25th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praised be Jesus Christ.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

The theme of the watchman or guard is very prominent in both today’s first reading and Gospel, and it certainly challenges anyone in a position of responsibility for the Christian community. Watchmen were employed in ancient civilizations to protect the city and the lives of its citizens from enemies. In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel was told by God that he was to watch over the house of Israel, and that the duty of the religious watchman is to warn the people of danger to their souls, so they could save themselves from whatever would destroy their souls. Ezekiel was to warn the Israelites when they were going astray from God’s law, for this rebellion would damn them. However, notice what God tells him: if “you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” Whereas “if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his [evil] way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.”

Jesus taught the same thing when he spoke about the wicked shepherds who will flee when the wolves appear to attach his flock, that they will be held responsible for the death of the flock. In other words, the flock will die because of their sins, but the shepherd will also pay for not warning them and giving them a better chance to flee from evil ways and save their lives. The responsibility of the watchman is very clear then, and very serious. The salvation of the flock is affected by his fulfilling or not fulfilling his role, but his own salvation depends upon him fulfilling his role faithfully.

And who are the watchmen today for God’ s people, for God’ s flock, who will themselves be held accountable if they fail to warn the flock against the poison of sin that will surely lead to their spiritual death, whether they are warned or not, if they continue to sin rather than change?

First of all, there are all those who shepherd, the Church as a result of Holy Orders. That is why St. Augustine told his people that being a Christian, with them, gave him great consolation and joy, while being a shepherd for them was a cause of great anxiety for himself because of the added responsibil- ity he had before God to be a faithful watchman. That is also why your priests and bishops truly need your prayers constantly, because of the account they must render to God as the watchmen of His flock.

But the role of watchman is not limited to the clergy who shepherd the whole community. Being a watchman is also a role for all others who shepherd God’ s flock in those smaller communities within the Church; for instance, those who hold the position of Superiors in religious orders, or superiors in individual religious houses. They too must be vigilant over the portion of God’s people they serve as their religious superior.

And likewise, Christian parents also have the responsibility of watchman, for they are true shepherds over the family that God has entrusted to their care. It is especially significant in this regard that Vatican II referred to the Christian family as the “domestic Church,” a microcosm of the larger family of God that we call the Catholic or universal Church.
Yes, parents too are given this great responsibility directly by God with whom they have cooperated in the establishment of their marriage and family. God has entrusted a small but very important portion of His flock, this individual family, these children, to the care of their parents, who must see themselves as God’s watchmen, with the same responsibility and accountability before God for their small “domestic church” that the ordained have for the larger portions of Christ’s Church.

Thus parents have a serious duty to watch over their children and to see that they know the ways of God, the ways that lead to eternal life, to heaven and happiness, and to warn them about the evil ways that lead to unhappiness, to spiritual death, and ultimately to Hell. This requires great prudence, great love and great respect for their children’s natural freedom and social nature. It doesn’t mean trying to totally remove one’s children from the world, but rather teaching them how to live Christian lives in the midst of a world with many traps. This involves teaching them about the traps that the world lays for them, trying to enslave them by its false values or morals.

Of course, one can never be sure that one’s children will listen to sound teaching. They may well go their own way and adopt the ways of the world one day rather than their home and their Church. But the task of the watchman is to warn and teach and encourage. The result will be determined by the interplay of each person’s freedom and the way they cooperate or fail to cooperate with the grace of God. The watchman warns; only God’s interior grace can make that warning take root. But the better they are taught, even if they drift away one day, they will always have this sound teaching of their home to return to when they discover the world is not what they hoped it was.

It’s a great responsibility that parents have, but God has not left them alone. They are part of the larger Church, and the teaching efforts and sacraments of the Church are at their disposal, if they will take advantage of these powerful helps. Parents, like clergy, must find their help in prayer and study, and recognize that God has not asked them to do this without His help. Sometimes we act as if everything depends upon us, and that can lead to over- reaction to the power of the world, as if God’s grace cannot overcome the influences of the world, so long as we do our part as watchmen.

