Easter 2012

What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.

Thus spoke Qoheleth of Jerusalem about three centuries before Christ. This great Jewish teacher of popular wisdom had examined the world of man over a long lifetime, and had come to the conclusion that all in this world is ultimately vanity; he insisted that the true meaning of life is always hidden from man. Merit, he concluded, does not yield happiness for it is often obtained by suffering. Even riches and pleasures do not bring lasting happiness, for they do not save one from the grave. The good often suffer more than the evil in this world. Indeed, life is ultimately monotonous, enjoyment is fleeting and vain; and darkness and death quickly follow. Life, then, is an enigma beyond human ability to solve. But there was one thing Qoheleth was absolutely certain of, there is nothing new under the sun.

Qoheleth was not an atheist, but he could find no hope for life in this world, no ultimate meaning for human life here and now; he was content to await the answer from God in the world to come. This world could not supply the answer to the riddles of human existence.

So, for Qoheleth, the answer could only come beyond this life, in the future world. There at last he, we, would learn the meaning of human life. But Qoheleth was wrong. He did not live to see that, indeed, there was to be something new, utterly new and astonishing, under the Sun, something that had never taken place before. And what is this one truly new and unique thing that has occurred in human history, and that gives the rest of history its meaning, and already here in time sheds wonderful light on the riddle of human existence? It is, dear brothers and sisters, the sacred event we celebrate this day, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Think about this event. Never before had death been defeated like this; never before had man triumphed over the grave. This is the utterly new thing that has occurred under the sun, the unique event that changes all of human history and tells the final truth about the life of man.

Man had always carried in his heart a profound rebellion against death, a deep sense that this was not meant to be, that human life somehow was not meant to be subject to suffering and decay and finally death. Christianity and Judaism are religions that, by divine inspiration, protest against death, and our Scriptures in the end are a ringing affirmation of the truth that death is not man’s natural destiny. Death poses a challenge to the meaning of life, and faith is man’s attempt to understand the meaning of a creature’s existence who longs for unending life and happiness, but who is struck down inevitably by suffering and death. Man is the creature who not only dies but the creature who alone knows all his life that death awaits him, and knows that death is the ultimate contradiction of his whole way of thinking about life and living. It is death that renders all things vanity in this world, death that makes life seem to lack any ultimate meaning.

Now, Qoheleth did not live to see this new thing that gives meaning to human existence and even to human suffering and death. But there were in fact other new “prophets” privileged to witness to this new thing under the sun. They could not see his divine person, even after His resurrection, but they could and did touch his risen body, and probe the wounds of death which remained as witnesses to the fact that this was the very body that had died on the Cross, pouring out its life-blood through those very wounds, until only water came forth. Here was something truly, radically, new under the sun, and its happening would ultimately make all things new, including the sun.

Blessed Qoheleth looked forward to something new in the next world. But this is something that happened in this world. Moreover, after the resurrection of Jesus, we also will hear his words : “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) Yes, by the power of his death and resurrection, Jesus has in fact begun the final transformation of God’s creation. He does not abandon this world, or the human body, but by the power of His saving death and resurrection, he will ultimately make everything new. It began there, in the tomb, with his own body; but it continues today through the sacraments, and we see this especially in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

By Baptism, we are made new creatures, by being inserted sacramentally into the events of Christ’s death and resurrection. By our sacramental participation in his death, we die to sin, Original Sin and all personal sins if they exist; by sacramentally sharing in His resurrection, we rise to become new creatures, God’s own children by adoption. We do not put off our bodies, but put on Christ, and we truly become new creations in Him.

And so too with the Eucharist, we see this divine transformation of earthly elements as anticipating the end time when all things will be made new. Bread and wine are transformed, and become the very body and blood of Christ, which in turn becomes our food for Eternal life. All this happens already here, in this world, and this newness of creation will be completed in this world, when Christ returns in glory. Christianity is not a rejection of the body or of the world as if they were in themselves unimportant, or even evil. The Resurrection is the deepest affirmation of the goodness of all creation and its permanent value, and while it will be transformed, it will be these same bodies and this same world that will remain forever, and forever will be something new under the Sun.

Today Christians everywhere proclaim their faith and their joy that Jesus Christ is truly risen and alive and in our midst. This is no belief based upon some message from outer space, or from the inner space of man’s religious imagination. It is based upon the witness of men and women who were once as hopeless of overcoming death in this world as anyone in the world. The women were going to the tomb to dress the body, not a living body but a dead one. Mary Magdalene even wept after she saw the empty tomb; she wondered only where someone had taken the body. The Apostles were in hiding, not waiting for Jesus to rise but more likely waiting for the coast to clear so they could escape, or at least for a message from God as to “what now?”. Like Qoheleth, they too now expected nothing new under the sun. Jesus had to prove to them that he was not a ghost, and their hesitancy to believe is ironically the great support of our own faith. They came to believe in His Divinity, because they touched His risen humanity. 2000 years later we believe in both because of their word and the gift of faith. Easter makes all things new; May God increase your Christian faith on this Easter Day so you too every day can know the joy of those first witnesses to the first thing new under the Sun, since the moment of creation itself.

Palm Sunday 2012

With the reading of the Passion, we have begun the celebration of the holiest week of the year for Christians, which will culminate this coming weekend with the celebration of the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the Sacred Liturgy of Good Friday and the renewal of our Baptismal promises during the Masses of Easter Sunday. These three liturgical celebrations, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday commemorate the most important events in human history, not only in our Christian religion, but in human history. Christian faith holds absolutely that by His personal self-sacrifice on Good Friday, Jesus Christ has redeemed the entire human race by His action, and has all mankind the possibility of personal salvation. We also profess it to be absolutely certain that by His resurrection on Easter Sunday, it has been made possible for all mankind to be raised from the dead incorruptible, and share in the heavenly glory that belongs to God’s only-begotten Son. Christ Our Lord. Finally we also profess that at the last Supper Jesus personally instituted His Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Holy Mass, as the perpetual worship of His Church, perpetually renewing in an unbloody manner His own sacrificial death on Calvary, and perpetually nourishing the members of His Church with the food which brings Eternal Life, His own body and blood. Jesus body and blood is offered for our sins, and His Body and Blood have been raised in glory to be the source of Eternal Life for those who receive them with living faith in their power.

Faith, then is the key to whether or not these sacred events will benefit any of us. Today’s celebration reminds us how shallow and empty can be even the loudest outward professions of faith. How quickly the crowd’s outward, empty gestures of belief turn into just the opposite manifestations of unbelief in Jesus and His saving mission. The crowds lining the road into Jerusalem shouted loud Hosannas and laid palms and cloaks on the path before Jesus, publicly professing their belief that He was the long-awaited messiah; but just a few days later many in these crowds would be shouting “crucify him!” and then mocking him even as he anguished on the Cross, as a blasphemer, a liar and criminal. This is not just mere fickleness of the people, but a shocking revelation that when they greeted him on Palm Sunday, their own professions of faith were just words, not true professions of faith. He had come to die for them, but whether or not this would benefit them in the end would depend on a much deeper “faith” than their mere external shouts on palm Sunday.

