Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 6, 2014

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 6, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

On Friday we celebrated the 238th anniversary

of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

And in a particular way we celebrate one of the main themes of that Declaration:

the “unalienable right” to liberty or freedom.

Liberty.

It’s a word most dearly cherished by us Americans,

But it’s also a word and an idea which causes some confusion for us.

We hear about all the controversies over individual liberties,

but no one can seem to agree on exactly what liberty means.

 

The problem seems to rest with our understanding of the concept of liberty.

Society’s popular understanding of liberty is as

an absolute independence from any constraints on personal behavior

an absolute freedom to do whatever you what.

It recognizes this as an absolute and essential good

which we must pursue at all costs.

Essentially this concept of liberty is a “freedom from

–freedom from others and freedom from responsibility.

 

We all believe that we should speak out in protection of our own liberties,

but in doing that, sometimes we develop the attitude that

we are free from the responsibility to protect those who are

too sick, too young, too innocent or too ignorant

to even know that their liberty is being abused,

much less exercise free speech about it.

We develop the attitude that everyone should be free to live life

the way they choose,

and so we free ourselves from the responsibility of taking care of others,

even the responsibility of raising and educating our own children.

We develop an attitude that we must be free from

the interference of anyone in our personal subjective beliefs,

and so we become free from the responsibility

to help others find objective truth,

and to protect society from false notions of truth.

 

And we become free from any responsibility

to even recognize the existence of God himself,

much less to recognize our country’s debt to Him by proclaiming

that we are “one nation under God,”

even though we are founded upon the first principle

that it is our “Creator” who has “endowed” us

“with certain unalienable rights, …among these”

being “Liberty” itself.

And once free from God we become free from any responsibility

to obey his commandments

because commandments aren’t consistent

with my freedom from interference in doing as I please.

 

And so we see a society which at once rightly celebrates

its great achievements in freedom,

but at the same times wonders at the continuing reality of

poverty, crime, corruption, domestic violence, rising divorce rates,

single parent families, contraceptive lifestyles, same-sex unions,

mothers killing their unborn children,

and children killing other children,

….the list goes on and on.

Perhaps society’s misunderstood this “liberty” thing.

 

What is the true meaning of liberty and freedom?

If I’m just free from something,

that would mean freedom leaves a big vacuum in my life

–only emptiness.

Freedom from things just results in me having nothing.

Who wants to be free if it means having nothing?

So any kind of meaningful or good freedom can’t mean

just freedom from something,

but rather it means freedom from something

in order to be free for something else.

 

Unfortunately, for many of us,

when we realize freedom from things is unsatisfying,

we decide to be free from responsibilities

in order to be free for satisfying our own selfish desires.

And so our society has developed a sense of freedom and liberty

based on a certain self-centeredness:

the idea that I must be free from all constrictions on me,

in order that I can be free to satisfy whatever I desire,

or to decide every issue based on what is best for me.

It is, essentially, a definition of liberty rooted in the sin of pride.

 

[PAUSE]

But this is not the society envisioned by Jesus Christ,

and it’s not the freedom found in the words of Holy Scripture.

 

It’s interesting to remember that in the first century AD,

the Jews had very little experience of liberty and freedom.

But one place that they did experience a very real freedom was in their religious life

–this was one of the few areas in which their Roman rulers

thought it best to allow their subjects some freedom.

 

Unfortunately, in exercising their religious liberty

many wound up refusing to accept the Messiah

who was the center of their religion,

even when he walked right into their synagogues and spoke to them.

Many refused because in their pride they clung to their preconceived notions

of a great political and military Messiah

–and this humble carpenter from Nazareth

did not meet their popular definition.

And yet we hear in today’s first reading

that this is exactly the kind of messiah God had promised:

before the prophet Zechariah speaks of the Messiah whose

“dominion shall be from sea to sea, and …to the ends of the earth.”

he first observes:

“See, your king shall come to you…meek,

and riding on …the foal of an ass.”

St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture that

“It was for liberty that Christ freed us;

so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

And that same St., Paul tells us in today’s second reading:

“If you live according to the flesh, you will die;

but if …you put to death the evil deeds of the body, you will live.”

For St. Paul true freedom and liberty is not a matter of

being completely independent to do what ever we want,

or to reject anyone or anything that impedes us in pursuing that end.

For St. Paul, freedom is a freedom from sin and pride

–what he calls today “the flesh”–

and a freedom for accepting the responsibilities

that come with being a Christian:

the responsibility to love God

with all your heart, mind soul and strength,

and love your neighbor as yourself.

Because, for St. Paul, a freedom that embraces our own selfish desires

is a freedom that soon becomes slavery

–the “yoke of slavery” to our own selfishness and pride: to sin.

And the only true freedom is the freedom of humbly submitting ourselves

to the love of Christ our King,

who, even though his “dominion shall be … to the ends of the earth,”

comes to us first and foremost as a meek and humble servant.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:

“Father, … what you have hidden from the wise and the learned

you have revealed to the little ones.”

We —his Church— are his little ones, his children.

Why would we ever look to the secular world

for instruction on something as important as the true meaning of freedom

when Christ himself has already revealed it to us?

And in that revelation Jesus has made it abundantly clear

that the definition of freedom and liberty embraced by

the wise and the learned” oftheworld

is in reality nothing more than the path

to the yoke and burden of slavery to sin.

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus, offers us freedom from this burden.

“Come to me, all you who …find life burdensome, and I will give you rest.”

But at the same time he reminds us that “coming to him” doesn’t mean

an absolute freedom to do whatever you what.

He says:

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am meek and humble of heart.

….my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

His yoke is “easy and light”

because rather than being the burden of the slavery of sin,

it is a burden of the responsibilities of freedom.

Rather than being a yoke we try to carry in prideful individuality

and radical independence,

it is a yoke of love that we carry in humble unity with our humble King,

and radical dependence on him,

who loves us so much he seeks to carry it with us.

Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we live in a political atmosphere which allows us

to freely listen to the Gospel proclaimed in our midst.

But do we use this freedom merely as an opportunity to exercise our pride

–to indulge our own self interest?

Or do take this as an opportunity

to more truly free ourselves from those things

which keep us from living humbly for Christ our King and His love?

Do we free ourselves for selfish satisfaction—“living according to the flesh—

letting pride take priority over the love of God and his will?

Or do we free ourselves for the responsibilities of Christianity,

humbly loving God, obeying his will, and serving our neighbor?

 

Liberty is a beautiful thing, and its right to celebrate it.

But as we celebrate our liberty and independence this weekend,

let us ask our Lord Jesus to give us the courage and the wisdom

to always joyfully celebrate our dependence on Him,

and humbly accept his idea of liberty:

a freedom from pride and sin,

and a freedom for the love of Christ and his Kingdom.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 2014

Ss. Peter and Paul, June 29, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Like other saint’s feast days this one falls on the same day every year—June 29. But when other saints days fall on Sunday they are suppressed

because Sunday is always the feast day of Lord—it is the Lord’s day.

But this feast is different, special.

Because it is the feast of the two patron saints of the Church in Rome,

and so it reminds the whole Church throughout the world

of our unity with Rome, especially with the Bishop of Rome—the Pope.

So the whole Church celebrates it even on Sunday

to celebrate the unity of the one Church of Christ,

under the governance of the one Vicar of Christ on earth,

who is today, of course, Pope Francis.

 

It’s kind of interesting that we celebrate this unity with a diocese in foreign country,

because later this week, on the 4th of July, we Americans celebrate

our independence from another foreign country.

Now, most you might kind of smile at the coincidence,

but there was a time with this contrast had

very real-life serious consequences to Catholics in America.

It wasn’t so long ago the many Protestants in America wondered

if our loyalty to a foreign power, the Pope,

would interfere in our loyalty to America.

After all, just 150 years ago the Pope was absolute sovereign of the Papal States,

which included a third of all Italy,

and even today he’s sovereign of the Vatican City State.

More importantly he commands the obedience before God

of all Catholics worldwide.

 

But there was never a need to worry.

Because the doctrine of our Catholic faith tells us that

our absolute obedience to the Pope is only related to papal teachings

on matters of Faith and Morals,

as well as internal Church matters like how we worship.

But it does not extend to particular matters of prudential judgment.

So that while the Pope may teach that

we have a moral obligation to care for the poor,

he has no authority to tell us that we have to do so

using a particular program or by voting for a particular politician.

He can propose particular solutions,

and we should respectfully consider them,

but Catholics are not bound to obey them.

 

So it’s almost impossible that there would ever be a conflict

between our loyalties to America and to the Pope.

 

Even so, this wasn’t always understood by Protestant Americans,

who have always formed the vast majority of our nation’s population.

So when immigrants from the Catholic countries of Europe

immigrated to America, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s,

they were often held in suspicion.

So much so that political movements like the “Know Nothings”

rose up to try to oppress Catholics,

and laws like the Blaine laws tried to close Catholic schools,

to force Catholic children

into the Protestant mainstream of public education.

And while Catholics fought these oppressive efforts,

and kept their Catholic identity and their schools,

they were not unmoved by the oppression.

And so you saw Catholics send their kids to Catholic schools

and go to Sunday Mass and pray the Rosary daily,

but then also strive to be more American

than George Washington and Betsy Ross,

and bend over backwards to show their loyalty to America.

