2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 19, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

This Wednesday 100s of St. Raymond’s parishioners,
along with me and Fr. Kenna,
will join 100s of 1000s of Americans in the March for Life
on the Washington Mall,
commemorating the terrible day 41 years ago when the Supreme Court
discovered a mother’s right to abort her unborn baby.

Sadly, some Catholics will discourage participation in this March,
and similar public outspoken opposition to abortion.
Some will do so because they are actually pro-abortion,
and so not very good Catholics.
And some will do so because, although they are pro-life,
just don’t think it’s a good idea to participate in such public displays
—maybe they think it’s a waste of time,
or they think it’s a counterproductive strategy;
maybe their right, I suppose it’s arguable.

But some Catholics will discourage us simply because
they think we’re making too big a deal about abortion
when we should be focusing on other issues.
They buy into the talking points of the pro-abortion secular media,
that too many Catholics are “obsessed” with abortion.

They even believe the false reports in the media that
Pope Francis criticized some Catholics for being “obsessed” with abortion.

As I have written and preached about before,
what the Holy Father said was that the Church
“cannot be obsessed with the transmission
of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.”
In context, it wasn’t entirely clear that the Holy Father was actually talking
about abortion.
But even if we apply what he says to abortion, what it would mean is that
when we talk about the sin of abortion we can’t treat it
as some doctrine uniquely separate
from all the other Catholic doctrines:
as if abortion had nothing to do with the rest of the Gospel.
Rather we have to remember, and proclaim, that the teaching on abortion
is intimately related to and rooted in the doctrine
that God radically loves us,
and commands us to love our neighbor.
Whether we’re rich or poor, sick or healthy, righteous or sinful, young or old,
born or unborn,
He “who formed me as his servant from the womb,”
formed each of us and all of us from the womb
in his own image
so that He could love us and we could love Him in return.

So we don’t speak of abortion as a disjointed doctrine,
but one that flows directly from the first doctrine of all, the love of God,
and the second as well:
we are created to love not only God,
but all those created in his image.

Some would say we should follow Pope Francis’ supposed example
and focus not on abortion, but on poverty.
But our love for the poor is also not a “disjointed doctrine”:
it also flows from that same doctrine of God’s love for all created in his image,
and is also intimately related to the doctrine of love of neighbor.
And so, as Pope Francis explained in his recent exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium,
we cannot speak of loving the poor
if we don’t first speak of loving the unborn.
As he wrote:
“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes
to care with particular love and concern are unborn children,
the most defenseless and innocent among us.”

And we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking our stand against abortion is somehow
inconsistent with the Church’s message of love and forgiveness
–a “disjointed doctrine.”
As he wrote:
“Precisely because this involves
the internal consistency of our message
about the value of the human person,
the Church cannot be expected to change her position.”

And he warned us not be intimidated by those who say we’re
out of step with the times, or even out of step with him, as he wrote:
“…Frequently, as a way of ridiculing
the Church’s effort to defend [the] lives [of the unborn],
attempts are made to present her position
as ideological, obscurantist and conservative….
…I want to be completely honest in this regard.
This is not something subject to alleged reforms
or “modernizations”.
It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems
by eliminating a human life.”

And when we think of how we should understand and proclaim
the doctrine against abortion as part of our pro-life/pro-love doctrine,
how can we forget the master of this beautiful, rich and positive teaching
on the “Culture of Life”: Blessed Pope John Paul II,
whom Pope Francis has announced he will declare a saint
4 months from now.

In particular we remember Bd. John Paul’s 1995 masterpiece,
Evangelium Vitae—“The Gospel of Life.”
And we recall how in his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,”
published just a few months later,
he answered critics who claimed he was “obsessive” about abortion, writing:
“[I]t is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this,
where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative …
– the defense of the right to life of an
innocent and defenseless human being…
Therefore, …I categorically reject every accusation or suspicion
concerning the Pope’s alleged “obsession” with this issue.
We are dealing with a problem of tremendous importance, in which
all of us must show the utmost responsibility and vigilance.”

My friends, there is nothing “ideological” or “conservative”
about protecting the very lives of the poorest, most innocent among us: unborn babies.
And there is nothing “obsessive” about being incessantly “vigilant” and vocal
in demanding the simple guarantee of the most fundamental right
of every innocent human beings: the right to life.
It’s not obsessive: it’s simply fundamentally Catholic, and fundamentally human.

[Is it obsessive to breathe? But you keep doing that! No, it’s just human.
And it’s human to defend human life.”]

But there is more here as well.
There are always two victims in every abortion:
first and foremost the baby,
but also the mostly forgotten victim, the mother.

Yes, I understand that mothers choose abortions.
But many do not do so completely freely,
or with sufficient reflection or knowledge.
Many—most—are forced or pressured by others who should know better,
who should be helping them to think clearly in their confused distress:
first their doctors, but also husbands, boyfriends,
and even their parents.
All these who don’t have to deal with the torturing guilt
that plagues these post-abortive mothers for the rest of their lives.

As a priest I’ve worked with many such women, trying my best, with God’s grace,
to bring them to know the mercy of Jesus Christ.
I remember one woman in particular, many years ago.
She came to my office and told me how she had, from day one,
felt a terrible hollowness after her abortion,
and how her life was never the same again.
And then she told me how about seven years after her first abortion,
her life began to fall completely apart:
she divorced, became promiscuous, an alcoholic,
and constantly depressed and anxious.
And she told me how she went to counselor after counselor,
but none could help her,
because they refused to admit that what she had done was wrong.
To these counselors, it was her guilt that was the problem, not the abortion.

None of this was shocking to me, much less surprising.
I’d heard it so many times before.
But then she did shock me: she told me she was not a Catholic,
but had come to me because she knew the Catholic Church
clearly understood that what she had done was evil,
and she hoped that finally someone help her deal
with the terrible sin she knew she’d committed.
It was a day of great healing for her, and of great conviction for me.

No one believed her, but the Church.
No one understood her pain,
but the Catholics who understood what she had done.
But in context of the great doctrine of the immense love of God,
our creation in His image,
and the need of man to love God and his neighbor.

And so just as we would see and love the aborted unborn baby
as a human being whom God loves and created in his image,
we also see and love the mother as a human being
whom God loves and created in his image.

But the world, the popular press, and political ideologues and activists do not.
Instead, they mock post-abortive women for guilt,
and encourage and even proclaim as a good thing
the very behavior that destroys their lives.

Think of this.
Last year Dr. Kermit Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison
for 3 counts of murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter
related to “unsuccessful late term abortions”
at his Philadelphia abortion clinic.
At the trial witnesses testified ad nauseam about
the unsafe and unhygienic conditions of his clinic:
the a total lack of concern for his female patients.

And think of this.
For years, medical studies have been establishing
a statistical link between abortion and the incidence of breast cancer.
Then this last year, in 2013, a study was released
by a professor at the City University of New York,
that did a meta-analysis of 36 Chinese studies of Chinese women,
which showed at least a 49 percent increase
in the risk of breast cancer in post-abortive women.

And what was the reaction to all of this?
The press hardly reported on either of these stories.
And pro-abortion activists doubled down in their hypocrisy:
blaming Dr. Gosnell acts on “antiabortion attacks on abortion access.”
And right in the middle of that trial, our president addressed
the national convention of Planned Parenthood,
the number 1 provider of abortions in American,
concluding his speech: “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.”
And the current administration calls the right to abortion
necessary for “women’s reproductive health.”

Who is obsessed?
Who is so obsessed with defending abortion at all costs,
that it not only embraces the killing of unborn babies,
but also denies the pain and physical risks to women themselves?
Who is obsessed, and who is simply convinced, resolved and outspoken
in its defense of the unborn and their mothers?

And so we march for life this week in Washington,
or we do whatever we can for life
wherever we are this week,
convinced that the Lord has called us to be, as Isaiah tells us today,
“a light to the nations,”
so that Christ’s “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

And we go out in the tradition of John the Baptist,
announcing the good news of the love and mercy of Jesus:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
But also we remember that John was executed
not so much for identifying the Lamb of God,
but for publicly decrying the immorality of the King of Judea, King Herod,
…and so we also boldly decry
the immorality of the laws of our government.

Let us never be intimidated by those who accuse us of being outdated, or cruel, or “obsessed.”
But rather let us remember the words we read in today’s Psalm:
“I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.”
And so let us go out to boldly proclaim the beautiful, rich and positive teaching of
the Gospel of Life:
the good news of dignity of every human life
and of God’s love for each of us,
born and unborn, child or mother, saint or sinner.
And to proclaim the great news of incredible joy that He has come into the world
to show us his love by conquering sin, and forgiving repentant sinners:
“Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world.”

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, January 12, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

It seems that we just can’t get away from John the Baptist at this time of year.
On the second Sunday of Advent,
as we were beginning our preparation for Christmas,
we read about John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance,
as he prepared the way of the Lord.
And on the third Sunday we read how John the Baptist
sent messengers to Jesus to ask him if he was the Messiah.
And in the final week of Advent, as we read how
the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary
of the conception of Jesus in her womb
he also told her of the conception of St. John in the womb of St. Elizabeth,
and how that Baby John leapt in his mother’s womb
when Mary actually visited them pregnant with the Baby Jesus.

And today we’re back with St. John the Baptist again.
But today he’s no longer preparing for Jesus coming
–he’s actually in the presence of the Savior,
as Jesus begins his public ministry.
He no longer has to say, “he’s coming”, now he says, “he’s here.”

But his service to his Savior isn’t over yet.
John has one final act to perform for Jesus,
as Jesus approaches John and asks him to baptize him.

Now, sometimes people are confused and even scandalized by this passage:
–why does Jesus who is God, and therefore in no need of salvation,
need baptism?
This confusion begins to be relieved when we remember that John’s baptism
is only a symbolic ritual to show a pious desire to wash away sins
–it didn’t actually wash them away as our sacrament of baptism does.
But still, why did Jesus,
who is the innocent one, the one like us in all things but sin
–and so in no need of repentance—
need to take part even in this symbol of repentance?

