29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 21, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

You know, one of the great consolations of being a priest here at St. Raymond’s
is the kindness of our parishioners.
But sometimes people, even very kind people, complain about what I do.
And I understand that and I try not to let it bother me,
because first of all I know I screw up,
and second, well, I know that you can’t please all the people all the time.
Besides, I’m a big boy, I can handle,
especially when criticisms are presented with charity.

Sometimes, though, it can be a little frustrating.
Especially when I get comments that go in exactly the opposite directions.
For example, a few weeks ago I got a number of notes from parishioners
telling me my homily was absolutely beautiful and powerful,
well organized, clear, methodical and moving.
And the same day I got a couple of notes from other parishioners telling me
it was the worst homily they’d ever heard, it was hurtful, rambling, and cold;
and that I should be ashamed of myself.

What do you do with that?
Sometimes it kind of reminds me of today’s Gospel,
where John and James come up to Jesus and say:
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Even so, lately the number of complaints
about my homilies have gone up noticeably.
And even though the number of compliments have also gone way up,
way more than the number of complaints,
I still feel I need to consider the concerns at the core
of some of the complaints.

In particular, that I’m preaching too much about politics,
and that I use language that is too direct and too passionate.
And that I seem to be “telling people how to vote.”

Let me begin by saying, in everything a priest does
he should take to heart what Jesus says to his apostles today:
“whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;…
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”
We are not to “lord” our authority over our people, but to humbly serve them.

But the thing is, notice what Jesus says to John and James today:
“to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
His Father had already decided who would sit where in the Kingdom,
so even though Jesus came to serve us, beginning with his apostles,
he came to serve His Father first—to be obedient to his Father’s plan.

Also, remember what John and James call Jesus.
Before they tell him what they want him to do for them, they first call him: ,
“Teacher.”
Jesus is a servant, who serves by teaching.
How well does a teacher serve his students, if he tells them just what they hear.
So, Jesus serves by teaching them what they need to hear,
what his Father wants them to hear.

So, as a priest, that’s my job: to serve you by teaching;
to teach not what you want to hear,
or what I want you to hear,
but what Jesus and his Father want you to hear.

Now lately some have been upset that I’m preaching too much about politics.
But I’m not really preaching about politics.
I’ve been preaching about Christ’s teaching, the Church’s teaching,
and calling attention to the obvious conflicts
between the world and that teaching.
Some say, but Father, what about the wall of separation of Church and state?
But should the Church be silent when the state makes immoral laws,
or when candidates are in favor of immoral laws?
Good lord, how many times has the church been criticized for remaining silent
and letting immoral laws stand unquestioned?

For example…
In the year 1839 Pope Gregory XVI issued a document called “In Supremo,”
reiterating the Church’s ancient teaching against slavery,
specifically reproaching those who:
“dare to …reduce to slavery
Indians, Blacks or other such peoples….
as if they were not humans but rather mere animals.”

Unfortunately, some Catholics, in particular, some American bishops and priests
—especially Southern bishops and priests—
tried to argue that the doctrine didn’t apply to American slavery,
because somehow it was “different.”
It seems they got caught up in the prevailing attitude of the culture around them
and were influenced more by what their people wanted them to say,
than what Christ and the Church demanded that they say,
and so either twisted papal teaching into something it was not,
or simply chose to remain silent.

This, of course, led the laity to be confused about the morality of slavery.
And that confusion led to a terrible social disaster just a few years later,
when in 1857, a supposedly “devout Catholic” named Roger Taney,
writing as the fifth Chief Justice of the United States,
wrote the opinion in the Supreme Court case known as “Dred Scott,”
upholding the institution of slavery in the America.

This is what happens when bishops and priests
fail to clearly point out laws that are evil in the sight of Christ.
And so slavery continued, and 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War,
and millions of Black Americans suffered racial oppression
for a 100 years after that.
And while their parishioners may have been happy in their pews,
we are ashamed of the failures of those southern priests and bishops.

But when priests and bishop speak up,
and serve their people by teach the truth,
even when people get tired of hearing it,
wonderful things can happen.
Almost exactly a century after the Dred Scott case, in 1956,
an American Catholic bishop served his people
by stubbornly repeating the teaching of the Church,
and even in the face of the mockery and violence,
even by his own people,
refused to conform himself to public sentiment,
refused to accept some artificial line between Church and state
that would defend the racial segregation of the deep South.
His name was Francis Rummel, the Archbishop of New Orleans,
and what he did was desegregate the Catholic schools of his archdiocese. And when large groups of Catholic lay people continued to try to block his efforts,
after ample warning, he excommunicated their leaders.

Imagine if the American Catholic bishops of the mid-1800’s
had been as courageous as Archbishop Rummel:
if they had stood united against slavery,
banging the drum of justice over and over again
so their people would finally listen, and understand. Maybe the Dred Scott case would have been decided the same way.
But maybe it would have been without Catholic Justice Roger Taney’s help.

Now, some say if the Catholic bishops and priests in the South
had actively opposed slavery they would been both marginalized
and actively persecuted.
Maybe.
Some say all southern Catholics would’ve been persecuted,
or that southerners would have left the Catholic Church in droves.
Maybe.

But then again, isn’t that what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel
when he asks: “Can you drink the cup that I drink”?
He’s talking about the same cup he talks about in the garden of Gethsemane:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
The cup of suffering, the cup of the Cross, the cup of his blood poured out.
“For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Acceptance of suffering is part of being a Christian.

Of course slavery is behind us, but unfortunately,
many Catholics now accept an even greater social evil.
Because while it’s horrible to take away an innocent person’s freedom,
it is clearly even worse to take away an innocent person’s life.
And so we face the abomination of the 21st century: abortion.

Yet the popes in our time have taught very clearly on this as well:
the Church has constantly and infallibly condemned abortion
as a grave evil—a mortal sin.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, in 1995:
“by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors
….I declare that direct abortion
… always constitutes a grave moral disorder,
since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

Fortunately, virtually all the American bishops, and most priests,
see this very clearly.
Maybe they don’t all always speak up about it as they might.
Still, one wonders if they imitated Archbishop Rummel,
acting a bit more forcefully,
not worried about pleasing their people
but about serving their people by teaching them the truth,
one wonders if there wouldn’t be less confusion among Catholics
about abortion today.
One wonders if Catholics wouldn’t abandon any party or candidate
who publically supported the killing of innocent human beings by abortion,
just as (today) they would surely abandon any party or candidate
who publicly supported the oppression of innocent human beings
by slavery or unjust discrimination.

But this not just about abortion.
The pope has reminded us, time and again that we must defend,
both the right to life
and traditional marriage (one man/one woman),
and that these are, in his words, “not negotiable.”
And it’s also about religious freedom, especially here in America.
As the pope reminded American Catholics just last January:
“It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States
come to realize the grave threats
to the Church’s public moral witness…
The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated…
Of particular concern are …attempts …to limit
that most cherished of American freedoms,
the freedom of religion.”

And so the bishops and priests cannot, will not, be silent
about these 3 non-negotiables: life, marriage and religious liberty.
Even if it means a little suffering.
If I suffer from a few harsh complaints
or feeling I’ve let you down by being a poor preacher.
Or if you suffer through a homily that makes you feel uncomfortable or bored.
Or even if the Church suffers the loss of parishioners
who refuse to drink from the cup of Christ’s suffering
and instead to go to a church that will make they feel good.
What matters is that we are servants of God,
and learn from God how to rightly serve each other.

All this is not about politics.
And it’s not about telling you how to vote.
It’s about the truth and the teaching of Christ and his Church.
About learning from the terrible mistakes of the past
in order not to repeat those mistakes today.
It’s about warning you against those who embrace intrinsic evils
that will destroy America.
It’s about being a servant of Jesus Christ,
even when it’s difficult, even when it means drinking of the cup of suffering.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 7, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Today our Bishops ask us to commemorate Respect Life Sunday
—to remember that our nation, and much of the world,
has been caught up in a culture of death spurred on
by the evil of abortion.
In this context today I want to focus on one key aspect of the culture of death,
and that is its effects on women.

Nine months ago certain so called “progressive” politicians
began to accuse more conservative politicians of what they called
waging a “War on Women.”
It quickly became a mantra, and even a whole political strategy
embraced by one of the major political parties[—the Democrats].
And while they overtly make this charge
against their counterparts in the [Republican] [other] Party,
it began and subtly continues to be most fundamentally, and viciously,
a charge against the Catholic Church.

But today I ask: Who is really waging a War on Women?

In the 1960s the feminist movement sprung up as a reaction
against various forms of discrimination against women.
As such, it has many good aspects to it.
Unfortunately, the movement became quickly dominated and manipulated
by radicals influenced by Marxist ideology,
not rooting itself in love and truth but in envy and lies.
So that males became the enemy,
marriage was seen as slavery,
and motherhood a form of bondage.
So the strategy emerged to attack men, marriage and motherhood.

It began to unfold with an effort to lift an ancient ban on contraception,
and to make it not only legal but favored by society.
This began in the early 20th century but really came to fruition
in 1965 when the Supreme Court ruled that
bans on contraception were unconstitutional,
against the newly discovered “right to privacy.”

