence

but being truly united with him in Holy Communion,

of him being in us, and us being in him.

 

___

Now, it is true, that by receiving and being in Communion in Christ,

we come into or deepen our communion with each other:

as Jesus prays at the last supper: ““that they may all be one.”

But to understand the unity he’s talking about,

and the “they” he’s praying for,

we have to go back to the context.

He begins by first praying for the unity of his 12 apostles:

And then, continuing to pray for the 12 apostles, he asks his Father:

“…Sanctify them in the truth…

As you have sent me into the world,

so I have sent them into the world.”

And then he prays:

“I ask not only on behalf of these [the 12 apostles],

but also on behalf of those who will believe in me

          through their word, that they may all be one.”

 

So you see, he’s praying for the unity,

first of the apostles,

and then of all those who come to believe in the truth they teach.

So unity with Christ and the fullness of true peace it brings,

also requires unity, or communion, with the apostles

and believing what they taught about Christ.

 

And not just with his first 12, but also with their successors in authority,

who have passed along the authentic true apostolic teaching,

over the last 20 centuries.

 

So ask yourself, when you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand

and say “peace be with you”

are you meaning to pray that he receive

the everlasting peace, the peace that passes all understanding,

that flows from

the Sacramental Communion with Christ in the Eucharist

and faith in everything the apostles and their successors

teach to be certainly true?

Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?

 

Think about that….

 

And when you come up to receive Holy Communion

do you first examine your conscience

to see if you really are in communion with the apostolic teaching

handed down through the centuries through

popes, bishops, councils and great fathers and doctors of the Church?

And if you’re not, do realize there can be no true peace for you

in the lie you commit by receiving Holy Communion

when you are not in communion?

 

____

Unfortunately, today there are many challenges to our communion

with Christ and his apostles.

And I don’t mean just those brought by our separated Protestant brethren,

but rather the challenges that arise from within the visible boundaries

of the Catholic Church herself.

 

Whether it’s challenges to our communion by those who call themselves Catholic

but reject the Church’s ancient, apostolic and constant teaching on things like

the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,

and its effects on us, the Communion it brings with Christ,

or the real historical bodily Death and Resurrection of Jesus,

or the truth about marriage and sexuality,

or the dignity of every person, poor or rich, born or unborn.

 

Or whether it’s challenges brought by Catholics who simply spread confusion

regarding the constant teaching of the Church.

For example, when well-meaning priests and even bishops

will take an official doctrine of the Church,

and apply it to certain situations and act as if their private opinion

is the same and as binding as actual doctrine.

For example, some will take a clear doctrine of the Church,

like, the moral necessity that we must provide for the needs of the poor,

but then imposes their opinion as to the best way to do that,

and try to make us think that their opinion is doctrine.

But attempts to impose unity

where legitimate differences in judgment should be respected

does nothing but confuse the faithful and so undermine true communion

—and so, peace.

 

___

In the end, true peace comes only from unity with Christ.

But there can be no unity with Christ

without unity with the true teaching of the apostles and their successors.

As we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist at this Mass,

as we pray for the peace and unity that only

the sacrament of Communion with Christ and His Church can bring,

let us pray for those who threatened that unity,

whether through ignorance, or willful dissent,

or by confusing doctrine and prudential judgment.

And as we approach the Lord in Holy Communion,

let us examine ourselves,

praying for forgiveness for any way we may have offended

the peace and unity of the Church.

So that we may approach our Eucharistic Lord

not with troubled hearts filled with fear

but with peaceful hearts filled with Easter Joy.

So that the Lord may say to us: “Peace be with you.”

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 8, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

April 8, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

There are 2 central themes that come up over and over again

in the earliest preaching of the Church,

2 themes that are fundamental

to any true understanding and belief in Jesus Christ.

These are the themes of the historical reality

of both Christ’s bodily death on the Cross

and His bodily resurrection

–the fact that the same body

that was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

also died on the Cross, and rose from the tomb on Easter.

 

The teaching of the apostles repeats this theme over and over.

For example, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we find:

“With great power the apostles bore witness

to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

They bore witness because they had seen Him in His body.

And this is a particularly important theme of St. John’s teachings.

