29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

October 16, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and to God what belongs to God.”
As many times as we’ve heard this text,
perhaps its never been more apropos than today,
as we approach state elections in just 3 weeks away,
and as next years national elections are the topic of daily headlines.
Some try to use this text to tell the Church to mind it’s own business
and keep its nose out of public debate, especially out of elections
Others, however, use it to defend the Church’s involvement in politics.
So what is the meaning of the dichotomy between Caesar and God
that Christ lays out?

Like anything in the word of God, like God himself,
this text has multiple layers and multiple facets.
First, Jesus is talking about relationship between the Church and the state.
Historically, the Old Testament reveals that in the case of Israel
God intended there to be no real distinction.
When God established Israel as a great nation
he made Moses it’s absolute ruler, as well as prophet and priest:
a true theocracy.
And it would continue as a theocracy for 700 years
until Israel was conquered and ruled for another 700 years
by a series of foreign pagan kings.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.
Here we see 2 groups who were deeply involved
in the political struggles of Israel.
The Herodians who were the “pro-Caesar” Jews
and had no interest at all in a return to a religious monarchy
And the Pharisees, devout Jews who longed for the coming of the Messiah
who would reestablishing the Jewish religious state.
And into their midst walks Jesus, who seems to be the messiah,
which is why the Herodians feared him.
But he’s not the kind of messiah the Pharisees were hoping for,
which is why they feared him.

And so they joined forces to force Jesus to take sides,
so that one or the other can have him arrested and executed.

But he does not take sides.
He simply says:
“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,
and to God what belongs to God.”

He’s is not terribly concerned about the state or creating an earthly kingdom,
but about the conversion of individual hearts and lives.
So in this short and pithy saying he rejects both
the wall of separation
and the religious monarchy.

But he also means something more.
Remember what he says later to Pontius Pilate:
“You would have no power over me
unless it had been given you from above.”
Or what St. Paul’s writes 20 years:
“there is no authority except from God
…Therefore he who resists the authorities
resists what God has appointed.”
And then remember the words from today’s 1st reading from Isaiah,
as God says to Cyrus the Persian,
one of the foreign pagan king who ruled over Israel:
“For the sake ….of Israel…
I have called you by your name, giving you a title,
though you knew me not.”
But then he adds: “I am the LORD and there is no other.”

Now we see more clearly what Jesus meant:
civil authorities have their own proper authority,
but in the end that and all legitimate authority comes from God.

Now, some people today might say that teaching is un-American.
But to me it seems to echo in the words of our nation’s founding document:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident,
that all Men ….are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights…
That to secure these Rights,
Governments are instituted among Men.”

Here the founder’s base our nation’s whole existence on God—the Creator—
and hold that our government exists only
to protect what God has given to man.
This seems to be very close to what Jesus told the Herodians.

Now, it is true that over the centuries the Church has often
become more involved in secular government than Christ
would seem to have preferred:
after the first 300 years of the state persecuting the Church,
we began to see various levels of blurring of the lines
between Church and state
—on the part of both the Church and the state.
In it’s defense we can say, truthfully, that the Church’s efforts
were often well intentioned.
Still, we have to admit that many of the motives of some Churchmen
were not so pure, nor were the results always happy.
And we also see that the more closely the church directly involved itself
with the state or in grasping secular power as it’s own,
the more likely it was to be involved in calamities.

Eventually people rejected the interweaving of the state and religion.
And this rejection came most radically
in the form of 2 great 18th century revolutions.

In one of these revolutions—the French Revolution—
the revolutionaries tried to eradicate the Church altogether,
killing or exiling 10’s of 1000’s of Frenchmen
who simply wanted to practice their Catholic faith.
In the end this was not a separation of Church and state
but merely a new example of the old problem:
a new state persecuting the Church.

But the other revolution was very different.
That was the American revolution.
It did not seek to banish God or Christ, or Christians or Churches
from it’s shores.
In fact the founding fathers saw religion
not only as a fundament human right,
but also as essential to the success of the American experiment.
They believed that the only way America could have
a moral and just government was if it had a moral and just people.
And they believed that religion was essential for this to happen.
As George Washington himself wrote in his Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,
religion and morality are indispensable supports….”
And he flatly rejected the idea that
“Morality can be maintained without religion.”

And here we come back to Jesus’ teaching about Caesar and God.
Yes, the government has a legitimate autonomy from the Church.
But no government can ever usurp God’s authority,
whether by suppressing the rights God has given to the people,
or by redefining good as evil, or truth and lies.

Granted, Churchmen have sometimes failed to recognize
the legitimate authority of the secular governments,
and so many times had to hang their heads in shame.
But when Churchmen have simply stuck
to teaching the justice and morality passed on to us by Christ
–of reminding Caesar exactly what it is that belongs to God–
they have fulfilled their God-given mission
and advanced the good of all mankind.

Of course, some today continue to vehemently disagree
even with this limited form of “interference” by the Church.
They say if religious people follow their Churches’
moral teaching when they vote
then Churches will wind up controlling the state.
And they ask, how can there be religious freedom
if we impose one denomination’s morals on the whole society?

The thing is, some basic moral principles transcend denominational teaching
—they are not merely the teaching of “the Church” but
part of what philosophers call the “Natural Law,”
or what the Declaration of Independence calls
“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
These are moral principles that are so basic that any rational human being
should figure them out all on their own
without a priest or minister teaching them.
For example, any rational thinking person can figure out
that it’s wrong to rape or to intentionally kill innocent people.

Unfortunately, though, all to often we don’t think rationally
—we let our passions, like hatred or greed, lead us in our actions.
And sometimes we just don’t have time to sit and think things through,
as if we were all professional philosophers.
So it’s important for someone—like the Church–to call us to task,
to think,
and to obey “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”—the Natural Law.

Because without that
governments will inevitably enact laws
that are contrary to both human reason
and the good that our creator intended:
all we will have is codified injustice.
For example, they might enact and enforce laws
that deny the natural God-given
right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”;
or the God-given freedom of religion or speech.
Clearly, no merely “Human Law” can be “good” or just or even binding
if it contravenes “Natural Law.”

And so we see a 2nd facet of Christ’s saying today:
we must obey Caesar only as long as
Caesar is consistent with the truth that God imprints
in the hearts and reason of all men, religious or not.
Even if man needs to be reminded of these truths
through the efforts of the Catholic Church,
or amateur philosophers like the founders of our great nation.

But how do we apply Christ’s teaching about Caesar and God in 2011?
In today’s Gospel the Herodians come to Jesus with flattering words:
“we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.”
But Jesus does not respond so sweetly.
Instead he calls them what they are: “hypocrites,”
they don’t really want the truth from Jesus;
and they don’t really want him to “teach” them “the way of God”;
and while they call themselves “Jews”
they have chosen to render to Caesar
what belongs to God alone.

Today millions of Catholics do the same thing.
For 38 years Human Law has established a false right to kill unborn babies.
And for 38 years Catholics have gone to the polls and voted for candidates
who defend, support and encourage this abomination.

Like the Herodians 2000 years ago, these so called “Catholics”
choose opinion over truth.
They know the Church teaches infallibly that
abortion is always a grave moral evil.
And they know that the popes have made it clear
that unlike any other issue today,
except same-sex marriage,
abortion is non-negotiable in the political realm.
But even give all that, millions of Catholics still give more credit
to public opinion polls, or to the opinion of the media or a political party,
than to the truth taught by the Church.
They say “I know the Church teaches abortion is wrong…But I think ….”
They can think what ever they want, but they can’t say “I’m a good Catholic”
if they reject Catholic teaching.
A person who does that is called, like the Herodians, a hypocrite.

But it’s not just the teaching of the Church that condemns abortion
—it’s the Natural Law itself.
Every rational human being should know that
there is absolutely no principle more fundamental in the Natural Law
than the absolute right to life of the innocent.
What good is a right to health insurance or economic security or anything else
if there is no right to life?
Any candidate who says he stands for justice
but then refuses to protect this most foundational right
that candidate, like the Herodians,
has given Caesar authority over the things of God
and, like them, is nothing less than a hypocrite.

And, frankly, a Catholic who supports or votes for that candidate
is an even worse hypocrite.
Because while Jesus calls the Herodians “hypocrites” once in today’s Gospel,
in the very next chapter of Matthew Christ turns on the Pharisees
and calls them hypocrites 6 times.
They’re worse than the Herodians
because they should know better than to play games with God’s law.
Catholics who support pro-abortion politicians should also know better.
And they should listen to the warning Christ reserves for Pharisees:
“”Woe to you, …Pharisees, hypocrites!
…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

Finally, some say,
“Father, I understand all that…but with the economy the way it is….
I have to vote for a candidate who will fix things.”
I am very sympathetic to the pain, confusion and fear
the economy is causing people.
But remember, in today’s Gospel,
what does Jesus have in his hand that he says belongs to Caesar?
A Roman coin: money.
This reveals a 3rd facet of this text:
Jesus doesn’t care a whole lot about money
—it’s part of the world, not part of God.

Who was it that gave you all you have
—the money and the skills and the breaks to have it all?
Was it Caesar, or was it God?
Try as it might, can the government Caesar stop stock market crashes?
It can’t even balance its own books,
how can we expect it to really “fix” all of our economic problems?
And at night is it Caesar you pray to
or do you pray to God
to bring us back from the precipice?
Remember what Jesus says elsewhere:
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap
…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’
….But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,
and all these things shall be yours as well.”

In the coming days, weeks and months, we face some very important decisions.
But when you make those decisions, ask yourself:
when the day of judgment comes
what will you say to Christ, the true king of the world?
Will you have to explain why you joined the other bad Catholics
who were willing to render unto Caesar what really belonged to God;
who were more concerned with Human Laws, personal opinions,
parties ideology, or even their bank accounts,
than with the most simple and fundament demands of justice?
What will you say to Christ?
And what will Christ say to you?
Let us pray that it will not be those 2 terrible words
he once spoke to the Herodians and Pharisee’s:
“you hypocrite.”

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Mt. 22:21

Even the enemies of Jesus were forced at times to recognize His personal integrity, the combination of His intelligence, personal dignity and steadfast will. We see the recognition of his integrity in today’s Gospel where the flattery which introduces the question which is meant to trap Jesus, has to be based upon a commonly recognized truth to be effective. Clearly everyone knew that Jesus was not the kind of man who adapted his teaching in accordance with peoples views of him, that he was “not concerned with anyone’s opinion,” and that he did “not regard a person’s status” when responding to a question. His interest was not in pleasing and winning favor, but simply in the truth of the matter at hand.

At the same time, we see the crowds delight at the quickness of his mind and his wit, the way he could easily silence his enemies when they were trying to trap him. In this case, his enemies wanted to force him to reply to a question in such a way that he would either alienate the people who resented the taxes levied by the Romans, some people even to the point of rebellion, or he would place himself in direct conflict with the political power represented by the Herodians who would quickly report any such treason to their Roman masters. In either case, Jesus would be out of the way, either losing the loyalty of the Jewish people who followed him, or possibly losing his freedom or even his life at the hands of the political power of Rome.

Jesus immediately reveals the duplicity of his interrogators; they are hypocrites, and at least on three levels. Their question is not sincere; they themselves pay the tax, and they do not give to God what they pretend to give, the glory due His name.

Jesus’ reply is stunning in its simplicity and its power. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s. The currency with which taxes are paid belongs to Caesar, and those who use this currency for their economic well-being, and this includes virtually every one in this Roman occupied territory, are simply giving back to Caesar what belongs to him. Taxes are not free will offerings, and even the currency with which they are paid belongs to the authority that created that means of exchange.

But it is the second part of the answer which is so devastating to his enemies, and, given the full context of his teaching, they could not possibly miss the point he was making. He called them hypocrites mainly because although they made a show of giving back to God what belongs to God, in fact they did nothing of the sort. They were more than willing to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s, even though they detested Caesar privately, but they were not willing to give to God what was God’s, and they proved it again and again, by their unremitting hostility to the prophets, to John the Baptist, and finally to Jesus himself. They claim to give to God what is God’s and they claim to love God, but in truth their actions betrayed their words, for they would not give to God the glory that was His due, and the culmination of this refusal was the refusal to believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God.

The same drama plays itself out in every age. Men are only too quick to give to Caesar not only what belongs to Caesar but even what belongs to God. In our day, people are quick to give to the state powers which belong only to God; the power to dissolve marriages in civil courts; the power to kill the child in the womb, the power to kill the aged in their beds, the power to tamper with the sources of life in an effort to completely control and freely change human nature itself through an unbridled technology. All these powers are usurped by the state that claims that it has the right to displace God in the exercise of his absolute dominion over life and death, and citizens around the globe are quite willing to give to this new Caesar what belongs to God, without any hesitation.

On the other hand, people today are very resistant to give to God what belongs to God, and not just the authority over life and death in the kinds of issues I just mentioned, but so many people in our society refuse to give to God even the fundamental thing that all human beings owe to God – the worship and glory due to the creator and end of every creature. Even to suggest that mankind individually and collectively owes worship to God is seen by many to be an affront to human dignity.

This refusal to worship God in Spirit and Truth is the final proof that the true crisis of the modern world, at least in the West, is a crisis of faith, and no longer simply a crisis of belief in Jesus Christ but a crisis of belief in God, in the God who is the creator and final end of the whole universe. Like the enemies of Jesus in today’s Gospel, there are high percentages of people today in this country who claim to love God, but they reveal the hypocrisy underlying such claims when they refuse to see the worship of God as a duty, as a commandment grounded on the very relationship of a rational creature to its creator, as a part of the natural law even before it’s a part of the law of Christ.

Of course there is perhaps a lot of ignorance behind this shallow religiosity, for most men no longer understand the central meaning of divine worship. Such an understanding has to begin from the very words of Jesus, “give to God what is God’s.” But what is it that man owes to God? The answer is simple, everything, our existence, our life, our intelligence, freedom, and hope. What then must man offer to God? The answer seems obvious again, everything. Caesar cannot demand that we give him everything, nor anything that contradicts our human dignity and human life. But to God we owe everything, our whole being, and if we are to attain our final purpose our true and only happiness as creatures made in the image and likeness of the one who created us, then we must return everything to God, so that God in turn can complete the gift he made in the moment of our creation.

St. Augustine spoke of this gift that we make to God in divine worship and that God makes to us from the beginning of our creation to its perfection in Him. Divine worship always entails a sacrifice, the rendering of something holy to God, for the praise of God, and for the perfection and happiness of man. In primitive religions this sacrifice was always something external to man, that in one way or another was blessed and then offered to God. This was true even in the Old Testament, but through revelation its true meaning was revealed through the prophets. The sacrifices of the temple were meant to symbolize the interior gift of the person united to God via the covenant. In the prophets we learn that God’s people is to be holy because God is holy, and the ritual washings of the priests, and the rituals surrounding the blessing of the victims, was meant to indicate that what God wanted in sacrifice was the pure heart, the love of his people, which was only being symbolized by the external offerings.

Finally, symbol and reality as related to sacrifice come together in the sacrifice of Jesus. There we see the perfect offering, the reasonable and perfect worship of God, where Jesus gives back everything to the Father, and where the external rite and the internal offering, or self-oblation are perfectly one. The body and blood of Jesus are not mere signs, but they are part of the sacrifice of the whole victim being offered by the high priest of humanity to the Father and creator of the universe. St. Augustine spoke of this in the 10th book of the city of God. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God. Jesus is the perfect man because he is the perfect sacrifice, the perfect offering of himself in the world back to its creator.

Next, Augustine appeals to Paul who teaches us how we are part of that sacrifice offered by Christ, how our body and our soul, our works of mercy and other good works all become part of that great sacrifice offered by Christ once and for all on Calvary, and then renewed perpetually on our altars. It is here on the altar of the new covenant, of the Eucharistic sacrifice, that we become part of that sacrifice offered once and for all on Calvary, perpetually on our altars and eternally in heaven. The Eucharist is what Paul calls our own “reasonable Service,” which is “the true sacrifice of ourselves.” But this offering, in order to be a true sacrifice, must at the same time be whole, a holy sacrifice, and that is why it can only take place within the sacrifice of Christ being perpetually renewed on our altars. Only In Christ, through Him, and with Him – the words that conclude the Eucharistic prayer – can we offer a truly holy sacrifice which includes our whole self, our works, our sufferings, our mercy. In spite of all the imperfections that are part of our daily lives and our persons, in Christ there is nothing but holiness being offered back to God.

Finally, St. Augustine pulls all this teaching together in his vision of the universal sacrifice of the church made in and through Christ:
It follows that the whole redeemed city, that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints, is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest.
This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ. And this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.

When we read these words of St. Augustine, what more is there to say about this marvelous conjunction of sign and reality, Christ and the church, heaven and earth. In the Eucharist, at last, man can truly give back to God what is God’s, the goodness and holiness of creation hidden here beneath the humble signs of bread and wine. It is the sacrifice of the Lord of creation offered back to the Father, the Origin of everything, deep calling out to deep, and we too are caught up in this great hymn of endless glory rendered to our God.


28th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son…” Matt 22:2 There is nothing perhaps more universal in human societies than the celebration a marriage banquet with its great meal, entertainment and the great company of relatives and friends. Wedding banquets are enjoyed by virtually everyone in every culture. How interesting then that Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a great wedding banquet given by a King for His Son. So that is what Heaven is, a great wedding feast provided by God for His Son, Jesus. Great wedding banquets in this world are joyful and exhilarating, great food, great company, music, conversation, happiness. What, then, must that eternal wedding feast be like that constitutes the life of the Angels and Saints. It can’t be less joyful or less exhilarating, or less happy than the greatest earthly wedding feast. It has to be joy, happiness exhilaration raised to the nth degree, an experience we can only begin to imagine here on earth, assuming we have known the joy, happiness and exhilaration of such a feast here in earth. St. Paul describes this unparalleled joy and happiness of the Heavenly wedding banquet this way: “hat no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceive the things God has prepared for those.

Well, then, who are the main players in this eternal feast? The Father, of course, and then the Son who is the eternal bridegroom. But who is the Bride? We are, that is the Church is, the Church is the Bride of Christ, and in Heaven, the Church will consist only of the saints who have proven faithful to the Bridegroom here on earth. In a real sense there are no guests at this wedding feast, but only the Bride and Groom. But, there are countless persons present since the Bride is constituted by all the faithful who are judged worthy of the Bridegroom and His Kingdom.

Human Marriage was, from the beginning, intended by God to be a sign of this eternal union between God and man in the person of Jesus Christ and then in the union between Christ and His Church. That’s why Jesus made Christian marriage a true sacrament of grace, because all grace comes to this world from the union between Christ and His Church. Moreover, Genesis says that by virtue of marriage man and woman become one flesh. And that mystery reaches unheard of depths when Jesus becomes one flesh with the Church when she becomes His Bride through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

That mystery of the union between Christ and His Church, the mystery and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” [25:6] Moreover, this great banquet will not be limited to Israel, for Isaiah adds that On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide [this feast] for all peoples. But what is this eternal rich food and choice wine that will be given on the Mountain? Surely this food and wine are something spiritual, for Paul says in his Letter to the Romans (14:17) “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

And that fact brings us back to earth. For there is already a sacrificial banquet of the Church that is deeply spiritual in nature, providing the rich food of Christ’s body and the choicest wine of Christ’s blood. The Eucharist we celebrate, then, is in fact the beginning of the Eternal wedding feast of Heaven, and thus the Heavenly eternal wedding feast we have been looking at begins already here on earth and then reaches its fullness only in Heaven. There it will be unending, eternal, endless joy and happiness; no going back into the world. Here it is only beginning, a foretaste, a promise of what is to come, so long as we remain part of the feast here on earth.

The Church, then, with here Eucharistic banquet is not only the Bride of Christ but the new Zion, the new mountain of God from which and Eucharist is indeed the beginning of the great Heavenly banquet, offering to God and to man the richest food and wine which is the sacred body and blood of Jesus the Bridegroom.

Once you believe in this great work of God and live this truth at the banquet of the Eucharist, you begin to understand why for Paul nothing is really necessary for his happiness except Christ. Sure we need food and clothing because we are not spirits without bodies, but even these things are nothing in comparison to the blessing we have already received in Christ, nothing compared to our faith which enables us to receive Christ in our hearts, and in our very bodies through the Eucharist.

The only thing that we need fear is that we might grow bored by the banquet of the Eucharist, lose our interest in the Bread of Life and end up rejecting the invitation of the Father because our business or our leisure or our rest seems more important than the wedding feast . How many Catholics have done just that today, abandoned the Eucharist, then abandoned the Church which is the Bride of Christ?

We must not grow careless and allow ourselves to grow cold, to be lax and find ourselves unprepared to join the Heavenly banquet due to our care ­servants are late for the banquet and find themselves locked out. When I hear that parable I always think of how it might apply to people who are frequently careless about getting to Church on time. What does it say about their love for the Bridegroom when they show up late or leave early week after week – that it’s not out of love but just a sense of duty that they come at all, like attending a funeral or wedding of someone we don’t particularly care about, but feel a duty to go anyway. Is this the way we will show up at that final Heavenly banquet? Does not such carelessness eventually destroy one’s love for the Bridegroom and the Bride?

Nor must be become presumptuous like the man at the end of the parable who shows up, but is not dressed rightly for the banquet. Some Fathers interpreted this wedding garment, correctly I think, as the Baptismal grace which is symbolized by the white garment placed over the newly Baptized. One cannot even enter the Heavenly banquet without this Baptismal garment of grace, and it is presumptuous to think we can enter the eternal wedding feast without Grace. It is an insult to the King.

There is no greater privilege that we receive in this life than our ability to participate in the Holy Eucharist, not simply as a guest, but as part of the Bride, part of the Church. We should be doing this with great love and purity, and not simply out of a sense of duty, which it is of course. But love is the real power of the wedding feast of Jesus. Nothing is more important each week for our salvation than this Mass. It is truly a feast of love, and a feast of joy, at least for those who truly believe in the One who calls us and makes us his children, and His Church.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011: “Respect Life Sunday”

October 2, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

The first Sunday of October, has, for years,
been designated by the Catholic Bishops in America
as “Respect Life Sunday.”
So, as I have for the last 16 years,
today I will preach on the topic of respecting life:
specifically on the evil of abortion.

But I gotta tell you, part of me wonders: Why? What good does it do?
After all these years of 1000’s of priests, bishops and Popes,
proclaiming the Gospel of Life
so many Catholics still don’t understand
that abortion is destroying not only
the lives of millions of unborn babies, and their mothers,
but also mankind’s fundamental respect for all aspects human life.

Sometimes I feel a bit like those servants we read about in today’s Gospel:
“he sent his servants to the tenants ….
But … one they beat,
another they killed,
and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants….but they treated them in the same way.”

Now, it’s true, no one has stoned or killed me
or any other priest I know for preaching pro-life.
True: but they’ve done worse:
they continue to either support or to vote for those who support
the killing of the most innocent human beings in abortion.

Why don’t Catholics get it?
The last few years one particular reason seems to stand out.
It seems that sometimes we allow the term “pro-life” or “respect-life”
to have a mixed or ambiguous meaning
that winds up confusing Catholics
regarding the fundamental issues and priorities involved.

So let’s clarify something: what does it mean to “respect life”?

Now, as Christians, we are called to respect the life of all human beings
because each is created in the image of God,
and shares a unique dignity and life given by God himself.
But it doesn’t take a Christian or even a religious person to see this:
every rational human being should understand
that the life of every human being demands respect.

But how far do the demands of respect go?
Does respect for human life demand that if someone attacks me,
I can’t defend myself,
even if they’re trying to kill me?
What about if they’re trying to kill my children?

Does it mean countries can’t go to war for a grave reason,
even if their attacked or fight to liberate the oppressed?
Does it mean that we can never punish a criminal,
or deny immigration to an alien?
Going even further, does it mean you can’t provide for yourself or your family
before you provide for a stranger?

“Respect” is a big word, and respect for human life is very demanding.
But there are limitations.
Common sense, and the Church, teach us that there is
a certain hierarchy and order in human life, and so in the ways of respect.
For example:
we place duty to family ahead of duty to strangers,
we respect individual responsibility and free will,
and we recognize that some human choices don’t deserve respect
because they are contrary to human dignity.

Now, it can be very confusing to figure out all the various duties and demands
of respecting human life.
But to begin to do this we need to keep in mind the fundamentals
—the most basic and important principles
set the priority and order of everything that follows.

So what is the most fundamental demand of respecting human life?
It’s not to hard to figure out on our own, but again God helps us by commanding:
“thou shall not kill.”
If we look carefully at Scripture
we discover that this has pretty basic common sense meaning:
one can never ever intentionally and directly
kill an innocent human being.
This is the most fundamental principle of respecting human life.
And so it is absolute and without exception.

And as we sort of move away from situations
where this fundamental principle directly applies
we see that all the other demands of respect for life
come from it and relate back to it,
even as they become more subtle,
allowing for different non-absolute responses.

So, for example, the first step away might be the case of self-defense.
If someone is trying to kill you he is not innocent,
so the principle in it’s most absolute form does not apply.
You still have to respect the person’s non-innocent life,
but not at the cost of your own innocent life:
you can fight back, even taking his life to save yours.

Or take another step.
You’re driving at a normal speed
and suddenly someone rushes into the road and you hit him.
Respect for life requires you to try not to hit him
—but if it’s unavoidable,
if you unintentionally hit him, you have not failed to respect his life.

Walk way down that road now.
Say a man comes to you demanding money for food.
You know he’s healthy and employable, but he’s lazy and chosen not to work.
If you refuse his request for help do you fail to respect life?
He was not innocent, and you did not intend for him to starve.
So respect for his life did not require that you help him.
In fact, you could reasonably argue that respect required you to scold him,
to have more respect for himself: “go get a job.”
As St. Paul says elsewhere: “If any one will not work, let him not eat.”

The point is: we begin with the fundamental rule and that orders all the rest.
And the flipside of this is equally important:
if we don’t observe the fundamental rule,
none of the rest have any order or make any sense.

Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus talks about:
“a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;
the rain fell, and the floods came, and …that house, …fell.”
And in today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
The cornerstone of respecting human life
is the absolute right to life of innocent human beings.
Pull that cornerstone out, and like a house built on sand in a flood,
the whole house will fall.

If we don’t understand that duty to protect innocent human life,
what would make us think we’re required us to feed the hungry,
even when they truly cannot help themselves?
How do we know that one nation may not attack another without a just cause?
All of our high-minded ideals of justice and duty and respect
are nonsense, if not grounded in the most simple, basic and fundamental
principle of respect for innocent life.

And so we come to abortion, which is unarguably the killing of
the most innocent and defenseless of human beings.
And talk about abortion obviously has public and even political ramifications,
especially just one month before state elections,
and we get deeper into next year’s national elections.

Some people argue that there are more important issues at stake than abortion.
But what can be more important than the systematic promotion
of the abuse of most fundamental moral principle,
attacking the most fundamentally innocent?
1.4 million abortions a year, more than 50 million in 38 years,
and millions more to come?

Or they say that even if abortion is the most important single issue,
lots of other smaller issues combine to outweigh it.
Some people say they show their respect for life by working for
the end of the death penalty,
health care for the uninsured,
prosperity for the poor and middle classes,
and for the rights of immigrants.
Let’s set aside the fact that good people—even Good Catholics—
can disagree about each of these issues and others like them;
for example, the Church teaches that sometimes
the death penalty is allowed and even necessary.
But what sense do these lesser issues make
and how can we understand the right way to approach them,
if our understanding of them is not founded upon the issue:
absolute respect for the right to life of innocent human beings?
And how can we trust someone to promote and value these subsidiary issues,
when he rejects the cornerstone issue ?
It’s like putting up the windows or the doors of a house
before you lay the foundation
—they’ll either blow away in the wind
or some dishonest person will come and walk off with them.

For example, how can we trust a politician
with making the right decision about health care rights
—a decision that embodies a true respect for life—
when the politician can’t understand that a baby’s right to health care
exists only when it has life,
that health without life is literally meaningless.

Some argue that we need to fix our immigration policy:
some say we need to crack down and seal the borders,
others say we need to open the borders and end alleged discrimination.
Good Catholics can disagree with on this issue,
and question each other’s judgments,
but why would we think politicians
who enthusiastically embrace unquestionably unjust attacks
on the most defenseless and innocent members
of our own society—the unborn—
would avoid unjustly harming immigrants in the future?
It’s like voting for a member of the Klan
because he claims to support minority voting rights.

Some even argue that the current economic crisis requires us
to ignore abortion in order to fix our fiscal house
–and I agree that our fiscal problems are hugely important.
But how do you begin to count the cost of millions of aborted innocents?
How do you weigh on a scale
10’s of millions of babies against trillions of dollars of debt?
Would you take a trillion dollars to kill your neighbor’s child?
Sounds a bit like Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver
For betraying the perfectly innocent one.
“What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

And in a certain sense, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1.4 million babies or only 1 baby:
anyone who’s moral system,
whose sense of respecting human life,
promotes and defends the death of even one innocent human life
in order to achieve some perceived good of many others
is a fool and a reprobate.
This logic is nothing new:
Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Jesus to death, once said:
“it is better that one man should die for the people,
than the whole nation perish.”
One wonders if Caiaphas was in the group of “chief priests”
that Jesus was talking to in today’s Gospel.

Speaking of priests,
some of you may be tired of priests preaching about abortion.
Friends, frankly, I agree with you.
But remember how Jesus chastised the Jewish priests for their failures:
for rejecting the prophets—and him!
So as long as human life is so fundamentally disrespected by so many Catholics
that they fail to rise up with all other like-minded pro-life Americans,
and crush the plague of abortion in this country,
God himself will continue to send his servants, his priests,
and they must do their best to try to collect what is due Him:
respect for the truth, and respect for human life.

But priests are not the only servants he sends.
Each of you is also his servant.
So act like it, and go out into the world you live in
and proclaim the Gospel of Life.
Demand, with charity and clarity,
that human life be respected, especially in the most fundamental way:
respect for the life of the innocent and defenseless unborn.
And make that demand known wherever God sends you
—at home, at work, at school, at play,
and in the voting booth.

Friends, Christ is the cornerstone of our faith and of our life itself.
And he has taught us to recognize that common sense dictates
we must respect every human being
as having a unique dignity and life given by God himself.
And he has taught us that the cornerstone of that respect for life
is respect for the right to life of the most innocent and defenseless among us.
If we would not reject Christ the cornerstone,
let us not reject this cornerstone of respect for human life.

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011: Respect Life Sunday

Today, the First Sunday in October, is the Catholic Church’s Respect Life Sunday in our Country. In Catholic teaching, there is the strongest connection between our obligation to defend and promote the value of human life and the way we esteem the dignity of each and every human person. Pope Benedict XVI summarized this connection in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, (n. 15), citing Pope John Paul II: The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.” ( from Evangelium Vitae n. 101)

The dignity of the human person is a capital value for Christians and it should be a capital value for all mankind. John Paul II made this point in his great encyclical The Gospel of Life: He said, “The Gospel of life is not for believers alone: it is for everyone …Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns everyone.”

What is at stake, then, in defending human life is the future of humanity, the value of each and every person’s life, and while faith strengthens our understanding of the value of life, the truth about man’s great dignity, nonetheless, the fact of this value can be grasped by the light of reason when anyone’s conscience seeks the truth and cares about mankind’s future.

We know that respect for life is a far reaching respect and embraces all the social and political issues that touch the value of human life, either denigrating or enhancing a society’s valuing of human life and dignity. Respect for life defends the young and the old who are weak or defenseless, the handicapped, the poverty stricken, the sick, the victims of violence, etc. Respect for Life tries to remedy whatever denies the value of human life and undercuts the dignity of the human person. All that is true, but the most basic value of all that undergirds all the rest of our rights is the right to life itself. Again John Paul II summarizes this hierarchy of value and human rights most clearly: “When the Church declares that unconditional respect for the right to life of every innocent person-from conception to natural death-is one of the pillars on which every civil society stands, she ‘wants simply to promote a human State, a state which recognizes the defense of the fundamental rights of the human person, especially of the weakest, as its primary duty.'”

Many Catholics today will accept the position that respect for life has to be far reaching and not simply refer to the right to life of the unborn, and that is true, as the Pope affirms. But too many Catholics do not go far enough and recognize the truth that is enunciated here, that what underlies all the other rights that dignify the human person is the “unconditional respect for the right to life of every innocent person-from conception to natural death.” This unconditional right is one of the pillars which supports every civilized society. The truly human state is one that upholds the fundamental rights of the human person, above all the weakest members, and does so by enshrining the right to life as unconditional and the foundation of the other human rights.

One of the side effects of the long struggle the Church is engaged in by defending the right to life is the greater understanding she is promoting when it comes to the true dignity of the person, the incomparable value of every human life and the meaning of a truly human society and state. This same Pope once said, during a visit to this country, that the ultimate measure of the greatness of a country is the way it treats the most defenseless of its citizens. Mother Teresa often said the same thing, only she would say we are poor or rich in accord with the way treat the weakest brothers and sisters. What these two holy ones were telling us was that the future of our society, the future of our world ultimately depends on the respect for life itself.

Until they spoke, I did not understand a childhood experience of mine and what it was meant to teach me by God. I had a young cousin who was born with a terrible cancer that eventually left him both deaf and blind, but he was a very special and loving child for his loving parents. For me it was scary that a child could have this deadly disease and its terrible consequences. But his parents asked me to take Eddy for a ride and bicycle built for two, and again I was fearful – could he hang on, would I mess up and hurt him, would he even be able to enjoy it being blind and deaf? As we road and I got some confidence, I picked up speed and Eddy let out howls of joy at the wind and movement of the bike. And I began to understand his parents love.

He was a child of God, and truly an innocent due to his terrible handicaps which at the same time preserved his innocence, and he was able to enjoy that ride better than me. His parents were good Catholics and they saw him as a special gift because he was truly a loving child, much more than me, because he was not soiled by the normal self-centeredness that grows from sin even in childhood. He died when he was 13 and his parents were heart-broken just like all parents who lose a child. He was a child of God, with all the dignity of a child of God and more, because he was so innocent in life.

This is what the Church is trying to teach the world about man, that every person has such value because every person is made in the image and likeness of God, even the most severely handicapped. We see the outer man with all his wounds, but God sees the inner soul, and in this case, a soul that was beautiful since Baptism. The world is like that bicycle built for two, but it’s a bicycle built for billions, and those who can peddle need to defend those who can’t, those who can steer need to do so for those who can’t. That’s how we become, as Mother Teresa was so fond of saying, something beautiful for God, and that’s how we make a more human society.

I leave you with this wonderful insight of Pope John Paul at the end of The Gospel of Life:
To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop.

To be actively pro-life is to help renew society, to promote a more human society, to build a civilization of love where all are welcome at the table of life. You can be actively pro-life in many ways; you can start by voting for any party’s candidates who affirm an unconditional right to life of the innocent; by financially supporting the intermediary institutions that support life like Tepeyac Family Center here in Fairfax which gives medical support to women who want to bring their child to birth but lack the financial resources to get proper care; and above all by praying daily for the conversion of this country and its leaders, so we can renew our society by purifying the soul of America so tarnished by the moral blights of abortion and euthanasia. That’s true patriotism and will do more to save this country than anything else.

God Bless you.

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.

How did Jesus Christ redeem us, the human race, from our sins and save us from Eternal damnation? The Catechism teaches us the faith of the Church when it says that Jesus redeemed us by his self-sacrifice on the Cross. St. Paul describes that sacrifice as essentially an act of perfect obedience: “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is the sacrifice that redeemed the world by reversing the whole course of human history, reversing the disobedience of man from the beginning, the perfect sacrifice of Jesus that infinitely compensated for the Original Sin of the human race and for all man’s disobedience by which man alienates Himself from God. The external bloody immolation of Christ on the Cross is the final act of his perfect obedience to the will of the Father, who willed that He should not defend himself by His power as God, but should allow himself to be subjected to man’s cruelty and evil that knew no bounds, to suffer with the human race and for the human race, and conquer that evil by love alone.

It is not within our power to understand this decision of the Father, but we believe that it is part of the mystery of God’s love that surpasses all human comprehension. We do not understand God’s ways, and above all the way of love that led Jesus to the Cross for our sake. The mystery is present from the beginning for God created the universe and man not our of any necessity, but purely our of love. It is the same divine love that originated the creation, that guides everything in creation, and that redeemed creation by redeeming man in the supreme act of Jesus’ love on the Cross.

But that redemptive love is simultaneously an act of obedience which reverses the disobedience of our first parents and which infinitely satisfies Divine Justice for that Sin and for all the sins of man which are essentially acts of disobedience and failures to love God as we must. Man’s disobedience, his countless rejections of the divine law and the divine love that stands behind that law is now repaired, satisfied for, reversed in the glory of Christ’s perfect obedience which is the heart of the sacrifice of the Cross.

But how can we then continue that mystery of evil by our sins, by our disobedience and failure to love God sufficiently to obey him. We see how deep this rebelliousness is in man fright from the earliest years of our life when we disobey God in disobeying our parents, and who taught us to rebel? Who teaches your children to rebel against you? It is Original Sin that implants this spirit of rebellion in us from the beginning, and that spirit of rebellion grows if not checked by God’s grace, and we see this in the rebellion of youthful adolescence against authority, parental authority, other forms of human authority and even against God’s authority.

If Original Sin accounts for the spirit of disobedience in us, what was the root cause of the Original Sin itself, which will be the root of our sins as well? What, then, is the ultimate root of sin and the rebellion which we experience in our souls even after the grace of Baptism purifies us from sin and reestablishes our filial relationship with God? Again St. Paul teaches us the truth about this ultimate root; it is pride, the self-centeredness that leads us to rebel against authority including the authority of God. Listen for the truth about that ultimate root of sin found in the description of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, which reversed it, the self-immolation which began at His conception and ended on the Cross: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … He humbled Himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Pride was the root of man’s Original rebellion, and pride is thus at the root of every sin thereafter in the human heart: Satan’s I will not serve; Our I will not obey, just like the two sons in the Gospel. Even the one who eventually obeys says first I will not serve. The other says he will, but in his heart he refuses. That’s us. Our pride says no to God when God’s will is contrary to ours. Jesus showed us the way back from this pride to the love that always does the will of the Father. He emptied himself. We are so full of ourselves that we cannot love as we ought to. He humbled himself. We are anything but truly humble. We are creatures who act as if we are God, placing our will, our self above the will of God our Creator. Unless we learn to empty ourselves, to humble our selves, we will never really know how to love God as God loves us.

The way of love, God’s way of love can be seen in Jesus’ life and death: In Hebrews he says simply, I come to do your will, and in the Garden of Gethsemane He says, while sweating blood, thy will be done, not mine. Obedience is the path back to divine love, the path of humility, of self-emptying. Obedience is the creatures act of humility, the pre-condition of perfect love. Every time I deny my self, my self-will, to obey God’s Will, even in the smallest things, I grow in humility and in the power to love. There is no other way back for us sinners. Jesus has shown us the sacrificial way to the Father’s Love. There is no other way but His.

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

September 18, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

What is the meaning of life and death?
Every culture, and every age seems to make its own attempt
to answer these questions.
In our time and our culture we find a lot of people seeing life in terms of
“quality of life” and “length of life.”
The huge swings in the stock market and the other bad economic news
we keep hearing reminds us how many of us
tend to see life all to often in terms of money and “success.”
But one of the great things about being Christian
is that we don’t have to worry about those things,
because we know the meaning of life and death
–as St. Paul tells us today in the second reading:
“To me, life is Christ, and death is gain.”

This beautiful passage of St. Paul puts the whole Christian perspective on
the meaning of life and death in a nutshell.
While the secular world approaches life looking for its meaning and purpose
in quality or longevity, or “success” or riches.
Christians look at life and see it as something which has meaning
only to the extent its lived as a life with Christ.
As God tells the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading:
“my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”
The world looks at death and sees only the end of life
–perceiving it as either something to be feared and avoided,
or perhaps as a way out of a life that “lacks quality”
or has gone on “too long” or become unsuccessful
But Christians look at death and see the perfection of living life with Christ.

The fundamental truth of the Christian perspective is that life centers on Christ.
We are called to live with him to share in his divine life
every moment in this world.
And we believe that life isn’t meant to end with death
–its meant only to change, to be perfected by sharing in divine life forever.
Thus, St. Paul says: ” life is Christ, and death is gain.”

Life in this world isn’t bad or something to be despised.
Life in this world is good
–but only if its lived with the understanding that its ultimate purpose
is to allow us to grow closer in love to Christ
–realizing that this love is only perfected
when we are in perfect unity with Christ
in the world we enter after death.

This is what St. Paul means when he says:
“If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me…
necessary for your benefit.”
Life is only truly good, truly beautiful, truly “successful” and even truly “fun”
only when its lived in a manner
that’s fruitful for the Lord:
when it is lived in a way that brings about
the will and the love of the Lord in the world.
In short, when it produces, in us and those around us, “holiness.”

But when life in the flesh is over, perfection of this life, and of this holiness
comes for those who have been fruitful, or productive [for Christ]
–those who have labored to live a holy life.
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord reminds us
that its not how long you work for holiness,
but the fact that you do in fact work for holiness
–work for Christ in your life and in the life of the world around you.
When we do this,
he will reward us with a full days wages
when our time on earth has ended.
Notice–a full days wages, where nothing is lacking in our reward,
where all our labor is brought to perfection, completeness,
and fullness in Christ.

So death is nothing to fear, if we have worked hard for the Lord in life.
And life is nothing to be avoided or despised or deliberately terminated
–it is to be lived and enjoyed in the context of working for holiness.

When I was a brand new priest, 15 years ago, part of my first assignment
was as part-time Catholic Chaplain at Alexandria Hospital.
So, several times a week,
I’d take communion,
and give the sacrament of anointing, hear confession, and pray
with the sick and the dying.
I quickly discovered, as any priest will tell you, that its in places like that,
in hospitals and nursing homes and in the homes of the homebound,
that you really see the meaning of life and death,
and Christian productivity yielding the fruit of holiness
and the rewards of eternal life.
In places like that, where people can’t even get out of bed
to go to the bathroom by themselves,
much less enjoy what most people consider a quality lifestyle.
There, where life is not fun by any human understanding.
Where money and worldly success has little use
in the face of loneliness, pain and looming eternity.
There the mystery of Christian life and death take on concrete shape.

There’s one woman I used to visited in the hospital
who in many ways personifies all this.
You may have heard me talk about her before,
because she was truly remarkable.
She was dying a very painful death from cancer.
She couldn’t get out of bed, she could barely move to drink water from a straw.
She had tubes running in and out of her body
—she was at the complete mercy of her caregivers.
And yet she knew that her life still had meaning and purpose.
She had followed the instruction of the Lord that we read in today’s first reading:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found.”
She sought him even by her sick bed—her death bed.
And finding him there she clung to him tightly,
and placed Jesus Christ right in the middle of her life,
accepting her circumstance and seeking ways every day
to fruitfully labor for the Lord
–to produce holiness in this world.

And she succeeded.
Everyday, she became more and more deeply aware
of her complete dependence on God and his grace,
and of his many gifts to her both in her past life
and even her life in the hospital
–especially the great gift of his consoling love.
And she saw her life as producing holiness in the lives of those around her
–like the nurse who began to pray with her every day,
and the other nurse who, after years away from the Church,
started to go to Mass again.
Or like the priests that came to bring her the sacraments
–who she instructed in the ways of Christian living and dying
as they saw her understanding her life of suffering
as fruitful labor to bring the holiness of Christ into this world.
She was not afraid to live—because she saw it as bringing her closer to Christ.
Nor was she afraid to die, because she has great faith and hope
that it would perfect her closeness to Christ.
She understood what St. Paul tells us today:
“Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
… I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.”

Many people are afraid to die–and they try all sorts of things
to avoid death or even thinking about death.
Many others are afraid to live
–at least live in a way that is difficult or painful
or a failure in the eyes of the world.
So they seek ways to end life
–either slowly in destructive habits, like drugs or alcohol
or sexual promiscuity or self-absorbed lifestyles,
–or quickly in self inflicted death.
We see it all around us
—maybe from time to time we ourselves,
in large ways or small,
fall into this way of thinking.
We succumb to the thinking and the ways of the world,
and forget that
“[God’s] thoughts are not [our] thoughts,
nor are [His] ways [our] ways.”

But for the Christian, this perspective is unacceptable
–because in the life in the flesh we live for Christ,
and in our life after death, we live with him forever.

Is Christ at the center of your understanding of life?
Are you afraid to live, knowing–as a Christian—
that living should be a life with Christ,
and maybe you have to change some things in your life to do that?
Are you afraid to die, knowing–as a Christian—
that perfect and eternal life awaits only those
who have worked for the Lord in this world,
and maybe that doesn’t very accurately describe
what you’ve been doing?

If you are afraid, don’t be.
It’s not too late to live for Christ and go to work for Him.
Because, as today’s Gospel reminds us,
whether we come to work for the Lord
at the dawn or the evening of the day,
as a child or as a senior citizen,
it’s never too late
—as long as the sun has not set on this earthly life of ours.

As we enter now into the mystery of the life and death of Christ,
this mystery of the Mass and Holy Eucharist,
let us pray, now and always,
that we may put aside our worldly ways of thinking and living
and begin to let God’s thoughts become our thoughts
and His ways become our ways.
So that the words of the apostle Paul may truly become our own:
“To me, life is Christ, and death is gain.”

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

The parable we just listened to in today’s Gospel has always been a diffi-cult one for Christians to grasp. It is difficult for us to understand because the way the owner of the vineyard pays his workers perhaps does not seem fair, by our standards of economic fairness. In order to better understand the teaching of the parable, we have to begin with the truth stated by Isaiah in the first reading, that God’s way of thinking and acting is not ours, that it is as far beyond our way of thinking as the distance between heaven and earth. Unless we keep that profound truth in mind, we will cut ourselves off from what Jesus is really trying to teach us in this parable or others.

So let us begin with the root of our problem in grasping the teaching of this parable: we get stuck immediately on what may seem a question of eco-nomic justice or injustice, the matter of paying everyone the same for differ-ent amounts of work. However, the parable is not about economics, but about salvation. The parable is really about the way God saves us and the way God rewards us for our efforts in the Kingdom of God.

The image of the vineyard can be found in various teachings of Jesus, and it is identified with the Kingdom of God, the Church, the place of salvation. The owner is God, and we are those looking for work, for salvation, found in the vineyard. The first thing to be grasped is that the Owner, God, has no ob-ligation to let any of us into His vineyard. So whether we are allowed into the vineyard early or late, young or old, the fact that we are there at all is a pure gift from the owner. That is the first Grace as theologians define it, the grace of justification whereby we are brought into the vineyard to work for its fruitfulness. It might be seen as the image of the Sacrament of Baptism, the pure gift of our generous God who brings us into His kingdom through merits of our own, but by his pure generosity. We enter to go to work, for the Kingdom, and whether our work (our lifelong work) is long – all day or half a day as in the parable – or brief, the final hour, the reward, the good that we will receive from the owner, will be great.

However, notice what the first good we receive really is – that first good is simply the opportunity to enter the Vineyard and go to work, and that gift, that good, salvation. is the same for all, whether they come early or late to the Vineyard. There is no greater or lesser good of salvation itself. What greater good can there be for us than to be in the Vineyard, in God’s King-dom, with God.

But then we see the second good which is simultaneously a gift and a re-ward, a gift because it follows upon the prior gift of salvation, our being brought into the vineyard, the Kingdom of God, and a reward because we work to earn it. And this is where the problem really gets difficult for under-standing the meaning of the parable. It seems that God gives everybody who works in the vineyard the same reward, the same goods, no matter how long they’ve worked. That is what strikes our way of thinking about fairness as something unfair. Why do the last guys who worked but an hour get as much as those who worked all day? This does not see fair, at first sight at least.

But let us look closer. Even in terms of justice, earthly justice, is there an-ything unjust that the owner has done in giving the last the same as the first. How can there be injustice when the owner gives the first workers what they agreed on, the just wage for a day’s work. He in fact says to those at noon “I will give you what is just.” So he is a just man. The workers do not dispute

this fact. So when he gives the later hired workers the same as the first, he is not committing an injustice on anyone. He is paying the first workers what they agreed to as a just wage. He is giving the others more than justice de-mands, he is giving them a gift of mercy that goes beyond justice. They needed a day’s wages to feed their families that day, like the first hired. So he gave them what justice demands, an hour’s pay, and what his mercy in-spires, the other hours’ wages as a gift to feed their families. The first work-ers grumble because they think the owner should give them more than a just wage, simply because he gives more than a just wage to the later hired work-ers. The owner sets them straight at the end: “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”

But again this is not a parable about economic justice. It has to do with God’s salvation, how Salvation takes place. We have already seen that eve-ryone is equally treated when it comes to the first grace, the grace of justifi-cation, for none us can earn that salvation. Salvation begins by our being transplanted from the world of sin and death to the new world of God’s Kingdom, the Vineyard in the parable. None of has a right to enter the King-dom, to be made one of God’s children. The grace of justification is the same for all of us, that free conversion from a child of this world to a child of God. It’s like getting pregnant, every woman is equally pregnant in the first mo-ment – none is just a little pregnant and none are more pregnant.

But the parable goes further. We are transferred by God’s Grace into the Vineyard to work, to work for the Kingdom of God and its growth. And for that work we will be rewarded. However, it’s never a reward based purely on some kind of human justice. We always get more than we deserve for our work, whether we come in first or last. God is generous with his goods just like the owner in the parable, but even more so. If we are humble enough to follow Jesus’ teaching here, then we will get closer to the mystery of God’s generosity truth by reflecting in faith upon this parable.

Two truths come into play here. First God is never unjust because God’s mercy always goes beyond, gives more than justice alone would demand. So if God gave more reward to the last workers than the first, that is due to his mercy and generosity. After all God has given far more grace to Mary right from the first moment of her conception; he not only gave her the grace of adoption, but God also gave her tremendous endowments of further graces along with the grace of adoption, and this before she ever did any work in the vineyard. Jesus taught us that God always gives us more than we de-serve, much more, and in Mary’s case even more than the highest angels. Are we envious because God was more generous to Mary than to us?

But there is a second truth that can come into play here that is more along the lines of justice. In the Kingdom, it’s not simply the hours we work that are rewarded, but the intensity of our work, the devotion and love that moti-vates it. Martyrs who may have entered the Church, the Kingdom, the vi-neyard, just briefly before their martyrdom surely merit a greater reward than those who enter the Kingdom as infants but live lives that are barely commit-ted to the Kingdom, what Jesus calls tepid or lukewarm Christian lives, but nonetheless Christian lives. They live and die Christians, but is their reward in Heaven, the degree of their happiness, their blessedness to be that of the Martyrs?

The Christian life can be perfected, lived to the greatest intensity in a brief time. Child saints and the martyr who dies for Christ scarcely after Baptism are examples. But we have examples in this world also. Soldiers, who might have served only briefly, but who sacrificed their lives by a heroic deed are examples of this truth. They lived more perfectly what it means not simply to be a great soldier, but a great man, as Jesus taught when he said that no greater love than that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends. That is why we honor such soldiers as heroes, as the kind of people that allow us to see what man is really capable of when motivated by love, what can be at his best.

So too in the parable, the last workers might have come first because they worked with greater love, greater intensity, greater generosity. And the own-er will not be outdone in generosity. That offers great hope to those who find the Kingdom later in life, who begin their work day late in life. The life of a child of God is not measured ultimately by its duration, but by its intensity of faith, hope, love, of all the virtues of God’s only Son.

So whether a man is given that supreme grace of adoption by God early or late, whether he is the first Adam or the last man on this earth, it is all in the end a matter of our being the beneficiary of God’s grace, and of course the way we make use of the gifts that God has poured out on us to help us work for the Kingdom with all our heart, mind and strength. The key to avoiding being envious of the generosity of God toward others, then, is to keep our at-tention fixed not on what God does for others, but on God, and on what true marvels he has done for each of us. In relation to salvation, we are all beg-gars really, because nothing we can do can earn that first and greatest of all goods which is communion with our God and undeserved membership in his household. Moreover, everything else we do is based on that gift, including whatever merits we may acquire in God’s service. As St. Augustine once wrote, in the end, everything is grace.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

Like most of you, I wasn’t even born when the events that began our nation’s involvement in World War II took place. Now we can perhaps understand the shock and grief, and the anger, of that generation when they heard the news about Pearl Harbor. But what happened ten years ago today is even worse in a certain way, for it involves not only an undeclared and surprise act of war , but this time it was primarily against a civilian population, and it was an atrocity that we have not only heard about, but have actually seen, visibly and almost immediately witnessed over and over again by means of technology that was not available then, making this crime against humanity an even more vivid and searing reality carried now permanently in our memories.

This kind of barbaric act forces, or hopefully forces us to ask, how man can be capable of such monstrous acts of inhumanity, such crimes against God and man, and all the more evil in this case because they were performed by professedly religious men in the name of God? We are rightly shocked that such a barbaric crime would be religiously motivated as an act of praise of God. This monstrous crime, then, is part of the mystery of iniquity that is ever present in this world, the evil that causes mankind such suffering and death. It confronts us with the endless cycle of violence and death that plagues our world.

The Holy Father, in his message of solidarity and compassion that day with the suffering families and people of America, prayed that this terrorist act would not lead to yet another cycle of violence and hatred such as his generation lived through in World War II. We should join in that prayer for peace, but nonetheless it is both a right and a duty for our nation and its leaders, first, to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes, by their formal cooperation, and, second, to destroy the capabilities of terrorist enemies to carry out such actions against our people in the future.

But this right and duty can also be a temptation to use the same kind of tactics in trying to root out these evils, war with no moral limits, total war. It is so difficult for man to strive for justice using the force of arms, so difficult not to fall into deep hatred for our enemies and even those who applaud their attacks on our people, to be tempted to repay in kind rather than secure justice and peace, to seek revenge rather than justice and security.

I honestly believe that the American people, by and large, have avoided this temptation to hate and seek revenge, but one wonders what will happen if these attacks continue in the future, and they almost certainly will, even if we do not let down our guard. This enemy is relentless and hates this country and the west in general with a hatred that knows no moral limits. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight” says Sirach in today’s first reading. The terrorists were, in their own words, filled with wrath and hatred when they murdered 3000 Americans, and their millions of radical successors are likewise filled with hatred and anger.

Nor all muslims, not even most Muslims are violent, but all Muslims believe in the duty to bring the world under the law of Islam. And all Muslims believe in the duty of Jihad, at leasst when they see their culture and religion, their children’s morals, threatened by infidels. We are their infidels, and many Muslims, not all, maybe not even a msajority of the billion plus faithful, but many see our culture, which they identify with Hollywood, with immoral music, with scandalous immodesty in dress, abortion and so many other negative traits of our degraded culture, as positive and serious threats to their children, to their culture, to their way of life and survival because our government and our entertainment industries try to transplant this poison to their soil, their home- lands, their homes in the west.

These radicalized Muslims, numbering in the millions even if they constitute only 5 or 10% of the billion, don’t see much positive about us. True, they see our freedom, but they see that freedom as only the freedom to pervert a whole society. They see our religious character, but they despise religions that seem to go along with this societal collapse. They see our prosperity, but again they see it as simply having the money to support our bad habits. We are their enemy and they have the right to attack us, to kill us, to wage military jihad against us, all of us.

Of course may of these radicals would hate us even if these cultural evils were corrected, because they firmly believe that violent jihad is necessary and justified for bringing all infidel nations under subjection to Islam and the law of Islam. So they especially hate this country because in point of fact we are the last standing obstacle to their goal to make Islam, their version of Islam, the religious and political master of Europe and the western world in general.

Europe is already gradually surrendering, due to their self-defeating decision to have no children, or at least far less than what is necessary to support their welfare states, and their decision to abandon the Christian faith which leaves a religious vacuum which the more fertile Muslims will gladly fill.

Many European countries by mid-Century will have populations with close to a Muslim majority, and as once said, we will conquer Europe not with arms, but just by having more children!

The United States, however, is the last big obstacle to subjection of the West, first, because our population is still growing, unlike 17 European nations which soon will face declining populations, in spite of immigration. Likewise, we still have a strong military and the determination to use it when necessary, which is increasingly not true of our western allies. Moreover, in spite of the secularist victories radically changing our culture, Americans still hosts a much more religious nation than any European ally. Religious Americans confound our enemies by remaining firm in our determination to defend ourselves, yet ready to forgive as the Lord commands, like after World War II. What other conquering super-power in history helped its enemies rebuild, without making them its subjects, appendages to the nation of the victors? We have many faults as a nation, but revenge has generally not been one of them. Christians are obligated by God to forgive, but this is simply not true of our non-Christian enemies.

The beautiful parable of Jesus regarding the duty to forgive is matched in the first reading by Sirach: Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven; or the final verse, Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults. Jesus even goes further, by saying that forgiveness has no limits, so long as there is repentance, and he says that we must forgive even our enemies. That is what make Christianity different from Islam, even at its best. Yet radical Muslims do not see this readiness to forgive as a virtue, but as a sign of weakness.

No Muslim is under any obligation of the Koran, the source of the law of Islam, to forgive his enemies. And the most radical sects in Islam, which include millions of Muslim faithful, are sincerely convinced that the Koran allows them to kill even the innocent in the pursuit of political/religious jihad. What we call terrorism, they call holy jihad, the service of Allah in extending the only true religion to the whole of mankind.

That is why this is a most difficult war, and it will be a long one. Islam has for 14 centuries been trying to extend Islamic religion, law and culture to the whole earth, sometimes by violent means, and other timers by peaceful means, like simply out populating others and taking over. They have no natural law, no supreme authority to infallibly declare which version of Islam is correct, the Osama Ben Ladin Sunni version, the Iranian Shiite version, or the more peaceful versions like the Sufis. They have no moral duty to have mercy and forgive their enemies. Subjection of the infidel is the one over-arching goal of every form of Islam, and we ignore that truth at our peril.

Nonetheless, we Christians cannot adopt immoral means of defending ourselves. We Christians have to forgive our enemies, even while we remain vigilant and protect our nation. This places us in a somewhat more difficult situation – we must obey the laws of nations and the law of Christ in defending ourselves. But we do have huge spiritual advantages. We are truly free in a way they are not, free in body and soul because we posses the truth about God and man, we obey a higher law and have the gifts of grace to follow it. Finally, we also have very powerful spiritual intercessors, Our Lady, the martyrs and other saints, and we know the power of Christ’s prayer, offered through Our Lord. This is our ultimate secret weapon. We are in God’s hands, and he hears the prayers of his Son.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

“We will never forget.”
Where were you 10 years ago today, September 11, 2001? Where were you when you found out that an airplane
had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center? Or that a second plane had crashed into the South Tower? Or that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon? Or that a fourth plane that had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania? Or that the Twin Towers had collapsed to the ground? Where were you? Have you forgotten?
Except for some who were too young, or perhaps not yet immigrated to America, I don’t think any of us will ever forget.
I was just coming back to my room after saying 8:30 Mass at St. Andrew’s in Centerville when I passed the opened door of my pastor’s room and heard the cable news reporting on the first crash
into the World Trade Center. And as I came in to his room to see what was going on, at 9:02 a.m., I saw the second plane crash into the second tower. And then we heard news about the third crash, this time just miles away at the Pentagon.
Where were you?
For most of us, I think, it’s seared into our memories.
Maybe some of you were at the Pentagon that day,

or worried about dear friends or family members you knew were there.
Words can not express, nor can we innumerate, the rush of emotions that overwhelmed us that day. But three do stand out: grief, anger, and fear.
We grieved as we knew that in those buildings there were 10s of 1000s, of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers,
who had simply gone to work that clear crisp morning, like so many of the rest of us, and as on so many other days.
And now they were trapped 70 stories up in the sky, or under huge piles of wreckage, or already consumed by the raging flames or fiery crash.
And so we grieved.