Progressives argued that this would free women
from unwanted or unplanned pregnancy,
and give them control over their own bodies
so they could pursue education and careers
unhindered by the “burden” of babies.

But who did it really free—who did it really benefit?
50 years later we see that it actually freed men
from their responsibility for pregnancies
—it was the woman’s choice not to contracept,
so pregnancy became her “fault,”
and the babies became the woman’s responsibility,
and the fathers were free to walk away.

Moreover, by separating the necessary and beautiful connection
between conception and sex,
men increasing lost respect for women and their sexuality,
and women became not persons to be respected
but sexual objects to be used.
And the gift of pregnancy—nurturing the life of a new human being—
began to be considered a type of a disease,
one that women had to take medicine to preventive.

But of course, it was really more a poison than a medicine
—the birth control pill normally acts
to cause the body to do something unnatural,
it causes it to be unhealthy.
So is there any surprise that the World Health Organization classifies the pill
as a carcinogen, in the same category as cigarettes?

And then there was divorce.
Around 1970 states started to enact so called “no-fault” divorce laws,
making it extremely easy, in most cases, to get a divorce.
Feminists argued these laws would allow women to free themselves
from abusive or oppressive husbands.
But once again, it has more commonly been used to free men
from their responsibilities to their wives and children.

And the ease of divorce encourages couples
not to try to save struggling marriages—to give up too easily.
In the end, in the overwhelming number of cases,
women get the short end of the stick:
once again receiving primary responsibility of the children,
both practically and financially,
as they are abandoned by husbands and fathers.

And then there was Abortion.
Studies show that between 30 to 60%, perhaps has high as 67%,
of all abortions are directly related to the coercive efforts
of a husband, a boyfriend, or a father.
In other words, abortion is often chosen not by women, but by men.
Studies also show that even when there is not direct coercion,
fear of losing or angering the man in their lives
is also a significant cause for the choice of abortion.
So much for freeing women from their slavery to men.

Also, abortion has always been a backup to contraception,
especially in the eyes of many men.
So once again, men say:
“you should have been more ‘careful’—its’ not my ‘fault’, you deal with it.”
Once again, men are freed from responsibility,
leaving women alone to deal with a challenging pregnancy.

But more than all that, with every abortion there are 2 victims:
the baby whose heart is stopped,
and the woman, the mother, whose heart is broken.
In those moments of fear or confusion or even abandonment,
they may grab hold to the lie that “it’s just a clump of tissue.”
But eventually a mother’s heart has to come to terms with what she’s done
—something so terribly contrary to every instinct, every longing
of their maternal souls.
And when they do, society, having bought into the lies of the abortion culture,
tells them they are wrong to feel guilty,
and even mock them in their pain.

And finally, we have the redefinition of Marriage.

Of course, this was begun when contraception was accepted,
as that separated life-giving-conception from love and commitment.
Even the instinctual connection
between marriage and procreation was broken,
and so marriage was no longer about having children,
as it had always been in the history of mankind.
And marriage became more about sex than permanent commitment
—the commitment strengthen by the birth of children.

And divorce did the same thing:
the no fault divorce makes a joke out of vows of “till death do us part.”
And in abortion, along with mirroring the effects of contraception,
we also see
the wedge it can drive between a husband and wife,
especially when it involves coercion by either,
and how it turns the family from being the refuge of safety
into a den of death.
All these have redefined marriage.

No wonder we now see the push to the most abominable re-definition:
“gay marriage.”
Think about this: this means woman is no longer essential to marriage.
And it completely undermines the very institution itself,
really destroying the fundamental institution
that allows a woman to flourish as mother and wife.

So again I ask: who is waging the war on women?
Is it the Catholic Church, or the “social progressives”?

The Catholic Church, my friends, defends the dignity of women.
Before it was popular, or the enlightened thing to do,
in the ancient world that held that
women were not much more than mere property,
when it was thought that a man couldn’t really be a friend to a woman
because she was so intellectually inferior,
it was the Catholic Church who proclaimed the words of Jesus:
“from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”
Here he was quoting from the first chapter of Genesis which says:
“God made man in his own image, male and female he created them.”
In other words: one creature, in two ways.
Male and female, equal in dignity, but radically different as well.
Why?

Because created in the image of the God who is love they had to be
both radically equal and radically different
so that they can give themselves to each other in love.
So the differences are a good thing—and a real thing,
essential to being male or to being a woman.
And among those good, no, GREAT and wonderful differences we find what?
–only women can be mothers!
And also, that women have an incredible capacity to nurture and to pacify.
Even the radical feminists admit this, even though they would deny it:
how many times have you heard some radical feminist say,
“if women ruled the world we’d put an end to war”?
Why—because it is deep in their nature to nurture, not fight.
Although they certainly can fight, just as a man can nurture.
But each is given a special capacity that cannot be denied.

And because women have these great “feminine” gifts, especially motherhood,
the Church has always taught its men to respect and honor women.
Standing when a lady comes into a room, or opening a door for her,
was a sign of that respect,
not of “condescension” as some feminists claimed.
And so was protecting her virginity and her sexuality
until it could be expressed in its proper context
with a man who gave and dedicated himself
totally and forever to her in marriage,
and respected the great give of procreation and motherhood,
the most marvelous fruit of her femininity.

So, the Church says “no” to divorce.
As the Lord Jesus says:
“a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”
Again quoting from the beginning of Genesis,
but now adding his own clear teaching:
“Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being may separate.”

WE say, a woman has a right to a stable home,
to a husband and a father for her children
who gives himself totally and forever,
so that her wifely and maternal love can flourish.

And the Church says “no” to contraception.
Instead we say with Jesus:
“Let the little children come to me, do not prevent them,”
We refuse to objectify women’s bodies
and make women mere sex objects to pleasure men.
NO!
In Genesis God tells the first husband and wife: “be fruitful and multiply”!
And, again, Jesus says, also quoting genesis: “the two become one flesh”!
The one flesh union means three things:
first: the union of their in life and love
lived out in the ordinary life of the flesh,
second: their bodily union in the marital act of love,
third: the union of their life and love in the one flesh that is their baby.
The Church stands in awe of the gift of feminine fecundity,
as all men, and women, should as well.

And the Church says “no” to abortion.
We will not only not support the killing of little babies,
but we completely reject a practice and mentality
that warps and destroys the very heart of women,
in turning a mother against her child.
We will not condone the coercion of women
to turn against their babies and their very own nature,
transforming an innocent child’s protective and nurturing mommy
into a callous enemy.
We will not stand by as women are crushed by this great evil,
and mocked, ridiculed and silenced when they cry for help!

And the Church says “no” to all forms of redefining marriage.
Again, as Jesus himself reminds us, quoting from Genesis:
“from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”
Marriage is the permanent union of one male and one female,
in which they lead one life together,
and from their fruitfulness of their bodily unity and differences,
give life and love to children.

Who has declared war on women?
Not the Catholic Church!
And, frankly, not the Republican Party, which,
in the legislation it supports,
it’s party platform
and the public practice and convictions of its candidates
for President and Vice President,
stands with the Church against abortion and redefining marriage,
and defends the Church’s and the individual’s right, our religious liberty,
to hold, practice and proclaim their belief
in the corrupting effect of contraception.

No, the ones who have declared and wage war on women are those hypocrites
who pretend to be the friend of women: the so called “social progressives.”
And, yes, the Democrat Party has declared war on women,
as it has publically and enthusiastically,
in the legislation it supports,
it’s party platform
and the public practice and conviction
of its candidates for President and Vice President,
embraced abortion and the degradation of marriage,
And it is that party, and her candidates that have insisted
that contraception is not only a right but an essential good
that must be provided and defended,
even if it means throwing out the religious freedom
specifically guaranteed in the constitution
and even crushing the Catholic Church, and any Church,
that dares to defy them.

Who has declared war on women?
As Catholics, it cannot, it will not, be us!
And as Catholics, we cannot be an ally of those who are waging
a war on women.
No, as Catholics, we must use every weapon at our disposal
to peacefully protect women from those who wage war on them.
By our words and actions, by our financial donations and prayers,
and, yes, by our votes in local, state and national elections.

Today is Respect Life Sunday, and all October is Respect Life Month.
The culture of death has its cold icy hand
wrapped around the heart of our nation,
a strangle hold that is destroying our society.
And that heart I speak of is our women, in their wonderful feminine greatness.
We cannot respect life
if we continue to degrade the ones who are so integral
to its conception, birth, nourishing and nurturing.
We cannot respect life if we do not respect women,
and defend them from those who would degrade, diminish or destroy them.

As we enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
let us join together with Holy Mother Church,
and with our Blessed Mother Mary,
and beg our Lord Jesus Christ,
Spouse of the Church and Son of Mary,
to come to the aid our country, and to us,
as we fight the war for women, and so restore an abiding respect for life.

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 30, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Sometimes we’re so busy seeing the differences between ourselves and others
that we fail to see the good things we have in common.
On the other hand, it is important to recognize those differences,
first of all to see the differences that we may want to overcome,
but also, to recognize and protect ourselves
against values that we don’t share.
This tension between recognizing both the good and the bad in others
is a source of particular difficulty for Christians
–we want to see the good in others,
but we don’t want the good that they possess to blind us
so that we fail to notice the goodness that they lack.

