February 6, 2011

Last week our Gospel reading was taken from the first part of the famous
“Sermon on the Mount”,
as we read the beautiful “Beatitudes” of Jesus.
If you heard me preach last Sunday
you may recall that I explained that the 8 beatitudes
are a wonderfully positive, yet more demanding,
presentation of the requirements of the 10 commandments.
Today.s Gospel literally picks up right where we left off last week
as the Sermon on the Mount continues with the beautifully positive images
that we “are the salt of the earth,” and “the light of the world.”
But again, these beautiful images and promises
reveal a very demanding standard for all Christians.

In today.s 1st reading, we find the prophet Isaiah speaking to the people of Israel
after they.ve come back from their great exile into Babylon
about 500 years before the birth of Christ.
For centuries God had given them tremendous gifts:
he gave them land and prosperity, wealth and great military victories.
But because of those many gifts, they began to have pride in themselves,
and to forget that all these wonders were from God, and for God.
Now, returning from Babylon, they are conquered people
whose dreams of being a powerful nation dominating their enemies
have, instead, been crushed by their enemies
They are like a people living in darkness.

And then Isaiah comes along to tell them that God hasn.t abandoned them:
in fact, God has now prepared them for the glory that he had promised.
But to do that they had to first be cleansed of their haughty pride and arrogance.
In essence, they had to become poor in spirit,
they had to mourn, and be meek,
and be persecuted for the sake of their God,
before they could inherit the kingdom of God.
So now Isaiah comes to them and tells them, now that you are humbled,
you are ready to come closer to God and live with him
by humbly loving him and your neighbor.
Humbly sharing whatever you have with those who are in need:
the hungry, the naked, the oppressed and the homeless.
And if you do that, he says:
“then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”

Elsewhere in this same book, Isaiah prophesies that:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
….For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”
In today.s Gospel we encounter that child all grown up,
that light now shining on a hill in Galilee
–Jesus Christ.
The light has come into the world, and the promises made to Israel are fulfilled.
A light given to his disciples to share if they follow Jesus,
and like him become poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and clean of heart;
if they patiently endure persecution because of him.

They have the light,
but now Jesus reveals that the light isn.t just for the small nation of Israel,
as Isaiah seems to say.
Now we hear that the light promised to Israel
and received by those first Jewish Christians
is to be given “to all”:
“do [not] light [the] lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
….set it on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house.”
By drawing closer to Christ in leading a life of good works and love,
by imitating him, who is meek and humble of heart,
the light of Christ shines through us out onto the world
so that the whole world can see
what it could never see in the darkness
–they will see the glory of God himself.

Now, someone will say, but Father,
Jesus says that we “are the light of the world.”
Yes, but then he immediately goes on to elucidate his meaning
by speaking of the light of a “lamp” on a “lamp stand.”
Scripture is absolutely clear: Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the light of the world.
But the thing is, by our Baptism Christ-our-light has entered in to us,
and so we bear him wherever we go.
And like a the lamp bearing the light of fire, we, in sense,
become a light, but only because of the fire, the light, of Christ within us,
a light we share in because we share in his very life.

We have to always remember that this is all about Christ and his Father:
on our own, we are not the light, Jesus is,
and our good works are only as lasting as their connection to Jesus.

Sometimes we forget this, and we fall into the trap of pride,
just like Israel did before the Babylonian exile.
Even with all good intentions, we can sometimes begin to think
that we are a light all by ourselves.
And we try to live in the light of merely our own human wisdom and reason
–and this is a real light, because reason comes from God
–but it is a very weak light compared to the light of Christ,
like the light of a match compared to the light of the Sun.
St. Paul warns us about this in today.s second reading:
“When I came to you, ….I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.”
He warns us, not to focus on
“persuasive words” or “human wisdom, but on the power of God.”
The power that is the powerful light of Christ.

We can also begin to think that good works in themselves
are the most important thing
–regardless of whether those good works are connected to Christ,
or work to reveal Christ to the world.
But throughout the Gospels, the Evangelists make it abundantly clear
that the main reason Jesus did his miracles of good works
–the main reason he cures the sick and feeds the 5000–
is so that the people–Israel–will recognize the light shining in their midst,
and come to believe in him.
Good works are not enough
if they are stripped from their inherent connection to Jesus Christ.
They are like “salt that loses its taste…
It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out.”
Good works which are not humbly rooted in Christ and in his true love,
will always leave us unsatisfied and will have no lasting good effect in the world.
Because the greatest work, the perfection and purpose of all good works,
is to bring others to Christ, to bring them to have faith in Christ.

On the other hand, we could also begin to think that good works
are not important at all.
Some Protestants believe that we.re saved “by faith alone”
—that good works merely prove we have faith,
or perhaps they.re the fruit of faith,
but aren.t necessary for salvation.
In other words, as long as you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior,
you don.t need to be good or do good to go to heaven.

