TEXT: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 28, 2018

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 28, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Forgive me if I make some mistakes today.

I had another homily ready to go,

but last night I decided I had to say something else

—so this is not as well-crafted as I’d like.

But that is the nature of speech:

it often fails to communicate adequately,

and sometimes communicates poorly.

Which I will talk about later.


The events of this last week,

with the mail bombs and then the synagogue shooting,

along with the past shooting of congressmen at their baseball practice,

and mailing of ricin or anthrax to public figures,

all remind us of the sorry state of affairs in our country:

of the divisions that more and more radically separate us from each other.


In today’s Gospel, we find the story of Bartimaeus,

whom Jesus cured of blindness.

It seems to me this is the same problem so many Americans

and so many human beings around the world have today: blindness.

Not physical blindness, but a kind of mental and spiritual blindness.

They are blinded by their ideologies, by their unjust prejudices, their hatred,

and even by their corrupted religious views.

This can then lead to all sorts of distortions of political and social action,

to extremes of speech, then to grossly unacceptable physical encounters

—such as harassment of public officials in restaurants—

and even to the kind of extreme physical violence we’re seeing all too often.


The response to all this seems to be a near universal call

to calm down the rhetoric:

to scale back the harsh language we find in today’s public discourse,

especially in politics.

The idea is that such harsh speech leads to physical violence.

And I agree, but I also disagree.


Let me explain.


In Scripture Jesus twice repeats and affirms the 5th Commandment:

“you shall not kill.”

But Scripture makes clear, and the Church has always taught,

that this is not an absolute ban on killing human beings

in every single case.

For example, the Church has always taught in the case of self-defense,

and even just war,

we can morally use physical violence, and even kill an unjust aggressor.

But at the same time, the Church teaches this must be only as a last resort,

only when it’s truly necessary,

when all other non-deadly efforts have been exhausted or aren’t possible.

And it must only be used as a proportionate response:

if someone slaps you, you might be justified in slapping him back,

but not in killing him.

But if he comes at you with a knife, you could be killed, so you could shoot him.

Still, you should try to only wound him, if possible.


And again, you can only use physical force when other means don’t work.

Which means you first use words.

You discuss, debate, even argue, before you use physical violence.


But there’s a problem there too.

Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “‘You shall not kill…’”

He immediately adds,

“whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment,

and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’

will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,

and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Hell.”

So does that mean we can’t have a heated argument with each other,

or never use harsh words?


Not really.

For example, even though Jesus tells us not to call our brother a “fool”,

He Himself calls the Pharisees “fools” and “vipers” and “snakes”

Because that was what was necessary to get their attention,

that only thing that would make them understand the trouble they were in,

and also probably to communicate that to the people.

So it falls under the same logic as using physical force:

you can use the force that is truly necessary, and proportionate,

to defend yourself, or others.


So, where does this leave us?

Clearly we have to  use physical violence against those

who use physical violence against us:

so the guy who shot up the synagogue yesterday

was justly subdued by the cops who shot him.


But that is clearly and absolutely not necessary in our political discourse today.

Even the physical confrontation of public officials and their families in restaurants

is clearly over the top, and not necessary or proportionate.


You see, we have this great country that enshrines, right from the beginning,

in our foundational principles and laws,

the safety value against violence.

As our founding fathers wrote

in the very first article of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law ….abridging the freedom of speech….”

And so we can fight our fights, we can defend ourselves with speech, with words.


Can speech be hurtful?

Of course.

But there’s a lot to the old adage, most of us learned when we were children,

“sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Now, certainly words can hurt us, but usually only if we let them.

And a reasonable mature person doesn’t have to let them.


And can hurtful words incite others to physical violence?

They clearly can, if the words actually call for actual physical violence.

Otherwise only the mentally ill are triggered to violence by harsh words.

So, we have to be careful and prudent, or proportional, in our choice of words.

But on the other hand we have to use the words we need

to communicate clearly, even if those words are hurtful.

Otherwise we’d all just have to remain silent,

lest we say something that might trigger a violent response

in some deranged person.



Again, just like in war or physical self-defense,

we should words proportionate with the words our opponents use.


Now, in the current political climate,

have the various sides always used proportionate language to fight with.

Certainly not, not always—some are way out of bounds.

But what’s worse: to compare someone Adolf Hitler,

or to call them “ugly” or “stupid”?

Is it worse to call someone a “bigot” or to call them a “liar”?

I don’t know.