 

So much so that when Catholic John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960

he felt obliged to go before a group of Protestant ministers,

                   the Greater Houston Ministerial Association,

          and say:

“I believe in an America

where the separation of church and state is absolute,

where no Catholic prelate would tell the president

                             (should he be Catholic) how to act,

…where no public official either requests or accepts

                             instructions on public policy from the Pope…

or any other ecclesiastical source…”

 

Whether he intended to or not, by these and other statements in this speech

          Kennedy seemed to express a loyalty to America above

                   his loyalty to the Pope and his Catholic faith.

And he left the clear impression that religion in general

has no place in influencing the public policy and laws of our time.

 

To his credit, I don’t think he meant to do that.

In fact, later in the speech he stated:

“But if the time should ever come ….

when my office would require me to either violate my conscience

or violate the national interest,

then I would resign the office…

…nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church

in order to win this election.”

 

I’m not a huge John Kennedy fan,

but I think he was simply trying to convince Protestant Americans that he,

a loyal Catholic, was also a loyal American.

 

But he shouldn’t have had to do that.

There is no opposition between being a faithful Catholic and good American.

 

First of all, the Constitution itself guarantees protection of

the God-given right to religious liberty,

protecting religions and individual believers

from any oppression whatsoever by the government.

This reflected the founders strongly held belief in

the absolute importance of the positive effect of religion

to the success of the American experiment.

As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,

religion and morality are indispensable supports….”

…[R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect

that national morality can prevail

in exclusion of religious principle.”

 

Not only that, it is a moral doctrine of Catholicism itself

that Catholics must be loyal to our own countries

and be obedient to our country’s government and its just laws.

In other words, the Church says you’re a bad Catholic if you’re a bad citizen.

 

Finally, as I said earlier, it is Catholic moral doctrine that we are free

to make decisions according to our own individual consciences,

subject only to the truths expressed in the doctrines and dogmas our faith.

 

Sadly, largely because of the historical push

to be seen as loyal and mainstream Americans,

for too many Catholics in America

their Catholicism has become more and more like

an ethnicity than a deeply held conviction and a passionate way of life:

they take their fundamental values not from Christ and His Church,

but from either the popular American culture,

or, amazingly, from the decrees of government itself.

So that if the Supreme Court says abortion is okay,

many Catholics American think it must be okay.

And if the President says it’s time to approve so-called “same-sex-marriage,”         many Catholic Americans go along.

 

But it cannot be that way.

 

I love America, and I firmly believe it is the greatest nation in the history of man,

and I honor the great and brave men and women

who have sacrificed to make it so.

But our loyalty to America is not a blind loyalty.

 

First of all, it is a loyalty not to government officials

but to government established by

“We the People….in order to form a more perfect union,

establish justice, …and secure the blessings of liberty…”

A “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

We the People, as individuals, making free choices

based on our own individual moral values—and religions—:

this is what our American government is about—or is supposed to be about.

So that we Catholics are good Americans when we think like Catholics

and demand that our Catholic values,

our understanding of right and wrong, good and evil,

justice and oppression

be respected and protected.

Never imposed, but proposed by debate and democratic elections,

and even codified in law when accepted

by the majority of our fellow Americans.

 

And when I say “think like Catholics”, I don’t mean that we all have to

have the same policy solution to every problem,

or agree in every judgment we make.

But as Catholics every moral choice,

must always be rooted in and consistent with the principles and doctrines

of our Catholic faith and morals

—because they express the teaching of Jesus,

the Word of God, himself.

 

Again, for example, we can NOT say we’re Catholics

if we deny that we are obliged, in some real way, to take care of the poor.

But you and I can disagree,

and we can even disagree with our Bishops and even our Pope,

on the best way, practically speaking, to take care of the poor.

 

And we can disagree, for example, on just how

to protect people from unjust discrimination,

but as Catholics we can never say that it is discrimination to hold that

marriage can only be the union of one man and one woman.

 

Sadly, in recent years the old prejudices against Catholicism

have crept back into the American ethos,

as many demand that Catholics leave their morals and principles

at home or in the pew and not bring them

into the public square or the voting booth.

In fact, it’s ironic that this demand is also being made

against the children of Protestants who questioned the loyalty of Catholics

like John Kennedy 50 years ago.

More irony: Kennedy, in that same speech warned this would happen:

“Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you —

until the whole fabric of our harmonious society

is ripped at a time of great national peril.”

 

And so were are here today.

By coercion, especially through regulations and court orders issued

by unelected government officials,

secularist ideologues increasingly try to force us to accept their values,

or face ruinous fines or even imprisonment.

From the Christian baker who is forced to make a cake for a “gay wedding”

or lose his business;

to the Little Sister of the Poor who are threatened

with millions of dollars in fines if they don’t provide insurance

for the abortion-inducing drugs and contraception

of their employees;

to the U.S. senators and congressmen elected by the American people,

who were scolded last year by an unelected Supreme Court justice,                                  for protecting traditional marriage, because, their “purpose” was,

as he put it, “to disparage and to injure” “gay” people.

How ironic, that the justice was another Catholic named Kennedy.

 

Since our founding,

some have questioned the loyalty of Catholics to our great nation.

But there is no conflict between being a loyal Catholic and a loyal American.

 

On this feast of St. Peter and St. Paul,

as we celebrate the unity of the Church throughout the world,

let us pray that we may always hold profess and live by

the teachings of Jesus Christ

passed down to us by his apostles and their successors,

especially the successors of St. Peter, our Popes.

And as we approach the 238th anniversary of the founding of our great nation,

let us pray that that America may remain true to the values of our founders,

including the God-given right to religious liberty.

And as we leave here today

let us strive as good and faithful Catholics

to be good and loyal Americans,

by working with all Americans of goodwill,

to protect our nation from those who would

deny the rights of “we the people” to govern ourselves

according the values that we hold most sacred.

Corpus Christi Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corpus Christi Sunday, June 22, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

What  strange words the Master spoke to that crowd

gathered in the Synagogue in Capernaum:

“…my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

And how much stranger still the words he spoke months later

on the night He was betrayed:

this is my body…this is my blood.”

How could anyone believe  these words?

But  as we see clearly in Scripture, and in the life of the Church,

this is  what  exactly what  His  apostles did believe.

And they believed these words not because they  were  reasonable,

but  rather  because it was Jesus Christ himself who said them.

It was through absolute faith  in Jesus that they believed

that what was once ordinary bread is no longer bread at all,

but completely and substantially, the actual and real Body of Christ.

 

This is the faith of the Church, from the earliest times until now:

So we read in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians,

written 20 years later:

“The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

And see this carry over to the writings of the early Fathers.

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the year 107:

          “There is one Eucharist, which is the body of Christ.”

And Tertullian, around the year 200:

“The bread which he took and gave to his disciples

he turned into his body with the words “this is my body”…

Christ [did not just] preten[d] to make the bread his body…”

And as St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught the catechumens of the mid-4th century

on receiving Communion:

“Receive it with care that nothing of it be lost to you…

What you might permit to fall [from your hand],

think of as being the loss of a part of your own body”

And over and over again,

with so many of the great fathers of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd   centuries:

until we get to St. Augustine  who summarizes them in all the 4th century:

“It was in His flesh that Christ walked  among us

and it is His flesh that He has given us to eat

for our salvation.”

And it wasn’t just in receiving that the Eucharist is to be treated differently

–as St. Augustine says:

No one, however, eats of this flesh without having first adored it…”

 

Now, the gift of the Eucharist is at its heart a union or communion

between Christ and the Christian.

So the receiving Holy Communion

implies some things related to communion with Christ.

First it implies communion, or unity, with Christ and His Church,

the Catholic Church,

and with the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist as truly

the body, blood soul and divinity of Christ.

Because of this only Catholics may receive Communion at Catholic Mass.

 

Also, it implies unity with the life and love of Christ

—the way Jesus lived and taught His disciples to live and love:

the Christian moral life.

So that a Catholic aware that he has gravely departed from that moral life,

that he has committed mortal sin,

must always go to sacramental confession

before receiving Holy Communion.

The only exception to this rule is if it’s truly impossible to go to confession,

and by that the Church means it is physically impossible

to go to confession for at least a month or so

because there are absolutely no priests around

—not, because I forgot or don’t have time to go.

 

Some people say, but Father,

it’s embarrassing not to go to Communion,

or it hurts not to go to Communion.

But the thing is we should be embarrassed by our sins,

and mortal sins are not only hurtful, truly deadly to our souls.

And they are our free choices.

So if we choose to commit mortal sin,

we freely choose the consequences,

including the painful and embarrassing consequence

of excluding ourselves from Communion.

 

But at the same time, we shouldn’t judge others for not going to Communion.

Assume they have some other reason

—maybe they didn’t keep the fast,

maybe they’ve received at earlier Masses

or maybe they’re just over-scrupulous, too hard on themselves.

But if you do feel tempted to start judging

turn that judgment around

and instead praise that person for his great humility,

and ask yourself if you shouldn’t be imitating him yourself.

 

Now, all that takes into account what we believe in our minds,

and the proper internal disposition of the soul for receiving Communion.

But Communion is not just about the mind and soul,

especially since it’s something brought about through the body:

our bodies receive the Body of Christ!