I.m always amazed by this thinking,
since it depends on taking certain texts of the Bible out of context,
and ignoring most of the rest of the Bible.
I mean, practically the whole Sermon on the Mount is about doing good works
and being good by living according to the commandments.

Unfortunately, this false doctrine is not new—it.s as old as the Old Testament.
That.s exactly the mistake Israel made when they took God.s gifts for granted.
They also had faith in God
—they were positive that God had chosen them as his people.
Even still, nothing kept them from falling into the sin of pride in themselves,
and neglecting actually doing the will of God.
They neglected the good works that their faith demanded
–the good works of the commandments and the beatitudes
and the good works that give life and expression
to loving God, and loving neighbor.

For those who say that faith alone saves,
I just wish they.d take a 2nd look at the Scriptures.
In today.s reading from Isaiah, God says:
“Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,…”

And in the Gospel, as Jesus comes to the end of his “Sermon on the Mount”
he tells his followers
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
shall enter the kingdom of heaven,
but he who does the will of my Father.”

And then there are those crystal clear words of the Epistle of St. James:
“If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
and one of you says to them,
„Go in peace, be warmed and filled,.
without giving them the things needed for the body,
what does it profit?
…faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. ….
Show me your faith apart from your works,
and I by my works will show you my faith.
…Even the demons believe–and shudder.”

Works without faith are meaningless,
but faith without works is useless:
like a body without life or like life without love!
Because it.s only through our works that we can live our faith and our love,
And it.s in seeing our good works,
done in the name of and our love for and faith in Jesus,
that others are attracted to have faith in Jesus.

The Israelites were given many wonderful gifts
but they had to be conquered and made humble
before they could receive the greatest gift:
the light that would drive all darkness and gloom from their midst,
the gift of the Messiah, the Christ.
And that gift was not meant to be just for them,
but to be shared with the whole world.
Today, that light shines on in the Catholic Church
which Jesus built on the foundation of his apostles
–a shining city set on a great mountain for all to see.
We, the members of his Church,
must not only not hide that light under a bushel basket,
we must take that light into all the cities of the earth
and shine the light of Christ into every dark corner we find.
Not shining our own dim light–the light of clever words, or of human reason,
or doing good works just to do good works,
or professing an empty and lifeless faith.
But instead, going into the world, humbly filled with the love of Christ
–filled with his light–
and live the life of love, the life of faith
expressed and lived out in good works
—acts following the commandments, the beatitudes
and charity—
and in doing so bring the whole world to join us
in believing in and doing the will of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
and his heavenly Father.
Remembering always his command that:
“your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

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

38 years ago today/yesterday1 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
1 January 22, 1973

that women have a fundamental right to abort their babies
—the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.
Since then pro-life advocates, including the Catholic Church,
have been waging a peaceful war to mitigate and eventually overturn
that barbaric decision.
The war continues.

Over the last 16 years or so I have preached on the evil of abortion,
and the need to fight that evil at every turn,
including in the public square and in the political arena,
especially in the voting booth.
Some people have objected to these homilies,
some arguing that I am unnecessarily political,
some that I’m often too partisan,
and some that there were, in fact, more important issues to worry about.
I could understand many of those objections:
they are absolutely wrong, but not unreasonable.

But the one objection I have never understood is when people say
that my position on abortion
—or rather, the Church’s doctrine on abortion—
is fundamentally unjust
since it ignores the rights of women to make choices
based on their own good.
The problem is, anyone who argues
that abortion is about protecting women and their rights
is ignoring the fact that in every abortion there are at least two victims:
while it is clear that every abortion
stops the naturally beating heart of a baby,
what many refuse to recognize is that it also
breaks the naturally loving heart of a mommy.

For the last 4 decades doctors of the body
have overwhelmingly defended the medical choice of abortion,
while at the same time doctors of the mind
—psychiatrists and psychologists—
have also defended that choice as often being necessary
for the psychological health of the mother.
But any one who argues
that an abortion can ever be psychologically good for a woman
is ignoring the facts.
Think about it.
You don’t have to teach women to love their children without reserve:
what mother do you know that if she had to nurse her baby
through the suffering of some terrible disease
like leukemia or kidney disease
wouldn’t gladly trade places with her baby?
Mom’s are just like that.
How could such an amazing creature as a mom
ever benefit emotionally from doing something
so radically opposed to her nature.

Still, in spite of scientific study after study
that proves this common sense observation,
and in spite of the millions of emotionally crippled women
that come to them,
the mental health establishment refuses to open its eyes to see the truth.