The renewal of our Baptismal promises on Easter Sunday reveal what is necessary for Jesus’ death and resurrection to bring us Eternal Life. We must believe in Christ and in the power of these sacred events to save us. But such belief is more than outward show, profession of faith on the lips. Faith in these events means following the path of Jesus, following Him right to Calvary, to the Cross on which he died, and on which our sinful life must be put to death. His death, perpetuated in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, is no longer a spectator event like Palm Sunday, or for most at Calvary, but His death is something we must share in, through the Mass, and through a constant effort to put to death the sins which nailed God’s Son the Cross. If we refuse to die to self, to put to death the sins for which he died, then we do not have a living faith, that is, a faith inwardly transformed by our love for Christ. If we would rise with Him, says St. Paul, then we must also die with him. If we would have the joyful blessing of Easter Sunday, Eternal Life, then we must have the bitter fruit of Good Friday also.

It is so easy for any of us to get caught up in this world this holy week and forget about Eternity. Holy Week is the most powerful reminder of what our life in this world is really all about, why we are Christians, what we hope for as Christians, and how we must act as Christians if our hope is to be realized. We never know which Holy Week will be the final reminder and gift from God for us. This Holy Week may we all approach the liturgies as if they were the last in our lives on earth. Then, it will deepen our faith, deepen our hope and our charity, and draw us nearer this year to our final reward in Heaven. God Bless you.

5th Sunday of Lent 2012

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus or St. John on a number of occasions refer to what Jesus calls “my hour.” He first does this at Cana when his mother asks for a miracle – “my hour is not yet come”; at another place when he escapes death because – “his hour had not yet come”, and again in today’s Gospel where he says the opposite – “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and once again in today’s Gospel, “And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour’? and finally once more, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.” So, what exactly does Jesus mean by this mysterious “hour,” the hour evidently appointed by His Father which seems to control his whole mission from the Father?

Today’s Gospel gives us an answer to this question about the “hour” of Jesus. Jesus states emphatically that “his hour” is the hour of his glory, the hour for which he came into the world, the hour when he accomplishes the mission which His Father has appointed for Him, and by means of which he will give glory to the Father. The “hour” of Jesus, then, is that divinely appointed time slot in which Jesus will finally accomplish his mission and, in doing so, will simultaneously render glory to the One who sent him, and be glorified in turn by the One who sent him.

But how does Jesus fulfill his “hour” of glory? Not in the way we would expect, not in the way Peter expected, and certainly not in the way the world would understand glory. Shockingly, his “hour” is to be accomplished by His passion and death, suffered willingly so that we might have life, and have it in abundance. His hour of glory, then, is the hour of the cross, of his being crucified and put to death, and it’s a glorious hour precisely because by his self-sacrifice the whole human race will be redeemed from sin, and we all will have the chance to be saved from eternal damnation and to rise one day with him to a new and glorious life.

War stories sometimes refer to the death of soldiers as the hour of their glory, their glory as heroes due to their sacrifices on behalf of their comrades and their nation. So what could be a greater “hou of glory,” then, than that hour of Christ’s self-sacrifice by which not simply a group of comrades are saved, or even a nation is saved, but the whole human race is redeemed from Adam to the last human person who will live on this earth? Yes, Jesus’ death would redeem not just his own nation of Israel, but also all the gentile nations as well. Interestingly, he speaks of his hour of glory in today’s Gospel passage precisely in response to the fact that now some gentile Greeks were seeking him out through his disciples, an indication that his hour of glory was drawing near when he would rescue them along with the people God first called His own.

But lest his disciples mistake what his hour of glory means, He immediately adds: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies… it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This is the image Jesus chooses to explain his “hour of glory” to his disciples. He is the “seed” of Adam who comes down to earth and who will die so that we all may live. And how many holy martyrs will imitate his sacrifice and die for the salvation of others, thus producing “much fruit” as well, one that knows no bounds. This fruit is a new life springing from the Resurrection of Jesus, and offered to all who believe in His name, who serve him and in turn follow him in this act of self-sacrifice. They too shall bear much fruit from the death they undergo with Jesus, indeed in Jesus.

Yes, belief in this glory of Jesus cannot remain an abstraction, a distant admiration of His sacrifice, the price He paid for our deliverance, for our life. Jesus adds in a line following today’s Gospel, “if any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also.” So, the man who truly believes in the “hour” of Jesus must follow his example, must imitate his “hour” of glory, must surrender his life to Jesus, and must die to this world and its empty promises of glory. Only thus will he gain Eternal Life and the glory that never ends. Jesus suffered, says Hebrews, and thus became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. that is, to all who follow him and become the seed that falls to the ground and produces much fruit. We may wish that there were another way to glory; indeed Jesus himself prayed to be delivered from the chalice the Father had prepared for Him. But the unbelief of the world made any other way impossible – he had to fall to the ground to rescue this sinful world.

But believers know that this death would not mean defeat, but victory, would not end in shame but in a glory that he had shared with the Father from the beginning. It would mean, literally, the rebirth of man, with God placing His law into the heart of man, so that man can obey His law as something coming from his own heart, and not as something imposed from without, that is, obey out of love, and not our of fear or servility. Thus the new man, raised to life in Christ, by Baptism, with his sins forgiven by His death, would be a truly free creature, knowing and loving God as only the son knows and loves the Father. What glory in this “hour” of Jesus, when a new humanity would be its fruit for all eternity!

Jesus foresees this rebirth of man in his hour of glory. In the Gospel he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Yes Jesus will draw so many others to himself, to his glory, not by force, but by the strings of love, the way a hero killed in war for his comrades becomes the object of their undying love – that is how Jesus will recreate the new man, the man who obeys, as He did, out of love, not our of fear. The follower will do God’s will out of love, like Christ. because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. The believer learns to obey from love – becomes a new man – but always first at the foot of the cross, gazing at the one who has been “lifted up” for his salvation. If we do not learn how to love God there, at the Cross, where he has been lifted up for us, if we do not have his law written upon hearts there, then we will never become the new man whom God has destined us to become in His Son.

It’s the law of love we hear from Jesus’ lips: “if any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.” Yes, where Jesus is, there must we also be in this world, not just below the Cross, but ultimately nailed with him to the Cross. There we will be given the firm hope that we also will be there with Him, there shall my servant be also, in the world to come, honored in His glory by the Father. That is the Christian path to glory, the way of love, and there truly is no other way.

4th Sunday of Lent 2012

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believed in him may not die but have Eternal Life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.
– John 3

One of the purposes of the Lenten discipline of the church is to help us understand and live by two great truths; (1) the depths of evil involved in human sin and (2) the depth of God’s love involved in the redemption of the world.

When we look at the Cross with faith, we see the incomprehensible love of God who has delivered his own Son over to this cruel fate to save the world from its richly deserved fate of self-destruction. One of the worst consequences of sin is a blindness caused in the heart of the sinner, an insensitivity to the evil of sin itself. How else do we explain the constant tendency of even God’s chosen people to fall back into sin, into the infidelity piled on infidelity that marks the history of the original chosen people. Today’s first reading even accuses them of practicing the abominations of the nations, which included human sacrifice at the nadir of their history, and of polluting even God’s temple in Jerusalem, for which abominations God allowed the temple to be destroyed and allowed his people to be handed over to their enemies in the Babylonian exile. This was the only way that God could cure them of their blindness to the evil of their ways, to subject them to the crucible of suffering for seventy years in Babylon. And yet this very remedy shows the love of God for them in spite of their infidelities and evils, he wanted to restore their dignity and restore them to their homeland.

