TEXT: Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 21, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Tonight/today we celebrate the most important day in history.

Because today we celebrate the historical fact that 2000 years ago

the man known as Jesus of Nazareth,

who had been killed by the leaders of Romans and the Jews

on a Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday.

And He didn’t rise like one of the walking dead or a vampire,

but in a real living body marked by His suffering and Cross,

and perfected and glorified by His Resurrection.

And not only did He rise, He lives now forever, with His body,

at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

 

Now, we believe this to be an historic fact, not a private whimsy.

To be sure, it is a matter of personal faith

—we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But it is not merely personal faith—it either happened or it didn’t.

 

If it did NOT happen, then all of us here are well-meaning,

but mistaken, and more or less wasting our time here today.

And to the extent we allow our faith in the resurrection

to effect the rest of our lives, we waste that effort too.

 

But if it DID happen…

What should that mean for us? and for the world?

If it is true, it was the most incredible and important event ever,

and the world and time and all people

should literally revolve around that event.

It should clarify once and for all what it means to be a human being.

And it would testify to the truth of all the things

Jesus of Nazareth taught in His lifetime,

and set those up as the foundational principles of all good human living.

 

Think of it.

It would mean that there really is a God who made us just to love us,

and so we could love Him and our neighbor.

That He loved us so much He really did send His only begotten, co-eternal Son,

into the world to destroy sin by His suffering and death on the Cross.

And that Divine Son really did strip Himself of His heavenly glory

to become a human being, just like you and me in all things, but sin.

 

It would mean He is looking for you,

like a Good shepherd searches for his one lost sheep.

That He calls all who are weary and find life burdensome to come to him,

and He will give you rest.

That He loves His people with all His heart, like a bridegroom loves his new bride.

 

It would mean He loves you personally—it was He who chose you.

That if you believe in Him, even though you die, you will live.

That He has gone before you to prepare a place for you

in His Father’s heavenly house.

 

But it would also mean that “unless you turn and become like children,”

and “unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit,”

and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood,”

“you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”

 

It also means that “if we love Him” and if we want to “inherit eternal life” with Him,

we must:

“keep the commandments…

You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …

Honor your father and mother,”

and “keep holy the Sabbath”

It would mean:

“that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”,

and “that every one who looks at a woman with lust

commits adultery with her in his heart.”

 

And while all this sometimes seems impossible,

if Christ is truly risen from the dead, then it must be true that

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

And that He told us all this so that:

“[his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

 

Imagine if Jesus really did rise from the dead.

It would mean that He established Simon Peter as the Rock

on which He built His Church,

giving Him the keys to the kingdom of heaven,

and promising the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

And that, as He prayed at the Last Supper,

all might be one with Him in that one Church with Peter.

 

Imagine….

…if Jesus Christ really did, in time and history,

rise from the dead and open to us the gates of paradise….

wouldn’t that make today

the most joyful glorious day of the year?

 

But wouldn’t that mean we’d have to change a lot of the way we live?

 

Some say, well, it’s just what I believe, not what I know to be true.

Friends, I do not know how man ever landed on the moon.

And I don’t even know for a fact that man ever did land on the moon.

But I believe it to be true.

Partly because I’ve heard and read about it;

partly because I have confidence in the people who told me about it.

Heck, I believe it partly because so many other people seem to believe it,

and I believe it though there are, apparently,

a lot of people around the world who do not believe it.

But I believe, even though I don’t know it perfectly as an eyewitness.

 

Regardless of how we came to believe, if we believe in the Resurrection

we believe that it is a fact, not a myth,

historical not whimsical,

real not hypothetical.

 

And if we believe it really happened, why don’t we act like it really happened?

Sure, tonight/today we do, at least for a couple of hours.

But what about tomorrow and the rest of the year?

Why don’t we act like Jesus

has realigned everything man understands and lives for,

that we understand and live for?

 

And why are we so timid to talk about it with others?

Why do we act like it’s some sort of fairy tale we should be ashamed of?

 

Alright, maybe it is a little hard for some to believe

—but if you believe it why can’t they?

I mean, after all, if it’s true, it’s the best news they’ll ever hear—

it will bring them happiness and peace they’ve never known to be possible,

yet have been searching for all their lives.

 

Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll lose a friend.

So what?

Maybe you’ll change their lives and you’ll gain the best friend you ever had!

 

Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe as much as we think we do.

But why not, when Christ has done all He has for us?

Think of all the times you’ve prayed to Him and He’s come to your aid.

Think of the times you’ve gone crying to His side, and He gave you peace.

The times you prayed for a miracle and—voila–it happened.

 

Then again, maybe you don’t recall these things happening in your life.

Maybe you haven’t had the experience of Christ

that you wish you could have.

Or maybe you don’t understand or know much about Him

—or maybe you don’t agree with some of the things the Church

says about Him.

Okay.