Sometimes when I speak to people about abortion, someone will say:
“what do you want to do, put these women in jail?”
The answer is not only “no” but “are you crazy?”:
the very fact that they do something
so obviously contrary to their own basic nature
leads me to want to assume that something extraordinary intervened
to confuse or impair their judgment.
And that “something” includes the systematic brainwashing they receive
in school, in the media and from health care workers.
And more importantly it includes the incredible pressure brought to bear on them by
doctors and nurses grown callous to their patients,
parents ashamed of their little girl
or boyfriends or husbands unwilling to shoulder responsibility
for their sexual conduct.
If anyone should be punished, it should be these people
who should know better,
and to whom the distraught woman or frightened girl comes to for help.
In the words of the great advocate of women’s rights of the 19th century,
the famous suffragette Susan B. Anthony, speaking on the evil of abortion:
“thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation
which impelled her to the crime!”

And yet it is the woman who does bear the punishment
—whether the laws of society recognize the crime or not.
The fact is that it doesn’t matter how many times
doctors, lawyers, feminists or boyfriends say,
“honey, you didn’t do anything wrong”
–every woman who aborts knows in her heart what she did,
and there is no punishment conceived by man or woman
that could compare to the hell
that they heap upon themselves.

These women know.
Some don’t always admit it, but they know.
I’ve seen the terribly tortured look on the faces
and heard the tormented voices
of too many women who come to me in the confessional.
Especially in the last few years as the group called Project Rachel
has become more and more active in our diocese.
Because Project Rachel, and other groups and individuals like it
recognize the distress of these women, and offer them a helping hand.

It’s interesting that Project Rachel phone counselors
say that although they always offer women a choice between a referral
either to a priest or to a psychologist,
the women overwhelmingly ask for a priest.
I didn’t understood that, until a few years ago
when a woman sat in my office telling me
that for 10 years she had very clearly seen the connection
between her severe emotional problems and the abortion she had had
just a few weeks before her problems began.
And yet counselor after counselor for 10 years
kept telling her that she hadn’t done anything wrong
—abortion was okay:
the only problem she had was her unreasonable guilt,
and so they tried to cure her guilt.
She was fed up with her problems, and she was fed up with their lies.
She came to a priest—even though she was not even Catholic
—because she knew that a priest would believe her when she said
she had been wrong in aborting her baby,
and that a priest might help her to deal with
the terrible thing she had done.

The truth hurts, but lies hurt more
—especially when you’re dealing with the life and death of babies,
and the love and guilt of mothers.
It’s time to end the lies
—time to end the silencing of these women who cry out in pain,
and instead to silence those who tell them to be silent.

How do we do this?
Of course, must fundamentally we change people’s attitude toward abortion…
society must admit that killing unborn babies,
and encouraging mothers to do so, is simply grossly wrong.
We need to stop confusing women in crisis pregnancies
and denying proper treatment to those who bear long standing guilt.
To do this we must have good men and women in public office
who will deal with abortion with honesty, and true compassion.

That’s what we can do publicly and for long term results.
But more immediately, we can help that poor devastated woman in our midst
–perhaps our sister, mother, wife or friend–
who needs more than anything else
to admit her guilt, receive forgiveness
and begin to heal the open emotional and spiritual wounds
of a bleeding womb.

In the end, there is only one person who has the power to make this happen.
In today’s Gospel St Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah:
“the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen…” And then St. Matthew goes on to say,
“Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And finally he says:
“He went around all of Galilee…proclaiming he gospel
…and curing every disease and illness among the people.

Jesus alone can shine the light on these women
living in the dark shadow cast by our society’s culture of death,
made all too personal in the death of their own babies.
And he begins by telling them the truth about their sin
—calling them, in love, to “repent.”
But most wonderfully he completes his work
by healing the wounds abortion has left them with. Jesus is the only answer for these women.

But today’s gospel also tells us that Jesus called Peter,
and the first apostles, saying:
“Come after me,” or “Come, follow me,”
“and I will make you fishers of men.”
And he says to you and I today in a particular way,
in a voice echoing over 2000 years:
“Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of”
these women who are in pain.
We must follow him, proclaiming his gospel
of repentance, forgiveness and healing
especially to the living victims of abortion.
And we must tell these women that Jesus longs to help them,
if only they will also respond to his invitation: “Come follow me.”

If they do come to him, He will fulfill, in them,
the prophesy of Isaiah we read in today’s first reading:
“Anguish has taken wing,
…for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. You have brought them abundant joy… For the yoke that burdened them,… you have smashed.” Jesus Christ will smash the yolk of guilt and sin of the abortive mother
with his forgiveness.
He will drive out her anguish and gloom and replace it with his joy.
He will lead her out of the darkness of death
and lead her into the glorious light of His life.
If only she will come and follow him.

Jesus calls you and I to remain silent no longer.
To our fellow Americans who believe the lies and manipulations of
pro-abortion advocates, radical feminists and politicians
we must proclaim the Gospel of Life,
and shine the light of Christ on the dark shadows cast by their deceit.
To those young girls and older women who face crisis pregnancies
we must love them enough to tell them the truth
that even if husbands, or boyfriends or parents abandon them,
Christ will never abandon them.
And to those women who suffer the pains of guilt of past abortions
we must remind them that Christ longs to
dry their tears, take away their grief, and forgive their sin.
If only they will ignore those who try to silence their cries of pain,
and instead listen to voice of Jesus who calls out to them, “Come follow me.”

Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph 2010

December 26, 2010
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Yesterday, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The day when, in the fullness of time, the eternal God became one of us.
But his birth didn’t occur in a vacuum.
He didn’t just arrive on a cloud fully grown and ready to preach his gospel:
no, he chose to be born into a human family,
and so today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family
of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

On Christmas, at Masses during the day, we read
the beginning of the Gospel of St. John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. John chose these words very carefully.
Notice how they parallel the text of
the first words of the first chapter of the first book of the bible, Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is no accident:
St. John’s telling us that Jesus is Incarnate eternal word of God
who was there in the beginning and is the source of all creation.
So Genesis tells us that on each of the six days of creation,
God creates by simple speaking the word: for example:
“God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
As St. John tells us:
“The word was God … in the beginning…
all things came to be through him”.

What St. John’s tell us is that Jesus, the Word,
is the person of the Trinity who communicates God to us.
Jesus, the Word of God is the revelation of God,
his explanation of himself and his love for us.
And because creation comes about by the word of command of God,
everything created by God through the Word tells us about him.

We see this most especially on the sixth day of creation:
“…God created man in his own image,….male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply.””
God chose, as the culmination of his revelation in creation
to reveal himself in the family:
in the union of male and female created in his own image
and blessed with the gift to “be fruitful and multiply”
–to have children.

This self-revelation of God is made through every family throughout history.
But in the fullness of time it’s made most perfectly and sublimely
through one family in particular.
St. John tells us:
“the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
— he made his dwelling among us in the family of Joseph and Mary:
the Holy Family.

So we can see that right from the beginning of Creation, and right from the beginning of our salvation—our re-creation in Christ—
the family is God’s chosen instrument
to reveal himself to the world.
And so it’s not a great surprise that as we look around us and see a world
evermore plagued by crises of violence, hate, and general moral chaos,
we also find the family to be in the middle of a crisis of its own.
But in a sense, it’s not really a crisis of its own,
since it’s intimately related to the other crises in the world:
because to the extent God is not revealed in and by the family,
God will not be revealed to the world.
To the extent the family isn’t allowed
to be all that it was created to be in Jesus Christ,
neither can the world become all that it was created to be.

Before we can worry about solving world crises, we need to start at home,
with our families.
And as we start at home we need to start, “in the beginning”,
and come to understand what it is that God has created us to be.
We need to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a family in Christ?

Today’s readings give us many practical and simple, yet profound,
instructions on family life.
For example, the first reading reminds us of the practical and spiritual need
for children to honor their parents,
both when they’re young and when they’re old.
And today’s second reading continues and broadens this instruction
to apply to all the members of the family.
There is of course a line in this reading from Colossians
that tends to upset some wives somewhat:
“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.”

But to understand this phrase
we have to look at the whole context of the passage.
Before he tells wives to be subordinate to husbands
he first lays out the general rule that everyone must, as he says:
“Put on,…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another…
And over all these put on love…
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

What Paul does here in this passage from Colossians,
is the same thing he does in an almost identical passage
in his letter to the Ephesians.
In Ephesians, before he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands,
he sets the context; he says,
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Paul’s teaching isn’t that wives are slaves,
but that the Christian life is one of love
expressed in humility and service.
All Christians must be subordinate, or humble servants, to one another,
and it’s only in true Christian humility that each member of the family
can be everything God created them to be
–whether they’re husbands and wives, or parents and children.

It may be hard for us to imagine a perfect family
–one that’s always truly mutually humble and submissive.
But there is one family that we can look to for example:
the Holy Family.
This is the family that lives mutual submission most perfectly,
and that is the most sublimely happy and holy family ever
–the family who became exactly what God had created it to be.
The Gospels tell us that the Husband and Father Joseph
submits to his wife and son
by first taking them into his home when he finds Mary pregnant,
and then also as he sacrifices his work and life in Nazareth
to protect Mary and Jesus as he takes them to Egypt
to escape the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod.
The Mother Mary submits to her son, Jesus,
by freely agreeing first of all to accept him into her womb,
and also to take on the awesome responsibility
of raising and educating the Savior of the world.
The Wife Mary submits to Husband Joseph by following him into Egypt,
and caring for him as her husband.
And even the son Jesus–the sovereign Lord and Creator of all the Universe
–even he submits himself to his parents, as we read in Luke’s Gospel:
“He went down with them….to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them.”

This is the humility and love that all families are created for and called to,
and it is the humility and love
that the whole world is created for and called to.
And it’s in this humility and love within the family
that God humbled himself to enter into, in order to save the whole world.