But this blindness to the evil of sin, which leads to repeated infidelities and imitating the abominations of the nations is not limited to the first chosen people, for the history of God’s new chosen people, the New Israel established by Christ, has also been scarred by the same tendency to sin and unfaithfulness, even though the Church has always also had her core of saints whose fidelity to God has been the greatest fruit of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the history of sin did not end with the old covenant, only the history of helplessness before this plague of the human race, for God so loved the world that He gave us His son to deliver us from our own self-destruction by the grace of his Cross.

The Cross of Jesus is the only effective way we have to discover the true evil of sin, to become sensitive to and horrified by the reality of sin. If sin cost this much to be overcome, cost the death of God’s only-begotten Son, then what a truly horrific thing sin must be. When Jesus is lifted up between heaven and earth on the cross, then will men be able to see the horror of their sins, for what it has done to God’s son, and then will they have the hope of repenting this evil by opening themselves to His forgiveness and grace, symbolized by the embracing openness of his arms on the Cross. But, conversion, genuine conversion begins always at the foot of the Cross, and consists of a confession of the sin that caused His death. Only with such a recognition of the evil of my sins, and a true repentance can I access the mercy of God that flows in the blood of Christ.

But the recognition of the evil of sin is only the first lesson of the Cross, the greater is the truth that God so loved the world… In spit of everything, in spite of the countless betrayals of his love and infidelities to His love, the sins beyond imagining of the human race, still, God so love the world, that he gave his only son, not to condemn, but to save the world. Such love too is beyond our capacity to understand, much more beyond our understanding than is the evil of sin. Where do we find such love in this world? How many times can any one of us be betrayed, have someone we love be unfaithful to us, before we can no longer find forgiveness or love in our hearts? Yet a whole universe of sin has not caused God to stop loving the world he created, and has not kept him from delivering his own Son into the hands of sinners to save the world. How can we understand such love, if not by clinging with heart and soul to the Cross on which this love was nailed for our salvation. His arms were open, because he loved us all to the end.

The world, in all its sinfulness, does not get finally condemned for any of its sins, since the price has been paid to redeem the whole world, by God’s only Son. The final condemnation comes from a refusal to believe in God’s Son, that is, in God’s love which has sent the Son to redeem the world. This is the first and the ultimate sin of the world, the refusal to believe in God’s love which so love by which the world was so loved that God sent His only Son to redeem it’s sins: “Whoever believes in Him avoids condemnation; but whoever does not believe is already condemned.” Sinners are condemned not simply on account of their sins, for from these they have been redeemed by Jesus if only they put their faith in Him and begin anew to walk in His light. The judgement upon them is that they refuse to believe in Him and refuse to walk in His light. For if they believed
in Jesus they would no longer walk in the darkness of their sins, but lead new lives in the light of Jesus’ teaching and by the power of His grace.

In contrast to the incomprehensible love of God of has given his only son for us sinners, is the fear of the unrepentant sinner who does not even come near the light of Christ “for fear his deeds will be exposed. Why is the sinner afraid his deeds will be exposed, in the light, unless he does not believe in God’s love, God’s will to redeem him from his sins? This fear which results from a failure to believe in God’s love appeared in the very first human sin in the garden, when our first parents failed to believe in God’s love, and refused to trust that his commandment was for their well-being, rather than God’s own well-being. The same attitude of disbelief leads t fear in the sinner in every age, and keeps the unrepentant from walking in God’s light, lest his sin be exposed to that light.

The unrepentant is afraid to repent, why? Because, lacking faith, he is afraid that the way of God will mean unhappiness, whereas the way of sin at least some temporary gratification, some temporary pleasure or happiness. The unrepentant fails to believe in God’s love, that it is God’s love, and only God’s love that can make us happy in a permanent way. He fears repentance and conversion because he fears that it will bring unhappiness. That is the great lie of the Father of Lies, to make man distrust God’s love, to disbelieve that God’s love is man’s happiness, and this love went to such lengths – the sacrifice of Jesus – to redeem man from his own self-destruction by sin.

Lent is meant to focus our attention once again on these great mysteries of our salvation: the evil and self-destructiveness of sin, and the incomprehensible love of God for his sinful children. The Cross stands at the heart of creation to remind us of this truth that God so loved the world, and to draw our hearts and minds to that love which knows no limits in its mercy. As St. Paul says in today’s second reading.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ
Yes, “we are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus,” indeed recreated “to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.” May we take these words to heart this Lent, and know more deeply the mercy and love of God in our lives, and the joy of the new life he has given us in Jesus Christ.

3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
March 11, 2012

For the last 2 weeks there have been two very strange stories in the news.
One was about a woman, a law student,
who testified before Congress
lamenting the fact that the Catholic university she attended
refused to pay for her contraception.
The other was about a woman, who was devastated because
after she had introducing her lesbian lover to a priest,
that same priest refused to give her Holy Communion at Mass.

Now there are many very strange things involved in these stories,
but let’s just focus on one right now.
In particular,
while both these women insisted they should be free to conduct their lives
in exactly the way they feel like conducting them,
they also insisted that the Catholic Church not be allowed
to conduct itself in the way it believes is morally right.
Because they demand it, we have to give it,
regardless of what we believe God has commanded.

I find this stunning….

But as I’ve thought about it this week,
it became clear to me that these two events are just symptoms of a larger,
societal problem.
That is too many Americans have adopted
a corrupted understanding of our most basic value— “love.”

Put simply, over the last few decades we’ve more and more come to believe
that love is all about first and foremost about feelings.
So that if you have strong feelings of attraction toward someone,
that must mean you love them.
Or if someone makes you feel good that must mean they love you.
And on the other hand, if someone makes you feel bad,
or uncomfortable or afraid or hurt or diminished in any way,
for whatever reason
that someone not only doesn’t love you—they must “hate” you.

Of course, this way of understanding love has always been with us,
but in the past it was always dismissed as childish and detrimental
to the true good of the person and society.
Instead, a more mature and truly human understanding of love
was held as the ideal.
That ideal of love is sometimes defined as
“willing and striving for the good of the other”
–if you love someone, you want what is truly good for them,
and you do what you can to bring that good to them.
Notice, it has nothing to do with feeling good:
it’s about being good and doing good.
Good feelings are not necessarily reflective of true and objective good:
shooting heroin in your arm every night
might make you feel good for a while,
but there in no way is it truly, objectively good for you.

And yet that kind of feeling good
is what the popular culture promotes as “love.”
And so the culture finds it almost impossible to find love
in saying “no” to something that makes you feel good.
And so the Church is unloving if they deny contraception
—after all, what college or law school student
doesn’t need contraception to feel good?
And the Church is hateful if they tell a practicing lesbian
that she shouldn’t receive Holy Communion
—after all, Holy Communion makes her feel good,
it makes her feel close to Jesus,
even if she’s chosen to separate herself
from him completely by her mortal sin,
which is not good at all…

All the while the Church is only saying,
we truly love you, and we want only what’s good for you
and we’ll do only what we understand to be truly good for you,
which has very little to do with whether or not
it makes you feel good right now.

This dichotomy of these 2 meanings of love is seen nowhere more clearly
than in that which is the object of our particular reflection throughout Lent:
the suffering and crucifixion of Christ—or simply, “The Cross.”
The Cross has never made anyone feel good:
not the Blessed Mother, or St. John or St. Mary Magdalene
standing at the foot of the cross;
not the Roman soldiers, or Pontius Pilate,
and not even the members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.
It certainly doesn’t make you or me feel good.
And above all, it definitely did not make Jesus feel good.
And yet, it was the most truly profound expression of the Lord’s
willing our greatest good—our salvation,
and the greatest thing he could do to bring about our greatest good,
to win our salvation.