If you’re confused by this you’re not alone–John the Baptist was too.
Today’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus approached John for baptism,
–“John tried to prevent him:
`I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?'”
But then it also tells us the response Our Lord gave him:
–“Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting [or proper]
for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

When we were preparing for Christmas,
we focused quite a bit on the Baptist’s message of repentance of personal sins
–washing clean our souls
and preparing the way of the Lord directly into our hearts.
And then during this Christmas season,
we’ve focused on appreciating the wonder and awe
–the shear joy at the birth of God as man.

But today, we’ve come to the end of the season of Christmas.
And we’ve come almost full circle in our sharing of this season
with St. John the Baptist.
On the 2nd Sunday of Advent
we read about St. John in verses 1-12 from Chapter 3
of St. Matthew’s Gospel.
And today we pick up where we left off, again reading about St. John,
reading verses 13-17 from that same Chapter.

And in the heart of these two readings
–readings that form sort of bookends to this great season
–we find two very similar passages.
On the Second Sunday of Advent we read St. John saying of Jesus:
“I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,”
and today we read him telling Jesus:
“I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?'”
and then how,
“he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.”
The reading of these two verses on both the second Sunday of Advent,
and on the last Sunday of Christmas, is no accident.
In reality they’re the heart of the message of Christmas.

When John recognizes that he isn’t worthy to even carry Christ’s sandals,
he speaks for all mankind.
On our own we’re not worthy of the Lord,
and our repentance could never be worthy
to make up for our offenses against God.
But Christ is the Holy one, the perfect one.
And by taking on our nature he makes it possible for us to be worthy,
through him.
What the Fathers of the Church called an “admirabile commericium”
–a sort of “wonderful exchange” takes place:
he enters into and shares our human nature,
so that we can enter into and share in his divine nature.
He takes on human life so that he may give us a part in his divine life.

And so when Jesus goes to John for his baptism of repentance,
it isn’t out of necessity,
but because it’s part of the divine plan of this wonderful exchange.
He not only enters into our humanity in the Incarnation and Nativity,
now at His baptism He enters into our human sinfulness.
Not by sinning–but by accepting the consequences of our sins,
and taking on himself the responsibility to atone for our sins,
to do our penance, to achieve for us reconciliation with the Father.

Our mere human repentance is like mere water—it can’t save us.
But when the human repentance is joined to the divine power of Christ,
his penance–which begins in his entering into the world at Christmas
and is perfected in the sacrifice of the Cross–
his penance transforms and gives meaning to our penance,
and God and man can truly be completely reconciled.
The divine and the human can be reunited, in Christ.

The sacrament of Baptism is this entering into the life of Christ.
It finds it symbolic precursor in John’s baptism, but it’s not the same.
And so we read back in Advent that John prophesied
“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
And we see today that prophesy was fulfilled and baptism was transformed
as the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the waters of his baptism.
He makes baptism now his own, his own symbol
that he takes away the sins of the baptized
by entering the waters by the power of the Holy Spirit,
–he enters and takes away the sins of the world.
So that when you and I were baptized,
the prayer blessing the water asks the Father and the Son
to send their Holy Spirit on the waters of the baptismal font,
so that by the power of that Spirit
the waters of sacramental baptism really do wash away our sins,
and give us a share of a new life with Christ.

And this life only begins at baptism as we live out this life
every time we open our hearts to the grace of Christ,
–the power of the Holy Spirit we’ve received in baptism–
to live this new divine life everyday and in everything we do.

Today is the end of the joyful celebration of Christmas,
and it’s fitting that we end this celebration
in the company of John the Baptist.
His was the vocation to proclaim the message
to prepare for the Lord in repentance.
His was the example of humility that speaks for all mankind
before the Almighty Son of God.
His was the joy of greeting Christ even before his birth in the womb of Mary.
And his was the baptism of repentance
by which the Lord Jesus Christ accepted our human sins as his own
so that he could make atonement for us,
and issue the invitation to share in his divine life.

Today is the end of the celebration of the birth of the Baby Jesus.
But it is also a new beginning of our celebration of all that that birth meant.
Because, as wonderful as it is to meditate
on the innocence of the babe born in Bethlehem,
and on the awesomeness of the incarnation of love that his birth means,
Christ did not come into the world to be a baby:
he came to be a man and offer a manly sacrifice.
So that on this day of his Baptism we turn our faces
from the babe in Bethlehem and the child in Nazareth,
to the man Jesus
who today turned his face to the cross in Jerusalem.
Today, in the light and joy of Christmas we remember
that God the Son entered the world on Christmas to save us
by his atonement for our sins on the Cross;
to transform our weak and sinful lives,
as he offers us share in his own glorious divine life

Today, as we meditate on the mystery of the Lord’s Baptism,
we end the celebration of his birth,
but we begin again the celebration of our re-birth in Christ.
A rebirth into the life that is the reason and promise of Christmas:
a life that is a sharing the union of divinity and humanity in Christ;
a life that is a sharing in his innocence, joy and love;
a life that is a sharing in his atonement, suffering, and sacrifice.
In short, a rebirth into a life that is a true sharing in his Sonship.
So that if we truly accept that life and live that life in Christ,
we may also share in hearing His Father’s words of infinite love spoken to us:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 29, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

This last Wednesday, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The day when, in the fullness of time, the eternal God became one of us.
But his birth didn’t occur in a vacuum.
He didn’t just arrive on a cloud fully grown and ready to preach his gospel:
no, he chose to be born into a human family,
and so today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family
of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

On Christmas, at Masses during the day, we read
the beginning of the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. John chose these words very carefully.
Notice how they parallel the text of
the first words of the first chapter of the first book of the bible, Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is no accident:
St. John’s telling us that Jesus is Incarnate eternal word of God
who was there in the beginning and is the source of all creation.
So Genesis tells us that on each of the six days of creation,
God creates by simple speaking the word: for example:
“God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
As St. John tells us:
“The word was God … in the beginning…
all things came to be through him”.

What St. John’s telling us is that Jesus, the Word of God,
communicates and reveals God to us,
He is God explaining himself and his love to us.
And because creation comes about by the word of command of God,
everything created by God through the Word tells us about him.

We see this most especially on the sixth day of creation:
“…God created man in his own image,….male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply.””
God chose, as the culmination of his revelation in creation
to reveal himself in the family:
in the union of male and female created in his own image
and blessed with the gift to “be fruitful and multiply”
–to have children.

This self-revelation of God is made through every family throughout history.
But in the fullness of time it’s made most perfectly and sublimely
through one family in particular.
St. John tells us:
“the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
— he made his dwelling among us in the family of Joseph and Mary:
the Holy Family.

So we can see that right from the beginning of Creation, and right from the beginning of our salvation—our re-creation in Christ—
the family is God’s chosen instrument
to reveal himself to the world.
And so it’s not a great surprise that as we look around us and see a world
evermore plagued by crises of violence, hate, and general moral chaos,
we also find the family to be in the middle of a crisis of its own.
But in a sense, it’s not really a crisis of its own,
since it’s intimately related to the other crises in the world:
because to the extent God is not revealed in and by the family,
God will not be revealed to the world.
To the extent the family isn’t allowed
to be all that it was created to be in Jesus Christ,
neither can the world become all that it was created to be.

Before we can worry about solving world crises, we need to start at home,
with our families.
And as we start at home we need to start, “in the beginning”,
and come to understand what it is that God has created us to be.
We need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a family in Christ?

Today’s readings give us many practical and simple, yet profound,
instructions on family life.
For example, the first reading reminds us of the practical and spiritual need
for children to honor their parents,
both when they’re young and when they’re old.
And today’s second reading continues and broadens this instruction
to apply to all the members of the family.
There is of course a line in this reading from Colossians
that tends to upset some wives somewhat:
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.”

But to understand this phrase
we have to look at the whole context of the passage.
Before he tells wives to be subordinate to husbands
he first lays out the general rule that everyone must, as he says:
“Put on,…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another…
And over all these put on love…
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

What Paul does here in this passage from Colossians,
is the same thing he does in an almost identical passage
in his letter to the Ephesians.
In Ephesians, before he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands,
he sets the context; he says,
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Paul’s teaching isn’t that wives are slaves,
but that the Christian life is one of love
expressed in humility and service.
All Christians must be subordinate, or humble servants, to one another,
and it’s only in true Christian humility that each member of the family
can be everything God created them to be
–whether they’re husbands and wives, or parents and children.

It may be hard for us to imagine a perfect family
–one that’s always truly mutually humble and submissive.
But there is one family that we can look to for example:
the Holy Family.
This is the family that lives mutual subordination, or mutual humble service,
most perfectly,
and so was the most sublimely happy and holy family ever
–the family who became exactly what God had created it to be.
The Gospels tell us that the Husband and Father Joseph
subordinates himself to his wife and son
by first taking them into his home when he finds Mary pregnant,
and then also as he sacrifices his work and life in Nazareth
to protect Mary and Jesus as he takes them to Egypt
to escape the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod.
The Mother Mary subordinates herself to her son, Jesus,
by freely agreeing first of all to accept him into her womb,
and also to take on the awesome responsibility
of raising and educating the Savior of the world.
The Wife Mary subordinates herself to her Husband Joseph
by following him into Egypt,
and caring for him as her husband.
And even the son Jesus–the sovereign Lord and Creator of all the Universe
–even he subordinates himself to his parents,
as we read in Luke’s Gospel:
“He went down with them….to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.”

This is the humility and love that all families are created for and called to,
and it is the humility and love
that the whole world is created for and called to.
And it’s in this humility and love within the family
that God humbled himself to enter into, in order to save the whole world.

