Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 24, 2012

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
It’s a very unusual feast.
Usually when a saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday
we basically skip over it to celebrate the regular Sunday Mass
—the Lord’s Day.
Also, there are only 3 nativities—or birthdays—we celebrate:
Christmas, Mary’s Birthday, and this one.
Very unusual.
But we do this because St. John is a truly unique figure in salvation history.
He is the last of the Old Testament prophets
and the first of the New Testament
—a sign of the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in Christ and His Church.

And he’s also the first public disciple of Christ,
and so a model of Christian discipleship,
reminding us that every Christian is called
to proclaim Christ and his Gospel
to the world we live in,
even, if it means martyrdom,
as it did with St. John.

Given that, it seems extremely providential that this year
his feast falls on the first Sunday of the Fortnight for Freedom
—the 14 days from June 21 to July 4th,
that the American Bishops have asked us to set aside
as a period of concerted prayer and penance
for the defense of the Religious Liberty.
Of course this is in response to the Obama Administration’s regulations
requiring all employers, including Catholics,
to provide their employees with insurance covering
contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing-drugs,
even though this runs absolutely contrary
to 2000 years of Catholic moral teaching.
In short, they’re trying to force us to commit a mortal sin.

This is almost unprecedented in the history of our nation,
which was founded on the principle that:
“that all men are …endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
and who’s Constitution goes on to specify
the most important of these rights,
in its Bill of Rights, in order to guarantee them.

And the very first right it specifically guaranties is Religious liberty.
The very first words of the very first amendment say:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

For 221 years the definition of “the free exercise of religion”
have been given a very broad definition,
and whenever anyone tried to narrow that definition
either the congress, the courts or the president
eventually stepped in to slap it down.
But never has a president tried to so widely and overtly
try to narrow the definition to such an extreme extent as this.

In effect, the president’s regulations say that the term “religion”
only includes institutions of religion.
—in effect saying, individuals don’t have a freedom of religion,
except to the extent they belong and act inside of
an institution of religion.
So for example, when a Catholic priest speaks about his faith to non-Catholics,
according to the president, he is not practicing his religion.
Or when a group of Catholics form an organization to serve the poor,
regardless of what religion the poor belong to,
that is not practicing our Catholic religion.
Or when a group of Catholic individuals form a college, like Notre Dame,
and open the doors to people of all faiths,
that is not practicing their Catholic faith.
Or when a Catholic business man tries to run his business
consistent with his Catholic values,
like charity, honesty, and solidarity with the poor,
that has nothing to do with practicing his religion.

What?
Did Jesus say, “when I was a hungry Catholic, you gave me to eat”?
Or “When you did it to the least of my Catholic brothers, you did it to me?”

Some point out that the president later gave what he called an “accommodation.”
First of all, shouldn’t we “honor” the most basic human right
—not merely “accommodate” it?
But more importantly, the accommodation provided that
Catholic institutions wouldn’t have to pay for this coverage,
instead insurance companies would cover it for free.
How stupid do we look?
There is no such thing as a free lunch
—everyone knows insurance companies will pass the cost on to the Church.
But even if it were free,
the Church would still be forced to provide this immoral benefit
to its employees.
If the insurance company gave us free poisonous Kool-Aid
would that make it okay for us to hand it to our people and say,
“here, drink the Kool-Aid”?

And besides, most dioceses are self-insured
—they are the insurance company,
and so they will pay for it.
And what about actual Catholic insurance companies
—like the Knights of Columbus: are they supposed to pay for this?
And finally, it still doesn’t apply
to independent organizations
like Catholic universities or Catholic Charities,
or to individual Catholic-owned businesses.

And so the U.S. Bishops rightly responded with bold defiance:
“we cannot, we will not, obey this unjust law.”

But besides redefining religious liberty,
the president and his supporters are attempting
to demoted “religious liberty” to sort of a 2nd class liberty.
To them, even though religious liberty has been specifically listed
as the first right in the Constitution for over 220 years
they believe that it is easily trumped by a very recently invented liberty,
found nowhere in the actual words of the constitution
and not even in the craziest of dreams of the founders,
but only in the imaginary penumbras and emanations of lawyers
over the last 50 years.
It usually goes by various nice sounding names,
like “the right to privacy” or “the right to choose.”
But ultimately, the underlying liberty being pursued
is simply “sexual liberty”:
—the freedom do whatever, however, whenever you want.
In the end, the so-called rights to contracept and abort flow from this,
as do the so-called rights to homosexual activity and “gay marriage.”

2000 years ago huge crowds came out to listen to John the Baptist preach:
the gospels tell us that,
“[all of] Jerusalem and all Judea
and all the region about the Jordan”
went out to hear him.
One of the people who, as scripture says, “liked to listen to him,”
was King Herod.
But eventually St. John crossed the line with Herod
when he publically outted Herod for committing adultery
with his own brother’s wife, Herodias
And so, Herod beheaded St. John.

Even 2000 years ago, sexual liberty trumped religious liberty.

Something similar happened in the 16th century,
with another king and another saint.
The king was Henry VIII of England,
who had also gotten caught up in sexual libertinism
and wanted to divorce his wife in order to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
And the saint was St. Thomas More,
whose feast we celebrated 2 days ago on Friday.
Thomas, a layman, was known throughout Europe
as one of the most brilliant of scholars, and greatest lawyers.
Like John the Baptist, he was also very popular:
people used to love to read his books,
or to come to listen to his arguments in court or Parliament.
And like Herod, King Henry also liked to listen to him
—in fact, he made Thomas one his most trusted counselors,
eventually appointing him Chancellor of England
—second only in power to the King Himself.
But then Thomas got in the way of Henry’s sexual freedom,
opposing his divorce and adultery,
not to mention his oppression of the Church when it refused the divorce.

And now we have the same problem with President Obama.
Oh, I know it’s not his own personal problem,
but it is his adamantly held position
that sexual liberty trumps everything.
Look at his support of gay rights,
including gays in the military, and now so-called gay marriage.
And his ultra-extreme positions on abortion,
including his barbaric support for partial birth abortion.
And now his all-or-nothing approach
to contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

None of this bodes well for Catholicism and Christianity in America.
Defenders of the president have already raised the false alarm
that the bishops are leading a “war on women,”
Combine this with years of accusations that the Church “hates” homosexuals,
and we see a frightening pattern.
If religious liberty is overridden by absolute sexual liberty,
and if Christians can be portrayed as truly at war and hateful,
they’ll have every excuse they need to pursue even further oppression
of Christians, especially faithful Catholics.

And remember, after the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom
it immediately goes on to guarantee
freedom of speech, the press, and to peacefully assemble.
If sexual liberty can override the first liberty of the first amendment,
how long will it take for it to override the rest?
And then how far off is the day when Catholic priests
won’t be able to preach, even inside our own churches,
that adultery, fornication, contraception, abortion and sodomy
are mortal sins?
And how soon before Catholic parents won’t be able to say the same thing
to their own children in their own homes?
How soon before close your churches, arrest your priests,
or take your children from your homes because you’re not fit to be parents.

They’re already trying to do this in other western countries.
Earlier this month the Canadian Province of Ontario
passed a law forcing all Catholic Schools to have clubs
to support openly gay students.
And government officials, including the Premier, are threatening
to penalizing teachers and administrators
if they say anything in these clubs that is negative toward homosexuality.

It can’t happen here, right?
Tell that to Californians who voted back in 2008 to prohibit “gay marriage.”
only to have their vote thrown out by U.S. District Judge,
who wrote in his decision:
“Religious beliefs that gay…relationships are sinful …
harm gays and lesbians.”

If that’s how the courts see things, and if sexual liberty trumps religious liberty,
wouldn’t the next logical step be to do something
to stop Churches from hurting gay people?

We must defend our religious liberty.
And not just the freedom to serve fellow Catholics,
or to worship as we choose
but the freedom to feed the hungry and educate the ignorant,
to proclaim the Gospel,
and to reject sin, coercion, lies and injustice.

We must fight the good fight.
Some of us will fight like St. John the Baptist,
with fiery words and bold public chastisements.
Some will fight like St. Thomas More,
with persuasive reason and logic.
.
But all of us must fight.

Not a war against women, or against sexual libertines,
but against religious oppression, and false notions of liberty.
And not with violence or hate, but with reason and love,
even for our enemies.
The only swords we will wield are the swords of truth and the Word of God,
and our most important weapon will be simple but constant prayer.