And so 2000 years ago St. Paul wrote, as we read in today’s 2nd reading:
“Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
Today he might say:
“Americans demand good feelings,
but Christians proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block and foolishness to Americans.”

Now, saying all this I might appear to be talking about
some nebulous culture “out there,”
or perhaps about people who embrace that culture—but still “out there.”
And I am to some extent.
But what worries me most is how that culture “out there”
has influenced us “in here.”
Because we don’t just stay “in here” in this church–we live out there,
where we are constantly surrounded by the culture and its values
—especially it’s strange notion of love.
It’s in the books we read, the movies and shows we see,
the news we watch, the lessons we learn in school,
and even in the conversations we have with friends and family.
It’s almost in the air we breathe.
You may think you avoid it,
but it’s almost impossible for it not to effect each of us in some way.

Think of how many Catholics are embarrassed by the idea
of a priest denying someone Communion.
I mean, that must make the person feel awful.
But remember what St. Paul says elsewhere:
“Whoever…eats the bread …of the Lord in an unworthy manner
will be guilty of profaning the body …of the Lord…
and eats…judgment upon himself.”
Is it truly loving to make a person feel good,
by letting them profane the Lord’s body and bring judgment
(meaning hell) on themselves?

How many would be embarrassed by our Lord in today’s Gospel:
“He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area.”
Pretty embarrassing.
And really, hateful, by modern cultural standards.

And yet, Jesus didn’t hate the moneychangers,
anymore than he hated the scribes and Pharisees when he told them:
“…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

He didn’t hate them, he loved them.
But some people are more thick-headed than others
—some can be corrected by a gentle word,
and some by an intellectual argument,
But some can only be corrected by plain, harsh criticism,
and some apparently only by a whip.

As St. Paul tells us, in his letter to the Hebrews:
“‘the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son’
…he disciplines us for our good…
For the moment all discipline seems painful;
later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness…”

“For our good.”
Not our good feelings.

I remember once when I was a just a little boy,
I ran into to the street and almost got hit by a car.
My mama, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest woman you ever met,
grabbed my arm, spun me around and slapped me right on the bottom.
It hardly hurt at all, but she definitely got my attention.
I had no doubt she loved me,
but I also had not doubt that I would never run into the street again.

In Lent, we remember all of this,
and in effect we invite the Lord to be brutally honest with us
—to show us, in whatever way is necessary, what is truly good for us.
In effect, we ask him to call out to us like he did to Pharisees
to break through our stubbornness.
And yes, we even ask him to take a whip to us if necessary,
not to drive out the moneychangers from the temple in Jerusalem,
but to drive out the sins and vices in our souls,
sins we act out with our bodies,
which are supposed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.
And we even join him in this chastisement,
by figuratively taking a whip to ourselves, by our acts of penance.

Now, please, don’t write the bishop saying I told your to whip yourselves.
But by simple things like giving up chocolate or meat or coffee—whatever—
and by adding prayers and acts of charity to your daily life,
you remind yourself that love is not about feeling good,
but about being and doing good.
And in fact, we remember that in the end,
sin hurts us more than any whip or penance could.
because sin keeps us from being good—being the best we can be.

So, just as in love the Lord takes a whip to the moneychangers,
we ask him to take a whip to us, and we take a whip to ourselves.
But notice,
Scripture tells us “He made a whip out of cords.”
Doesn’t sound like a very formidable or whip
—it doesn’t sound like it would hurt very much.
Kind of like the verbal whip he took to the scribes and Pharisees
—words of truth, that stung, but did no real damage or injury.
And the whip he takes to us is the mildest of discipline:
his yoke is easy, his burden light.
And the whip we take to ourselves, honestly, they’re not that severe.

But then we remember another whip
—a whip he took to himself,
or rather a whip he allowed others to take to him,
as part of the penance he did for us on the way to the Cross:
what we call “the scourging at the pillar.”
History tells us that the whip wielded by his Roman guards
was not a harmless whip of cords,
but a vicious deadly instrument of torture.
The “flagellum” consisted of several thongs of leather,
with lead balls or pieces of bone at the end.
It was not designed to get merely your attention,
but to violently rip open the skin, down to the muscle and bone.

Our Lord would never take such a whip to us.
But out of love he gladly endured such a whip for us.
Again, not for a good feeling, but for our true good—our salvation.

During Lent we turn our eyes and minds and hearts to meditate
on the suffering and death of Jesus.
Not because it feels good to watch him suffer,
but because in his suffering we discover
the amazing depths of his love for us.
And in His love we discover the true meaning of love,
—that seeks not temporary good feelings,
but seeks and strives for the true good of the beloved,
no matter how painful it is to us, or to them.

As we move forward in Lent, by the grace of Christ scourged and crucified,
may our penances remind us of this love,
drive out all trace of sin from our lives,
and fix in their place a true abiding love for God and neighbor.

3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

The dramatic confrontation in today’s Gospel, where Jesus drives the moneychangers and merchants from the temple precincts, is certainly one of the more startling events in the life of Our Divine Savior. He himself assures us elsewhere that he is meek and humble of heart, and there is no other record in the Gospels of his using physical force to correct evil in this world. While there are numerous accounts of sharp verbal confrontations and rebukes issued by the lord to the leaders of Israel, this event stands alone as an example of his using physical force to correct evil.

From the uniqueness of this event, then, it seems clear that Jesus judged this commercial activity in the temple precincts to be an unbearable insult to His Father’s House and thus, indirectly at least, to His Father. The gravity of the offensive behavior is revealed by his response, arousing what other sins could not, that is, arousing his indignation to the point of physical force.

All sins are ultimately insults to God, but most grievous evidently are those that bear insult to God, such as intruding the sacred space of the Temple for the business of selling sacrificial animals and money exchange: Jesus cries out “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Even the outer Court of the Gentiles, where this offensive activity was taking place – the only place where Gentiles could gather – was a place of prayer, not a secular space for business. Indeed, Jesus anticipates his mission which will extend to the Gentiles, and surely it must have aroused his anger that these righteous Gentiles who came there to pray were scandalized by seeing this sacred place turned into a market place. In other words Jesus’ zeal was for his Father’s House as a whole, not only as a place of worship for God’s chosen people, but also as the place of prayer for those non-Jews whom he would one day call into the inner courts of the Kingdom of His Son. So, Jesus’ zeal was not only for the honor of His Father, but also for the salvation of both those devout, Jews and Gentiles who must have been scandalized by this desecration of God’s Holy Temple.

Now we know from this same Gospel passage that Jesus identified Himself as the true temple of God when he later said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And. St. John immediately clarifies His meaning when he states that Jesus spoke of the temple of his body. (John 2:19) St. Paul will later establish the link between the Temple of Christ’s body and our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Cor. 3:16, Paul says: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” This has serious implications, for if we are truly God’s temple, then any sin we commit is offensive to God simply because we are his temple, made not by human hands, but by the holy Spirit temple, and God intends to dwell within us.

Every sin for a Christian then is doubly offensive to God, directly since we are disobeying his commandments, which means rejecting His will for us, and indirectly, since sin in one way or another every sin desecrates His temple, which is our body and soul. Now we can hopefully see how sins of the flesh desecrate the body as temple of God. Our body is like the outer court of the Gentiles, but it is the temple of God nonetheless, and fornication, adultery, and even more poignantly, suicide desecrate the body as God’s temple.