Imagine how our family lives would be different if the members of our families would simply learn to humbly subordinate ourselves to one another.
Imagine, if fathers and mothers saw themselves as servants of their children.
Not giving up your role as parents, Moms and Dads,
but seeing your fatherhood and motherhood
as being geared not for your pleasure or happiness,
but for your children’s well-being.
And that includes the times you’d rather just let your kids do whatever they want,
because then they’d like you a lot more, or think you’re “cool” parent,
or even when you’re just worn out
and don’t want to fight them anymore.
But you know that what they really need is for you to serve them
by being the GROWN-UP and saying no, or disciplining them,
by being willing to fight for what’s good for them.
Again, not because it makes you feel good, but because it’s what they need.
On the other hand, it means not punishing them or denying them something
simply because you’re being stubborn, or selfish,
or trying to make them into little “mini-Me’s” in your own image.
As St. Paul tells fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”

But kids, I’m not letting you off the hook in all this.
The commandment is clear: “honor you mother and father.”
And St. Paul is clear: “Children, obey your parents in everything.”
That doesn’t mean that if they’re really hurting you,
or neglecting you that you have to simply take it;
as I noted before St. Paul commands fathers:
“do not provoke your children!”
But it does mean that in all things, whether you’re a 3 year old kid,
or a 70 year old kid,
you have to first ask,
how am I serving my parents in this?

And how wonderful marriages would be,
if husbands and wives lived to serve each other.
If wives truly respected their husbands, and began everyday thinking
“how can I serve him today.”
And if husbands truly laid down their lives,
as Christ who was KING of the universe,
and yet came not to be served, but to SERVE,
and laid down his life for his bride, the Church.
Imagine, in particular,
all the little stupid things that you argue over or neglect to do
that would simply vanish, if you would both just keep the attitude of that
“I am here to serve you, because I love you.”

Now, we know that not all families are blessed
with the many graces of the Holy Family
–many families may not even have a mother or father, or a child.
Sometimes this is by God’s intentional will,
and sometimes this is because of somebody’s sin:
because of the lack of love and humility
on the part of individual family members,
either in the present generation, or in generation’s past.
But this is no reason to give up on, or loose sight of the meaning of family,
and strive to live it as completely as we can.
Nor is it a reason to try think that the “traditional” family
is outdated, or impractical,
or that it can be changed by decree of merely human authority
–that, for example a family can, on its own,
opt out of having a father or children,
or can include 2 men or 2 women who live together
as some in the world are trying to make us believe.

Because as long as all things are created in and for Christ,
the family must be what he created it to be.
Even the Holy Family suffered adversity:
the child was born in the poverty of a barn,
Joseph died years before Jesus began his public ministry,
and Mary was left completely alone
when members of her own people killed her son.
But in and through their adversity, they continued to love and honor each other,
and in doing so become an instruction for us all,
an instrument of the revelation of God’s love to the world.

It’s not easy to be a family nowadays.
But it wouldn’t have been easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either,
had they not submitted their lives to one another in love.
If our families submit to one another, and center their lives on Christ
we’ll find the happiness and peace of God himself
revealed and made flesh
in the very human life of our own families.

With the Holy Family as a shining example,
and through their mediation of grace and intercession,
may we always allow Jesus Christ—the Word of God incarnate–
to reveal his love to the whole world
through his love incarnate in our families.

Christmas 2013

Christmas, December 25, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

Merry Christmas!

Christmas!
What is it about this night/day that changes everything?
Why do strangers greet each other with warmth and good cheer?
Why are estranged families reconciled?
More amazing still:
why are drivers kind to each other as they leave the church parking lot?

It is surely a day like no other day of the year.

And it’s been that way since that very first Christmas day, 2000 years ago.
A day that was so radically unlike any previous day
that it astonished even the angels in heaven.
The angels had seen so many amazing and wondrous things
almighty God had done.
They saw Him create the world out of nothing, and man in his very own image.

They had, literally, seen it all.
Still, they had seen nothing like this.

Majesty became humility.
Omnipotence became vulnerability.
Eternity entered time.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a baby boy.

How could this be, the angels asked?
And yet they knew the answer, and told us:
“nothing is impossible for God.”

And so, completely stunned, but with irrepressible joy,
they spontaneously broke into a jubilant song of praise to God,
As St. Luke tells us:
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host …
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

They were completely overwhelmed to see how far
the love of God would go to give his love
to sinful man.

For the angels knew man well.
They had seen how in the beginning Adam and Eve
had thrown away their unique friendship with God,
and how mankind had suffered from that loss ever since.
How, created in God’s image, man yearned and longed
to love and to be loved completely and perfectly.
And yet the angels also saw how men, in their weakness,
would turn from God’s great power
because it seemed to threaten the power they wanted over themselves.
In short, the angels knew
that as much as man longed for God’s love,
man’s corrupted self-love kept getting in the way.

But God had always known the way.
And he had told it to the angels,
but even they couldn’t completely understood it.
But now—now they understood it, because they saw it.
The omnipotent Creator of the Universe,
stripped himself of the trappings and glory of His Divine Power,
and became a vulnerable human baby.
In effect saying to mankind:
“let us look beyond power, and let us first love.”

Amazing.
And so the angels proclaim to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid…”
They say:
“For today …a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

Think about that: God has been “born,” become a baby, “for you.”
Not because it pleased him, or would add to his glory.
But simply “for you.”

Christmas is about God coming to us for us,
so that nothing would keep us from sharing in his love.
How often do we think about God as if he were so far away from us.
That he’s so much greater than us, he has no time for us.
And so we excuse ourselves from making time for him.
But at the first Christmas he said, in effect:
“Look at me—I have stripped myself of the glory of heaven,
I made myself weak, so that you could know me and love me.
So that I could to enter into a personal relationship of true love with you.”

Sometimes people say that Catholicism fails to emphasize this critical truth,
of Christ’s invitation to have a personal relationship with him.
Some say we emphasize God’s power and majesty too much,
especially in our rituals, like the Mass,
at the cost of obscuring the importance
of having a personal relationship with Him.

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I have never, in all my life,
felt that way about the Catholic faith.
Because the Church sees God and man as the angels do—just as they truly are.

The truth is that God is Almighty,
and majestically sits on His throne in heaven
while angels adore him and sing his praise,
and not only did he create this vastly complex universal
but continuously sustains it and orders it according to His will.
And the truth is we are merely lowly, sinful creatures.
And yet, the truth is also that
that all-powerful God, came into the world as a tiny baby,
like us in all things but sin,
all so he could be our brother, our friend, our most intimate companion.

We can never forget this dichotomy.
If we do, we reduce this tremendous gift to almost nothing
—just another friendly acquaintance.
So what?

But that is not Christ, and that is not Christmas.
And that is not what makes
or feuding families lay aside bitterness,
or sinners lay aside their sins.
Yet all this can happen when like the angels,
we see the whole picture:
He is a baby, so we can’t help but love him,
but he his God so we can’t help but adore and praise him
for his incredible generosity.

And where do we see this more wonderfully than at Holy Mass?
Where do we encounter more profoundly his invitation
to enter a personal relationship with the eternal God?
It is no mere coincidence that we call this day “Christmas,” or “Christ-Mass.”

We begin Mass by recognizing our sins
—humbling ourselves before God has he humbled himself before us.
We then join in the very song of the angels on Christmas morning,
stunned with wonder at God’s offer of reconciliation and friendship:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Then, like the shepherds listening to the proclamation of the angels,
we listen attentively to the readers and priest reading Scripture and
“bring[ing] [us] good news of a great joy.”

Then we all stand and profess our faith.
We begin by acknowledging,
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things…”
But then we add:
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,
…[who] came down from heaven…and became man.”
Christmas!

Then we go on to the offertory.
Like the three kings offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,
we offer our gifts of bread and wine.
And this is where things start to get truly wonderful.
Because these gifts are meant to symbolize us
—they represent us giving ourselves to God.
That’s why we say “lift up your hearts to the Lord”
—meaning give your very heart to him, give your very self in love!
Friends, how can the Mass not be about a personal relationship with Christ,
if it’s about giving ourselves to him—person to person?

And then we pause to remember, yet again, that the angels are here,
and that the one we worship is not merely a baby,
but also the God of heaven and earth,
as we sing the song of the angels from Isaiah:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And we sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Who is that, but the Babe in the manger?

And then, we enter into the most incredible part of the Mass,
where God the Son himself, once again,
comes down to earth to be with us, in the flesh!
Once again, he humbles himself to hide his glory,
this time not in the flesh of a tiny Baby,
but now hiding even that flesh under the appearance
of a simple piece of bread.
All so that we can approach him not in fear of his power and majesty, but in love.

But how can God come to us as bread?
How can God come to us a baby?
As the angels remind us, “nothing is impossible for God.”
And just as surely as the angels testified that the
“the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,”
Christ himself testified about the bread: “this is my body.”

And then we approach Our Lord in the sanctuary,
just as the shepherds and kings once approached Him in the manger,
and “fell down and worshiped him.”
Then, just as Mary tenderly received her Divine Baby
into her arms,
we receive our Lord onto our tongue or onto our hands.

And here the mystery of Christmas,
of God coming to us in the flesh to enter a personal relationship with us,
is manifest in a most profound way,
as he gives himself to us and we give ourselves to him
in our Holy Communion with the Body of Christ.

My friends, the mystery of the Eucharist and Holy Communion,
is nothing less than a renewal and strengthening
of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And that is the heart of Christ-Mass:
Almighty God the Son once again comes to us saying:
“‘do not fear me…love me.”

Today is an incredible day.
But the thing is, as wonderful as this day is, every day can be this way.
Because Christmas is not simply about that one day 2000 years ago,
and it’s not even just about December 25th each year.
It’s about Almighty God’s tremendous love for us,
and his desire that we share with him a deep personal relationship of love,
as his friend, his brother or sister.
And that invitation and friendship is renewed daily, constantly,
in the life of his family, his Church,
in so many ways,
most especially in this great gift we celebrate here today—the Eucharist.