Its sort of like the apostles in today’s Gospel when they discover that a man,
a stranger who did “not follow” them
is performing miracles in the name of Jesus.
And it seems that the apostles are confused,
wondering if they should do something to stop him.
But even though this stranger lacks the fullness of the good that would come
with being in the intimate company of Christ,
Jesus tells the apostles:
“Do not prevent him….For whoever is not against us is for us.”

This need to recognize Christian works in those who are not fully in our company
leads us to understand the great importance
that the Catholic Church places on ecumenism.
We’re called to look for the things we have in common
with the various non-Catholic but Christian denominations,
and then to use those as a starting point for both mutual cooperation
in spreading the Gospel
and in beginning the process
of striving for the unity of all Christians everywhere.

And we’re not just called to recognize the goodness of Christ’s truth
in other Christians,
but also to recognize that goodness when it’s possessed by non-Christians
–even atheists.
Because even a non-Christian can come to recognize some of the truth of Christ
–even if they don’t recognize it as Christ’s
–to the extent they pursue the truth with an open and humble heart.
By working with tolerance with people of other denominations, or religions,
or even with atheists,
on issues that we share strong beliefs,
we can build a better and more just society,
and lay the foundation so that the Gospel of Christ might then take root
and spread to all men of goodwill.

And yet, as our ecumenism and religious tolerance increases,
we find ourselves in the dilemma I mentioned earlier.
Sometimes in our rush to see the good in others,
we confuse cooperation and toleration with indifferentism,
truth with ignorance and error,
and even sometimes good with evil.
The good that is present seems to overshadow or mask that which is lacking.

But its important to remember
that just as Jesus insists that we must recognize and respect
the truth that others possess,
he’s even more adamant that we can never compromise
on the fullness of the truth.
He tells his apostles: ” whoever is not against us is for us.”
but he immediately goes on to warn them:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

Now, I don’t mean to imply at that non-Catholics
should have a millstone tied around their neck.
The point is to consider the intensity with which Jesus insists
we not lead anyone astray from him in any way.
Notice that Christ calls us not to mislead his “little ones”
–but by that he means not only children, but all of us that he calls to
“become like these little ones.”
Its wrong to lead anyone away from Christ in anyway–even ourselves.

Leading people astray is easy nowadays
because there’s such a tendency in our society
to see the good in others and then immediately move
to accept everything about the person as good.
We see this everyday.
Sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in a radical and drastic way
by overtly rejecting Christ and his teachings or his Church.
For example, consider young couples living together before marriage.
How many Catholic parents have tolerated this in their adult children,
perhaps even letting the couples sleep in the same room
when they come to visit.
They focus on the good things about their children
and somehow let those excuse their gravely sinful behavior.
Those parents not only lead themselves astray,
they also lead these adult children astray,
and their younger children as well.
And in doing so cause all “these little ones …to sin.”

And I’m not going to point the finger at just lay people.
How many priests fall into this same trap?
And I’m not just talking about the terrible sexual scandals.
As terrible as those are, they are comparatively very rare.
More common are the times when priests lead little ones to sin
by the heresies they preach,
or the false compassion they show in the confessional.
For example, how many married couples tell me
“but Father, Fr. Smith told us contraception was okay.”
But Jesus had a much different approach to compassion:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off [He said].
It is better …to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go …the unquenchable fire.”

But sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in less dramatic ways,
such as when we accept anything less than the fullness of the faith,
either through ignorance, which is not knowing the fullness of the faith,
or through indifference,
which is disregarding the fact that this ignorance is a problem.
And this ignorance is a problem because while its not evil per se,
there’s no way that we’d ever say that this ignorance
–or lacking of the fullness of the faith–is a good thing.
So it would be wrong to mislead others by allowing them
to remain away from following the true Church of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
without making any effort to share the fullness of the Catholic faith with them,
whether it’s your fallen away Catholic brother,
who’s a great guy but just won’t go to Mass,
or your friend who’s a devout Evangelical,
and you think, well they love Jesus
so I don’t need to tell them about Catholicism.

But it’s easy to mislead people–especially ourselves.
It’s so very hard to walk the fine line between
on the one hand, recognizing the good that others do,
especially when they do it in Christ’s name,
and on the other, charitably rejecting what runs contrary
to the fullness of Christ’s teaching.

Of course all this has great practical application in our lives
—in our families, at work and in society in general.
But especially right now in the middle of a heated political campaign season,
it’s so easy to get confused—to be misled or mislead ourselves.
We so often look at a candidate and want to see the good in them,
and then let the good we see excuse some evil policy they embrace.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to focus on our differences with someone
and fail to recognize the good policies that they embrace
—the good values we have in common with them.

And in all this we fail to recognize, we mislead ourselves,
as to who is for us and who is against us.

For example, in our presidential contest.
We have one candidate who is of a completely different faith than we are:
he’s a Mormon.
And make no mistake about it, Mormons are not Christians.
They say they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior,
but they don’t mean what we mean by that:
they do not believe in the Trinitarian God
—one God in three persons;
nor do they believe in the co-equal and co-eternal divinity
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
and I could go on and on.

And yet, you look at the lives that Mormons lead, their moral values,
and you see people striving to live very much as Catholics are striving to live.
In particular, you see in this “Mormon candidate”
a man who not only has a record of
serving those in need,
both personally and with extreme financial generosity,
but also someone who recognizes and promises to uphold
the most basic values Catholics hold dear:
the right to life, especially of unborn babies,
the true meaning of marriage
between one male and one female,
and the God-given right to practice our religion freely
without government coercion or persecution.

And then we have the other candidate, our current President,
who shares the basically same faith as we do
—although not a Catholic, he emphatically claims to be a Christian.
And he wraps himself in Biblical ethos:
he speaks of being “your brother’s keeper”;
and says “from to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
And he seems like a decent man—a good father and husband.
And yet he has consistently undermined
the most basic Christians values:
promoting the most extreme positions on abortion,
championing so-called “gay marriage”
and repeatedly violating the religious liberty of Christians,
especially Catholics,
including trying to force us to provide insurance
to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Who really is for us, and who is really against us?
Who is leading us and our “little ones” astray?

We can never completely reject those who would—intentionally or unintentionally—
lead us astray of the Gospel in any way
because then we’d wind up rejecting almost everyone
and whatever truth they posses, or good they do.
But we must also be so careful not to let the good that we see in others
cause us to fail to recognize what is lacking
—and even the evil that is there.

In those who actively oppose Christ and His Church,
we must recognize evil,
even as we see the good they may do.
In those who love Christ but don’t share in the fullness of the faith,
we must recognize not evil but ignorance,
even as we see the true beauty of the faith they do have
–a faith that may be 10 times as strong as yours or mine.
And in those who love Christ but who cannot see
that God wants neither evil nor ignorance for his children,
we must recognize the sin of indifference.

Today, let us pray for the gift to see Christ’s truth
and his goodness in all those around us,
as we strive for Christian unity,
the conversion of the whole world,
and goodwill among all peoples.
But let us also pray that we may always discern clearly
what is for Christ and what is against him.
And let us pray that we may never, in even the smallest way
–either by our sin, or indifference or ignorance—
lead anyone, especially ourselves, away from the fullness of life with Christ.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 16, 2012
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 that Jesus admitted that he was the Christ
—and if Jesus wasn’t the Christ he was a liar—not to be believed at all.

But even more to the point,
if Jesus wasn’t the Christ,
then his death was useless and not salvific,
his promise to bring all those who love him
and follow his commandments to heaven.
and his promise to give us the grace to lead the life he calls us to
is empty.
Every thing he said is 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 kind 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 are 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 be holy:
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness
exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
He tells us to be saved we must follow the commandments:
the rich young man
“came up to him, saying,
“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”
And he said to him, ….If you would enter life,
keep the commandments.”

He tells us to be saved we must love our neighbor:
“a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “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 he said to him, “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,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
….’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.”

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 you believe, naturally you’ll do good things.
You might ask, but what about people who do terrible things,
but claim they believe in Christ.
Luther’s response is that those people never really believed in the first place
—that if you really believe you won’t do terrible things,
because once you truly believe,
you can never ever lose your salvation.

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?
So run that you may obtain it.
…I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air;
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 believe and live 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.”

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 9, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

As you probably know at its founding America
was an overwhelmingly Protestant country.
But as time passed millions of Catholics began to immigrate in search of
new opportunities and freedom.
They found both of those, but they also found prejudice against them
—both because of their foreign habits and accents,
and because of their foreign religion, Catholicism.
So many times they had to fend for themselves
—to provide health care, and welfare assistance,
and schools for their children.
And most of that time this assistance was organized by and in the Church.
Great Catholics like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann,
and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,
founded hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
But beyond that, individual Catholics assisted each other,
by simply helping their neighbor out when they needed a break.
Mr. Giovanni ran a tab for Mrs. Romano at the grocery store
—he knew she’d pay when she could.
And Mrs. O’Hara let the whole Callaghan family move into her house
when Mr. Callaghan died in a mining accident.

As time has passed that same attentiveness to public acts of mercy and charity
has remained a part of the Catholic culture in America,
but it’s gradually been translated in very different ways.
As Catholics came to have more and more of a political voice,
we saw Catholics heavily supporting political solutions
to the problems of healthcare and poverty,
programs like
Medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and aid to dependent children.