But perhaps we do not so easily see how other sins listed in the decalogue recounted in our first reading today actually desecrate the soul, the spiritual part of God’s temple, the inner sanctum of the human temple, the holy of holies, when God dwells there.

For instance, lying, stealing, murder, coveting, disrespecting our parents or others in authority, all of these sins desecrate the soul, for they all originate in the soul and all befoul the beauty of that temple. When we lie, the soul is the power by which we lie, and the soul is befouled by the lie becaue it makes us a liar; when we steal, the theft begins in the soul that desires what is another,s and intends to possess it, and so on, and the theft befouls the soul because it makes the soul a thief. And if I murder, the act of murder befouls the souls which originates the murder and makes the a soul a murderer. The victim of our sins against our neighbor is not just our neighbor, but first of all our own self. By sin, then, I desecrate my own soul and indirectly insult the Lord who would dwell there as in His Temple.

And it does us no good to say, well, I didn’t intend to offend God; the fact is that some human actions are objectively offensive to God’s divine honor whether we intend them to be such or not. I am sure many of those who were trading in the temple did not intend to directly offend God, but they did intend to do something that was in truth, objectively, offensive to the divine Lord. Moreover, the prophets had warned them not to turn His house into a marketplace; indeed, Jesus was simply restating the moral norm of the prophet Zechariah (14:21) when he said, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Yet these men freely chose to ignore that moral command. They had distorted their conscience, and they were guilty of this offense against the honor of God.

Likewise today, people often choose to distort their consciences by ignoring the law of Christ speaking through His Church, just as Christ had spoken through the Prophets long before. People sometimes pick and choose what they consider binding on their conscience, just like the money-changers and merchants in the Court of the Gentiles chose to ignore Zechariah and other prophets who decried these abuses of the temple. Will such so-called cafeteria Christians expect Christ to judge them differently than those merchants in the temple? The temple those men of old desecrated was only made of bricks and mortar, marble and other materials. But the temple we desecrate is far more precious, the spiritual and immortal soul, the body consecrated in Baptism, that is the true temple we abuse, far more precious in the judgement of God than the glorious temple of Jerusalem.

In short, all sin offensive to God. First because it contradicts his moral law which is, as Jesus teaches, a law of love, a law that teaches us how to love God and how to love our neighbor as our self. To disobey the law is to insult the lawmaker, to affirm that His law is not for out good but some other motive. Secondly sin offends God because it desecrates His temple, His temple in us, where God has chosen to dwell for all eternity, and in a far far more intimate way than ever he dwelt in temples made by human hands.

The commandments then teach us our great dignity; and the fact that Baptism makes us a temple of God likewise teaches us our great dignity. St. Leo the Great said this over 1500 years ago: “Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and, having become a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct.” When God dwells within us, we become, as St. Leo says, “a partner in the Divine Nature.” The body and the soul become His glorious temple. How can we ever turn back to our old baseness by degenerate conduct. Know your dignity, and you will never allow this temple of God to be debased.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
March 4, 2012

As Sacred Scripture tells us,
and Pope Benedict XVI so often reminds us,
God is love.
In fact, it is true that the only reason any of us exists is because of this love:
God loves so much
that he gives us life so that he can love us, and so we can love him.
And this love is expressed concretely in the fact that he desires to
gives each of us life in the context of a family:
a husband and wife who live and love each other,
and then, like God himself,
extend that love to by giving life and love
to their own children.
So that God holds the family up as a sign of his love:
I love you, he says, like a husband loves his wife.
And, perhaps more profoundly,
I love you and give you life,
like the best most powerful and perfect father
loves his children.

Today’s readings give us 2 examples of how he
uses the sign of the love of the family
to explain the mystery of God’s love
–and the life that springs forth as a the fruit of that love.
In the first reading we find Abraham and his family.
Abraham loves the Lord because the Lord has first loved him:
as we read elsewhere in Scriptures, God shows his love to Abraham
by making him one of the greatest fathers in history:
“I have made you the father of a multitude of nations…
I will make you exceedingly fruitful.”
And as the story in today’s text takes place,
the Lord has already begun to fulfill his promises:
he’s given him a wonderful son, his firstborn–Isaac.

And because of this mutual love between God and Abraham,
Abraham’s willing to do anything for or give anything he has to the Lord
–when God calls him he has only one response: “Here I am!”
But God doesn’t ask Abraham to give just anything
–he asks for the one thing that Abraham loves most in all the world
–he asks Abraham for the life of his beloved only Son, Isaac.

We read this passage and we’re incredulous
–this doesn’t sound like a loving God.
And if love is life giving, why does this loving God
want Abraham to take away the life of his only son?
Now, remember, the ritual sacrificing of children was not unusual
among the pagans who worshipped false gods in Abraham’s day,
so he wouldn’t have been as shocked by God’s command as we are.
But he would have been just as heartsick and confused as we would be:
he loved Isaac, his only child.
Even so, Abraham remains steadfast in his love and trust for God
–and without hesitation he takes Isaac
and obediently goes to the Mountain called “Moriah,”
as ordered, and there he prepares to sacrifice his boy.

But of course, in the end,
God loves Abraham too much to ask this sacrifice of him
–God does bring life, not death.
So when Abraham climbs the mountain out
of love for God expecting only sacrifice
— at the top of the mountain he finds the fruit of God’s love
–God gives him back the life of Isaac
and promises him the gift of the innumerable lives of his descendants.

Then we leave Mount Moriah and move to the Gospel–some 1700 years later
–and find other Mountain–Mt. Tabor
–and another father and son–God the Father and God the Son.
Peter, James and John have followed Jesus all over Palestine
–and finally up Mount Tabor
–because they love Jesus and the God he calls “Father”.
And when they get to the top of Mt. Tabor,
Jesus returns their love in a singularly beautiful gift.
He becomes physically transfigured before their eyes
–his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light
–as God the Father reveals not only his infinite love for his Son,
but also that in that love,
the Father and Son share the same glorious divine life.
A love and a life that when seen in their full glory are almost blinding
–both to the eye and to the heart–
and leave Peter almost speechless,
overwhelmed by a love that exceeds anything he’s ever known.

But the story of life giving love in today’s readings is not complete yet.
Besides the boundless love of the two fathers,
God the Father and father Abraham,
we also find the love of two sons–Isaac and Jesus.
And while at first they seem to be very different
–Isaac is to be sacrificed, while Jesus is glorified
–the reality is that both the sacrifice of Isaac
and the transfiguration of Jesus
both point toward an even greater revelation of God’s love.
As St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration tells us,
Moses and Eli’jah were talking to Jesus about
“his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
The two mountains of Moriah and Tabor point toward a third mountain:
Mt. Calvary in Jerusalem:
the mountain where the greatest revelation of God’s love
and its life giving fruit unfolds
–the mountain of the Cross.

As we carefully read the story of Isaac
we’re struck to find that a dramatic similarity between Isaac and Jesus:
they are both the first born
—the only begotten sons and beloved of their fathers,
and both silently and lovingly accept the wills of their fathers
as they both struggle up their mountains carrying the heavy wood
upon which they will be offered in sacrifice.
And as God, in his great love, spares Isaac on Mt. Moriah,
he also looks ahead 1700 years with that same love
to see Jesus on the Cross at Mt. Calvary.
Because its on Mt. Calvary that the divine Father fulfils the sacrifice
he would not ask Abraham to offer.
From the depths of his infinite love,
God the Father gives his only Son, His “beloved Son”,
and God the Son gives himself
as the one perfect sacrifice of perfect love
for the life of the whole world.