But I do know that the protection of free speech

has allowed Americans to fight for what we believe in

without resorting to physical violence

and has held our country together for 242 years

—except with when ran out of words to argue for and against

human slavery,

and then we had to go to war with each other:

and 625,000 Americans died.


So let’s not be afraid of battling with words, now—even harsh words.

Because it seems to me that if freedom of speech is suppressed,

there will once again be nothing left

to defend yourself with,

or defend the opinions and beliefs of both or all sides,

nothing but bloody civil unrest, violence and even war.



The key seems to be never to speaking when we are blinded by

ideologies, unjust prejudices, hatred, or corrupted religious views.

And so the answer for us, for all Americans and for the whole world

is to be like Bartimaeus, who, after the disciples told him “to be silent,”

filled with faith in Jesus, begged him,

“Master, I want to see.”

And then, after he received his sight, it says, he then, “followed him on the way.”


The answer to all the violence is to follow Jesus.

To follow him and his teaching about violence, and about speaking.

To remember that our opponents may be our enemies,

but that Jesus calls us to “love our enemies.”

This won’t, can’t and shouldn’t force us to never say a harsh word

about them or to them,

but it will force us to never say anything that doesn’t really need to be said.


Of course, in the heat of anger, it’s pretty hard to control our words.

But if the love of God, and the reason and justice of God,

govern our tongues, it gets easier.

And with the grace of Jesus Christ,

who spoke the truth at all times,

even using harsh language when it was necessary,

all things are possible.



Now, I know that I’ve said this clumsily,

and the someone might here this and be offended.

That’s probably my fault for choosoing the wrong words.

Words are like that, and human beings are like that.

Which reminds us of another thing to remember about speech:

always listen to others with love and reason in Christ,

and charitably try to understand

even the most poorly articulated thoughts of others.



As we move more deeply into the mystery of the Mass,

let us ask our Lord to shower our nation with his grace and love.

Let us pray for our politicians that they may fight boldly for what they believe,

but fight only with words that are truly necessary,

and subject to the judgment of Christ.

And let us pray for each other and all Americans,

that we may never resort to physical violence to defend our beliefs,

but rather always forcefully speak up for what we hold dear,

never being blinded by the false values of the world,

but always seeing with the eyes of faith in Jesus.

TEXT: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 7, 2018

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Respect Life Sunday)

October 7, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


This last year the topic of sexual abuse has been a dominant theme in the news.

Of course, in the Church,

this has taken on particular disgusting and sinister dimensions,

and we’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about that.


But sexual abuse isn’t the exclusive problem of the Church.

In the last year, society at large has become more acutely aware

that sexual abuse is a huge problem for all of us,

particularly the sexual abuse, including sexual harassment, of women.


And so we’ve seen the rise of the so called “me-too” movement:

women coming forward to reveal

that they have been sexually harassed or worse.

This was sort of initiated or at least publicized by Hollywood actresses

coming out about how powerful men in Hollywood had abused them.


Of course, this is kind of ironic, sadly, since Hollywood has been

one of the main promoters of the sexual abuse of women for decades

—just look at almost any movie and most tv shows,

and we see women constantly exploited for their sexuality.


But the thing is, Hollywood and it’s—for lack of a better word—“leftist” friends,

are turning to their unique set of values to solve the problem.

But they wind up making even greater problems,

because those values are largely morally bankrupt.


So for example, they’re promoting the idea

that we must now always believe the accusations of women,

and that men should never be trusted.

As one politician said recently,

“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions?

It’s the men in this country.

And I just want to say to the men in this country, just shut up….”


Of course, we do need to listen to women who claim abuse.

But the idea of always trusting the women and never trusting the man

only aggravates the problem

by turning man and woman further against each other.



The real solution is actually very simple, well known and ancient.

And it comes from Jesus Christ and His Church,

which for 2000 years has clearly and strongly upheld

the dignity of women

and the mutual respect and love male and female

should always, without exception, have for each other.


Actually, this goes back to the roots of our faith in Judaism.

In today’s first reading we literally go back to the beginning,

to the story of how God created man and woman

recorded in beginning of the Bible in the Book of Genesis.

In Chapter 1 of Genesis it tells us that God

“created man in His own image…male and female He created them.

Then in Chapter 2, that we read today,

it says that God created Adam first,

but that it wasn’t “good” that he be alone.

So God created the animals, but none of them could fill his loneliness,

none was a suitable partner for Adam.

And so God created Eve, from the very flesh and bones of Adam.