Finally, certain things are critical for having a greater influence as watchmen over our children, without becoming wardens over them. First we must start their education young, as infants, introducing them to God as their Father, and to Jesus as their Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as their guide, and to their Angel whom Jesus said watches over them even while adoring their creator. There is no great secret to this; their religion must grow up with them, and the supernatural must be a natural part of their daily life. If you reduce God merely to a Sunday obligation, do not expect that your children will listen to you, as they grow older, when you try to tell them how God expects them to live.

Secondly, there is an old adage that the family that prays together, stays together; and that truism needs to be reintroduced in an age when families are literally coming apart. How do you assure the unity of your marriage, of your family? For the believing Christian there is a clear answer: by making Christ the the center of unity. In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul says that Jesus Christ is the one in whom “all things hold together.” He is the center of the whole creation, holding it together. Should not married couples, then, make Christ the center of their unity, of the unity of their marriage and their family, to hold it all together. God has to be the center, or things inevitably fly apart.

Jesus must not only be in our Churches, but He must also be present in our homes as well. But how? The Gospel gives a strong hint: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.” Yes Jesus is present in the family that prays together, in His name, not just when a death in the family occurs or some tragedy, but daily, at our meals, in the evening for a short time, or for the family Rosary or even part of the Rosary, together, two or three gathered to pray in His name. How rich our families will be, if Jesus
is the first member of our family.

Prayer is the most important practice in being a successful watchman, a true shepherd of the family entrusted by God to parents. Prayer will then open the way to instruction, to teaching, to warning, to encouraging, all in the spirit of God’s love. So why don’t we pray together. Is it that we don’t have the time? We make time for other lesser things, why then not the most important thing for the health of our family? Do we feel embarrassed somehow to pray with our children, or with our spouse? Why? Is it perhaps because God is not the center, or because we have let prayer slide for so long a time that now it doesn’t seem natural. Some people are embarrassed to go to the doctor because they have avoided a physical for so long, but you know what happens if we let a disease go to long – it maims or even kills us. Jesus is also the good physician of our souls; and it’ s never too late to turn to him in prayer. When the storm is battering down our house, we naturally pray together, why not before the storm hits?

If you would be a good watchman, first stay awake; next pray together, make God, make Jesus the center of your family life from the beginning, teach your children His truth in season and out of season. Make Him the One whom you thank for good things that happen, the One whom you petition for the needs of your family, the One whom you adore and ask forgiveness from when you have done wrong. There is the formula for successful marriages and family life. It’s not really all that complex: make God the center, and God will do what you cannot, so long as you try to do what you can.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

July 24, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

My homily this morning
requires a careful balance of charity and clarity, modesty and precision.
It will be difficult for some adults to hear,
and a bit too “mature” for some younger ones to understand.
I particularly hope I don.t offend the innocence of the little ones present.
But it must be said, so I beg your patience.

43 years ago, tomorrow, on July 25, 1968,
Pope Paul VI issued perhaps the most important papal encyclical
of the 20th century, called Humanae Vitae.
And in this letter the Holy Father declared and reconfirmed
the Church.s ancient, constant and infallible teaching
that the love-giving and the life-giving qualities
of sexual intercourse
are not only intrinsically and inseparably united
in God.s plan for human love and marriage,
but they are also expressive of both
the dignity of man created in the image of God,
and the life and love of God himself.
And because of that, any intentional and direct interference
in the life-giving aspect, commonly called “contraception”
is always contrary to God.s love and degrading of human dignity.

This was, and still is, a hard teaching for the modern world to accept.
And so Paul VI was immediately greeted by hostility and ridicule,
even from many otherwise faithful Catholics.
They laughed at his predictions
that if contraception became acceptable in society,
we would see a rapid decline in sexual morality,
and an increase in the degradation of women, in divorce
and in abortion.

But today, Pope Paul seems a prophet,
as all these predictions have come to pass.