Some might ask, how could God the Father allow his own Son to be a sacrifice.
Much the same as a father might send his eldest strongest son off to war
to defend the lives of the rest of the family,
God the Father sends His Son, who volunteers,
off to lay down his life for all of us.
It pains the Father as much as it does the Son
—in a way, part of the Father dies with His son.
But they both accept this as necessary, for our salvation.
And they know that in the end this sacrifice will not end in death, but in life
—the Resurrection!

The Cross is the sign of perfect love, and Isaac on Mt. Moriah points to it.
And as we move to Mt. Tabor, the apostles are given a preview
of the fruits of that Cross of love—the glory of the Resurrection.
So that on Good Friday, even as Peter, James and John
know that Jesus has given up his human life
on the Cross of Mt. Calvary,
they do not loose hope,
because they have seen what Jesus and His Father know:
that the love of Jesus on the Cross must bear the fruit
of the glorious life promised by the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor.
And so even in their grief and confusion, they await the Resurrection.

During these 40 days of Lent, out of love for our heavenly Father
and his Son our Lord, Jesus Christ,
we’re called to imitate Isaac
and join our Lord by picking up the wood of sacrifice
and walking up the mountain,
retracing in our own lives the way of the Cross,
and by our own sacrifices and prayers sharing in his sublime act of love.
But as we reach the top of the mountain on Good Friday,
the Lord stops us and again, as with Isaac,
out of love for us, makes himself the sacrifice.
And then, as with the Peter, James and John,
as we face the death of our beloved Master,
we can look at the Cross and see his love,
and know that it will bear the fruit of life of the Resurrection.
By entering into his sacrifice, we enter into his love,
and by entering into his love we share in his eternal life.

Today all this is capsulated in a most sublime way,
in the mystery of this Holy Mass.
We find ourselves, sacramentally, going up the steps of Mt. Calvary,
standing at the foot of his Cross.
We offer bread and wine, symbols of our daily sacrifices,
and Christ transforms them
into His own body and blood sacrificed on the Cross,
uniting our imperfect acts of love to his most sublime act of love.
And as we receive Him in Holy Communion,
we begin to see the fruits of that sacrificial love,
as it becomes for us truly the Bread of Life,
the life of the resurrection taking root in our lives today.

Today, as we eat the bread of life,
may we open our hearts to share in the Cross of Christ,
so that this season of Lent may bring about
an ever-deepening conversion of our hearts
to a more perfect sharing in the life and love of God our Father
and His only begotten Son, our brother, Jesus Christ.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”
– Mark 9:5

What is lent if not a time of renewal, like Springtime which renews the beauty and fertility of the earth. Lent is a time of grace and divine mercy, a time of drawing near to our final destiny, to our God who is that final destiny; and “it is good, Lord, that we are here.” Lent is truly a most special time for those who have their heart set on the things of God, but yet not perfectly set on those higher things because, unfortunately, AS the English poet Wordsworth said so succinctly, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” That’s our problem is it not? Our hearts are fickle because we are too attached to this world and its attractions. And I’m not talking here about evil attractions so muc as good attractions that are nonetheless worldly attractions.

The world is a real problem for us Christians. Of course, the world that is a problem is not the world of nature, which is good in itself, since it was created by God. Some religions and philosophies have seen even the material world of nature as evil, and they see salvation or human fulfillment as accomplished by in some way escaping from it. But this view of the material world is simply not compatible with Christian faith or the truth about man’s salvation.

But we also are taught that, the world in the human sense, the world that man creates, that whole man-made system of human relationships and institutions, the world constituted by human culture, science, economics, politics, social relations, etc., we know that that world is an ambiguous reality, a terrible mixture of good and evil, and thus a real threat to man’s salvation. To see this ambiguity of man’s world, we might think of the internet, the great modern means of human interaction, and the good it provides but also the evil of pornography, hate and revolutionary sites, bomb-making sites etc. There we see the ambiguity and the meaning of “world” in St. John’s Epistles when he says that we must hate the world, if we are to love God. It is the world of man that we must be on guard against, since this human world, is inevitably hostile to God, simply because it’s not formed or structured by faith, but by that deadly mixture of human virtues and human vices, where the vices always seem to be in the ascendency, given the power of evil in the absence of faith and God’s grace.

This human, fallen and unredeemed world has its attractions for us because we live in the world, and depend upon it for most of the necessities of life. This world of ambiguous good and evil can be a temptation for us, but that is primarily our problem, because, while we have access to God’s grace, we also still have disordered hearts as a result of sin. If the world attracts us away from God, if our hearts become too set upon the attractions of this world, good and evil, as if they were the purpose for which we exist, that is, become a false god for us, the problem has to be found in our hearts.

So each Lent, the Church reminds us that all is not well with us, and that we must discipline ourselves if we are to live in “the world” without becoming “of the world,” that is, too attached to the things of the world, no matter how good they may be, and that could apply as well to God’s good world of nature. If any of these attractions, even if good in themselves, lead us away from God as the primary object of our love, then they become dangerous, even evil, for us.

Still, we Christians who live in the world will not attain our salvation and happiness by escaping from the world as if our vocation was like those of hermits or cloistered religious communities. Escaping is part of their vocation, not ours. Jesus’ prayer for us to His Father makes this clear: I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. So Christians who live in the world, the vast majority to be sure, must attain their salvation by using the world as God wills and staying clear of the evil one, who always converts the world into a trap for us. We conquer the world, as Jesus says, by living in the world with pure hearts, that is, by living in the world and avoiding its evils while making proper use of its goods, thus without making them into a god.

But how do we purify our hearts so as to conquer the world as Jesus did? We begin by acquiring a faith like that of Abraham, a faith that is ready to sacrifice whatever God asks so we can remain faithful to His word. Abraham’s faith was so great, that he was ready to sacrifice his only son, the son of his old age, if God demanded it. His faith enabled him to be like the Father who one day would do what he did not require Abraham to do, offer up his only-Begotten for the salvation of the world. And God blessed Abraham’s faith by making him the father in faith of all who would belong to the Kingdom of that Son of God, who was also his distant offspring.

The Lenten discipline must be challenging enough to grow our faith. It must hurt, hurt our pocketbooks by alms which shows that we do not make money our god; hurts our appetites to show that we do not make the stomach a god, or any other object of our appetites. Lent must hurt our free time, so that prayer can take the place of so much idle and useless expenditure of time, time that is so valuable since it is so limited. We must use Lent to give God more time than we do other infinitely less important expenditures of our precious time.

Lent’s not easy if it’s worthwhile; nothing ever is. But the Lord encourages us in so many ways by holding up to us the blessed future that awaits us in heaven. His Transfiguration was such an encouragement to his apostles who would shortly face their own terrible Lent during his Passion and death. He gave three of His chosen disciples this special gift of seeing him ahead of time in his Glory, so they could survive the horror of his passion. And they pass on to us this glorious vision on Mt. Tabor. Through their witness, the glorious transfiguration becomes a gift to the whole Church down through the ages, as this memory of the Apostles sustains us as we pass through the trials of this life to the glory of the Life to come. We believe that the glory of God, which transfigured the humanity of Jesus on the mountain, is likewise the same glory that will raise and transfigure our lowly bodies, and make us His Heavenly companions for evermore. It is this faith that makes Lent great for us, a time of testing, a time of trial, a time to prove and increase our faith, and decrease our attachment to this world in favor of the world to come.