Adam looks at her in awe and says,

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

And it says, “a man clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”


All this is to say, in part, that women are not animals to be used

for man’s needs or selfishness.

They are made of the same stuff as males, equal to him in dignity.

But also made different, so as to complete mankind—so two can become one—

they are partners.

Different but equal, so that their equality must be mutually loved and respected

through their differences.


Jesus picks up on this theme in today’s gospel.

He quotes both Chapter 1 and 2 of Genesis, in his defense of marriage.

And in that defense he points out that women are equal in dignity to men,

first by citing Genesis’ teaching that both are made in the image of God,

and the 2 become 1 to complement or complete each other.

But also notice how he defends women from a terrible abuse:

men abandoning and divorcing their wives.

Not only does this leave the woman penniless,

but more fundamentally when the man marries another woman

he abuses the sexuality of his ex-wife:

in effect, he has used her sexually,

and now cast her aside as if she were trash

—that is at the heart of adultery.


And remember that Jesus makes it clear that adultery, this demeaning of women,

it isn’t just limited to bodily acts.

In the Sermon on the Mount he warns us:

“…that everyone who looks at a woman with lust

has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”


And so the Catholic Church promotes the dignity and rejects the abuse

of women.

It calls us to look at woman not as sexual objects to be used,

either by our eyes or with our bodies,

but to always treat them with love, chastity, and respect.



So, the Church has been right about this all along,

and the Church has the solution for the sexual abuse of women today.


But if the Church has been right on that moral problem for 2000 years,

what other moral problem might she have gotten right?


What about an equally, if not worse, kind of abuse of women,

that involves a different but still fundamental aspect of their sexuality:


And that is the abuse of women we call abortion.


Think about this.

We tell a woman, it’s not a baby so there’s nothing wrong with it.

But of course, it IS a baby, and in her heart she knows it’s a baby,

and that she has killed her baby.


But we tell her she’ll be fine afterwards, and she can move on with life.

But the reality is she will never forgive herself,

and she will be burdened, even crippled,

by guilt and even self-loathing for the rest of her life.


And we pretend it will empower her.

but in reality most of the time it only further subjects women

to the power of men, the fathers of their babies,

who so often force the woman to have an abortion

either directly or through fear of abandonment.


And we tell her it’s her free choice,

but then we don’t tell her about any of the other choices she has,

choices that are not deadly to the baby or traumatic to her.



It seems to me, that abortion is painfully similar to sexual abuse:

both take the woman’s sexuality

and turn it from an expression of joy, love and life,

to an experience of pain, hatred and destruction.

And the scars of both stay with them and effect everything they do

for the rest of their lives.


But the thing is, if we were honest with ourselves, as terrible as sexual abuse is,

abortion is even worse:

sexual abuse only injures,

but abortion always kills…a child—and not just any child,

but the woman’s baby girl or boy.

Given the right care, a woman can be greatly healed

from the traumatic effects of both sexual abuse and abortion,

but no one can bring the aborted baby back to life.


Sexual abuse must be stopped

God forbids it, reason shows it, and justice demands it.

And the abuse of women through abortion must also be stopped,

for the very same reasons—God, reason and justice.



3 months ago, the President nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh

to the Supreme Court.

To many of this, it was seen as a God-send:

we knew that Kavanaugh was a strongly pro-life judge

who would work to protect women and their children

from the terrible abuse of abortion.

We had been waiting, working and praying for him for 50 years.


But for the exact same reason, many others immediately decried his nomination.

One of the pro-abortion leaders called him “evil,”

and another promised that he would

“oppose him with everything I got.”

Because you see, abortion was on the line

—no matter what other qualification he has,

that was all that mattered to them.


And they did throw everything they could at him to stop him.

And in the end, when all else failed, they threw one final horrible accusation

that they thought would end his nomination.

The irony is thick here:

they accused him of sexual abuse of a woman

in order to protect their abuse of women in abortion.


In the end however, even though her testimony was compelling, his was too.

Who should we believe, when they both seemed believable?

Again, some said we should believe her no matter what,

and assume that he was guilty because, after all he is a man.

Thanks be to God, clearer heads prevailed,

and again turned to God, reason and justice for an answer.

When no corroborating evidence was presented,

we remembered the fundamental maxim of American Justice that

we must always assume someone innocent

until they are proven guilty.

And some us remembered the words of God the Son himself, Jesus:

“If your brother sins, ….take one or two more with you,

so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses

every fact may be confirmed.”