Today we celebrate a unique feast of a unique saint, John the Baptist.
As we ponder his unique place in the history of salvation,
let’s also recall something else unique about him:
his birth was announced by an angel to two different people.
The first announcement was to his father Zechariah,
the second was to the Blessed Virgin, Mary.
And to Mary he said,
“in her old age [Elizabeth has] conceived a son;
…her who was called barren.
For nothing is impossible with God.”

As we go forward today in our defense of religious liberty,
inspired by the example of St. John and St. Thomas,
let us keep these words in mind.
Let us trust that the Lord will allow no one to most rob us
of the most basic right he alone has given us:
the freedom to love and follow him in faith,
the precious divine gift of religious liberty.
Let be charitable, let us be courageous, let us be faithful, let us be determined,
knowing that “Nothing is impossible with God.”

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

When I was attending parochial school, many, many years ago, we used to pray regularly for the conversion of Russia and China where Christians were being persecuted and martyred for their faith. Those prayers made us much more aware of the terrible situation of our brothers and sisters in Christ in those far off lands, and prayer helped us to experience the solidarity of the Church in her suffering. Had we not been made to pray for the suffering faithful of those unfortunate nations, we would not have been aware of the reality of religious persecution in our day, because the denial of religious freedom, and the persecution of Christians for their religion, were not big interest items for the news managers in our society then, and still is not a hot issue for them today.

So praying for persecuted Christians, in addition to the help of our prayers for the persecutred themselves, also benefitted us who prayed in two ways: first, it made us aware of the widespread persecution of Christians ignored by our media and government; and, secondly, it made us understand that we were bound to those suffering people by our common humanity and by our faith which obliged us to pray and work for their freedom and their human rights.

The fact that most of our national politicians and our national news managers still do not really care about religious freedom, at least for for Christians, has been made abundantly clear in recent times. You may recall that during the first war with Iraq, Desert Storm, neither the news media nor the government got all that upset when American soldiers, who were defending Saudi Arabia from possible aggression, were denied the right to even use the Bible, or conduct private services in the desert. Saudi Arabia, of course, has no religious freedom for Christians, but it has lots of oil, and so our national interest in their oil made us cooperators with Saudi Arabia in denying our own military the right to worship God as Christians, so long as they remained there to defend the oil we need from that country.

Likewise, there continues to be little coverage from the media and little protest from our government – from our government over the ongoing persecution of Christians in China, especially since that country became a major trading partner with us. The economy is our only national interest there. Oh, the politicians mouth a few condemnations now and then, but it is clear that the US government plans to do nothing of any consequence to promote religious freedom, or political feredom for that matter, because it might endanger our economic interests in China, which also holds a huge amount of our national debt.

As a result of this silence and inaction on the part of the powers that be, most Americans seem unaware that Christians are being persecuted in China, or that Christians have no religious freedom in places like Saudia Arabia, where we are still poised to ask our soldiers to be ready to die for the Saudi’s independence, and their oil. Note that there is no campaign to end religious persecution in China as there was on the part of the media, our government and political activists to end aparteid in South Africa, a campaign that succeeded in gaining political freedom for the disenfranchised majority of native South Africans. Why do we not see the same effort when it comes to religious freedom of billions in China and the Muslim countries? Because religious freedom does not eman much to those who control the media and those who rule in our government.

As a result the Christians in China, and other places, today must feel very abandoned. Like the Apostles in the boat in today’s Gospel, they are riding out a storm that threatens their very lives, and they must feel very alone. Of course, because they are Christians, they know they are not alone in the boat, for the Lord is always with them. But at times he must seem asleep, and unconcerned about their fate. That is the ultimate test of faith for the martyrs of every age; the Lord may seem, like the rest of the world, not to care about what happens to them.

But the point of the Gospel is that the one who is in the boat is never unaware or unconcerned about what happens to his creation, and above all what happens to his disciples. If we really believe that the one who was in that boat is the Eternal Son of God, then we know that nothing escapes his providence, not even when he slept in the boat, or slept as an infant in his Mother’s arms. He was still at work as the Word through whom all things were made, the Wisdom of God through whom all things are rightly governed and directed to their appointed ends. Even when our neighbors do not care, our own brothers and sisters, God is there, and God’s will cannot be frustrated.

But then comes the crunch. It may be that God’s will is that we accept the Cross the world has given us, as it was His will to accept the Cross given to Him by which we are redeemed. Here we can only trust that His will that we accept the Cross is the result of love, and not indifference. The proof of this love, for Christians, is the love that led Jesus to Calvary. He has loved us unto His own death, our suffering, our death cannot mean nothing to Him. Whatever he permits in our lives, it must be seen in terms of that awful love that suffered Calvary on our behalf.

This belief of Christians in the universal providence of God and the love that God has for all his creatures, and especially for those who have become his children in Christ His Son, is the great consolation in trials of very kind. The Martyrs go to their death in peace, because they believe in this special love of the Father for the Son, and for those who have become Sons of God in the Son. It is a love the world cannot understand, because the world knows indifference more than love, and naturally tends to attribute to indifference what it does not understand.

The Christian also at times does not understand, feels abandoned by everyone, as did Christ in the Garden. But the Christian believes and trusts in that same love that Jesus knew from the Father. It was never just his own love of the Father that sustained Him, but above all it was his knowledge of the Father’s love for Himself that enabled Christ to be abandoned by all his disciples and fulfill the destiny of the Cross where he was alone, separated from everything, except this knowledge of the Father’s love. That was all he needed to embrace the Cross, and it’s all any of us needs in order to accept the crosses in our own life. It sustained the martyrs of yesterday, and sustains the martyrs today. It is the life-giving refuge of all who are abandoned by this world.

Today, we are learning that unconcern about religious freedom elsewhere endangers our own religious freedom here. It’s becoming clear today that the same powers that care little about violations of religious freedom abroad, also have little respect for religious freedom here at home. It’s logical; it makes a certain perverted sense. So, the Catholic Church and observant Catholics are now confronted with an attack on our religious freedom by our government. Not only is there little interest or protest by the secular powers, but even many Catholics seem incapable of understanding what is happening to their Church, and many seem to approve of it. What’s the big deal, they say, if Catholic institutions ar forced to provide financial support for birth control and abortion? The question itself reveals how little religious freedom means to them, and how far down the road we are to losing other freedoms as well.

And so today we also pray, but now for our religious freedom, and we pray in a special way during this fortnight of prayer sponsored by our Bishop. Hopefully this prayer will not only gain God’s grace in our struggle, but will make us more aware of the importance of this freedom and how it is being undermined by our government. And secondly it may give us an even greater sense of solidarity with the those everywhere who are being persecuted for their religious faith, and hopefully it will move more and more Christians to get involved in this struggle for our own religious freedom. We might do well to remember the warning of a Protestant German pastor during the Nazi persecutions when so many did not care: they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew; then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out. We need to speak out loud and clear, while we still have the freedom to do so.

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Father’s Day) 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 17, 2012

Life is filled with trials and challenges, especially nowadays
with so many problems that past generations never even imagined.
So it’s a great thing that in the summer we slow down and relax a bit,
and make opportunities to celebrate the good and important things in life.
So we celebrate work on Labor Day,
our great free nation on the 4th of July,
and motherhood on Mother’s Day.
And, of course, today we celebrate fatherhood, with Father’s Day.

Fatherhood truly is good, and absolutely essential to the wellbeing of society.
But there are a whole lot of folks who forget this.
And this forgetfulness is the cause of so many of those problems I mentioned.
You know the statistics:
63% of youth suicides, 90% of all homeless and runaway children,
71% of all high school dropouts all come from fatherless homes.
And I could go on and on.

Fatherhood is important, good fathers are essential
—and bad fathers are a disaster.

Scripture tells us that in the beginning,
God created mankind in his own image and likeness as male and female,
telling them be fruitful and multiply.
In other words, in God’s plan for the happiness of mankind,
the first thing necessary is marriage,
and the second springs from it: parenthood.
Because you see, love is the source of all true happiness.
And marriage and parenthood are the “school of love”
where all human beings are supposed to naturally
learn to love God and each other.
So that when marriage and parenthood are messed up
families and societies are in trouble.

Now, parenthood is a two sided coin:
on the one side motherhood, and on the other fatherhood.
Both of these are equally important in the eyes of God, and for the good of man.
It’s true that in the past society sometimes tended to over emphasize fatherhood
at the expense of motherhood.
So much was determined by who your father was,
and so much authority was placed in the hands of fathers.

But nowadays there’s a certain shift in the other direction, the other extreme.
For example, mothers now have an absolute right to decide
if their unborn children live or die—fathers have no say in the matter at all.
In fact, to a large extent, mothers get to decide
if a child is even going to be conceived or not.