And our bodily sharing in the Eucharist isn’t limited to just eating the host,

but it also includes the way our bodies express

what our hearts and minds believe about what we eat.

Our actions should express what’s in our minds;

and our actions also help our minds to understand and accept

what we believe.

 

So after 20 centuries we have a set of customs that we use

both to physically express and remember our belief in Christ’s

true presence in the Eucharist.

 

For example we have the custom of kneeling in the presence of the Eucharist.

In particular, we kneel at Mass, but also outside of Mass,

whenever we visit Christ present in the tabernacle

—always genuflecting to him whenever

we enter or leave, or pass in front of, his presence.

 

Another way we express this reverence

is in the way we receive Holy Communion.

It seems that for the first few centuries of the Church

receiving Communion in the hand was not unusual.

But as the Church grew in her understanding of the Eucharist,

to help us remember that this is no ordinary food,

it became the practice to receive communion directly on the tongue.

This was the law of the Church for almost 14 centuries.

In fact, it is still the law, or the normal way of receiving, today.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI allowed individual bishops give permission to their people

to receive communion in the hand.

But Pope Paul’s warned us not to let this form of receiving

be the occasion for any loss of reverence.

And while most bishops around the world now permit Communion in the hand,

some bishops, seeing a loss of reverence for the Eucharist,

have repealed their permissions

and now require their people to receive on the tongue.

And if you ever watch a Papal Mass you see

that folks who receive Communion from the Holy Father

must receive only on the tongue.

 

So, like the Pope, I always encourage people to receive on the tongue.

It is no ordinary food, so it’s important that it not be received as if it were.

Moreover, I share St. Cyril’s fear of dropping particles of the host

—each of which are also truly the body of Christ.

I clean the patens at the end of Mass—I know there are particles.

And if you notice, during the Mass after the consecration

I either hold the two fingers that touch the Host together

or I’m constantly cleaning them over the paten.

 

On the other hand, so to speak, there’s nothing illicit about receiving in the hand

—there are many very good reasons for doing it,

and the pope and bishop has given you permission to do so.

 

But besides the practical problems I just described

there is a more important potential problem, long term.

 

As one who holds the Eucharist in his hands

more than any of you probably ever will,

I can tell you that the more you handle the Body of Christ,

the easier it can become to take for granted and forget

exactly Who it is you’re holding.

 

So, if you take communion in the hand, ask yourself:

          do I do it in a way that expresses and reminds me of my belief?

Before you extend your hands you should first show a sign of reverence

—the normal sign in the U.S. is a bow of the head,

but many people make a profound bow of the body

or even genuflect,… and some even kneel to receive.

Again, if you watch people receiving from the Pope

they not only receive on the tongue they also kneel to receive.

 

But as I said, you may simply bow your head, if you choose.

 

Then as you receive, if you receive in the hand, remember the instruction

of St. Cyril of Jerusalem the 4th century:

receive by placing your left hand on top of your right hand

as if you were creating a throne to receive your God,

keeping your eyes on Christ;

and then, stepping to the side

carefully take the host in your right hand

and place it in your mouth,

being careful to consume any crumbs.

And please remember, when you receive in the hand

          there are special requirements

          put on the priest and extraordinary minister too!

We are required to make sure that the host is

“consumed at once, so that no one goes away

with the Eucharistic species in his hand.”

So if we watch you for a moment after giving you the host,

please don’t be offended

—it’s part of our reverence for the Eucharist.

Also, if we perceive even a danger of irreverence

the priest—or extraordinary minister—

must give you communion in the hand.

So for example, let’s say you come up with a baby in your arms,

we are required by the bishop to give you communion on the tongue

—not because you have a baby,

but because your arms and hands are concerned

with your baby, as they should be.

 

And when it comes to bodily expressions,

a most fundamental way we express our belief in the Real Presence

is by what we wear to Mass.

Think about it: if you were going on a job interview, you would dress the part.

Every time I go to Mass I dress up

—what would you think if I showed up today in shorts and a tee-shirt?

Now, I know it’s getting hot outside;

and I know sometimes you might have

a very good reason for dressing down.

So no one here should judge you for how you dress.

Even so, if a father dresses in a business suit to go to work,

but in shorts and a tee-shirt when he comes to Mass,

what message is he sending, especially to his kids,

about the relative importance of each?

 

It’s easy to lose site of the great wonder

of Christ’s real and living presence in the Blessed Sacrament

–to take for granted that this is no ordinary piece of food

but the very Body of Our Saviour

which is to be worshiped and adored, even as it is to be eaten.

It looks like a piece of bread

—but in our hearts we believe in the word of Jesus when he says:

                   “this is my body…this is my blood”…

and  “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

Let us then show this belief in his Body, by the actions of our bodies.

Trinity Sunday (Father’s Day), June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday (Father’s Day), June 15, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity,

celebrating the most sublime mystery of our faith:

that God is One,

but also three Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

We call it a “mystery” because

it is something that we would have never known

if God Himself hadn’t revealed it to us.

And it remains a “mystery” because

it’s something we will never fully understand

because its divine and infinite nature is so far above

our limited human intelligence and experience.

This doesn’t mean it’s irrational or imagined

—no more than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is irrational or imagined

simply because it isn’t understood by 99.999…% of humanity.

It just means it’s too big for our little brains to wrap around.

 

Now, I also say it’s a “sublime” mystery

because it reveals something amazingly wonderful about God:

that He is a personal communion of three persons

sharing one life and one love.

So that at the heart of God’s very being…who He most truly is,

is this eternal, total, complete, mutual self-gift

between the three Divine Persons in love,

that is at the center of their absolute unity.

 

And I say it’s “the most” sublime mystery because it is really

the beginning of all meaning in life

and the end to which all life is directed: living in the love of God.

The Bible begins by telling us that we were created

in the image of God.

So that when Jesus reveals that God is a Trinity of Persons

we come to understand that human beings

are created in the image of this amazing Trinitarian love

in order to share in it, both on earth

—by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength,

and loving each other—

and in heaven.

 

What a glorious Feast.

 

Today is also, of course, Father’s Day.

It’s great when this secular holiday

falls on the Christian Holy Day of Trinity Sunday,

because the Trinity is really where Christians come to understand

the true and profound meaning of Fatherhood

Because, in a certain sense the Trinity is a Family:

first there is God the Father

—from whom the Son is eternally begotten,

and from whom, with the Son, the Holy Spirit proceeds.

And today we remember that Divine familial relationship within God

and see that we are created to live and love in the image of God

most fundamentally in human families of father, mother and children.

 

Now some might say, there’s a problem with this: where’s God the Mother?

Well, first of all, we shouldn’t limit our understanding of the Fatherhood of God

to the narrow confines of the human sexes—male and female.

God is neither, male or female,

so God’s “parenthood” is revealed in both Fatherhood and Motherhood,

although differently in each.

So that God can say in Scripture:

that he is [Deut]: “the God who gave you birth.”

and [Isaiah 66:13]: “As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you.”.

 

Even so, nowhere in Scripture does he identify as or call himself “mother”

—he constantly identifies Himself as “Father.”

There are many reasons why he does this.

Perhaps the most fundamental reason for calling himself by the masculine title

is that he calls his people by the feminine title: His “bride” or His “wife”!

This mystery of the divine bridegroom and his bride is full of rich meaning for us.

But at its core it teaches us of the depth and breadth and height

of God’s love for us,

and reveals how he intensely he loves us,

and how intensely we should love him.

And it also teaches us dignity and the rich possibilities

of the love of a husband and wife, father and mother,

as they sharing in and reflect in a fundamental and unique way

the love that is at the heart of the Trinity.

 

Still another reason God reveals himself as Father

is that it shows us in a powerful and irrefutable way

the essential importance and role of human fathers in human families.

If God is Father, how can any family be all it was created to be

without its own human father?

And how can human fathers think they’re not important to their families,

to their wives and children?

And how can families think that fathers are unimportant?

And how can society deny the societal importance of fatherhood?

 

And yet today, that is exactly what is happening.

In the America today,

more than 34% of all babies born are born to absentee fathers,

and 43% of children live in fatherless homes.

What would you expect when for 50 years so many forces in society,

including the Marxist-left, the feminist movement

and the gay rights movement,

have tried to convince us that fathers are not necessary to the family.

 

All this in spite of the fact that statistics show the devastating effects

of fatherless homes on society:

90% of homeless and runaway children

are from fatherless homes;[1]

as are 71% of pregnant teenagers;[2]

63% of youth suicides;[3]

71% of high school dropouts;[4]

and 85% of youths in prisons.

 

Fathers are absolutely important to their children—and to their wives.

The facts prove that

…and the revelation of the Fatherhood of God shows us why.

It’s because that’s the way God made us:

to share in the His mystery of the life and love of the Trinitarian Family,

by sharing in the mystery of the human family of

father, mother and children.

 

Does that mean that a family can’t survive and even flourish

without a father or a mother or even children?

Or does this demean heroic single-mothers who are trying their best

to raise their children alone?

Or does it mean that there’s something wrong with children

who don’t have a father active in their lives?

Of course not, absolutely not.

 

But are we better off with only a mother and not a father?

We might as well ask are we better off with only one arm,

or with two arms and no legs?