At the same time, as Catholics also became more economically prosperous,
they also became very supportive, financially,
of great Catholic charitable institutions
—building a huge system of first class Catholic
hospitals, schools and universities,
and establishing organizations like Catholic Charities,
and Catholic Relief Services.

All this is a great tribute to the charity of Catholics
—it is a great expression of the honest and deep rooted Christian desire
to imitate the love and mercy of Jesus,
who cured the sick, who “made the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
We can be proud of ourselves.

Unfortunately, though, this pride can lead to complacency,
and even a loss of true charity.
First is the danger of taking charity, an act of love,
and turning it over to bureaucrats.
I mean no disrespect to so many good folks who work hard
in government sponsored social welfare programs.
But even these folks have to admit that that there’s way to much bureaucracy,
which not only inhibits their effectiveness,
but can often also transform charity from an act of love
into an act of cold administration.
One way to counter that problem is the way Catholics have so often:
by directly supporting Catholic organizations,
like the Little Sister of the Poor, or the Missionaries of Charity,
who work with minimal administrative hassle,
and with the loving touch of Christ himself.

But, I must admit, even that doesn’t address the problem that really concerns me.
Because whether its by paying our taxes to the government,
or giving a check to the good sisters,
giving money is not enough to satisfy the Christian duty to give charity.

In today’s Gospel St. Mark tells us:
“Jesus went …into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment….”
He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue;
…and said to him, “Ephphatha!”…”Be opened!”
Why does Jesus go to the deaf man?
He’s\ God—he doesn’t have to go someplace to perform a miracle:
remember the words of the Roman centurion,
who asked Jesus to cure his servant, but then added,
in words now quoted 100s of 1000s of times every day:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”
Why does Jesus go to the man?
And why does Jesus touch the man, why does he speak to a deaf man?
He doesn’t have to do or say a thing to heal, he just has to will it.
Why does he do all this?

There are two basic reasons.
The first is to give us an example of love,
Christ has the power to heal from far away, but he chooses to go to the deaf man
to show that he, Jesus, personally loves that man.

We also have a power similar to Christ’s, although not as mysterious:
we also don’t have to go to people to help them,
we can simply write a check for a large amount of money,
money that seems to perform miracles for people
—people far away, that we never actually see in person.
Fortunately, there are many Catholic charities where
that money in a way translates into human love,
by supporting the actual personal work of good Catholics.
But in the end, does it communicate your love?
In the end have you really given your love—or have you just given money?

The thing is, your act of love is not just necessary for the poor or sick person
—its necessary for you also!
God created you to give yourself, not to give a check.
You can never be happy, you can never become what God created you to be,
you can never be like Jesus Christ,
if you do not personally give your love to those in need of it.

The other reason Jesus healed the sick in person was,
to show that he was the messiah that the prophets had foretold,
and that he had the power of God himself.
As Isaiah prophesied in today’s first reading:
“Here is your God,…
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
By showing this power, people begin to listen to him, and that’s what he wanted.
It’s no mistake that Jesus says out loud to the deaf man
who can’t even hear him:
“Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”
By performing this miracle of love,
the ears and hearts and minds of this man and his friends
would now be open to hear him,
and believe his words.

One of the problems with sending money
and letting other people do our charitable work
it that it can totally remove Christ and his power from the picture.
This is a huge problem with lots of organizations that help those in need,
especially with government social programs.
A government social worker can’t even say “God bless you,”
much less explain that the love of Christ
is the reason they’re doing their job.
And even some so-called Catholic charitable organization’s
have the same problem:
it wasn’t so long ago that one of the largest Catholic organizations
was giving funds to abortion providers.
I’d say they’d managed to take Christ out of charity with that.

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth,
and we, individually, are the members of the Body.
You are his hands, you are his fingers.
He sends you out to show not only your love, but also his love, and his power.
He sends you to be like the people in today’s Gospel,
who couldn’t help but tell everyone about his power.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you all have to
volunteer to work full-time with some charity
–although that’s not a bad idea.
But it does mean that when opportunities arrive to show the mercy of Christ in
your life, you must do so.
Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus,
every day Jesus brings someone to you who needs his mercy.

Sometimes this is in small things:
maybe someone at work is having a terrible day,
so you stop to tell them a joke.
Sometimes its’ in larger matters:
maybe your elderly parents are having a hard time taking care of themselves,
so you cheerfully insist they move in with you;
or maybe your neighbor’s lost his job, even his home,
and you let his family live in the basement apartment
your parents used to live in.

Now, not everyone who comes to us asking for help is sent by God.
Unfortunately, there are some very bad people out there
who simply try to take advantage of us,
and are not as need as they pretend.
So as St. Paul reminds us,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
And as Jesus tells us:
“be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
So you have to discern, maybe give yourself some objective rules to help your mind guide your heart.
Still, be willing and when it’s possible be ready
to show Christ’s love by your generosity.

Great acts of charity are a vital part of the history of the Catholic Church,
especially in America.
I hope that you will continue that great tradition by continuing
to give to the great Catholic charitable institutions.
But I also exhort you not to settle for that
—to remember that the power of the check book
cannot communicate your love,
and you cannot personally communicate Christ’s love through cash.
Hear what Christ is telling you in Scripture today: “Ephphatha, be opened.”
And open yourselves up to live in the charity of Christ.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

August 26, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

For the last 5 weeks we’ve been reading from Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel
—one of the most important
and most misunderstood or neglected chapters in the bible.

5 weeks ago, we began with the feeding of the 5000
—the miracle of the multiplication of loaves.
Then we moved into what is often called the “bread of life discourse”
—Jesus’ explanation about how his flesh is the bread of life, the Eucharist.

It’s interesting that while the miracle of the multiplication of loaves
is reported in all 4 gospels,
only St. John reports the bread of life discourse.
Now, some say this discrepancy is because John made the whole thing up
—that Jesus never really said it.
But this is absurd.
As St. John writes at the very end of his Gospel:
“This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things,
and who has written these things;
and we know that his testimony is true.”

What really happened is that John was the longest living of all the apostles
—he died at a ripe old age, maybe when he was 90 years old,
maybe as late as the year 100 AD.
And so he wrote his Gospel many years after the others,
maybe 30 or more years later than Matthew, Mark and Luke,
—and so it’s almost certain that he’d read them,
since they were widely circulated.
On top of that, we know that John’s Gospel is the most theologically profound
—perhaps because of all the years he’d had to think about it,
or perhaps because of his unique closeness to Christ
when he was on earth,
he was, after all, called “the beloved disciple.”
So after having lots of time to think and pray over the life of Jesus,
and reading what Matthew, Mark and Luke had written,
he wrote down his own recollection
—not making things up, not correcting the others,
but recording things he’d come to understand
were much more important than maybe they first appeared.

In particular, John came to focus on the central importance
of mystery of the Incarnation.
And so he begins his whole Gospel, by explaining:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
Through him all things were made… In him was life.”
And then he concludes:
“the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Incarnation—the taking of flesh by the life-giving God
—is at the heart of John’s understanding of the Gospel.
And so, while Matthew Mark and Luke recorded the multiplication of loaves,
and did so not only to impress us with Jesus power,
but also to help us understand Jesus giving us the Eucharist,
in chapter 6, of his Gospel John says, in effect,
‘but don’t forget what Jesus said after he multiplied the loaves’:
“I am the bread of life….and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Again, some people what to see this as John making something up
to make a point.
Still others today want to say it really happened,
but Jesus is talking in merely symbolic language.
John probably had encountered people like this in his own time.
And so years after Christ’s death,
and probably after years of hearing some arguing that Jesus had just
been speaking metaphorically about his flesh and the bread,
John finally sits down and writes to the whole Church
and very carefully reports
that Jesus himself insisted they were wrong.

And so John writes, at Verse 53:
“The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”
Now, think about this: his followers think he’s talking about real food.
They don’t think he’s talking in symbols:
that spiritual grace is like food, or perhaps that his teaching is like food.
They’re upset because he sounds like a cannibal—
“How can this man give us [his own] flesh to eat?”

And how does Jesus respond?
He doesn’t change his teaching—he doesn’t say,
“no, no, I’m only talking in symbols”:
No:
“Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.”

Now, in the original Greek the word he uses here for “eat”
is very descriptive of physical eating:
the word “trogo”
doesn’t translate as “consume” or “sup upon”
but to physically “chew” or “gnaw.”
He’s saying, ‘you’re right: I’m not being symbolic.’
As then he goes on to say:
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Then you can see the disciples, thinking…
“how can he do this? That’s impossible.”
Or as John writes:
“Then many of his disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

How familiar these words are to us today
—we hear it all the time, maybe we say it ourselves,
even if only in the back of our minds.
It’s hard to believe that the bread Jesus gives us is his body.
But Jesus still doesn’t back down.
As John writes at verse 61:
“Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?”