Today is a day like no other day.
Families set aside differences,
strangers cheerfully exchange acts of kindness.
And even angels are astonished by
the Almighty and Glorious Creator of the universe
who humbles himself to become one of his own creatures.
All so that he can beg man not to run from him in fear,
but to run to him in love.

“Do not be afraid…For today …a savior has been born for you
who is Christ and Lord.”

Solemnity of All Saints

November 1, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va

Since the first century the Church has celebrated
the anniversaries of the deaths, of great and heroic Christians,
especially the martyrs who had laid down their lives
rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ.
But by the 3rd century the persecutions and martyrdoms were so numerous
they started to take one day a year as the day to remember all the martyrs
—“All Martyrs Day.”
Of course, in the 4th century there was a radical change in the Church,
as the bloody martyrdoms dramatically declined,
and the great saints were those known more for their great holiness
than for their suffering.
So gradually, at least by the 8th century, the feast of “All Martyrs”
had become known as “All Saints.”
And eventually the feast came to also include
all those saints who are in heaven, whether known to us or not.

Now, “saint” is an interesting word.
While we normally think of “saints” as the souls in heaven
who are officially called “saints” by the church,
in reality the Church uses the word “saint”
in at least 3 different ways.

The first is to refer to as “canonized.”
The word “canon” just means “list,” so canonized saints are those
who are on the official list of saints
—people the Church has deemed to be so clearly holy or heroic
that we are sure they’re in heaven
and that they should be held up to the whole Church
as heroes to be imitated.
These are the ones we call “Saint” before their proper names:
like St. Peter, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Thomas More,
or St. Mary.

The second use of the term “saint” means all the souls in heaven,
including the ones we don’t know about for sure.
For example, my mom died almost 11 years ago;
she was the kindest, holiest, most devout Catholic you’d ever meet,
and almost everyone who knew her thinks she must be in heaven.
But we don’t know, and the Church hasn’t, and won’t, canonize her.
So, if she’s in heaven, she is a saint and today is her feast,
but we don’t go around calling her “St. Barbara of Texas.”

And the third way we use the term “saint” is the way Scripture often does:
to simply refer all those who have been baptized and love the Lord Jesus,
in other words, all faithful Christians.
That’s because the words saint, or “sanctus,” and “holy”
originally meant “set apart”,
and the baptized are considered as set apart from the rest of the world
—in the world but not of the world,
set apart and united to the one
who is truly set apart from everything—God himself.

So that the word “saint,” in the broadest terms,
means all people united to Christ through baptism and love,
whether they’re alive on earth, alive in heaven,
OR alive in Purgatory.

Yes, there is a Purgatory, and many souls are there.
They are often called the Holy Souls, because though imperfect on earth,
they still loved the Lord
and did not reject him on earth by unrepented mortal sin on earth.
Because of that Our Lord will not deny them heaven,
but will mercifully purify them from their imperfections and sins
so that they may enter the perfection of heaven,
to share in the perfect unity and love of God.

So there are, in some sense, saints in heaven, in purgatory and on earth,
and all these saints are united to each other in Christ.
We call this the “Communion of Saints”,

Now, this communion is a personal relationship of love, in Christ.
On earth we live this out by caring for one another,
by being kind and helping one another,
and most of all praying for one another.
Have you ever wondered why you pray for other people?
Do you really think God doesn’t know that your son is in trouble at school,
or you’re mother is sick
—that God needs you to tell him about it?
No, praying for people is simply an act of love
—you want to help them and the best way to do that
is to get God involved, because
“what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.”
And God wants us to love each other, so he wants us to pray for each other.

And that loving doesn’t stop when people die.
When my mother died, she didn’t stop loving me
—and she didn’t stop praying for me.
And just like if you might tend to ask someone you know
who is very close to God to pray for you,
the folks in heaven are holier and closer to God
than anyone on earth could ever be.
So we go to the saints in heaven, we pray to them,
and ask them to help us, to pray for us.

But we don’t just pray to the souls in heaven,
we also pray for the souls in purgatory.
Because purgatory is a place of changing from imperfect to perfect.
And like all change, the change of purgatory is difficult, even painful.
And although the pain of Purgatory is not filled with anguish and despair,
but with the joy of certitude knowing that they are going heaven,
even so, pain is pain.
And because we love them we must pray for them, to help them,
to ask God to help them.

So we pray to the saints in heaven and for the saints in purgatory,
and in turn they pray for us.

But we also pray for each other, here on earth.
Because the communion of saints is supposed to begin here on earth.
As Christ prayed for us at the Last supper:
“that they may be one, Father, as in you and you in me.”
He intended one communion—one church—on earth.

Unfortunately, that communion here on earth is splintered, divided against itself,
as too many follow Christian communities
that long ago rejected unity with the shepherd
who Christ commanded to tend and feed his sheep on earth,
St. Peter and his successors, the popes.

These divisions largely originated in 1054
when so many of the Eastern Christians split off
into what is today called the Orthodox Church.
That division was widened in 1517 when MARTIN LUTHER
began what has mistakenly called the Protestant “Reformation.”

These divisions, were not intended by Christ and are contrary to his manifest will,
And so we pray that all Christians return to the fullness of communion with Christ
here on earth in Catholic Church.

And you know, in some ways we see a chance
for moving toward this full communion
coming from an unusual and unexpected quarter,
as once again, as in the days of the early centuries,
Christians—Catholic or separated—
are being united in being persecuted for the faith.
Our persecutors don’t usually ask, “are you Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox/”
but simply, “are you Christian?”

In some places like Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Iran,
not to mention China, Sudan, and Kenya,
that persecution is turning bloody—very bloody.
And so we must unite our prayers to these suffering saints
and pray for them and with them
in heartfelt charity, remembering we are all one in Christ,
and that when one part of the body suffers we all suffer.

But there is also persecution even here in America.
Not bloody persecution,
but an unrelenting harassment for us to break communion
with Christ and his Church.

This happens all over the place: at work, in schools and even at home.
We see this, for example,
in the assaults on our faith through government regulations.
But this time of year I think particularly of Christian politicians,
especially Catholic politicians,
who are maligned by the media and their opponents,
and called bigots and haters just for sticking to
their Catholic or traditional Christian teachings
in opposition to things like abortion and homosexual acts,
and the dignity of marriage and sexuality.
A truly faithful Catholic or Christian politician today is indeed a martyr.
We need to pray for these men and women especially, even as we admire them.

My friends, Jesus Christ came into the world
to bring all mankind into Communion with Him,
and through Him with one another.
That Communion is perfected in the joys of eternal life
of All the Saints in heaven.
And that Communion is purified of all it’s sins and weaknesses in Purgatory.
But that Communion has already begun here on earth,
as those who are baptized follow him in everything he commanded,
as taught to us by St. Peter and the apostles
and their successors to this day.

As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
in communion with each other and all the saints
let us turn to the Lord,
as he descends to this altar in sacrament of Communion:
and we fall down in worship before the one true God,
the lamb who was slain.
Let us pray to All the Saints of heaven,
and for all the Holy Souls in purgatory.
And may they all pray for all of us who still struggling to be saints on earth,
so as to one day join them in the perfect happiness and glory of heaven.

31st Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

November 3, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

This is the second week in a row we have a gospel about a tax collector
—remember last week we had the parable of the tax collector
in the temple, praying: “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”
This week we have another tax collector who admits he’s a sinner.
Only this time, it isn’t a parable—it’s a true story from the life of Jesus.

Remember that tax collectors in Judea around the year 30AD
were usually Jews who were collaborating with the Romans.
And Caesar paid them by allowing them to keep
a certain percentage of the taxes they collected.
But these tax collectors were also notorious for collecting more tax
than was due, and keeping the excess for themselves.
So they were public sinners on two counts:
as traitors to the Jews, and as thieves.
And Zacchaeus must have been a particularly notorious sinner,
because his cheating had made him a “wealthy man.”

But look what happens when he encounters Jesus.
It says he was “seeking to see Jesus,”
but that he was so short that he couldn’t see over the crowd,
so he had to climb a tree to see Jesus.
Now, a being man of short stature myself,
I tend to see this not so much as a problem of being short,
but as a problem of the crowd being too tall, and getting in the way.

Today, you and I are also “seeking to see Jesus,”
along with millions of Christians around the world.
But all too often we can’t find him because the crowd gets in the way.
We get caught up in or distracted by the opinions of the people around us,
so that no matter what Jesus does
we can neither hear or see it clearly.
The crowd—our friends and family,
the media and public opinion in general—
become more important that seeing Christ,
much less listening to him, much less following him.
More than that, when the crowd moves, and we follow.

But Christians should be more like Zacchaeus:
we need to rise above the crowd to see Jesus as he is.

If all Christians did this life would be very different, especially in America.
I think in particular today of three terrible sins
that are destroying the foundations of our culture,
but that the society around us—“the crowd—
not only embraces but promotes:
abortion,
sexual promiscuity,
and the corruption of marriage,
especially through so called “gay marriage.”
Everywhere we turn we’re told that these are not only “not bad”
but are actually “good.”
Everywhere, that is, except when we look past the crowd, to see Jesus.
Because even though Jesus loves all those people in the crowd,
we see that he still rejects all these evil things they embrace.
Because he sees those things for what they truly are:
things that are bad for us individually and for the crowd as a whole.

We hear the prophet say to God in today’s first reading:
“you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made….”
But the thing is, God did not “make” sin.

The book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning
God created life, not death.
It was man’s choice to reject God’s plan, to sin, and that led to death.
So God created life: He did make abortion.

And in the beginning God created marriage as
a total mutual self-gift between a male and female,
so wonderful that it could bring forth new life in children.
God created marriage,
but he did not make “same sex-” or “gay” “marriage.”

Today’s gospel tells us Zacchaeus
“climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.”
But what tree do we climb to see Jesus over the crowd?