And in the end a majority of the senate voted yesterday

to confirm Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

And we will finally put an end to 50 years of a Supreme Court

that has sanctioned the abuse of women through abortion.

So that, thanks be to God, we will finally have

a truly pro-life, and pro-woman majority on the Court.



Sexual abuse of women is a despicable thing,

an abomination before God, reason and justice.

But we cannot show respect for women by throwing out our respect for men.

We can only do so by remembering that

we are created in the image of God as male and female,

meant to cling to each other in love:

to mutually respect and love each other in every aspect of life.

And by appreciating and standing in awe of

the God-given differences between male and female,

especially the sexual differences,

and never use them to exploit or abuse each other.


But all that means we must also respect the dignity of a woman’s sexuality

that is expressed in motherhood.

And we must end the abuse of women that comes through deception

and the rejection and distortion of that great gift through abortion.


As we continue more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,

let us ask our Lord Jesus to pour out His grace upon us,

so that we may truly understand and appreciate the gifts He has given us. Most especially that we may always respect and truly love women,

and protect them from any abuse

of the great and multifaceted gift of their sexuality.

TEXT: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 30, 2018

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 30, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today’s gospel beings with the words,

“John said to Jesus,

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name…”

This is one of many many times that Scripture

recognizes the existence of demons or devils,

and the reality of their objective of tormenting man and mankind.

We can also think of Satan personally tempting Jesus in the desert,

or Eve in the Garden.


Christians believe this, because God revealed it to us,

and because we see the work of the devil all around us.


But, thanks be to God, Christians also believe in the Angels,

the holy creatures who exist to love and serve God completely,

and because God loves us, they love and serve us also.

And they also are real, personal beings.

In fact, yesterday we celebrated the feast day of 3 of these persons:

the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

St. Michael is particularly important because he is the Prince of the angels,

the General of the heavenly army of angels,

leading them in constant battle against Satan and his minions,

protecting us, and leading us in the way of peace.


And so the angelic-satanic battle wages.


One person who never had to be convinced of all this was Pope Leo XIII.

Because one day in 1881, while he was praying after Mass,

he had a supernatural vision that vividly revealed Satan and his devils

and their work to conquer mankind.

The Pope never spoke publicly about what he saw,

and there are several different versions that come down to us.

One account tells us he saw the battle vividly raging.

Another tells us that, much like in the story of Job,

he heard Jesus allow Satan to have a freer hand to tempt mankind

for a period of 50 or 60 or 100 years, or for the whole of the 20th century,

depending on what story you believe.

You can believe this or not, but, just so you know,

St. John Paul II believed that Leo had at least had a vision

of the angelic battle being waged against the demons.

So I believe it too.


And I think the visions were clearly prophetic,

as the next century saw the horrors of World War I and World War II,

the rise of atheistic Communism and Marxism, and radical Islamism.

And then the mainstreaming of sexual abuse and perversion, contraception,

attacks on marriage, and abortion.

Have you ever wondered why all these things are happening:

why mankind is seemingly out to destroy itself

and its relationship with God?

Even if you don’t believe in the vision of Leo, it seems pretty clear

that it’s not merely some human conspiracy,

but the cunning and calculated plan of the enemy of mankind—Satan.


After all, he hates man, because Man is created in the image of God,

whom he hates with his whole being.

So he hates man and tries to destroy that which is most important

for man’s happiness and wellbeing: marriage and family.

And he hates man, so he seeks to destroy his confidence and trust

in the means of his salvation, the Church,

as he first tempts priests to commit sinful acts abusing their children,

even though Jesus warns, as we read today:

“it would be better for him if a great millstone

were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

And then the devil tempts bishops and cardinals to cover it up,

and promote the abusers.


And he hates man, so he seeks to take his life,

so he tempts us to kill each other by the thousands and millions in war.

But not only in war, but also in the scourge that must make him most gleeful:

killing millions of little babies in abortion.



Last week, as I watched the hearings for Judge Kavanaugh,

I couldn’t help but think about all this.

First, seeing the horrible pain that Dr. Ford seems to have been through,

the effect of the devil’s turning of the act of love into an act of hate,

and so turning man against woman and woman against man.


But then there was also the politicians’ despicable attempts

to aggravate this division by insisting that in every claim of abuse,

we must always “believe the woman”,

no questions, no alternative explanations,

and so never believe anything the man says,

and always presume he’s guilty and should just “shut up,”

even if by all accounts he is one of the finest men you’ll ever know.