Even so, most people in the western world, including most Catholics
now accept contraception as normal, and even necessary.

Why is this teaching so widely rejected?
There are many reasons given,
but I think the strongest one is very simple and direct:
they say that this is a private matter between a husband and wife
—or even between an unmarried couple.
At the core of their argument is essentially faith in the “right to privacy.”

It.s interesting that this “right to privacy” is so important
in defending contraception.
Because that.s the same legal principle used by the Supreme Court
to argue in favor of the “right to abortion”
and now, the “right to sodomy,”
and soon, I.m afraid, the “right to homosexual „marriage..”
And it.s even more interesting, because this constitutional right to privacy
was first established by the Supreme Court in 1965
in a case called “Griswold v. Connecticut”
–a case that ruled that there is a constitutional right to contracept.
In other words, according to the Supreme Court,
the right to privacy establishes the right to contracept,
and from that flows the right to abort babies,
and the right to sexual depravity.
Sounds a lot like Paul VI.s reasoning, in a backward sort of way.

Do we have a right to privacy in God.s eyes?
Surely, it.s true that a husband and wife have a certain kind of right to privacy
in their most intimate moments.
But are these really completely “private moments?”

[And] as St. Paul writes in his 1st letter to the Corinthians,
“If one member [of the body] suffers, all suffer together ;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
Here St. Paul speaks of the Church as the one Body of Christ,
but we can use this analogy to refer to
the connectedness of a people, a nation or even the human race
—the body politic, as it were.
In this analogy we see, there are no really completely private acts
—every act in one way or another effects all of us.

As I said, here St. Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ.
But he also speaks of the Church as the “Bride of Christ.”
So that when he calls the Church the “Body of Christ”
he.s also alluding to the unity between a husband and wife:
a unity in which “the two become one flesh”—or “one body.”
As Christ becomes one body with the Church,
in a similar way, this is reflected in
a husband becoming one body with his wife.

This saying that the “two become one flesh,” originates
in the Biblical story of the creation of Adam and Eve.
Scripture makes it very clear that God created Adam and Eve
in a completely unselfish and generous act:
solely because he wanted to share his love and life with them.
And it tells us that God created them in his own image,
and then gave them to each other,
and that the very first words he spoke to them were:
“be fruitful, and multiply”
In all this, Scripture reveals that
spouses become who God created them to be
when they imitate His completely unselfish and generous love,
by sharing their love and life with each other,
but in such a completely generous and unselfish way
that they are open to creating
a new human being in their image,
and sharing their love and life with them as well.
So we see, the wonderful gift of the intimate physical expression of spousal love
is intrinsically directed toward the even more magnificent gift of giving life.

It is very true that spouses can have love without having babies.
But to purposefully work against or “protect” oneself
from a baby in the conjugal act
is directly contradictory to the meaning of the one flesh union.
It says,
“I want to give all my life and love to you,
except the most incredible and almost divine part which
has the power to create new life from love.”
How then can it be an act of total and true love,
when it is so fundamentally selfish and a lie?

So, when someone says these matters are private, the Church says: No!
If this were an absolutely private act, then you would be alone,
effecting no one else.
But in contraception, by definition, you are not alone
and the lives of 2 separate people are effected.

Some say, okay, but if husband and wife, in their privacy as a couple,
freely agree to contracept,
that.s at least a private act between them, and it effects no one else.
But if contraception was truly a private act just between the husband and wife,
then there.d be no need to contracept.
The only reason to contracept is so that another, 3rd person, won.t be born!
Not private at all anymore.

But how can a baby not even conceived have some sort of rights here;
how can you count it as a third person
before it even comes into existence?