And so today 40% of children are living in fatherless homes
and 41% of children are born outside of marriage.
And father’s drift away from the family, one way or the other.

But that is not how families and societies are meant flourish,
and it promises the destruction of both.

In today’s Gospel Jesus twice compares the Kingdom of God
to the seed of a plant.
Some today say that a fatherhood’s role is simply to plant the seed of his child
and then, more or less, walk away.
But fatherhood is much more than that.
Elsewhere in scripture Jesus uses another plant allusion, saying:
“I am the vine, you are the branches.”
And then he says: “and my Father is the vinedresser.”
A vinedresser doesn’t simply plant the seed and leave;
he remains to care for it, to help it become a full grown fruitful plant.
He waters and feeds it,
protects it from pests, varmints and unfriendly weather,
and he prunes away its dead and dying branches,
that drain it of his vibrancy and health.

Where there is a seed planted, a true father,
created in the image of God the Father, remains and cares for his children.
He feeds and waters them:
–first in a literal sense, he puts food on the table.
But a good father also feeds and waters them by seeing that
his children get a good education,
both formally and informally,
in practical matters, like hygiene and manners,
in secular matters, like math, science and history,
and in spiritual matters—teaching them the truth about God.
For a Catholic father this means taking responsibility
for personally teaching them the truths and practices of the Catholic faith,
as well as supplementing that by,
if possible, sending them to Catholic school,
or at least to CCD from K thru 12,
or homeschooling them with a solid Catholic curriculum.

And above all it means watering them with the water of baptism
and feeding them regularly with the Bread of Life!
What young plant or child would survive, much less flourish, without eating food
—and not just eating once in a while, but every day?
What child would survive, much less flourish, spiritually and morally
without eating the bread of life not just once in a while,
but at least every single week?
What kind of father lets his children starve?

A true father also protects his children.
A vinedresser might build a fence around his plants,
or cover them to protect them from ice,
or hunt down the varmints that try to eat them.
A good father tries to provide a safe home for his family,
and carefully watches who his children’s friends are.
He doesn’t let his children play in a busy street,
or stay out late at night unsupervised.
And he’s careful who he trusts to supervise his children
—never trusting them to anyone who would in any way
corrupt or endanger them.

And above all, he protects his children from moral or spiritual danger of any kind.
He’s not afraid to shield his daughter from boys who won’t respect her virtue.
And his son never does an overnight on Sunday if it means he won’t get to Mass.

God the Father, the vinedresser, also prunes away the dying or dead branches.
Likewise, a good, true father isn’t afraid of pruning the sickly or deadly things
from his children’s lives.
If they develop friendships with people who behave badly or sinfully,
a good father is not afraid to prune that friend out of their lives.
If their children start to develop bad habits,
good fathers aren’t afraid to discipline them.
If they don’t do their homework a true father doesn’t hesitate
to turn off the TV until they do.
If they speak or dress immodestly a good father isn’t afraid to set them straight.

Some fathers are overwhelmed by all this.
They feel like the man in today’s Gospel who plants the seed
and then wakes up one day and it’s all grown up,
and, as Jesus says, “he knows not how.”
Some fathers feel that they “know not how” to raise kids,
so they leave it to someone else,
to their wives, or teachers, or other “experts.”

Now, it’s true that when it comes to kids Moms do some things better than Dads.
But not everything.
For example, a Mom might think a dress looks really pretty on her daughter,
but a good Father knows that the boys won’t be thinking it’s just “pretty.”
A Mom may be able to tell her son, “you be a gentleman on your date,”
but a good Dad can show his son how to respect a woman
by the way he himself treats women, especially his wife.
.
And besides all the male/female differences,
there are a lot of simple things that Dad, for some reason,
does or understands better than Mom:
maybe math, or being patient, whatever.

And it’s true that teachers are better at teaching some things than Dad.
But a true father makes sure they don’t try to stray beyond their field.

Several months ago a Dad told me that he accidentally discovered
that his son’s middle school English literature teacher
had his class do a project examining
the supposed “injustice” that “gay people” are denied the “right to marry.”
What does that have to do with his expertise in English lit?

And believe me, this isn’t an isolated incident—it happens all the time.
Is your daughter’s biology teacher teaching biology, or sexual morals.
Is your son’s history teacher teaching historical facts, or ideological doctrine?

And, this isn’t limited to public schools
—sadly, it can happen with Catholic school teachers too.

A good father realizes that all the corruption he sees in our society
is flourishing because the seeds are planted in the schools.
A few seeds of immorality here, or radical ideology there.
Here a seed of heresy, there a seed of anti-Catholic bigotry.
And then one day you wake up and you wonder why
your children don’t share any of your values and reject your Catholic faith.
Again: “he knows not how.”

A good father doesn’t abandon his responsibilities to “experts.”

Now, some of you women may be saying, but what about me?
Ladies, of course a lot of this applies to mothers as well.
But let it also remind you to help your husbands,
and all the men in your life, to be good fathers
—especially to support them and praise them when they try.

And some of you men may be saying, that’s all fine and good,
but my children are all grown up.
Yes, but you can apply this to being a grandfather,
and to helping your grown son to be a better father.

Or maybe you don’t have any children.
But are you an uncle?
Uncles are sort of fathers once removed.
Or maybe you’re a teacher, or a coach,
or work in some field that affects fathers and their children.
Then it all applies to you to, one way or another.

And then some of you fathers might agree with everything I’m saying,
but you’re in the military and you have no choice
but to be away from your family, sometimes for months on end.
Of course, when you go away you have to rely on others—especially your wives– to do much of the feeding, protecting and pruning.
But even then, as you know better than I, you must still do your best
to provide whatever support you can to your wives.
Stay in contact with your kids as best you can,
and remind them not only that you love them,
but of your expectations of them, especially
that they respect and obey their moms,
and that they love and serve Christ and His Catholic Church.
And pray for them—and make sure they know that you pray.

And remember,
while we look to God the Father as the source of all true fatherhood,
Jesus also tells us:
“he who has seen me has seen the Father.”
By your imitation of Christ, who laid down his life for his friends,
your example of laying down your life for you children and for all of us,
is an incredible act of fatherly love
— a heroic effort to truly protect your children from real evil.

Finally, maybe you’re a member of one of those families
that I spoke about earlier
—living in the 40% percent of fatherless homes.
There are lots of reasons this happens,
and sometimes things are beyond our control.
But I’m sure everyone would agree that if they could change things,
they would make things more like the way I’ve described
than how they are.
And just because things aren’t the way they should be,
it doesn’t mean that God can’t or won’t find some way to help you
to make it through these difficult times.
He will if you let him, because he is the true Father of us all,
and he is always there loving us just the way we need him to.
You do your best, and then trust in God, and He will be there for you.

Our world is filled with problems,
many of which our grandparents would never have dreamed of.
But that’s because our grandparents would have never tolerated
the diminishment of fatherhood that we have.

Today, let us all celebrate fatherhood and praise its goodness and importance,
And as we continue with this Holy Mass,
the mystery which flows from the perfect love
between God the Father and Son,
let us pray that, by the grace of this sacrament,
we may always honor and love our fathers as we should,
and [that] our fathers may always
be the good and true fathers
we so desperately need them to be.

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

I repeat we are full of confidence, and would much rather be away from the body, and at home with the Lord. This being so, we make it our aim to please him whether we are with him or away from him.

In the First letter of St. Peter, the great Apostle gives this command to all generations of Christians: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” But what is this hope of Christians? St. Paul summarized this hope in these beautiful lines from Second Corinthians that we just listened to: to be at home with the Lord. That is Paul’s hope, and the hope of any man or woman who professes to be a Christian, our hope is to be at home with the Lord. What else could it possibly mean to be a Christian, than to have this hope of being one day at home with Christ? So intense is this desire of Paul, and so confident His hope, that he is willing to be separated for a time from the body to be with Christ, for while we are in the body, we are in exile from our true homeland. Paul wishes that the second coming would take place while he is in the body, but if that is not to be, then he accepts the temporary separation from the body, until the resurrection, so much does he desire to be at last at home with the Lord.

The Christian is like the children of Abraham wandering in the desert, with no true homeland in this world, awaiting the homeland God will give them. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read these lines: But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:16) The spiritual offspring of Abraham who have no homeland in this world, are those reborn in Christ. Unlike the natural descendants of Abraham who eventually were given a homeland, the spiritual descendants remain till the end of time dispersed throughout the world, exiles from their true and better homeland which is heaven.