And then Jesus reminds them that they’ve seen his power
—they’ve just seen him feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread.
And he tells them there’s more to come, as John records:
“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Now, some seize on Jesus words:
“It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail,”
They try to argue He’s backing away from talk of flesh being real food
–that he’s somehow saying that,
“no, no, it’s the spirit, it’s all spiritual food, not really my flesh.”
But that would mean he’d be contradicting everything he’s been saying.
No, what he’s saying is, in effect,
“But you’re not remembering who I really am!
I am the eternal Word who created life itself
—“the words I have spoken are spirit and life.”
I multiplied the loaves to feed the bodies of 5000,
and one day you’ll see me ascending—bodily–into heaven.
I work in my body and through my body,
but don’t limit me to the power of normal human flesh.
I have spiritual power you can’t even imagine.”

That’s what he meant
—and that’s what the people there understood him to mean.
And that’s why they left.
As John writes:
“As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.”
Think of this—these were his disciples,
people who had believed in him and were following him from town to town.
They’d heard his beautiful words
and seen his great power.
And yet all because they could not accept this one hard saying
—because they couldn’t believe in the Eucharist—
they walked away.

And what does Jesus do?
Does he run after them saying,
“no, no, wait, come back…you misunderstood”…?
No.
Still he won’t back down.
Instead, as St. John records:
“Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
It’s as if He’s saying,
“What about you 12?
Those others refuse to believe me, what about you?
You have a choice—believe this “hard saying” about eating the bread
which will be my flesh,
or be on your way too!”
Where else in the Gospels does he give such a stack choice:
“Here’s the line—which side are you on?”

What a terrible moment this must have been for those 12.
It was in fact a hard saying, who could believe it?

But then we read:
“Simon Peter answered him,
“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and are convinced
that you are the Holy One of God.”
Words. Life.
So simple.
They believe because they believe he is the savior: they have no choice:
They believe because he said so.

Did they understand what he meant?
I would wager no, not really, at least not completely.
But they did understood that he meant what he said.
And so they believed, and struggled to understand.

And almost exactly a year later that understanding took a huge leap forward,
when they sat with Jesus at the Passover supper,
on the night before he died,
remembering the first Passover, the night 1300 years before
when the Jews believed the word of the God given through Moses
and ate the flesh of the sacrificed lamb,
and God saved their lives from the angel of death
passing over Egypt
and freeing them for a new life in the promise land.
When they were at supper,
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, and broke it,
just as he had when multiplied the 5 loaves into 5000 loaves.
But this time he said:
“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”
And with the cup: “take, drink. This is the cup of my blood.”

They listened to these strange but absolutely clear words of Jesus.
And they remembered the words he had said
that day after multiplying the loaves,
his words about his flesh being the bread of life,
true food that he would give them and that they must eat.
And they believed.

For 2000 years the Church has held fast to this belief.
And through the years, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit ,
And contemplation on the teaching of St. John and the other apostles,
we have come to understand it better.
But all of it goes back to what Peter said—we believe, because Jesus said so.

Unfortunately, there have always been those
who do not side with Peter, and his successors, the Popes.
Of course this begins with the early disciples
who loved what Jesus had to say,
and were impressed by his power,
but left him because they could not accept this hard saying.

But not all of the nonbelievers walked away.
As John tells today:
“Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.”
And as he goes on to tell us at the end of Chapter 6:
“Jesus answered them,
“Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?”
He was referring to Judas…Iscariot;
it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”
Judas stayed, but he did not believe.
And it seems, according to John,
that, the Eucharist was the beginning of his unbelief and betrayal.

Today, many followers of Jesus do not believe His words about the Eucharist.
Even those who say “Scripture alone” and “it’s in the bible, so I believe it”
–they don’t believe what Jesus insisted on 5 times in John Chapter 6.
And even those who claim to be in the company of Peter’s successors
—many Catholics don’t believe,
even, it seems to me, too many bishops and priests.

Am I saying that they are like Judas—betrayers of Jesus?
I can’t say that—only Jesus knows their hearts.
And Jesus loves them and is more merciful than you or I can even dream.
What’s more, many of them love Jesus very much.

But there is a line that Jesus draws.
There is a word Jesus speaks.
There is a truth Jesus insists on.
There is a gift Jesus gives.
And there is a faith in all that—a faith held and proclaimed by Peter,
and all of his successors, the Popes of the Catholic Church.
It is this:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man…
you do not have life within you….
For my flesh is true food….
..The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

These are hard sayings.
But as we enter into this great mystery here today,
let us not allow our weak faith,
our stubborn hearts,
or our limited minds,
to lead us to abandon Christ, or to betray him
as he gives us himself, his body, his flesh
to eat as the bread of life.
Rather let us hold firmly to the faith of Peter in the word of Christ:
“Master, ….You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe, and are convinced
….you are the Holy One of God.”

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 29, 2012

In today’s readings we find a situation not unfamiliar to the modern world:
so many people in need,
and the apostles lamenting that they don’t have
either enough food, money or know how to fix the problem.
An impossible situation.
In the Gospel Jesus has only 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 men,
not to mention the women and children.
Yet there is nothing to worry about, as Jesus says:
“Have the people recline”:
in effect, ‘tell them to relax.”
Because in his magnificent generosity Jesus, God the Son,
would provide not only enough for them all to eat they wanted,
but so abundantly that there were 12 baskets full of leftovers.
The generosity of God’s love is breathtaking.

Now, sometimes God’s generosity is very clear
—like when he feeds 5000,
or when you ask him for help on a test and you ace it,
or you ask for a cure for you daughter’s cancer and she’s healed.
But sometimes, even when he’s being most generous,
we don’t recognize it, and even think he’s asking too much of us.

The thing is, we don’t always know what’s good for us
–but Jesus, who made us, always knows what we need.
And he knows that each one of us
is created for and are in fundamental need of really only two things:
two gifts which our whole Christian faith revolves around:
the gifts of Life and Love.

Elsewhere in Scripture St. John tells us:
“God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent his only Son into the world,
so that we might live through him.”

Life and love, go hand in hand in the mystery of being a Christian
–and really in the mystery of being human.

But the New Testament isn’t the first place we find this idea.
We find it at the very first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament:
the story of the creation of the universe, and of man,
in the book of Genesis.
In that story we find that God creates man not because he needs to,
but because, as St. John says: “God is love.”
And so this God who is love, in whom living and loving are the same thing,
this God does not need to do anything.
But because love, by its nature, is naturally generous,
God by his nature generously wants to share his life and love.
So out of his life of love he generously gives life
to a new and wonderful creature,
a life that receives God’s love and lives to return that love.

Genesis tells us
“God created man in his own image: male and female he created them.”
This one creature–Man–in his very being, is created sexually as two,
and this difference shows that in his very being
he is created to live and love with another
–and to do so most sublimely in the context of their sexual identities
as male and female, as partners in marriage.

But this is a very different view of things than the world has.
Because for the world we live in, marriage is so often reduced
to whatever legislators or judges or Hollywood executives think it is
–a concept of marriage created by men in their image by the stroke of a pen.
A very different view of what marriage is, and as a result,
a very different view of the meaning of sexuality.

So for example,
we see that by the decision of every state legislature in this country,
marriages can be legally terminated by the simple decision of a judge.
And by the vote of unelected judges it may be that very soon
every state in the union will have to extend legal recognition
to so called “gay marriages.”
And television and movies make it clear that marital infidelity
has become more or less socially acceptable.
Quite different from the teaching of Jesus himself in Matthew Chapter 19:
“from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’
…’for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh ‘
… what God has joined together, no man can separate.”

And we see a culture that sees sexuality
as a matter of an absolute individualistic right to self-satisfaction
–with no inkling of its nature as a generous sharing of life and love.
We live in a world that in many ways
would make the people of Sodom and Gomorrah blush.
Fortunately, through the Cross of Christ,
God is more merciful to us than he was to Sodom and Gomorrah.

44 years ago this last Wednesday, on July 25, 1968,
a very wise but embattled man,
wrote a very short but also very historic letter
reiterating the Church’s ancient understanding
of the essential integration and unity of human life and human love
in marriage and sexuality.
The man was Pope Paul VI and his letter was called “Humanae Vitae”:
“On Human Life.”

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul called us to go back to Genesis Chapter 1.
He reminded us that married people are called to share life and love
in every moment and action of their lives.
And that while they’re called to live and love generously in the image of God
–they’re called to live out this love in very human ways.
Sometimes this is in very ordinary ways,
such as living in the same house and working,
and laughing and crying together.
But sometimes it’s in a very special way:
a most concrete, dramatic, intense, and wonderfully joyful way,
in human physical sexual intimacy:
a human act which is a sacramental expression
of the generous life-giving quality of God’s love,
and the love-giving quality of God’s life
found in the very creation of man described in Genesis.

This is what acts of sexual intimacy are intrinsically designed to mean
–and anything less is a corruption of this meaning:
an insult to the dignity of the human person, spouses, children,
and God himself.
So that Pope Paul VI taught,
repeating in modern language what the Church has always taught,
that it is always morally wrong
to intentionally separate the life-giving meaning
of human sexual intimacy
from its love-giving meaning.
Life and love go together in human intimacy,
so that any direct and intentional attempt
to render procreation impossible in the conjugal act
is absolutely contrary to the divine meaning of human love and human life,
and to the eternal and unchanging will of God.
In short, contraception is always a grave or mortal sin.