Then let’s change that.

Don’t settle for lukewarm Catholicism—who would want that?

Certainly not Christ, who said if we were lukewarm He would “spit us out.”

 

[In tomorrow’s Gospel, St. John tells us that He didn’t understand]

[Today, St. John tells us in his Gospel that he didn’t understand]

what Jesus had meant when He had told them

He would rise on the third day;

John didn’t understand until he saw the empty tomb

—notice, not the risen body, just the empty tomb.

But when he sees the empty tomb: “he saw and believed.”

 

We also read that St. Mary Magdalene,

didn’t believe at first either.

Scripture tells us:

“she ran and …told them,

‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb,

and we don’t know where they put Him.’”

But if we read on in the next few verses

we see that Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb

and after awhile saw a man there she thought was a gardener.

So she said to him: “Sir, if you carried him away,

tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
And then:

“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” …Teacher.”

And she believed.

 

Here are 2 of Jesus’ most devout followers.

And yet at first they didn’t believe.

But when John opened his eyes to what Jesus had told him,

“he saw and believed.”

And when Magdalene finally asked Jesus

He called out to her, and she believed.

 

Some today would like to think that belief in Christ and His resurrection

and the effect they have on individual lives is coming to an end.

But we know otherwise.

You are here because you believe.

Maybe not as fervently as you should or would like to.

Maybe you don’t allow that belief to permeate your life,

to change the way you live.

Maybe you don’t share your faith with others nearly enough.

But you believe, or you wouldn’t be here.

You believe, even as you want to believe even more deeply.

 

Tonight/Today, hear our Risen Lord calling out to in His word,

and in whatever truth resonates in my words.

See Him in the believers assembled here today

members of His Church, united with millions more throughout the world.

And see Him most especially in His body and blood in the Eucharist.

Hear. See. And believe.

 

And may your faith and the joy and the power of the Risen Christ

change your life today,

tomorrow and in eternity.

TEXT: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 18, 2019

Thursday of the Lord’s Supper

April  18, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

 

Last Monday we looked on in stunned sorrow

at images of the fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris.

As I saw the grand spire topple to the ground, my heart dropped with it.

 

Most of the civilized world, certainly most Westerners and Christians,

were at least saddened if not deeply moved by the loss

of this 850-year-old great wonder of art and architecture.

 

But as I have listened to and read reactions

from people around the world, especially the French themselves,

it seems most people really don’t understand what we’ve lost.

French President Macron vows to rebuild in 5 years,

but it seems he doesn’t really understand what it is he’s seeking to rebuild.

 

Because Notre Dame is not merely a stunning accomplishment of human genius,

nor is it merely an historical architectural artifact,

nor is it a merely grand monument to the glories and tragedies

of French and European history.

 

Rather, Notre Dame was built as an expression of deep faith in and love for

Jesus Christ.

It is a love poem, in wood and stone, to God and to His mother,

poured out in the sweat and blood of thousands of French craftsmen,

sons and daughters of the eldest daughter of the Church,

Catholic France.

And most specifically, it is an articulation of their Catholic faith and understanding

of the magnificence, beauty and splendor

of what we have gathered here this evening to celebrate: the Eucharist.

A temple built with human hands and minds,

but more than that, with human faith and divine grace.

 

____

Of course, the first Eucharist was not celebrated

in such magnificent surroundings,

or with hardly any such outward expression of faith and understanding.

It was, in fact, a very simple affair, at least outwardly.

But don’t ever let that fool you.

Because if we step back and look at it we see something entirely different.

 

Think of it.

There were present all 12 of the first apostles,

11 of whom would be destined to be

the very foundational pillars of the Church,

to sit on thrones before the throne of God in heaven,

as Jesus Himself tells us.

 

And of course, the priest of the first Mass

was none other than Jesus Christ Himself,

God the Son, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World.

And there He offered Himself to the Father

in the supreme sacrifice that was the salvation of the world,

as He miraculously made present the very sacrifice

of His own body on the Cross,

taken out of time from the next day, Good Friday,

and placed on that table of the last supper on Holy Thursday.

His sacrifice of love beyond all telling.

love or us and for the Father.

His death paying for our sins and the sins of all mankind,

from Adam and Eve until the end of time.

On that table.

 

And so what happened that night would

have seemed, to the eye of man, to be pretty simple,

but to the eyes of the angels, it was more glorious

than all the most magnificent cathedrals in the world combined.

 

___

Now, the outward simplicity was completely in keeping

with the one who was in charge: Jesus.

Because Jesus never sought to glorify Himself outwardly.

Even though He saw it as right and just that others do that.

For example, at the transfiguration, He allowed Peter, James and John

to fall on their faces before Him.

And just 6 days before the Last Supper, He allowed Mary Magdalene

to anoint His feet with oil that today would cost $45,000,

and Jesus said of this:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me…”

 

___

But the outward simplicity of the first Mass might have contributed

to the misunderstanding of what was really happening

—misunderstanding by many in and out of the Church

for the last 2000 years,

but that began that night.