Of course the natural offspring also were to be given the better homeland, and there was a mortal danger involved in their attachment to an earthly homeland. You will recall how Samuel resisted their desire for a king, for the danger was that they would then become like all other nations, and would confuse their temporary home, the earthly promised land, with the homeland that God really had prepared for them. And this indeed turned out to be exactly the case. And so God had to graft a wild branch, the branch of the gentiles, onto the vine of Christ to make them jealous, and in this mysterious way one day He is to bring them to that promised land which is not the fruit of human of human labor, but the gift of God in Christ.

The danger for the spiritual descendants of Abraham is much the same as it was for his natural offspring, that we will confuse this temporary home and homeland for the better, heavenly homeland, where at last we will be at home with Christ. Paul is determined to keep his hope fixed on that heavenly homeland where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. He does so by keeping his heart fixed on Christ, that is, by charity, which makes him love the Lord more than his own body, which includes then his citizenship in this world. Because Paul’s heart and hope are fixed on the heavenly homeland, because he so intensely desires to be at home with Christ, nothing in this world can shake his confidence: we walk by faith… we are full of confidence.

Those who fall into the trap of making this world their true homeland are full of confidence, only so long as nothing goes drastically wrong in their life in this world. We saw this in the decade of the 90″s with the booming economy in that decade and the over-confidence it generated among many people, until, things started going wrong. Then we had the 9/11 catastrophe and a few years later the bursting of the bubble created by the wild decade-long speculation in real estate. With the collapse of the good times, we found out once again how fragile prosperity is in this world.

But this reality check inevitably happens, in less dramatic ways, in each of our lives: the loss of one’s job, a sudden serious health problem, the death of a loved one. Sooner or later, these things make us see the uncertainty of this world in making us happy, and then, hopefully, we realize once again that man was not made for bread alone. Great confidence suddenly is changed into insecurity and fear of the future, fear for one’s life, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of life itself.

It is all this that Paul says does not bother him in the least – he is full of confidence because his hope has never been rooted in this world, but in the greater homeland, and his desire is simple: to be at home with Christ. Paul’s life is not easy; he is persecuted by pagans and his fellow Israelites, and even rejected by some of his own Christian converts who ridicule and slander him. His life is constantly threatened, and yet he is full of confidence. He has but one judge, and thanks be to God is the very one who died for his sins, Christ the Lord. He is full of confidence because he leads his own life by one principle, “ to please him whether we are with him or away from him.” Even Paul’s visions have perhaps ceased, and now he feels his exile from Christ all the more; but he is full of confidence because he has this one aim in his life, to please him before whose tribunal he will render an account of his life and ministry. No other human judgement means anything to Paul.

What a wonderful thing to have this full confidence in Christ, and it should be our confidence as well as Paul’s. It will be our confidence if, first of all, we refuse to locate our true citizenship in this world, and consider ourselves exiles so long as we are away from the Lord. In this vision of faith, even death itself is gain, and not something to be feared, even though it is so contrary to our natural desire to live in the body.

And secondly, this confidence will be ours if we truly live our lives with that same single aim of St. Paul, to do everything so as to please him who has loved us unto death, in the hope that one day we shall be in our true home with Christ. If we so live our lives based on the love of Christ, consciously to please him, we need not even fear the final judgement, for He who has loved us is our judge. So long as we live in this world according to His will, to please him, are confidence is not presumption, but is genuine hope that trusts not in ourselves, but in Him who has died and risen for us.

Corpus Christi 2012

Do this in memory of me.

A good friend lost her husband rather suddenly some years ago to a deadly and rapid form of cancer. I have noticed over all these years how she continues very diligently to preserve his memory. As one might expect, in various places she has photos of their wedding and other special events in their life, the birth of their only child, their vacations, whatever reminds her of the happiness and the gift that their love had been for her over the years.

But I also noticed one day that She continued to wear her engagement and wedding ring, and she does so to this day, 15 years later. She is a religion teacher at one of our Catholic High Schools, and so she knows quite well that she is no longer married and quite free legally and morally to marry again. But I suspect that these must be the most special treasures she has from him, the special signs of his love for her, the reminder of their conjugal union which made them one in the most intimate way possible in this world, and the happiness they shared through their married love and life. She obviously treasures those rings, and knowing her, I think she may well wear those rings till her own death, because they are very physical signs by which, in a certain sense, he continues to accompany her in this world.

The Church also has an enduring treasure from her bridegroom who also died a sudden and awful death, but there is a huge difference in that he did not leave his bride a widow. The Church’s marriage with Jesus is truly forever, in this world and in the next, and it is the only marriage that is absolutely unending There are other reason that this marriage union is quite different and much more wonderful than marriage in the human sense, first of all, because the Church’s bridegroom was not just a man, but God made man. And her bridegroom rose from the dead, and continues to live with her, but not exactly as He did before. He is now in such a condition in his humanity that this world alone can no longer be His home, for our Bridegroom has ascended so high that we cannot be totally with him, or He with us, until we ourselves, the whole Church, has been transformed by the glory and elevated to that higher existence of Heaven, which is his, and our final dwelling place.

Nonetheless, while Jesus has in one very real sense gone beyond this world into eternity, and while we one day hope to follow Him, still, in another very real and wonderful way, he has not left us entirely and He remains with His bride always until the end of time as he promised His Apostles: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world. Amen. (Matt. 28:20) His continuing presence and activity on our behalf here in this world is the true mystery that the Bride continues to live here on earth, the mystery of her tremendous lover’s abiding presence, even while he has truly gone ahead to provide for our eternal life with Him in His Father’s Kingdom. His greatest memento and our greatest treasure is not something he left behind, but is in truth Himself, always with us, always abiding in His Church and in each of us, even while He has gone ahead to provide an eternal home where we shall be united with Him forever.

So Jesus is not with us simply as a memory, but He is present with us, and for us, in an even more wonderful way today than before his Paschal Mystery. The treasure the Church, as Bride, possesses from Him, the memorial that is more than a memorial, is of course the Holy Eucharist, and it is this greatest of His gifts, and this mystery of his powerful presence that we the Church, the Bride of Christ, celebrate today in a most special way on Corpus Christi. The Holy Eucharist is not like the wedding ring worn by a widow, for the Church is truly never a widow, and this gift of the Holy Mass and Holy Communion is not a mere thing that reminds us of someone who once was our great lover, who was once present with us on earth as man, who once shared our life, but no longer does. His remembrance is not a thing at all; but a wonderfully new and permanent presence of Himself who has loved us unto death, and beyond death, and Who continues to be with us, and indeed in us, to the end of time, through this Holy Sacrament of His body and Blood.

The Church’s sacrament of Christ’s Body and blood will inevitably seem strange to outsiders, but it should not be so strange to any believing Catholics who are a deep lovers of Christ as their Lord and as their Spouse. And this unique spiritual Marriage with Christ, like human marriage, is not, cannot ever be a purely spiritual thing, but in a most wonderful way involves the union of the whole persons of the spouses, body and soul, spirit and matter. Indeed, we would have a hard time even conceiving of a true marriage that does not involve the bodily presence and as well as the soul or spirit.

Thus Christ has left us a wonderful memorial of his person and His love-unto-death, and beyond death, but just as it is not a purely spiritual presence nor is it purely a memorial, for his bequest to us is the living union between Himself and us, Christ and His Church, most especially every time we celebrate the holy Mass. For that reason the memorial aspect of the Mass, which recalls the past love of Christ for us on the Cross, where he gave his body and blood for our redemption, and where he sealed the marriage bond with us, is meant only to arouse our love for Him, so we can more powerfully receive His very real presence with us here in the Eucharist. And His presence now in the Eucharist is totally real, for in this holy sacrifice and sacrament he becomes flesh and blood for us, to feed us with his glorified humanity so that he can prepare us body and soul to be with Him one day, body and soul, forever, where he now dwells in his full glory forever.

When we celebrate Mass, offer His sacrifice in union with Him and then receive the Lord the in the Eucharist, the very concrete bodily way in which he gives himself to us reminds us most powerfully of the act of sacrificial love by which he redeemed us, by giving up His body and soul, where he loved us unto death so that we might live with Him, in Him forever. Yes, His body and blood present on our altar by His personal consecration, first reminds us of His Cross, and of the bodily sacrifice by which he saved us from eternal death. We believe that His sacrifice is renewed on our altars in a most wonderful and mysterious way, by Him. He makes his Body and blood present under the signs of his death for us, and He himself feeds us, feeds us with Himself through these very same gifts so that we may live forever in Him, as he lives already lives in us. His body and blood testify to this truth, that ours is a truly real and unending marriage, involving a human love caught up in His divine love, a union of the whole of us with the whole of Him. All this, of course, remains utterly mysterious even for us who believe, mysterious as to how all this is accomplished by Him. And yet, the fact that this is taking place here and now in the holy Mass is as certain to a Catholic believer as is the existence of this physical world that we live in and pass through to eternity.