Contraception takes something God made to generously and dramatically express
his life and love, and the married couple’s sharing in His life and love
and at the same time mutually giving and sharing
in each other’s life and love together,
contraception takes this and changes, degrades it,
into something that it was never meant to be.
Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus asks:
“What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”

What husband or wife among you
would give your spouse an act of only false intimacy and selfish sterility
when they ask you to give yourself completely in an act of true love
that is directed or open to bearing the fruit of new life!

This is a very hard concept to accept, especially for those of us
who grew up in a world that teaches us a very different view of sexuality.
But if the world has clearly taken a contra-Christian approach
to the meaning of marriage in its acceptance of divorce and adultery
—and now even homosexuality—
perhaps we can see that it has also gone very wrong
in its understanding of the fundamental meaning of sexuality.
The world reduces sexual intimacy to little more than selfish pleasure,
but Christians see it as having meaning
—a wonderful, rich, joyful and divine meaning,
expressing what is most deepest to the human person.

I know so many people struggle with this—it’s so different.
And I don’t really expect that this homily
is going to cause an immediate mass conversion.
Especially among those of you who have to actually put it into practice.
I don’t have to worry about this in my personal life,
and a lot of the folks in this room are past the age of worrying about it
in their personal lives.
But for many of you this represents an immediate and intensely personal struggle
–a struggle with what you’ve been told over and over
as far back as you can remember,
and also a struggle with what your own passions
might lead you to assume.
Struggle, if you must,
but if you do take today as a new beginning of your struggle,
as you start, maybe for the 1st time,
to think about and pray about and study about
what the Church really has to say and offer
in its beautiful teaching on the mystery of human life and love.

And as you begin little by little to appreciate this beautiful mystery,
don’t be discouraged or feel overwhelmed
by what seems to be the impossibility of fulfilling its demands.
Remember those 5000 people in today’s Gospel
who had followed Jesus to listen to his teaching,
even though they were going out to a deserted place without food.
And in response to those who followed him to learn from him,
Jesus generously provided them with so much food
they had 12 baskets left over!
Will he be any less generous regarding the material needs,
as wells as their emotional and spiritual needs,
of Christian spouses who follow him and listen to his teachings today,
with a generous openness to life?

Some spouses will say,
but Father, this is so difficult and contraception is so easy.
Today Jesus tests Phillip by asking:
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
And Phillip replies, basically, “It’s humanly impossible.”
But then Jesus, God the Son, goes on to do what is humanly impossible,
reminding us of his words in Matthew Chapter 19,
as he finishes his instruction on marriage, children
and the treasures of the world:
“For man it is impossible; but for God all things are possible.”
God will provide every grace spouses need to become the men and women,
the husbands and wives,
that He created them to be from the beginning.

Do not lose hope, but be persistent in your pursuit of the truth, and beg the Lord,
for whom nothing is impossible,
to give you the generosity necessary to sacrifice personal pride or desires
to live in his love and conform to his eternal will,
his plan for your true happiness.

Begin today, and persevere, and he will give you what you need to understand
and to live the sublime divine mystery of generosity
that is the foundation of human love and human life.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 22, 2012

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

All of us need to do exactly this from time to time:
to relax, refresh, renew, and rejuvenate—to rest.
Of course, there are lots of ways we do this.
We go on vacations:
sometimes far away from home,
but sometimes we simply stay at home and relax.
Sometimes we just take a day or two off,
or maybe just an evening relaxing with friends.
Jesus used to do that too:
the Gospels tell us, in particular, how he used to visit the home
of his friend Lazarus and his sisters,
apparently just to get away from things and relax.

The need to rest is essential to man—not only physically and psychologically,
but spiritually as well.
In fact it’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God,
as Genesis chapter 2 tells us:
“God … rested on the seventh day from all his work.”
And so he made it one of the 10 Commandments:
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy…”
So to the ancient Jews, including Jesus himself,
the Sabbath was not merely a day to rest, but to rest with the Lord.

Of course, this means that when we go on vacation
you can’t leave God behind
—whether it comes to your morals, or to your prayer life,
or to Sunday Mass.

But more importantly this reminds us
that the highest and most necessary form of rest is prayer
—of being in the refreshing presence of God.

Think of what Jesus does when he rests.
Of course he sleeps, and he visits his friends.
But think of all the times he goes off by himself to a quiet place,
or up on a mountain, or to a garden, to pray.

And the highest form of prayer, and rest, is what we do here every Sabbath:
the Holy Mass.
Think about it:
the Mass is the ultimate getaway
—going ” away by yourselves to a deserted place.”
We really do, or should, leave the world behind
—this is very different, on purpose,
than anything we do in the world.
And we come here not to talk to or see each other,
but really to talk to and see God.
And of course, like all good vacations that rejuvenate and refresh us,
we come here to eat the most delectable and invigorating food
—the Holy Eucharist.

Last Sunday we read how Jesus had sent the apostles out
to preach the gospel, drive out demons and cure the sick.
In today’s Gospel the apostles have just come back from that mission,
and they’re exhausted.
So Jesus says, “Come away…to a deserted place and rest a while.”
But they can’t get away.
As St. Mark tells us:
“People saw them leaving and …[t]hey …arrived at the place before them.”

Why?
Because the people were desperate for what Jesus and his apostles had.
St. Mark writes that when Jesus
“saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
What shepherd were they “without”?

The answer is in today’s psalm, Psalm 23:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.”

This is the shepherd they were looking for.
This is the shepherd we are looking for.
And they, and we, find that shepherd in Christ, and his apostles.
The shepherd that would give them repose, rest and refreshment.

But as they follow this shepherd out to this deserted place,
they find themselves in a predicament: they have no food.
We stop just short of reading this today,
but in the next few verses after today’s text from the Gospel of Mark,
we find that Jesus responds
by feeding of the 5000 with a few loaves of bread.
And so the sheep are completely refreshed by the shepherd who
“spreads the table before me…” so that “my cup overflows”?

And here we are, at the Eucharist,
as the good shepherd spreads the table before us,
the bread of eternal life.

But this can’t happen without shepherds.
As we read in today’s first reading:
“I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them.”
Just as the Lord sent the apostles to preach his gospel,
he also sent them to be the shepherds of his sheep.
And he continues to send shepherds in his place.

Because without shepherds there can be no verdant pastures to repose in,
no refreshing of the soul, no table spread before us.
Without priests there is no Mass, no Eucharist,
no source of true and lasting refreshment and revivification.

So in a parallel text in St. Matthew’s Gospel,
when Jesus
“saw the crowds, he felt pity for them,
because they were …like sheep without a shepherd”
according to St. Matthew, Jesus added:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
pray therefore the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Perhaps the Lord is guilty of mixing his metaphors, but his point is clear:
there are lots of sheep waiting for a shepherd.

My friends, we need more priests.
We at St. Raymond’s have been discovering this in a rather painful way
in the last month.
But you know, I’m convinced we have lots of priests
sitting in the pews here every Sunday
—they’re just not ordained yet.
I’m convinced that Christ is calling literally dozens of the young men
here at St. Raymond’s to the priesthood, to be shepherds of his flock.

But will they answer the call?
And will their parents and brothers and sisters help them to answer the call?

A lot of young men are afraid to answer
—and a lot of their family members are afraid for them.
And understandably so: I won’t lie to you, it’s a hard life,
if you do it right, or if you try to.

But so is the life of a lay man, if you do it right, or try to.

The other day, after I finished Mass someone came to tell me
there was no toilet paper in the rest room.
I thought to myself,
yes, and there’s a financial statement sitting on my desk I have to review,
and scores of emails and phone calls I have to return,
and a column and homily I have to write.
Not to mention a $3 million mortgage I have to pay.
And meetings, confessions and Masses…
I felt like the apostles in today’s gospel,
trying to get away to a quiet place but pursued by the crowd.
That’s the life of a priest today.

But it also sounds a lot like the life of a married man with kids, too!
Who’s busier me or him?

People say, but Father, priesthood is such a lonely life.
Yes, it can be.
But then again, not so much.
Like Jesus and the apostles, the priest is never really alone
—there’s always a crowd following him.
And this can be very consoling:
literally 1000s of people love you, just for being a priest.
If I said right now “I have no food in the rectory,”
a dozen families would show up this afternoon with dinner in hand.

And most importantly, I know that 1000s of people pray for me, by name,
every day—can any of you say that?

And all because I stand in the place of Christ, and by his grace
refresh their souls by spreading the table of the Eucharist before them.
Only a shepherd can do this, only a priest.

My dear sons, why don’t you want this?!
Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of my sons
—why don’t you want this for them?

Of course there are sacrifices, but for a moment see with the eyes of Christ:
who “saw the vast crowd, [and] his heart was moved with pity …, for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”
If you are called to be that shepherd,
to bring rest, refreshment and peace to his people,
why would you say “no” to that?
Or not even consider the invitation?

I know I’m a poor example of a shepherd,
but even my weakness should inspire you.
22 years ago I sat in the pew as a layman,
listening to another priest give one the of the worst homilies in history,
and I thought to myself: “I can do better than that.”
And something inside said to me: “Okay, smart-alec, why don’t you try”
And you sit there today thinking the same thing about me…So why don’t you try?