In today’s 2nd reading from St. John’s 1st letter,

St. John rejects the false teachings that Jesus had not really died,

or that Jesus was not really a human being

but merely a spirit who appeared to be human.

He says: “[Jesus Christ] is the one who came through water and blood,

not by water, but by water and blood.”

He insists that Jesus came in flesh and blood,

blood that spilled out on the Cross.

And then in today’s Gospel

St. John reminds us that in order to emphasize the necessary connection

between belief in Christ and belief in his bodily resurrection,

Jesus directly confronted St. Thomas’s unbelief in that resurrection:

“Put your finger here and see my hands,

and bring your hand and put it into my side,

and do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

 

To understand why belief in the bodily death and resurrection of Christ

is so important,

we have to remember that human beings are created not as merely spirits,

but as spirits who are joined to bodies.

Our body is not just something we use to move our spirits around,

or to give our spirits pleasure.

Our bodies are part of us, part of who we are–part of the whole person.

So when we slam a door on our finger we don’t just say “my finger is in pain,”

we say “I am in pain.”

When the body hurts–even the smallest part of the body—

the whole person hurts.

 

So, in order to redeem man, Jesus had to redeem the whole man he created

–body and soul.

He did this by physically undergoing the death of the body on the Cross,

and then raising that human body of his up

to the fullness of life in the resurrection.

This is the life that he promises us

–eternal life that is not just a life of our bodiless souls

roaming around some timeless and spaceless heaven,

but a life of the whole person living in complete happiness,

when the body and soul are reunited

in the glory of the resurrection of the dead.

 

____

But the meaning of the resurrection of the Body isn’t just important

as an insight into how things will be in heaven.

It has a very real meaning to us in this life on earth.

Some of the earliest heresies of the Church,

even starting within a few years after the death of Christ,

center on the body and the bodily resurrection of Christ.

In particular, the Gnostic heresy, which arose during the time of the apostles,

and which they specifically and adamantly rejected,

as we see especially in the writings of St. John.

A heresy which is still having an effect today,

not only in secular ideologies and quasi-Christian theologies,

but also as we see it as the basis for books and movies

like “The Da Vinci Code.”

 

This heresy, Gnosticism, said that the body was bad,

it was mere carrier of the soul,

and in it the soul was a prisoner.

And they argued that since the body was just a carrier of the soul,

it was then just an object for the use of the soul.

So, to them, it wasn’t terribly important what you did with your body

as long as your soul–or your “heart”–was properly disposed toward God:

as long as you internally loved God,

it wasn’t terribly important what you physically did

with your external actions, your bodily actions.

 

But all this is in direct opposition to the meaning of the Resurrection.

The body is us, or at least part of us.

Through our body we express and communicate–knowingly or unknowingly—

who we are: we express our loves and our hates,

our belief and our unbelief.

And we express this not as an object used by the soul to express itself,

but as the real physical presence of ourselves in this physical world.

 

As I said, this same gnostic heresy

is alive and well today, infecting and devastating the world around us.

 

We see this in many ways.

First, we see it most fundamentally when we think that

the way we act or the gestures we make with our bodies,

or the words we say with the mouths of our bodies,

doesn’t matter, as long as what’s in our “hearts” is good.

So we can call someone an ugly name, or we can avoid sitting next to someone, or refuse to feed someone who is hungry,

and still say, that’s okay, cuz in our hearts we love them.

 

We also see it in more devastating ways.

For example, when people judge the value of a human life

based on the size or health of the body.

So that when the human body is the size of the head of a pin or even softball, it has no value, so you can kill it in her mother’s womb.

Or when it is sick and in pain, or old and feeble, you can kill it

to take him, you, or society out of misery.

 

We also see it when we look at the way society view sexual intimacy.

While Christ and His Church would say,

that bodily sexual intimacy is meant to express the total self-gift

of the whole person, body and soul,

and so the ultimate acts of bodily intimacy are supposed to express

the ultimate act of total self-gift, which is marriage.

And any other use of this bodily intimacy is a dastardly lie,

a horrible contortion, and despicable abuse of the gift.

 

But the modern Gnosticism says, the body has no meaning,

so what does it matter if we have sex with whoever we please,

however we please.