This greatest of gifts was foretold and prepared for in the manna of the desert that carried the Israelites into the Promised Land, for Christ is our true Manna. And it was prefigured also in the sacrifices of the Old Testament6 that were fulfilled and utterly surpassed by the Sacrifice of Christ on the Christ. Christ Himself is the treasure we possess in our Churches, and in our bodies during the Eucharistic liturgy, just as the Law was carried in the Ark which led Israel into the Promised land. His Body and Blood is our spiritual food, making us forever one with Him who has loved us unto death, and continues to love us and is with us until the end of time in this most holy sacrament, and will love us as his own flesh forever in His Father’s Kingdom. Today, then, most appropriately, the Church cries out everywhere in this world, O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. May that praise be the ring we bear on our persons, the prayer we carry with us, all the days of our life, Amen.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Sunday) 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
June 3, 2012

Today, of course, is Trinity Sunday.
It is wonderful day,
celebrating a magnificent mystery of God and of our Catholic Faith.
But is also a day dreaded by a lot of priests.
I say “dreaded” because who can explain the Trinity?
Have you ever tried to?
It’s really next to impossible to adequately explain the Trinity,
to try to explain the very essence of God Himself—his inner most being.
After all who can explain the inner most being of another human being,
much less the inner most being
of the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe?
It is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand.

First of all, what does this dogma of the Trinity hold?
We believe there is one God, who is three persons.
They share the same divine nature,
but each is God, whole and entire.
They are really distinct from one another—not simply different modes of being
–you can’t say we call God “Father” when he’s creating the world,
but we call him “the Son” when he’s on the Cross,
and we call him “the Spirit” when he dwells in us.
No: God the Son is a different person than God the Father
who is a different person than God the Holy Spirit
—but they are still one God.
In particular they are seen in relationship to one another:
relating as Father to Son, a son who is eternally begotten from the Father,
and the Spirit of the two that proceeds forth from them both,
some say the personification the love between the Father and Son.
Still, one God, three persons.

So all that’s clear.
No—it’s still difficult to explain and to understand.
And it always has been.
2000 years ago it was hard for the Jews believe.
After all, the central dogma of Old Testament Judaism
that there is only one God.
As we read in today’s first reading:
“Fix in your heart, that the LORD is God…
and that there is no other.”
But they kept hearing Jesus say things like: “the Father and I are one”
–so they called him a blasphemer and tried to kill him,
and eventually succeeded.

And it was hard for many wannabe Christians in the 2nd 3rd and 4th centuries,
heretics like the Gnostics: they couldn’t and didn’t believe it.

And it was hard for the rich Arab merchant who searched for the true God
and apparently found Him in Christianity, but rejected Him
because he could not accept the truth
that God is one, but 3 persons.
And so Muhammad made up his own religion, to suit his unbelief.

It is very difficult to understand, and, so, difficult to believe.
And yet we do believe.
But why?

Very simple: because we believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the one sent by God.”
And Jesus taught us the dogma of the Trinity.
For example, on the one hand,
Jesus himself proclaimed the central dogma of Judaism:
“The LORD our God is one.”
And yet, he called God his “Father,” and says:
“the Father and I are one”
Now, some might say, that Jesus was speaking metaphorically,
but when the Jews accused him of “making himself God”
and tried to stone him,
instead of saying, ‘no no, you misunderstood,’
he said to them:
“I am the Son of God….
know and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

And he kept on insisting on this.
Who can forget the last supper,
when he went on and on about his unity with the Father.
Particularly in his rebuke of St. Philip, who asked “show us the father”.
Jesus responds:
“Have I been with you so long,
and still you do not know me…?
He who has seen me has seen the Father;
how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?
Do you not believe that
I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

And not only did Jesus insist that he was one God with his father,
he insisted that the Holy Spirit was one God with them also.
He promised his apostles:
“I shall send to you …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.”
but also promises:
“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”
Both the Father and the Son send the Spirit.
And why?
Because while Jesus calls him: “the spirit of the father”
St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit not only
“the Spirit of God” but also “the spirit of Jesus Christ”,
All the while insisting “there is one Spirit.”

We believe, because Jesus said it,
and because the apostles taught it.
and handed down from generation to generation
both in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition.
And so the Church has always accepted it
as not simply an interesting bit of trivia,
but as the first tenet of the Christian Faith:
if you do not believe in the Trinity,
you are NOT a Christian.

This has been so important to the Church
that the earliest summaries of the Christian faith,
like the Apostles Creed,
that some attribute to the apostles themselves,
at the first Pentecost,
are centered around the Trinity.
And when the bishops could all come together for the first time
since the death of the apostles,
at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD,
the most important thing they did was give us
a more elaborate formulation of the Trinitarian Creed:
the Creed we say at every Sunday Mass—the Nicene Creed.

The Trinity is the First Dogma of Christianity,
because the whole Church comes out of,
revolves around and moves toward this mystery.
Heaven is sharing in the communion of life and love of the Trinity.
The whole incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Christ are Trinitarian:
the Father gives his Son, the Son offers himself to the Father.
The Pentecost is Trinitarian:
the Father and Son send the Spirit so they can dwell in us,
and we can be one with them.
The Sacraments are Trinitarian:
in Baptism we enter into the life of
“the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”
in the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit
Christ makes us one with him and presents us to His Father.
The Church itself is Trinitarian:
it is one, because the Trinity is one,
and it is the body of Christ, enlivened by the Spirit to praise the Father.
Creation itself is Trinitarian:
God created man in his own image so he could invite us
to live and love in the life and love of the Trinity.

This is what we believe.
Still, all this is difficult to understand.

Does this make us stupid, or naïve or irrational?
No, because it would be stupid, naïve, irrational and the height of arrogance
to think that we could ever really understand everything about God
—especially about his inner most being.

Do you understand how God created the universe?
No; but you believe it, and it is very rational to do so.
Do you understand how God can love each one of us uniquely and totally,
even though you and I are like mere specks of dust in this huge universe?
Do you understand how God could become a man and die on the Cross,
and still be completely God?
Do you understand how God could truly come to us,
body, blood, soul and divinity,
under the appearance of a piece of bread we could eat?
No; you have some inkling of an understanding of these things,
but you don’t understand any of them completely.
But still, you believe them.

Think about it: It would be so much easier for the Church
to proclaim the Gospel without the Trinity
—who would make something so difficult to understand
the central tenet of their religion?
But some things we don’t understand,
we still believe because Jesus has revealed them to us.
These are what we call mysteries of the faith.
And by that we don’t mean just accepting it blindly and without understanding.
But rather, mysteries are truths that are hidden in God,
things too big or magnificent to us to understand,
and which could never begin to know anything about,
unless they are revealed by God.

As Scripture reminds us:
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
…and weighed the mountains in scales? …” like God has.

And if we can’t understand something like creation, or the incarnation,
how can we really hope to ever completely fathom
the dogma of the Trinity.
After all, this dogma is a peek into the very inner most life
of the eternal boundless God.
To believe this dogma is not to be foolish, but to accept a wondrous gift
—to know God in his deepest self,
to know something of the boundless and eternal
intimate love and life that the Three Divine Persons
share so perfectly and completely,
and of an invitation to us to share in that love and life
imperfectly in this world
and perfectly and forever in the next.

As I said at the beginning of this homily,
I dread this Sunday because the Trinity is impossible to explain.
And yet, I also love this Sunday,
because if I can even in some small way help others to understand
the wondrous truth of our Triune God,
the intimacy and awesomeness of his eternal life and love,
what a great thing to preach about.

As we continue with this Holy Mass,
let us turn to the Trinitarian mystery of the Eucharist,
the sacrifice of the Son to His Father
made present by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And by these sacred mysteries
may we now be lifted up
into the wondrous and intimate mystery of
the eternal life and boundless love of the Most Holy Trinity.

Pentecost Sunday 2012

Pentecost, which we celebrate today, has been celebrated for over two thousand years, and it will be celebrated until the end of time and Christ’s return in glory. Pentecost is the fulfillment of Christ’s promises to His Apostles to send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who would lead the Church into the fullness of truth, and enable them to proclaim that saving Gospel to the ends of the earth.