Imagine how our family lives would be different if the members of our families would simply learn to humbly submit to one another.
Imagine, if fathers and mothers saw themselves as servants of their children.
Not giving up your role as parents, Moms and Dads,
but seeing your fatherhood and motherhood
as being geared not for your pleasure or happiness,
but for your children’s well-being.
And that includes the times you’d rather just let your kids do whatever they want,
because then they’d like you a lot more, or think you’re “cool” parent,
or even when you’re just worn out
and don’t want to fight them anymore.
But you know that what they really need is for you to serve them
by being the GROWN-UP and saying no, or disciplining them,
by being willing to fight for what’s good for them.
Again, not because it makes you feel good, but because it’s what they need.
On the other hand, it means not punishing them or denying them something
simply because you’re being stubborn, or selfish,
or trying to make them into little “mini-Me’s” in your own image.
As St. Paul tells fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children.”
But kids, I’m not letting you off the hook in all this.
The commandment is clear: “honor you mother and father.”
And St. Paul is clear: “Children, obey your parents in everything.”
That doesn’t mean that if they’re really hurting you,
or neglecting you that you have to simply take it;
as I noted before St. Paul commands fathers:
“do not provoke your children!”
But it does mean that in all things, whether you’re a 3 year old kid,
or a 70 year old kid,
you have to first ask,
how am I serving my parents in this?

And how wonderful marriages would be,
if husbands and wives lived to serve each other.
If wives truly respected their husbands, and began everyday thinking
“how can I serve him today.”
And if husbands truly laid down their lives,
as Christ who was KING of the universe,
and yet came not to be served, but to SERVE,
and laid down his life for his bride, the Church.
Imagine, in particular,
all the little stupid things that you argue over or neglect to do
that would simply vanish, if you would both just keep the attitude of that
“I am here to serve you, because I love you.”

Now, we know that not all families are blessed
with the many graces of the Holy Family
–many families may not even have a mother or father, or a child.
Sometimes this is by God’s design,
and sometimes this is because of somebody’s sin:
because of the lack of love and humility
on the part of individual family members,
either in the present generation, or in generation’s past.
But this is no reason to give up on, or loose sight of the meaning of family,
and strive to live it as completely as we can.
Nor is it a reason to try think that the “traditional” family
is outdated, or impractical,
or that it can be changed by decree of merely human authority
–that, for example a family can, on its own,
opt out of having a father or children,
or can include 2 men or 2 women who live together
as some in the world are trying to make us believe.

Because as long as all things are created in and for Christ,
the family must be what he created it to be.
Even the Holy Family suffered adversity:
the child was born in the poverty of a barn,
Joseph died years before Jesus began his public ministry,
and Mary was left completely alone
when members of her own people killed her son.
But in and through their adversity, they continued to love and honor each other,
and in doing so become an instruction for us all,
an instrument of the revelation of God’s love to the world.

Its not easy to be a family nowadays.
But it wouldn’t have been easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph either,
had they not submitted their lives to one another in love.
If our families submit to one another, and center their lives on Christ
we’ll find the happiness and peace of God himself
revealed and made flesh
in the very human life of our own families.

With the Holy Family as a shining example,
and through their mediation of grace and intercession,
may we always allow Jesus Christ—the Word of God incarnate–
to reveal his love to the whole world
through his love incarnate in our families.

Christmas 2010

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

“Merry Christmas.”
Wonderful words, aren.t they?
Yesterday someone left me a message on my voice mail,
ending with a cheery “Happy Holidays.”
It was kind of them, and I appreciated it,
but I couldn.t help but thinking, “nooo…„Merry Christmas..”
Because words have meaning.
God bless „em, but “Happy Holiday” could refer to one of several “holidays”
I really don.t celebrate—including “winter solstice.”
But you say “Merry Christmas” and it means something wonderful:
the joyful birth of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Words have meaning.
Last night at midnight Mass…
the Church read aloud
some of the most beautiful and meaningful words
ever spoken in all of history,
the words of an angel to certain shepherds 2000 years ago,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you
good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you
who is Christ [the] Lord.”

These words meant that the promises made long ago had been fulfilled:
the words spoken to David, Moses and Abraham,
words promising that God would send a messiah
to save his people, the Jews.
These words were a promise, and God kept his word, his promise.

But these angelic words also had a meaning
that went well beyond the Jewish people
—a meaning “for all the people,” as the angel said.
Because is it was the fulfillment of a promise
not simply to the Jewish patriarchs,
but a promise to the human patriarch and matriarch:
Adam and Eve.
Although the words were spoken as a curse
to the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve,
their effect was to be the hope of and a promise to “all the people”:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
[he said]
and between your seed and her seed;
….you shall bruise his heel,
[but] he shall crush your head.”

In these words, from almost the very beginning, God gave his word
that he would redeem man from sin,
and from the curse of death, suffering and fear,
and reconcile all mankind to his friendship.
This is God.s word, the word of God.