In the same way, every family is better off if it functions as God designed it to:

with both a mother and a father.

 

But not just any father.

The Fatherhood of God teaches us

that fathers are meant to be good fathers to their families.

 

Fatherhood has a dignity all its own, rooted in the dignity of God’s fatherhood.

But the Trinitarian mystery reveals

that the dignity of fatherhood always exists in relation

to the equal dignity of each member of the family:

God the Son (Jesus) is equal to God the Father,

even as Jesus is obedient to His Father.

And so, even as fathers and husbands lead their families,

they must always respect the dignity of each member of the family.

 

And at the core of this respect, at the core of being a good father,

is the same thing that’s at the core of the Trinitarian mystery: love.

To be a true father, as God created you, is to love.

And not to love as you feel like loving, but to love as God the Father loves.

 

And how does God the Father love?

Look around you: look at all you have,

your jobs, your houses, the sun shining outside,

your good health, and your wives and children.

God the Father gave you all that.

But then also look at every single beat of your heart,

and at every breath you take.

God also gives you those: he is always there, at every moment, caring for you.

 

That’s how a true father loves his children:

always there, always giving everything he can for the good of his children.

 

Now, note I said, “for the good of his children.”

We ask God for things all the time,

a lot of which he doesn’t give us because he loves us

and he knows it’s either it’s bad for us or he has something better in mind.

 

Human fathers have to do the same thing.

Sorry kids, but Dads, you should not give your children everything they want;

but you should strive to give them everything they really need,

and everything that you can that is truly good for them.

Is spoiling your children good for them?

Is letting them do whatever they want good for them?

As Scripture tells us:

“the LORD disciplines those he loves,

as a father [disciplines] the son he delights in.”

 

That’s how God the Father loves, and that’s the way human fathers should love.

 

But the greatest way to understand the love of God the Father

the words Jesus on the night before he died:

“the father and I are one….

he who has seen me has seen the Father.”

We see what God the Son does, and we see how God the Father loves:

like Father, like Son.

And so we see the love of a good father as Christ sacrifices

everything on the Cross out of love for his bride and his children.

And we see that same love as he comes back to be with them in the resurrection,   and as he keeps his promise:

“I will not leave you orphans… Behold, I am with you always.”

 

The Dogma of Most Holy Trinity,

is the most sublime mystery of our faith:

that God is One, but also three Divine Persons:

a personal communion of three persons

sharing one life and one love.

 

In this time of social upheaval and attempts to corrupt family life,

and specifically the degradation of fatherhood and husband-hood,

this great mystery reveals that marriage and family are created

to share in and truly be an image of the Trinitarian love and life,

and reminds us of the absolute importance of fathers to God’s plan

for the good of the family and the salvation of mankind.

 

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

and are drawn more profoundly into

the Communion of life and love of God the Father, Son and Spirit,

let us beg the Blessed Trinity to shower graces on the families of the world,

and especially all fathers, and most especially our own fathers.

By the grace of this Most Blessed sacrament

may God the Father, through the sacrifice of God the Son,

and the working of the Holy Spirit

renew in us a profound respect for the twofold blessing we celebrate today:             the most sublime mystery of the Most Holy Trinity,

and the great dignity and importa

 

[1] US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census. All stats taken from http://fatherhoodfactor.com/us-fatherless-statistics/, and comparable to other websites.

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999

[3] US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census

[4] National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools

Pentacost Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s 1st reading we hear the story of the first Pentecost,

and how on that great day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples

“And suddenly there came from the sky           a noise like a strong driving wind… Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,

which …came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit           and began to speak in different tongues.”

 

It goes on to tell us that the disciples

immediately went out and started proclaiming the Gospel to the crowds

and that 3000 were baptized that day.

 

Some remember the dramatic events of that day

and wonder why these things don’t happen today:

today there is no loud wind, except perhaps a windbag preacher,

and the only flames of fire

are the candles around the Altar. If the Holy Spirit is here, why doesn’t he make himself known

like he did 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.

But you know, maybe sometimes he does.

 

As you all know, 6 weeks ago Pope John Paul II was canonized a saint.

So he’s and his life have been on my mind an awful lot lately.

It seems to me his whole life was witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I remember a few months after his election to the papacy,

when he returned to his hometown of Krakow Poland,

on Pentecost of 1979,

and stared down the atheistic-Communist government.

His words sting ring out, as he prayed:

“Send down your spirit! … And renew the face of the earth! This earth!”

And the crowd of 3 million Poles began to shout: “we want God! we want God!”

And Communism was over in Poland, and the fall of the Iron Curtain began.

 

But another memory of John Paul that came after his life stands out even more,

as I recall the vivid scenes of his funeral Mass,

9 years ago, on April 8th, 2005.

As terribly sad as that day was,

watching all the events transpire I remember thinking then:

this is the Holy Spirit—this is Pentecost.

 

I don’t know if you remember it, but I see it like it was yesterday.

4 million people gathered from all over the world,

came together, overflowing from St. Peter’s Square

into the streets of Rome

all to see a dead man.

And another 2 BILLION folks saw the funeral on TV.

Incredible….but as incredible as that was,

how much more amazing to see heads of state

from all the nations of the earth

standing together—more than ever assembled before.

The sight of the foreign minister of Iran shaking hands

with the foreign minister of Israel.

The sight of a Methodist President of the United States

and the Secularist Prime Minister France

kneeling next to each other before our Eucharistic Lord at Catholic Mass.

And then the wind blew, and blew, flipping the pages of the Book of the Gospels

laying on the casket back and forth—as if in invitation to read it all at once.

And then, you may remember, how at the end as the casket of the pontiff

was turned to the people one last time,

and at that very moment the clouds parted and the sun shone down

for the first time all day.

 

4 million people, 2 billion people, all different languages, all different faiths,

to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed

by the successors of the apostles…

…the wind buffeting, the fire of the sun descending.

Pentecost in the year 2005.

 

My friends, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Church.

And if that day wasn’t enough to prove his presence,

11 days later he made his presence known in perhaps a more subtle way,

but still, a truly powerfully supernatural way.

 

While all the worldly pundits droned on about how the new pope would have to

be young, vigorous and charismatic like the John Paul of 1978,

and would have to open to radical changes in the Church…

…the Holy Spirit thought differently.

Instead, he moved the cardinals in conclave to elect

one of the oldest of their number, a quite scholar: Pope Benedict XVI.

A staunch defender of tradition and orthodoxy, who had been responsible

for publicly reprimanding many of the men who would elect the new pope.

And still they would overwhelmingly vote for him,

because the Holy Spirit had chosen him.

And Pentecost in 2005 continued.

 

And then jump forward to 2013.

Pope Benedict resigns and again the cardinals elect a man no one thought of.

This time a cardinal from the 3rd world, the “new world.”

Another old man, but one who surprises us every day with his energy and wit,

and has the whole world taking a second look at the Catholic Church.

And yet he hasn’t made one change in doctrine or liturgy,

and, in fact, has affirmed strongly the teachings of his predecessors

—especially John Paul II and Benedict XVI—

on the most so-called “controversial” subjects.

 

Pentecost 2014.

 

But the Holy Spirit is not just manifested in great events or in the lives of Popes.

 

The real reason we don’t need extraordinary ostentatious displays of power

—like on the first Pentecost—

is because we have something even greater

that is a persistent powerful display of his presence.

2000 years ago Jesus Christ established his Church on earth.

And when he had ascended into heaven,

He and His Father sent their Holy Spirit into the Church,

like a wind, a breathe of life,

just as he had once blown into the lifeless body of Adam,

bringing him to life.

What we have is the Church, living and breathing,

working and preaching in the world.

And this is the great and dramatic sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence:

despite of all the weak men and women

who have been and are now her members,

despite the scores of weak, foolish and even sinful Popes,

and thousands of weak, foolish and sinful

bishops, priests and lay people,

in spite of all that,

the Church still stands after 2000 years,

as a beacon of light, truth and grace to the whole world.

 

Why seek spectacular shows of fire and wind and languages,

when see the power of the Holy Spirit protecting the pristine Word of God

flowing to us in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition,

and clarifying that Word through His continuing protection

of the teaching magisterium of the Church, especially the popes.

Why seek dramatic signs

when every single hour of every day of the week,

the power of the Holy Spirit turns bread and wine

into the Body and Blood of God the Son, Jesus Christ,

at Masses celebrated all over the world.

Why seek incredible displays of divine power

when every time a sinner kneels before a priest with sorrow for her sins,

the words of Christ to his first priest on that first Easter

echo over 20 centuries:

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

And by the power of the Holy Spirit the sinner arises a saint.

 

Pentecost today—and every day!

 

And the Holy Spirit isn’t just manifest in His Church as a whole

—but also in each one of its members.

Years ago each of you were baptized in the name of

the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As water was poured onto your head the Holy Spirit was poured into your heart       —and has abided there ever since.

And at your confirmation the Holy Spirit descended on you

in the fullness of his power

just as surely as he descended on that upper room on the disciples.

And he strengthen your Baptismal grace, and gave you new gifts

so that you possess inside of you every gift you need

to be the incredible saint, God created you to be.

 

So that when people ask me why

the Spirit doesn’t come in fire and wind and tongues,

in the end I have to respond:

2000 years ago the Spirit did all that to get our attention

and to make the point that he had arrived,

not only in the Church as one body,

but also in the individual members of that body.