On the night before he died, Jesus promised to send a new advocate, the Holy Spirit who will teach the Apostles all truth, and will keep them united as one body and will pour forth the new life of Jesus in the Church. So these three things are connected with the Spirit: Life, Truth and unity. After the resurrection, Jesus continues to speak of the Spirit and promises to send the Spirit from the Father. But the Apostles must await this gift from their Master, after His ascension, and they are to begin the evangelization of the world only when this gift has been sent.

Pentecost, then, has to be understood in terms of the mission of Christ, through the Church, to the world, and the gift of the Spirit received at Pentecost is for this purpose, to bring the light and life of Jesus Christ to the world for the salvation of all mankind. This sending of the Spirit is not something purely personal as in other instances where we see the Spirit descend upon individual persons, but something ecclesial, Christ’s gift for the sake of the Church as a whole.

There are times in the scriptures when the Spirit descends upon individuals for their own personal salvation, and others where the Spirit descends upon the individual the sake of others. In the latter category we see the Spirit’s descent upon Mary who conceives the Lord, for the sake of the world. In the Gospels, we see something parallel where the Spirit descends upon the apostles on Easter, but for the purpose of forgiving the sins of others. And there are other similar situations where the Spirit descends upon individual Christians to enable them to perform miracles, or prophesy or speak in tongues. All these gifts are for the sake of others, not for the personal salvation of the person taken hold of by the Spirit.

Then there are cases where the Spirit descends upon individuals precisely for their own salvation. This happens to unbaptized persons, as in the case in Acts 11 where Peter preaches to the family of Cornelius and suddenly the Spirit takes hold of them, and Peter sees this as a sign they are to be baptized. Indeed whenever anyone is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends upon that person and communicates the gift of Sanctifying Grace and other supernatural virtues; and so this descent is for the personal salvation of the one baptized.

But, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit descended upon the Church as a whole, represented in the persons gathered in that upper room, among whom we can confidently number Mary and the Lord’s brethren as well as the Apostles. Here, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church to unify it in love, and to strengthen it for the sacred mission in which it will make Christ present in her activity for the salvation of the whole world. This is the day of the Church’s “confirmation,” the day on which the Church collectively receives the gifts of the Spirit to be distributed down through the ages and is strengthened for her mission across the centuries until Christ returns.

Moreover, the purpose of this particular sending of the Spirit becomes immediately clear when the Apostles begin to proclaim the Gospel, and the people gathered there in Jerusalem from all over the Near East begin to hear them each in their own language. This is a clear manifestation of the unifying purpose of this descent of the Spirit on the Church. The Spirit has come to make us one by His gifts, to answer the prayer of Jesus that we may all be made one, just as He is one with the Father and with His Spirit.

The work of the Spirit and the Church, then, is not simply to save individual souls, but to make all the saved one in the Church, to recreate the lost unity of the human race, lost by Original Sin and by our countless personal sins. Jesus prayed that this original human unity be restored and promised us the Spirit who would make it possible. Life without the communion of love is not life worth living. The new life Jesus brings is life worth living because it unites his members in the bond of unity sealed by divine love.

Christ and the Spirit unite us, then, in the one Church, as one body, one mind and heart, the mind and heart of Christ. He makes this unity, this deep communion, possible in many ways through the many gifts of His Spirit. \

He unites us first of all by infusing His Life into our souls through the Gift of the Spirit in the Church’s Sacraments, beginning with Baptism. We now share one common supernatural life with Jesus and with each other.

He then unites us with the gift of truth, for we cannot be truly united where God’s truth does not prevail. And so he promised that the Spirit would teach us all truth, but it would happen through His Bride the Church.

He also unites us in love, the bond of all true unity and communion, and he does this through the gift of His Spirit, who is Love, the same Love that unites the Holy Trinity, makes the Trinity of Persons one.

And finally Christ unites us by enabling us by His Spirit to share in His saving mission. Think of how united this country was in the Second World War, united in a common mission to save our country and others from tyranny. Likewise, Jesus makes us his instruments to destroy the tyranny of sin and lies and hatred, the tyranny made possible by what Paul refers to as the destructive power of sin, which he enumerates: ” immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,occasions of envy…” (Gal. 5:19-21) All of these destroy unity by destroying mutual love.

So, from Pentecost forward, the Church will struggle to unify the world in Christ, first of all, by growing and maintaining her own inner unity compromised by all heresy and dissension. She will help us overcome the evils Paul lists and achieve an ever greater unity. The she will enable us to proclaim this good news to the world and draw many other sinto nthe communion of life and love that is Christ’s Church.

There is only one way back for mankind to that unity which lasted only as long as original innocence lasted, so briefly in Paradise, and that way is through Christ, through His Spirit, and through the Church whom ministers His truth and His grace through her preaching and through her sacraments and family life.

Jesus Christ, then, is not just another prophet, another religious leader but the Redeemer of all Mankind, and His Spirit is at work in this world reuniting mankind by uniting individuals to God in the Body of Christ. Just so, the Church is not just another religious body, but the body of Christ, in which Christ is gathering others into this unity by teaching them the truth and communicating His life to those who believe.

Today the Church once again rejoices as the Lord continues to send His Spirit to make possible her mission, His mission, of the salvation and the reunification of the children of God everywhere. We pray today in a special way for that Gift of His Spirit to be poured out once again in our day so that the truth can be heard today in all the languages of mankind, and salvation may come to all who believe in this great saving truth: Jesus Christ is Lord, Amen.

Ascension 2012

Today’s solemn feast of the Ascension of Jesus brings to its climax the season of Easter, for with Jesus’ ascension, the Easter event takes on a dramatic new meaning and provides a new source of joy for the Christian community in particular, and objectively for the whole human race.

Jesus is not only the first fruits of the new order established by the paschal mystery, the first “new” man risen from the dead to die no more, and thus a sign of hope for all mankind, that death really is not the final word, the final destiny of man. All of this is true, of course, and we as men and women of faith rejoice in our belief that what has happened to Jesus, his victory over death, was accomplished for our sake, to make possible for each and every one of us to share in that same victory one day by rising triumphantly from the dead and living with Jesus forever. If we are Christians in fact and not just in name then we believe all this and stake our lives on this faith, and if we do not do that, then as Paul says we are indeed the most pitiable of persons.

But Christian faith does not stop, cannot stop at this level, at the level of belief that man has conquered death in and through Jesus risen from the dead. Today’s feast of the ascension lifts our minds and hearts far above this beautiful truth of our faith. Indeed it elevates our faith to the very heights of God where the resurrection of Jesus terminates, where he rises or ascends as man into the very heart of the Triune God, to God’s “right hand” which means that Jesus, as man, is now sharing in the fullness of divine life and power as both Son of God and Son of Man. The Feast of the Ascension prevents us from simply focusing on the horizontal dimension of the mystery of the resurrection – what it means for us, for our final destiny. The ascension raises our minds to heaven where we glimpse what God has really accomplished in Jesus, and through Him, for us.

The Ascension confirms for us that our humanity has a destiny in God, that where Jesus has ascended we are to follow, though we share this destiny only in Him and through Him. The humanity of Jesus, which we share as members of the new humanity raised up in baptism, is now seated in full power in God. Jesus, in his humanity, in our humanity since we are all one race in Christ, now enjoys the full glory of His divine person. Before his resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ body was not fully sharing in his divine glory. Otherwise he could not have suffered and died, for us. Now he cannot suffer or die anymore, for his body now shares the full glory of his divine person. That is why we adore him, now in body and soul as the Eternal Son of God.

The angels themselves are forever astounded as they witness this ascension of his humanity far above any angelic creature to the very throne of God. The angels wonder at this and give glory to God. How then can it be that we mortal men are not equally astounded and filled with an everlasting joy to see our humanity raised so high that that we cannot fully comprehend just exactly what has happened here to the Lord.

Oh how man wants to avoid this astounding truth. How can it be that God and man are so united in one person, Jesus the Lord, that God can truly be said to have walked this earth, suffered and died and rose again, and that in this same one person humanity has now ascended to the very throne of God! But that is our faith, and we dare not stop short because we are unable to comprehend its full truth. Nor can we cease to ponder this mystery as we walk this earth and proclaim its good news for man. Nor must we ever deny its significance indirectly by focusing only on what it means to us, for us, that we too will be raised from the dead, that we too will have a share in his Glory and rule with him who alone sits at the Father’s right hand. No, we must focus primarily on what it means for Him, for our brother and our Lord and God to have risen to these heights, and only secondarily on the further truth that he now draws a whole train of faithful men and women behind him into the glory of this mystery.