Think of Lent, then, as a great gift from God, and you are on your way to a proper understanding of how to live in this world, so that it remains always the blessing God intends it to be for us, leading us to God rather than away from God. Deny your appetites and your self-will during this season each year, and you will in fact be happier in this world, because it will be less and less a temptation, and more and more a blessing from God, and will help you find your true happiness in the world to come. Learn by Lent to hate this world in so far as it is a temptation, and you will be able to love this world in so far at is a blessing and a gift from God. Keep your heart fixed on Heaven, and you will never despise this earth.

1st Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
February 26, 2012

So we begin our 40 days of Lent, 40 days preparing for Easter.
But we do so as Jesus did: before Easter he endured Good Friday, and the Cross.
And so in Lent we prepare for Easter by entering into the mystery of the Cross,
uniting our acts of penance and love to Christ and His Cross.

It seems that almost from the very beginning the apostles and their followers
celebrated Easter, and spent time preparing for it, with some form of Lent.
But the length and nature of Lent seems not to have been very uniform
for the first 3 centuries of the Church.
It’s only in the year 325 at the first gathering of the bishops
at the Council of Nicaea
that we see the uniformity of the 40 days penance
become the rule throughout the Church,
and a very important part of Christian life.

But why did the long 40 day season of Lent suddenly become so important?
It seems to me that it relates to the ending of the persecutions:
just 10 years before the Council of Nicaea
the Roman Emperor ended the systematic persecution of the Church,
and soon thereafter made Christianity the official religion of the empire.
Before that, being a Christian required a unique commitment.
When you might die tomorrow for the faith,
the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel rang particularly true:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
And the differences between pagan values and Christian values were easy to see.

But when the persecution ended,
it became easier to blur the differences
and to identify less with the strict moral teachings of the Church.
So that it became very important once a year to stop and look at themselves,
to recognize their sins, and answer again the call of Christ:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

We see this same thing happening in our own world today.
In our own country, lulled to sleep by the blessing of religious liberty,
Christians, and Catholics in particular,
have come to identify less and less with Christ and His Church,
with all it’s moral teachings and practices,
and identified more and more with the culture around us.
This wasn’t so bad when that culture was largely shaped by Christianity,
but over the years secularists have more and more
stripped the culture and laws of their Christian values.
So that now even that religious liberty
that has been so critical to the amazing success of the American experiment,
is at risk of being thrown aside,
as a new persecution of the Church begins.

We see this in so many ways,
but most clearly in the President’s attempt
to force us to buy or provide insurance
for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients
—directly against the doctrine of the Church.

So this year, Lent is especially meaningful and poignant,
as the values of the secular world and values of the Church
come into stark relief.
Suddenly the suffering of Christ at the hands of his persecutors,
as public leaders had him bound and led where he did not want to go,
takes on a more personal meaning,
as we sense that the same may lay in store for his body on earth, the Church.
And so, as in the days of the early Church,
this year the words of Christ resonate more profoundly in our hearts:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

But other words of today’s gospel text also resonate with particular meaning today.
It tells us
“Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

In 1968 Pope Paul VI drew a line in the sand, saying “this far, and no farther”
to the secular culture,
as he reasserted the Church’s apostolic and infallible teaching
on sexuality and procreation, and against contraception,
in his prophetic encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”
Unfortunately, in response, Catholics in America largely
sided with the secular world against the Church.

And since then, this new alignment has only become more pronounced.
So that not for “40 days” but for over 40 years,
American Catholics seem to have gone “out into the desert,”
“tempted by Satan” to join in the decadence of the “wild beasts” around us.
And while the Church itself, under the protection of the angels,
has remained steadfast to the truth of Christ and apostolic teaching,
even so, too many individual members of the Church have not.
And Lord cries out to us: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

American Catholics have many sins to repent.
But in the last few weeks one of them has come to the forefront,
as it has become the whip which secularists
have used to scourge Christ’s body, the Church.
I speak of course of the sin of contraception.

Of course, this is no accident,
since in so many ways the acceptance of contraception
has been the root of the rejection of Catholic morality,
especially sexual morality.
Because when we remove procreation as an essential part
of the intrinsic meaning of sex,
we start down a road that ends up stripping sex of all its true meaning.
And if sex has no real meaning, no higher purpose,
then it is reduced to whatever lower purposes we choose,
and we become more like “wild beasts,” and less like human beings.

This is why I think the greatest sins of our 40 years of wandering in the desert
are not simply the sins of misusing sexuality
but rather the sins of failing to teach and defend the truth
about the true meaning of the great gift of sexuality,
beginning with the truth about the evil of contraception.

And while the president’s contraception mandate
is fundamentally an attack on religious liberty,
the irony is we would never be in this situation
if for the last 40 years we had used our religious liberty
to proclaim the truth about contraception.

All Catholics, but especially priests and bishops, have to repent this sin.
And so, in the Spirit of Christ coming forth from the desert,
we must not remain silent any longer.
And we must vigorously support priests and bishops who tell the truth,
even when it is inconvenient, or painful to hear.

And so my friends, I say to you,
contraception is fundamentally evil,
and destructive to the good of marriage and the family
and degrading to the true meaning of sexuality.

This teaching can be difficult to understand, and to teach,
especially as conditioned as we are in secular mindset.

But think of this:
there is probably no greater grief to a family than the death of a child.
When that happens it just tears your heart apart.
But why?
Because human life is so incredible,
especially when we see it in all its innocence and wonder,
with all its potential wide open, in a child.

But then ask yourself: where does that incredible human life come from?
The truth is it comes from a particular act of human intimacy
that our culture increasingly tries to tell us
is no more meaningful than a handshake.
But if human life is so incredible,
wouldn’t the unique and very human act it comes from
be something pretty incredible too?
If human life shouldn’t be wasted, but respected and cherished as wonderful,
shouldn’t something of that be reflected in its origin?

It’s kind of like at Mass, when the priest says the words of consecration
and suddenly, miraculously, there on the altar
is the body blood soul and divinity of Christ—his very life.
And we see that moment, those actions and words,
as incredibly holy and awesome.

Then why don’t we see something incredible, holy and awesome
in the moment and action that transforms
simple human elements into the body and blood and even the soul
of a baby human life?

This is the thing.
This intimate act is designed by God to be the life-giving act.
And we don’t need the Bible to tell us this, although it does.
Because we see it in nature: we look at the physiology
and that is what the act is all about.

But because it involves the creation, or procreation, of not a mere plant or animal,
but of a human life—that incredible human child,
with all it’s potential and wonder—
we may begin at the physiology,
but we immediately see its meaning goes well beyond that.
The physical nature expresses a moral or spiritual nature—human nature.

Let’s go back to that young child who dies, and the heartbreak that death brings.
That heartbreak comes not simply because the child is dead,
but because the family loved that child in life,
and death separates us from living with the one we love.
You see, at the center of the meaning of human life is love!
Life is meaningless and empty without love,
and love is meaningless and empty without life!
In human beings, life and love,
are inseparable and at the heart of the very nature of mankind.

And so, the act of intimacy that is about so awesomely giving life,
must also be about awesomely giving love.
And because his parents should have
an unwaveringly committed to the life and love of that child,
they should also have a committed partnership
of sharing life and love together—in marriage.

So, that act that gives life to a baby
is intrinsically about giving both life and love
—both to the baby, and between the couple.
Any time that intimacy is expressed
without both a love-giving and a life-giving purpose,
in other words purposefully and intentionally rejecting
either of the two essential meanings of the act itself,
that intimacy and the dignity of the human beings involved
is mocked, degraded and abused.