Whether it’s outside of marriage, or with someone of the same sex, or alone,

or even if its inside of marriage, but in some unnatural act.

 

And finally,

in perhaps the ultimate rejection of the importance and meaning of the body,

we see it today in what is called “gender ideology” or transgenderism.

When some say that your body means nothing and tells you nothing about yourself.

So even if your body

—from your genitalia, to your bone structure,

to every single one of the cells of your body—

screams, “I am a male,” or “I am a female,”

that means absolutely nothing, if your emotions seem to tell you the opposite.

 

___

God created us to live our lives both on earth and in heaven

in both soul and body.

And He redeemed us by loving, living, dying and rising this way–soul and body.

And so, being keenly aware that the whole person includes the physical body,

He has given us with certain physical gifts to communicate His life

and make Himself present to us through our bodies.

 

One of these physical gifts is the Church–His visible “body” in this physical world.

And at the head of the Church He left us not only His Holy Spirit,

but His Holy Spirit acting through the visible and audible leadership

of His apostles and their successors, the popes and bishops.

And through the apostolic ministry Christ has given us His teachings

in audible and visible form, in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

 

In these teachings we find that Christ has left us

certain physical signs and means

of participating in his life of the resurrection:

signs that we call “the sacraments.”

And just as our bodies are not mere objects used by us

to merely symbolize our spiritual dispositions,

the sacraments are not mere objects

that merely symbolize the spiritual gifts of Christ.

Just as our bodies are the real physical presence and communication

of our whole person to this physical world,

the sacraments are also the real physical presence and communication

of Christ and his power in this physical world.

 

Today’s Scriptures directly speak of at least 4 of the 7 sacraments.

The 2nd reading reminds us of the water of baptism

and the body and blood of the Eucharist:

“Jesus Christ…came in water and blood.”

And the Gospel reminds us of the sacrament of Holy Orders–the priesthood—

as He said to the apostles, His first priests:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

And that priestly authority is exercised in a special way by the forgiveness of sins

in the sacrament of penance:

“If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them;

if you hold them bound, they are held bound.”

 

Today as we end the octave of Easter,

and continue to celebrate the season of Easter,

we celebrate the most fundamental and important of these sacraments

–the Holy Eucharist.

I call it the most “fundamental” because

the Eucharist is the real re-presentation

and our personal bodily and spiritual participation

in Christ’s bodily sacrifice on the Cross and His bodily Resurrection

—it is the source of all graces, the source of all sacraments,

[and on this Divine Mercy Sunday,

we remember it is the source of all mercy.]

–it is the source of all life in the Resurrection of Christ.

As we enter into these sacred mysteries of the sacrament of Eucharist,

let us remember that those who proclaim faith in Christ

must embrace the resurrection of the body,

and allow this Eucharist and all the sacraments to transform our lives,

not only in our hearts but also in our bodies,

not only in what we feel about God, but also in what we do.

 

May the grace of this sacrament open our ears and our eyes

to hear and read the teachings of Christ

presented to us by His Mystical body, the Church,

through it’s Scripture and Tradition

handed down from the apostles and their successors.

May it give us the wisdom and faith

to never be confused by lies that attack these teachings,

lies that blaspheme the truth about the reality

of Christ’s real human life, death and resurrection,

lies that demean the human body,

the apostolic church, and the sacraments,

whether these lies are found in ancient heretical books,

or popular in philosophies and ideologies

or in our schools or media.

And by the grace imparted from the Cross and Resurrection

through the sacrament of his Body

may we always love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and bodies,

and show in our bodies that we accept truth of Christ’s resurrection

and obey His instruction given to the doubting St. Thomas:

“do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

TEXT: Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, April 1, 2018

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 1, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

For forty days and nights we have been observing our Lenten season of penance,

focusing our attention, our prayers, and our bodies

on our own sins, and on the suffering and death of Jesus.

Tonight/today our penance ends, as with great joy we celebrate

the Lord’s Resurrection.

But while the meaning of Lent is generally pretty easy to take in

–I don’t think the Resurrection is quite so easy to fathom.

After all, all of us have sinned and been sinned against,

and all of us have suffered, and seen death, or at least feared death.