For clearly, although Jesus knew exactly what He was doing,

the Apostles seemed to barely understand at all.

Jesus had told them that He would give them His body as bread

for the life of the world,

and that it unless they ate His body and drank His blood

they would not have life within them.

So they probably had some idea, and some faith.

But it clearly was woefully incomplete.

 

Because instead of them falling on their faces in adoration,

as at the transfiguration,

now there’s not a word of them even acknowledging what He’d done.

And just moments after they received First Holy Communion,

Judas left to sell Jesus to the High Priest,

and over the next 3 to 6 hours,

Peter would deny he even knew Jesus,

and 9 others would abandon Him.

So much for their faith in Jesus and the Eucharist.

 

___

Of course, after the Resurrection, all that changed.

Then they understood not only the meaning of

His Passion, Death and Resurrection,

but also the entirety of His gospel,

including the ineffable gift of the Eucharist.

So that the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first Christians

devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”

And as we read in today’s second reading,

St. Paul tells us the established belief of the early Church that:

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

you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

 

____

For next 3 centuries poverty and persecution would force Christians

to continue offering the Mass with few outward displays of grandeur,

But once the persecutions stopped we quickly saw

the development of rich and elaborate liturgies,

as well as the dedication and building of beautiful churches

in which to celebrate.

In fact in 313, the year the persecution of Christians ended in the Roman Empire,

the palace of the rich Laterani family was given to the Christians

to be used as church,

which today is the Cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran.

 

And over the centuries, as the Church’s understanding

of the richness of the Eucharist continued to grow and deepen,

so did her churches become more and more beautiful,

as did the vessels, vestments, music and liturgies.

 

____

Sadly, though, just as there were sinful men at the Last Supper,

there are always sinful men in the Church and at Mass.

So, sometimes, while the external beauty of the Mass remains,

the interior lives of the faithful fades.

 

And that leads to two terrible problems.

 

First, to some who lack interior understanding or faith,

the beautiful churches and liturgies become meaningless,

and so they try to redo them to appeal to their confused or faithless hearts.

And so we see once beautiful churches gutted and redecorated

to look like modern theaters,

and once-splendorous liturgies rewritten to be more entertaining

to the weak in faith.

 

And second,

much like a church where the façade remains beautiful,

while the hidden wooden beams and girders decay and rot,

in the same way sometimes the Catholics

that externally hold themselves out to appear most holy,

especially some priests, bishops and cardinals,

internally have little or no faith or true love for Christ,

much less His Blessed Sacrament.

And when the fire of the devil’s temptations comes

it quickly engulfs and destroys the rotted timbers of their souls.

 

_____

And so the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral reminds us

of what we can so easily lose sight of: the Glory of the Eucharist.

But it also reminds of the second sacrament Jesus instituted that same night

at the Last Supper: the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priesthood.

Just as with the Eucharist, this great sacrament of the priesthood

was also not fully appreciated that night:

the 11 apostles who betrayed, denied, or abandoned Jesus

after the first Mass

were all newly ordained priests.

But they did not understand that

He had not only given them custody of the Most Blessed Sacrament,

but also that He had ordained them to be His personal representative

to the world, to stand in for Him, in persona Christi.

And so they did not understand that like Him,

they must not merely wash other’s feet,

but live a life of sacrificial service united to Him

who came not to be served but to serve

and to give His life on the Cross as a ransom for many.

So that when a priest says, “this is my body which will be given up for you,”

while he is above all saying the words of Eucharistic consecration,

he is also stating the pattern Christ calls the priest to live out

in his own body, every day, giving up his own body for the Church,

in union with His Crucified Lord.

 

____

But, again, after the Resurrection,

the Church came to understand, appreciate and embrace

the great gift Jesus had left them in the sacrament of priesthood.

So history tells us that the 11 faithful apostles went on

to give their whole lives for Christ,

first proclaiming the gospel untiringly,

and then being martyred or imprisoned for love of Jesus.

And we read that the people too understood the gift,

as the Acts of the Apostles tells us that just as the early church

devoted themselves to….the breaking of bread.”

they also , “devoted themselves to…the teaching of the apostles.”

 

And as the years passed, we saw the outward signs of appreciation

of the sacrament of priesthood grow.

We saw Christians begin to call their priests “Father” and “Reverend.”

And we saw priests celebrating Mass wearing beautiful vestments

not to adorn themselves,

but to adorn the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the Eucharist.

 

But, again, just as with a beautiful church, and with the Eucharist,

too often the interior is neglected,

and like 11 of the 12 apostles, newly ordained as priests,

too often priests bishops and cardinals betray, deny and abandon Christ.

 

_____

All this, we remember tonight, at this Mass.