In the 4th century St. Augustine,
the Church.s greatest philosopher and theologian,
addressed this very topic.
Augustine said, take 2 strangers who join in sexual intimacy:
there is no love there, and they have no desire to be fruitful.
In fact, they.re radically opposed to procreation
—and fight it by contracepting.
But the reality is that there.s still a good chance that they.ll lose that fight.
And then what.s their attitude to the child conceived by “mistake”?
That child they did not want, that child they fought against?
Augustine argues that the lack of love that precedes the conception,
becomes the foundation for their relationship with the child.
And so, as we see today with 1 in 3 children born out of wedlock,
an illegitimate father will be tempted to abandon mother and child,
or pressure her to “get rid of the problem.”
And mothers, also, will be tempted to agree with the fathers
and see this child as a problem to be aborted.

But Augustine doesn.t stop there.
He argues that when a married couple decide to contracept
they have the same attitude of the 2 strangers
—the attitude of fighting against the baby.
And these parents will also be tempted to carry that attitude over to the child:
we see this statistically in the fact that
37% of unintended pregnancies of married women end in abortion.
And even if the child isn.t aborted, won.t it be difficult for the parents
who fought so hard against conception, against the baby,
to now welcome the conceived baby with open and loving arms?
Won.t too many even be tempted
to neglect, or abuse or abandon these children?

A child has a right to be conceived and born in the context of love
—love between the parents and love for the baby.
And that right precedes conception.

Friends, there is a direct and intrinsic connection
between marital love and sex and procreation.
If we forget these connections
we will have no understanding of any of these wonderful gifts.
And then we won.t understand what.s wrong with things like
in vitro fertilization and cloning,
premarital and extramarital sex,
and homosexual acts.
And we won.t be able to understand what.s wrong with contraception.

There is no doubt that raising children is very difficult.
And parents must be responsible in planning the birth of children.
That.s why the Church recognizes that prospective parents
can sometimes morally postpone the conception of children
by using “natural” means, such as “natural family planning”,
—means that cooperate with God.s plan for sharing life and love.

But responsibility does not mean pettiness or selfishness.
So couples must have a “just reason”
consistent with love and openness to life
when they act to postpone conception.

And responsibility does not mean hopelessness.
The Gospels tell us of 2 times when Jesus fed a hungry crowd
of thousands of men and women from a handful of loaves and fishes
—and then had enough left over to fill 12 baskets.
All because they had followed him, listening to his word.
Will he be any less generous regarding the material needs of Christian spouses
who follow him and listen to his word with a generous openness to life?
As St. Paul reminds us in today.s 2nd reading:
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”

Some spouses will say, but Father, it.s so difficult and contraception is so easy.
No one asks you to do the impossible, especially Jesus.
But as he tells the apostles elsewhere:
“With men it is impossible, but not with God;
for all things are possible with God.”
God will provide every grace spouses need to become the men and women,
the husbands and wives, that He created them to be from the beginning.

But Father, some will say, this will take a lot of sacrifice.
This could effect our lives in huge ways.
The thing is, true love always involves sacrifice:
the sacrifice of the Cross was the greatest act of love ever
—Christ laying down his life, his body–for his Bride, the Church.
And that.s exactly the same love every husband should have for his wife,
and wife for her husband.
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her.”
On their wedding day bride and groom both lay down their life for their spouse,
giving themselves up completely in love.

And when they do that, they don.t do it with sadness or grumbling,
but with eagerness and joy.
Why?
Because it.s worth it.
To a bride or groom, marriage is,
“like a merchant searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Marriage is like that,
and so is the fullness of the Church.s understanding
of Marriage and sexuality.
Particularly the ancient teaching repeated in Humanae Vitae,
so often ignored and rejected by theologians and priests,
and by married couples themselves.
A pearl of great price that has become “like a treasure buried in a field.” A treasure that today we must dig up,
and “~out of joy go and sell all that we have and buy that field.~”

This treasure is part of the kingdom:
it is the way God made us from the beginning,
and we cannot be who we are intended to be,
we can.t share in the kingdom,
if we reject this treasure.
So the Church has always infallibly taught
that every single intentional and direct act of contraception
is always a gravely evil, or a mortal sin.
And because I love you,
I remind you what Jesus tells us at the end of today.s Gospel:
“at the end of the age…The angels will go out
and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
So, as God once revealed through His prophet Moses:
“I have set before you life and death,
blessing and curse;
therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”