Now, you may be thinking, boy Father really needs a vacation.
Maybe.
Maybe I just need a few days off with some friends.
Earlier I mentioned that Jesus used to do that.
In particular he used to go to rest at the home of Lazarus,
and of course his sisters Martha and Mary, in Bethany.
Interestingly enough, today is the feast day of Mary of Bethany,
except that it’s suppressed to celebrate the Lord’s Day.
Although we don’t usually call her “St. Mary of Bethany,”
instead we call her by the other name she goes by in Scripture:
St. Mary Magdalene.

I won’t go through her whole story now
—I wrote some of that in today’s bulletin if you care to read it.
But it is the common teaching of the Church,
that this sister of Lazarus was once a terrible sinner,
who, by the love and grace of Jesus,
was lifted from the depravity of her terrible sins
to become one of the greatest saints:
the first to witness the resurrection and
and the one Jesus sent to announce the resurrection
to the Apostles.

This is the great St. Mary Magdalene.
She has been dear to me all my life.
You see, I was born, baptized and raised in a parish named after her
—it was there I first heard the call to the priesthood as a little boy.
And over the years she’s taken special care of me, in so many ways.
In particular, 10 years ago this very day, her feast day,
she intervened with our Lord as I lay in a coma dying in Fairfax Hospital:
in the morning all the doctors said I would be dead by the afternoon;
by the afternoon they were all shaking their heads in utter disbelief
that the illness was completely gone from my body.
She is a powerful saint and a tremendous friend.

Normally I recommend her as a particular patron of women
especially those who suffer from their own personal sins
or the sins committed against them.
But today, let me recommend her to those young men
who may have a vocation to the priesthood, and to their parents.
Because, you see, the Gospels tell us that she, along with certain other women
“used to follow [Jesus] and minister to Him” and the apostles,
“contributing to their support out of their private means.”

In other words, 2000 years ago she took care of the first priests of the Church,1
1 The tradition that holds that Magdalene traveled to France with her brother and sister also holds that her brother Lazarus himself became a priest, and perhaps a bishop…
and 2000 years later she still takes care of priests
—she takes care of me every day.
Let her take care of you, let her help you discover if you,
or your son or brother,
is a called to shepherd the flock of Christ.

It is written in our very nature that we all need to rest.
But that need is not only for physical rest
—in fact, the most satisfying and necessary rest
is resting with the Lord in prayer,
and being refreshed by the Bread of heaven.
As we now enter into this great mystery of the Holy Mass,
let us join the angels and saints, especially St. Mary Magdalene,
and leave behind the cares and troubles and sins of the world,
and let our Divine Shepherd lead us to repose in verdant pastures
and to refresh our weary souls.
at the table He spreads before us.
And let us be at peace, confident that the Lord will never deprive us of
this wonderful rest,
never leaving us like sheep without a shepherd.
Let us, “Come away …to a deserted place and rest a while.”

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 15, 2012

Today’s second reading begins with one of the most lyrically and theologically beautiful texts in the Bible, taken from the first words of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

The first part of the reading in the form of a Canticle, and may have been written to be sung or recited by the early Christians—it has, in fact, been that for centuries in the Church as part of the chants of the liturgy of the hours. The second part is sort of a commentary on the first. But throughout we discover wonderful and essential teachings of the Church.

It’s main theme is that Christ is the center, reason and fulfillment for everything. It says the Father “has blessed us in Christ,” “adopt[ed]” us “through Christ” and “granted us” “his grace” “in the beloved” Christ. “In him [Christ] we have redemption by his blood.” All is a part of the Father’s plan, “a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.”

Without Christ, there is nothing. With Christ, we have “the riches of his grace…lavished upon us.” This is the heart of the Christian life and faith.

We celebrate this fundamental reality every Sunday, and in fact at every Mass —the canticle’s Eucharistic overtones are powerful. In particular, the Eucharistic prayer is absolutely about this, especially the first Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.

It begins: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:” It goes on to say the refrain “through Christ our Lord” multiple times, including as we pray that we “may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And at the very heart of the prayer the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood through Him, through his actions and words. And the prayer ends with, the powerful summary of the miracle that has taken place: “Through him, and with him, and in him, …almighty Father, …all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

This is the heart of our faith and life, and of the Mass.

Thank the merciful Lord that he has given us St. Paul and this beautiful text so that we should never lose sight this sublime truth and always let it inform the rest of our faith in Christ.

But, think about what we would lose if we didn’t have this text. Or if we didn’t have the rest of the letter to the Ephesians, or the other letters of the New Testament, and the Gospels themselves. If somehow they’d been lost or discarded by the early Christians.

You know, in the early Church neither this letter, or any of the books we now call the “New Testament,” were automatically considered as inspired Scripture.

And there were also different interpretations given to this and other texts, as there have been through the centuries. For example, one extreme interpretation is that it’s poetic setting tells us that it’s not meant to be read with theological precision, so that Christ really isn’t the center of things, so that he’s is not really essential to salvation.

These are the kind of huge problems we can run into, even in a wonderful text like this. How do we solve these problems? And how do we know which letters are inspired and belong in the Bible?

Some say, well the Holy Spirit guides each of us to understand these things. But that’s not what the early church thought.

Remember, on the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended on the first Christians, it wasn’t to the Holy Spirit inside of themselves that each Christian looked to teach them what God had in mind. Rather, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us: “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles….”

And as St. Paul goes on to write to the Ephesians, the Church is: “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone….” Again, the fundamental centrality of Christ, but now also the foundational quality of the apostles.

If the apostles said it, the first Christians believed it. Why? Because as St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel: “Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Some people think the “authority” Jesus gave them was merely to cure the sick, but if we look carefully at the end of the text it tells us first: “So they went off and preached….” In fact, in St. Matthew’s account of this event Jesus commands them: “preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

Later Jesus makes this delegation of his authority permanent, first making Peter the first Pope, in Matthew 16:

“you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

And then, in Matthew 18, he extends the power to bind and loose to all 12 of the apostles together.

And that authority would not end with the death of the 12: the Scriptures make clear that others succeeded them in authority as apostles and bishops: first Matthias, then men like Barnabas, Timothy and Mark, and of course, St. Paul himself.

And it didn’t end with the apostolic age, but comes down to us through the successors of the apostles. And St. Irenaeus of Lyons would write in 180AD: “the faith preached to men, …comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops.”

Still, some Christians don’t agree with this, even some who call themselves Catholics. Unfortunately, since popes and bishops have been very patient with dissenters over the last 50 years, many Catholics have come to think that dissent is okay. It is not: as Jesus said: “a house divided against itself will not stand.”

Some of this dissent is willful and intentional, but most of it is simply due to ignorance: most Catholics today have simply not been taught some of the most basic truths of the faith.

So for the last 20 years or so there’s been a strong push to re-catechize adults and to improve the quality of the catechesis of our children. And by “improve” I mean present the actual authoritative teaching of the Popes and bishops in union with him.

To help pastors to focus on their responsibility to teach the true Catholic faith, the rite of installation of pastors requires new pastors to publically proclaim, under oath, a Profession of Faith, that begins with the Creed we say at Mass, and concludes by affirming faith in the all the infallible doctrine taught by the Pope and Bishops, and submission to all their official teachings.

This last May Bishop Loverde decided it was a good idea to extend this public profession of faith to all the catechists and religion teachers in the parishes. I, along with the vast majority of the priests of the diocese, wholeheartedly agree. After all, the catechists—CCD teachers— are helping me do my job of teaching the faithful, and if my profession of faith helps me to focus on this responsibility, then why wouldn’t that also be helpful to my assistants, the catechist?

Now, I have no doubt that all of the catechists here at St. Raymonds will happily make that profession next September: they want to teach the Catholic faith not the “Me” faith.

Unfortunately, this last Thursday the Washington Post published a front page story about five CCD teachers at St. Ann’s in Arlington who refuse to make the profession of faith.

Now, this is the Washington Post, so I wasn’t surprised that the article was saturated with the Post’s standard anti-Catholic bigotry. I mean, how convenient to find a dissenting priest who would not so subtly compare Bishop Loverde to the Nazis. And how did a story about just 5 catechists out of the thousands in the diocese merit front page coverage?

But besides that, it was just bad reporting. I could go on and on, but let me just focus on a few of the key errors.

First of all, the Post writes that all teachers are required: “to submit “will and intellect” to all of the teachings of church leaders.” The Post seems to imply is that Catholics would have to accept every little thing a particular bishop or group of bishops might teach, even if it were absolutely irrational and unprecedented.

Not so. The profession is talking only about doctrines which are presented by the Pope or by all the bishops acting with the Pope— in such a way that they clearly intend to be official. All this really is like when I’m sick and I think my symptoms point to a cold, but all the doctors I consult say I have pneumonia. I don’t agree with them, but they’re the experts, so I “submit” to their decision.

The Post goes on to say that, “[the] ‘profession of faith’ asks teachers to commit to ‘believe everything’ the bishops characterize as divinely revealed.”

Not quite. The profession says: “I also believe everything …which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”

Friends, this is straight out of Vatican II, the language the council used [in Lumen Gentium] to define infallible teaching: teaching that is from God and cannot change. So it’s not simply what “the bishops characterize as divinely revealed,” as if one day the bishops might get together and say, “hey, let’s make a new doctrine.” Rather it’s talking about what doctrines the bishops simply repeat that have “been handed down” to them as the constant infallible teaching of the Church.