So why are we so interested in about what he’s doing around us,

when we should be asking ourselves what he’s trying to do inside us?

 

Think of this, the same powerful Spirit of the Most High God

that made himself so clearly manifest at the first Pentecost

is the same Spirit that came to you in baptism and Confirmation.

The Spirit of Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude and Piety

and Reverence.

The Spirit Who 2000 years ago transformed those cowering sheep,

hiding behind that locked door in Jerusalem,

into bold prophets, and future martyrs, fearlessly proclaiming the Gospel,

–and converting 3000 people in one day.

That Spirit lives in you—and me.

 

But we forget.

Or perhaps we never quite understood

—or it wasn’t explained to us, or maybe we weren’t paying attention.

Okay, then let’s pay attention now

—that’s why we celebrate Pentecost every year!

Because just as the Holy Spirit has sustained the Catholic Church for 2 millennia

and made her a rock of truth and holiness

he is in you to give you every grace

to live in the fullness of the life and love of God

and to make you a light to the nations,

a witness to the truth,

a clear example of what it means

to love God with all your heart, mind soul and strength

and your neighbor as yourself.

 

If you want to see the Holy Spirit

all you have to do is let him go to work in your life.

 

But how do you do that?

First, you have to pray.

The first disciples weren’t just twiddling their thumbs in the upper room

–they were praying for 9 straight days for the Holy Spirit to come.

What is your prayer life like?

Do you make time every day to really talk to God, and to listen to him?

How can you know the Holy Spirit if you don’t regularly take time

to recognize and acknowledge his presence?

 

Second, you must stay close to the Church

—you must act like the member of the body of Christ that you are.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to separate the Church and the Spirit

—that’s like trying to separate the body and soul—it brings death.

And you can’t separate yourself from the Church

and still experience the Holy Spirit in your life

–that’s like plucking an eye from the body and expecting it to keep seeing.

 

As the Acts of the apostles tells us today,

the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples when

“they were all in one place together.”

Do you come to church regularly, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit

acting in the sacraments?

Do you unite yourself to the apostles and their successors

by studying the teachings of the Church ?

 

Third, are you trying to live a life consistent with those teachings?

Are you trying to live a moral life?

Are you following the way of the Lord Jesus which he revealed to his Church,

or are you flagrantly or carelessly following some other road?

 

And fourth, are you even trying to proclaim the Gospel to those around you

—either by your actions or your words?

How can you say you don’t experience the Spirit and his gifts in your life

if you never even try to cooperate with him or use those gifts?

 

My friends, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Catholic Church, and in us.

If only we recognize him and allow him to work in our lives.

Let’s begin today—right here and now.

 

Here at this Mass we come together to pray.

We hear the teachings of his Church, and unite ourselves to his apostles.

And we acknowledge his power acting in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

And we resolve that when we leave here today,

we will live our lives consistent with those teachings,

and we will proclaim those teachings to all we meet.

 

If you need things like the fire and the wind and miraculous speech

to believe the Holy Spirit is present to us today

what more do you want after seeing something like

the events in Rome 9 years ago at St. John Paul’s funeral?

But really, who needs that when you have

the miracle of the Church, the Word of God, the sacraments

and the Holy Spirit inside you.

 

And so, if there’s a loud noise to be made today,

let it come from us as we proclaim in our prayers [and in song]

our faith in the promises of Jesus.

And if there’s fire to burn today, let it burn in our hearts filled with love for Jesus.

And filled with the Spirit, united in the one Body of Christ Jesus,

let that Spirit come forth today through us,

as we boldly proclaim the Gospel to all the world.

 

 

Lord, send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Ascension Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ascension Sunday, June 1, 2014

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Some six weeks ago the Church came together

to observe the Passion and death of Our Lord.

It was a time to remember the sacrifice of the Cross,

as well as the three days in the tomb when the early Church

experienced life without Christ.

Do you remember the gospel readings from those days?

How the apostles hid together in the upper room, a bunch of quivering cowards,

bolting the door because they were afraid

someone might come after the Master’s followers?

Despite the Lord’s repeated promise that He would rise from the dead,

the apostles lost confidence in Him.

But the Lord still kept His promise: at the end of the days in the tomb,

He conquered death

and walked right into that same locked upper room

and banished all fear and restored all hope.

The disciples learned in one three day lesson never to doubt Him again,

for He is the Messiah–the promised one  who keeps His promises.

 

After He had stayed with His apostles for 40 days,

teaching them and opening their minds and hearts to the truth,

it came time for Him to leave again

—to ascend, [as today’s second reading tells us]

to sit at the Father’s “right hand in the heavens,

far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.”

And as He Ascended into heaven He made them three new promises:

that from his throne in in heaven he would send His Holy Spirit

to clothe them with “power from on high”

so that He would remain with them “always, until the end of the age”;

and that at the end of the age he would come back to them.

And this time, they believed in his promises.

 

Now, today’s Gospel from St. Matthew

tells us what Jesus said right before the Ascension,

and today’s 1st Reading from the Acts of the Apostles

gives us an account of what happened during the Ascensionitself,

but  neither of them tell us what happened after the Ascension.

To find that we need to go to the next passage in the Bible

that follows the text we read from Acts today.

There it tells us the 11 apostles:

“returned to Jerusalem …[and] went to the upper room ….

[They] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,

together with [the] women,

and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

 

They did not lose hope, as they did on Good Friday,

even though he’s gone away again.

Instead, they went to that same upper room they stayed in after the crucifixion,

but this time not to hide and whimper in fear,

but to wait and pray in hope for the fulfillment of Jesus promise

to send to His Holy Spirit.

 

Looking back on these events,

many of us are amazed at the apostles’ behavior before Easter.

The fools!

They had seen his miracles

–they saw him walk on water,

and calm a storm at sea;

–they saw him feed over 5000 people, twice,

and raise 3 people from the dead,

one who had been in the tomb for 4 days!

How could they have such little faith?

He was Jesus–God–and they knew Him!

Surely they remembered His promise that

on the third day He would rise from the dead!

How could they lose hope like that?

 

And yet, how many times have we lost hope in Christ?

How many times have we given up on Him?

Perhaps not by locking ourselves in our homes and barricading the door,

but in other ways.

How many times did the troubles in our lives seem so heavy

that we felt that even Jesus had failed us, or abandoned us,

and turned away to wallow in the darkness of despair,

rather than turning to Jesus, who is the light of the world?

 

Or how many times have we faced some powerful temptation

to do something Jesus clearly taught was sinful,

and we just gave in, saying “it’s too difficult,”

and maybe even blamed Jesus: “I prayed but Jesus didn’t help me”;

or maybe even, “I know what Jesus taught, but he was wrong.”

 

Or How many times have we been in a conversation with friends or family

and someone raised a criticism of the teaching of Christ or His Church,

and we just remained silent?

 

Every time we did these things we locked the door and cowered in fear

and lost hope in the promises of Jesus.

 

But one of the wonderful things about this Feast is that it reminds us that,

no matter how many times we’ve doubted, or been afraid to follow Jesus,

today, can be a new beginning.

 

We see this in today’s readings in a very subtle, but beautiful way.

Both today’s Gospel and 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles

tell us the events surrounding the Ascension.

Now, in general, the Gospels give us the story of the life of Jesus

when he walked in his body on the earth,

while the “The Acts of the Apostles,” gives us the story of the life of Jesus

once he had bodily ascended to heaven,

–the story of his life lived in his mystical body on earth

—the Church.

The Gospels record the failures and sins of men

—in particular the weaknesses, doubts and betrayals of the apostles—

but the Acts of the Apostles record a new beginning for the apostles.

No longer will they hide in fear, and never again will they deny the power of God,

 

What’s happened to make this change?

Of course, the resurrection happened—Christ conquered sin and death!

But in a sense, that was only a beginning.

Today we celebrate the fact that Christ Ascended bodily into heaven:

he not only rose from the dead and lived again in his body in 33 A.D.

–he then ascended into heaven and really lives there in his glorified body,

now and forever.

His chest heaves with the breath of life, his heart beats with love of God.

His ears are open to hear our prayers,

His mouth smiles when we show him love,

His eyes weep when we fall from grace.

His hands reach out to lift us when we fall,

and His arms open wide to welcome us into his peace.

And, as the Book of Revelation tells us, as he sits on his throne in heaven,

he looks out on us and says: “behold, I make all things new.”

 

Today  we remember that day when Our Lord ascended into heaven

a day that marks the end of one way of living

and the beginning of a new way of living.

A new way of living based on the three promises he made that day.

As promised, He has sent His Holy Spirit

—as we remember as we celebrate Pentecost next Sunday.

And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus does remains with us,

even until the end of time,

in his Church, in his Word, and in his sacraments,

and through his sacraments, in our hearts.

And by the power of the Holy Spirit

he makes sinful, fearful and doubting cowards,

like the apostles and you and me,

into holy, courageous and faithful heroes.

And made confident by the fulfillment of these promises,

we live in joyful hope,

that he will surely keep his 3rd promise: he will come again in glory.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead,

yes, to cast out those who have not loved him,

but more magnificently, to raise up those who have loved him,

who have remained faithful,

who have kept his word, and followed his commandments.