Again, the satanic turning of woman against man, absolute distrust,

that goes on to destroy all societal relationships

A destruction that goes right back to the garden of Eden.


But even more than all that, I saw the devil’s hand manipulating events,

as politicians continued to abuse this woman,

using her pain as a weapon in their demonic battle to defend

what seems inexplicably most precious to them:

the killing of babies in abortion.

Because that’s what this appointment to the Supreme Court is all about:

for most of us here it was about ending abortion,

and for most of the left it’s about keeping abortion.



All this, from the scandals in the Church, to the violence on the streets,

to the rise of Marxism in our own country, to terrorism,

to the degradation of marriage and sexuality,

to abortion… all of this is part of Satan’s war on mankind and God.


And it can be overwhelming to us, and lead us to despair and to give up.

And wouldn’t the devil like that?


But we don’t have to give up.

Because it’s a war against not just man, but against God as well.

And God will not lose, and he will not abandon mankind.


If we think about it, Pope Leo’s vision was not just of the coming days,

but really also a vision of the last days:

it sounds a lot like a vision of St. John had in the “Book of Revelation.”

And there, in “Revelation,” just when the devil seems to be winning the war,

something remarkable happens:

“war broke out in heaven:

Michael and his angels fought with the dragon;

and the dragon and his angels …did not prevail

…the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old,

called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…”


And so, the story goes, when Pope Leo saw this vision,

he immediately sat down and wrote a prayer,

a prayer he commanded the whole church to pray after almost every Mass.

And that prayer was the Prayer to St. Michael,

that we pray here at St. Raymond’s after every Mass.


For some unknown reason, Pope Paul VI lifted that requirement in 1964.

But he didn’t say we couldn’t continue the tradition of Pope Leo it if we want to.

So I have included that prayer at the end of every Mass I’ve offered

during my 22 ½ years as a priest.



My friends, St. Peter tells us in scripture:

“Be alert and of sober mind.

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion

looking for someone to devour.”


So we must not pretend the devil’s not around, or harmless,

or not a thousand times more cunning and manipulative than we are.

That’s not to say that we can blame the devil for all our misfortunes or sins;

it is not true that, “the devil made me do it.”

No, men and women sin and do evil by their own free choosing.

But the devil is always there encouraging it,

and using our sins, coordinating our sins,

to try to destroy us, and to mock God.


So, we must, as St. Peter goes on to tell us, “resist him, solid in our faith.”

And we must continually call on the great Prince of the Heavenly Hosts

to defend us in our battle with Satan.

Confident, that by the power of God he will cast him and his minions

into hell forever.



Now, the name Michael is Hebrew for “who is like God.”

But we’re not sure exactly how to take this.

Catholic tradition tells us that before his fall from heaven

the angel Lucifer was so caught up in his own magnificence

that he did not want to serve, but wanted to be adored like God.

Of course, this which was his great sin, and God cast him out of heaven,

and now calls him the “enemy,” or, in Hebrew, “Satan.”

On the other hand, Michael, in his great humility, did not seek to be adored,

but to rather serve adore and lead others to serve and adore God alone.


So we can say, “who is like God?” as a question,

and Michael boldly answers “no one is like God.”

Or we say, “who is like God” as a description,

so that Michael in his humility is, in a way, “like God,”

like Jesus, in his humility.


So we not only seek Michael’s protection, but also, we seek to be like him.

First by resolutely fighting with him and his angels against Satan.

But also, by joining him in living life as he does

—humbly loving and serving God and our fellow men.



St. Michael defends us from Satan,

but perhaps the greatest thing he does for us is lead us to Christ.

And there’s no way he does this more importantly than in the Eucharist.

Many of the great saints have speculated that St. Michael was the angel

“assigned” as the guardian angel of Jesus when he was on earth.

And so the theory goes, after the Ascension, St. Michael was “assigned”

to stay as the guardian angel of Jesus on earth—in the Eucharist.

In fact, some wonder if he is not the angel referred to in the Eucharistic Prayer,

when we pray,

“command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel

to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty…”

In any case, it seems that whether in the tabernacle or on the altar

or in Holy Communion,

St. Michael is right there next to Jesus in the Eucharist,

not merely protecting and guarding him, but adoring him.

Because that is what all angels to first and foremost—they love and adore God.



“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name…”

Today, be aware of the devil and all his minions that seek to harm you.

But do not be afraid.