It is God.s plan, revealed in Scripture and in the natural law
that marital love, sexual intimacy and procreation are all bound together
as one magnificent gift generously bestowed on mankind.
If we do not recognize this connection, we will never understand these gifts,
and we will surely abuse and demean them,
and ourselves and those we love, or should love.
Let us pray then that the lives of all men and women
may be filled with the true love of Christ that leads to
a new understanding of sexuality and marriage,
and a new generosity and openness to life.
That they may recognize the Church.s teaching as the pearl of great price,
the treasure buried in the field.
And that they may have unfailing faith and hope in the generous love of Jesus,
“that all things work for good for those who love God.”

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.
July 17, 2011

Last week a group of over 300 priests in Austria signed a letter
they called a “Call to Disobedience,”
in which the publicly dissented from a long list of Catholic teachings,
and announced that they are going to completely disregard
several important disciplinary laws of the Church.
This, unfortunately, is nothing new.
For several decades now there have been a lot of people
publicly demanding changes to Church teaching
—even when those teachings are divine truths,
not changeable by any man, even a pope.
Of course this can be extremely confusing to Catholics,
and particularly when it.s our fellow Catholics demanding these changes,
and especially when it.s Catholic priests, and even bishops.

Sometimes Catholics, including myself,
wonder why Church authorities delay
in correcting or disciplining Catholics
who publicly dissent from Church teaching.
It doesn.t seem fair to regular Catholics, much less the rest of the world,
to let this confusion continue.
Personally, I can tell you it makes a priests job
a whole lot more difficult than it has to be;
when you teach a difficult truth, or support some action of the Pope,
and have to deal with all sorts of ugly criticism,
only to have some bishop somewhere confuse everything
by doing the exact opposite.
And nothing happens to them: the rest of the hierarchy seems to be silent.

Why does the Church—especially the pope and his helpers in Rome—
allow this to go on without doing something about it?
Sometimes because of misplaced caution.
Sometimes it.s because cowardice.
Sometimes it.s because they just don.t know what.s going on.
And in the case of some Church officials, unfortunately,
sometimes it.s because they agree with dissenters.

But sometimes, sometimes, the delay is necessary,
and even part of God.s will.

In today.s Gospel text Jesus tells us:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed
.…[H]is enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat….
When the crop grew …the weeds appeared as well.”
And when the man.s servants wanted to pull up the weeds he replied simply:
“„No, ….Let them grow together until harvest.”

How can it ever be acceptable to patiently let weeds grow with the wheat,
to allow confusing false doctrines
to grow and spread throughout the Church and society?
Today.s text gives two good reasons.
First, Jesus says:
“if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

How many times do we try to accomplish something good
only to have the unintended negative consequences
overwhelmingly offset the good we achieve?

You know how this works.
I was at a family.s house one night having an enjoyable dinner,
when one of the children, a 6 year old, acted up and daddy scolded her.
He was the right thing to do it, only one problem:
the 6 year old started to cry and scream,
And then the 3 younger children started to cry too.
Dad did the right thing, but the evening was ruined.

This happens in the Church too.
For 20 years Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
was in charge of correcting and disciplining Catholics
who publicly who misled their brothers and sisters with false teaching.
He very seldom acted harshly or with haste.
But he did act and speak clearly and decisively.
Most of the time his actions weren.t in the headlines
—at least not the headlines of the secular media:
But when the media did take notice
it seldom failed to paint him with the harsh brush of his critics.
who called him “divisive,” “heavy handed,” “the Grand inquisitor,”
and the ‘Panzer Kardinal’.
And those were the nicer names they called him.