The first apostles were tempted to stop short and focus only on the earthly implications of his rising in glory: ““Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Oh how little they understood even after 40 days with the Risen Lord. They were still looking for an earthly Kingdom to come out of this glorious event of the resurrection of the Lord. But soon he would send the Spirit as he promised and they would begin to understand that His kingdom was not of this world, only because it was so much greater than any earthly power; he was going to sit at the very right hand of God, which means the universe was under his dominion and all creation, including the highest angels. When would they understand – when will we?

Jesus simply replies that their concern should be to spread this good news to the ends of the earth till the end of time. And how our hearts should rejoice if only we ourselves realize what this good news really is. Paul prays that Christians may come to understand the true heights Jesus has ascended to, and the heights of the Christian destiny: Speaking of Jesus, Paul says He is “Seated … at His right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named.”

And as for us, Paul simply prays that we “… may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”

The riches of his glory, which is our inheritance, is beyond our ability to imagine let alone understand – Jesus is drawing us up to heights we cannot even begin to appreciate without faith, and would we choose to limit this hope Paul speaks of to something purely temporal, earthly, human, no matter how elevated on this earth?

When we do begin to realize what this Ascension means for Jesus, and for us, how it changes our whole perspective on the meaning of our life in this
world. When we really believe that Jesus, our brother and our God has truly ascended to the heights beyond which there is nothing higher – the throne of God – then it will astound us that this same Jesus has loved us so much, that he has destined us to ascend with him to heights above the angelic world!

This is indeed the stuff of which the world thinks fairy tales are made. But this is truth and not fairy tale, and you and I really are the lowly who have been loved, are loved, so greatly loved by the very Prince of Light and beauty and Truth, that first he set aside all of His glory for a while and came into our world to die for us, and loved us so much that he has ascended to the Father and draws behind him a whole train of believers who love him in return and want only to be with Him who has loved them unto death. In this sense, belief in the true meaning of the Ascension not only raises our hearts and minds to Heaven where Jesus awaits us, but transforms our existence on earth because we now know how much we are loved by the Son of God.

It is this knowledge of faith that ultimately drives the evangelization mission of the Church in this world – that others may come to know the majestic truth of Christ and his love for them. This is our proclamation to the world today: Jesus Christ is risen and has now ascended to the very throne of God as the God-man; he has gone before us, for us, and he has done so because God so loves us that he wants us to be where He is. That is the ultimate truth about man and his true worth, and this truth comes not from us but from the One who made us so that we might enjoy eternal life in Him. The Church’s mission today and every day is grounded in this truth, to proclaim this truth and to live by it until He returns in glory to take us to Himself, forever.

6th Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
May 13, 2012 (Mother’s Day)

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In this text Jesus, at the Last Supper, says with words
what He will say with His body in just a few hours,
as He’s nailed to the Cross.
There, His suffering and dying body speaks to us loud and clear, saying:
“I love you, and give myself to you and for you,
completely, totally and without reserve.”

But this not the first time God speaks to us through the human body.
Because right from the beginning He created the human body
to communicate to us the truth about man and about God Himself.

St. John tells us in the 2nd reading today: “God is love.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that God is a warm and fuzzy feeling.
It means that God, in is very nature is all about self-giving.
But in order to give, there needs to be an other person to give to.
And there is: as Christ reveals to us, God is a Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
three persons in one God:
their mutual love and self-gift is so intense, complete and perfect,
that they truly share one life.

But as gift, love doesn’t limit itself: love overflows,
continually seeking to give to others.
And so we see in Scripture that God
created, or gave life to man, just so He could love us,
and give us a share in the one life and love of the Trinity.

In order for us to do that we had to be like Him—we had to be able to love.
And so He created us like Himself, in the image of God, the God who “is love.”
But creating us in His image He also created us with bodies.
And our bodies aren’t just some sort of outer shell we accidentally walk around.
No, our bodies are us!
They are the outward expression of who we are inside,
—they are us communicating ourselves to others.
And since we are created for love
our bodies are also fundamentally created to communicate love.

But, again, to love there has to be an other to love
—and so God created us as two, male and female.
Both in His image, and so both equal in dignity,
but also both radically different so they would truly be other to each other:
so that through their differences they could love each other.
And these differences, which go to their very nature, are expressed in their bodies.

Note, their bodily differences are not merely accidents
but rather they physically express the differences
that are in their inner nature, as male versus female.
And these inner differences are also not random,
but rather they complement, or complete, each other.
So that as these complementary inner differences
are expressed in their bodies, their bodies also complete each other
—they literally “fit” together.
And as their bodies “fit” together in the act of love,
the two persons become as if one flesh, one body,
doing together what they cannot do alone
—cooperating as one with God to give life.
No other bodily act requires the body of another
—only the act that imitates the Creator giving life and love to mankind.
So this act, and these complementary aspects of their bodies,
specifically and radically express
their love for and their self-gift to each other, as male and female.

My friends, the body speaks to us and tells us about our very nature.
We don’t need the Bible to tell us this
—the language of the body is a natural language
that’s been understood for all of history by every society.
Every generation has understood what nature and the body
say about the love and union of males and females in marriage,
and that marriage is about giving love and life to each other
and to children.

But nowadays, a lot of folks deny the natural language of the body.
Amazingly, in a time when so many demand
that we pay greater attention to the natural order of the environment,
many of those same people demand
that we ignore the natural order of the human body.

This last week President Obama joined in this unnatural chorus,
as he denied the true meaning of marriage
by supporting the right to so-called same-sex marriage.
Of course, he’s not alone.
He joins scads of politicians, some of whom even claim to be Catholic,
like former Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
who like him, have the gall to blasphemously claim
that Christ is on their side.

Nonsense, all of it.
These people try to twist the language of the body
just as they try to twist the language of Jesus Himself.
The body communicates its meaning loud and clear
when it comes to sex, marriage, and family.
And so does Jesus Himself, telling us in Matthew Chapter 19:
“he who made them from the beginning made them male and female,
and said, ‘For this reason a man shall …be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.’”

Some say this is a matter of justice and discrimination.
But justice is rendering what is due to a person,
and discrimination is only wrong when you deny someone
something they have a right to.
Where in nature is a person due or have a right to same-sex marriage?
The language of the body recognizes no such duty or right,
in fact it recognizes the opposite:
they are not complementary, they do not “fit.”

Some say this position is “not loving,”
after all, Jesus told us to “love one another.”
Yes, but Jesus also said, “love one another as I have loved you.”
How many times did Jesus show his love by telling people the hard truth:
like to the woman at the well:
“the man you have now is not your husband;”
or to the Pharisees:
“from the beginning [he] made them male and female.”
It’s never loving to lie to people, when the truth will set them free.

Some say: “it’s not fair not to let them marry if they love each other.”
But there lots of situations where you can’t marry the person you love.
In fact, our Lord talks about this, again from Matthew 19:
“Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

Not everyone is capable of marriage, for one reason or another.
Maybe they’re born with some severe emotional disability,
or maybe they’re upbringing makes them incapable of loving.
Or maybe they’re born with or raised so that they suffer from same-sex attraction.
Whatever the case, our heart goes out to them,
but as with all infirmities and limitations in life,
we need either to try to overcome them—not ignore them—
or to accept things as they are,
and figure out what it is that God has planned for us to do going forward.
“Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

But the news is not all bad this week.
In fact, today the news is fantastic.
Because, today the whole country stops to listen, if ever so briefly,
to the natural language of the body as we celebrate Mother’s Day.

Motherhood.
Short of Christ dying on the Cross,
what better expression do we find of the saying,
“No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Where else does the language of the body speak so boldly and yet tenderly:
“I love you.”

Think of it: for 9 months, a mother sacrifices her whole body for her little baby,
from morning sickness in the first months
to contractions and all sorts of discomfort in the last.
Often risking her very life and health,
as her body sacrifices its own well-being
to nourish the life of her hidden child.
And, of course, what pain is comparable to the pangs of child birth?

And then, holding her tiny baby in her arms,
for months she feeds him at her breast,
her tender voice coaxing him to sleep,
all the while her very body chemistry seems to shift into super human gear
allowing her to forgo any normal human sleep pattern for herself.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there.
My mother practically slaved away for 5 kids for almost 30 years,
keeping us fed, clothed, clean and educated.
Staying up with us when we were sick, even when she was sicker than we were.
Spanking our bottoms when we were extra naughty,
and drying our tears when we were extra sad.
Even going to work—outside the home—to help pay the bills.
And on the worst of days, when the whole world seemed against us,
she made everything all right,
with her beautiful smile, or her warmest of hugs.

