11th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013 (Father’s Day)

June 16, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

There’s an old saying: “behind every good man is a good woman.”
There are lots of exceptions to this rule,
but there’s also a lot of truth in it.
Because men and women never become that way on there own
–there’s always someone in their past, a woman or man,
that helped make them who they are today.
On this Father’s day I want to talk about the fact that
behind every good man or woman,
is often the good man who is their good father,
But we also need to admit that the opposite is also often true:
behind every bad man or woman, is often a bad father.
In short, fatherhood is critically import to family life and society itself.

And yet today many people try to pretend
that fathers don’t matter very much
—in fact, that fatherhood itself is basically meaningless.

Consider how some jurisdictions are now not even
recording the fathers of children in their birth records,
referring instead only to “parent 1” and “parent 2” and even “parent 3.”
Or consider the high divorce rate,
and the fact that 41%–more than 1 out of every 4—(of) babies
is born outside of wedlock.
But as we see a huge increase in the number of “single mothers”
(God bless them)
we also seem to see a strange discrepancy:
we hear a lot about single mothers” “but not about “single fathers”:
they often just seem to disappear from the picture.
And with the rise of contraception and abortion,
and in-vitro and other artificial methods of conception
woman are more and more seen as solely responsible
for pregnancies and births,
with men reduced to mere accidental participants,
or simply irresponsible “gamete donors.”

You also see this in the confused role of fathers who do remain in the picture:
more and more society seems to not know what to do with them.
Some people seem to define a father as simply
“the guy who helps the mother,”
or they try to feminize fathers into being kinda like “male mothers”.

But all that is relatively old news—now we have a new threat:
the silently growing for the last few years,
until one day we seem to have woken up to a fait accompli,
in the legitimization of “gay” relationships and so called “gay marriage.”
The devastating effects of this are many and multifaceted,
but just consider one.
If the courts or legislatures, or society, can redefine the meaning of “marriage”
from what everyone everywhere has always understood it to mean
in nature,
what will keep them from redefining the meaning of “fatherhood”?
If marriage is no longer marriage, why should fatherhood be fatherhood?

For example, why should a mere “male gamete donor”
have any rights or responsibilities toward the product of their donation
(their children)
—rights and responsibilities that up until now
everyone, everywhere has always considered
as belonging to the very nature of “fatherhood”?
So that when government officials and professional experts, like
teachers, school administrators, doctors and government bureaucrats,
deem they know what’s best for a man’s children
—even a married man raising his children in his own home—
why would the gamete-donor’s (the father’s) opinions be considered?

Friends, fatherhood is at risk of becoming meaningless and even extinct
for legal purposes and at a macro-cultural level.
And when fatherhood becomes meaningless, motherhood will soon follow,
the family will disintegrate,
and society will soon come crashing down on top of us.

But of course, all this runs completely contrary to the nature of men,
and to the dignity of fatherhood.
And in response, men feel more and more marginalized
and seek to express their masculinity in other ways,
in places they feel like they’re allowed to be men.
They throw themselves into their work,
or into community projects or politics
or into the arms of another woman.
Anything that makes them feel important as a man.

But fatherhood is not something we can never afford to marginalize.
On Mothers’ Day I usually talk about the dignity and importance of mothers:
how, their babies see the love of God for the first time
in their mother’s smile.
But Father’s have no less a dignified role in their children’s lives.
In the beginning God created human beings in his image as male and female:
fundamentally equal in human dignity before God and each other,
but also fundamentally different!
And the first thing he told them was “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”
–take that beautiful difference
and become mother and father!

(Consider this…)
Did you ever wonder why in the Bible
God calls himself “our Father”—never “our mother”?
It’s not because male is better than female,
And it’s not because God the Father is a actually a male like I’m a male:
as the Catechism reminds us:
“He is neither man nor woman: he is God.”
Yet there is something fundamentally important
that he wants to explain to us by revealing himself as “Father.”
And part of that
is the importance a human father has to the family.

Think about this:
God could have simply created mankind and then abandon us,
but instead he loves us and constantly shows that love in our lives.
A human male can also create human life and abandon it,
only the woman has to carry the baby for 9 months, and beyond.
But God says: no! a father is supposed to be like me!
once he creates life a true man
must give himself completely and always
to his children and wife—like God gives himself to us.

Again, men and women are very different.
We all know this and we should neither try to deny it,
or demean it by trying to masculinize women, or feminize men.
So men: be men!
And fathers, be manly fathers!
Take the many God-given masculine virtues you have
and put them to work for your family and your wife.

Even so, like all good things, even love itself,
it’s very easy for manly virtues to be corrupted by sin.
So sometimes the natural gift of manly aggressiveness
can be corrupted by sin so that
a man treats his children as property to be dominated,
not as persons to be loved.
The natural manly inclination to help his children to become better than he is,
can be corrupted so that he pushes them too hard,
trying to make up for his own inadequacies
through his kids’ accomplishments.
Or the natural manly propensity
to give his children everything they truly need
can be corrupted so that a father spoils his children,
and refuses to discipline them
or teach them self discipline.

Sin can turn a good father into a bad father.
And bad fathers can make good children into bad adults.
Fathers—whether sinful or holy—
are important, and make a huge difference in the lives of their children.

In the first part of today’s gospel we have an example of
one of these children who has become bad adult:
a woman who even Jesus admits has committed “many sins.”
One wonders what kind of father the sinful woman had as a child.
Maybe he treated her like a piece of property instead of a person,
causing her to see herself that same way.
Maybe he was inattentive or unaffectionate,
causing her to do anything to get the attention and affection
of any man to fill in for her father.
Or maybe he failed to discipline her,
allowing her to do or dress as she pleased
without concern for modesty and the response it would generate
in other sinful men when she grew up.

On the other hand,
think of the other main character in this reading: Jesus.
And think of the role his father played in his life.
As Jesus tells us elsewhere about his heavenly Father:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.”
But the Divine Father knew that when his Son became human being, a boy,
he would also need a good earthly father to raise him,
and so he gave him St. Joseph.
And Joseph was a great father.
He did everything the God the Father asked of him.
He made his child and his wife, his absolute number one priority,
even leaving even his home in Israel
to flee with Jesus and Mary to Egypt to protect them from King Herod.
He taught Jesus: he taught him a trade, the law of Moses and how to be a man.
And he spent time with Jesus constantly, and he gave him a great example.

Think about this: if a good human father was so fundamentally important
for the human life of God the Son,
how can it not be important for us mere humans.

Now, let’s go back to the sinful woman again.
I have assumed here that because she became a great sinner,
that her father might have been a bad father.
But we all know that sometimes even good fathers can have bad children.
They tried their very best,
but somewhere along the line something went wrong
and one of their children took a wrong turn,
and turned out not so good.

Actually, personally I think this is what really happened
to the woman in the Gospel.
If we read Scripture carefully we find that this woman is actually
the woman named Mary who lived in Bethany
with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus.
Martha and Lazarus are clearly 2 very good and holy people
—clearly the children of a good mother and father.
And although Mary has clearly gone astray,
somewhere deep inside she has some of that same goodness.
And that goodness comes out when it comes face to face,
with God the Son.
And then the “the sinful woman”,
becomes the tearful penitent of great love,
and finally she’s identified,
again reading Scripture very carefully,
as not merely “Mary of Bethany,”
but also, in fact, the great St. Mary Magdalene,
the devout disciple of Jesus
who stood at the foot of the Cross
and became the first witness of His Resurrection.

Some of you fathers may think you aren’t or weren’t
the good father you should be.
You’re probably right: no body’s perfect:
I know I’m not the father I should be to you.
But don’t stop trying.
If your children are still young, with God’s help,
it’s not too late to become a better father.
And if your children are older, don’t give up
—do whatever you can now to be a good father.
Don’t worry about being a friend,
or keeping their affection.
Be strong and brave and work hard
to do whatever you have to to help them become good adult Catholics.

And don’t worry: you don’t have to do it alone.
Besides the help of a good wife, I hope,
you have the example and intercession of great saintly fathers
like St. Joseph.
And you have the example and grace of
your heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

It’s not going to be easy though.
You have to die to your sins,
but in dying to them,
Christ will raise you up in the strength of his own life,
and give you the grace to be the man he created you to be.
As St. Paul reminds us today:
“I have been crucified with Christ;
yet I live, no longer I,
but Christ lives in me….
…I do not nullify the grace of God.”

In the end, though, most of you men
are good fathers,
or try to be,
or will be someday once you have children.
Don’t let anyone tell you your fatherhood is not important
—whether your children are 5 years old or 55,
or still a just twinkle in your eye, a hope for the future.
And never be discouraged,
because the perfect Father and Son in heaven
love you and your children even more than you do.

And children, whether you’re 5 or 15 or 55 or 85,
remember and honor your father today.
Help him to be the best father he can be,
by cooperating with and loving him.
Most especially pray for him and for all fathers
that they may become the fathers
God created them to be,
and that we need them to be.

Corpus Christi Sunday

June 3, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Have you ever asked God for a sign?
Man has always asked for signs–and God has frequently answered his requests.
We see it in the Old Testament:
for example, the Lord gave the Israelites manna in the desert,
not only to feed them, but also as a sign of
Moses’ authority.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of St. Luke
Jesus gave his apostles a sign of his power and authority,
a sign that would effect them and all generations of the Church
as it became an essential part of our understanding
the sign and mystery of the Eucharist
—His Most Holy Body and Blood.

Let’s look more closely at this reading.
The Twelve apostles came to Jesus asking what he was going to do
about feeding the crowd that had followed them.
Christ’s immediate response
is to ask the apostles why they don’t feed the people.
They respond, “We have nothing but 5 loaves and two fishes”
–they can’t feed the people by themselves.
So the Lord took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples
to give to the crowd—feeding the 5000.

He gave them a sign that he alone had the power to do
what no mere man could do
—give His people the food they needed.

And yet, the very next day after this tremendous sign of feeding 5000,
some of these very same people still wanted yet another sign.
According to St. John’s account of this miracle they ask Jesus:
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
Moses Gave us manna in the desert….”
Feeding 5000 wasn’t enough.

And how did Christ respond to them?
He promised to give them another sign—a sign like no other before or since:
“the bread which I shall give …is my flesh.”
“if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever;”
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven.”

A few months later, at table with the twelve on the night he was betrayed,
Jesus repeated the very same actions he did when he fed the 5000,
–St. Luke uses the very same words to describe his actions that night.
Once again he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the twelve.
But this time Jesus added: “This is my body”.
And the apostles understood that this was the new sign the Lord had promised.