Genesis talks about 2 trees in the beginning of paradise:
the “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
Adam and Even sinned by eating the forbidden fruit
of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,”
but whatever happened to the “tree of life”?

In the New Testament,
in both the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation,
it tells us that “the tree of life” is another name for the Cross.
To climb up the tree then, for us,
means to climb or to share in the Cross of Christ:
especially to accept the life-giving graces that pour from the Cross.
And the first of those graces is the forgiveness of sins.

But to be forgiven, we must first repent.
And that’s the first thing Zacchaeus does when comes down from the tree:
he repents!
“Behold,” he says, “half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”

Notice he doesn’t say he’ll give back all his wealth,
but only “half,” which probably means
the money that he’d, in effect, stolen by overcharging taxes.
Many people nowadays are afraid to see and follow Christ because,
whether they admit it or not,
they know that much of what they have in their personal lives
comes from their acceptance of things that Christ rejects.
For example, some of us have friends who wouldn’t be our friends
if they knew we were pro-life or against “gay marriage.”
Some parents, are afraid of losing the affection of their “gay” sons
—or to lose the respect of their daughters who have “gay” friends.
Some women are afraid of being ostracized by their peers
if they don’t support abortion or contraception.
And how many men and women and boys and girls
would lose their boyfriend or girlfriend
if they suddenly decided to practice chastity?

To follow Christ then, means to give up anything related to sin,
including, if necessary,
any relationships that we can only keep alive by condoning sin.
We must not follow the crowd.

On the other hand, there are other Christians,
who don’t get caught up in following the crowd,
and constantly do look past the crowd to see Jesus clearly.
Sadly though, more and more of these folks find themselves
guilty of a different sin:
the sin of despair, or losing hope in Christ.
They see all their efforts to follow Christ and lead others to Christ
as useless and a failure because no matter what they do,
everyone around them, even their friends and family,
let the crowd come between them and Jesus,
or lead them away from Him.
And so these otherwise faithful Christians lose, or begin to lose, hope.

Frankly, we all fall into one of these sins from time to time, more or less
—either following the crowd or losing hope.

But I think today of one great Catholic
who had every reason to either follow the crowd or to give up hope, but never did:
the great St. Thomas More.
You all know his story.
He rose from the humble middle class in 15th and 16hth century England
to become a great scholar and lawyer,
and finally chancellor of England,
second only in power to King Henry VIII.
And yet he gave all that up because he would not go along
with the King’s efforts to divorce his wife and marry another
—instead he kept his eyes fixed on Christ
and followed Him and His Church
in support of marriage.
He lost everything, and was eventually imprisoned
and finally beheaded.
A man, like Zacchaeus,
who was willing to lose all for the sake of Christ.
Who rose above the crowd, as nearly all of his peers
sided with King Henry against Christ and His Church.
And yet, when we read St. Thomas’s writings during his imprisonment
we see not a shred of doubt or despair, but a man of hope.
Hope first that God might save him from the his troubles,
but also hope that God would use his suffering for some greater good.
And finally, hope that if he remained faithful to the end,
God would bring him to heaven;
as he told his executioner:
“You send me to God….
He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.”

Life is full of opportunities to choose between Christ and the crowd,
and to hope in Christ or to give up in despair.
This week we face opportunities for both as Virginians go to the polls
to elect our state and local leaders.
We have clear choices between
candidates who are strongly pro-life and pro-traditional marriage
and candidates who are strongly pro-abortion and pro-“gay marriage.”

We can choose to follow the crowd that tries to sell us the lie that
all the pro-life and pro-traditional marriage candidates
are a bunch of anti-women bigots and gay-bashers.
Or we can choose to follow Christ
and vote for those pro-life and pro-traditional marriage candidates,
because, like Christ, and like us,
they love all people—including “gays” and women—
but hate the sins that can destroy their lives,
and the culture as we know it.

And we can choose to give up to despair,
thinking our votes and other support are useless,
or we can hope in Christ and do everything
we can to elect those who follow him.

Last Sunday I asked you to join me in praying a novena to St. Thomas More.
I hope you will keep praying this novena, or begin to today,
because prayer is the most important thing we can do to in this situation.

And of course the greatest prayer is what we’re doing right now
—the Mass: Christ’s great prayer to His Father on the Cross.
As we enter now more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
this re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross,
let us now turn our eyes away from the crowd
and toward our merciful Lord Jesus on the Cross, the tree of life.
Let us forsake all that keeps us from him,
and climb up to him on the Cross, and remain with him there.
And as we eat the fruit of this tree of life, the bread of life,
may it keep us always close to him
filling us with true love for his children,
clear faith in his teaching,
and in steadfast hope in his mercy and power.
And as we leave here today,
let us be committed to do all in our power to share this love, faith and hope with all our neighbors in the great state of Virginia.

30th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

October 27, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

As most of you know,
I was born, bred, schooled and gainfully employed until the age of 31
in the Great State of Texas.
Texas is a unique state.
It has flown the flag of 6 nations, including the “Republic of Texas” for 9 years.
It’s massive expanse of land is bounded
on one side by the vast coastline of the Gulf of Mexico,
and on the other by the Rocky Mountains;
and in between it has the coastal plain, the piney woods,
the hill country, and yes, the desert.

But most of all it has it’s history: from it’s pre-colonial Indian tribes
to it’s colonization by Spain in 1519, to the modern day,
Texas history is filled with colorful characters and dramatic events.
Perhaps the best known of these is the story of its war for independence,
in particular the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio—my home town—
and it’s great heroes:
James Bowie, William Travis, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston.

So, as you can see, I am a proud Texan.
And it took a lot to get me to leave there 22 years ago when I entered seminary:
it took another Great State with a colorful history and tradition:
my new home, the Great State, the Great Commonwealth, of Virginia.

Like Texas, Virginia is a physically beautiful state.
Of course it doesn’t have the serene and starkly dramatic desert
—but it does have that stunning vivacious rolling greenery.
And it doesn’t have the shear size of Texas,
but what it lacks there it more than makes up for
in the size of its history and historical characters.
While Texas has it’s Crockett and Houston,
they are midgets in comparison to giants like
Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson,
and, of course, George Washington.

______
Now, you might wonder, what does any of this have to do with Jesus Christ
and the Catholic Faith?
Well, I’ll tell you.

Virginia has been a tremendously important state in the history of our nation.
And there can be no doubt that individual Virginians
have profoundly changed and shaped that history.
But Virginia and Virginians,
also have a terrible stain on their record:
200 years ago they supported an institution so horrible
that today we Virginians, and all Americans, still feel the guilt:
the despicable institution of slavery:
the treatment of a human being
as less than human
and so without basic human rights or dignity.

How could such a great state with great statesmen
ever support this inhumane institution?
Well, you can come up with lots of explanations:
different times, the effects of culture, the economics, etc.
And you can understand that while Jefferson and Washington
seemed to truly want to eliminate slavery, they found it impossible to do so
without ripping the fragile Union of States apart
losing their historic chance to establish
a government truly of “We the people.”

But then…why did they continue to own their own slaves
—Washington only freeing his in his will, Jefferson not even doing that?
Of course, again, there are lot’s of reasons,
and I’ve well aware of them so please don’t come to me after Mass
to educate me.
Understand me: I am not trying to knock down these giants
—their great and noble historical achievements stand for themselves
and do not merit attack from this pulpit.
And I will say it: I am a huge fan and admirer of Washington.

But no matter how we look at it, no reasons and no historical anomalies
eradicate the fact that slavery is—and always has been—
a grave moral evil.
And as great as these men were, no one could convince me that in 2013
Virginians would ever elect a Thomas Jefferson or George Washington
if they were around today and still supported slavery.

As we know that one stain was not isolated in its effects,
as it corrupted the whole society of the first part of the 19th century,
warping the economic, social and political systems,
eventually leading to over 500,000 dead in a bloody civil war,
which was followed by another 100 years
of the hatred and oppression of racism
that we bear the scars of even to this day.

All because certain states and even certain great men in those states
refused to recognize a particular class of persons as human beings
with human rights.

______
States and their governance are important, always have been.
It was, in fact, the states who came together and organized the United States,
and it is at the state level that many, if not most,
of the laws that effect the day to day life of Americans
are written and enforced.
This importance is reflected, at least to some extent,
in the American constitutional principle of “states’ rights”.

Unfortunately, nowadays,
“states rights” tends to have a negative connotation in some circles.
This is understandable inasmuch as that negative connotation
is rooted historically in state laws protecting slavery and racism.
But the problem is not with “states rights,”
but with the persons who are defining, defending and working out
the laws at the state level.
As long as state government officials were tolerant of slavery or racism,
their corruption would corrupt their states, and then the whole country.

So we see, the men and women we choose to lead our states
are critical to real justice in our country.
Remember that all of those heroic Virginians I mentioned
served in Virginia government before achieving national prominence
—both Henry and Jefferson served as Governor.

______
In less than 2 weeks we have a state election in Virginia.
But sadly too many Virginians seem to view this so called “off year” election
as really unimportant.
This baffles me, especially when you consider all the issues at stake,
especially in the election of Governor:
taxes, jobs, the economy, transportation, energy, etc..

But the thing is, no matter where you stand on those important issues,
what good is any of that if the man or woman you vote for
doesn’t get it right on the most fundamental issues?
For example, what if one of the candidates
seemed to have all the right answers,
but one day came out saying
that a certain group of people are inferior to others,
not fully human beings with fundamental human rights .
Who in their right mind would vote for him,
even if he was the 2nd coming of George Washington himself?

The thing is, there are candidates around today who say this very thing.
But this time the group they target is not people of African decent,
but people of every color and ethnicity
who have only one fatal defect:
they are simply unborn baby human beings.