We remember the night Jesus gave us the awesome gifts

of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

But we also remember the lack of faith and understanding of these gifts

that all of us, in large ways or small, show all too often.

 

Tonight, as we prepare to commemorate

the Lord Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross on Good Friday,

on this Holy Thursday, we stand in awe of love

Jesus reveals in His crucified Body and pours out in His Precious Blood.

And we are overwhelmed that He would allow us to share in this love

at this and every Mass:

to stand at the foot of His Cross,

to participate in His salvific sacrifice of the New Covenant,

through the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders.

 

Let accept the grace God gives us tonight

to always understand and believe in these sacraments,

and appreciate them as precious treasures of our salvation.

May we continue to give Our Lord Jesus beautiful outward signs

of devotion, adoration and worship of Himself

truly present in the Blessed Sacrament

whether they be beautiful churches, like Notre Dame or our very own,

or beautiful vestments, vessels, liturgies, hymns, prayers and gestures.

But above all, let us always accept the grace Jesus gives us in the sacraments,

so that even the most beautiful of these outward signs

will only be as so much wood and stone compared to

the beauty of the true and profound devotion and faith and love that

that Our Lord sees inside our hearts.

TEXT: 5th Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

5th  Sunday of Lent

April 7, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

One of the most important figures in the Gospels

is a great saint most people don’t think about very much,

and if they do, many have a very confused understanding of her.

But hopefully you know the truth about her, since she’s my favorite saint,

and I talk about her quite frequently: St. Mary Magdalene.

 

I say she’s important because, for example,

she’s mentioned by name more often in the Gospels

than most of the Apostles,

she was at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Mother,

when all the Apostles but St. John weren’t,

and, of course she was the first to see the Risen Christ on Easter,

and He sent her to tell the news to the Apostles.

For this, the Church sometimes calls her, “the apostle to the Apostles.”

 

Sadly, if you read a lot of modern so-called scholars,

you might think that she was actually even more important than that

—that she was actually an Apostle herself,

and some even say, bizarrely, that she was actually Jesus’ wife.

She was important, but not that important: those are lies, or sloppy scholarship.

 

____

Now, there is clearly more to the life story of the Magdalene

than what’s explicitly in the Bible.

In fact, in the Catholic tradition the story of Mary Magdalene

has always been commonly thought to include the story

of the woman Scripture calls the “sinful woman,”

the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears

at the home of Simon the Pharisee—that was the Magdalene.

Tradition also considers Magdalene

to be the same person known as “Mary of Bethany”

—the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

But unlike other modern portrayals of Magdalene,

all this Catholic tradition is based on or at least consistent with Sacred Scripture,

and handed down by centuries of faithful Catholic scholars and saints.

 

____

The thing is, there is also an ancient Catholic tradition, less widely accepted,

but reasonable and pretty widespread,

that the woman in today’s Gospel— “the woman caught in adultery”—

is also Mary Magdalene.

 

But this ancient tradition poses a problem for some people today.

For some, it’s a problem because it’s not explicitly in Scripture.

To them I say, “relax,” because we Catholics, along with most secular scholars,

have a long history of respecting oral and extra-biblical traditions,

as long as they come from credible sources,

and don’t contradict the teachings of Scripture or the Church.

 

But to others, this tradition proposes a completely different and huge problem.

They say that portraying Magdalene as a sinner

demeans her and deprives her of her rightful high stature in the Church.

The really radical ones claim

that this is a prime example of the anti-woman male-dominated Church,

trying to oppress all women by portraying the heroines of Christ’s life

in some sort of negative light.

 

___

These people couldn’t be more wrong.

Jesus tells us:

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents

than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

And of the sinful woman who washes His feet with her tears He says:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

Anyone who thinks that calling a Christian a “repentant sinner”

is an insult or degrading, misses the whole point of the entire Gospel.

As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”

For me, to say that the Magdalene was a terrible sinner,

but a sinner who has been forgiven and repented and reformed

and loved the Lord so much that His death seems to crush her with grief

–to say this is to give the greatest praise,

and recount the most noble achievement.

Magdalene, especially understood as the adulterous woman in today’s gospel,

is the ultimate rags to riches story:

from terrible sinner to magnificent saint,

from the depths of despair and wretchedness

to the heights of sublime and perfect bliss

.

 

To repent and be saved—that’s not demeaning, it’s exalting.

And it’s the center of the life and the love of Jesus—

the reason and meaning of His suffering and death and resurrection.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

“he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;

….and with his wounds we are healed…”

Jesus came into the world to suffer and die,

and all because He loved and wanted to save sinners.

 

____

The woman in today’s Gospel stands condemned

by God’s law, called Law of Moses

—and under that Law she deserves to be stoned.