Then, as St. Paul tells us today, we shall see “the riches of glory,”

and share “his inheritance among the holy ones.”

 

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

as the true Body of Jesus Christ enthroned in heaven,

descends to this altar through the action of the Holy Spirit,

we pray that, like the apostles on the first feast of the Ascension,

we will learn from our foolish mistakes of the past

and  from now on trust in His promises.

And that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can lay aside past fear and sin

and begin a new life of faith and hope in He who sits at the Father’s

“right hand in the heavens,

far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.” So that we may remain with him, Our Lord Jesus Christ, always,

in the trials of this world, and in the glories of the world to come.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014

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

In today’s 2nd reading, St. Peter tells us:
“Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…”

Don’t raise your hand or anything,
but how many times has someone asked you
why the Church teaches this or that doctrine,
and you struggled to give a coherent response
—maybe you even had no answer at all to give them.

I don’t mean to pick on you: I know you do believe,
and that you probably know the faith better than most Catholics.
But the sad fact is, most Catholics just don’t know their faith very well.
So is it any wonder that so many Catholics don’t come to Mass,
or even leave the Church altogether,
or perhaps even stay in the Church and go to Mass
but don’t live life as real Catholics.
Much less, is it any wonder that more people don’t become Catholic,
if we can’t even explain what we believe?

Now, we don’t have time today to go through all the Church’s teachings,
but let’s look at one example of how we could begin to
explain the reasons for our hope.
Let’s look at one of the most important parts of our faith: the sacraments.

The Catholic life flows from, is nourished by and revolves around
the 7 sacraments:
Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Marriage,
Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.
They are absolutely essential to the Catholic life and hope,
but who here is “ready to give an explanation” of them?

Maybe you could begin by defining what we believe a sacrament is,
giving a very simple definition:
“an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.”

What do we mean by an “an outward sign”?
We are physical creatures, and everything we learn and understand,
everything we communicate to others,
comes to us through physical things, and through our physical bodies:
we talk, we listen, we see, we touch, etc.

So, when the God who made us this way, decided to reveal himself to us,
he came to us physically,
and used physical signs to explain himself to us.

The main physical signs he used was “the word.”
If you think about it, words are just signs that point
to some meaning and reality that our minds understand.
And yet they are absolutely essential to all human beings,
especially when it comes to knowing and worshiping God, Jesus Christ
Who would deny that?

And so when Christ left the world he left these signs called “words”
—words grouped together to form his “Gospel” and his “teachings.”

But he also left other physical signs to communicate to us.
Signs that are also absolutely essential, according to His plan,
for us to know and worship him.
Signs that were not meant to communicate his teaching,
but to communicate his grace.

And so, for example, the Sacrament of Baptism comes to us
in the outward sign of the pouring of water, and the words,
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.”
As St. John tells us, Jesus told Nicodemus,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
And then John concludes:
“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea;
there he remained with them and baptized.”

Some will say to you, well, these so-called sacraments, even baptism, is optional
—they might say something like “it’s faith alone that saves,”
or maybe “as long as we don’t hurt anyone, that’s enough.”
So, if the sacramental signs of Jesus are optional,
are the words of Jesus optional?
How could they be—they are signs communicating to us his teaching?
That can’t be optional for Christians.
So how could the other signs he left behind be optional: the signs of his grace?

Could he have communicated to us in some different way?
Sure—he could.
He could speak directly to you, in some sort of vision or locution.
And sometimes he does.
But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the words he left behind with his apostles.

And in the same way he can give us grace any way he wants
—he is God after all.
But he chose to give the apostles the sacraments as the normal means
of giving us particular graces that are essential to living the Christian life.
Why would we, how can we, ignore them or refuse them?
Especially when he says things like:
“unless a man is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God”;
or “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man…you have no life in you.”

As I said, a sacrament is outward sign, instituted by Christ.
For many, the main question is where or how Christ instituted the sacraments.
Some are harder to see than others, but some are obvious.
Baptism and the Eucharist seem pretty obvious,
considering Jesus specific commands in their regard.

But some are not so obviously instituted by Jesus,
at least to the extent that the Gospel doesn’t specifically say he
actually administered the sacrament himself,
or commanded the apostles to do so.
But the thing is, we can also see that he instituted the sacraments
by looking at the actions of the apostles after he ascended to heaven.
We believe that they did what he taught them to do.

So, for example, the Acts of the Apostles tells us
that the apostles baptized 3000 people on the first Pentecost day.
And the rest of the New Testament makes it clear
that they kept baptizing people:
today’s first reading tells us about the new Christians in Samaria who
had “been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

We see this also in the sacrament of confirmation.
Even though the Gospels don’t record Jesus
ever specifically talking about confirmation,
we see the apostles clearly confirming people in the New Testament.
We also read about that in today’s first reading from Acts.
It says that after the deacon Philip had baptized the Samarians,
“the apostles in Jerusalem…sent them Peter and John,
…that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for it had not yet fallen upon any of them…
Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
This is clearly the sacrament of Confirmation.
Note that that the apostles themselves
had to travel all the way from Jerusalem to Samaria
because only they—the first bishops and priests—
could give the sacrament of Confirmation—
never a deacon, like Philip.
That’s exactly what we believe today.

Now, clearly Jesus had told them that he would send the Holy Spirit to them,
as we read in today’s gospel:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…”
And even it wasn’t recorded in the Gospel, it seems clear
that he also told them how to share that Holy Spirit with all of us.
How else did the apostles figure it out,
and how to do share it by laying on of hands,
and that only they had the power to do that?
They wouldn’t just invent that—they only did what Jesus taught them to do.

So what if the specifics weren’t mentioned in the Gospel:
St. John goes on to tell us at the end of his Gospel:
“there are also many other things which Jesus did;
were every one of them to be written,
…the world itself could not contain
the books that would be written.”
And St. Paul tells us in 2nd Thessalonians:
“hold [on] to the traditions which you were taught by us,
either by word of mouth or by letter.
Catholics believe that the teaching of the apostles
is handed down to us in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,
or the oral traditions handed down by word of mouth.
And it is clear from that Tradition, and totally consistent with Scripture,
that Christ himself instituted the sacrament of Confirmation.

Now, some clever skeptic might ask: doesn’t the Church say
you have to lay on hands and anoint them with the oil of Chrism?
Where does that come from?
That’s not even remotely alluded to in Scripture.

But remember: the letters of the New Testament weren’t written to be ritual books.
For example, notice it says they “laid hands on them,”
but it doesn’t say where they laid their hands?
So obviously details are missing.

We assume they laid hands on their head because of 2 things:
first, because that’s what the first written rituals
dated from the 2nd century tell us,
and second, because the Old Testament explains
that that’s how the Jews gave special blessings.
And those same 2nd century rituals tell us
that not only did they lay hands on the head,
they also anointed the head with oil.
And that same Old Testament tells us that
when someone was anointed a priest, prophet or king
they were anointed on the head, symbolizing that “a portion of God’s spirit”
had been poured out on them.

So did the Peter and John lay hands on and anoint the heads the Samarians?
Once again, that’s what the very early church believed,
and it’s totally consistent with the Scriptures.
And so that is what we believe.

Now, we can go on like this through the other 4 of the 7 sacraments.
But my point is, as I began, we must, as Peter wrote:
“Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…”
Today, I’ve tried to help you to do that—or at least see how it can be done.

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about the “New Evangelization.”
But what we forget is the New Evangelization begins with us.
Before we can share the faith with others we need to learn our faith ourselves.
And the thing is, it’s not that hard—there’s all sorts of resources:
there’s classes and lectures in the parish,
or you can read the Bible, the Catechism, and other catechetical books.
And there’s CDs and the internet.
It’s not that hard, and it’s interesting, and logical and beautiful.

And it’s absolutely necessary–if you want to be a better Catholic,
and if you want to share your Catholic faith with others.

As we now enter more deeply in this Holy Mass, let us thank the Lord
for the many signs he has given us so that we can know him:
the words of his teaching and the sacraments of his grace.
And let us pray that the sacramental grace we receive in this Holy Eucharist,
will help us to understand what he has taught us,
so that we may grow stronger in faith, hope and love for him,
and “always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for [our] hope…”

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014

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

There are certain words that are very popular today
but that can be very confusing to Christians:
words like equality, diversity, tolerance and choice.
They can confuse Christians because nowadays
they are most commonly used in the popular culture
as synonymous for the word “indifference.”
But that’s not at all what these words mean in the Christian tradition.

This change in the meaning of these words
is rooted a more profound underlying idea popular in our world today:
the idea that there is no absolute truth,
no one way to be or act,
or one kind of life to live.
And that is what the Church calls and condemns as “indifferentism.”
Because being Christian means being in unity with Christ and his teaching,
and Christ himself, in today’s Gospel tells us, he himself is:
” the way and the truth and the life.”

Everybody is looking for the truth.
Everybody wants to know the right way to do things.
And everyone wants to know what kind of life they should live.
If they didn’t then no one would have high blood pressure,
or endure any kind of stress what ever.
No one would worry about doing the right thing,
not even the right thing to get what we want, much less the morally right thing.
No one would care about much of anything.