But the meaning of words “word of God” is even more rich than this.
If we go back even further, we remember the very first verses of the bible,
in the book of Genesis, that tells us that
“In the beginning…” God created everything out of nothing
by simply saying words.
“God said: “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
“God said “Let us create man in our own image”
—and man was created.

In the language of Holy Scripture,
God.s words are not empty sayings or mere letters on paper.
When Scripture says that God “speaks”, or when it refers to “God.s word,”
it really means God is revealing something about himself.
In many ways, “God.s word” is himself,
communicating himself to creation and to man.
So when God says something, we can believe it
because when God gives his word, he has given himself.

And so, as we read today,
St. John tells us, as he begins his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God….
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.”
And in describing the very same message
that the angel spoke to the shepherds, that
“today ….a savior has been born for you
who is Christ [the] Lord,”
St. John tells us:
“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father.s only Son,
full of grace and truth.”

Here we see how Scripture uses that idea of God.s self-revealing
—his word—
to describe how the very Son of the Father,
comes forth from the heart of Father,
to reveal and give himself and the Father to world.

And the core of this divine self-revelation can be summarized,
again, in a word.
And that word is “love.”
As St. John tells us elsewhere: “God is love.”
So that when the word became flesh,
Love, pure, perfect, infinite, omnipotent, divine love,
became a human being
—and Mary and Joseph named him “Jesus.”

And we see this divine love, revealed,
not just in the words from his human mouth,
but in everything he did in his human life
We see it in his early life as obeyed his human parents in Nazareth,
and as he sweated a living for his mother in the carpenter.s shop,
And then in his public life, as he fasted in the desert,
walked up and down the length of Israel,
and healed the sick, raised the dead,
corrected sinners, cleansed the temple,
and, finally, endured scourging, spittle, nails
and the cross..
And we see it magnificently
in his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.

But we see this love of God made flesh revealed most clearly,
most simply and purely,
in the event we celebrate today.
We see it in the face of the new born babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.
We see in him the love of God who loves us so much
he would strip himself of his heavenly glory
and humble himself to be born in a stable.
Who loves us so much
he would come to us not at the head of a huge army, clad in armor, but as a completely vulnerable baby.

God has loved us from the very beginning,
and he has revealed this love in face of the baby Jesus.
God gave us his word,
his word has meaning and he has kept his word,
as his word has become flesh.

Of course, all this happened in history 2000 years ago.,
But before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave us his word again,
this time saying:
“behold, I will be with you always, even until the end of time.”
And, again, he has kept his word, and his word has meaning:
the word made flesh still dwells among us.
He dwells among us in his Church—His body in the world.
He dwells among us in his teachings proclaimed by the Church
in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.
He dwells among us in his sacraments,
the signs of his grace and truth
that speak to us in the flesh and blood reality of our bodies,
especially the Eucharist,
where the word literally becomes flesh for us,
and he physically comes to dwell inside us.

God has kept his word.
But the question now is this: do we keep ours?
And like His words, do our words have meaning?

Today is a day full of words—beautiful words.
You say “Merry Christmas” to family and to strangers,
and “thank you” for the gifts you receive.
Better still, you say “I.m sorry” to family and friends you.ve been angry with;
you promise to be a better husband or wife,
father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister….
you talk about how nothing.s more important than family.
You say “I love you” in so many ways.

But tomorrow, or next week, will those words be worth anything?
If not, do they really mean anything today?

A few minutes ago, we all said together:
“I confess to almighty God,…
that I have sinned through my own fault.”
And in a few moments all of us will stand and say the words of the Creed,
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
…[he] was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
And then we continue:
“We believe ….in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…”

And after almost every prayer we pray today, you say “amen.”

The word “amen” has a meaning:
it means “yes, you.re right, I believe that.”

But all words have meaning.
Do we mean what we say today?
Are we sorry for our sins?
Do we believe in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God,
and that he became man and was born a tiny baby
2000 years ago in Bethlehem?
Do we believe in all he revealed to us,
and continues to teach us through his Church?

This is what we say…these are our words.
If we mean all this, the question is, do we keep our word?
Do you live the life Christ revealed to us
—can anyone tell from the way you live that you believe
that Jesus Christ was born
and still dwells here on earth?

Today we hear the voices of the angels echoing over 2000 years:
Listen to the words of the angel proclaiming the news of great joy,
and sing “Glory to God” with the heavenly hosts.
And in the tiny baby born in Bethlehem,
see, believe and rejoice that God means every promise he makes,
and that he always keeps his word,
and gives you his grace to do the same.

Today I pray that you may have
a truly blessed, holy—and “merry”—Christmas.
But more than that,
I pray that the Word made flesh may always dwell with you,
and that you may always dwell with him,
and recognize his love as clearly as you recognize it today,
in the face of the
“infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2010

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

Last Wednesday, Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

Of course, he is not the first public official to attempt to make so-called “gay-marriage” legal. But he is the first federal judge to find a US constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry each other. And while his decision will be appealed, probably eventually to the Supreme Court, it nevertheless signals the most important attack on marriage, family and American society in the history of our nation.