Even so, they probably did not understand how this could be what he said it was:
his body and blood.
–after all, it still looked like ordinary bread and wine.
But they remembered the power displayed
in the sign of the multiplication of loaves
—a sign Jesus had given them to convince them
that what was completely impossible
and beyond the grasp of reason for man,
was not only possible for and reasonable to Christ,
but was also his plan.
And so the apostles believed in his power and his words,
and that what appeared to be a few pieces of bread
was now in fact the actual physical body of Christ!

This sign remains with us today.
Of course, it’s not the same kind of fantastic sign that appeals to people
who are looking for wondrous worldly phenomena.
But for those who believe that Jesus is God the Son,
with the power to feed 5,000 people on just 5 loaves and 2 fishes,
and the power to die on the cross only to rise again to life,
that kind of sign is not necessary.

In this context of faith in Jesus,
we believe the Eucharist is
the living sign of His true presence and power and love.
But it’s no mere sign—it doesn’t merely represent something it’s not.

Look at that Crucifix up there….that is a mere sign of Jesus, a mere symbol.
It looks like Jesus.
That’s what happened to him.
But it’s not Jesus—it’s a mere symbol of Jesus, a mere sign of his presence.
On the other hand, think about this:
if Jesus walked in the room right now and stood right here,
in his fleshy body,
then his body would be a sign to us that he is present
—and it wouldn’t be an empty symbol,
but a physical expression of his real and complete presence
in both body and spirit.

This is how it works in the Eucharist.
It is a sign, but it is no mere sign or empty symbol,
but a sign of Christ’s actual, real, total and complete presence
bodily and spiritually.
A sign that he loves us and personally comes to us and enters into us,
and makes us really and totally one with him.

Man has been asking God for signs for thousands of years,
and God has been responding
—but God has also been asking man for signs in response to him.
For example, in the days of Moses and Aaron,
God gave his people great signs of his power,
like the Passover of the angel of death and the parting of the Red Sea,
and the manna in the desert.
And He demanded that his people respond with signs of their own
–signs of worship and obedience to his law.

Today Christ gives us the sign of the Eucharist
—what sign of worship do we give Him in response?
Begin with the simplest signs:
as we approach to receive Him in Holy Communion,
do our postures, attitude and our clothes signal our faith and love?

Three weeks ago we had the second graders in here receiving
First Holy Communion,
and they looked so angelic,
the girls in their white dresses
and the boys in their coats and ties.
What a great sign of their faith in Jesus in the Eucharist.
What sign do we give
of our faith, or laxity of faith,
when we come to receive Holy Communion dressed
like we’re going to the beach or to a ball game or even to a bar?

Now, no one look around at anyone else:
look at me—or at yourself.

Imagine if I showed up dressed down
rather than dressed up in these special vestments!
What does it signify about our belief in Jesus and the Eucharist?
Parents—what sign are we giving to our children,
and teaching them to send?

Someone might say,
“But Father, God doesn’t care how we dress.”
Maybe, maybe not.
Remember the parable of the wedding feast that Jesus tells:
“But when the king came in to look at the guests,
he saw there a man who had no wedding garment;
and …the king said to the attendants,
‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness’”
We are guests at the wedding feast of the lamb:
even if God is so forgiving he looks the other way
when we dress inappropriately,
WE should not be so presumptuous of his mercy
—because it’s a sign of our faith and love in him.

Now, I know sometimes you come dressed down a bit
because it’s either that or miss Mass
—you just drove in from the beach or from a soccer tournament
and you came straight to Mass,
–and we have visitors here every Sunday
just happy to find a Mass to go to
—okay, I understand, and I’m glad you made it.
Or maybe it goes from 60̊ to 90̊̊ in a week, so we’re not used to the heat
and we dress a little cooler
—I get that.
But those are the exceptions—not the rule.

Listen, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone or condemn anyone.
So let’s all make a deal:
let’s all agree that if we see someone at Mass
dressed in less than their Sunday best
we’ll always assume there’s a good reason for it.
But let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Also, look at the way we sometimes receive communion.
Sometime we wander up looking around, seeing who we recognize in the crowd
—let’s stop and recognize Jesus at the head of the line.

And when you arrive at the head of the line,
show that recognition by doing what the book of Revelation tells us
over and over again that the saints and angels in heaven do
whenever they enter in the presence of the Lamb of God:
“and they fell on their faces …and worshiped God.”
Now, please don’t literally fall on your faces,
but do show some real physical sign of adoration
as you come face to face with your Lord and God.
Whether it’s a bow of the head, or at the waist,
a genuflection on one knee,
or even kneeling down on both knees,
give some sign to me, to the people around you, to yourself,
and most importantly to HIM,
that you believe…and worship.

And then receive our Lord in a way that shows, or signals, your reverence.
Sometimes folks come up and nonchalantly put their hand out
—as if to signify “gimme, I’m in a hurry, let’s get this over with.”
Sometimes they reach out and actually grab the host out of my hand
—what a great way to cause the host to fall to the ground.
How about instead you come up,
and if you choose to receive in the hand
make a throne for Christ, with the left hand resting on the right,
and then keeping your eyes on him
as you reverently take the host with your right hand and consume it.

Or, perhaps you may you choose to follow the custom of receiving on the tongue,
as a sign that you understand that this is not ordinary food
received in an ordinary way.
That’s the way I receive when I’m not the priest at the Mass,
because we have a strong tendency to take for granted
the things we hold in our hands every day.
For example, jewelers might easily tend to miss the beauty
of the diamonds they hold in their hands every day.
And the same for a priest who holds His Blessed Saviour
so often in his hands.
And the same for you, if you receive the Lord in your hands every week.
And so I fight that tendency by receiving, when I can, on the tongue.

But even if you do receive on the tongue, do it respectfully:
don’t come up and bite it out of my hand
—or worse yet, don’t lick it out of my hand.
Come up close enough so I can reach you,
open your mouth, placing your tongue on your lower lip
and don’t move, so I can carefully place the host on your tongue.

These are some important signs of our response
to God’s sign of the Eucharist at Mass.
But he asks for more than 1 hour on Sunday.
After receiving him in the Eucharist,
do our lives become signs of His love for us and our love for him,
as we go out into the world?
And is our reception of the Eucharist a sign
that all we have done in the hours and days before we receive
has been truly consistent with our faith in him, and all of his teachings?

And is our reception of Communion
a sign of faith not only in the Eucharist handed down to us by the apostles,
but also faith in everything his apostles handed down to us
through their successors, especially the Pope?
From the teachings on the sacraments, to the teachings on morality.

Is our reception of Holy Communion a sign
that we are in full communion with the teachings of Christ
and his vicar on earth, Pope Francis,
or does our rejection of that teaching in our daily life
signal a mockery of the Eucharist we receive?

nothing wrong with asking God for signs.
So don’t be surprised when he gives us signs,
and don’t be surprised when he asks us for signs in return.
God has given us the Eucharist as the most sublime sign of his love and power
—it is not a mere empty sign,
but truly his very own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity
–His Real Presence.
Do we respond with empty symbolic gestures and words,
or with signs of full of love and faith and worship?

May 26, 2013 – Most Holy Trinity Sunday

Most Holy Trinity Sunday
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

In the first chapter of Genesis, we read:
“God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
This is one of the foundational passages of scripture,
as it lays the basis for our whole understanding of the meaning and dignity
of man and of human society, especially marriage and family.

But often overlooked here is that this passage tells us something
even more fundamentally important about God himself.
Look again closely:
it does not say: “God said ‘I will make man in my image,’”
but rather: “God said ‘let us make man in our image.”
God, a singular noun, refers to himself in the plural personal pronoun, “US.”

This is no mistranslation: it is a literal translation of the original Hebrew.
And it is not a simple a matter of God speaking of himself
in the so called “royal ‘we’”
—there is no evidence of such a thing in the ancient Hebrew language.

Rather, it is a subtle revelation right there, in the beginning of the Bible,
of what Jesus would later reveal in its fullness:
that just as God creates the one creature Man in His image as plural–both male and female,
God himself is also one and plural: God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Think of how Jesus constantly talks about the intimate relationship
between him and his Father, but also says “The Father and I are one.”
And how he tells us that both He and the Father will send their one Holy Spirit.
And how he brings this all together
as on Ascension Thursday he goes up to heaven to be with His Father
in order to send down their Spirit on Pentecost.
And what does he say before he goes:
he commands his apostles to go out to all nations and
“baptize…in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Trinitarian mystery is at the heart of Christ’s salvific mission.

And this is the mystery revealed in Genesis,
as right from the beginning as God tells us
he created “man” in his image as “male and female”
to live together and love each other, so that the “two become one”.
And in this, revealing himself as One God, in three persons, three who are one,
sharing a perfect unity of eternal life and infinitely love.

And this is what we celebrate, on the feast of the Holy Trinity.

Now, this is a difficult concept to understand,
and so it leads to all sorts of mistakes in understanding and explaining it.
For example, some say the Trinity just means
God acting in different ways at different times:
so when God creates, he is the father,
or when God becomes man he is the Son,
or when God descends and dwells within us he is the Spirit.

But that’s not what Scripture says.
In Genesis God says “let US make man”
—Father Son and Holy Spirit all create together.
And the Son, Jesus clearly carries on a constant dialogue with His Father
who he is distinctly other and is still “in heaven.”
And the Son ascends and sits on his heavenly throne with his Father
while the Spirit descends to dwell in the Church and in our hearts on earth.

Jesus clearly teaches there are 3 distinct persons—not 3 multiple personalities.

But he also teaches there is only one God.

Again, it is hard to understand.
But elsewhere in scripture St. John gives us the key to beginning to understand,
as he writes those beautiful words: “God is love.”
These words can be used so tritely today,
especially as people so often reduce the word “love”
to mean a some simplistic inane feeling.
But love not an emotion, and God is not a feeling.
True love is “willing and striving for the good of the other”:
love is “self-gift”, not “self-satisfying.”
This is the love of God.

But the thing is, how can you love, without “the other”
—the one whose good you “will and strive for”?
And so when we understand that God is love,
we see how God reveals himself as a trinity of persons,
sharing one love, one life, on being, one essence and substance.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, an eternal perfect communion of life and love,
constantly willing and striving for the good of each other,
constantly mutually giving themselves to each other.
But not like the normal human relationships
—theirs is perfectly pure and totally self-abandoning,
boundless and complete, without beginning with our end.

And this love is what he reveals to us in revealing the mystery of the Trinity.
How magnificent, really breathtaking.