The language of the body cries out to us in no uncertain terms:
Moms have a God-given and naturally tremendous capacity
for giving love and life.
Today we celebrate this, and we thank them,
even those who have gone ahead of us to judgment.

Even so, some today wish to ignore motherhood or to redefine it.
Some think they know better than Moms what their children
should eat or drink or learn, or how their children should act or think.
Like the school officials in North Carolina
who wouldn’t let a four-year-old little girl eat the lunch
her mother had packed, a turkey sandwich,
because they decided it wasn’t healthy enough.

And then there are those who encourage pregnant mothers
to ignore their maternal instincts and “terminate” their pregnancies.
Or who encourage women to take a pill
to stop their bodies’ natural and healthy openness to motherhood.
Or the ladies in the checkout line who mock the mothers of large families.
Or the politicians who say that stay-at-home-mom’s
never work a day in their lives.

The body speaks, but some will not listen.

Now, you may say, but father, what about women
who don’t or even can’t have babies?
The thing is, all women are by nature mothers,
in the sense that they have this deep natural capacity
to love and nurture life.
And that capacity is a gift that shouldn’t be wasted.
But because it’s a gift from God,
every woman should consider how God wants them to use this gift.
Some He calls to be celibate religious sisters
—freely renouncing physical motherhood for the sake of the kingdom,
in order to become spiritual mothers.
Some are unable physically to conceive;
perhaps God calls them to be adoptive mothers.
Some can’t seem find the right husband;
perhaps God wants them to exercise their motherhood
by in some way caring for those who are alone
or otherwise in need of love.

Like the text I quoted earlier from Matthew,
they should consider their situation and God’s will for them, and
“Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
Not with sadness and despair,
but with joy and hope, confident that God would not give them this gift
without some plan for them to use it in some wonderful way.

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
As we look at the image of the Crucified Christ,
and we remember in His awful physical suffering and death
we hear His body telling us in the most clear and powerful way possible,
“this is how much I love you.”
The body of the Son of God speaks and we joyfully listen.
But the human body He created for all of us
speaks to us every day, and through it He
reminds us who we are,
what is natural and unnatural to us,
what is good and evil.
Let us listen to our nature, let us listen to Christ.
And let us hear Him say:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.”

5th Sunday of Easter 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
May 6, 2012

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times:
St. John’s writings are some of the most spiritually rich and profound in Scripture.
Unfortunately, St. John is also sometimes a bit confusing,
as he is in today’s 2nd reading and Gospel:
Still, even in confusion, St. John always has an important point to make
—as he does today.

To oversimplify things, let me suggest that there are basically 2 kinds of Christians:
lets’ call the first kind the “Me-first Christian,”
In today’s 2nd reading St. John says:
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask.”
The Me-first Christian hears these words
and sees God as sort of an indulgent grandfather:
ask anything and He gives it,
do anything and he just smiles in approval.
He thinks, “as long as it feels good in my heart, I should do it,
or if it feels bad I should avoid it.”
He thinks, “only God can know everything,
so he understands, and doesn’t care even if I mess up.”

But there’s a problem with this attitude.
St. John’s focus in all of his writing is never on you or me: it’s always on Christ.
So St. John doesn’t write: “do whatever makes you happy”;
he writes: “do what pleases him”–Jesus.
He doesn’t say “do what ever you feel in your heart”;
he writes: “keep his commandments.”
St. John understands that it’s not all about how we feel, or even what we think.
All of that is useless, if it doesn’t begin and end with Jesus.
And so he reminds us that Jesus said:
“I am the vine, you are the branches”
“without me you can do nothing.”
“Remain in me, as I remain in you.”

Think about it.
Personal feelings are important:
sometimes our sensitivity to Christ helps us to discern his will.
And personal intelligence and reason are also essential to the Christian life:
no one should ever act in an unreasonable way.
But feelings and intelligence are meaningless if they aren’t at all times
based on, and moving toward one thing: the truth!

But what is “truth”?
Some people say there is no one truth, no objective truth:
there’s only subjective truth:
your truth, his truth, my truth—and none of them are the same.
If that’s the case we have a huge problem.
What if someone’s truth is that
God wants them to blow up the Twin Towers in New York
and the Pentagon in Arlington?
My friends, the road of subjective truth is the road of fools,
and leads to anarchy and ruin.

Other people say that there may be objective truth,
but there’s no way we could ever know it, so why even try?
But this is nonsense: they assume that this statement is true:
“no one can know truth.”
But how do they know that statement is true, if “no one can know truth.”

The fact is each of us needs real truth to hang on to.
What would a scientist do if he couldn’t rely on the truth of his rules and principles?
What would you or I do if we couldn’t rely on the truth of a promise, or of a love?
Life would be hopeless, and that road would lead to despair and annihilation.

Everyone searches for truth all their lives,
from the time a baby looks into his mother’s eyes,
until the time he draws his last breath in old age.
From the truth of where the floor is beneath my feet, to the truth of a mother’s love.
Either there is objective truth in the world, or life is nonsense.

And then Jesus comes along and says:
“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
And he tells us that he, the truth, never changes:
he: “is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”

This leads me to the 2nd kind of Christian: the “Jesus-first Christian”.
While the Me-first Christian begins with himself at the center of things,
with his own subjective truth, to which God good-naturedly conforms,
the Jesus-first Christian begins with Jesus a the center of things
as the one and unchanging truth,
and the Christian conforms himself to Christ.

The Jesus-first Christian believes and lives as if
Jesus really is the vine, and we are merely branches.
And He believes that the truth that he longs for flows from Christ into his branches.
So he tries to “remain in” Christ, and hears the words of St. John:
“Those who keep his commandments remain in him.”

But what “commandments” is St. John talking about?
A rich young man once asked that very same question of Jesus himself.
And Jesus admonished him, saying:
“You know the commandments…”
‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”

The Jesus-first Christian doesn’t see love as simply a feeling,
but a choice to accept the truth.
And in each of the 10 commandments he hears
the truth about who God is,
and how we can truly love him
and our neighbor.

Unlike the Me-first Christian,
the Jesus-first Christian doesn’t consider his feelings to be above the truth.
In fact, a lot of the time his feelings run completely contrary to the truth.
Sometimes he even suffers for doing what’s true, for remaining in Christ,
–like St. Paul in today’s 1st reading who we’re told:
“spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.…with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.”

So the Jesus-first Christian,
when he’s in grade school, kids make fun of him for being obedient to his parents.
When she’s in high school
she’s embarrassed because her friends mock her for “saving herself” for marriage.
When he’s at work he watches as less competent co-workers get promoted over him
because he refuses to cheat or lie or steal,

All this causes the Jesus-first Christian’s heart to ache:
“am I doing the right thing?”
“if this is the truth, why does God let me suffer?
But then he hears the words from St. John today:
“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.”

The Me-first Christian hears these words as an excuse to do as he pleases.
But the Jesus-first Christian hears them as “reassurance of his heart”
that he “belongs to the truth”;
that even when our hearts ache or doubt,
God knows everything,
from the truth of right and wrong,
to the glory that his plan with bring from our suffering.

Finally, the Jesus-first Christian begins and ends everything in the truth of Christ.
So his heart isn’t focused on what he wants,
but rather on the truth about what God wants.
So much so that when he hears the words:
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
…have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask.”
he realizes that his heart often wants things contrary to his own good,
but that God, who “knows everything,”
always knows and wants only what’s truly best for him.
And so the Jesus-first Christian prays: “thy will be done”, not “my will be done.”
So that “whatever he asks” for is only what God wants to give in the first place.

St. John’s words are often confusing
Still, whether they’re simple or complex, they are always profoundly true.
Today their complexity and profundity give us an opportunity
to consider what kind of Christian we are.
Which kind are you?
Which kind am I?
Are we Me-first Christians, or Jesus-first Christians?
Unfortunately, the truth is probably that most of us are a little of both,
because we’re all sinners.

But it doesn’t have to be that way: the truth is,
God is the master vine grower—even when a branch has fallen from the vine,
he can lift it up and graft it back on.

Still the truth is also, that if it’s not on the vine, it’s dying.
And in the end, if it’s been pruned away from the vine
“people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.”

Brothers and sisters, it’s so easy to talk about loving Jesus,
and still put ourselves 1st before him in everything.
Today, Jesus Christ, through the writings of St. John,
calls us to be truthful, and remain in Him
in everything we do.
We can choose to wither and fall to the ground to be burned,
or we can choose cling to Christ and bear fruit in his joy and glory.

“Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.”