But none of us has ever been resurrected, or seen the dead rise.

Sadly, the closest we might come to it is absurd fictional depictions of

evil undead vampires or zombies.

Hardly illuminating of the Resurrection.

 

So many of us wind up celebrating Easter as simply

the end of the season of Lent…sort of a welcome relief to our penance.

The Resurrection becomes sort of a “and they lived happily ever after”

ending to the story of Jesus.

 

But then why do we consider Easter, as the Catechism states:

“not simply one feast among others, but

the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’”?

Because and even as much as we can understand

the pain and fear surrounding sin, suffering and death,

and even though we are redeemed by the Cross,

it is in the Resurrection that Jesus finally conquers that pain and fear,

that He completes His victory over all sin, all suffering

and even death itself.

 

____

In the beginning, God did not intend that man ever suffer:

if we look back at the story of creation in the first chapters of Genesis

[that we read Tonight/today]

we see that God created us for a life of perfect happiness with Him in paradise.

But as we see also in Genesis, God didn’t create us to be His toys,

but to be His children:

not to be used by Him,

but to be free to both receive and return His generous love.

 

But true love involves a free choice to love,

and so God gave Adam and Eve free will.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve then freely chose not to love God

as they were created to.

And as a result of that choice, sin entered the world.

 

But Adam and Eve were not alone when they made that choice:

The devil was there right from the beginning

tempting them and deceiving them into giving up their birthright

to live in God’s perfect happiness and love.

And so sin entered the world, with Satan as its father,

and with it came all human suffering

—all the moral and physical evil that God never intended for man,

including death.

 

That could have been the end of the story—accept that God still loved man.

And so over the ages God battled to save his people from themselves,

and from their enemy, Satan,

and the sin, suffering and death Satan had fathered.

 

____

Some people say,

“well God’s God, why didn’t He just snap His fingers and fix things

—why would He have to fight a “battle”?

The answer’s simple:

God still desires that we freely chose to be His loving children,

not be forced to be His compliant slaves.

So, there was a problem:

–on the one hand, this battle must be freely chosen and fought by man himself

–but on the other hand, no one man, or even all mankind together,

had the power to win this battle.

So, as St. John tells us:

“God so loved the world that He gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish

but might have eternal life.”

 

And so in the fullness of time God the Son Himself entered the battle in dramatic way:

becoming a man to fight the fight for mankind,

but maintaining the awesome power of His divinity.

All His life on earth He immersed Himself in humanity’s sin, suffering and death.

Though He Himself was free from all sin

everyday He had to suffer from and battle with the sins around Him.

First as a young boy and young man, living a virtuous life among sinful people,

and later, as He began His public life,

publicly doing battle with the evil of the world.

Whether it was reproving the hypocrites and sinners,

to forgiving penitents, curing the sick, or even raising the dead,

Jesus, the Incarnate God, fought for man–and for God.

 

Finally, when His hour had come, as He was arrested

in the Garden of Gethsemane in the early morning hours of Good Friday,

Jesus began the final and most glorious stage of His battle.

This was the moment which all creation had been waiting for:

the God-man taking on directly in, so to speak, hand to hand mortal combat

all the sins of the world and the devil himself,

and all the consequent suffering, including DEATH itself.

 

In accepting His Cross Christ confronted every sin possible:

each one of the 10 commandments was violated by his murderers:

they blasphemed  God in mocking Jesus,

they dishonored their heavenly Father by spitting on His only Son,

they were unfaithful in adultery, as the bride rejected her bridegroom,

they stole His clothes, bore false witness against Him, coveted His power.

And finally, they killed Him.

Jesus confronted sin and suffering and even death completely on the Cross.

And he confronted their father, Satan,

who Scripture makes clear had manipulated his betrayer, Judas.

 

____

Satan laughed a nervous laugh, as Jesus breathed His last on the Cross.

But imagine his horror,

as Satan saw his apparently vanquished enemy

descend into the place of the dead,

where all the righteous men and women from days-gone-by

awaited freedom and everlasting life.

Imagine the terror of the ancient serpent of the Garden of Eden

when Jesus greeted Adam and Eve and proclaimed their freedom!