Call on the gift God has given us to drive away all demons:

St. Michael and his angelic hosts.

And let the great Archangel not only protect you,

but also lead you to Jesus.

And as we join Michael in adoring and worshipping Our Lord

in the most Blessed Sacrament,

may we be open to receive the Eucharist grace, the true power of God,

to join the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts

in loving and serving God and our fellow man as we were created to.

TEXT: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 23, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,there is disorder and every foul practice.”


Phrases like this in scripture can be very troubling.

Not so much the thing about jealousy and selfishness,

but that apparent condemnation of “ambition.”

Is ambition wrong, or only “selfish ambition”?

What’s the difference between the two anyway, is there a difference?

Isn’t all ambition, at its root, selfish?



Actually, ambition in and of itself, is a good thing,

if we understand it as

“the will or desire to succeed or achieve a particular goal or end.”

You want to be all your talents and gifts allow you to be

—to be all you can be, to live up to your fullest potential.

You want your gifts not to be wasted, but to be used to their fullest extent.

You want to give your children the best things you can give them,

especially the best education and spiritual formation.

You want your children to be the very best they can be.

And you want to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
What’s wrong with that?

In fact, isn’t it actually wrong when we don’t want to do those things

—when we don’t want to be the best we can be?


Related to this is a humble but an honest assessment of our talents.

The fact is all of us have certain gifts and talents,

and some of you more than the rest of us,

and it’s important we recognize those gifts

—not to feel good about ourselves, or to be prideful,

but how can you use a gift, or be thankful for it,

if you don’t admit you have it?


Remember, God is the giver of all gifts, He doesn’t want us to waste them.

Think of the parable of the talents:

the master going on a trip gave his servants different amounts of money,

and to those who invested and grew that money

he rewarded them by giving them more,

but of the one who simply buried the little he’d been given

the master said:

“cast this worthless servant into the outer darkness.”


So, in this sense ambition is good and necessary.

But like all good things, it can be corrupted, especially by the passions

—our own selfish desires.

As St. James says today:

“where do the conflicts among you come from?

Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? ”


The key problem is selfishness

—placing yourself and your desires first,

thinking not so much of being the best,

but how to best meet your own self-interest,

whether that self-interest is oriented to

your personal pleasure, or to being famous,

or rich, or respected by society, .

“What do I want?…“How do I want to use my gifts.”

This is “selfish ambition,” and it’s directly related to jealousy:

“I want the best for me, and I want the best you have, for me.”



I’ve said it a million times, now a million-and-one:

God is love, and God created man in his own image, created us to love:

first to love God, and then to love his neighbor,

beginning with spouses, children and parents,

and then, ultimately every single human being.

God created us with a plan, at the pinnacle of a well-ordered world,

to be and live a certain way,

in a world of peace and serenity founded in God’s love and man’s love.

And all the gifts He gives us,

taken together as a whole, or individually as unique persons,

are all ordered to love as well.

So that when we use those gifts in ways contrary to love,

when we are driven by inordinate self-love, “jealousy and selfish ambition,”

everything gets confused, and messed up, as St. James says:

“there is disorder and every foul practice.”


But when love of God and our neighbor is our starting point and our goal,

and then we try our very best to use all our gifts to their fullest extent,

in keeping with self-less love

—when ambition becomes not selfish but self-gift

then life becomes more as it should be,

as it was created to be.

So that even in the middle of the disorder all around us,

our lives, and lives we touch, become, as St. James continues:

“peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,

without inconstancy or insincerity.”



In today’s gospel we read:

“They had been discussing among themselves on the way

who was the greatest.”

Jealousy and selfish ambition, right there among the apostles.

They argued about who was the greatest, but the greatest what?

the greatest martyr? the greatest example of charity?

I don’t think so.

They still hadn’t come to understand what being a disciple was all about.

“No servant is greater than his Master,” Jesus said.

Yet, they all apparently wanted to be masters, not servants,

even though their master had said:

“the Son of man came not to be served but to serve,

and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


And so He would tell them, as we read today:

“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him,

and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”

This was his plan, and His Father’s plan for the salvation of the world,

God’s plan to return things to their proper order,

where one man’s perfect life, and death, in love

–in humble service to the Father and to man–

could bring peace to those who would accept it.



This, my friends, was true and perfect ambition:

Not selfish ambition, as Jesus constantly ran away

from those who wanted to make him a worldly king,

so that, as we read today, when he

“began a journey through Galilee,

but he did not wish anyone to know about it.”