But even more wonderful is why he reveals it to us.
And that is because he created us in his image
—in the image of God who is love—
and so He created us solely
so that we could share in that perfect life and love:
to share in that inner Trinitarian life,
right in the center of the uncorrupted and infinite love
of the Father, Son and Spirit.

As we read in the Psalm today:
“What is man that you should be mindful of him,
or the son of man that you should care for him?
[Yet] You have made him little less than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and honor.”

Who are we?
And yet, Jesus prays at the Last Supper:
“that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
that they also may be in us.”

All of us were created for this.
But there is only one who has lived it out perfectly and with exception:
Our Blessed Mother, Mary,
whom the Church honors a special way in this month of May.
Read what angel Gabriel said to her on that great day in Nazareth:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God.”
Mary was created to be the Daughter of the Most High God the Father,
the Mother of God the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

This is amazing.
But, in the words of that holy young Virgin, “how can this be?’

It can be, first of all, because, as the angel says, she is “full of grace”:
God has given her,
from the moment of her immaculate conception
in her mother’s womb,
a special share in his grace
—including the grace we would receive in baptism.
Second, it can be because of the angel’s invitation:
Gabriel presents God’s call for her to take part in this unique relationship.
And third, it can be because the Blessed Virgin
freely chose to accept the grace and invitation:
“let it be done to me according to your word.”

Now, while God’s grace and invitation
are the most important parts of this relationship,
Mary’s yes is also critical:
love can not be commanded, it can not be forced.
Love is, after all, self-gift.

And so God asks her, will you accept my love and return that love
as Daughter, Mother and Spouse?
And Mary responds with love, “yes!”

Did Mary fully understand the Trinitarian mystery she was partaking of?
No, not fully.
But she stood in awe of this tremendous gift laid before her,
and saw it as an offer she could not refuse
—not out of fear, as the angel tells her “be not afraid”—
but out of love.
How could she say “no” to being loved and to loving as she had been created to,
how could she refuse the most sublime gift ever offered to a creature?

Even so, as unique as this gift to her was,
this is essentially the same gift God offers to each of us.
Not to be His Mother, certainly.
But to enter into his family, the unity of the Trinity,
through baptism in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To be sons and daughters of God the Father.
To be brothers and sisters of Jesus, God the Son.
To be members of bride of Christ, his Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We do not understand completely—that’s why we call it a “mystery.”
But if we open our hearts and minds to this mystery how can we say “no” to it?

The grace is ours in baptism.
And the invitation comes to us constantly
—as we read the Scriptures, as we pray
and as we live life facing the challenges
in a world so full of sin and temptation.
And in the same way, the choice is also constantly ours to make,
from moment to moment, every day.
The choice to say yes to live and love as God created us to
—caught up in the power of the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit
–both in this world and in the world to come.

As we now turn toward the mysteries of the Mass,
we remember that the Eucharist is nothing less
than a profound sharing in the Trinitarian mystery,
as by the power of the Holy Spirit
we are united to the Son
and in Him are offered to the Father;
and as we share in the Body of the Son
our Holy Communion with our Triune God
is renewed and strengthened.
Like the Blessed Virgin, let us not be afraid to accept this Communion.
But rather, let us say “yes” with Mary,
yes to being who we were created to be from the beginning:
creatures made in the image of the God who is love,
created for the ineffable joy of sharing
in the most blessed life and love
of the Most Holy Trinity.

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

Easter Sunday 2013

March 31, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Today we celebrate the most important day in history.
Because today we celebrate the historical fact that 2000 years ago
the man known as Jesus of Nazareth,
who had been killed by the leaders of Romans and the Jews
on a Friday, rose from the dead on Sunday.
And he didn’t rise like some perverse Zombie or walking dead vampire,
but in a body marked by his wounds,
and perfected and glorified by his resurrection.
And not only did he rise, he lives now forever, with his body,
at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

Now, we believe this to be an historic fact, not a private whimsy.
To be sure, it is a matter of personal faith
—we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But it is not merely personal faith—it either happened or it didn’t.

If it did NOT happen, then all of us here are well-meaning,
but mistaken, and more or less wasting our time here today.
And to the extent we allow our faith in the resurrection
to effect the rest of our lives, we waste that effort too.

But if it DID happen…
What should that mean for us? and for the world?
If it is true, it was the most incredible and important event ever,
and the world and time and all people
should literally revolve around that event.
It should clarify once and for all what it means to be a human being.
And it would testify to the truth of all the things
Jesus of Nazareth taught in his lifetime,
and set those up as the foundational principles of all good human living.

Think of it.
It would mean that there really is a God who made us just to love us,
and so we could love him and our neighbor.
That he loved us so much he really did send his only begotten, co-eternal Son,
into the world to destroy sin by his suffering and death on the Cross.
And that Divine Son really did strip himself of his heavenly glory
to become a human being, just like you and me in all things, but sin.

It would mean he is looking for you,
like a Good shepherd searches for his one lost sheep.
That he calls all who are weary and find life burdensome to come to him,
and he will give you rest.
That he loves his people with all his heart, like a bridegroom loves his new bride.

It would mean he loves you personally—it was he who chose you.
That if you believe in him, even though you die, you will live.
That he has gone before you to prepare a place for you
in his Father’s heavenly house.

But it would also mean that “unless you turn and become like children,”
and “unless you are born of water and the Holy Spirit,”
and “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,”
“you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”

It also means that “if we love him” and if we want to “inherit eternal life” with him,
we must:
“keep the commandments…
You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …
Honor your father and mother,”
and “keep holy the Sabbath”
It would mean:
“that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment”,
and “that every one who looks at a woman with lust
commits adultery with her in his heart.”

And while all this sometimes seems impossible,
if Christ is truly risen from the dead, then it must be true that
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
And that he told us all this so that:
“[his] joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Imagine if Jesus really did rise from the dead.
It would mean that he established Simon Peter as the Rock
on which he built his Church,
giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven,
and promising the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
And that, as he prayed at the Last Supper,
all might be one with Him in that one Church with Peter.

…if Jesus Christ really did, in time and history,
rise from the dead and open to us the gates of paradise….
wouldn’t that make today
the most joyful glorious day of the year?

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

Some say, well, it’s just what I believe, not what I know to be true.
Friends, I do not know how man ever landed on the moon.
And I don’t even know for a fact that man ever did land on the moon.
But I believe it to be true.
Partly because I’ve heard and read about it;
partly because I have confidence in the people who told me about it.
Heck, partly because some many people seem to believe it.
I believe, but I don’t know perfectly as an eyewitness.

Regardless of how we came to believe, if we believe in the Resurrection
we believe that it is a fact, not a myth,
historical not whimsical,
real not hypothetical.

And if we believe it really happened, why don’t we act like it really happened?
Sure, today we do, at least for a couple of hours.
But what about tomorrow and the rest of the year?
Why don’t we act like Jesus
has realigned everything man understands and lives for,
that we understand and live for?

And why are we so timid to talk about it with others?
Why do we act like it’s some sort of fairy tale we should be ashamed of?

Alright, maybe it is a little hard for some to believe
—but if you believe it why can’t they?
I mean, after all, if it’s true, it’s the best news they’ll ever hear—
it will bring them happiness and peace they’ve never known to be possible,
yet have been searching for all their lives.

Maybe it’s because we’re afraid we’ll lose a friend.
So what?
Maybe you’ll change their lives and you’ll gain the best friend you ever had!

Or maybe it’s because we don’t believe as much as we think we do.
But why not, when Christ has done all he has for us?
Think of all the times you’ve prayed to him and he’s come to your aid.
Think of the times you’ve gone crying to his side, and he gave you peace.
The times you prayed for a miracle and—voila–it happened.

Then again, maybe you don’t recall these things happening in your life.
Maybe you haven’t had the experience of Christ
that you wish you could have.
Or maybe you don’t understand or know much about him
—or maybe you don’t agree with some of the things the Church
says about him.
Then let’s change that.
Don’t settle for lukewarm Catholicism—who would want that?
Certainly not Christ, who said if we were lukewarm he would “spit us out.”

Today, St. John tells us in his Gospel that he didn’t understand
what Jesus had meant when he had told them
he would rise on the third day;
John didn’t understand until he saw the empty tomb
—notice, not the risen body, just the empty tomb.
But when he sees the empty tomb: “he saw and believed.”

We also read that St. Mary Magdalene,
didn’t believe at first either.
Scripture tells us:
“she ran and …told them,
‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.’”
But if we read on in the next few verses
we see that Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb
and after awhile saw a man there she thought was a gardener.
So she said to him: “Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
And then:
“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” …Teacher.”
And she believed.

Here are 2 of Jesus’ most devout followers.
And yet at first they didn’t believe.
But when John opened his eyes to what Jesus had told him,
“he saw and believed.”
And when Magdalene finally asked Jesus
he called out to her, and she believed.

Some today would like to think that belief in Christ and his resurrection
and the effect they have on individual lives is coming to an end.
But we know otherwise.
You are here because you believe.
Maybe not as fervently as you should or would like to.
Maybe you don’t allow that belief to permeate your life,
to change the way you live.
Maybe you don’t share your faith with others nearly enough.
But you believe, or you wouldn’t be here.
You believe, even as you want to believe even more deeply.

Today, hear our Risen Lord calling out to in his word,
and in whatever truth resonates in my words.
See him in the believers assembled here today
members of His Church, united with millions more throughout the world.
And see him most especially in his body and blood in the Eucharist.
Hear. See. And believe.

And may your faith and the joy and the power of the Risen Christ
change your life today,
tomorrow and in eternity.

4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare) 2013

March 10, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells one of His most beloved and famous parables: the story of the Prodigal Son.
When we read this we tend to focus on the forgiveness of the Father
–and rightly so—this is largely the point of the parable,
as it helps us to understand the infinite love of God.
We might also tend focus on the prodigal son,
either on his sins, or on his repenting of his sins—or both.
And again, rightly so, because we can’t understand the love of the father
unless we understand the wretchedness of the son.

But I don’t’ think we can understand
either the love of the father or the sins of the son,
until we understand one basic thing:
the inheritance that the son “squandered.”

The Gospel doesn’t tell us exactly what it is he inherited, but we can imagine.
First of all we know the father was probably very wealthy.
We know he had multiple servants.
And that he had property so large that when the older son was “out in the field”
he was apparently so far away they couldn’t get word to him
that his brother had come home.
And we know the father wasn’t just a farmer with a lot of land
—he also had lots of nice things,
so that he could order:
“Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and …
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.”
And then think about this:
when the father “divided the property”
and the younger son “collected all his belongings and set off,”
it’s not like the son walked off with land and cattle and sheep.
No… It seems like his father had enough in currency
—coins and jewels and such—
that he could pay his son off in that and the son could take it with him.