And finally, imagine the wonder, the joy, the exaltation of all creation when Christ

having faced his enemy as a man,

and taken the very worst he could throw at him

–every sin, the worst of human suffering, and even Death itself!!

–now rises in His divine power, from the dead, like light piercing the darkness.

Still fully human, He wears the wounds of His battle on His glorified body

like combat medals of valor,

as He shows them off to the doubting Thomas.

 

Tonight/Today, my friends, the battle is won!

Tonight/Today Christ has defeated sin,

He has vanquished suffering,

He has put death to death!!

And so when He appears first to Mary Magdalene and then later to the apostles,

He tells them “Be not afraid.”

For there is nothing to fear any longer.

 

_____

But you say,

“Father, sin and suffering and death are still all around us

how can Jesus be victorious?

But I remind you of the words of the prophet:

“I lay before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life!”

Christ has conquered, but now man must choose—once again.

 

Yes, we will be tempted to sin, but in Christ we have the power to resist temptation.

Yes, we will suffer, but in Christ we can transform suffering into sacrifice

and offer it to the Father as a sign of true love and faith.

Yes, we will suffer death,

but those who choose life in Christ,

we will also share in Christ’s triumph over death

as He gives us eternal life in heaven

and finally raises up our mortal bodies on the last day.

 

____

As Jesus tells us in Scripture,

“All this is impossible for man: but not for God; nothing is impossible for God.”

So we seek to do what seems impossible,

as in baptism we become one with Christ,

members, as it were, of His own body.

We say that we die to the old life—life without Christ

–and rise to the new life: life in Christ

A life transformed, free from the power of sin.

A life filled with grace–with the power of Christ Himself.

 

By confirmation we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit,

the Spirit that Jesus gave His apostles on Pentecost

and transformed them

from frightened cowards into bold evangelists!

A power to, as St. Paul says, “to fight the good fight, to finish the race.”

 

Finally, this life and power is renewed, strengthened and nourished in us

by the Eucharist.

On the night Jesus entered into the final mortal battle with evil,

He took bread and said “take and eat, this is my body”,

and He took wine and said “take and drink, this is my blood.”

In this Christ unites us to Himself through His Crucified and Risen Body,

and so unites us to His battle on the Cross

and His victory in the Resurrection.

 

____

Tonight [Today] is not simply the end of Lent,

[nor is it simply the end of RCIA]

–it is the greatest night/day of the year,

celebrating the greatest night/day of all time.

Tonight/today we remember that night/day 2000 years ago

when the God who created us so He could love us, and we could love Him,

made possible a new choice, a new beginning, for each of us.

The night/day when the love of God, exposed so exquisitely on the Cross,

and the power of God, revealed so gloriously in the Resurrection,

made it possible for us to share in his life—and his love and power–

and so become the men and women he created us to be in the beginning.

 

Tonight/today is not just the end of Lent, it is a new beginning for us:

let us celebrate His resurrection with heartfelt joy,

but let us also begin anew

to accept our share in His unrelenting battle against sin and death

so we may share in His glorious victory, in this life and in eternal life!

 

Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

TEXT: (Holy Thursday) Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, March 29, 2018

31Holy Thursday

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

March 29, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In Holy Week, especially as we enter into the Sacred Triduum,

Holy Mother Church calls us to remember

the events of those most Holy days 2000 years ago

when Jesus suffered, died and rose for our sins.

But She does not bring us to a play, acting out the parts,

but rather she takes the key events,

and places them in the context of the Liturgy.

Because while they are actual historic events that took place in time,

they are much, much more than that,

much that is even well beyond human understanding.

And so we don’t call them mere “events,” but “sacred mysteries.”

Mysteries revealed by God, but so wonderful in their divinity

that for 2000 years we have constantly continued

to plumb the depths of their beauty.

 

And so, rather than acting out a play that captures only the history,

instead, like a beautiful diamond,

placed at the center of a gold and jewel encrusted crown,

we enshrine these Sacred Mysteries in special rites, rituals and prayers.

 

Nowhere is this more apparent than at this Holy Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

An ordinary Mass, in many ways, yet set apart by its unique significance.