His ambition was not even simply to reign in heaven as God, as is just and right.

No, His ambition was to love and serve His Father and us, no matter what it took.

So, as St. Paul’s writes elsewhere:

“…though he was in the form of God,

[Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,

…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death,

even death on a cross.”

And it is in that servanthood that He achieves His ambition,

reconciling man to the love of God.


But, as we read today, even after he tried to explain all this to his disciples:

“they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.”

What were they afraid of?

Maybe they remembered what he had told them only days before,

as we read last week:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

take up his cross, and follow me.”


Of course, eventually, his apostles came to understand and accept this teaching.

With the exception of Judas,

all of them became true servants of God and their neighbor,

and all but John followed their Master to a martyr’s death.

Making their own the loving and selfless ambition of Christ.



All of us should be ambitious to be the best we can be,

to use the gifts God has given us,

whether they are small and humble, or prodigious and phenomenal,

in love for God and neighbor.

Because this is what we were made for

and this is what these gifts were given to us for.

And if this is not our ambition, we will always fall short of our true potential,

never truly be the best we could be.

And our lives will always be marked by “disorder” and “foul practice,”

and never know fully the “purity” and “peace,” the “mercy and good fruits”

God has planned for us.



Some say, but I pray every day,

asking God to help me be the best I can be, and yet I keep falling short.

But what do we pray to be the best at?

The best lawyer, or scientist, or doctor, or teacher or homemaker

or student or mother or father, or priest?

And how do we keep falling short:

in having fun or pleasure, or making lots of money or being famous

or well thought of by your peers or the public?


It’s fine to pray to be the best lawyer, doctor, teacher, homemaker or priest,

but only if we pray to do that as

the best servant of God and neighbor we can possibly be,

To be whatever God in his wisdom has planned and wants us to be,

what He created us to be and do?

Do we even care that we fall short of that constantly.

As St. James tells us today:

“You ask but do not receive,

because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”



Today the Lord Jesus Christ has spoken to us in Sacred Scripture,

just as surely as he spoke to his disciples that day 2000 years ago.

And He comes to us, humbly under the sign of what looks like a piece of bread,

but truly the eternal glorious Word made flesh,

really present here in his crucified and risen body.

His greatest ambition now is to use all His gifts to save all mankind

—to save you and me from sin—

to pour the grace of his Cross into our hearts

and transform our selfish-ambition into selfless-ambition,

to lift us up to be the great men and women he created us to be.


But He cannot do this alone—this must be our ambition too.

Will we understand this?

Will we ask Him not for the wrong things, but rather:

“Lord, what is it that you, in your divine and perfect wisdom,

want me to do with these gifts you’ve given me

to serve you and your people?”

Will we ask Him, or will we, like those first disciples, be “afraid to question him”?


Friends, hear Him today,

and open your heart to His will and His grace, to His plan for you.

And let there be no more “jealousy and selfish-ambition”

no more “disorder and …foul practice” among us.

But rather open your hearts, and become selflessly ambitious,

to be the best you can be,

to love, and be “the last of all, and the servant of all.”

TEXT: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2018

24th  Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 16, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


“Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”

In a way, this question of Jesus is perhaps the most important question

any man can ask himself: “Who do I say Jesus is?”

And St. Peter gives the most important answer any man can give:

“You are the Christ,” the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord.


This is the answer every Christian must give

—it is the Christian’s fundamental profession of Faith.

Without this, then the rest of the Gospel is useless

—if for no other reason than Jesus admitted that He was the Christ

—and if Jesus wasn’t the Christ He was a liar—not to be believed at all.

And everything He said and did was useless.


But Jesus is the Christ

—and because we believe that, all the other things He said make sense,

and we can believe in them

and be open to the grace and the life they offer.


Faith in Jesus as the Christ—the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Son of God—

is the key to our salvation.



But is faith all we need?

Some of our protestant brothers and sisters, especially evangelicals, think so.

In the words of Martin Luther in the 16th century,

many protestants believe that we are “saved by faith alone”: “Sola Fide”.

Maybe you haven’t encountered this directly.

but I bet most of you have been asked, or at least heard,

the question:

“have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

This question is really another way of saying: “who do you say Jesus is”?

And to answer, “yes,” is to say, “I have faith in Christ.”

And because they believe that faith in Jesus is all you need to be saved,

when they ask this question, they are really asking “are you saved?”


Now, let me be clear: not all Protestants accept this doctrine nowadays.