Think back to the reaction to Cardinal Ratzinger.s public letter in June of 2003,
condemning the legalization of so called “gay marriage,”
and reminding Catholic politicians that voting for these laws
would be “gravely immoral.”
Or to his very private letter sent to guide the American bishops
in July of 2004
in which he reminded them that pro-abortion politicians
must be denied Holy Communion.
Both these letters were intended
to protect Catholics from being misled about the Church.s teaching,
and to lead people to repentance and God.s forgiveness.
But many people, particularly the press, reacted as if Ratzinger wanted
to burn homosexuals at the stake,
dictate policy to the American government,
and force women to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

So that when this good and brave man,
an intellectual giant,
and yet the most humble and kindest man you.d ever what to meet,
was elected pope 6 years ago, the headlines in some cities read:
“From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi,”
and “„God.s Rottweiler’ is the new Pope.”
Some articles called him a “radical extremist”
—making him sound like a terrorist—
and a chorus rose up calling him a
“misogynist,” “homophobe”, “bigot”, “hatemonger”, and “Nazi”.

Now as “Pope Benedict XVI”
he has to overcome the negative ramifications and effects
of the brave and good work he did as “Cardinal Ratzinger”
in pulling weeds for the sake of the wheat.
So, while his interventions were necessary and well worth the negative press,
and while we should never fear upholding the truth,
we can see how it is “prudent” to be careful
not to unnecessarily diminish the good we hope to accomplish,
and therefore sometimes necessary
not to pull every weed that grows in the wheat.

But there is also a second reason for not always immediately pulling the weeds:
“The kingdom of heaven is like
yeast….mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”
One reason the hierarchy doesn.t act quickly in every problem case,
is that it waits for us to act:
while we may have to live like wheat surrounded by weeds,
we also need to live as leaven to the society we live in:
by truly and clearly living our Christian lives in the day to day world
we can and will raise up the faith in those around us.

How many of us take the time to educate ourselves on the Church.s teaching
on the issues of the day
–how many of us have actually read those letters
from Cardinal Ratzinger that I was talking about earlier
–and I don.t mean read the articles in the press,
but the actual words of Ratzinger, now Benedict, himself?
And how many of us act on these teachings,
by putting them into practice
and proclaiming them to the world we live in every day?
Is it Rome, or is it us, who fails to act?

Think about it:
at the party you went to last night, or at work last week,
when someone brought up the Church.s “harsh” treatment of gays,
–or some other misunderstood teaching of the Church—
did you explain to them what the Church really intends and teaches?

Or at home: parents,
when you saw something on television
that showed ignorance about or hostility toward the Church,
did you bother take a moment to point it out and clarify it for your children?

And children, how about you?
When someone at school, maybe a classmate or even a teacher,
says something about the Church that doesn.t sound right
do you take the time to do something about it,
at least by talking to Mom and Dad about it?

Some would say: but what can I do, what difference can I make?
How can tiny little me change the world around me?
Again, Jesus addresses this in today.s Gospel. He says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …..
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.”
The mustard seed is like the leaven:
only a tiny bit of leaven is used to raise a large loaf of bread.

Maybe prudence, limits what you can do.
Maybe you honestly discern that the good you want to accomplish
will be overshadowed by the misunderstanding that will result.
Maybe you.re just being careful not to pull the weeds out
lest you pull the wheat out with it.
Maybe you.re acting with clemency, leniency and mercy
as today.s 1st reading tells us the Lord does.

Still, if you do act in prudence, and in mercy,
you must also remember that the Lord says:
“…[at] the end of the age, …. [the] weeds are collected and
…. throw[n] into the fiery furnace.”
In mercy for the weeds mixed with the wheat,
we—you and I—must do something for them
to keep them from the furnace.
We must tell them the truth.
Yes, perhaps slowly, and gently, and always with kindness,
as the book of Wisdom says today:
“those who are just must be kind.”
And warning them not just about the prospect of “the fiery furnace”
but also offering them Our Lord.s wonderful promise that:
“the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
But we must tell them the truth.