One gubernatorial candidate, who is strongly pro-abortion,
is actually openly and viciously attacking his strongly pro-life opponent
for defending the fundamental right to life of unborn Virginians.
He tries to label him as “anti-women,”
but what he really means is that his opponent is ant-abortion.
For example, the pro-abortion candidate runs ads
accusing the pro-life candidate
of supporting new health and safety regulations
on all the abortion clinics in Virginia
just to shut down them all down.
As if shutting down all the clinics killing unborn baby Virginians
would be a bad thing?

The pro-abortion candidate says the pro-life candidate wants
to end women’s access to contraception.
In reality, the pro-life candidate supported a bill
recognizing that each unborn Virginian is a “person”
from the moment of their conception.
But the pro-abortion candidate won’t call the unborn babies “persons”,
just like the slave owners wouldn’t call their African slaves “person.”
And what the pro-abortion candidate calls “contraception”
is really drugs that induce abortion after conception,
and so we’re not talking contraception, but abortion.

Now, imagine if Candidate A criticized Candidate B for
trying to put restrictions a white man’s right to choose
to treat a black man as his property…or to lynch a black man.
Or if Candidate A criticized Candidate B because
Candidate B tried to pass a law saying that all blacks are persons.

The whole state would be in an uproar, and no one would vote for Candidate A.
Why don’t we have the same reaction to a candidate who says
that unborn babies are not persons and that we can kill them?

______
Jefferson and Washington were great men,
and they gave birth to a great nation, and a great state.
But what made them great was the founding principle,
carved into the foundation of our history by Jefferson himself, as he wrote:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,
that all Men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty,
and the Pursuit of Happiness….”

But in denying those self-evident truths as applying
to Africans and their descendants, those otherwise great Virginians
undermined the very thing that made for greatness,
and led our nation, our state, to disaster.
And the same stands true today in Virginia, as candidates
for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and assembly delegate
deny these self-evident truth—the “unalienable right…to Life”
when it comes to unborn baby Virginian.
How can you vote for them?
And how can you stay home and not vote against them?

______
Today’s gospel tells about the self-righteous Pharisee blinded by his pride,
and the penitent tax collector who, by humble openness to God’s grace,
saw himself as he truly was.
The Pharisee reminds me of the many Christian in the 18th and 19th century,
who were blinded by either their noble ambitions for our nation
or simply by greed
or by a prideful sense of both a moral and natural superiority
over the black race,
and so defended or even embraced the practice of slavery.

But the tax collector reminds me of the many others, who saw their error,
and humbly repented their involvement in slavery.

In particular he reminds me of another tax collector, a man named John.
You see, before he was a tax collector, John was the Captain of a slave ship.
Until one night his ship was caught in a terrible storm
and like the tax collector in the parable,
he called out to Jesus, and Jesus saved him.
But not only from the storm, but from his whole way of life, and as he became
one of the most outspoken opponents of slavery of his time.
He would put all this into the words of what has become
one of the most beloved Christians hymns, as John Newton would write:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”

How blind were John Newton, and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington,
to the great inhumanity called slavery?
How blind are we Virginians today to the great inhumanity called abortion?

Some of you may be thinking:
“preacher, mind your pulpit,”
or “there is a wall of separation between church and state.”
Tell that to the Reverend John Newton,
the former slave trader, turned tax collector, turned Anglican priest,
and to the other founders of the Abolitionist Movement,
that began in and was spread from the pulpits of that day
—first in England, and then in America!
There can be no wall that separates
man from humanity,
or truth from government.

______
22 years ago I moved from the Great State of Texas
to the Great Commonwealth of Virginia.
I am still a Texan at heart, but I am proud to be a Virginian too,
especially because of Virginia’s rich traditions of noble courage,
and great heroic figures that forged our great nation.
Even so, too many Virginians of times passed, including our greatest heroes,
were blinded by their times, culture, and fears,
and, yes, even blinded by their hopes for the future of America.
But as time would tell their hopes could never be fulfilled until
“all men” were truly treated as “created equal,”
and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
…Life, Liberty, an
d the Pursuit of Happiness…”

On Tuesday, November 5, I pray that we Virginians
will live up to what was best in our forefathers.
But I pray also that, by the grace of Jesus Christ,
we may see what they were so unpardonably blinded to.
I pray that we will all be true heroes, authentic moral giants,
defending the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
of all human beings, white or black, rich or poor, born or unborn.

God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia. Amen.

29th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

October 20, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today St. Paul tells us:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage
through all patience and teaching.”

On this Sunday which the US Bishops single out as “Mission Sunday”
we remember how for 2000 years
the Church has been proclaiming the word
to peoples of every continent and race.
Sadly, after 2000 years, we have not been entirely successful in our efforts.
And even sadder still, in many of the places we were once the most successful, we see the people slowly walking away from Christianity,
and from religion and God in general.

So is it any surprise that Jesus poses the question in today’s Gospel:
“when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

There are many reasons why Christianity is fading in the world.
There are the temptations of materialism, secularism and ideologies,
luring many away.
There’s also the demanding nature of the faith itself:
it’s hard to be a Christian, and especially hard to be good Catholic.

But there’s also something else at work,
something that many are trying to ignore.
And that is that Christians are increasingly being persecuted around the world.
Whether by the subtle restrictions of the laws of governments,
or the bullying voices of the popular culture and media,
or the violent and bloody attacks by both governments other religions,
the persecution of Christianity is real and growing throughout the world.

Of course, the worst kind of persecution is bloody persecution.
Over the last few months I’ve written several columns
about the persecution ramping up in Egypt:
Two months ago Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood had
looted and torched nearly 40 churches,
and attacked and heavily damaged 23 others.
They went on to trash a 115 years old Catholic school
and dragged the nuns through the streets shouting obscenities at them.
All in one week.

3 weeks ago Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 85 worshippers
at All Saints’ church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
A month ago Christians were also targeted by the Islamist fanatics
who attacked the shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya,
that killed more than 70 people:
“captives were asked questions about Islam,”
and “if they couldn’t answer, they were shot.”

And this is nothing new:
“On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad.”
And you may remember that in 2008,
“The archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, was kidnapped and killed.”
In Nigeria, in the last year hundreds of Christians have been murdered
and their churches invaded or fire bombed by Muslim fanatics.
In Syria, last month the Christians begged President Obama
not to attack the butcher President Assad,
because he is their only protection from the Islamist rebels.

And who can forget how, back in June, Syrian jihadist rebels beheaded
Franciscan Father Francois Murad,
and then posted the video on the internet?
Actually, probably most of us have either forgotten it
or not even seen or heard of it,
as the media and our government has been mostly silent on this,
and the other atrocities.

But what would we expect,
when the media and the current administration themselves
has such little patience for Christianity, especially Catholics,
who are faithful to their 2000 year tradition.
The media mocks us and calls us bigots and haters,
simply because we reject the immorality they embrace
because we must, as St. Paul reminds us today,
“Remain faithful to what [we] have learned and believed,”
from Sacred Scripture and our Tradition.

And the government continues to try to marginalize faithful Christians,
especially Catholics.
Of course, the most high profile of these attempts
is the HHS mandate related to Obamacare,
that requires Catholic employers to provide insurance for their employees
that pays for abortion inducing drugs
as well as contraception and sterilization.
I warned you about this over a year and a half ago
—and most of you seemed to understand, and were outraged.
At almost every Mass you stood and applauded me when I spoke about this.

But for many, the outrage seems to have faded
as we seem to have grown used to “accepting the inevitable.”
In spite of the fact that
over 78 businesses, charities, universities and Catholic Dioceses
have filed lawsuits,
the mandate has now gone into effect.
And just last month the Little Sisters of the Poor
had to join in those lawsuits or face millions of dollars in penalties because,
as one sister said: “We cannot violate our vows.”
Think of that: those beautiful little nuns,
who radiate the very love of Christ
and the Catholic faith lived out in charity,
who come here every year around Christmas
begging you to help them to fund their nursing homes.
The government says they aren’t really part of the Catholic Church
and they don’t have the right to practice their Catholic faith
in their work with the poor.

But the persecution doesn’t stop there, as it has seeped down to the state level.
Even in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

For most of the last year Virginians have been witnessing a race for governor
between, on one side,
a Catholic who, although not perfect,
is strongly faithful to the Church’s teaching
on the most important moral issues of our time:
abortion, traditional marriage and religious liberty;
I’ll call him “the faithful Catholic.”
And on the other side we find his opponent,
who also calls himself a Catholic,
but who is strongly opposed to those key teachings.

Now, we can all disagree with each other
on most of the various policy issues in the campaign:
on taxes, metro, roads, education, etc..
But for months, beginning before the two candidates
ever really began to discuss those issues,
the faithful Catholic has been attacked viciously and incessantly
by his opponent
for supposedly being “anti-women” and “anti-gay.”
And sadly, like the dishonest judge in today’s Gospel,
who gave in to the widow just because she wouldn’t relent,
too many Virginians have succumbed to believing these relentless lies.

How many times did I see an ad attacking the faithful Catholic
for being “anti-woman” simply because he was against abortion?

For example, how many times have they attacked him
because he supports new restrictions on abortion clinics.
But who is anti-woman:
the faithful Catholic that wants to protect women
from unsafe and unsanitary clinics,
or his opponent who doesn’t seem to care?

And how many times have they attacked him
because he supposedly wanted to take away women’s contraception?
What he actually did was support a law that would
define the tiny baby as a person from the moment of conception.
That has nothing to do with contraception,
which by definition takes place prior to the moment of conception.

But the most despicable is the way his opponent
supposedly quotes the faithful Catholic as saying
“gay people are soulless.”

But, the faithful Catholic is a faithful Catholic, so he never said that.
As the Washington Post reported last week, and I quote:
“What [he] actually said in February 2008 ….was,
“When you look at the homosexual agenda,
I cannot support something that I believe
brings nothing but self-destruction,
not only physically but of their soul.”
Where does the supposed quote “gays are soulless” appear in that statement?
That’s not a man who thinks homosexuals are sub-human, or hates them.
That’s a Catholic who is concerned for homosexuals
because he believes their behavior hurts them.