For tonight we remember the event and the mystery,

of Jesus establishing for us the Sacraments of both

the Most Holy Eucharist, and the Holy Priesthood.

 

____

The liturgical presentation of these mysteries, however,

does not keep us from going back in history, with our imaginations,

and placing ourselves in that night, at the Lord’s Supper.

Rather, the liturgy encourages us to do so,

as a starting point to discovering their inestimable meaning.

 

So…one wonders how it was that night,

at the Passover Supper of Jesus and His apostles,

on the night He was betrayed.

 

In particular, tonight I wonder what the apostles were thinking.

About Jesus saying He was going away,

and they could not follow Him, but that He would come back for them.

About how the crowd had at first greeted Jesus as King,

but now they seemed to have turned on Him,

spurred by the Pharisees who were plotting to kill Him.

 

Most particularly….I wonder what they thought

when He took bread and wine and said,

“this is My Body which will be given up for you,”

and “this is the chalice of My Blood… which will be poured out for you.”

 

Certainly they remembered how He had once told them:

“The bread I will give you is my flesh….

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life….

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

 

And they knew how time and again He’d proven His incredible power

to do amazing things:

from feeding 5,000 people with only five loaves and 2 fish,

to raising the dead.

 

They most certainly noted that Jesus, who always carefully observed Jewish law,

had now grossly strayed from the Passover ritual,

shifting the focus from the Lamb they ate

to this bread and wine He gave them.

 

Perhaps they pulled all this together to understand

that this was the new manna, the heavenly banquet,

that the prophets said the Messiah would bring,

or that this was the new sacrifice of the new passover, of the new covenant

that the prophets had also foretold.

 

Perhaps.

But most probably they were mainly confused,

and didn’t know exactly what was going on.

But they knew 3 things for certain:

First, they knew, that they believed in what He said, in His word,

because, as they had responded to Jesus’ promise to give His flesh to eat:

“You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced

that you are the Holy One of God.”

Second, they knew He had just said: “This is my body… this is my blood.”

And third, confused and uncomprehending, still, with the faith of children,

Jesus had said it, so they knew they had to believe it.

 

In any case, they knew this was something

singularly and uniquely important to Jesus, and so to them.

So much so, that while Jesus’ body lay in the Tomb,

the Apostles, even as they were in hiding, consumed by fear,

took the time to tell the other disciples what had happened.

So we see how on Easter, when Jesus appeared

to two of those disciples on the road to Emmaus,

they recognized Him only “in the breaking of the bread”

that the apostles had already told them about.

 

And it didn’t take long after the Resurrection for the apostles to

more fully understand the significance of the Eucharist.

First of all, the Resurrection assured them of Jesus power to do whatever,

and I mean whatever, He said He would do.

They understood for the first time that He was truly God in the flesh.

 

But more than that, most probably

Jesus Himself explained it to them after the Resurrection,

as the Gospels tell us,

“He opened their minds to understand the scriptures,”

And then after the Pentecost they would understand even better,

as Jesus promised, also at the Last Supper:

“the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things

and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
And so the Eucharist became one of the 4 main pillars of the Church

right from the beginning,

as the scripture tells us that right after the Pentecost,

the very first Christians,

“devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,

to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

 

And their understanding rapidly continued to deepen,

so that, in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul

would identify the Eucharist with the sacrifice of the Cross:

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

you proclaim the Lord’s death…”

And he would make clear his faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist:

“The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ?

 

And then in his letter to the Hebrews

he would write about the Eucharist and the Mass saying:

“you have come to …the heavenly Jerusalem,

and to innumerable angels…

and to the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven,

and to Jesus….

Therefore …let us offer to God acceptable worship,

with reverence and awe…”

St. John would allude to this same theme in the Book of Revelation:

“Blessed are those who have been called

to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

 

____

Over the centuries this understanding would continue to deepen,

as through grace, prayer and study,

theologians and saints would penetrate more and more

to the heart of this amazing mystery.

 

Never changing or discarding what came before,

but receiving all that with faith, and discovering new beauty in it.

Again, like an exquisite diamond:

when first you see it, you recognize its beauty,

but then over time you as you examine and turn it you see different facets,

and discover new colors, new refractions of light, new brilliance.