His ruling largely rests on one key phrase that he uses over and over and over again in his opinion: “rational basis.” And he concludes that that reserving the right to marry to heterosexual couples only has no “rational basis”—no basis in reason.

Is it really irrational and without reason to say only male-female couples can marry? Of course not.

Think about it. The judge explained his opinion in light of the 14th amendment to the Constitution, and it.s “equal protection clause,” but the basic principle underlying his ruling was first laid out in the Declaration of Independence. That is the principle that “all men are created equal”

But ask yourself: what “rational basis” exists to make that claim? In reality, aren.t all men actually quite different, and aren.t there many ways that you can objectively or rationally measure those differences to rationally argue that, clearly, not all men begin life, live life or end life, equal to one another. Not all men are equal physically to LeBron James or Lindsey Vonn. Not all men are equal in intelligence to Albert Einstein. And not all can even compare to the talent of Michelangelo.

Who is really equal to anyone else? Is there a rational basis to say “all men are create equal”?

The only way this can make sense is if we look way beyond things like performance or intellect, etc, and see that there is something innate in just being human, if we discern a truth of the very nature of man. Of course this requires a moral judgment, and a reliance on what the founding fathers called “the laws of
nature and of nature’s God.” Or what the tradition has called the “natural moral law.”

So the rational argument supporting “all men are created equal” is simply based on the natural moral law. Yet Judge Walker.s opinion explicitly rejects moral judgments as the basis for law. He rejects natural moral law arguments in defense of male-female marriage, even as he says he is upholding the equality provisions of constitution, which themselves are based on the natural moral law. Who has no rational basis for his position now?

Is it rational to reserve marriage to male-female couples? Well, for as far back in human history as we can go almost everybody and every society thought it was.

Why did all those people think male-female marriage made sense? Because of what they observed in the natural law.

You see, people like Walker see marriage as something the state has constructed, or invented, by the laws that they.ve passed. But that.s not the way people have historically understood marriage.

Think about it. The very first society in history is the marriage one man and one woman. Go back as far as you can: marriage grew up and existed well before there were any written laws, or even tribal customs —as long as there have been men and women they have come together to love each other and to have children, and so formed marriages and families. And as children were born from the married couple these families learned to live together in a stable, loving environment. And from that core understanding, developed in that most basic society called the family, they went on to relate to other families and so created other larger societies: tribes, and then cities, and then nations. And those societies formed governments and states. So in reality, marriage-centered family invented the state and government, not vice versa.

In fact, society.s laws of marriage sprung up not so much to define it or make marriage into something, but to protect it as it was naturally understood and experienced by people. The state never has had the authority to change the definition of marriage, only the responsibility to protect it.

Have there ever been variables from society to society in defining marriage? Yes, of course. The most common might be polygamy—a man having multiple wives. Or maybe the various societies. rules about divorce. But even in these cases, marriage was still always male and female. Oh sure, some might point to some small group or tribe in some remote area or in some century long ago and say, “see they had same sex marriage.” So, the very rare exception overrides the rest
of humanity.s common understanding of marriage? Again, who.s being irrational now?

There are just certain fundamental principles that our society is founded on, based on the way things naturally are. One of those is equality—that we are created equal. But long before that equality was clearly and fully understood by everyone, everyone understood the natural law of the family rooted in the marriage of male and female.

Should the government find that it is rational to reserve marriage to male-female unions? Yes, of course it should. But the thing is, it.s none of the government’s business if it is or not! No more that it is the government.s business to determine if it.s reasonable to say “all men created equal.”

Some today, even some Catholics, say: “what.s the big deal? live and let live—it doesn.t effect us.”

Oh, but it does. First of all, think of the effect it has on legitimizing homosexuality, and the effect that will have on society. Some say, “if you don.t approve, don.t do it.” But the thing is, you can.t separate law from society: laws effect all of us. So, while you might teach your children at home the moral truth about marriage, family and sexuality, the government will force your children to learn the exact opposite of that in public school: your children will be officially considered bigots and irrational, and so become targets of all sorts of attacks from both students and teachers alike; they will not only be coerced to accept other people.s strange morality, but they will be told that they are not normal if they don.t also try those strange things themselves.

But beyond that, if it becomes established law that it is irrational and unconstitutional to deny marriage to same sex couples, how can the courts stop there? If this is true, isn.t it irrational and unconstitutional to say that only 2 people can get married together: why not 3 or 4 or 10? And if you can.t deny same-sex couples, what about same-family couples –incest?