And Jesus, God the Son, knew that law very well:

1300 years before His Incarnation in the womb of Mary,

it was He, the Eternal Word of God, who gave that Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

 

But Jesus surprises the crowd, in the way he applies that law

by doing exactly what his Father sent him into the world to do:

“not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him.”

Some people think that this means that Jesus rejects the old Law,

or even all notions of sin and punishment.

If that’s the case, you can see why they can’t understand why

Magdalene’s sins can be important to Christians.

Of course they forget Jesus makes it very clear elsewhere in the Gospel

that he’s going to come back some day to judge the living and the dead,

and then he will condemn unrepentant sinners, as he says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory

…Then he will say to those at his left,

….depart from me into the eternal fire…”

 

In today’s gospel Jesus does not deny this woman’s sin, or her guilt,

or even that she deserves punishment.

He simply gives her a second chance—it’s not time for him to condemn, yet:

he wants to save her.

But it is time for her to repent, so he commands her: “go and sin no more.”

 

____

And if you notice: Jesus doesn’t actually say, “your sins are forgiven.”

He just tells her he doesn’t “condemn” her—or pass final judgment on her—

and to stop sinning.

In other words, “repent.”

It seems to me, that Jesus knows she’s not completely sorry for her sins—yet.

She’s not ready to repent: right now she’s in shock,

and overwhelmed by Jesus’ mercy.

 

And so she leaves and ponders his instructions: “go and sin no more.”

To me, this is part one of the story completed later in part two

when she comes back as the so called “sinful woman”

and approaches Jesus at Simon’s house

and falls at his feet, washing them with her tears.

She wasn’t ready in today’s gospel, but when she comes back later,

then she’s ready, and her tears tell us what words cannot

of the depth of her sorrow for her sins.

And then, after she has so lovingly and heartfeltly repented,

Jesus not only forgives her, but he praises her:

“her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

____

It seems to me that we need this story, and the great figure of St. Mary Magdalene,

penitent saint, now more than ever.

In the end, those who want to rewrite the Gospels

actually want to glorify women by what they call “liberating their sexuality.”

But sexual liberation has been tried for over 50 years

and it’s led not to the enhancement or liberation of women,

but to their further enslavement to the lusts of men,

and to the myopic expectations of radical feminist ideologues.

Just look around at the explosion of

pornography, contraception, abortion, and divorce,

not to mention out-of-wedlock births and the poverty that comes with them.

Who are the ones who suffer the most as a result of all this?

Women!

 

__

Jesus Christ is the only true liberator of women, their only Savior.

He is the Savior of the woman caught in adultery, the Magdalene,

and every single woman before and since

who has been burdened by the weight of sin

—either their own sin, or the sins of others against them.

What a glorious promise to women weighed down

with the guilt of a past abortion.

What a sign of hope to the women today who are told over and over

that careers are more important than loving babies or husbands.

What a blessing to a young woman

who thinks she has to torture or demean herself

to look like a supermodel or a porn star,

so that some undeserving man will love her.

Now, more than ever, women need to know that Christ loves them,

and can make all things new.

 

­­­____

But of course, this story isn’t just about women, or sex.

Jesus also tells the men who brought her to Him

“let he among you without sin, cast the first stone.”
Ultimately, this story is about all of us: men, women, boys, girls

–none of us is “without sin.”

Whether our sin is adultery and lust in its many forms,

or the sin of pride, or avarice, envy, anger, gluttony, or sloth,

or the sin of self-righteousness.

Whether we sin in large ways, or small ways.

Whether we’ve been caught in the act, or hide our sins in secret.

We are all sinners—and Christ is speaking to us.

 

And He invites us, especially during this season of Lent,

like the woman caught in adultery,

first, to be dramatically confronted by our sins

and the fact that they are worthy of punishment,

and then, to recognize that Christ wants to save us from all that!

If only we will mourn our sins, and repent, and change

and accept his love and love him in return, from the depths of our hearts,

like the repentant Magdalene washing his feet with her tears,

who, even though “her sins… [were] many,” was “forgiven, for she loved much.”

 

____

As we enter this Passiontide, these last days of Lent,

let us walk hand in hand with the great Saint Mary Magdalene,

and let us kneel with her, once again weeping at Jesus’ feet,

but this time as he hangs upon the Cross.

And let us ask her to teach us what these days are all about.

And through her example and intercession,

let us discover that there is no greater privilege or honor in heaven or earth,

than to be a repentant and forgiven sinner.

And there is no greater blessing than to be made new

by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

poured out from the wounds of his suffering and death.

And there are no more sublime or loving words

than the words Jesus once said to Magdalen, and today says to all of us:

“neither do I condemn you…go, and sin no more.”

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019

4th  Sunday of Lent

March 31, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel story is usually referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

But the story isn’t just about the one prodigal son;

it’s actually about a father and his three sons.

 

So let’s look at each of these, one at a time.

Let’s begin with the so called “prodigal son”—the youngest brother.