The Gospel text today is taken from St. John’s account of the Last Supper.
Imagine the context: Jesus is seated with his best friends, the twelve apostles.
It had been an turbulent week for them.
It began with the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover
pouring into the streets to greet Jesus as the Messiah.
But as the week when on, the sensed a change in the crowd:
they had been disappointed in Jesus.
And perhaps they had noticed a change in Jesus too,
as if he knew something was about to happen.
And he did know: he knew that in a few hours they would see him
dragged away and hanged on a cross.
And when that happens he knows that they will be sorely tempted
to look to abandon all that he has shown them.

But that’s the last thing Jesus wants.
These are the men he has chosen to spread his message to all the world.
So Jesus tells them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

They are not to fall back on their old ways.
They are not to loose faith in the God of their Jewish fathers,
but neither are they to loose faith in the one sent by God–his Son, Jesus Christ.
He knows that these 12 men–like every man, women and child from the beginning of time
–need to know which way they should go, what the truth is, and how to live.
He knows that for them, like us, this is a great source of worry and concern.
So much so that we will eventually accept anything
that somehow seems to temporarily meet those needs,
or somehow dulls the pain we feel when they go unmet.
And He says to them and he says to us: “Do not worry…have faith in me.”

The problem is, like us so often, the apostles had a hard time having faith in Jesus.
So Philip asks him: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Philip is asking the question that most people
eventually ask when they encounter Christ and his teachings:
Why should I accept this, you’re just a man?
Oh, maybe smarter and holier than everyone else
–maybe you are a great prophet and God does speak to you.
But your still just a man.
Mohammed was a man–why can’t we follow him?
Gandhi, Buddha, Karl Marx were men.
Why can’t we follow them?
Show us something that makes you special.

I can just see Jesus now–at the same time frustrated and bemused.
I picture him with this look of exasperation on his face, shaking his head:
“Philip, have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?
…Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
Jesus Christ is not just an ordinary man: He’s also God.

The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created man in his own image
–to be like him.
And that’s not saying that he’s like some proud papa
who wants his children to follow in his footsteps.
What it means is that he created us in a such a way
that we can only be who we are when we are like him.
When Stradivarius made a fine violin, or Gibson a fine guitar,
they were designed for one purpose–to be a violin or guitar—
and as a violin or guitar to make beautiful music that moves the soul.
A Stradivarius violin silently sitting in the corner is still a violin,
and a Gibson guitar used as a pot for a plant is still a guitar,
but what a terrible waste.

You are created in the image of God.
Would you rather be like a violin sitting silently in the corner,
or a violin that sings of eternal love and hope
filling the world with the music of God!
As St. John Paul II used to say so often: “man, be who you are!”
To be fully human is to be like God.

But what, in truth, is God really like?
In what way does he act?
What sort of life does he lead?
Many would say that its impossible for human beings know any of this
–its not like God came into the world and showed us….

Oh, but he did!
“Philip!…whoever has seen me has seen the Father!”
You can follow Mohammed, Buddha, or Marx
or whatever self-proclaimed prophet you want
….but who are they but mere mortal men.
They may understand some things about God…
But Jesus Christ is the way of God!
Jesus Christ is the truth of God!
Jesus Christ is the life of God!”
Because Jesus is God!

Indifferentism is growing in the world today.
Many say that its wrong to claim that any one particular group’s idea of the truth
is the absolute truth.
Some even argue that this contest between various religious groups’ different claims
to be sole possessors of the truth
is the root of much of the violence in our history and today
—and so something to be overcome and eliminated.
Even many Catholics have come to believe
that all religions are about the same fundamentally
–“its all the same God, isn’t it?”

There’s some truth in both these errors.
We can’t know all truths on our own.
But God knew that and came into the world as Jesus Christ
to reveal himself so we could know the truth.

There’s a radical difference between a guitar that serves a potted plant,
and a guitar which plays flawlessly beautiful music.
There’s a radical difference between a person who follows a partial truth,
a directionless way and a meaningless life,
and a person who follows Jesus Christ.

Now just as no two guitars sound exactly the same,
no two people are exactly the same.
And while God made us in his image, he also makes us unique in our own right.
And so we see the important Christian implications of ideas like
equality, diversity, tolerance and choice.
But, these ideas become radically opposed to God and his truth
when they become confused with “indifference,”
and when respect for our differences from each other is nothing more than
a rejection of what makes us like God.

It’s true that it’s difficult to know the truth—but not impossible,
because as Jesus says,
“for man it is impossible, but not for God; nothing is impossible for God.”
Just as Jesus knew his death would cause a crisis in faith for his apostles,
he also knew it would be even harder on those 100, or 200 or 2000 years later
who would never even knew him when he walked the earth.
And so at the last supper he gave us the 2 sacraments of priesthood and Eucharist
to bridge the divide of years.
First, in the priesthood he established the apostles as his representatives,
whom he would send then out with the special grace—his own power—
to teach his people the truth about him,
to lead them in the way he laid out for them,
and to help them in sanctifying their lives:
to unite themselves more closely to Jesus.
And he prayed to his Father at that Last Supper,
“not only” for his apostles, “but also,” as he said:
“for those who will believe in me through their word,
…so that they may be one, as we are one…”

It is absolutely true that many times priests make personal mistakes and sins
—beginning with the betrayal of Judas, and also the denial of St. Peter.
But Christ will never abandon the sacrament he established for his Church,
–he will never abandon his apostles, bishops and priests—
for to do that would be to abandon his whole people.

That night he also left us a second sacrament—the greatest of all: the Eucharist,
where he physically—through sacramental signs—comes into our presence,
and even into our very bodies and persons.
He enters us, so that we can really be completely united with him,
and through him, with him and in him, united to the Father as he is:
“so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us….”
And united to the Father and to the Son, and Holy Spirit,
we can become the persons we were created to be.

Words like equality, diversity, tolerance and choice
mean different things to different people.
But some of those meanings are completely opposed to Christ,
and lead to indifferentism.
Through the gift of the teaching of the apostles,
passed down to us by the gift of the priesthood,
and by the grace of the Eucharist
may we always remember that there is
only one truth to hold,
only one life to unite ourselves to,
and only one way to become the persons God created us to be.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, and faith also in me…
I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Fourth Sunday of Easter, (Mother’s Day) May 11, 2014

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

Today’s gospel speaks to us about the Good Shepherd…
I’d like to talk about 6 shepherds.

It was May 13, 1981, 33 years ago, this Tuesday.
I was in Paris, on a trip celebrating my graduation from university.
I remember walking through the lobby of the hotel and being stopped in my tracks
by the picture on the front of the newspapers…
a picture of John Paul shot
—a gruesome scene of crimson blood on white cassock
Days passed and the world found out that he would survive
It seemed to be a miracle: the bullet had missed his heart by just a few millimeters
In fact, after he recovered, John Paul said it was a miracle,
a miracle he attributed directly to the Blessed Mother.
Some said he was being ridiculous…
But the pope knew something we didn’t: he knew a secret
A secret it took him almost 20 years to share with the rest of us.

A secret which had to do with something else that happened on May 13
–but in 1917, 97 years ago, this Tuesday,
when the Blessed Mother appeared to 3 shepherd children
in a country pasture, in Fatima, Portugal.
To these children she revealed that the world would soon suffer attack
from terrible atheistic, anti-Christian forces
and specifically that these forces would arise in Russia
and threatened the whole world.
This loving Mother from heaven came to these, the littlest of her children,
and asked them for prayers.
In particular, she wanted Catholics all over the world to pray the rosary for conversion, and she wanted the pope to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart
Like a shepherd, this loving Mother guided these shepherd children
away from the false shepherds, the atheistic leaders of Communism
— protecting them from these wolves
ready to devour God’s children throughout the world.
And through these shepherd children The Blessed Mother
guided the world and the Church and Russia to her son as well.

But not all of the message of Our lady of Fatima was revealed…
the so called “third secret” had been in the possession of the popes
since John 23rd,
and only a handful of cardinals had been aware of it.
Many speculated, about the content: did it foretell the apocalypse,
or a great war, or terrible scourges on the earth.
But it took over 80 years for a pope to reveal the contents of that secret,
when in June of 2000 Pope John Paul finally told the world the secret he knew
when he attributed his survival from the jaws of death on May 13, 1981,
when Ali Agca fired his gun from point blank range into the pope’s chest.
Because the third secret
was a vision the Blessed Mother had shown those 3 shepherd children,
a vision of a war waged by atheist systems against the Church,
a vision of great suffering, especially for the popes of the 20th century.
And as part of the vision, they saw a pope clothed in white
fighting this battle, who himself is shot down
but not killed, by agents of these systems.
It is well know how Pope John Paul fought
boldly and courageously against communists
both as archbishop of Krakow, Poland, and after he was elected to the papacy
…many, including the former leader of Soviet Union credit him
as the main protagonist in the fall of Soviet block.
And it is well documented that the pope’s assassination was funded and plotted
by atheistic Communist governments of eastern Europe
And it is also well documented that
it was not the Communists who succeeded in this battle,
but Saint John Paul, with the miraculous aid of Christ and his Mother Mary,
whom we also call Our Lady of Fatima

As I said, like a shepherd, at Fatima in 1917 and in Rome in 1981
The Blessed Mother protected her sheep
but not her sheep, but the sheep of her son, the one Good shepherd
But this should be no surprise, really, because this is what mothers do:
–it is no secret that mothers have a special vocation and gift
for caring for the lambs that Christ entrusts to them.