You think I.m exaggerating. Think about this: right now over 1 billion people around the world belong to a culture and religion that thinks polygamy is perfectly acceptable–Islam. I would think that a whole bunch of them might think that America.s fixation on monogamous marriage is….irrational. What rational argument can Judge Walker and his like find to reject their arguments in court?
So polygamy.s in, and incest is in. And so is every other ungodly inhuman combination any malcontent can imagine.

But that.s just the beginning. For example, what rational argument would a judge like Walker find to say that the traditional understanding of parental rights is rational? Americans overwhelmingly believe, and the law has historically held, that the relationship between parents and their children is, by it.s very nature—by the natural law— unique. So that parents are almost always the primary and even sole decision makers for the their children. This idea is as old as the principle of male-female marriage, and rooted in that principle: like marriage, the parent-child relationship pre-dates human laws and is the source of human society.

But really, does it make sense: isn.t it irrational? Think of all the bad parents out there. The parents who can.t feed their own children. Parents who aren.t well educated, or educated in the right schools: are they really qualified to know what their children need to learn? Think of all the parents who teach their children “incorrect” values, like parents who teach “bigotry and “irrational hatred” by telling that same-sex marriage is wrong, and homosexual acts are sinful!

What rational basis is there to arbitrarily give parents control of their children.s lives just because they gave birth to them?

So let.s redefine the meaning of “parent.” And “family.” Maybe a social worker or teacher or doctor who thinks a real parent is doing a bad job should be able to go to a judge and get themselves appointed “legal parent.” Or maybe we should let the state appoint a professionally trained expert to make decisions for each child, and leave the parents out of it, except to maybe to play with the child.

Think that.s far fetched? Its. already started—by government officials and bureaucrats that think exactly like Judge Walker does. Think about obvious things like: “surrogate mothers,” “egg donors, “sperm donors.” Think about the lack of control you have over what your children learn in school —or even what school you can send them to! Remember the Virginia woman who took her own biological daughter and left her lesbian partner, but the judge gave custody of the daughter to the ex-partner? The real mother is still a fugitive from the law because she won.t hand-over her daughter to the government, and her ex-lover.

Some say, we can.t impose our Christian morals on other people. First of all, who’s imposing whose morals on whom? For millennia, everyone knows what marriage is, and then suddenly a very small group, representing less than 2% of the population, comes along and says, “no, let.s change it…. we don.t care if everybody thinks our way is wrong, we think it.s good, and you have to agree with us.” Who.s imposing whose morality?

In any case, this is not the imposition of Christian morals, but simply a commitment to moral truth found in the natural law. True, Scripture does clearly define marriage as between male and female only, and absolutely condemns homosexual acts. But this only helps us to understand more clearly and profoundly what we already observe to be in nature, and to correct ourselves when we ignore the truth discernable in nature. For example, while the natural law led our founding fathers to discern the truth that “all men are created equal”, many of them failed to see the necessary contradiction between that equality and existence of slavery. But in the end it was Christian morality, embodied first in the Christian Abolitionist Movement and later in Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, that led Americans to see clearly the truth of the natural law —that blacks were also men created equal to whites.

And it is in this same natural moral law that all Americans —Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or atheists— can clearly see the truth that marriage is only possible between a male and a female.

Despite this terrible ruling from Judge Walker, and all the other irrational ideas of folks who think like he does, I still think we live in the greatest country on earth. The good Lord has blessed us in so many ways. And the most important blessing is freedom —freedom that is rooted in the equality of men.

The problem, though, is that we.ve lost sight of what it means to be free. True freedom, the freedom this nation was founded on and that has made this nation great, is NOT the freedom to do whatever we want, as many believe today, but the freedom to do and be the best we can. And it means not being bound to what tyrants decree is best for us —what they think is good or bad— whether those elite tyrants are dressed in a royal crown or in judicial robes.

In today.s gospel, Jesus reminds us: “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Is our treasure in doing whatever we want, or doing good and being the best we can?

Unfortunately too many Americans take the former as their treasure. Like the servant in today.s Gospel parable, who “says to himself, „My master is delayed in coming,. and begins to beat the …servants, to eat and drink and get drunk,” too many Americans abuse the gifts given to us, and get drunk on the gift of freedom. And in their drunkenness they do not see clearly the truth of the natural law.

But it cannot be that way with us. As both Catholics and as Americans we are indeed the most blessed people in the world: we have been given not only the
truth of the natural law embraced by our nation.s founders, but also the truth of Christ.s revelation and all the power of his the grace.

And as the Lord reminds us today: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much.”

Much will be required from us, who have been given so much. So, as Christ exhorts us today: “Do not be afraid any longer,” but rather, “Gird your loins and light your lamps.” Get ready to do battle for our families, our children and our country. A battle fought not with swords, knives, guns, bombs or tanks, but with grace, charity, truth, freedom, and yes, Judge Walker and Company, with rational argument. The rational argument embraced by our founding fathers, and by clear thinking human beings since the creation of man: the reason so simply but so sublimely explained in “the law of nature and nature.s God.”