Jesus firsts tells us he goes to his father and says:

“give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”

As if he can’t wait for His father to die.

As if he’s entitled to his father’s generosity, as if a gift is really a debt.

 

We do the same thing everyday.

We all want what belongs to God

—in particular, we want His power

and especially His authority to say this is right, or this is wrong.

To say, “I know what God says, but this is the way I think it should me.”

 

And we all treat the gifts God gives us as if they are owed to us,

as if the creator of the universe must give us whatever we want.

O sure, we pray: “please Lord,” and “thy will be done,”

but in our heart of hearts all too often we mean “give me what I want.”

 

And even if we do get what we want, we quickly forget that He gave it to us.

We don’t bother to thank Him, or tell others how generous He’s been.

We even think it a burden to spend an hour once a week

thanking Him publicly at Mass for His generosity.

 

We’re especially ungrateful for the gifts He gives us most personally,

like a strong intellect or good health or courage:

we say things like “I worked for everything I have.”

I understand the importance of hard work, but think about:

how did you work to be naturally smart?

 

And all too often, having received all these gifts,

how many of us fall into the sins of greed, avarice and envy

—we can never get enough.

 

____

Jesus tells us the youngest son “set off to a distant country”

Notice, he not only takes what belongs to his father,

but now he abandons his father.

He doesn’t even talk or listen to him anymore.

 

How many of people today do the same thing to God.

He gives us everything, and we abandon Him, and neither talk or listen to Him.

And I’m not just talking about atheists.

Think of all the people, including us sometimes, who believe in God,

but neglect praying to Him or listening to His word,

at least until they want something from Him again.

Think of all those who go to church every Sunday,

but abandon God for the other 6 days of the week,

never mentioning His name in the world they live in.

 

____

And then Jesus says the youngest son:

squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

 

In one way or another, isn’t this the way with most of us.

All the gifts God gives us, and then so often we waste or abuse them.

 

Think of the great intellectual gifts God gives us.

But instead of using those gifts to give glory to God and serve mankind

all too often we squander them on foolish and even evil pursuits.

Science has done many wonderful things,

but it’s also given us sex-change operations,

and the ability for strangers to stalk and abuse our kids online.

Think of all the intelligence wasted on philosophies that shun the notion of truth.

Think of all the talented artists who waste their gifts producing

books, movies, plays and music

that wallow in senseless violence, lust and perversion.

 

And think about all the times you participate in these abuses, even if indirectly:

how many senseless movies or videos you watch?

Or how you personally waste your God-given reason and imagination

in the selfish pursuit of greed, lust or revenge.

 

____

Jesus goes on to say that the prodigal son

“swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

This reminds us that nowadays, there is no greater gift wasted

than the gift of sexuality.

What phenomenal gift

—it not only expresses the total self-gift between husband and wife

but also contains in it the very gift of human life.

And yet we so often treat it as a way to control or demean others,

or simply to satisfy our most venal desires.

And wedded with the gift of technology, internet pornography

wastes the self-gift of sexuality by turning it toward radical selfishness.

 

I could go on and on.

Jesus tells us: “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

This is the life of the prodigal son,

but it is also all too often, in large ways or small, our lives as well.

 

____

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jesus tells us that eventually the prodigal son “[came] to his senses”

and went back to his father’s house confessing and repenting

his wasteful life, his sins,

and begging forgiveness.

Lent is a time when we should do the same.

And we can do that in most wonderful way, again,

through one of our Father’s most generous gifts:

the sacrament of confession,

There, like the father in today’s story, our heavenly Father

meets us, listens to our confession and sorrow for our sins,

and them embraces us with His grace, and restores us to His household.

—if only we are truly sorry and desire to leave our sins behind

and come back into His home.

 

What a fantastic gift

—but how often it’s wasted by his children who refuse to go to confession.

 

Some think, well confession’s only for really terrible sinners

—and I haven’t done anything that bad.

This reminds me of the 2nd son in today’s story

—the older brother who stays behind.

The son who “became angry, and …refused to enter the house”

because his father was throwing a banquet for his bad brother!

But the thing is, the banquet wasn’t just for the younger son

—it was for the whole household, including this older son.

And he refused the gift.

 

The sacrament of penance is also for everyone

who lives in the household of God,

even the ones who seem to the most faithful.

How can apparently steadfast sons and daughters reject such a gift?

 

Sometimes it’s simply because they think they don’t need that gift.

But by saying “no” to God’s generosity they waste the gift

of His divine power to be even better sons and daughters,

to be stronger, braver, happier and closer to Our Father.

 

Also, sometimes the most faithful Catholics set themselves up for big trouble,

because they become complacent and prideful:

like the prodigal’s brother, they take their father’s gifts for granted.

And that complacency led this “good son” to fall into the terrible sin of jealousy

and then separating himself from his father by refusing to enter his house

–just like the prodigal son had done earlier.