Same diamond, same beauty, but now deeper appreciation of it’s that beauty.

 

So for example, around the year 400, the great St. Augustine

would teach at length about the Eucharist,

including the necessity to adore It, saying:

“It was in His flesh that Christ walked among us

and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat for our salvation….

No one, however, eats of this flesh without having first adored it …

and …we would sin if we did not do so.”

 

And in 12th and 13th centuries,

men like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas

would build on this and give a new emphasis to devotion and reverence,

both in the form of Eucharistic Adoration and the celebration of Mass.

 

___

Sadly, not all Eucharistic theology has been so fruitful

—especially when it ignored what was handed down.

We see some of this taking hold after the Second Vatican Council.

Now, let me be clear: the Council itself spoke explicitly in defense of the Tradition

handed to us from the Apostles

through men like Ignatius, Augustine and Aquinas,

and called for a deepening of the understanding of this Tradition

by both priests and lay people alike.

 

Unfortunately, what we often saw in parishes

directly contradicted the writings of the Council,

and rather appealed to the supposed “Spirit of Vatican II”,

especially as many tried to downplay or disregard

the teaching on the real presence and sacrifice.

And so we see, even today, some Masses celebrated as if the Eucharist

is just a nice communal meal to make us feel welcomed, or entertained,

rather than, as Vatican II actually taught,

“first and foremost the sacrifice of the Cross.”

 

Some today teach that almost anyone can receive the Eucharist

—even though the early church was very clear that was not at all the case.

As St. Justin Martyr wrote from Rome in 150AD:

no one is allowed to partake but the man

who believes that the things which we teach are true,

and who has been washed …for the remission of sins [baptism]…

and who is living as Christ has commanded….”

 

____

But thanks be to God the truth prevails.

and the Church continues to hand on the ancient truths.

 

So that tonight Its wonderous meaning is clearly before us:

that simple child-like faith of the apostles at the Last Supper

has grown into a profound and rich tapestry of understanding.

Yes, still a divine mystery of unfathomable depth,

but oh so beautiful in what we have come to appreciate.

 

It is…the new sacrifice of the New Passover,

the entrance to the New Covenant with Christ.

It is the Sacrifice of the Cross made truly present here in our midst

—the same sacrifice made once for all 2000 years ago,

but by God’s mercy, plucked out of time into eternity

and placed here at this time for us.

It is the Real Presence of Jesus, truly, body, blood soul and divinity,

hiding under the outward signs of bread and wine.

It is truly the Word made flesh, dwelling among us;

the bread of heaven, the bread of eternal life, the bread of angels.

And it is the heavenly wedding banquet

as Christ gives Himself entirely to His Bride, the Church.

It is heaven come down to earth, and earth lifted up to heaven,

as we are surrounded in this place by all the saints and angels.

It is Christ crucified, risen and ascended to heaven.

All because it is really and truly Jesus.

 

_____

And we should not think that penetrating this mystery

is just the work of theologians and saints.

Each of us should, in a sense, do the same thing,

learning about the great treasure that has been handed on by the Church,

and letting it shape our own approach to the Eucharist.

Letting our minds and heart penetrate these amazing truths,

and letting them penetrate our minds and hearts.

And so be filled with absolute awe, reverence and wonder.

 

__

Most especially, we priests should always live in this awe,

as the reason the Sacrament of Holy Orders was give to us,

was primarily for this purpose: to “confect” or “make” the Eucharist.

Without the Eucharist there is no Church,

but without the priest there is no Eucharist.

 

Particularly tonight,

when we celebrate both Christ’s institution of the Eucharist,

AND the Priesthood,

as Christ commanded his apostles, the first priests:

you “do this in memory of me.”

So that through the Priesthood, the great and sublime mystery of the Eucharist

could then be made present to each and every generation of the Church.

 

Now, the priest must not take a false pride in this,

as if he himself, made this happen.

As a man, he is a sinner like anyone else: Judas was one of the first 12,

and even Peter denied Jesus three times.

But as a priest, by God’s grace acting through him,

he can stand in persona Christi, “in the person of Christ,” at the altar.