Today, as we continue to prepare ourselves for the Eucharist,
let us pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, that he may have
the prudence and wisdom to discern,
and the courage and mercy to act,
how, where and when the Lord wants him to
in either pulling or leaving the weeds in the Church.
And let us pray for ourselves
that words of the Gospel and the grace of this sacrament
may bear great fruit in us,
so that we may be the wheat of the harvest,
and not the weeds bundled for burning.
And that our Lord may give us
the patience to live as wheat among the weeds,
and the prudence, mercy, and courage to
to act as the leaven that transforms the world into Christ’s Kingdom.

July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Tomorrow our nation celebrates 235 years of freedom.
As Catholics it is especially right for us to celebrate that freedom,
since we believe that God created us in the beginning
to live in freedom:
in a very real way we are not fully human if we are not free.
And yet as we celebrate freedom,
particularly in the context of freedom from the yoke of a foreign King,
we hear Christ telling us that in order to be truly free we must, as he says:
“Take my yoke upon you.”

Think about this.
With all the things we think or experience as “freedom”,
have you ever thought about how free we actually are?

As Americans, we are free to enter any profession we want.
But in a very real way our freedom to do so is limited
by one responsibility or another,
or by lack of financial resources
or even lack of the requisite intelligence, necessary to enter that field.

We are free to buy whatever we want.
But how free are we to buy whatever we want if we don’t have the money.
You may say, but we’re free to get the money by working hard.
But sometimes circumstances beyond our control
keep us from making or saving that money.

And even if we have the money to buy the things we want,
do we really freely chose what we want?
Did you design the clothes you’re wearing,
or are you wearing them because someone else said they’re fashionable?
We let people tell us what to wear all the time.
There’s a kind of limitation of freedom, isn’t there?

We’re also free to hold whatever political beliefs we wish.
But how many of us, for all practical purposes, freely bind ourselves
in the chains of one or the other political ideology
so that we almost slavishly follow along whatever
a particular party or movement decides for us?

These are all very real obstacles to freedom,
but the worst obstacle is summarized in one word: sin.
How many of us start out to do something good, wind up doing the exact opposite.
As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Yes, sin is freely chosen, but temptation can be powerfully coercive
and once chosen we can easily become it’s slave.

Now, all of this is not to make you fill like freedom is an illusion or meaningless.
But rather, to remind us that freedom as the world normally thinks of freedom
is never complete, and always constrained by something.

Unfortunately, the realization of the obstacles to freedom
leads many to think that everything that in anyway
seems to constrain freedom must be removed.
I say “unfortunately” because while removing obstacles to freedom in life
is generally a good thing
the problem is, that a lot of things some consider
to be obstacles or constraints on freedom
actually work to enhance freedom.

For example the laws of society:
at first glance, laws can seem to deny you the freedom
to do whatever you want,
but in the end they actually promote your freedom.
For instance, the law says you’re not free to kill other people whenever you want,
but that in turn enhances the freedom of everyone
both to live, and to live without paralyzing fear.

Or take the case of children.
Children are equal citizens under our American law and constitution.
Yet, we wisely do not give them the freedoms of an adult:
they can’t drink alcohol, or choose where they live or go to school;
they can’t sign valid contracts, or marry;
and they can’t vote.
More importantly, not only does society impose these rules,
but parents have their own rules.
Children, especially little children, need parental discipline
—not to constrain their freedom, but to enhance that freedom.
I remember when I was 3 years old
and rushed freely out of the house to play in the street.
Momma taught me very quickly and forcefully
that I did not have that freedom to get myself run over
so I’d be free to play another day.

And more important still, parents have to teach their kids
the self-discipline necessary for life.
We teach them not to be distracted during studies or at Mass
—suppressing their curiosity about what’s going on outside or on cable,
in order to free their minds to learn or to draw closer to God.

And as children grow this self-discipline is key to being a free adult.
How many adults that you know seem to be controlled by emotions,
especially hatred or fear or pride or greed or envy or gluttony or lust?
Are they truly free?

In the end, every human being must have a set of rules guiding his or her behavior,
that limit their freedom to be foolish or evil
in order to increase their over all freedom of life.