When I began today I said I wanted to talk about 6 shepherds, and I’ve spoken of 5:
John Paul, the Blessed Mother, and the little shepherd children of Fatima.
The 6th shepherd is not just one person:
the 6th shepherd I want to include is all the mothers in the world.
Like the Blessed Mother Mary, all mothers are shepherds.
Like a shepherd
–they protect their lambs,
especially from wolves posing as shepherds, trying to lead them astray
–especially those trying to lead away from Christ.
–whether its atheism or false Christian prophets,
or even the prophets of the secular society of the West
—the culture of our own often hedonistic society.
Like a shepherd a mother must protect her children, especially from
–false notions of Christ and His Church
–false notions of right and wrong, good and evil
–distortions of the dignity of Women, and of men and family
–lies promoted about the meaning of love and sexuality
–complete perversions of the fundamental dignity of human life.

Just as Blessed Mother came to protect her children, her little lambs,
from atheistic culture,
today’s mothers also have to protect our children
—grown up children and babies, born and unborn—
from the often devastating effects of a secular and sometimes atheistic culture.

97 years ago this week Mary came to Fatima to guide her lambs like a good shepherd.
33 years ago as Pope John Paul was just beginning to show the world that
he would be a strong and truly saintly shepherd
appointed by Christ to lead his church,
the Blessed Mother again acted like shepherd…
this time guiding a tiny bullet
away from the heart of her son’s vicar on earth.
Today she continues this work of being mother and shepherd.
In 1917 she guided 3 little shep children to help her guide the flock of her son.
But for centuries, 2 millennia,
she’s guided and continues to guide millions of Christians around the world.
Most especially, she’s guided Catholic mothers everywhere
to lead their little lambs, their children, and God’s children, to Christ.
This is no secret: it is simply the mystery of motherhood,
the mystery of a mother’s gift of protecting life and love.

Today, let us thank the Lord for the gift he gives us of shepherds like St. John Paul
who led the whole church to Christ for 27 years as Pope,
and continues to lead us from heaven as we venerate the memory
of his bold and heroic example of Christian living.
Let us also thank the Lord for shepherds like the shepherd children
Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francesco,
as they also lead us by their example of child-like love for Christ.
Let us thank him for the gift of his Mother, who protects us
and comes to us in our hour of need, calling us to follow her son.
And let us thank him for the gentle and loving guidance and protection our mothers .

As we enter more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass on this Mother’s Day
let us pray that all mothers may always hear the voice
of the one true Good shepherd calling them to himself,
and that under the protection Our Lady of Fatima,
they may lead us and all the world to him.
And let us pray that he may give them the reward they deserve
for their tender care for us: loving and devoted families on earth,
and eternal happiness with Him and His Mother in heaven.

Third Sunday of Easter, May 4, 2014

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

For the forty days of Lent the Church of Jesus Christ prepared to celebrate
the solemn feasts of Our Lord’s death and resurrection.
And when Easter Sunday came this church was packed to standing room only
with people who came to rejoice that the Lord has risen.
And for 8 more weeks the Church continues
the celebration of the Easter Season.
In fact, all 52 Sundays of the year are a continuation of this commemoration
of Easter Sunday.
So the Church, year in and year out,
echoes the voices of the first disciples of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“The Lord has truly been raised!”

Yet, there are some in the world who call themselves Jesus’ disciples
who would choose not to echo that claim.
Instead they would seem to say,
“The Lord hasn’t been raised!”
or, “Maybe he was raised, maybe he wasn’t–who knows?”
Every year around Easter these doubters of the historical reality of the Gospels
get a lot of coverage in the media,
which seems to relish reporting their various so-called “scholarly studies”.
Inevitably the studies cited conclude by rejecting as false or doubtful such Gospel stories as the Virgin birth and the Nativity,
all of Jesus’ miracles, and the crucifixion.
But their most outlandish claim is that Christ didn’t really rise from the dead.
Of course, all of these claims are dead wrong.

Some of these studies’ errors are based on ideological prejudice
that eliminate any possibility of trusting in the accuracy of the text.
For example, they begin by presupposing that miracles don’t really happen
–so they find “scholarly” reasons to throw out all of Jesus’ miracles.
And since they dismiss his miracles,
they immediately dismiss his resurrection,
pointing to such things as the slight differences between the 4 Gospels
in their descriptions of the resurrection
as “proof” that the resurrection was a fraud or hoax.

On the other hand, some of the errors are due to poor scholarship
–either in the area of science or history.
For example, some studies claim to have determined
–based on “scientific analysis” of things like grammar and vocabulary–
that the Gospels were written decades or even a century
after the death of the Apostles.
And they point out that while Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic
as their primary language,
all of the oldest texts of the Gospels that we have are written in Greek
–which was the almost exclusive language of most of the Church
in the 2nd century, 100 years after the death of the apostles.
So, by dating the Gospels so many years after the death of the apostles
they can then argue that the Gospels were written
not based on facts and eyewitnesses accounts,
but by later writers who made up stories
to make Christianity more attractive to converts.

The problem is, the conclusions of these so called “scientific analyses”
just don’t hold up.
For example,
recent scientific scholarship is showing more and more convincingly
that the Gospels were actually written down on paper
between as early as the year 40 and 60 AD
–in other words within 10 or 30 years of the death of Christ
and within the lifetimes of most of the apostles,
including Peter and Paul.
Also, there’s a fascinating study which seems to prove
that the Greek versions of Mark’s Gospel
are really just a translation of an original Aramaic text written about 50 AD.
These and similar studies obviously contradict the conclusions of the doubters.

Many of these skeptics also base their so called scholarly theories
on a contorted reading of history.
Consider the fact that the Gospels represent
4 separate more or less contemporaneous biographies
of a peasant who lived 2000 years ago.
This kind of documentary evidence is not very common
in the study of ancient history.
And though the doubting scholars point to various differences in the Gospels,
the fact is that they overwhelmingly agree and support each other.
On top of that, the facts laid out in those Gospels–especially the resurrection–
are also attested to by the 23 other books of the New Testament,
not to mention in other non-Scriptural writings of Christians
and nonChristians from the 1st and 2nd centuries.
Remember, the New Testament is a combination of letters written by at least
7 different men from various far-flung parts of the Roman Empire.
What the doubters are suggesting is that there was some kind of mass conspiracy
between all these various writers strewn from Rome to Egypt.
This doesn’t make much sense–and they have no proof for such a theory.
And remember that the center of Church life in the 1st and 2nd centuries
were the actual communities established by the various apostles,
like Rome and Antioch
–communities which have always had a strong sense
of the unwritten tradition of the apostles.
How could these supposed “new lies” of the Gospels
survive the scrutiny of those true believers?

I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Because historical and scientific evidence
will never be able to completely satisfy the skeptics.
The miraculous signs of Jesus will always be the target of organized doubters,
simply because its so easy to reject them.
Its hard for a rational person to accept
that a man actually died and rose from the dead 3 days later.
But a rational person should also recognize that if there is a God,
and if that God did choose to come to earth as a man,
then that God could and probably would work miracles
–and the resurrection would make all the sense in the world.

In the end, it’s not a merely a question of science or history.
Certainly those play there part.
But in the end it comes down to faith.
You believe in Christ, not because scholars tell you to,
but because something has moved your heart
to accept Christ as someone to believe in.
And this movement in your heart doesn’t tell you to believe
in just any theory about Christ,
but in the reality of Christ, who has chosen to reveal himself to you
by the witness of his Church,
especially the testimony of the 12 apostles and their first disciples,
which is handed down to us in Tradition and Scripture.
As the Second Vatican Council told us:
“[T]he four Gospels…whose historical character
the Church unhesitatingly asserts,
faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men,
really did and taught for their eternal salvation
until the day He was taken up into heaven.”

It should, however, be no surprise that some of those who say they believe in God
doubt that God has revealed himself.
In today’s 1st reading St. Peter stands before God’s chosen people
in Jerusalem on Pentecost,
and tells them that they did not recognize Jesus
even when God revealed him through signs and wonders.
And today’s Gospel tells us of how Cleopas and his companion
—2 of Christ’s own disciples–
walked 7 miles with the resurrected Jesus
as he explained all the Old Testament prophesies of the resurrection
–and still they didn’t recognize him!

No amount of scholarly studying can bring us to believe in Christ.
Scholarship can help us to understand what we read and believe
–but it will never prove a thing for us.
The only proof that we have is the proof in our hearts.
And the only one who can bring us that proof is Jesus Christ himself.
As Cleopas says today,
“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
It is Christ who leads us to faith in the Scriptures,
and the truth they reveal about him.

When the disciples and Jesus reached Emmaus
it was in the breaking of the bread that they finally recognize Jesus.
As we gather today to celebrate that same Eucharist,
allow Christ to reveal himself to you.
Have faith in his revelation, both in his Scripture and in his Eucharist,
and pray to him that he may give you whatever faith you may lack.
What does it matter what those with little faith believe.
We are disciples of Christ!
And just as the first disciples in Jerusalem,
we lift our hearts in faith and proclaim:
“The Lord has truly been raised!”