And amazingly enough, even after giving half of his estate to his prodigal son,
he clearly still had a huge estate left.
In short, the father was really rich.

But you know, odds are he didn’t just earn that overnight.
He probably worked hard for what he had.
I mean, look at his eldest son—he was out working in the field,
a lesson of hard work he clearly learned from the father he idolized.
Even so, there’s a good chance that the father
probably inherited a lot of his wealth from his father,
who had probably inherited something from his father and so on…
Each generation building up and adding to what the inheritance
he’d been entrusted with.

This is what the son demands to have from his father—half of this.
And all this vast wealth this is what the son
“squandered ….on a life of dissipation.”

As Catholics we also have a great inheritance.
A huge estate larger than anyone can begin to fathom,
has been passed down to us from our forbearers.
A treasury of doctrine, spirituality, liturgy and prayer.
An understanding of God and the World, of morality,
and profound theological insights into all this,
so that we understand the teachings of Christ not cold worthless words,
but as rich lustrous multifaceted gems.
An incredibly vast and rich treasure rooted in scripture,
handed down by the apostles,
clarified and illuminated by the writings of
the great, brilliant and holy fathers, doctors and saints of the church:
in successive generations:
Wojtyla and Ratzinger in the 21st century,
building on the work of Saint Theresa in the 16th,
who built on Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th
who built on Saint Gregory in the 7th,
who built on Saint Augustine in the 5th,
who built on Saint Irenaeus in the 2nd,
who built on the teaching of Apostles themselves.
Giants standing on the shoulders of giants.
Treasure compounding on treasure.

We’ve inherited all this.
But like the rich young man, we are wont to squander it all in a life of dissipation.

Earlier this year Pope Benedict asked us to celebrate a “Year of Faith”,
in particular, to mark the beginning, 50 years ago, in 1963,
of the second Vatican Council—Vatican II as it’s popularly called.

At that council the bishops from all over the world gathered under the leadership
of first Pope John and then Pope Paul,
not to define any new dogma or to condemn some heresy,
but merely to figure out how to share
that rich inheritance of wisdom and holiness with modern man,
so that the great treasury might not be hidden or hoarded away,
or thrown away or wasted or lost,
but rather wisely invested in modern man, if you will.
Not to spend it on foolish on passing things,
like one enjoys rich foods one night and goes hungry the next,
but to enjoyed as a family buys a beautiful new house with lots of land,
and lives in happiness with their children and grandchildren.
Kind of like the father in today’s parable.

But as Pope Benedict used to remind us so often,
something strange happened after the Council.
Some in the Church began to demand and take their inheritance
and in a very real sense, to squander it.
For example, some took the rich moral teaching of the Church,
and instead of building on it,
wasted it to buy into heresies and worldly philosophies
that make a mockery of our inheritance.
Suddenly, for them, all sorts of sins just disappeared, especially mortal sins
—as the ethics of the secular culture became their standard
rather than the inherited wisdom of Christ and His Church.
Many traded the church’s profound wisdom
on the fundamental goodness of marriage and sexuality
reflecting the love of God himself
and the innate dignity of each human person
–they traded this for a relativist and utilitarian view of man,
“if it feels good do it.”

Some took the treasury of liturgical rites of the Church,
and traded reverence and communion with God
for banality and trendiness.

Some took the vast and profound treasury of spiritual theology and prayer,
and exchanged it for faddish psychological therapy
and even pagan practices.

So much we inherited, such a vast treasury.
And so much squandered away by so many.

On the other hand, in many ways the Popes of the last 50 years
have resembled the father in today’s parable.
Pope Paul, in particular was like the father at the beginning of the parable,
trying to be a loving and respectful
and allowing some of his precocious spiritual children
to take and experiment with their inheritance,
investing it in new ways, if you will.
All too often, as I say, they turned out to be prodigal sons.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, on the other hand,
were in some ways like the father at the end parable,
recognizing what had been wasted,
but also welcoming the prodigal children
to come home and share with the great wealth still preserved there.

I think particularly of Pope Benedict.
When he was just a Cardinal in charge of protecting the Doctrine of the Faith,
I remember how patient he was with theologians
who were teaching the craziest things.
How patiently he dealt with the famous theologian, Fr. Hans Kung,
a brilliant mind, but an absolute heretic.
And yet Cardinal Ratzinger spent years trying to reason with him,
always ready to forgive, to welcome him home.
So much so that just months after his election as Pope
he invited Kung to the Vatican—again, trying to coax him back home.

I also think of Benedict’s efforts to reconcile with the Orthodox and Anglicans. —especially his efforts to make it easy for Anglicans to come home.
Granted, the Anglicans left the Church almost 500 years ago,
but when large groups of Anglicans
wanted to come home to the Catholic Church.
their Holy Father Benedict ran out to meet them,
offering them all sorts of concessions
to help them preserve the precious inheritance
of their unique ancient English but Catholic heritage.

And I think of his many efforts to bring back the Traditionalist Catholics
who had distanced themselves from the rest of the Church.
Although many were trying to protect the Church’s inheritance,
in the process many wound up disobeying the Popes time and time again,
and so becoming like the older son in today’s story
—who had stayed at home,
but now refused to enter his father’s house.
Like the loving father in today’s parable, Benedict also went out to bring them in,
praising their fidelity,
but gently coaxing them to take their place at their father’s table.
And so he restored the ancient rite of the Mass so important to all of us,
because it is a rich jewel in our inheritance.

In all these and many more ways Pope Benedict, and John Paul before him,
have welcomed so many home to share
in an inheritance so vast and profound,
that though some may squander their portion,
the fundamental treasury can never be lost.
Especially since it’s protected by a security system more impenetrable
than Fort Knox or Norton or McAfee
—the grace and power of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Which is, of course, made manifest in a particular way
through that priceless heirloom of having a spiritual father
to watch over and increase our inheritance: the Pope.

All this is why Pope Benedict called us to celebrate
“A Year of Faith” in the Church.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II,
and a call to re-consider and to re-appreciate the Church’s inheritance,
and to consider how that’s so often been squandered.

We think of all of this in a particular way
as the conclave to elect a new pope opens this Tuesday.
And we so realize how important this is,
and also trust that the Lord will provide a good and loving Holy Father
to guide us in the appreciating our inheritance.

And we also think of this in a particular way today, at the half-way point in Lent,
about how we ourselves as individuals
have squandered our Catholic inheritance.
By our baptism you and I inherited this vast spiritual wealth of the Church,
but what have we done with it?
Have allowed ourselves to follow the prodigal sons
who squandered their Catholic inheritance after Vatican II,
trading them in for worldly philosophies and values?
Have we traded the rich prayer life of the Church
for browsing the internet or watching cable?
Have we treated the treasure chest of Scripture as just a bunch of pious sayings,
paying lip service to the ones that make us feel good,
and completely ignoring, or even rejecting the ones
that are even the slightest bit demanding?
Do we follow the Church’s moral teaching,
an amazing treasure chest full of wisdom
explaining how to discern truth from lies, good from evil, right from wrong?
Or do we trade that in for values we see on TV or the movies,
or the opinions of social activists?
We’ll spend hours at the gym or on the golf course recreating ourselves,
but do take a few minutes to go to confession
or time in the morning to go morning Mass,
to let the Lord work on re-creating us?

But as we admit to ourselves how we’ve squandered so much,
we also remember how eager God to bring us back into his Home,
to share with us even greater riches than we ever imagined.
Because even though we may have been wasting our share,
the treasure of our Catholic faith is never really depleted.
The only thing that’s really wasted is our time and our lives.
But if we come home and admit our sinfulness—our waste—
he will welcome us home and open to us the riches of his Kingdom
stored up, protected and increased all these centuries in His Church.

As we continue now in the celebration of Holy Mass,
perhaps the most magnificent jewel in our inheritance,
we thank the good Lord for his ineffable generosity
poured out on us from the Cross,
and stored up, built up and measured out to us in his Church.
Let us remember the great gem of our inheritance, the papacy,
that guides and protects this treasure,
and pray for the cardinals has they elect our next Holy Father on earth.
And let us pray that our heavenly Father
will forgive us for squandering so much of what he has given us,
confident in his mercy,
and rejoicing in his promises of immeasurable treasures yet to come.

3rd Sunday of Lent 2013

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

The saying goes: “All roads lead to Rome.”
It’s been interesting to see this come to life in the last few weeks,
as the whole world seems to have been drawn to the events
transpiring in Rome, as Pope Benedict retired
and Church began its preparations to elect the new pope.
It reminds me of today’s first reading, as Moses sees the burning bush and says:
“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight,
and see why the bush is not burned.”

In a certain way we welcome this world-wide media attention.
After all, Christ did command us to,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…”
What better way to teach all nations and bring them to the Church
than to have them come to Rome via the media,
and to focus on the faith of the Church.
Even if it is initially just out of curiosity, like Moses, to,
“look at this remarkable sight.”
Because like Moses, if they come
they may see much more than they bargained for
—the divine fire of Christ and His Holy Spirit
that does not destroy but enlightens the world.

In the Christian Tradition Moses is seen as a precursor or foreshadowing of Christ.
Moses comes to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery
and offers the Passover or Paschal sacrifice of the Old Covenant;
Jesus comes to free all mankind from the slavery of sin.
and offers the new Paschal sacrifice of the New Covenant—the Cross.
We can go on and on.
But let’s just add one more: both Moses and Jesus are shepherds:
Christ is the “Good Shepherd,”
and as today’s first reading begins:
“Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.”

And just as Moses is prefigurement of Jesus,
St. Peter, and his successors in the papacy—the Popes—
are a “post-figurement,” if you will, of Christ:
they stand in the world today representing him,
unique in authority as leaders of God’s holy people.
So we see Christ make Peter the chief shepherd of His flock,
commanding him: “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep….feed my sheep.”

And yet, Peter is much more than Moses.
In the words of Jesus:
“I tell you, you are Peter [Rock],
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now, Christ is ultimately and intimately in charge of His Church.
Peter merely tends Christ’s sheep.
So that when a pope dies or resigns,
we still have our True Shepherd and Spiritual Rock,
Christ, who never leaves his sheep untended,
and is, “with [us] always, even until the end of time.”

But even so, it is the will of Christ that there be one shepherd on earth
to lead One Catholic Church on earth in His name.
And so today, the world fixes its gaze on the Vatican waiting for a new pope,
and, as ever, all roads lead to Rome.

That saying, by the way, goes back to the ancient Roman Empire,
expressing the idea that Rome was the center of the world,
which was vividly seen in the vast Roman system of roads,
many built specifically to get to and from Rome.

2000 years ago St. Peter came to Rome,
perhaps on one of these ancient Roads.
Legend tells us that he at least left Rome on one of those roads,
the Via Appia, the Appian Way.

Roughly 33 years after the death of Christ, around the year 66 AD,
a fire broke out in Rome and raged through city.
To deflect the blame from himself the Emperor Nero accused
the strange new religious cult—the “Christians”—of starting the fire
and began to arrest and execute their leaders.
As the legend goes, and I believe the legend,
somehow St. Peter managed to escape from Rome into the countryside. But as he fled down the Appian Way he suddenly looked up and found himself
face to face with the Lord Jesus walking in the other direction
—toward Rome.
Peter froze in his steps and asked,
“Quo vadis, Domine?”—“Where are you going, Lord?”
And Jesus responded:
“Eo Romam iterum crucifigi”—“I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” So Peter turned around and went back to Rome,
where he was crucified by Nero on Vatican Hill.

It’s interesting: today if you leave Rome on the Appian Way,
and continue for about 12 miles past the Church
that marks the spot of Peter’s encounter with Christ,
you come to a little lakeside town named Castel Gandolfo.
This last Thursday to signify his retirement
Pope Benedict left Rome and made this trip down the Appian Way
—albeit in a helicopter—to Castel Gandolfo.

Some say, in doing this he’s running away from his responsibilities as pope
—like St. Peter tried to do.
But the reality is quite different.

8 years ago, when he was 78 year old “Cardinal Ratzinger,
he wanted to retire and leave Rome.
But Jesus wanted him to stay, and made him Pope.
For 8 years he’s suffered on the cross of Peter.
And even now, as he steps down for the good of the church,
he promises not to leave and go home to his beloved Germany,
but to go back up the Appian Way,
returning to Rome to be with the new successor Peter,
living out his life in prayer, sacrifice, and obedience
—only yards away from the site on Vatican Hill where
St. Peter himself was crucified.

Like Peter before him, Benedict, Pope Emeritus, has asked the Lord:
“Quo Vadis Domine?” “Where are you going Lord.”
And he has followed where the Lord has led him.

And now the Church must do the same thing, asking,
“Where are You going Lord?”
“Where will You take us now?”
“Who will you send to replace the brave and bold St. Peter,
and the brilliant and humble Benedict,
to hold the keys to the kingdom,
to bind and loose in your Holy Name?”

Even now the Lord knows the name of that man, but he alone knows.

I mentioned earlier that in a certain way we welcome
the world-wide media’s attention to the conclave.
But on the other hand, not so much.
Because most of them come not in search of Christ, but of a story.
And in doing so they grasp on to rumors and allegations of scandals
in the Vatican and the Church.
Some of these may be typical media frenzy,
some may be standard anti-Catholic bias,
and some may even be an effort to influence the election.

But unfortunately, some of them may be will founded, even true.

Should this cause us concern?
Yes, inasmuch as we want every bishop and priest to be holy men.
But on a more circumspect basis,
we should neither be surprised nor overly concerned.
After all, one of the first twelve apostles actually sold Jesus to His enemies
and then hung himself.
You can’t get more scandalous or sinful than that.

But the Resurrection still happened and the Church continued without him.
And when it comes to the papal election,
ultimately we trust that Jesus will pick the next pope,
and the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to that man.

But at the same time, history tells us that in centuries past some very sinful men
have been elected to the papacy.
First to mind comes Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia,
who famously made 2 of his illegitimate sons cardinals.
And then maybe Pope Leo X, Giovanni de Medici,
who is quoted as telling his brother:
“Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.”

God alone knows exactly how these and other sinful men ever got elected pope.
But history would seem to indicate it was because other men
caught up in their own sins and weaknesses,
and led astray by temptation and distraction,
rejected the guidance of the Holy Spirit in choosing these popes.
For example, in some elections
the threats of kings or riots of mobs or bribes of princes
had more sway than the Spirit.
In short, in some elections not enough of the electors asked: Quo vadis Domine?

Now some of us may be discouraged by all this past,
and by the rumors currently floating around in the media—true or not.
Some may be afraid that the cardinals who are not holy and pious men
may elect a bad pope.

Like I said, it’s happened before.
But you know, it’s been hundreds of years since that happened.
Because beginning with the Council of Trent in the 16th century to Benedict,
the Popes have developed a system of carefully crafted rules,
refined over centuries,
to assure that the cardinals suffer the least temptations and distractions.

Some laugh at all these rules, and call them “medieval.”
Actually, they very specifically post-medieval—and they work:
for the last 400 years only good and devout men have been elected pope.
Not perfect men, but men who tried their best to serve God and the Church.

But it’s not just a bunch of rules that make this happen.
During Lent we make a bunch of extra rules for ourselves—penances—
to help us overcome the sins in our lives and control our temptations.
But in the end, all these penances can do is prepare us to receive and respond
to Christ’s grace and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Like the gardener in today’s gospel, who approaches the fruitless tree and
“cultivate[s] the ground around it and fertilize[s] it.”
preparing it to be able to bear fruit.

For almost 2000 years the Church has been filled with sinful people
—both in the hierarchy and in the pews.
In spite of all that, over all those years the Catholic Church
has constantly proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ
handed down from the Apostles through apostolic succession,
and in particular the Petrine succession.
This “miracle of the Church” is a radical witness
to the presence of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise:
“the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

But to be part of that miracle, and to make it fruitful in their lives,
the people at any given point in history must do everything they can
to prepare themselves for that grace.
And so one of the most important rules for the conclave,
that is made all the more clear in this season of Lent,
is that the cardinals do penance and pray;
not treating the conclave like some secular election,
but removing sin and temptation from their lives
and preparing their hearts to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and asking “Quo vadis Domine?”
“Where are you going Lord,
and who have you chosen as Peter to lead us there?”

And as we see them do this, and pray it’s truly from their hearts,
we remember that it’s Lent for us too,
and that there are no fewer sinners in the pews or the pulpits
than there are in the college of cardinals.
And just as we fear how their sins may corrupt effect the life of the Church,
we realize the same applies to us.
And so we renew our penances, and look at Christ crucified and ask:
“Quo vadis Domine?”

And perhaps in all this,
by the holy decision of the cardinals, and by our holy lives,
when all roads lead the world to Rome
—both in the sense of Vatican City
and our individual Roman Catholic lives—
those who come to “look at this remarkable sight,” of this burning bush
may discover the light of Christ and the fire of his love,
in the living, breathing Body of Christ on earth, His Church.
And then with his Church, be drawn to Him, and perhaps, perhaps, ask:
“Quo vadis Domine,”
and follow him to Rome, to the Roman Catholic Church.

As we continue in this Holy Mass, and the season of Lent,
and in this holy time when all roads are leading the world to Rome,
let us pray for all those who come to see this remarkable sight.
And let pray for the cardinal-electors, that they may be free of sin,
and commend them to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And let pray for our next pope, whose name is already known, but to God alone.
And let us pray that all Catholics,
from 7 year old first-communicants to 77 year old Cardinal-electors,
will continually ask the question,
“Where are you going Lord?” “Quo vadis Domine?”
And united with Peter, follow Jesus wherever he leads.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2013

February 24, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

In today’s Gospel, as Jesus is Transfigured before Peter James and John,
and stands in the middle of Moses and Elijah,
Peter says something that is at once out of place,
and at the same time very profound.
Overwhelmed by the knowledge that he in the presence of the Christ,
revealed in his heavenly glory,
Peter wants to set up tents so they can stay there
—he never wants to leave.
And in awe he says: ““Master, it is good that we are here.”

During this season of Lent we have to ask ourselves:
do we say the same thing today?
First, do you say this as you come before our Lord in the Eucharist,
but more than that, do you say this as you live your day to day life
as members of the Catholic Church.
Do you believe that in this Church you are in His presence,
with Peter, and James and John, and Moses and Elijah,
and believe “it is good that I am here” in the Catholic Church?

Unfortunately, I think many people today would disagree with that
—even many self-proclaimed “practicing Catholics”.
Because it’s hard to be a Catholic
—to be in union with Jesus and Peter,
with the old testament prophets and the new testament apostles.

But it’s always been hard to be a Catholic.
After all, the Church has lots of very difficult teachings.
But the thing is, most of those difficult teachings
come directly from Jesus himself.

Of course, Jesus says a lot of wonderfully uplifting things,
but think of all the hard sayings of Jesus in scripture.
Let’s take a moment to consider just a few.

Regarding the moral life, he says:
–“love your enemies, bless those who persecute you”
–“love your neighbor as yourself.”
–“if you do not forgive men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
–”unless you …become like children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
–“If you would enter [eternal] life, keep the commandments….
You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother…”
–”everyone who is angry with his brother…and whoever says, ‘You fool!’
shall be liable to the hell of fire.”
–”whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery.”
–“everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has …committed adultery
…in his heart.…”
–“Depart from me…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil
…for I was hungry and you gave me no food…
sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ …
as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”

Consider what he says about the sacrifices we have to make:
–“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…’.
–“I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
….He who loves father or mother …[or] son or daughter
more than me is not worthy of me;”
–“they will lay their hands on you and persecute you,
…and you will be brought before kings and governors
for my name’s sake.”
–“pick up you cross, and follow me.”

Consider what he says about the sacraments:
–“unless a man be born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
–“ Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,
but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
–“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you”
–“this is my body…this is my blood
–“He said…to [the apostles]: If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

And consider what he says about St. Peter the Church:
–“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! … I tell you, you are Peter [Rock],
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
–“Jesus said to Simon Peter,
…‘Feed my lambs.’ ….’Tend my sheep.’ …’Feed my sheep.’”

And then of course perhaps the ultimate hard saying:
–“be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

All these are hard sayings, but they’re the sayings of Jesus Christ.
And they’re not impossible sayings to live by,
especially when we remember that
with the grace of Christ, “all things are possible with God.”.
In fact, while they may be bring some hardship for a while,
they are really what it takes to be truly human,
so we can never be truly happy without them.

So what do you say?
Do you agree with Peter, “it is good that we are here”?
And again, I mean here with Jesus and Peter in the Catholic Church,
living every day committed to embracing these hard sayings.

Some might like to be somewhere else.
And wouldn’t be the first.
In today’s 2nd reading this is exactly what St. Paul is talking about
in his letter to the Philippians.
He tells faithful in Philippi,
“b[e] imitators of me…and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.”
And then he talks about those who have effectively left the Church
by not living the way St. Paul taught them:
“For many, as I …now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

It’s hard to be a Catholic.
In the early days, the 1st through 3rd centuries this made for a very small church.
Consider that even after 3 centuries,
in the year 313, only about 10% of the Roman Empire was Christian.
First of all you had the persecution and martyrdom
that Jesus not only warned about but, in a sense,
promised those who would follow him.
But the main reason was simply that it was so demanding
—all those hard sayings.

In the 4th century it got a little easier to be a Christian:
the Roman persecution stopped
and Emperor Constantine made Christianity
the official religion of the Empire.
For centuries after that Western culture was sort of built up around the Church,
shaped more and more by Christian principles,
so that the secular and religious world walked the same fundamental path.
And that cultural support helped make it somewhat easier
to stay inside the Church, and to follow Christ’s teaching.

Today, though, things are changing, or perhaps, have changed,
especially the Western Society of Europe and North and South America,
which is rooted in 16 centuries of Christian culture.
More and more the western world follows the way of the fallen away Christians
that St. Paul talks about today:
“Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”

But that is not the way of Jesus and his Church.
As St. Paul says: “But our citizenship is in heaven,
We are called to live in the world, but not be of the world.
To enjoy God’s good gifts
as they were meant to be enjoyed in a good way,
which Jesus knows better than we do.

Even so, many Catholics today seem to want to follow the way of the world.
We see this in a dramatic way with the resignation, or retirement,
of Pope Benedict XVI.
As we face the upcoming election his successor
we hear a lot of talk about changing the Church.
For example, in yesterday’s Post a headline read:
“Will the Catholic Church become its own relic?”
The article proceeded to repeat a lot of pathetic lies
about the Church’s teaching,
in effect saying bishops and popes made up all the really difficult stuff.
But what about all those hard sayings of Jesus?
The article, like so many others recently,
goes on to say, in effect, it’s too hard to be a Catholic today,
so the Church needs to change it’s hard teachings
apparently including some that come directly from Scripture, all in order to keep up with the changing world.
But this is the same error that happened with the Philippians,
as St. Paul wrote:
“many…conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ…
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven.”

What’s happening is that while we say the Church officially has 1.2 billion members,
many of those do not agree with Peter when he says:
“Master, it is good that we are here.”
We were a small church in the beginning, and grew only when the secular world
allowed itself to formed by the hard sayings of Christ.
But now as Western society and culture divorces itself from those teachings,
the Church seems, once again, to becoming a very much smaller church.
At least if we measure it not by those who merely claim to be Catholic,
but by those who actually embrace and try to follow
the hard sayings of Jesus
—including the one about Peter and the keys,
and his power to loose and bind.

For the last 8 years we’ve been blessed to have a successor of Peter
who thoroughly embraced that saying of St. Peter—Pope Benedict XVI.
And for 24 years before that we were blessed to have him,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
serve as Pope John Paul II’s chief defender of the doctrine of the Church.
Always teaching with kindness and gentleness, but never wavering in the truth. Always holding to his belief, in word and deed,
that it is good that we are here,
in the Catholic Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter.

But Benedict has also always recognized
that many do not agree with Peter’s saying,
so that the Church is really much smaller than it seems.
As far back as 1969 he wrote:
“The church will become small and will have to start afresh…”
But, this is no reason to lose hope, or think that Christ or His Church is a failure.
As Ratzinger continued:
“But when the trial of this sifting is past,
a great power will flow
from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.
Men … will discover the little flock of believers…
as a hope that is meant for them,
an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”

Jesus Christ founded his Church
to gather all mankind in every century to himself.
And he entrusted to His Church his teaching about the truth,
and he gave the Church Peter and his successors, the Popes,
to protect that teaching and pass it on to every generation.
This week as Pope Benedict steps down from Chair of Peter,
we thank the good Lord for the gifts of
His teaching, the Church, the office of Pope,
and this particular pope, Benedict.
And as we continue the Lenten season
we ask ourselves, do we believe in the hard sayings of Christ,
and see them not as a stumbling block,
but as the bricks that pave of the road to happiness and to heaven?
Do we cling to the things of the world,
or to the words of the one who came down from heaven
to transform the world?
Do we want to change the teaching of Christ and His Church,
or do we join in proclaiming that teaching, by our words and actions,
to a world who is always searching for it.
Do we want to remain, now and forever,
as true and faithful members of that Catholic Church?
standing united with Peter, and his successors, and saying:
“Master, it is good that we are here.”

1st Sunday of Lent 2013

February 17, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.

This last Monday the world woke up to the stunning news
that Pope Benedict XVI would resign, effective at the end of this month.
The first reaction of most of us seemed to be shock.
Which led to an initial response, even from the media,
that was very human:
one expressing human warmth and affection
toward this great and holy man,
and sadness that he would be leaving us.

But this didn’t last long—at least not for “the world” and it’s media.
As the surprise wore off, so did the positive news coverage,
as the message began change.
The coverage fell into the usual predictable paradigm
of seeing the Church as a merely human institution
And–surprise surprise—it turns out the media’s judgment
is largely that Benedict XVI was a failure as pope,
that under him the Church has become irrelevant
and that in order to make a comeback
his successor has to change the Church
to become more in line with the values of the world.

All this as we begin Lent, the holiest, most unworldly season of the year.

Today’s Gospel is a summation of Lent.
Like Jesus, for 40 days we go out into the desert,
to be purified and prepared to enter into our true mission,
which is to live and proclaim the Gospel of salvation.

In daily life it’s easy to get fixated on the good things of creation, “creatures,”
versus the goodness of the Creator,
and to make them more important, to love them more than God.
Whether its material stuff, like food or drink, or nice homes or money;
or even people that we genuinely care for or simply use for our enjoyment;
or popularity or merely acceptance.
It’s easy to cling to these things.
But in Lent we go into a spiritual desert with Christ
to try to strip away anything that leads us away from God,
any inordinate attachments to things, or to sins.

And so we do penances, in particular making sacrifices,
giving up things just as Jesus gave up everything in desert:
reminding us we are in the desert, trying to focus on the Creator.

And we pray: again, me and the creator.
And this prayer consists both in our private conversations with God,
and with the unified worship of the Church as the Body of Christ.
And so it includes most importantly the sacraments,
especially the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance,
where we encounter Christ most intimately,
both individually and as the Church, and he leads us to his Father.
His grace pouring out on us, strengthening us, and bringing us closer to him.
Me and Jesus.
Us and Jesus, alone in the desert with His Father and Spirit.

To me it seems Benedict’s resignation as we enter Lent is perfect timing.
Because it reminds us that like Christ himself,
the Church cannot go forward with its mission
unless we are constantly purified and renewed,
constantly stripping away the things of the world
and refocus on Christ and his grace.
Then and only then can we go forward to live and proclaim the gospel.

What a perfect atmosphere in which to pick a new pope,
who will lead us forward to live and proclaim the Gospel.

But that is the exact opposite of what we see in the media.
And let me stop here and say, this isn’t merely a critique of the media
—the media is simply all too often the voice of
what Jesus used to call “the world”:
the worldly values that put the creature before the creator.

The media sees the electing of the new pope in strictly worldly terms.
For example, it points to some corruption in the Vatican bureaucracy,
and makes the election about choosing a competent CEO/manager.
Or it points to declining Mass attendance,
or in the number of Catholics who disagree with Catholic moral teaching,
and it says we need a “progressive” pope to make changes
to modernize the church
And it points to the increasing importance of itself—the media—
and says we need a pope who has media-savvy,
and is a crowd-pleaser
and a great communicator, especially with the young.

And of course, they see the antithesis of this in Benedict:
they call him bookish, professorial, aloof, doctrinally rigid,
and managerially in over his head.

But the thing is, as Jesus reminded the first Pope, St. Peter, his job was to be,
“thinking …as God does, [not] as human beings do.”
And once when Peter failed to do that Jesus said to him:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”

Anytime we think merely as human beings do
—as sinners caught up in the things of the world—
we become obstacles to Christ and his mission in the world,
taking the side of Satan.

We go into the desert, now, to get away from all that—the world.
But notice what happens to Jesus at the end of the 40 days.
There’s that old Satan, the Devil, there to tempt him.
And notice how he does that.

First, he says: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
Now, Jesus had given up food for 40 days,
perfecting his self-discipline over the desires of the flesh
—even the good and natural desires.
Not because the flesh is bad,
but because all human desires and all good things can be corrupted
if we don’t remember what they’re for, and use them properly.
So, for example, even love can be corrupted: you can love someone,
but selfishness can corrupt that love
and wind up smothering the other person.

Christ goes into the desert, and we go into lent,
to focus on loving not the created good, but the Creator
and then asking letting the Creator tell us what he created this thing for.
And so Jesus answered the devil:
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

In the midst of the Pope’s resignation and succession,
so many are caught in focusing on the created things, not on the Creator.
Some people say: “the new pope has needs to change the teaching on xyz.”
But all they’re really saying is “focus on the creatures and what they say.”
But what the Church must do and say is,
“focus on the Creator, and what God says.”

In his second temptation the devil showed Jesus,
“all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant,”
and “said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Sometimes if you listen carefully, it seems like the world has its own religion,
that some call “secularism.”
Here again, the object of worship is the created thing, not the creator.
The feelings of the creature, and the enjoyment of created things
—this is what so many, including ourselves a lot of the time,
are devoted to.

And if you don’t think the devil is a working behind the scenes to promote this,
just look at the Gospels.
Notice how the devil tries to tempt Jesus:
he’s trying to appeal to what he sees in all other men
—this disordered love for created things.
He’s not inventing it, but he’s an expert at manipulating and confusing.
And in doing that, the devil places his word, not God’s word,
as the way of ordering our approach to creatures.
And so we wind up serving him—a creature!

But of course, Jesus isn’t like other men
—he sees things clearly and hears the Word of his Father distinctly.
And so he says in reply,
“It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”

Nowadays, everyone’s’ trying to tell us what we should think,
and telling us their own version of good and evil.
You hear people say, well everyone does it,
or the polls show that people think this is good or bad.

You know what?
Who cares?
Whether it’s in our own life or in the life of the Church,
whether it’s in personal moral decisions
or the election of new pope,
do we serve polls? do we serve creatures?
Or do we worship and serve the Lord, our God?

For his third temptation Satan led Jesus to the top of the temple,
“and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels …to guard you…”

Here he appeals to ultimate disordered corruption of the love of creatures
–where the creature loves himself above all things.
Again, thinking Jesus is just an ordinary man,
Satan appeals to his pride:
“you’re so wonderful, do what you want
and God will obediently come to your aid.”

Many of us think the same thing every day:
“God loves me so much, even though he says xyz is a sin,
he won’t hold it against me.”
So, the creator becomes the servant, God worships man.
And so “Jesus said to him …, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

If you listen carefully to what some are saying
about Pope Benedict and his successor, you hear this same thing
“The next pope needs change its teaching on
marriage, or whatever.”
As if the Pope can just change whatever he wants,
even when it goes directly against the teaching of Christ.
As if God will say, oh, okay, you know best…
I’m just the all-knowing, all-loving, all-power Creator of the universe,
and you are, after all, the Pope.

It just doesn’t work that way—he is God, and the pope is his servant,
not the other way around.

In Lent we go out into the desert with Christ to be purified by penance and grace,
to love God above all things.
This Lent the cardinal-electors in Rome must do the same thing,
and we must join them in solidarity.
God, Christ, comes first.
Me and Jesus, the Church and God.

And in his mercy, God has provided us with a magnificent example to follow: Pope Benedict himself.
It’s clear from the words of his resignation and everything he’s’ said since
that he made this decision not to serve himself, but God alone.

To him, nothing’s been more important than God.
Not food, as the devil tried to tempt Christ.
Not personal comfort, not a powerful job.

To him, it’s all about worshipping God, not the things God created.
Like Jesus’ response to the devil’s offer to worship him,
Benedict reminds us that we don’t worship the man who is pope,
we revere the office he holds, but worship God alone.
In stepping down, he reminds us that the pope is just a man,
and has authority only to the extent Christ gives it to him.

And to him, it’s not about pride or self-importance.
As he steps off the throne,
the murmurs of the media and his enemies grow louder and louder
—he was an ineffective pope, a bad manager,
a disappointment after John Paul II.
But he smiles, waves goodbye, and serenely entrusts the judgment of his papacy
not to the world or its media,
and not even so much to history,
but fundamentally to the judgment of God alone.

What a great gift the lord Jesus gives us in the office of Pope,
to shepherd his flock, to be rock of strength for 2000 years.
And what a great gift Jesus gave us in Benedict,
a brilliant, brave and clear-sighted shepherd,
but above all a humble, holy servant of God.

Would that we might imitate Benedict this Lent,
as he goes off to a life of prayer and reflection
—off to his own desert of sorts.
Him and Christ in the desert.
Let us pray that we and the whole Church may imitate him as he imitates Christ,
not clinging to the creatures of the world or seeking to serve them first,
but clinging to Christ,
and seeking serve our Creator,
Father Son and Holy Spirit,
First, last and always.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

November 4, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

2 [3] days left.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of this election season.
I’m tired of talking about it too,
and I know some of you are tired of hearing me talk about it.
Someone kidded me the other day about how for the last few weeks
I’ve managed to dig around in each Sunday’s readings
to find something related to election themes
He was kidding,
but, elections are, by definition, about choices,
choices that effect human lives.
And so all elections involve moral choices.
And the Word of God always helps us to make moral choices.
So of course we can find something in every Sunday’s readings
to help us make the morally correct choices in the coming election.

But this Sunday I don’t have to dig around: it’s staring me in face.
The two great commandments: to Love God and love your neighbor.
The most basic guide to all moral choices, and so for all ballots cast.

At the heart of these 2 commandments is one word: “love.”
As wonderful as love is,
we all know that many people misunderstand what it means.
So it demands explanation, especially when we try to figure out
how it effects our political choices.

A lot of Catholics today think loving our neighbor as ourselves
simply means being kind to them,
and maybe also to be helpful, welcoming, tolerant and accepting.

But while there’s something to that, it kind skips over the fact
that God himself has given us
a very thorough explanation of love and it’s requirements.
And it begins with 10 basic defining principles
that set a minimum standard for love
and a context for all the other requirements of love.
And He called these 10 principles of love “the 10 Commandments.”

Now, some like to think that Jesus sort of over-road the 10 Commandments
with 2 great commandments of love.
But what Jesus is actually doing in today’s gospel
is quoting from two different passages in the Old Testament,
one of which, the Greatest commandment to love God,
we read today in the first reading from Chapter 6 Deuteronomy.
And if we open up our bibles and look at that passage in Deuteronomy,
we find that it comes right at the end of the list of the 10 Commandments.
And if you look ups the second great commandment, to “love your neighbor,”
you can find it at the end of a second listing of the same 10 commandments
in Leviticus 19.

So In other words, the Great commandments to “love God” and “love your neighbor”
summarize the 10 Commandments,
or we can say, the 10 Commandments explain what it means
to “love God and our neighbor.”

They set basic principles, sort of a minimum you must do, or not do,
if you love your neighbor.
For example, if you love your neighbor “you shall not kill” him.
But that’s only the beginning, as we read in scripture:
first we don’t kill him,
and when we’ve got that down, then we don’t physically hurt him,
and then we don’t call him names, then we help him when he needs help.
But first things first:
if we lived in a society where we were allowed to kill each other
what difference would it make if we are required to help each other?
So if our neighbor asked for help, we could either help him or kill him.
First, thou shall not kill.

We see this applied very clearly in the coming election.
Promising all sorts of good things to people doesn’t mean much
if you’re willing to kill them.
So that if you’re willing to kill, or abort, the unborn baby in the womb,
what difference does it if you promise to feed, educate,
or give health care to poor children—once they are born?
Not much.

And take another of the “10 principles”—the 6th commandment:
“thou shall not commit adultery.”
Essentially, this commandment prohibits “marital acts” outside of marriage,
because that degrades both marriage
and that act of marriage that creates life!
Because not only is killing life important, so is the way life is given.
And so we have this wonderful thing,
where giving love and giving life come together,
and were all the fruits of life and love are learned and received
— the union of man and woman to love each other
and beget and raise children.
The amazing gift that God and all of history calls “marriage.”

So if we love our neighbor we will protect marriage.
What good is being kind to people, of tolerating their differences,
if we destroy marriage, and real family, and civilization in the process?

And that’s what we do when we try to redefine it,
merely to please a few people who don’t understand it.

So, as Catholics,
recognizing that when we make choices that effect our neighbors,
we must love our neighbor as ourselves,
and do so by upholding the 10 basic principles of love,
the 10 commandments.
But how can we do that if we support candidates
who brag about their support for aborting babies and destroying marriage?

But, as I said, first things first.
We’ve been talking about the second greatest commandment.
But that’s useless, unless we first follow the first greatest commandment:
“The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God”

What this means is that God comes first, before everything else.
Nowadays many think this means simply having a warm feeling toward God.
Some further reduce this to merely worshiping God.
But the great commandment requires we love God
“with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”
Not with just feelings, and not just inside the 4 walls of your church,
but with your whole being!
Everything you think, do and say.

And the 10 commandments help us to understand this better.
So, of course, if you love God you won’t kill your neighbor
because God gave him that life and God loves him!

But also, if you love God, you will “have no other God’s before him”:
the very 1st Commandment.
Nothing can be more important than God.
Not your own selfishness, not your own economic situation,
not even the economic situation of your neighbor.
Not you’re your political party or ideology.

Now, some say that approach to things is “un-American.”
Well if it is, so be it, because we’re Catholics before we are American
—we must love God even more than country.

But, the thing is, it’s not un-American: it is quintessentially American.
Because our nation was founded on the principle, or principles,
that the people have the right to form their own government,
and that government is formed to protect the rights of the people.
But those principles are founded on an even greater principle:
that God gives those rights to each of us:
they are not given to us by kings or congresses or courts.
Nor are they given to us by the votes of a majority of other men.
They are God-given rights.
And if that principle is rejected, then we have no real rights,
just permissions given to us by government or a majority vote.

Now, when Catholics 1st came to the original 13 British colonies
back in the 17th century
they came largely to escape religious persecution in England.
But even in colonial America,
Catholics were still persecuted for their religion:
we were, in many ways, treated as 2nd class citizens.
For example, before the 19th century,
the Catholic Church wasn’t even allowed to own property in Virginia

But with the dawning of the Declaration of Independence
and then the Constitution,
things began to change.
The Declaration enshrined the fact that God gave us our rights, not men.
And the Constitution guaranteed that the government existed, in part,
to protect each and everyone’s right to believe and follow God
according to their own conscience and religion,
as the 1st Amendment provided:
“Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Even so, over the years these rights have been repeatedly attacked.
Sometimes the 1st Amendment protected us.
But sometimes we had to work hard for that protection.

We look back and we remember in the mid-1800’s
when the public schools often taught Protestant doctrines and prayers,
so that Catholics, led by their Bishops, priests, and the good sisters,
decided they had to form their own huge system of schools.

And in 1922, when the Masons and the Ku Klux Klan
teamed up to pass state laws to close Catholic schools,
Catholics fought back and won at the Supreme Court.

In those and other cases, the 1st Amendment’s was our strong legal shield.
But sometimes even that didn’t work.

For example, in 1844 anti-Catholics, so called “Nativists,” in New York
who were tired of the growing influence of Catholic immigrants,
planned to burn down St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
When Archbishop John Hughes found out about it,
and that the politicians and police were planning to turn a blind eye,
he put out the word
and four thousand Catholic men armed themselves
and encircled the Cathedral.
Needless to say, finding out about the Catholic “hospitality” awaiting them,
the Nativists never showed up.
And anti-Catholicism started to die down in New York.
And Archbishop John Hughes became known around town as “Dagger John.”

Today, our God given religious liberty, our right to love God,
is once again under threat.
But this time not by some school district, or a state, or even a mob,
No this time we are threatened by the President of the United States.
As you know, under the law many call “Obamacare,” he has mandated
that all employers provide employees with insurance coverage
for contraception, sterilization and even abortion inducing drugs.
This even though he knew this would require
most Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, charities
and even Catholic business owners
to act in a way contrary to their fundamental religious moral beliefs,
It would force us to directly disobey the God who we are called
to love with all our heart mind soul and strength.

And if we don’t, the penalty for not cooperating is $100 per day, per employee.
That’s $36,500 per year per employee.
Folks, I can’t see how this won’t shut down every
Catholic hospital, college and charity,
not to mention Catholic owned businesses,
in the country.

How do we answer this?
The Congress has refused to defend us,
and the President is bragging about his new rules on the campaign trail.
Perhaps the Supreme Court will come to the rescue,
but everybody thought they were going to overturn Obamacare,
and that didn’t happen.

So, it looks like we’re on our own.
In the historic words our bishops wrote us last January:
“We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law…
“In generations past, the Church has always been able
to count on the faithful to stand up and protect
her sacred rights and duties.
We hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics
to do the same.”

Friends, it’s time for Dagger John and his followers to step forward again.
Not with knives and guns wielded by an angry crowd,
but with the two most powerful weapons we have at our disposal
as Catholic Americans:
as Catholics, we yield the sword of prayer,
and as Americans, the dagger of the vote.

Tuesday is election day, and all elections involve moral choices.
I beg you to make your choices based on the greatest moral laws,
the 2 great commandments and 10 Commandments.
Love your neighbor as yourself
by defending the right to life of your unborn neighbor
and the institution of marriage.
And love God by not bowing to party affiliations or ideologies,
or to any other worldly concern.
Demand your freedom to love God with all your heart, mind soul and strength.

In short, vote, and vote like a Catholic.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

October 28, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Today’s Gospel tells us the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus,
whose faith leads Jesus to cure him.

Of course, this story shows the mercy of Jesus in physically curing the blind.
But it also reminds us of something even greater:
that once Jesus cures him physically,
Bartimaeus’ faith leads him to see Jesus spiritually,
with the eyes of faith,
and: “Immediately he …followed him on the way.”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks nowadays, many Catholics,
who suffer from spiritual blindness.
They can’t see Jesus for who he truly is:
God the Son, who not only died on the Cross to save us,
but also taught us that there is a Christian way of living
and that we must that follow that way of life to be saved.

Now, two weeks ago Pope Benedict called us to begin a “year of faith.”
In this, he’s not just calling us to renew our faith in Jesus,
but to also renew our faith in what he taught,
and what his Church continues to teach in his name.

One reason Benedict chose this year to be the “year of faith”
is because it marks the 50th anniversary of the opening
of the 2nd Vatican Council, or Vatican II.
Vatican II was a huge watershed moment in the Church.
And no understands this better than Pope Benedict,
who as a young priest-theologian, named Fr. Joseph Ratzinger,
was one of the truly bright lights and leaders at the council.

But very soon after the council, Fr. Ratzinger noticed a problem.
The council had called for Catholics to engage in a dialogue with the world
so that we could figure out the best way to teach all mankind
the fullness of the Catholic faith.
But what Ratzinger saw was too many Catholics, even priests and bishops,
simply adopting the values of the world they were supposed to be teaching!

We need to remember, the Council was convened from 1962 to 1965,
and was being implemented for the next decade or so.
In other words, during the greatest upheaval in societal values in centuries,
generically called “the SIXTIES.”
And all too many Catholics, misunderstanding the council and the Church,
began to see things not with the eyes of faith in Christ and His Church,
but with the eyes of a secular culture
that embraced
the values of “if it feels good, do it,”
and lifestyles glorifying “sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

And as a result, as if suffering the side-effects of bad drugs,
many Catholics continue to suffer from theological hallucinations,
seeing doctrines that weren’t really there;
the funny smoke of secular values blurs their vision,
and eventually they fall into spiritual, religious and moral blindness.

And so in this year of faith, Pope Benedict tells us it’s time to see clearly again,
to shout with Bartimaeus: “Master, I want to see.”
And in seeing with the eyes of faith, to follow Christ on his way.

But in the meantime, to many of us still blinded to the truth,
And you hear Catholics say,
“well, that’s what the Church teaches,
but I have to follow my own conscience.”
Actually, that’s partly correct: the Church teaches that
“You must follow your conscience.”

But the thing is, what do we mean by “conscience”?

Those of worldly values have a notion of concience
that’s not too different from “if it feels good do it.”
Some say it’s sort of your “gut feeling.”

But this is not what the Catholic Church means by “conscience.”
It’s not simply our gut feeling, or what we wish were right or wrong.
Rather, conscience is our last best judgment of reason
about what we ought to do in a particular case.
That means I take in all the facts,
and then I take what I know about right and wrong,
and use my reason to intelligently judge
what I ought to do.

So for example, someone cuts me off in traffic,
my feelings might tell me:
“you ought to shout an obscenity at him.”
That’s not my conscience.
If I take a moment and think, my reason says: “you know that’s wrong!”
That’s my conscience.

Now, what this makes clear
is that the conscience relies on reason and knowledge.
Which means we have a duty to
learn how to exercise reason—to think logically—
and that we fill our minds with valuable and usable knowledge
—especially knowledge of what is right and wrong.
We call that the “proper formation of conscience.”

The problem is too many times we allow the secular world to form our conscience.
We like to think we think independently, but come on….
Have you ever noticed how you all dress basically the same?
Even rebellious teens who claim they’re not conforming….
dress like other rebellious teens.

So, how should we form our conscience?
For a person who believes in Jesus Christ this must involve
seeing him for who he is.
And recognizing he taught us to follow a particular way of life,
a teaching he entrusted to the Popes and bishops
to be handed down to ever generation of Christians.
So that when I say “I’m a Catholic,”
that should mean I believe in everything the Church teaches
to be definitely true.
If that’s what I believe to be true,
then reason tells me that the teachings of Christ and his Church
have to be right at the center of my conscience,
So that any time I, as a Catholic, purposefully, or negligently,
decide not to follow the way
clearly laid out by Christ and his Church,
and instead follow the way of the world,
I am, by definition either one of two things:
NO longer truly a Catholic and follower of Christ,
or not following my conscience.

But even if we accept that we must follow the way of Christ,
there’s a second problem that came to the surface
after Vatican II and the Sixties:
questions about what the Church actually teaches.
Again, influenced by the warped Sixties values many have tried,
for the last 5 decades,
to teach a very worldly form of Christianity.
Love was largely reduced to feelings
and charity to physical or financial wellbeing.
Certainly, these things are important,
but they are not the heart of the Gospel,
nor do they give us principles to guide us on the way of the Lord Jesus.

And so Pope Benedict
calls us to not cling to the secular culture that grew out of the Sixties,
but to cling the Church,
that has continued to teach the same truth
from the year 30 AD
to the year 1962 AD,
to the year 2012 AD.
To take off the dark glasses of secularism,
and seek the grace of Christ to see with the eyes of faith.

One important example where there is so much confusion
is in the area of doctrine called “Social Justice.”

In particular, many today will argue that the Catholic Church teaches
that we have a special duty to take care of the poor.
That’s very true.
But a lot of folks leave out the fact that the Church also
condemns envy, class warfare, burdensome taxes and socialism,
and upholds the right to property
and defends capitalism.

Some will remind us the Church says everyone has a right to basic healthcare,
and that’s true.
But some forget that the Church also
rejects big government bureaucratic solutions to problems,
and teaches that we should always, whenever possible,
leave it to families and local communities
to organize solutions to problems
—the principle of subsidiarity.

Many remind us the church defends the right of workers to organize into unions,
but forget that the church condemns forced union membership
and the corruption of unions by greed or Marxist principles and tactics.

Many rightly remind us the Church calls us to welcome immigrants,
but they forget that the Church also
teaches the right to immigrate is not absolute
and that immigrants must obey the rule of law.

There is a Social Justice doctrine in the Church,
but it is not a Secular Justice,
but a well-defined and nuanced doctrine
rooted in the long tradition of Catholic moral teaching.
And there are lots of different ways to legitimately achieve this justice
—whether it’s by so called “conservative” or “liberal” approaches.

Most importantly Social Justice doctrine is founded on basic Christian principles.
And when Catholics form their consciences and make moral choices
they must follow these Catholic principles
—not their gut feelings, or ideological talking points.

The very first of these principles (of Social Justice)
is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
From this principle flows two other basic principles:
“honor you mother and father”,
and “thou shall not commit adultery.”
Marriage is the foundation of all society,
so if we have no justice in the family,
if family—as God defines it—is warped or corrupted,
there can be no justice in society.
So that anyone who tries to corrupt family
—either by supporting deviant sexual lifestyles
or by redefining what a marriage is—
violates the most basic principles of social justice.

The principle to “love your neighbor” also leads to a second basic principle:
“thou shall not kill”, or:
“you shall not intentionally kill innocent human life.”
This has to be right at the center of the Catholic conscience.
Friends, unborn babies are “innocent human life” par excellence.
So the popes continually remind us that our first act of social justice
must be to protect the lives of unborn babies.
You have no rights if you don’t have the right to life.
And if you can deny his right to life,
what good does it do to prohibit discrimination against him,
or to guarantee his access to health care?

Now, of course, I just gave you are the 4th, 5th and 6th commandments.
These really do form the most basic principles for moral decisions
—of forming our consciences.
Secondary and tertiary principles and are important,
but only when you apply these first principles consistently.

Unfortunately, this understanding of conscience
is rejected by most Catholics in American today.
One excellent, or terrible, example of this is our Vice President, Joe Biden.
Now, I’m not in the habit of calling out individual Catholics by name,
but Mr. Biden has been publicly using his Catholicism
to woo Catholic voters,
while at the same time publicly undermining Catholic teaching.

And so he embraces the redefinition of marriage, so call “gay Marriage.”
And he emphatically supports the right to abortion.
And he supports the president’s attack on the conscience of all faithful Catholics,
the denial of our religious liberty,
as he tries to force Catholics employers to provide health insurance
to employees to pay for
contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization.
How ironic:
he insists on his right to “follow his conscience”
in disobeying the church’s teachings,
even as he denies the right of the rest of us to follow our consciences
in obeying those teachings.

All this shows a sad state of affairs in the Catholic Church today.
And it points to the reason Pope Benedict calls us to renew our faith in Christ,
by learning and living out what that faith entails.
And it explains why Catholic and priests have been, more and more,
trying to guide their flock to a true understanding of their moral obligations; whether in simple decisions of day to day life,
or in the life-changing decisions like voting.
And it explains why we say that some candidates and their parties
are not fit for office
because they reject the most basic requirements of justice by supporting abortion and “gay marriage”
and denying religious liberty and freedom of conscience
to faithful Catholics.

Today, the Gospel reminds us of Christ’s healing grace
that gives sight to the blind Bartimaeus.
As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
and see our merciful Lord before us in the Most Blessed Sacrament,
let us beg him to grant us the grace to learn and understand
the moral teachings of His Church.
Let us pray for the faith and courage
to re-form our consciences according to those teachings
so we may follow him along his way.
And let us cry out with Bartimaeus, with all sincerity and truth:
“Master, I want to see.”