Now you might say, “okay Father,
but he’s not being persecuted for being a Catholic,
they’re just attacking his political positions.”
But ignores the context all this takes place in.
It is undeniable that the Catholic Church
stands as the major stumbling block to those advancing the secular
pro-abortion, pro-promiscuity, pro-gay agenda.
And so they systematically attack the Church and all faithful Catholics,
through the media, regulation and political campaigns.
And in the end they effectively say
that all faithful Catholics are disqualified from holding public office
because they are bigots and haters;
after all, they say, that’s what faithful Catholics are, by definition.

And that, my friend, is, by definition, religious persecution.

But it shouldn’t be this way—not in America.
After all Article VII, Section 2, of our Constitution provides:
“no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification
to any office or public trust under the United States.”
And the 1st Amendment to that Constitution guarantees that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

And it especially should not be this way in Virginia,
which planted the seed of American religious liberty,
when, in 1779, Thomas Jefferson introduced
the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
“…[A]ll men” it said, “shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain,
their opinions in matters of Religion,
and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect
their civil capacities….”
Because to do so, it said, would “be an infringement of [a] natural right.”

Brothers and sisters,
religious persecution of Christians abounds in today’s world,
even in American, even Virginia.
And no one seems to care.

But we care, don’t we?
Because WE ARE Christians:
and when they persecute our brothers and sisters in Christ
they persecute us.
As St. Paul writes elsewhere, we are the Body of Christ,
and “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it…”
And as Pope Francis asked, just a few weeks ago:
“Am I indifferent to that,
or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?
… Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me….?”

Do we not care about the Christians in Syria? Or in Egypt? Or Africa?
Or China, or North Korea or Vietnam?
Are they too different or too far away for us to care about them?

Do we not even care about our fellow countrymen?
Are the Little Sisters of the Poor too insignificant for us to care about?
Is the faithful Catholic running for office too damaged by false accusations
for us to care about him?

Who will defend Christians attacked if Christians won’t—if we won’t?

So we must.
But what can we do?

In today’s Psalm we prayed:
“Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
And today’s first reading tells us that with the help of the Lord:
“Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people….”
But to make that happen we read that:
“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight….”
Moses raised his hands to heaven in the classic posture of the priest at prayer,
and God answered his prayer and protected Israel.
So, as we read in today’s gospel,
“Jesus told his disciples
…about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”

So we must first trust in the Lord and his power,
and then we must not cease to call on that power in constant prayer.

But besides praying, the first reading also tells us:
“Moses, ….said to Joshua,
“Pick out certain men, and …go out and engage Amalek in battle.”
So we must take action as well.
One very important action we must take, is to, as St. Paul says:
“proclaim the word”!
We must be silent no more when our brothers and sisters are persecuted.
We must speak out in our homes, our jobs, and our schools,
with our family and friends, and with our government officials.
And we must, as St. Paul insists:
“be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand,
[and] encourage through all patience and teaching.”

And finally, remember, in this country “We the People” are sovereign,
including Christian people.
So we must participate in the political process.
In particular, faithful Christians must run for political office.
And when those faithful Christians run for office
the rest of us must support them, to the extent possible,
with our prayers, time, voices, and money.
And, my friends, with our votes!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, look up now at the Crucifix,
and see the ultimate persecution of Christianity.
But notice, that, like Moses,
Jesus on the Cross is lifting up his hands in prayer to His Father.
We now prepare to move more deeply into the mystery
of this most powerful prayer of the Cross made really present today
in the Eucharist.
As I lead you in this prayer with my hands lifted up
let us unite our prayers to Christ’s, begging his Father
to give us the courage to proclaim the Word,
whether it’s convenient or inconvenient;
the love to care for and defend our persecuted brothers and sisters,
whether they live across the globe or down the block;
and the grace to remain faithful to what we believe as Catholics,
whether in times of peace or oppression.

And as we leave here today, filled with the courage, love and grace of Christ,
let us, like Joshua, “go out and engage …in [the] battle.”
So that, by the grace of God,
when the Son of Man comes he will, indeed, find faith on earth
especially in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

26th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

September 29, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

I know today’s Gospel is a very powerful story,
and I would really like to preach on it.
But I hope you will excuse me if I preach about something else instead.
Because you see today /tomorrow is
the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
And although we don’t celebrate their feast this year because it falls on a Sunday
—the Lord’s Day—
I don’t think the Lord would mind if we talked about them,
and especially one of them: the great and glorious St. Michael.

You may recall the historic scene about 3 months in July
when Pope Emeritus Benedict joined Pope Francis in the Vatican gardens
to consecrate Vatican City to St. Michael.
So let’s talk about this St. Michael, who is so important to these two Popes,
and to us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells that us angels are:
“purely spiritual creatures angels [with] intelligence and will:
they are personal and immortal creatures,
surpassing in perfection all visible creatures.”
The word that keeps coming up in that description is “creatures”
angels, like us, were created by God.
Now, Scripture is silent about how or when they were created,
but we do know that they were already around before Adam and Eve.
In fact, there are 2 angels in chapter 3 of Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve.
The one most easily recognizable is, as it says,
“the cherubim [with] the fiery revolving sword”
that God set as a guard over the gates of paradise
when he cast Adam and Even out.
But there’s another angel also, who’s much harder to recognize
—at least as an angel.
That’s because he is a fallen angel,
—he is the serpent—also known as the devil.

So in first chapters of Genesis we see the basic division of angels
between glorious angels and fallen angels
—or what we commonly call “angels” and “devils.”
And this points back to the ancient Jewish teaching
recorded by St. Peter in the New Testament,
that sometime before the creation of the visible world,
some of the angels sinned and were cast out of God’s presence.

Tradition tells us that God created the angels to glorify him by their service,
but also by their beauty or greatness—or their “glory.”
And here was one angel who out-shown all the rest.
So magnificent was his glory that he was described as a bright shining light
and named “the bearer of light”— or in Latin: “LUCIFER.”
Yes, the greatest angel in heaven,
the prince of the heavenly hosts, was the one we call today Lucifer.

Now, as the Catechism teaches, angels, like human beings,
have both intellect and will.
And Lucifer—being the greatest of the angels—
had the greatest intellect as well,
and his magnificent intellect told him
that he was in fact the greatest of all creatures.

But tradition tells us that at some point
God called all the angels together to tell them
that he was going to create man, and create him in his image and likeness.
And then he told them, not only was he going to create man,
God the Son was going to become a man.

This was impossible: Lucifer understood serving God,
but if God became man, he Lucifer would have to serve a man as well,
a measly sub-angelic earthbound creature.
How could God do this?
It made no sense to Lucifer’s great intellect, as it became blinded by pride.
And so he uttered those works as the Fathers of the Church attribute to him:
“non serviam”: “I will not serve.”
He refused to be man’s servant,
and so he refused to obey God and be his servant.

And so by his own free will, he set his mind and will against God and man,
and was cast out of heaven into the fires of hell,
creating that great irreconcilable division Jesus refers to in today’s gospel:
“between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”

Now the prince of light, had become now the prince of darkness.
His angelic wings turned to the scales of a serpent, a dragon.
No longer the humble servant of God,
but now the prideful “enemy” of God—and that became his name:
“enemy”, in Hebrew “Satan.”

He is God’s enemy—and man’s as well.
Because he sees man as the cause of his fall.
And so he has set himself to destroy man,
and to keep man and God apart forever.
And we see this right in the beginning of the creation of man,
as the serpent lies to man about God,
and causes man to sin and to also be thrown out of paradise.

So that is the state of affairs:
and there is the spiritual battle waged through all of history.

But is there no one to stand up for God, for man,
and for the God-man, Jesus Christ?
Is there no one who will meet this terrible and powerful fallen angel in combat
as God’s champion?

Lucifer was not the only magnificent angel in heaven.
And right behind the bright and proud Lucifer
stood another who was humble and strong.
This is the angel that God chose to send to lead his angels
as they cast Lucifer and his angels out of heaven
—as the Book of Revelation tells us:
“Then war broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels
battled against the dragon…and its angels
….He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,
which is the Devil or Satan,
…and threw it into the abyss.”

“Michael”!—the Hebrew name which means “Who is like God.”
Now, there is some debate over exactly what the significance of this name is.
Most scholars say that it proposes the question: “who is like God?”
and implies the answer “no one is like God”—least of all Lucifer.
But some suggest that it proposes the question “who is like God”
and implies the answer “Michael is like God.”
I think both these meanings are correct.

Unlike Satan, who in his pride tries to make itself God’s equal,
as if the answer were “Lucifer is like God”,
Michael, humbly serves God by fighting against that pride,
and in his humility doesn’t seek to be God’s equal,
but to be good, “like God” is good
—Michael is not a god, but he is godly.
In fact in his humility he is very much like God the Son who became a man,
and came to earth “to serve, and not to be served.”

The humility of Jesus eventually led him to die for our sins on the Cross.
And it is this humility that conquers the pride of Satan, and Adam and Eve.
Elsewhere in the Gospels we read that Jesus said:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth;
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
I mentioned earlier that when God banished Adam from paradise
he placed an angel with a fiery sword in his hand to protect the gate.
Who was that angel?
Several of the early fathers of the Church say it was none other than St. Michael.
And what was his sword?
It was, I think, none other than the sword of Christ himself:
the sword of humility, which Christ wielded on the Cross
to defeat the pride and sin of the devil.

On the Cross Christ won the war,
but the enemy refuses to admit defeat, and the battles continue.
There is no peace on earth today
—there can be no peace as long as, in the words of St. Peter:
“Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for (someone) to devour.”
And so, Michael continues to fight the battle.
Just as he has from the beginning when he drove
Lucifer and his cohorts from heaven,
and as he stood—sword in hand—at the gates of paradise,
and as he defeated the enemies of Israel—as the book of Daniel tells us,
and as he will until the end of time as the Book of Revelation tells us.