And that, my friends is what happens in contraception.
It turns this most profound human act into a lie and a farce
—and it is inherently contrary to our human nature,
and so we call it both “inhuman” and “unnatural.”
And it degrades both the man and the woman,
and any child who might be conceived “by accident.”

Which is why in 1968 Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae
that these intimate acts belong solely in the context of marriage and
“must remain open to the transmission of life.”

And it’s why he warned us that the wide-spread use of contraception
would quickly lead to
increased “[marital] infidelity…
the general lowering of morality…
[and] the man, …los[ing] respect for the woman
and…considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,
and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

Look at the explosion of abortion, pornography, divorce, out of wedlock births,
and spousal and child abuse,
as well as the dramatic decline in marriage,
not to mention the widespread acceptance of homosexuality.
All this was made possible by the degradation of contraception.

My friends, this only scratches the surface.
There is much more to say—and to learn.
So go home today and read Humanae Vitae,
and look for opportunities to read or hear more about this teaching
—there are loads of solid books and DVDs and CDs easily available,
some in our library downstairs, but also on the internet.
And I promise to continue to try to give you more opportunities to learn about it..

But whatever we do, we must repent of our sin of silence.
We must reject the temptation of Satan,
and tell even the “wild beasts” of our culture about this beautiful teaching.
And we must support our bishops and priests, and pray for them,
that “driven” by the Holy Spirit and protected by the angels
they may bravely lead the Church in America out of its 40 years in the desert
to join Christ in proclaiming the good news of the Gospel,
especially the beautiful news about sexuality.

We are entering into a new time of persecution of the Church,
when we will see the stark differences between
the culture of the secular world and the life of the Church.
But from the Cross comes the Resurrection, through suffering comes redemption.
May this these 40 days of Lent be a time of true repentance and conversion
for each of us, for all Catholics in America,
and yes, for our beloved Country.

“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

1st Sunday of Lent 2012

This is the reason Christ died for sins once for all, a just man for the sake of the unjust, so that He could lead you to God.
– Pet. 3:18

For Christians, the Season of Lent is a special time of grace which enables us to repent, to undergo a deeper conversion, to fulfill the command of the Lord we just heard in the Gospel: This is the time of fulfillment … reform your lives and believe in the Gospel. With the coming of Jesus, this is indeed the time of fulfillment, the fulfillment of the promises made by God to rescue us from our self-destructive behavior. Jesus is the fulfillment, our redeemer, and his grace is our salvation. And the core preaching of Jesus is just that basic: we are to repent of our sins and believe in His Gospel. But what does it mean to believe in His Gospel? It surely means that we must submit our souls, our lives, to the work Jesus has accomplished on our behalf and then base our lives on the truth that Jesus teaches us.

In the second reading, St. Peter specifies the essentials of our faith, what essentially we are to believe in: that the just man, Jesus Christ has died for the unjust, us, in order that we might be saved and be led to God by Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God. By his death in the flesh he died for our sins, and by His resurrection he became, in the flesh, the source of of eternal life which was the source of his Resurrection. We receive that life if we put our faith in the saving death of Jesus, his sacrifice on our behalf. In faith in Jesus, we escape the death of the soul, just as Noah and his family escaped the death of the flesh by the faith of Noah.

In the days of Noah, only eight persons put their faith in God’s word and escaped the flood. The rest of men scoffed at Noah’s warning and were drowned in the great flood that overwhelemed the earth. This is for us a parable to help us understand the fate of those who believe in the Gospel, as contrasted with the fate of those who refuse to enter the ark of the New Covenant. Those who repent and believe in the saving word and deeds of Jesus Christ will be saved by the Cross which like the wooden ark of Noah, carries them on the waters of Baptism to a new life in God.

On the other hand, those who deliberately refuse to repent and believe in the Gospel will be like those men of old who stayed outside the ark, and were lost. The ark of Noah, then, is truly a prefiguring image of the Cross of Jesus; the flood is a prefiguring of the Sacrament of Baptism; and, finally, the new life of Noah and his family a prefiguring of the new life that comes to us through Baptism, the new life of Divine Grace, the supernatural life of divine sonship in the Lord.

For Christians, the Old Testament is God’s revelation, but it is to be understood as a foreshadowing of the New Covenant. Thus events like Noah’s ark remain significant for us simply because they are divinely intended as images of the realities that will be brought about by the Lord in the New and Eternal Covenant. As St. Peter says, the baptismal bath, which corresponds to the flood exactly, contains not merely a physical effect, the preservation of man’s earthly life. Or the purification of his body as in the baptisms of the old rituals of Israel or surrounding nations.

The effect of Baptism goes far beyond merely preserving physical life and beyond the purification of any ritual bath of the old religions. Baptism causes us, says St. Peter, to have an irreproachable conscience, and it does so by washing away our sins in the blood of Jesus. The Sacrament, in other words, causes a true interior transformation in our souls, cleansing them from all stain of sin so that we can stand before God as His true children, sharing His life, and pledging our fealty with an irreproachable conscience.

So Jesus begins his Mission by calling mankind to repentance of sin, and to belief in the Good News, that by His death and resurrection, we receive the gift of salvation, the forgiveness of all our sins, and the regeneration of our natures in Baptism which transforms us into God’s children and gives us a new, irreproachable conscience. This is the gift Jesus offers to all, but to gain it each of must do two things to begin with, repent for the sins we have committed and believe in the Gospel he proclaims. This the heart of the Gospel. He has died for us, and by his death he has merited the forgiveness of our sins. By his resurrection, he has become for us the source of eternal life and restored goodness to our consciences by making them irreproachable before God.

But, if it is necessary for the unbaptized to repent and believe in the Gospel, how much more necessary is it for the baptized who have lost that irreproachable conscience they received in Baptism by falling back into the slavery of sin. Because we have been baptized does not mean that we ever, in this world, escape the necessity of responding to this call of Jesus to repent and believe. Who among us can say we have never betrayed our Baptismal gift from Jesus, our irreproachable conscience, by some form of sin? Even venial sin compromises the irreproachableness of our conscience, while mortal sin destroys the very life of Grace in our souls. And we stand before the Lord with even greater responsibility for having betrayed the free gift of His death, and always in danger of betraying it in the future. His call to reform our lives should strike our consciences even more since we have been privileged to receive his gifts in Baptism, and have not remained true to our promises.

How merciful God is to continue to address these words calling us to repentance every year, every day. For we are not only sinners, but sinners who have betrayed our first troth! Yet how unlike us is the father of Mercies, who continues to offer us the possibility of reform, though we may have betrayed him so often. Think of how unforgiving we can be. Suppose you had a son who had sacrificed his life for someone who was really a ne’er-do-well, and then, that man, having pledged himself to be a better man in the future to honor your son, wasted his new life again and again, in little ways and often in grave ways. How often would we hold out the offer of our forgiveness?

Some might ask, does God never stop offering these words of mercy? And the answer is simple from God’s side: so long as the Church proclaims this Gospel, the offer of God’s mercy will be made to those who hear it and take it to heart. On Ash Wednesday, the Church calls us to repentance. Each and every morning the Church begins her daily prayer with the words, If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts. The only question is do we choose to hear his appeal to repentance with an open heart, or are we like the neighbors of Noah, who heard the warning, but did not take it seriously and never entered the Ark. The choice is ours. God is always merciful; the real question is are we always repentant?