No friends, confession is for all of us

—just as God the Father’s gift of love and mercy is for all of us.

 

__

Others reject the gift of confession because they say:

I don’t have to go to confession:

I go straight to God and He forgives my sins?

There they go again, being just like the prodigal.

Jesus gives us this phenomenal gift of the forgiveness of sins,

and they say, I like the gift, but not the way you give it.

 

And they want not only the forgiveness,

but also the authority of their heavenly Father.

They know Jesus established the sacrament of penance

when He told the apostles:

“receive the holy spirit…who’s sins you forgive are forgiven”

yet still they say, “but I want to do it my way, not Jesus’ way.”

 

And finally, they presume that they somehow

have a right to the gift of forgiveness:

you ask for it, and God automatically has to give it to you.

But that’s not what Jesus taught, as He went on to tell His apostles:

“and who’s sins you hold bound are held bound.”

 

_____

Now, I don’t know if you noticed it,

but I mentioned earlier that this is a story of a father and three sons.

Yet, in the story, Jesus only mentions two sons.

But reading between the lines we see that in telling the story, Jesus,

shows Himself to be the 3rd Son, humbly pointing to His father’s mercy,

even as He tells the story in response to Pharisees’ anger

with Him, Jesus, for showing mercy to sinners:

He is saying, “like Father, like Son—me!”

 

So Jesus is the oldest Son, the first born of the Father,

who is all-loving and truly faithful like His Father,

never betraying His Father like the other sons.

He is the Son who eternally reminds the Father

what a perfectly loving Son is,

so that even when His other sons waste His gifts,

the Father always sees them in the light of the love of His perfect first born.

And He is the brother who,

gives His whole life, holding nothing back,

to His father and to his brothers,

by dying on the cross for his brothers’ sins.

 

And if we look very closely, with the 20/20 hindsight of faith,

we see that Jesus is actually mentioned, in the story;

in fact He’s the crescendo of the story:

he is the brother who reconciles Father and sons,

in the Banquet, HE is the Banquet, the Eucharistic Feast,

that seals and strengthens the unity, the Communion, of God’s family.

And so we read that the father not only invited his sons

but he “pleaded with” them,

to come to the banquet—the Eucharist, Christ Himself.

 

____

Today, we sons and daughters of the Most High God

should feel the most profound sorrow

for our ungrateful squandering of the gifts our Father has given us.

And we should feel heartrending grief for the price our brother Jesus

paid for our sins.

And yet we should also feel overpowering joy

that we have a Father who forgives us so easily

and a Brother who would die so willingly for our sins.

So let us now go to the heavenly banquet that Jesus has prepared for

repentant sinners,

and let our Divine Brother lead us home to the mercy and joy

of Communion with our Heavenly Father.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 24, 2019

3rd  Sunday of Lent

March 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds the crowd of 2 incidents

where large groups of Jews had suffered terrible calamity.

As was common in those days, and still among some people today,

everyone assumed God was punishing these people

because they were terrible sinners.

But Jesus shows the crowd how they’re using this as an excuse

for thinking they themselves are not sinners,

as if they’re saying,

‘well as long as a building doesn’t fall on me, I must be holy.’

But Jesus says to them:

“I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
____

The other day someone showed me a picture they had taken of me recently.

I saw the picture and said to myself: “who is that old man?

It’s easy to look at other people and see their imperfections, and their sins,

but it’s much harder to look at ourselves and see ours.

And if we can’t see them, we can’t change them

—we can’t repent, which is what Lent is all about.

 

So today, let’s think about one way we can sin everyday.

Probably the most common thing we do every day is see

–we see our neighbor, ourselves, the world.

The gift of vision is one of God’s most generous gifts to us

but at the same time one of the most taken for granted and abused.

Most of us seldom think about how wonderful it is until we start to loose it.

 

Think about it.

So much of what we learn, and understand, and enjoy;

so much of what inspires and motivates us,

comes to us from through our vision.

We read with our vision,

we look at beautiful art, we watch entertaining plays or movies,

we look at our smartphones and computers,

we look at the way people act and at the way they smile, or frown.

All day long we’re looking and seeing.

 

And we can’t confine ourselves to physical vision:

there is also the mind’s eye

—the imagination, where we see images of lots of things.

So that even when we close our eyes, we continue to see.

 

But like all good gifts, the gift of sight can be used for good or evil.

What is it we look at, what do we see?

What kind of books and papers do we read,

what kind of television and movies do we watch?

Where do my eyes go on the internet?

And where do I let my mind’s eye wander?

 

And how do we look at others

—either with the physical eye, or with the mind’s eye?

Do we see them as persons created in the image of God?

Or do we see them as something to use and abuse

—an object for our hatred, greed, pride, envy, or lust?

 

And also, how do others see us, and how do we try to make others see us?