Finally, the article quotes several of the dissenting Catechists and one smart-alec priest at Notre Dame who keep singing the refrain: bishops make mistakes.

So what’s new? I mean, Bishop Loverde, God bless him, approved the designs for this beautiful church, but that included a lighting system where you can’t change a single light bulb without spending $20,000 for scaffolding. He didn’t know that, not his fault, but still, a mistake.

But we’re not talking about the mistakes they make in ordinary every day decisions. And we’re not talking about individual bishops, or even all the bishops alive today. We’re talking about the deposit of faith, the truth entrusted to the apostles and handed down and protected by the Holy Spirit, so that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” the Church built by Jesus Christ.

Now, some clever parishioner might look at today’s first reading and say, but Father, in that reading the priest Amaziah tries to silence Amos, a simple layman: “I was no prophet,” Amos says, “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” But God sent that layman to the priest to prophesy. Isn’t that just what the dissenting catechist are doing to Bishop Loverde?

Not at all. If you think about it, the priest Amaziah is a heretical priest —for hundereds of years God had forbidden any temple to be built outside of Jerusalem, but Amaziah was a priest of the Temple of Bethel. Amos, on the other hand, was sent by God from Jerusalem to uphold the ancient teachings against the dissenters in Bethel.

Amos is actually the exact opposite of the Post’s dissenting catechists. In fact, he’s more like the one faithful Catechist quoted in the Post, who said: “If you’re struggling with something, fine, [but] don’t teach.”

Today scripture reveals two great truths. The first truth is that Jesus Christ is the center of the universe, and it is God’s eternal will that only through and in Christ can we enter into the glory of heaven. And the second truth is that Christ has sent his apostles and their successors to teach us this first truth and every other
truth of his Gospel. He has not left us to false priests like Amaziah, but to Peter and His apostles and their faithful successors, the bishops.

As we turn, now, to our Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us remember the teaching of St. Paul and open our hearts to receive every grace and heavenly blessing Christ lavishes on us, in the wondrous truths of our faith, and in this sacrament.

And let us recommit ourselves to accepting and sharing the ancient Catholic and apostolic teaching proclaimed first in Jerusalem, then in Rome, and now in the Diocese of Arlington.

And let us do all this, and all things, always, through him, and with him, and in him.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 8, 2012

In today’s Gospel we encounter 2 very disconcerting facts.
First, it tells us that the people in Jesus’ tiny home town of Nazareth
his old friends, “Took offense at him.”
Second, it tells us: “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”

Let’s look at these a little more carefully, beginning with the first one.
Why is it that the Nazoreans took offense at Jesus,
refusing to accept his teachings?
A lot of times we think, if only Jesus would come to me and speak to me
—that would strengthen me, and my faith, so much.
So it’s kind of stunning to us
that even these people who knew Jesus so well, his own people,
who he came to and taught personally,
wouldn’t believe in him.

But if you think about it, it’s not that surprising.
Jesus offended people all the time, saying a whole lot of things
that were hard for them to accept and believe.
For example, remember the Bread of Life discourse in John 6,
when he taught his disciples that he would give them
a bread that would really be his own body,
and they had to eat it to have eternal life?
Scripture tells us:
“Many of his disciples…said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
But Jesus, “Do you take offense at this? ….
…After this many of his disciples …no longer [followed] him.”

Or remember Matthew’s chapter 19, where Jesus lays out 6 very hard sayings:
including the prohibition of divorce, and re-marriage after divorce;
and the teaching that some people are simply not capable of marriage
—their either born that way or made that way by others.
Scripture tells us the apostles,
“were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
In other words, even they had a hard time believing these hard sayings.

Why is this such a surprise that people in Jesus’ time
would take offense at his hard sayings?
—we see the exact same thing all throughout the last 2000 years,
and especially today.
The Church says: “no divorce and remarriage”;
and that “homosexuals just can’t marry each other,
whether they were born that way or made that way by others.”
Don’t people take offense at that?—and all it is is the direct teaching of Jesus.
Even members of his Church take offense
—even sometimes bishops and priests—
“his own kin and in his own house,” as it were.
Why are we surprised that the people of Nazareth took offense?

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

Which brings us to the 2nd disconcerting fact in today’s Gospel reading,
the fact that: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there.”
How can Jesus “not be able” to perform a miracle?
After all, he’s God, isn’t he?

But notice, in fact, Jesus is “able” to perform miracles in Nazareth.
The text goes on to say,
“apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”
So he did do miracles there.

To understand all this you have to remember
that Jesus usually performed miracles for one of two reasons:
either to show his power so that people would believe in him,
or simply out of mercy to the afflicted.

The only thing that limits Jesus
is either his own divine nature or our human nature.
His divine nature limits him in the sense that,
for example, as God by nature he is not capable of doing any evil,
he is not capable of not loving.
And our human nature limits him in the sense that
in his love for us he respects our free will
—and limits himself according to our choices.

Here in Nazareth he is “amazed at their lack of faith.”
His own people are, in the words of today’s first reading:
“Hard of face and obstinate of heart.”
There’s not a thing he can say or do to change their minds,
so there’s no reason to perform a great sign,
except out of mercy for “a few sick people.”

Think of all the times he performed great miracles,
and still the eyewitnesses didn’t believe in him.
Again, go back to the Bread of Life discourse
—right before that
his disciples personally witnessed him feed five thousand men,
“with five …loaves and two fish.”
And still they left him because his sayings about the Eucharist
were too hard to accept.

Same thing here in Nazareth, so he says, in effect,
“no miracles, believe or don’t, it’s up to you.”
The only thing limiting him is his respect for their free will choice to reject him

Of course, he faces the same problem today.
Through his holy Catholic Church he continues to proclaim the hard sayings,
and people still take offense because of a lack of faith.
Even his own people.
For example, Americans, 95% of whom were born into the Christian families,
but so many now reject Christ and his teachings.
And Europe, a civilization saturated in and founded on
Christian history and heritage,
and now the faithful are only a small minority.
And you and I—we also all too often take offense at his teachings
because all too often our faith is too weak.

Some people say, that’s why it would be great
if he’d show some great sign of his power.
But again, that didn’t work so well 2000 years ago:
remember the feeding of the 5 thousand.
And it really doesn’t work today.
In my opinion Christ has been performing an incredible mighty deed
for 2000 years—his Church.
The miracle of the Church—founded on the ministries
of men like St. Peter, a humble fisherman who denied Jesus 3 times.
Or St. Paul, who tells us in today’s 2nd reading that
he suffered from some unnamed weakness he describes as
“a thorn in the flesh …an angel of Satan.”

And for 2000 years it has been ruled by and filled with weak men and women,
even great sinners.
And yet look at what she has done:
the Catholic Church has dramatically changed the world,
and still survives today as a strong dominant voice and force
for truth, worship and charity.

If that’s not a might deed of Jesus I don’t know what is.
And instead of inspiring awe and faith, it seems to draw only disrespect.

Of course, sometimes miracles can be helpful in strengthening faith.
But you know, sometimes God works more effectively
by not doing might deeds
—by remaining silent, or simply speaking in a quiet voice.

Let me give you a personal example.
I apologize if you’ve heard part of this story before,
and I’ll try to make a long story short.
23 years ago I was working at a moderately successful career
as an accountant with a big firm,
But after some big changes in the firm, I decided to quit,
confident that I’d have my pick of jobs with other companies.
But it didn’t turn out that way, and days turned into weeks,
and weeks into months.
So I started to really get serious about my prayers.
And then I realized a couple of things:
first, what success I’d had, was really a gift from God
—he had been doing mighty deeds for me all along.
And second, I realized that I was asking him for a new mighty work
—“find me a great job”—
but I was doing very little to do anything like “mighty deeds” of faith in him.

In short, by doing nothing, he forced me to my knees and to believe.
And then, he did do a mighty deed,
and things started to fall into place for me.
At first, it was a wonderful career opportunity.
But pretty soon it began to lead to where I am today.

Sometimes, it’s only when God holds back his might deeds
that we are able to see his mighty deeds
—because it is only when we realize how weak we are on our own
that we can begin to see Christ’s true might,
and how strong we could be with his grace.

For as Jesus told his apostles at the end of all the hard sayings in Matthew 19:
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And as he said to St. Paul in today’s second reading:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
And so St. Paul summarizes: “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now some will surely say that all this merely wishful thinking,
or a psychological self-deception.
“Of course,” they say, “when you’re weak you can become desperate,
so you cling to religion as a way to explain things.”
Maybe.
They can believe that if they want to.

But that’s not what we believe.
We believe there is an all-powerful God, who loves us.
We believe that he came into the world to teach us how to live and love,
and to save us from our weakness, by the power of his grace.
And we believe that it’s only when we humble ourselves
to recognize our weakness and sins,
and the power of his words and grace,
that we can become the truly good men and women He created us to be.

As we now move deeper into this Holy Mass,
let us have faith in Our Lord Jesus
and in everything he’s taught us,
even the sayings that are sometimes offensive
to our sinful and obstinate hearts.
And let us kneel before him humbly
firm in faith that by the power of his grace
“when I am weak, then I am strong.”