And we were angry.
Some cowardly enemy had attacked us, unprovoked, without real warning.
They had dared to attack the very heart of our brave military,

while they were on a peacetime footing, their defenses down. They had attacked the innocent civilian population
in the heart of our nation’s largest city. And they seemed to have plans for even more attacks on civilians that day. So we were angry.
And there was fear.
Fear of the unknown—we are free and open society and our enemies were aggressively exploiting that: we were completely vulnerable to almost any kind of terror attack.
Where would they strike next?
The Capital?
The White House?
The Sears Tower in Chicago?
The Mall of America in Minnesota?
We had no idea, and so we were engulfed by fear.

But in the middle of all those emotions, something else came to the forefront.

As surprising as the attacks were, almost equally surprising was another response common to almost all Americans:
a dramatic national turning toward God in prayer.
Even by the media, as we heard reporters and anchors repeatedly asking for prayers and saying things like, “please, God,” or “they’re in our prayers.”
And what an amazing sight that evening, as hundreds of members of Congress gathered on the front steps of the Capitol and spontaneously broke out singing “God bless America”.
God and prayer were our most secure hope, and the whole country seemed to understand that.
And in our weakness we became strong, with our faith in God’s omnipotent care.
And in the days that followed 9/11 that faith remained everywhere you looked.
Millions joined in through TV as thousands packed the National Cathedral in Washington and Yankee Stadium in New York for one purpose: to pray to Almighty God.
And across the nation, especially right here in northern Virginia, churches everywhere were packed, as people awoke to the reality of their own mortality
and dependence on God,
and His tremendous love for us.

America turned to God, and in Him our grief was eased with divine consolation and hope, our anger controlled and purified by His charity and wisdom, and our fear transformed by His courage and strength.
“We will never forget.”
That was what we said that the day.
But a lot of things have happened since then.
And as the years pass, and events unfold,

it seems like some of us have forgotten much more than we should.
But we must never do that. We must never forget that we have enemies who have and are still actively trying to harm our nation. We must never forget that 3000 people were killed in the 9/11/01 attacks,
and that thousands of Americans have died,
10’s of thousands have been wounded,
and millions have been and are deployed to

(including many of you) to defend us from future attacks. We must never forget.
Most especially, we must never forget about God, and how on that day, and every day since, He alone was and is our strength and shield when all human efforts fail, when enemies surround us,
or life overwhelms us. That He is always there to give us His consolation and hope, charity and wisdom, courage and strength.
But today all too many seem to have forgotten all that. Why is it that only 12 days after the terrorist attacks 10s of thousands of New Yorkers could gather in Yankee Stadium for a prayer service led by various clerics and politicians, but 10 years after the attacks the politicians will not allow even one cleric
to pray at the Ground Zero memorial?
Sometimes it seems that some folks are embarrassed by America’s turning to God on 9/11. Worse than that, over the last 10 years many have tried to blame God, or rather faith in God, for 9/11 and its aftermath. They say, it’s religious faith in God that caused the divisions and antipathy that led to the 9/11 attack. And more and more they say that we need to learn from that and remove God and religion from public life.
They say we need to get beyond religious differences.
That we must get rid of any notions that God is on our side, or that Christianity is in any way superior to Islam.
And they say we must be tolerant of and even encourage public expressions of Muslim piety, while at the same time they continue to work to mock and remove Christian piety and symbols in art, the media, and public places.
In the end, sometimes it seems that if they cannot rid America or the West of God, at least they will use this as an opportunity
to ridicule and diminish Christianity.
They want us to forget, that on 9/11 the vast majority of Americans turned to Jesus Christ for hope and strength. They want us to forget that Jesus told us, and we believe: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” They want us to believe the religion of Muhammad is just as “good” as the religion of Jesus Christ.
But the thing is, that’s just not true.
Do NOT misunderstand me: There are many good and kind Muslims in the world.
There are even many good things about the religion of Islam.
But in the end, Islam is fatally flawed, and Christianity is the one true faith.

Even if you set aside the fundamental difference between the two, on the one hand, that Christians believe that Jesus is God, and “no one comes to the Father except through” Him,
and on the other, that Muslims believe that Jesus is only a prophet, and that Muhammad is the greatest prophet, and only his teachings can lead us to God. And even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the two religions hold the same moral teachings about love and forgiveness and peace and violence, –I don’t believe that for one second, but let’s just allow that for the sake of argument. Even so…Islam still has at least this basic flaw: its founder.
When members of these two religions, Christianity and Islam, try to live by their religion’s teachings in their day to day lives they inevitably have to understand those teachings in the light of the example of their founder—either Jesus or Mohammed.
So think about these fundamentally different examples they give us. Muhammad began his religion by commanding his armed followers to conquer his enemies;
Jesus’ began His religion
by commanding His apostles to lay down their arms
as He personally surrendered to His enemies.

Muhammad’s hands carried a sword to execute his enemies; Jesus’ hands carried the Cross and were eventually nailed to the cross as His enemies executed Him. Muhammad cursed his enemies; Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
In short, Muhammad, whatever else he was, was a man of violence and terror, while Christ was the Prince of Peace.
Now, some say, both Christians and Muslims
do many horrible things in the name of God. Perhaps. But the thing is, in the light of the life of Christ,
when Christians feel compelled to resort to violence,
perhaps in self defense or in protection of others,
we always know we must ask ourselves:
what would the Crucified Christ, the Prince of Peace,
have to say about this?

In the light of His life and death on the cross the teachings of Christ take on a unique and specific context, and so set a completely higher standard
than anything found in the platitudes of other religions.
So that when Jesus tells us: “Love your enemies, …bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….”
we see Him on the cross not only blessing and praying for those who curse and abuse Him, but laying down His life to save them, because He loves them.
Or when Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? and Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times,” we see Him whipped, spat upon, cursed, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, gasping for breath, bleeding to death
—how many ways and times did they offend that day? Surely much more than “77 times.” And we hear Him say: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Yes, Christians sin.
Yes, we all too often ignore the teachings of Christ.
But thank God we have the teachings of Christ and the life of Christ

that lead us to see ourselves for the sinners we are, and to hold ourselves to the higher standard of Jesus Himself.
And you know, I think that is what has made American the great country it is. Whether people like to admit it our not, our founding fathers counted on the Christian faith and Christian morals to enable the people to justly govern themselves.
And in my opinion, that’s what has helped our country
become the greatest nation on earth. Yes we go to war, but we do not enslave our enemies once conquered. When we defeated the Germans and Japanese in World War II
we didn’t enslave them or colonize them:
we freed them and paid to rebuild their countries.

And the same is true in the current war on terror. Within 18 months of American troops toppling Sadaam Hussein the Iraqi people elected their own government.
And how many American lives have been sacrificed and how many 10s of billions of American dollars have we spent to protect and rebuild the new free Iraq?
To me this is the effect of the Christian moral ethos, deeply rooted in the soul of our nation, making us always ready to love our enemy,
and eager forgive all who offend us. And I think too, it’s why sometimes we forget, even though we promised to “never forget.” Americans want to forgive and forget, and get on with life in peace.
But we must never forget. Because, while we must love and forgive our enemies, we must also love and protect our families, our neighbors, our country. And even as we must bless and pray for those who curse and abuse us, we must also bless those who fight to defend us, and pray for those who have died at the hand of our enemies.
Today, we remember and pray for souls of all those who died in the 9/11 attacks, and in the War on Terror. And we remember and pray for all who have sacrificed so much to protect our liberty and safety. And we remember that our nation still has enemies who wish to harm us, and so we pray for the safety of our nation.
And in all those prayers we remember that God was our strength and hope in 2001, and has been these 10 years since. And that God’s name is Jesus Christ, our teacher, our example, and our savior.
Only by remembering that, by keeping Jesus Christ in center of our lives at all times, can we be, at one and the same time, both strong in confronting our enemies,
and forgiving of all the harm the do us.
For all this, for those who died, for those who serve, and for our faith in Christ, let us pray, that “We will never forget.”