We shouldn’t go around doing things just for people to see and praise us,

but when do things that people do see, they should be seeing good things.

We should be showing good examples.

We should even be aware of how we dress

—to help others see something good or to avoid seeing something evil.

For example, some people wear uniforms to remind people of their job

and that they’re available to help them.

And on the other hand, some people wear clothes to call attention to themselves,

in order some to brag about their wealth or status,

or to boast about their personal holiness or piety,

or to tempt or excite others.

So many of women’s fashions are designed specifically

to catch and tempt men’s eyes.

 

______

The power of vision is awesome.

This is all, of course, no secret.

Teachers and artists and authors have always known this.

And Hollywood, television executives, advertisers, webmasters, software writers,

and fashion designers know this.

And they use it, for good or evil,

to draw us in to what they want us to learn or buy or understand.

To manipulate us.

 

And unfortunately, the devil also knows this.

The devil must have had a great time

leading people to Siloam to look at the fallen tower,

so he could whisper to them,

‘look those people are bad, but no tower fell on  you.’

Do you think he doesn’t see us,

giving dirty looks to the person who angers us,

or when we simply refuse to look at the poor or sick?

Or looking at another person and seeing them an object of envy or lust?

 

_____

On the one hand, this can be kind of frightening and intimidating,

and it makes us stop to look carefully at our lives

and the way we use our vision.

On the other hand, there is no real need to be frightened, or intimidated.

Because just as we can see all this, God sees it too.

 

He’s seen it from the beginning when he created the universe,

and “saw everything he had made, and [beheld that] it was very good.”

He saw it when he made himself known to Moses in the burning bush;

as Moses says in today’s 1st reading:

“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”
And he understood it when he came among us,

as Jesus Christ, in a body we could see!

 

Last Sunday we read about the Transfiguration,

when Christ took Peter, James and John up a mountain

where he let them see his glorified body, standing with Moses and Elijah.

He did this to strengthen them, because he knew that in a few weeks

they would see the horrible vision of him beaten and nailed to a cross.

 

Jesus understands better than anyone the power of sight.

And so time after time He let people see His power—think of all the miracles,

imagine the effect on the people of seeing him

walking on water and the raising of dead.

But He didn’t do those miracle only for the people 2000 years ago

—He also did them for us.

He knew about our minds eye, how we see so clearly with our imagination.

 

And knowing about our imagination

He not only gave His followers physical signs to see,

but also told them parables with powerful for the minds eye to gaze upon

–taking complex ideas and letting us see them in very clear images.

Next week He uses the image of the prodigal son,

who winds up working in a pig pen.

This week He uses the image of a fruitless fig tree in a garden,

using the very descriptive language of cultivating and fertilizing

and even cutting it down.

It doesn’t take a farmer or a gardener to see these images

as clear as high def tv screen.

And it doesn’t take a priest to understand the imminent need

to repent and bear fruit.

 

_____

In His wisdom, Christ has passed this appreciation of the power of vision

to His Church.

We see it in the sacred art of the church that lead us

to understand the mysteries of the life of Christ and his saints.

We see it in the beautiful churches that draw us to worship.

We see it in the different vestments and the sacred vessels we use,

and the candles and images that adorn the altar.

 

We especially see this in the special seasons of the year.

In Lent we begin seeing it in the ashes of Ash Wednesday,

and we continue to see it in the sparseness of decorations in the Church,

and in the stark violet everywhere.

We see it as we visit the stations of the cross,

and as we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.

And we see it in the pageantry of Holy Week:

the Palms and procession of Palm Sunday,

the washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday,

the kissing of the Cross on Good Friday.

And we see it in books and movies that lay before us images of

the Christ’s Passion,

inviting us to see with our own eyes

—even if only the eyes of imagination enlightened by the eyes of faith—

the depth of His love pouring out in the blood

from the scourges to His back,

the thorns in His head,

the nails in His hands and feet,

and the sword in His side.

To see with our own eyes the fact that by his wounds we are healed.

 

And all year long we see it in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church.

We especially see it in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,

where we see him as he is, but under the veil of the appearance of bread.

And all of this of course leads us here—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,

where all the holy things we’ve seen come together,

and what we see with our physical eyes is understood with the mind’s eye

and the eyes of faith,

as we look upon the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord.

 

____

The gift of vision is one of the most beautiful gifts God gives us.

But like all good gifts,

we human beings, with our free wills, can use our vision very badly.

Lent is a time to consider how we use God’s gifts badly—sinfully.

A time to see clearly that we can be just as bad a sinner as anyone else.

A time to look at our lives and see all the ways we fail to appreciate God’s gifts,

the way we sin.

This year, look especially at the way you fail to appreciate the gift of sight

—both physically and in the mind.

See how powerful this gift is—for good and for evil.

And remove any image you see which leads you or others away from Jesus

and replace it with a vision that leads all people to him.

Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ.