25th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you didn’t get that from the press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013

September 15, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today’s readings talk about turning.
What we have in all the readings are people turning away from God
and going their own way,
but then God calling them back, and they return to him.
So in the first reading from Exodus, when Moses is up on the mountain
receiving the Law from God,
God tells Moses:
“Go down at once to your people…,
They have soon turned aside
from the way I pointed out to them…”
And then in the Gospel, when the prodigal son comes home,
the servant says to the older brother,
“Your brother has returned.”

In both of these readings, this turning away from God, or the father,
involves moral corruption:
In the 1st reading God says:
“Go down at once to your people,…for they have become depraved.
And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us the prodigal son
“squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation,”
and “swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

But notice, something about the first reading.
The moral depravity of the Israelites reflects itself in the way they worship.
God says:
“They …turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God…”
They not only don’t behave the way God “pointed out to them”,
but they also don’t worship the way God “pointed out to them.”

Fundamentally this reflects that the fact that
when they don’t obey God’s moral law they, in effect,
make themselves greater than God
—they know better than he does.
So, in effect, in their moral lives, they worship themselves.

And this is reflected in the way they actually liturgically worship, :
they invent a God out of gold, of their own creation,
what they want God to be,
and they worship him the way they want, not how he wants.

Of course, this is the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do.
Worship is not supposed to be some empty ritual
that somehow entertains God or satiates his need for praise,
much less entertain us or satiates our need to praise.
Rather it’s supposed to essentially reflect the reality of our lives,
and, in turn, effect the reality of our lives.

For example, for the ancient Jews and for Christians today,
the most important form of liturgical worship is the sacrifice.
The sacrifice of the Old Testament was usually the ritual slaughtering of animals, and the sacrifice of the New Testament is Christ’s death on the Cross.
But God isn’t pleased by simply killing and giving him dead animals.
As we read in Psalm 50:
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”

And he certainly isn’t pleased by the death of His Son.

What sacrifice is all about in both the Old and New Testament
is a symbol of the actual giving to God of the whole life,
not of the animal,
but of the person himself.
So when someone sacrificed a lamb, it symbolized giving themselves to God.

But a person doesn’t give themselves to God if they don’t obey him.
So when Jesus died on the Cross, he didn’t just die,
but rather gave himself up in total obedience to the Father:
“not my will, but thine be done.”

When the Hebrews in today’s first reading disobeyed God’s moral laws
they were not giving themselves to him,
they were obeying themselves and keeping themselves to themselves.
So their sacrifices reflected that:
they sacrificed to a fake god of their own making:
they worshiped themselves.

The same is true of the prodigal son in the Gospel:
his disobedience of his father by the actions of his immoral life
is reflected in his leaving his father.
But his rejection of immorality, his desire to obey his father,
is reflected in his returning to his Father’s home
and promising to serve him.

All this is captured today as we read part of Psalm 51:
“My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”
And if we could continue reading the rest of that Psalm we would find the words:
“Then you will desire the sacrifices of the just,
burnt offering and whole offerings;
then they will offer up young bulls on your altar.”

Of course, as Catholics we believe that the sacrifice of the New Testament
—Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross—
is re-presented at every Mass, in the Eucharist.
But actually, there are two sacrifices in the New Testament:
Jesus’ sacrifice of the Cross,
offering himself in total obedience to the Father,
and the sacrifice of every Christian,
offering ourselves in total obedience to the Father
As St. Paul says in Romans:
“offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God
–this is your true and proper worship.”

At every Mass that’s what we do: the bread and wine represent us
—our bodies, our lives, everything we do: US.
And so we offer up, or “lift up our hearts to the Lord.”

But as we all know, the only sacrifice of real consequence,
the only truly worthy sacrifice, is Jesus sacrifice.
And so we ask Christ to take our sacrifices and unite them to his own:
and so he takes the bread and wine symbolizing us,
and unites our sacrifice to his own sacrifice
by changing them into His Body and Blood sacrificed on Calvary.

But what good are our symbolic offering of bread and wine
if we don’t really give ourselves?
And how do we give ourselves if our lives are disobedient
to his teachings and his moral law?
If our lives out there in the world are not united to the life of Christ,
how can we ask him to unite the gift of our lives to his in the Eucharist?
How do we worship him when we do not obey him
—when we really worship ourselves in the false gods our sins create?

Sadly, the words of God to Moses so often apply to us:
“…they have become depraved.
They have …turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God.”

In today’s first reading we see that when the people disobey God’s moral laws,
they often reflect this in the actual way they disobey God’s liturgical laws.
This continues in throughout the Old Testament:
we read of it here in Exodus, 2nd book of the Old Testament,
and we read of it 43 books later, or 800 years later,
in the book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, where God says:
“O priests, who despise my name….
[b]y offering polluted food upon my altar. …
When you offer blind animals in sacrifice…
And when you offer those that are lame or sick,
is that no evil?”
They were supposed to offer their very best to God, instead they offer the worst.

It’s fascinating to me that this same phenomena seems to manifest itself
throughout the life of the Church as well.
Over the centuries as we look back and see
the ebb and flow of the moral life of Christian peoples and cultures,
we usually also see a corresponding ebb and flow in their liturgical life
—as people worship God less in their hearts and lives
we see them worship him less in the liturgy.
And conversely, when we see the great liturgical reforms of the Church
—in the Gregorian reform of the 6th century,
the Carolingian Reform of the 9th century,
the 2nd Gregorian reform of the 11th century,
the Tridentine reform of the 16th century—
all of them were intimately connected with the reform of morals
of the people and priests.

In a certain way, the liturgical reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s
also had this in mind,
as they called for all the faithful to take up
a more active participation in the Mass.
But by “active participation” they didn’t mean something that was
merely exterior, not just moving around and doing things at Mass,
but it meant something principally and primarily interior.
As Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy tells us:
“Before men can come to the liturgy
they must be called to faith and to conversion…
Therefore the Church announces the good tidings of salvation …
so that all men may know …Jesus Christ …
and may be converted from their ways.”

“Called …to conversion…”
“Converted from their ways.”

The word “convert” comes from the Latin, “conversio”,
from 2 Latin words: “cum” meaning “with,” and “vertere” meaning “to turn.”
So “covert” means to “turn with,” or “turn toward.”
So that in Christianity, to “convert” means to turn toward the Lord.

And conversion is not something reserved for non-Christians:
it is the calling and the constant striving of every Christian, every Catholic,
to recognize, that like the ancient Hebrews, we have, in so many ways,
“turned aside from the way [Christ] pointed out to” us.
Like the prodigal son, every day we must recognize that we have,
in so many ways,
turned away from our father and squandered his inheritance.
And that we must once again come home, we must, return to him.
We must convert.

This conversion begins in the heart, but it is proclaimed at every Mass,
as we, all and each of us, lift up our hearts to the Lord in sacrifice:
pledging Him our lives, our love, our humble obedience.
And pray the Lord Jesus to unite our little tiny imperfect lives,
to his magnificent and perfect life
offered once for all on the Cross,
and made present to us, once again, miraculously, on this altar.

As we now enter more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us, dear friends, now “turn aside” from sin, and disobedience,
and re-turn to the Father.
Let us turn away from the false worship of ourselves.
And let us together turn toward the Lord and worship Him in truth.

22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

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

Today’s readings clearly center on the theme of humility.
But I think there’s something more here that we can look at:
something the Lord is telling us
about the role of humility in what we’ve come here today to do:
that humility is at the heart of the proper worship of God,
especially when we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist.

The book of Genesis tells us that it was Adam’s sin of pride
that cost all mankind eternal life with God.
Adam and Eve believed the servant’s lie
that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
then they would be like God.
This is the epitome of pride,
and it is the antithesis of worship–they said in effect:
“I will not worship God, I will worship myself.”

What a radically different picture we find in Christ
–whom St. Paul calls the “new Adam.”
In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul writes:
“though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at,
rather … he humbled himself ….even unto death, death on a cross.”

It is the humility of Jesus to worship the Father
that defeats the effects of Adam’s pride,
and brings about our salvation.
And it is the Cross which is the ultimate act of his humility.
And because of the Cross, Philippians goes on to say:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him
…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

In today’s first reading from the book of Sirach,
God the Father tells his only begotten Son, Jesus:
“My son, conduct your affairs with humility.”
In today’s Gospel Jesus passes this instruction on to us:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
Rather, …take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’”

Jesus lived out his father’s (instruction and his own) perfectly, so that by taking
“the lowest place”
–humbly accepting death on the Cross
–his Father came to him and said
“My friend, move up to a higher position”,
raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in glory.

In the Mass we come to worship God
but we do it in the context of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
We call it a sacrifice because in it we truly come face to face
with the sacrifice of the Cross.
And it’s through this mystery of Christ’s own humility in the Cross,
that we can join him in his heavenly glorify.

So, essential to our participation in this mystery of worship,
the Eucharist, the Mass
essential to our being united with Christ crucified and glorified,
is the absolute necessity, on our part,
of an overwhelming sense of personal humility.

The readings today reflect this very eloquently.
The Gospel begins by saying:
“On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine” or “to eat a meal.”
But at that meal, Jesus points to another very special type of meal,
as he tells the parable of the wedding feast,
which, in the language of Scripture, is nothing less than heaven itself:
the wedding banquet of Christ and his bride the Church.

Today is the Sabbath, and today we also come to a meal.
But this meal is also no ordinary meal,
because as we find ourselves in the presence
of the mystery of the humility of Christ on the Cross,
we also find ourselves somehow mystically present
at glorious wedding banquet of heaven.
And Jesus reminds us that to worthily enter into this banquet
we must “not sit in the place of honor…but in the lowest place”
–we must enter into this banquet in humility.

And so, the Mass is full of prayers and signs
calling us to and expressing humility.
Let’s take a moment to consider some.

We begin the Mass with the penitential rite, recalling humbly that we are sinners.
One reason I almost always use the Confiteor, the “I confess”,
is because if we say it sincerely we’re making a great act of humility:
humility before God and before our neighbor,
“I confess to almighty God,
and to you my brothers and sisters
that I have greatly sinned…”
And then the beautiful and radically humbling triple “through my fault.”

And after the prayer of penance, we go the Gloria, as if to say humbly,
while we are humble sinners, you are the Lord God and heaven king,
and so we first beat our breasts,
but then “We praise you,…bless you,…adore you,…glorify you,
[and] give you thanks …”
“You alone are the Holy one”—not us.

Then we go into the Liturgy of the Word, and again we express our humility
–this time not in what we say,
but by not saying anything, and instead humbly listening,
listening to God speaking to us through the Scriptures
and in the Homily.
The first reading from the book of Sirach today anticipates this liturgical humility:
“conduct your affairs with humility,…
an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.”

The Mass proceeds and we come to the offertory,
as we offer our the humble gifts of bread and wine,
which symbolize the gifts of ourselves.
Just simple bread and wine, symbolic of the fact that we know
nothing we have and nothing about us
is truly worthy to offer the Lord.
And so we ask him to change them into the only worthy gift:
Jesus himself, given on the Cross.
And the priest prays in a low voice that God
“be pleased with the sacrifice we offer” him
“with humble and contrite hearts”.

Then we come to the Eucharistic Prayer, the heart of the Mass.
Today’s second reading is from the letter to the Hebrews
–the epistle that so beautifully explains the mystery that Jesus
is both the priest and victim of the sacrifice.
In this context, we read:
“you have approached Mount Zion…the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven…”
As we begin this Prayer
in which we are truly drawing nearer and nearer every moment
to the coming of heaven to earth in the Eucharist,
we begin by joining the angels and the saints assembled with us
as they sing their song of praise:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

But the letter to the Hebrews most especially points out
that in this heavenly Jerusalem we:
“have approached… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”
As we now reach the most holy part of the Mass we hear the words:
“this is my body….this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new…covenant.”
And we finally are present with all of glorious heaven,
at the foot of the bloody cross of Christ’s humility.

All throughout the Mass we show external signs of our internal desire
to become humble before the Lord and with one another.
We bow our heads at the name of Jesus,
we bow to the altar as a symbol of Christ,
we strike our breasts three times in the Confiteor.
But now as we reach the summit of the Divine Liturgy,
we show our greatest outward sign of humility.
In St. John’s book of Revelation as he describes
his vision of the entrance of Christ into the heavenly liturgy,
he tells us that the angels and saints
“fell down and worshipped” “before the Lamb, who was slain.”
As Christ personally and physically enters into our Liturgy,
present under the appearance of the Eucharistic bread and wine,
we join the angels and saints and fall to our knees.
And we kneel again a few moments later before the Lamb of God,
saying in all humility:
“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

Finally, after preparing ourselves to approach this heavenly wedding banquet
with truly humble hearts,
Christ himself, the host of the banquet approaches and says:
“my friend, move up to a higher position..”
And then we draw nearest to Christ, who takes us to the highest place,
as we receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

It’s Christ’s humility that allowed him to come to us in the form of a man
and to die on the Cross,
and it’s Christ’s humility that conquers Adam’s pride.
It’s Christ’s humility that allows him to come to us
under the form of simple bread and wine,
and it’s Christ’s humility that brings us into his glory.
But its only to the extent that we prepare ourselves
and open our hearts to share in his humility
that we can truly enter into the mystery of the gift
of his Cross and his glory.

My brothers and sisters, taking the words of today’s Scriptures:
let us conduct our liturgy with humility.
Having listened with an attentive ear
now approach…the heavenly Jerusalem, and Jesus,
the mediator of a new covenant.
But do not seek honor at this the heavenly wedding feast,
instead go and sit in the lowest, most humble place,
so that when the Lord approaches you he will say,
“My friend, move up to a higher position.”
For he “who humbles himself will be exalted.”

21th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 25, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Awhile back I was talking with an old friend I grew up with.
Though we both went to the same Catholic grade school,
we wound up very different in life:
I became a priest and he became a fallen away Catholic.
He excused himself by saying:
“what difference does it make?—we all believe in the same God,
we just take different roads to get to him.”
I’ve heard this a million times, and so have you.
And it has a certain attraction to it.
But then we run into some problems,
like when the one we believe to be “God”
tells us:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.”

In this phrase Jesus is saying that their aren’t many different roads to God,
at least not in the indifferent kind of sense my friend was using.
We see this especially when we remember other sayings of Jesus
we find elsewhere in the Gospels,
for example:
“Enter by the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the way is easy,
that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.”
And: “Whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
…is a thief and a robber….
Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

Sure, we all live different lives, and so in a certain sense we “take different roads.”
But in the end, we all have to stop when we come to that one narrow gate
that is Jesus,
and enter, and follow the one road, His one way, to the Father.

Some argue:
but look at texts like the one we find in today’s first reading, where it says:
“I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.”
Doesn’t that mean that all peoples
—even non-Christian peoples—will go to heaven
no matter what their religious beliefs?
The thing is, the text goes on to say:
“They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
…to Jerusalem, my holy mountain
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.”
In other words, one day the God of the Jews will come to earth
and bring all nations to come to worship HIM
so in the way the HE would tell them to.

(Now/And) as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is, in fact,
the incarnation of the God of the Jews,
and who did come to earth to tell all nations the way.
He said:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father, but by me.“
And he told his apostles:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them…,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Some might argue, well then as long as someone’s a Christian,
that’s’ good enough.
Again, we turn to Christ’s own words:
Speaking to Simon Peter:
“And I tell you, you are Rock,
and on this rock I will build my church…”
Or speaking to all his disciples:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”
Or to his Father:
“I pray Father….that they may become perfectly one.”
The only religion we find that follows these teachings of
the primacy of Peter, the centrality of the Eucharist
and the unity of the Church
is in the Catholic Church.
So, following Jesus is a narrow gate that leads through the Catholic Church.

Now, it’s true that many Christians who aren’t Catholic,
and even many people who aren’t even Christian,
try every day to enter the narrow gate.
They truly seek God even though, through no fault of their own,
they have not been able to come to know Jesus Christ
or the fullness of his teachings in the Catholic Church.
And if they truly believe and accept the way and truth of God,
as best they can come to understand it,
of course God won’t deny them salvation.
Still, it’s hard to know which gate to walk through
when you don’t share in the full teaching and instruments of grace
that Christ has entrusted to his Catholic Church.
So that, in fact, as Jesus says elsewhere:
“the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.”

Unfortunately, this last saying also can apply equally to Catholics:
just because you’re outwardly a Catholic
doesn’t mean you’re going to heaven.
Even if you’ve memorized all the teachings of the Popes back to Peter,
and even if you come to Mass every Sunday and
“eat the flesh of the Son of Man”,
if you do not follow the way, the truth and the life
that Christ and His Church has taught you
you really haven’t entered the narrow gate.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says to these Catholics:
“then will you stand outside …saying,…
‘We ate …in your company
and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.’”

As we read last week:
“to whomever much is given, of him much shall be required.”
And as Jesus says this week:
“some are first who will be last.”

The fact is many self-proclaimed “practicing” Catholics,
including too many priests,
choose the wide gate, the easy road, all the time.
And instead of recognizing this about themselves,
they blame the Church for being too narrow-minded,
out of step with the real world.
It needs to change it’s teachings and stop thinking it has the one truth faith.

Now, most of you, would probably never say these things.
You accept the Church’s teachings and you try to follow them.
That’s great, and I’m very proud and edified by you.
But is even that enough?

By telling us to “enter the narrow gate”
Jesus isn’t calling us to become
some sort of unthinking, unfeeling narrow-minded rule-bound bureaucrats.
His rules and doctrine are essential:
there is a particular way to go, truth to believe, and life to live.
But you can’t understand any of that if you don’t first understand
that the narrow gate is first and foremost a person,
and in fact one particular person.
“I am the Gate,” Jesus says; “I am the way.”

All of us go through life with some sort of rules that determine how we live
—even if we make them up for ourselves.
That’s relatively easy.
But it’s a whole lot harder
to give and commit your life and love to another person.
Because no matter how wonderful and inclusive and multifaceted a person is,
every person is unique, specific and demanding.

And so it is true that the gate is narrow:
you must give your life to the particular person
who is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
And you must truly love Him and His Father and Spirit
with all your heart, mind soul and strength.

This week we celebrate the feast of a saint who, like most of us,
struggled with entering the narrow gate.
He was a uniquely talented man:
a brilliant scholar, a rising star in academia and the political life of his time.
But he not only walked down the wide road
but ran and danced as fast as he could all around it.
His life was filled with pride and avarice and greed and lust.

But there was always a problem:
something in his brilliant mind and in his sensitive heart told him
“there’s something missing….something more….”
And so gradually he narrowed his road down, bit by bit.
He moved from being a pagan,
to a monotheist,
to being a kind of heretical Christian.
All along he saw the narrow gate,
and was frightened by what seemed to be it’s limits, and sacrifices.
For example he prayed, “Lord give me chastity….but not yet.”

Until one day, confused and torn
he heard a voice of a child say to him:
“Take up and read; take up and read.”
So he picked up and read the only book in front of him—the New Testament:
The words jumped out at him:
“put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
In other words:
leave behind the wide gate and the easy road
and enter through the narrow gate: Jesus Christ.

And in an instant his whole world changed
and he discovered why he had been so unhappy:
as he would write years later,
“Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in you.”

If you haven’t guessed it yet,
that man went on to become
the most important philosopher and theologian in the history of the Church,
and one of her greatest saints:
St. Augustine of Hippo.
He entered that narrow gate, but didn’t see it as confining or restrictive,
but as a love that freed him to become
the great man he was created to be, in Christ.
And so he wrote:
“Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you….
You were with me, but I was not with you…
You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness….
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.”

Today hear the voice inside of you calling:
“Take and read…“take and read.”
And read what Scripture says:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
And as you approach the altar today to eat the flesh of the Lord,
as He enters into you, let yourself enter into him:
enter the narrow gate.
And as you leave here today do not go back outside that gate,
but go forward on that road that opens wide your heart and mind
to the infinitely boundless,
and yet particularly personal,
love of Jesus Christ.

20th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 18, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

It is one of the great comforts of Christians
to hear the wonderfully consoling words
that the Lord Jesus so often speaks to us in Sacred Scripture.
For example, the words of Christ’s high priestly prayer for unity
at the Last Supper:
“that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…”
Or words that we hear at every mass:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…”
But today we hear something very different
from the mouth of the one we call the Prince of Peace:
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.”

The Gospels record Jesus saying things like this on several occasions.
For example, St. Matthew records him saying something very similar, but even more harsh:
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
How can Christ promise peace and unity,
and also claim that he comes not to bring peace and unity,
but the sword and division?
There’s only one way that makes sense
–a way that is clearly consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Christ does come to bring peace
–but not the peace of the world, rather, his peace.
And he comes to bring unity–but not unity with the world,
rather, unity with him, and his heavenly father.
Jesus knows that just as surely as he brings unity and peace into the world
to those who follow him in love,
he also brings division between himself and his own on the one side,
and those who chose not to follow him on the other.

The division is clear and spectacularly simple;
elsewhere in Scripture he tells his apostles:
“He who is not with me is against me.”
And we shouldn’t be surprised since it was predicted at his birth,
when the prophet Simeon told his mother in the temple:
“This child is destined to be
the downfall and the rise of many in Israel,
a sign that will be opposed.”
It was even promised almost from the beginning of time,
from the very first time man put himself in opposition to God,
as God promised the serpent in the garden of Eden:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed…”

Jesus knew that he was calling for a radical change in his disciples,
that by placing yourself with Him
you will often discover yourself to be in opposition to the world.
And He knew that living this life would be a truly difficult struggle,
and that it would often require great sacrifice:
I remember one time in the seminary when we were discussing
how to preach about some difficult moral teaching;
the guest speaker cautioned us:
“you really can’t preach about this to a congregation;
good Lord, they’d kill you.”
We all looked at each other rather stunned, until a brave voice in the back reminded him: “Like they killed Jesus?”
And then another voice said:
“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
It’s true for priests, and its true for all faithful Christians.

This opposition, sometimes even violent opposition,
means that we are in a battle,
but not a battle in the sense the world normally fights battles,
because this is a battle involving Christ.
So it’s not a war inspired by hatred for the opposition
–but a war inspired by love for those who hate us.
It’s not a war that seeks to bring death to the enemy,
but a struggle to bring life to the entire world.
And unlike any merely human battle,
the promise of peace and unity is still experienced
–even in the heat of conflict—
by all who, as St. Paul says,
“keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.”

We are called to this radical new life in Christ.
He calls us not to be afraid,
but to allow our hearts to be ablaze with the fire he brings into the world:
the fire so vividly seen on Pentecost
as the Holy Spirit descended upon the first disciples–on his Church.
That fire still burns in the Church,
though, unfortunately, not so brightly in all her members.

Ask yourself: does the fire of Christ burn brightly in your life
so that, living in the world, you truly live
“as a sign that will be opposed.”
Do you live and love like you really believe in Christ and his Church?
Or do you live in fear of being seen as being different
or in opposition to the “normal” world?

It’s very hard to do this, to live as a “sign opposed”.
Sometimes you even find yourself opposed by your own family,
as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel.
I know many of you have experience this.
Some of you parents find it difficult to correct your children,
to teach them your values—the values of Christ.
Sometimes it seems you’re fighting a losing battle,
with the media and sometimes even the schools
teaching your kids a completely opposite set of values,
reinforced by the music they listen to and movies or television they see.
You tell your son to respect authority and say “yes sir” and “no ma’am”,
then his favorite athlete is arrested
for trashing his hotel room and resisting arrest.
You try to teach your daughter to dress modestly
with true respect for herself and her body,
but her favorite website tells her if she does she’s a prude,
and besides, all her friends dress like that.
Or you have older children
who’ve stopped going to church,
or who are cohabiting with their boyfriend or girlfriend,
or who have married outside the laws of the church.
Or a son who tells you he’s “gay.”

And kids, you really want to do the right thing,
to live clean and sober and in chastity,
but your friends make fun of you
and pressure to abuse alcohol or drugs or sex.
Sometimes it even comes from your parents:
you want to go to Mass or confession, but your parents are too busy.
Or maybe your interested in being a priest or a nun,
and they look at you like your crazy.

There is a vast division between the life Christ has called us to
and the life of the world we live in.
But the divisions don’t end there:
there’s still another troubling division
that exists in the life of everyday Christians
–the very real state of division that exists
in the separation of Orthodox and Protestant Churches
from fullness of unity with the Catholic Church.
Many of these non-Catholic Christians truly stand for Christ,
opposed by the world,
but at the same time they place themselves in opposition
to the fullness of grace, truth and faith
that Christ gave to his apostles and their successors
to be protected and shared with his people.

And again the division don’t stop here:
Everyday we see painful divisions among Catholics.
Sometimes we suffer more from fellow Catholics
than we do from those who categorically and formally oppose the Church.
Many of you know that I was born and raised and lived most of my life
in San Antonio.
In fact it was it was only 22 years ago tomorrow that I left San Antonio
to move to Arlington to begin my studies for the priesthood.
I firmly believe that it was divine providence—the very hand of God Himself—
that led me here.
But I never would have left San Antonio if the church there
hadn’t been in such a state of division:
priests and laity alike, especially the professors in the seminary,
in open opposition to the Pope and the teachings of the Church.

Divisions exist, not only between the Christian family and the world,
but even in the heart of families and even in the heart of the Church.
And they can be a terrible source of discouragement.
But, remember the admonition of St. Paul in today’s second reading, and
“[do]not grow weary and lose heart.”
Don’t let division’s —either in the family, or with the world or in the faith—
lead you to give up on what you believe,
to compromise God’s eternal truth
for some false and passing unity in or of the world.
Rather, as St. Paul advises us today:
” [let us] keep our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith..”
Do not let opposition dampen your spirits or drown your faith,
but let the fire of Christ blaze and strengthen your zeal.
Don’t let it be a fire of hatred of your enemies, but a fire of love for Christ.
Let his fire purify your intentions,
and spread from you
to warm the hearts of those who are cold or luke-warm to Christ.

My brothers and sisters,
Christ loves us and wants us to live in peace.
But his love is also a sword,
not a sword that kills or wounds,
but a sword that cuts away truth from lies,
dividing good from evil.
Let us pray for ourselves, for one another,
that we may truly live life in union with the Lord Jesus,
and never place ourselves in opposition to him.
Let us pray also for our families, and our friends,
that Christ may heal all divisions,
and enliven the fire of his truth and love in us.
Let us pray for all Catholics,
and for all Christians
who are divided from the full unity with the Catholic faith,
and for those divided from the Church entirely.
Let us pray that the burning fire of the Holy Spirit may well up in his Church,
transforming us into one consuming blaze
that will burn out of control, spreading into all the world,
burning away all walls of that divide us
from the perfect unity and peace of Jesus Christ.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we turn
there’s bad and even frightening news:
the War on Terror,
unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosures,
furloughs, political discord,
the loss of privacy, the power of government,
the attack on marriage, the decline of morals….
Not to mention more personal tragedies:
illness, loneliness, abandonment, death…
I could go on and on.
Facing all this it’s easy to become sad and discouraged.
So easy to slip into fear, or even to lose hope.

But then we come to a day like today:
a day filled with joy as we celebrate
the Assumption of the BVM to heaven.

We celebrate with joy because of the event itself:
that the Blessed Mother, the Mother of Jesus and Our Mother,
when her earthly life was ended,
was assumed, body and soul, into heaven,
and now reigns in glory with her Son, Jesus Christ,
as queen of heaven and earth.

We imagine her joy of being in the glory of heaven
before the throne of God the Father and Son,
united to them in the fullness of the Holy Spirit,
and in the company of the angels and saints.
Perfect happiness, perfect love, perfect peace, perfect joy.
Tonight we read the words she spoke on that day
she visited her cousin Elizabeth,
with the Baby Jesus newly conceived in her womb,
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”
Surely that day she meant every word and they were pure and true,
but now in heaven those words take on
a whole new meaning and perfection.
“Her spirit rejoices in God her savior,
for he has lifted up his lowly servant
and placed her in the center of his heart,
in the love of the Father Son and Holy Spirit,
surrounded by the angels and saints,
and in the midst of all the prayers and praise
of the faithful on earth.

She is filled with incomprehensible joy,
and, because she is our Mother, how can we not rejoice in her happiness.

And in her happiness we find even more joy for ourselves
—for as our Mother she longs for us to share her joy completely.
She longs for us to go where she has gone,
to live in paradise as saints forever.
For us to share eternally in the promise Her Son made to all of us,
that if we would love Him and believe in him
and hope in him and follow him,
we might have eternal life—life in abundance.
“Rejoice and be glad” he said,
“for the kingdom of God shall be yours,” he promised.
“Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him
[shall] have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The promise that his faithful followers would go heaven,
not just in spirit or with their souls, but in their whole being: body and soul.
So that all the fears and pains and suffering we endure in body and soul
in our life in this world would be wiped away and rewarded,
and every joy we celebrate on earth in body and soul
will be fulfilled and perfected.

And he has kept his promise.
First with His Mother as he took her, body and soul into heaven.
The first disciple of Jesus, the one who, as Elizabeth says of her, was the first to
“believe that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
So she was the first to receive the fullness of His promise,
and her assumption into to heaven stands as a pledge to us
that where the first disciple, the first believer, has gone,
the rest of His disciples will follow.

If, if, only we are true disciples as she was.
If we believe and hope and accept His grace to live and love as she did,
in conformity with his will, his commandments his word.
Only if we “believe that what was spoken to [us] by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
as she did.
Only if we obey his word as she did, saying with word and deed:
“Let it be done to me according to thy word.”

This is our joy:
that our mother is in heaven rejoicing in the perfect love of God.
And this is our joy: that there she is preparing a place for us,
a place won for us by her divine son
who fills us with his grace and love here on earth
that we may bear all suffering, resist all temptation,
and carry all crosses.
And this is our joy: that as we travel in this earthly valley of suffering and fear,
our Mother in heaven is always there to brings her Divine Son to us,
just as she brought him (in her womb) to Elizabeth so long ago.
And that she comes to comfort and assist us at every moment,
even the darkest moments,
just as she came to help ‘Elizabeth so long ago.
And this is our joy: that her Divine Son who loved his mother so much
that he filled her with his grace and love on earth,
and then finally brought her, body and soul,
home to the joys of heaven,
(that he) loves us also, and longs to do the same for each of us.

Every day all around us we see and hear news that can
fill us with sadness, and discouragement,
even overwhelm us fear and hopelessness.
But then we come to a day like today:
a day filled with joy as we join the angels and saints
in celebrating the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, Mary,
into heaven.
And in the arms of our Mother, and by the Grace of her Son, Jesus Christ,
all fear and sadness slips away.
And we join her in saying to Him:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

19th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 11, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

We live in one of the most powerful and most wealthy places on earth.
Some of you have a pretty good share in that power and wealth,
and many, if not most, of the rest of you are hoping to share in it,
to a greater or lesser extent.
But then we hear the voice of Jesus echo over 2000 years and say to us:
“Sell your belongings …[for] an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Now most of you probably work pretty hard to get all this stuff and power,
you’ve dedicated your life, you’ve made huge sacrifices.
But even with all that hard work,
how much of your success has been due to the “luck”
of having good parents,
or particular natural talents
or simply being in the right place at the right time?

Well, personally, as a Christian, I don’t believe it luck.
Christians believe in providence:
God has a plan, and he provides for us according to that plan.
We believe that God created us for a reason,
and gave us our parents and our talents.
And he gave us lungs to breath
and free will to choose to be lazy or to work hard.
As St. Paul says elsewhere in scripture:
“What have you that you did not receive?
….why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”
Like the servant in today’s parable,
we have all been “entrusted with much.”

Of course, seeing things this way requires “faith.”
Note, this faith is not opposed to reason.
Rather faith is the light that shines on reason,
like a lamp shining on a book to make it readable and understandable.

And when we see the world in the light of faith
we see all the things we have as gifts
most of which pass away when we leave this world.
And we see that these things we work so hard for
—money, fame, pleasure, power, whatever—
mean nothing if we forget the one who gives them in the first place.
If we love the gift more than we love the giver, God himself.

So you say, yes father all that’s true, and faith and God are important to me,
but placing them above everything else—that’s hard.
Yes it is.
But so is getting up every morning and going to work or school,
most everyday of your life.
But you do it.
Why is it so inconceivable to work as hard and make as many sacrifices
to place God in the center of your life?
Why aren’t we willing to do that now, and every day for the rest of our lives?

You say, yes, but when I go to work
I see the fruit of my work, the reward of my labor.
I get paid at the end of the week,
and over the years I rise up in my career.
It’s not that way with God—he doesn’t give me tangible results.

First of all, how many of your employers or clients
pay you up-front for the work you haven’t done yet?
Not many.
But God does.
He’s already given
every breath you take, every thought in your head, your job,
your very life itself!
Not to mention the grace that flows from his Cross and resurrection.

And how many of you work hard and wait for years to get promotions?
If you’re boss doesn’t promote you today,
or at least put the promise in writing today,
why would you risk working for years for the uncertain?
Unlike your boss or client, though,
God did put his promises of riches and promotion in writing.
It’s written down in scripture and affirmed every day
in the living breathing teaching of the Church.
We read it today in the Gospel as Jesus promises us:
“your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”

You say, I have faith father,
but I ask God for things all the time,
and most of the time he doesn’t give me what I ask for.
True, but maybe you’re asking for the wrong things.
Imagine if you went into your boss’s office tomorrow
and demanded 6 month paid vacation.
Not many bosses would give in to that—in fact most bosses would fire you.

But God just sits there patiently listening to our requests for silly things,
things he knows won’t be good for us,
and then gives us what we really need.
How about a little oxygen in your lungs?
How about a job to come to tomorrow?
And how about I give you some of the really valuable stuff,
some of the treasures of heaven
How about a little charity or chastity or wisdom?

The bottom line is, we work so hard for the things of this world,
and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.

And I’m not just talking about people with jobs.

Students to the same thing.
We’re still 3 weeks away from the start of the public schools, but the kids in band and football are already having practice everyday.
And when school starts you kids will be working hard, maybe even staying up late at night working on your homework or studying for tests, all for a grade no one will remember 5 years from now.

And mothers who stay at home, especially homeschooling.
You work hard to help your kids grow into fine adults, but do you work hard at your faith?
And retired folks: you worked hard all your life building a financial nest egg so you could retire comfortably, but did you work hard to build up treasure in heaven?
Are you working hard at it now?

We work so hard for the things of this world,
and we’re completely lazy when it comes to faith and God.
And yet we expect so much from him, including all the things we already have.

So, how do we work hard at having faith?
We begin with the basics.
If you’re a surgeon you have to obey the basic rules of medicine and science,
or you’ll work hard all day long
but not only will your patients die,
but you’ll die of starvation.
And if you’re a Christian,
you begin by working hard at keeping the basic rules of faith and love.
You keep the commandments:
you worship God,
you don’t kill, steal, or lie;
you love your family, and respect the gift of sexuality.
And you follow the beatitudes,
you embrace poverty of spirit, work for peace and show mercy;
and you accept persecution for standing up for your faith in Jesus.
It’s difficult, but you have to work hard at living the life God calls you to live.

And you spend time studying.
What professional doesn’t spend years studying
before he even begins to start his career?
And who survives in his profession
if doesn’t do continuing education?
A Christian also has to study:
to read the Scriptures, the Catechism, the writings of the Popes
and other holy books.
To listen to talks by orthodox experts or holy people
—to pay attention to the homilies at Mass.
It’s a fact that most Catholics stopped really learning bout their faith
when they were 14.
Imagine if an accountant had stopped learning about numbers when he was 14…

And you have to pray.
Prayer involves talking and listening to God.
This requires patience and time,
but imagine a lawyer who doesn’t talk and listen to his client.
Prayer also involves praising and thanking God:
what laborer does his work well when he doesn’t respect it or enjoy it.
What Christian can be a good Christian if he doesn’t praise his God.

And finally, you have to open your heart and choose to accept
the grace God gives you.
What fool works hard all week
and then refuses to cash, or deposit or invest his paycheck?

Now, in every business or line of work, there’s always critical moments in time.
Maybe it’s a deadline, or an important make or break meeting.
At those moments all the hard work comes together and pays off
—either in the product or in the reward.
For Catholics, the most important moment
is the time we spend at Mass.

Sometimes people say, but Father, I don’t really get much out of Mass.
Well, maybe the problem isn’t so much what you’re not getting out of the Mass,
as it is what you’re not putting into the Mass.

Some people come to work late every day,
then waste time all day gossiping with friends,
distracting and entertaining themselves on the internet,
maybe occasionally answering the phone when it rings,
until they can manage to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the traffic.
They were at work, but they didn’t do work.
The didn’t put much into it, and they didn’t get much out of it that day,
and they aren’t going to get much out if on pay day, or promotion day.

Sounds like a lot of Catholics at Mass.

On the other hand, some people go to work early
and throw themselves into the job
—having spent the previous evening and the drive in preparing for the day.
I have a feeling that will all the money and power in this room today,
that represents a whole lot of you.

You want to get something out of Mass, first put something into Mass,
both before you get here and while you’re here.
Prepare before you come, and when you get here early
examine your conscience:
think how you’ve kept the commandments this week;
and read the scriptures and studying what the Mass is about.
And during the Mass listen to the prayers, the readings and the homily carefully.
Maybe my homilies are too long and too boring,
but there’s something, even if it’s only one sentence,
that God wants you to hear in them.

And pray: the whole Mass is one long prayer:
listen and talk to God, sing his praises,
and thank him from the bottom of your heart for all he does for you!
And finally, open yourself up to the grace he gives you so generously
in this sacrament of the Eucharist.

Every good thing we have or want is in one form or another a gift from God.
But why do we work so hard to enjoy and even abuse
the lesser gifts God gives
and spend hardly any effort to enjoy
His most profound gifts,
and the ones that last forever.
Remember:
“Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
…where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

18th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 4, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

It seems that every day somebody somewhere has
some bad news to report about the economy.
Perhaps for some of us here economic problems may be very real and direct:
some of us may have lost jobs, or lost a raise, or even lost your home.
Right now I’m hearing from a lot of you about the difficulties the government sequester and furloughs are causing you.

But if you stop and think about it, in the big picture,
there’s never been a time in history when a country has experienced
such a tremendous level of economic prosperity as our country does today.

Many of us here look back on our youths and wonder at the changes.
Those of you who were around in the earlier part of the last century,
must sometimes shake your head in amazement,
especially from memories of the Great Depression,
or the shortages during World War II.
I can remember just over 45 years ago,
when my family was the only one on the block with a color TV
–and the only reason we had that was that we won it in the Church raffle.

We live in a very prosperous society, in fact in a very prosperous region
even our neighborhood is prosperous.
Unfortunately that also means that we live in a society, region and neighborhood
where “success” is often measured by how much money you have or make,
or how many things you have.
And where the well-being of individuals and the country as a whole
is often expressed primarily–sometimes almost exclusively–
in terms of economic prosperity:
the rise of the stock market, low unemployment,
higher salaries, home ownership.
All these things are good things
–God gives us the world to use and, as Genesis tells us, “have dominion over;”
–all of us have a right to property
and to receive recompense for our labor,
and to provide a margin of financial security
for our selves and our families.

What concerns me is not prosperity or the hard work that produces it.
What worries me is the attitude
that worldly wealth is the primary or almost exclusive measure
of the well-being of a people.
[What worries me is] that what we often consider pursuit of success or security,
is often really nothing more than the thinly veiled sin of greed.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“Take care to guard against all greed”
or as it might be better translated: “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
He goes on to tell us about a man who, by all accounts, has it made.
–who has all the material prosperity he could hope for.
Most of us would call this man clever or at least lucky–but Jesus calls him “you fool.”

All three of today’s readings remind us that nothing in this world can compare
to the wonderful riches of heaven
–riches that we can begin to enjoy even in this world.
And all three remind us
that when we place the pursuit of worldly success at the center of our hearts,
as the goal of our lives,
we soon find ourselves forcing out and ignoring the God
who gives us these things.

The attitude that things are of primary importance is the sin of greed;
and greed inevitably corrupts whatever it touches.
When we start seeing things–objects–as having the central value in our lives,
we wind up putting persons in second place.

The first person we put in second place is God,
and if we can place divine persons in second place
we can very easily place all the human persons in our lives in second place.
Eventually it gets so bad, so corrupt,
that the only way we can even begin to think of valuing persons
–to give them some sort of value in our lives–
is by treating them as things, objects.
So that they become, in effect, things that we can possess,
things valued primarily for what they do for us,
rather than persons to love and honor for who they are.

Jesus says: “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
And in today’s 2nd reading St. Paul puts some flesh on these words when he says:
“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
[sexual](1) immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another.”

When we value things more than persons, including God and neighbor,
we are not avoiding greed in all its forms.
But this attitude is also directly linked to an attitude that
people are only as good to us as the material satisfaction that we personally derive from them,
and that our actions are always justifiable if they bring us satisfaction,
even if they hurt others,
or break down the bonds that bring people together
in personal relationship.

And so you see that greed corrupts our whole lives
–into every way we deal with people.
We start seeing the poor and defenseless as
not people who deserve our love and help
but rather,
either, on the one hand,
as excess useless baggage
or, on the other hand,
as the outlet of our selfish desire to feel good about ourselves
by either seeing ourselves
seeing ourselves as well off in comparison to them,
or seeing ourselves as kind
because we give to these things that need us.

Soon we begin to see the people around us as objects
that can satisfy our personal sexual desires,
rather than appreciating the dignity and meaning of man
being created as male and female together
to be the image of God’s love and life in the world.
Then we begin to see children both as something we have a right to possess
when we want it and how we want it.
And we begin to see even the gift of speech, of words,
that should be used to bring persons together
–we see this gift as something to be manipulated as a tool in using persons
–and so we accept the lying that tears down the relationships
between us and God and in families and in society,
as normal.

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
[sexual] immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another.”

This is what happens when the individuals of society pursue the good of things
versus the good of persons
–the love of God and neighbor;
when material prosperity is used as the standard of measuring the welfare
of individuals and societies
–instead of using heaven and the love of God as the standard.

Today we come together to celebrate a sacrament which is the antitheses of greed:
a sacrament that is all about mutual giving.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means “thanksgiving,”
Christ gives himself to the Father as a sacrifice for us,
and gives himself to us.
And in this sacrament, we give ourselves to Christ,
and in Christ, give ourselves completely to the Father.

We come here to receive much more than we come here to give,
but in this mutual giving and receiving we’re drawn into the life of Christ
–the one who is truly completely without any form of greed.
And we are transformed, as we share in the life of heaven,
as we eat the Bread of angels.
And as we enter the sacred mysteries of heaven present to us in this Mass, our greed
–our focus on things and tendency to treat people as things–
is replaced by a focus on heaven in mutual giving in love between persons.
A Holy Communion with the Trinity of Divine Persons,
and through them, the whole Church, and each and every Christian.

We come together today to: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
But as we leave here today,
as we go out and enjoy our things and return to work tomorrow,
we must not return to being intent on the things of this world.
Keep your hearts set on heaven this week,
and let this sacrament we receive today
remove from your life all forms of selfishness and greed,
transforming it into a life of Holy Communion with God
and with his people.

“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.”
“Avoid greed in all its forms.”

1. The translation read at Mass is very poor. The Greek word used here is porneia, which refers to sexual immorality, usually (in Scripture) specifically incest.

17th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

July 28, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

I’m a huge John Wayne fan.
Now, some folks say that he wasn’t a very good actor
—that he basically played the same character in every movie.
But I tend to think that he just had a unique style,
and applied that to every role he had,
both making the role his own,
and bringing something unique and powerful to the role.

In any case the other night I saw one of his old movies, called “Island in the Sky,”
where he played his typical strong virile type,
but there was also something different.
For most of the film Wayne’s character was afraid,
and he showed it over and over again.
And in response to his fear he repeatedly offered one primary solution:
he prayed.

Sometimes we like to think we’re John Wayne
—we’re strong on our own, we don’t need any help.
But then fear brings us to our knees.
In fact, sometimes God allows some pretty terrible things to happen to us,
specifically to break through our false bravado
so we’ll be afraid and realize there’s not a thing we can do
and that only He is powerful enough to overcome the impossible
—and that we desperately need Him, and need to pray.

It’s a shame we need to go through all this just to learn this most basic truth.

The apostles learned this in a much easier way:
they saw how Jesus depended on prayer, and they wanted to imitate him.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” they asked him.

Prayer is one of the most important and necessary parts of life
—not just the Christian life, but of human life.
Because man was made to live in relationship with God and with his fellow man,
beginning with his spouse and family.
And just as you can’t have a meaningful or fruitful relationship
with your husband or wife or son or daughter if you don’t talk with them,
how can you have meaningful or fruitful relationship with God
if you don’t talk with him?
And that’s what prayer is, a conversation with God.

Without that conversation, how do really get know God?
Of course it’s essential we learn about him
through the teachings he’s revealed to His Church
—this is like reading his private letters
to his oldest and dearest friends.
But, again, that’s knowing about him, not knowing HIM as a person,
or as 3 particular unique divine persons, Father, Son and holy Spirit.

How do we know his will for us?
How do we know and realize his presence with us?
If we don’t talk with him?

And how do we recognize his power and our need for him?
How do we recognize, from the depth of our being that he is almighty God,
and we are not?
And how do we recognize his love for us, as specific individuals?
If we don’t turn to him and talk to him in our need and in our thanksgiving?

How will we be open to his grace and power if we don’t first realize
that we are sometimes powerless,
or that the power we have comes from and is increased by him alone.
And how will we be open to admitting that it was he and he alone
who came to our rescue
if we don’t first admit to him in prayer that he and he alone can save us.

Some say, but God knows everything we need, why do we have to tell him?
Because he knows, but we keep forgetting,
so we have to constantly admit to him and to ourselves—in prayer—
that whatever particular little thing we need, we first need him.

Some say, God knows I love and thank him, he doesn’t need me to tell him.
No, but we need to tell him for our sake,
we need to admit it to ourselves and to him.

Prayer is not for God’s sake, but for ours.
We need to pray—he doesn’t need our prayers.

Some say to me, like the apostles said to Jesus: “teach us to pray.”
Interestingly, in the John Wayne movie
at one point Wayne admits he doesn’t know much about praying
and so he leads his friends in the only prayer he knows:
the same prayer Jesus teaches his disciples today: the Our Father.

It is the model prayer, and has probably been prayed by every Christian
since Jesus gave it to us.
But some people are critical of prayers like this:
they say we shouldn’t memorize and repeat other people’s prayers,
we should make them up on our own so that they “come from the heart.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with making up your own prayers,
but is it true that we don’t pray prayers like the Our Father
“from the heart”?
What’s wrong with taking the words that are from the heart of Jesus himself,
or from the heart of Mary, or the Angel Gabriel, or some other saint
and making them our own.
Well thought out, and carefully chosen words,
yet words inspired by love that truly bring reason and passion together:
from brilliant minds leading holy hearts.

Why can’t we take them, think about their beauty,
and how they enlighten our dull minds and pierce our hard hearts,
and them make them our own.

After all, one of the great difficulties that people have in praying
is knowing what to say to God.
One of the beauties of these prayers written by the saints,
which the tradition calls “vocal prayers,”
is that they help us both to begin to pray
and then to learn how to pray.

So while if we just started from scratch we might say,
“okay God, gimme what I want.”
Instead Jesus teaches us the better way, with the Our Father as the model.
He says, begin by recognizing and proclaiming God’s love
and his authority by calling him “our Father.”
Then, don’t order your Father around, saying “gimme”
–that’s not how we talk to God.
Instead ask that His will be done,
and humbly request just the simplest thing, bread.

So it’s so important to learn these “vocal prayers.”
And especially to teach them to our little children,
who have a great capacity to memorize.
Because by memorizing these prayers we not only learn the words,
but we also learn how to formulate our own private spontaneous prayers.

These private prayers we “make up ourselves”
are normally grouped with a way of praying called “mental prayer”
—so we have “vocal prayers”, the prayers composed by others,
and “mental prayers,” prayers that are more spontaneous.

Also included in “mental prayer” is the prayer not simply of talking to God,
but also listening to God.
So sometimes you pray by just sitting and reading a holy book
—like the Bible, a spiritual classic or even a saint’s biography.
And in the words of that book you find and hear the Lord speaking to you,
instructing you, wooing your heart.

All this comes together in a most special way
in what we’re doing right here today: the Mass,
the great prayer of Jesus in communion with His Church,
praying to the Father.

Of course, there are many, many “vocal prayers” in the Mass
—the formal ritual prayers,
from the sign of the cross to the Confiteor and Gloria,
to the Holy, Holy and the Eucharistic prayer,
to the Agnus Dei and, of course, the Our Father.
All prayers either taken directly from the Scriptures,
or composed and prayed over the centuries by the great Catholic saints.
So that the Mass is not simply a set of formal meaningless words,
but a school of prayer with Christ and the angels and saints
as our teachers.

And as we pray these beautiful prayers, if we just engage our minds and hearts
and see how profound the words are, and make them our own,
we can and should say them not just with our lips
but with our hearts and from our hearts.
Especially when we understand where they came from
and so have a deeper sense of their meaning.
So, for example, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts,”
right before the consecration, and we remember,
these are the words the choirs of angels sing in heaven
before the throne of God
—as both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation tell us.
And then we remember that in the consecration the angels descend to earth
and we are with them before the throne of God,
come down and present on the altar.

And then, instructed by these beautiful vocal prayers
of Jesus and the angels and saints,
then in the quiet times of the Mass,
or as we listen quietly to the prayers of the priest,
we join the prayer of the Church
with our own spontaneous and mental prayers,
and talk to and listen to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
and even to the angels and saints here present.
The fullness of the prayer of the Mass.

When it comes to prayer, all of us sometimes think we’re like John Wayne
–rugged individualists who don’t need help from anyone.
But the reality is that all of us need God, and need to pray to him.

As we enter more deeply into the prayer of this Holy Mass,
let us remember we are at the school of prayer,
and let the prayers of Christ and His angels and saints
teach us how to pray, and how to make their prayers our own.
So that every prayer we say—at Mass or in private, whether vocal or mental,
may truly be a prayer from the heart,
talking to God and listening to Him.

“Lord, teach us how to pray.”

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2013

(Second Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom)
June 30, 2013
Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

This coming Thursday America celebrates the day in 1776
when our founders signed their names
to the Declaration of Independence,
giving birth to a new nation conceived in the radical notion that:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness.

A very simple statement, but a very profound ideal.

A few years later, having won their War of Independence,
some of those same men, along with other patriots,
came up with a plan to make that ideal of a nation become a reality.
The Constitution they gave us began with the words stating their purpose:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

Both of these foundational documents set an ambitious plan for the new nation,
that has led us to become perhaps the greatest nation
the earth has ever seen.
And at the heart of this greatness is the one key ideal
enshrined in both documents: Liberty.

Liberty—a precious word, a noble ideal, a principle to fight and die for.
But with all that what does it mean?
Does it mean freedom to do whatever you want?
Freedom from any constraints—legal, social, economic, moral or religious?
But how could a nation survive like that
—if everyone just did whatever they wanted?

But on the other hand, if we put constraints on freedom
how could we really live in liberty?

The answer is that some constraints, which seem at first to take away freedom,
actually enhance freedom.
So, while, for example, self-discipline
seems to be an act against freedom to do as you feel like,
in reality it allows you to control your irrational emotions and appetites
so that you can make a rational choice of what is best for you.
As St. Paul reminds us today:
“do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;
….For the flesh has desires against the Spirit,
…these are opposed to each other,
so that you may not do what you want.”

It’s the same with all social disciplines—rules, laws, norms—
that help control passions and impulses
so that “we the people” can live together in
“a more perfect Union”, with “Justice,” and “domestic Tranquility,”
and in all this “secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

But all of this presupposes that we can all agree basic principles,
that we share a fundamental set of common values
that help define and even limit the laws we enact to discipline ourselves.

And from the very beginning Americans have shared a common set of values.
And they begin with two principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
First: the idea that are some “self-evident truths”
–truths that we just know, that are obvious either at first sight,
or after careful rational consideration.
And second: that one of these self-evident truths is that there is a Creator,
who gives us not only certain unalienable rights,
but also gives us all the self-evident truths
that he writes into all creation: certain natural laws.
As the Declaration calls them, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

So we begin with these 2 fundamental American values,
and from them flow all sorts of other American values
about the way they ought to be.

But nowadays, people blush or even get angry
if you talk about God ordering things.
But there it is, right in beginning—in what we celebrate today.
And without that idea that God determines what is right and wrong
—not kings or lords or congressmen or presidents or judges—
without that there never would have been an America,
and American couldn’t have grown to be the great nation it became.

And the thing is, right from the beginning it wasn’t just a vague notion of
“a supreme being” or “creator” or nameless-God
that America looked to for guidance.
It was the God that almost every American worshiped and believed in.
The God that George Washington spoke of in 1783,
when he wrote the Governors of all the States as he disbanded his Army:
“the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion,
…without an humble imitation of whose example in these things,
we can never hope to be a happy nation.”

He was speaking of Jesus Christ, and the “blessed religion” he founded,
that we call “Christianity.”

At the same time, Washington knew
that many Christians disagreed on certain tenets of the faith:
Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists
—they each had their own unique ideas about certain things.
Nevertheless, he called for us to tolerate those differences,
while at the same time recognizing and building
our United States of America
on the fundamental values we all held in common,
what he called, “the pure spirit of Christianity.”
Let’s be clear—the differences are important,
but the point is, so are the basic Christian values held in common.

Nowadays the different Christian denominations and Churches
have a lot of radical differences in their teachings, especially about morals.
But that’s not the way it was in 1776.
All Christians shared basically the same set of fundamental beliefs.
And those Christian beliefs formed the fundamental Common American values
—so that the founders could say there was a God who
created us all equal with inalienable rights,
and established certain laws of nature,
many of which were self-evident.

Unfortunately, our founding was imperfect
—because while it was founded on solid Christian principles,
it was also founded by men.
As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, No. 51,
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

So, for example,
while professing the basic Christian value “that all men are created equal,”
and holding that, as St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free,”
the founders wound up tolerating a terrible exception to that norm: slavery.
Eventually, good Christians organized the Abolitionist Movement.
But in the end the evil of slavery had to be cut out by force.

So that while this week we celebrate
the 237th anniversary of our nation’s birth on July 4th, 1776,
we also remember an event that happed
“Four score and seven years” later:
the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,
fought from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863,
which was the turning point in the War that would end slavery.
As President Lincoln would admonish his fellow Americans, north and south,
in his Gettysburg Address:
“we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain
—that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom
—and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
A nation under God, given a new birth in freedom,
but this time more closely aligned to the fundamental Christian values
“of the people”—“American values.”

Sadly, today, most Americans have lost any sense
of our foundation on Christian values.
And so the question must be asked:
can a nation founded on Christian values
survive if it casts off those Christian values?

If it replaces those Christian values with Secular Humanist values?
Values based on the false notion of liberty
as a freedom to do whatever you want.
Values that are not rooted in God, but that spring forth from human power.
Values not ordered by self-evident truths that God wrote into our very nature,
but in the dictates from relativistic laws that change from year to year?
Values that allow our passions and appetites to dominate our reason
and blind us to ignore “self-evident truths,”
and so enslave us to our base desires?

As St. Paul reminds us:
“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
How can the nation conceived in liberty survive
if the values that keep liberty from becoming chaos and slavery
are ignored or cast aside?

But this last week the Supreme Court did just that.
Setting aside the common values that made this nation possible,
the court ruled that the federal government has to recognized
state laws that allow so called “gay marriage.”

And the court didn’t just set aside those common American values.
It went out of its way to called those values unconstitutional and, in essence, evil.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy, found that
“the purpose” of federal law that recognized only heterosexual marriage
was, as he put it, “to disparage and to injure” “gay” people.
And that state laws that recognized gay marriage
“enhance the dignity and integrity of the person,”
but that “the principal purpose” of the federal law was
“to impose inequality.”

Some see “gay marriage” as a matter of equal rights
and compare it to the equal rights struggle for blacks
—including the fight against slavery.
But the thing is, America has never denied marriage to “gay people,”
as long as they do what marriage does
—form a union between members of the opposite sex.
Because that’s what Americans have always understood marriage to be,
based on what they understood as a self-evident truth,
and confirmed by their Christian values.
In the same way they believed God created us equal in dignity in rights,
Americans also believed that it was a self-evident truth that God also
clearly created men and women different in their bodies,
so that, by their nature, they could be joined together
in a union ordered toward producing and raising children.

To say that equality demands that two gay people
should be allowed to marry each other,
is like saying that equal rights demands that
fathers should be allowed to marry their daughters,
or mothers marry their sons, or one man to marry 4 women.
That’s just not what marriage is.

It’s absurd to say that what almost all Americans have believed for 2 centuries
is somehow inconsistent with the values enshrined in the Constitution.

But it seems that’s where we are at today.
How can we survive this, especially if our Christian values are replaced by values
that directly contradict those Christian values?
We did that once, with slavery, when we tried to say
that mere human laws could redefine what it means to be a human,
so that black men were somehow less than human than white men.
For four score and seven years it ate at the fiber of our nation
until it almost destroyed it.
We can’t compromise moral truths about the order that God created.
And we cannot maintain a nation that rose above all others
based on the Christian values it embraced,
if we discard those values or embrace their opposites.

When the founders guaranteed the right to Religious Liberty in the Constitution
they intended to protect the rights of all Americans
to worship and live according their own faith,
as long as they did not conflict with the basic shared values of Americans,
what Washington called the “pure spirit of Christianity.”
Not one of our founding fathers, and no American living up until 50 years ago,
would have ever dreamed that one day we’d be invoking
our constitutional right to religious liberty
in order to simply live by the moral code America was founded on.

This week we rightly thank God for the many gifts
he has bestowed upon our nation for these 237 years.
But let us also pray for the protection of our liberty religious liberty.
Not only so we can live as we are called to by Christ,
but also so that we can that we can share our Christian values
with our fellow countrymen.
So that just as those values
once purified our nation from the errors of slavery
they may, by the grace of Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel,
once again lead our nation to recognize the self-evident truths
written in nature by the God who created us all.
So that “this nation, under God…shall have a new birth of freedom.”

“For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”