As St. John Vianney, patron of priests, once wrote:

“Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die:

not of fright, but of love…”

“Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail….

But then he adds, “The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.

 

_____

Tonight we image the very first priests, the apostles,

and remember that night 2000 years ago when Christ gave them, and us,

both the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

But we don’t only imagine and remember:

tonight they become present to us: they are here with us.

Because tonight we all stand at the foot of the Cross,

the Cross which stands in time but also in eternity,

an act of a dying man, but also of the eternal God.

And so we stand also in eternity,

with Jesus on His throne beside His heavenly father,

surrounded by His Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the faithful Apostles,

and all the saints and angels of heaven.

Heaven comes down to earth, and earth is lifted up to heaven.

 

As we continue more deeply into this Holy Mass tonight,

may the Lord Jesus grant us the childlike faith of the Apostles,

and the grace to allow the rich treasury of truth to penetrate our hearts,

so that we may love and worship Him in awe and wonder

as they once did on Earth, and now do in heaven.

May we believe because He has the words of eternal life.

Especially the words He spoke 2000 years ago,

and still speaks at every Mass:

“This is my body….This is… my blood.”

TEXT: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

March 25, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

One day they shouted:

““Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!.”

But only a few days later they shouted: “crucify Him!”

 

The crowd cheering their messiah one day,

is the same crowd crying for is blood, or abandoning Him to the cross

only a few days later.

 

Today you are here worshiping your beloved Jesus…

but this week will you abandon Him?

Will you, by your sins, join the crowd shouting “crucify Him!”,

or simply leave Him to the crowd because you’re too important or too busy.

 

Or will you make this week, truly a Holy Week?

In the original Greek Scripture the word that we translate as “holy”

literally means “set apart.”

So let this week be truly holy—set apart—

radically different from every other week of the year.

 

Every day, take time to think and pray, if ever so briefly, but constantly,

about the Lord’s Passion.

Feel compassion for His terrible suffering,

and sorrow for your sins that cause it.

And think: let your intellect, guided by faith and grace,

lead you to understand more fully the mystery of God’s love

and the depravity of our sins.

 

But this week is not just about mere feelings or reason.

As St. Paul reminds us today, it is about, how God the Son

“emptied Himself,” of divine glory and came “in human likeness,”

–in human flesh.

And how He allowed that flesh to be torn by whips, thorns, nails and a sword,

and even to die “on a Cross.”

 

This week, then, we must live out our sorrow for and understanding of

the Lord’s suffering in our own flesh:

by saying a kind word rather than a cruel word;

by giving a helping hand, rather than the back of our hand;

by being chaste, rather than yielding to lust.

 

And all this week the Church offers us unique beautiful liturgies

that help us to walk with Jesus in His hour of need

and to stand at the foot of His Cross.

 

Today St. Paul tells us:

“Jesus…did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at,”

or “clinged to.’

This week, what will you grasp at as more important than your suffering Jesus?

Will you cling to work, or busy schedules or even school?

Or this one week, will you humbly cling to Christ?

 

So I ask you right now, in your hearts, will you promise Jesus

to come to one or more of the holy week liturgies or sacraments?

If you haven’t been this Lent, will you finally come to confession?

Will you come daily Mass at on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday—or all 3?

Will you promise Jesus to come to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday,

commemorating His institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood,

and to watch and pray afterwards with the Lord

like the apostles in the garden of Gethsemane?

 

Will you come on Good Friday at 3 o’clock, the hour of the Lord’s Death,

–the holiest hour in all history–

for the powerful liturgy of the veneration of the cross,

to stand in line to kiss the cross of Christ,

and then to receive His crucified Body in Communion?

 

And, finally, how many will commit in their hearts right now, to come

to the most beautiful Mass of the Year Saturday night

—the Easter Vigil: the first celebration

of the light of the Resurrected Christ piercing the darkness?

 

Do not leave Christ behind in the church today,

or alone with the crowd this week.

Be with Him all week, at every moment—in your minds and hearts,

and in your bodies as well: at work, at home, and here in church.

Do not let this let this most sublime week of love ever in human history

be just like any other week of the year.

Let this week be different, set it apart, and let it be for you a truly HOLY WEEK.