But Luther and his modern day disciples,

believe that there is nothing we can do to be saved

—that Jesus did it all for us on the cross

and He pours the grace of the cross on us today

—so we can do nothing but believe in what Jesus does for us,

and that belief will save us.

It doesn’t matter what else you do—

—if you do or don’t sin, do or do not obey the commandments,

or if you do or don’t receive the sacraments,

or if you love your neighbor or not

—as long as you believe in Jesus.

As Luther wrote: “sin boldly, but believe more boldly”.


Now, Luther didn’t just make this notion of salvation by faith alone out of thin air

—he based it on several statements made by St. Paul,

and by Jesus Himself.

For example, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

“a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

And Jesus says:

“he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,

and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

So if you were to take these kinds of statements on their own,

they do seem to affirm that faith is the only thing that matters.


And Luther was not the first one to fall into this false understanding of faith.

Some of the early Christians were also tempted to make this same mistake.

And so St. James wrote to correct this error.

As we read in today’s 2nd reading from St. James:

“What good is it…if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?

….faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
And as St. James goes on to say just a few verses later:

Even the demons believe–and shudder….

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”


And of course, St. James is not the only one to reject “faith alone”

and acknowledge that our works are essential to our salvation.

St. Paul also taught this.

As he went on to write the Romans:

“On the one hand, to those who persist in good work,

…he will give eternal life.

But for those who …reject the truth and follow evil,

there will be wrath and anger.”


But most importantly Jesus himself taught this.


He tells us to be saved we must follow the commandments:

when the rich young man asks him,

“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”

Jesus replied: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”


He tells us to be saved we must love our neighbor:

when a lawyer asked Him:

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied: “What is written in the law? How do you read?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

….soul, …strength, and …mind;

and your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus replied, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”


He tells us we must do good works:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food,

….‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,

you did it not to me.’

And they will go away into eternal punishment,

but the righteous into eternal life.”


And He gives us the sacraments which He tells us we must partake in:

For example, Baptism:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,

he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

And of course the Eucharist:

“Truly, truly, I say to you,

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,

you have no life in you.”


Think of all that: that’s a lot we have to do to be saved.



Now some Protestants who follow “sola fide”

counter the idea of the necessity of doing good works

as simply being proof of our faith:

if someone believes, naturally they’ll do good things.

And if they say they believe but don’t do good things,

then, they never really believed in the first place.


But if that’s true why did St. Paul—who surely was filled with faith—

write that he was afraid of losing his salvation

by not doing what he should?

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete,

but only one receives the prize?

…I do not run aimlessly…but I pommel my body and subdue it,

lest after preaching to others

I myself should be disqualified.”



Faith is the key to salvation.

But it is not all there is to salvation.

The key of faith opens the door

to all that we need to know and to do to be saved.


In today’s Gospel Peter is the first to declare the Church’s faith in Christ.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist records that Jesus tells Peter

that this insight has come from directly from God, his Father.

But later on when Peter refuses to believe Jesus

when he explains that he has to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die,

Jesus says: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Friends, to think as God does, is to believe in Jesus and His Gospel.

But the thing is, that Gospel has a content—Jesus taught us what God thinks,

and how God wants us to live, and do and love.

And to say we believe in Jesus,

but reject the content of his teaching,

including the things he said we must do to gain eternal life,

whether it’s keeping the commandments,

or loving God and your neighbor,

or being baptized,

or receiving and adoring the Eucharist as his body and blood,

or following the teachings and discipline

of Peter and his successors, the Popes,

if you reject those, well, as St. James says today: “what good is that?”


Jesus goes on to tell us today:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,

take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake

and that of the gospel will save it.”

It is true that Christ’s Cross—and the love it expresses—

is the only thing that saves us.

But unless we live as he did, love as he loved, do as he commanded,

even if it means suffering for others,

or even losing our lives for the sake of what we believe–the Gospel

—we cannot live as he lives:

in the eternal and perfect joy and glory of heaven.



I am confident that our Protestant brothers and sisters who hold to “faith alone”

believe in Jesus Christ.

I am also confident that they also love the Lord Jesus,

and do many good works.

But we must not be confused between the relationship between faith and love,

and between believing and doing.

Eternal life comes to us not because we believe it will,

but because God loves us

and allows us to chose live in his love today and forever.


So let us have faith in Christ and live out the entirety of his teachings.

Including the teaching passed on to us by St. James:

“faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”