Look around at the world, and you see the battle joined.
The enemy—whom Jesus calls “a liar” and “a murderer” “from the beginning”—
is frantically busy sewing lies and death at every corner.

The last century saw more death by wars than all of recorded history.
At the same time even more were killed by genocide,
10s of millions in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russian, and Mao’s China.
And today millions more stand to die
as evil men plot to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
But even more terribly,
how many 100’s of millions have been killed in the last 40 years
from abortion?

God told created Adam and Eve as male and female
and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.”
What lies Satan spreads today about this great gift of sexuality.
Lies that lead to 41% of all babies in America being born out of wedlock.
Lies that lead to men trying to “marry” men.
Lies that lead priests to fail in their vows of celibacy,
and even commit the most heinous crimes.

The Lord also told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it.
But the Father of lies tells us that means it’s okay to be greedy,
or fixated on possessions.
God created us love each other
and commanded us to love our neighbor as ourself.
But the father of lies tells us to ignore the those who are in need
or who can’t help themselves,
that they are someone else’s responsibility, not ours.

The battle of Michael and Satan goes on.
But it’s not just Michael and the angels who are called to fight—so are we!
As St. Paul’s tells us in Scripture:
“Fight the good fight.”
And: “Put on the full armor of God,
…to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

But how do we fight this battle?
We fight it by yielding the same sword as Michael: Christ’s sword of humility.
We fight it by being humble before God
by being his servant, obediently keeping his commandments
—all 10 of them, even if it means we suffer as He did.
And we fight it by being humble before our fellow man,
by serving our neighbor,
whether our neighbor is a family member,
a fellow parishioner, our coworkers,
and especially
“the poor man …covered with sores…
who would gladly eat his fill of the scraps
that fall from our table.”

Today at this Mass,
in the company of St. Michael the Archangel, with Gabriel and Raphael,
and all the heavenly hosts of Angels: [the Virtues, Powers, Principalities,
Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim….]
let us enter into the humility of Jesus Christ, God the Son,
who became a man to serve us,
and who continues to serve us under the humble disguise
of a piece of bread.
Let this bread of angels make us like the angels.
Let this Body of God the Son make us like God the Son.
Let this sacrifice of Christ’s obedience make us humble servants
of the Father, and of each other.
Let us enter into the battle with the sword of humility
—the sword of Christ our Savior,
the sword of St. Michael the Archangel.

25th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

September 22, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today’s Gospel is full of practical advice.
Jesus even commends the dishonest steward
because he uses what he’s stolen very well,
from a practical perspective.

But then he gives us practical advice about how
we shouldn’t trust people who are not trustworthy,
like the dishonest steward.
He tells us:
“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones.”
And then he tells us how to discern whether someone is trustworthy:
“No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

So that when we are wondering whether we should trust someone,
we look to see where they’re coming from
—what are their priorities, and, if you will, their principles.
So, we see the dishonest steward, and we see his priorities
are not to serve his master or to pay back what he as stolen,
but to protect himself.
His Mammon is himself, he loved himself and hated his master,
and so the master rightly sees him as untrustworthy and fires him.

Who do you trust?
That’s a broad question, so let me narrow it down.
I presume that, since you’re here,
all of you want to follow Jesus Christ,
and to love God and not Mammon;
and to be good and faithful Catholics.
So, whom should a good and faithful Catholic trust?

Answer: when it comes to knowing right and wrong,
and to following Jesus,
we should be very leery about trusting those
who serve Mammon rather than God.

This would sort of seem obvious.
So I am continually shocked when the opposite happens.
In particular, I’m mystified when Catholics believe
everything they read or hear in the secular media.
I mean, if there’s one place today that does not serve God,
especially as Christians, and Catholics in particular,
have understood him for 2000 years, it’s the media.
After all, they have other priorities than we do.
Of course, they’re out to make a money—nothing wrong with that.
But their priority is money over truth.
They print or report what sells, not necessarily what is true.
So they serve money, not truth.

But more importantly,
they all seem to embrace a common ideological perspective,
that is definitely not Christian:
some call it liberal or progressive;
I tend to call it secular relativism or humanism.
In any case, their ideology basically rejects traditional Christian values.
And so they are “devoted to one and despise the other”:
devoted to their anti-Christian ideology and despise Catholicism.

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

So why would any Catholic trust the media,
especially when it comes to matters related to morality or eternal truths,
or to the Church itself?

We find ourselves with 2 great examples of this just this week.

First, as I write about in my column this week,
earlier this week the Washington Post had an editorial with the headline:
“Virginia’s next governor will determine
whether most abortion clinics close.”
But while the headline may be true,
the editorial went on to twist the truth, and even lie,
to present its case in support of abortion
and keeping these abortion clinics open.
And in the process tearing down the pro-life and faithful Catholic candidate
and promoting the pro-abortion and unfaithful Catholic candidate.

So think about it: when the vehemently
pro-abortion, pro-“gay”, pro-contraception, anti-Catholic Washington Post
says outlandish things about a faithful Catholic
for believing what Catholics believe about abortion,
why would you trust anything they say?

And then you have the second example:
Friday’s reporting throughout the media about
a long interview given by Pope Francis.
Everywhere you looked, the media were spinning the Pope’s words,
taken out of context,
to make it seem as if Francis was being critical
of traditional Catholic teaching and practice.
For example, they quote him saying:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to
abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.
This is not possible….
it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

First of all, what the pope said is true, but the media’s spin was false.
We can’t “only” preach on those topics, and
“it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
And we don’t: neither the Church as a whole nor any priests I know does that.
But the media presented this as the Pope rejecting Catholics,
especially priest and bishops,
who give these issues priority over other issues,
even suggesting that it meant
the Pope didn’t care that much about these issues,
and thinks other issues have greater priority.

But that is not what he said, and not what he meant.
In fact, the very next day, today/yesterday,
the Holy Father himself spoke out strongly against abortion,
and the Post’s headline read:
“Pope blasts abortion in olive branch of sorts
after denouncing church’s obsession with rules.”

And if you read the actual text of the Pope’s interview itself,
you see something very different.
You see that the pope was saying nothing different
than Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI said before him:
that is, you have to present all Catholic teaching
in the context of the mercy and love of God,
because that’s the only way they can be fully understood.
Isn’t that exactly what John Paul did in his encyclical on abortion,
Evangelium Vitae, “the Gospel of Life”?
Isn’t that exactly what Benedict did in his first encyclical,
Deus Caritas Est, “God is Love,”
where he beautifully explained the love of God,
and explained how abortion as contrary to that love.

But you didn’t get that from the press.

Perhaps the New York Times’ headline summed up the medias spin the best:
“Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control.”

And yet the Francis said no such thing.
What he said is that the Church “cannot be obsessed
with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.”
In other words, we have to present not “disjointed” doctrines,
as if abortion wasn’t intimately related to the radicalness of God’s love,
but explain, simply but clearly how abortion is wrong
because radically it opposes God’s love.
And he spoke of how this cannot “be imposed insistently.”
Which is the same thing both John Paul II and Benedict XVI said before him:
“the Church proposes, it does not impose.”

But in the end, as most of the media had to admit,
though buried near the end of their coverage:
“no doctrine was change.”

Now, one thing we have to remember,
sometimes Pope Francis can be hard to understand, even confusing.
And you might easily misinterpret some of what he says
—especially if you love your own ideology
and hate the teaching of the Catholic Church.

His style, both in speaking and writing is very different from
John Paul II and Benedict,
especially Benedict who was one of them most brilliant
but also clear and concise writers you will ever read.
Francis is also brilliant—if you read the interview you will see that.
But he’s not always very clear, especially when he’s talking off the cuff.
And when he tries to be concise, it often comes out as an oversimplification.

I am not attacking the Pope here, I’m just talking about his style.
The journalist that did the interview described this:
“The pope had spoken earlier about his great difficulty in giving interviews.
He said that he prefers to think
rather than provide answers on the spot in interviews.
…the pope interrupted what he was saying in response to a question
several times, in order to add something to an earlier response.
Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas
that are bound up with each other.”

And His Holiness says of himself, in the interview:
“I am a really, really undisciplined person”

Another thing to remember is that both John Paul and Pope Benedict believed
they needed to clarify the teachings of the Church,
after the confusion of the 1960s and 70s,
and so they were very careful and precise in how they taught.
But Pope Francis seems to think that they did their job, that the teaching is clear,
and not he wants to emphasize trying to simplify the manner
in which people are invited to learn and experience that teaching.
As he says in the interview:
“The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant.”
Is he criticizing or rejecting his predecessors approach?
No—he’s just proposing his own approach, building on them, today.

Moreover, in an effort to present himself as more accessible,
he does things, as I said before, more off the cuff—like this interview.
But as I wrote in a column several weeks ago:
“This “folksy,” or impromptu approach of Pope Francis
may be leading many people to turn to the Church for a second look,
but it also may carry the risk of causing
some confusion and misunderstanding,
and providing the opportunity for some to try to
set Francis against Benedict and John Paul.”
And that is exactly what happened with this interview.

In that column I also wrote about the need to follow what
Pope Benedict use to call the “hermeneutic of continuity”
—the idea that we must read what one Pope says
in the light of all that came before in the Church,
including his predecessors writings,
assuming continuity between Popes
and rejecting the “hermeneutic of discontinuity”
–trying to set one Pope against another.
So I had to smile at one of Pope Francis’s responses in the interview:
“Yes,” he said, “there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity.”

Today Jesus asks us in the Gospel: “who will trust you with true wealth?”
Who does a Catholic trust nowadays,
especially when we want to know what the Pope is saying or doing,
or what the Church teaches on faith and morals,
or even what is right and what is wrong?
Whether it’s about a papal interview or the race for governor of Virginia.
Do we trust those who love and serve God and His Church?
Or do we trust those who are hate the Church and her teachings,
and love and devotedly serve themselves and their own ideologies?

“No servant can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.”