These rules are what we call our “moral principles” or “values.”
Nowadays some say that it’s true that we all need to have morals,
but people can figure out what’s right and wrong on their own.
So they say we don’t need a Church or the Bible
to teach us about morality
—that popes and priests shouldn’t impose their own morals on other people.

Now, it’s true that some things are very easy to recognize as right or wrong.
Unfortunately, some are not so easy to recognize,
and some things that should be easy
still aren’t always recognized like they should be.

And so the Church steps in to remind us.
For example, it seems pretty obvious to us today
that you should feed people who can’t feed themselves.
And yet throughout the centuries it’s been the Church
that’s had to constantly remind us.

It seems pretty obvious to us today that man is endowed by his Creator
by certain freedoms and rights.
And yet, again, this comes to us from the Judeo-Christian understanding of man
as being is created in the image of God with God-given rights and freedoms.

With all that, it’s amazing to me how so many nowadays attack the Church
as an enemy of freedom,
when it teaches that some things
that to some seem to enhance freedom,
like contraception, abortion, extra-marital sex
and homosexual acts:
in reality constrain freedom.
For example, in an abortion:
the freedom of a mother to abort destroys the freedom of a baby to live.

If all this is true, that on the one hand we’re never completely free in this world,
and on the other hand
that we need rules to properly order the freedom we have
so that freedom will thrive,
that still leaves us with a lot of questions.
In particular:
is there any freedom that can be achieved in this world without limitation?
And if so, what rules do we follow
that will enhance that freedom in our lives?

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus pray to His Father:
“although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.”
The most amazing thing about children is their openness to others,
how they so freely give and receive love.
We see how 2 little children who are complete strangers
can play like fast friends in the sand box,
and how they open wide their arms to an adult they can sense loves them.
This is what Jesus is talking about:
unless you are willing to LOVE as freely as a child….

And this is the freedom we all seek: the freedom to love.
This is the only freedom we can really possess completely and perfectly.
And what surprise is there in that?
Scripture makes it very clear that man is created
in the image of the God who IS love
—he created us to receive his love and love him in return.
And in his image he created us as male and female and told us to multiply
—to love family and all the rest of mankind.
In short, man is a creature designed to love.

And so, except for the freedom to live,
freedom to love is the most basic of freedoms,
and the freedom most completely realizable on earth.
Because it’s pretty hard to block this freedom—because it’s inside you.
It doesn’t take any money or education,
and opportunities abound at every moment.

Of course there is one major obstacles to this freedom: sin.
But what is sin but a choice not to love, or to abuse love in some way?
When others treat us badly, or society is unjust,
when we yield to the temptation of our own passions,
and let hatred, fear, pride, greed, envy or lust control us.
All these choices not to love are sins.

But as difficult as these obstacles are, they can be overcome,
and the freedom to love can be realized on earth
through the love of Christ.
As Pope Benedict once wrote about St. Paul:
“The experience of being loved to the end by Christ opened [Paul’s] eyes
about truth and the path of human existence….
This love is now the “law” of his life
and…was the freedom of his life.”

The love of Christ frees us from sin, and frees us to love.
And the rule or the law that protects our freedom is the law of love,
“you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And that law of love has more specific content, the “rules of love,” so to speak,
the 10 Commandments and the moral teaching of Jesus,
which help us to know
what love truly is,
and what things might destroy love.
And how are you free to exercise a gift if you don’t even know what it is?
And how can we be free to enjoy something by acting to destroy it?

So, for example, the 6th Commandment “thou shall not commit adultery”
protects our freedom to love in marriage
by helping us to understand what marriage is,
and keeping us from doing things to destroy marriage.

Think about this.
If you exercise a supposed freedom to cheat on your spouse,
you’ll probably lose your freedom to participate in your marriage.
Or if you freely divorce your spouse
you take away your spouse’s freedom to remain married.
And how will children be free to live and love in a family
if mom’s and dads are free to abandon or tear apart that family?

So Jesus explains the 6th commandment, saying:
“What …God has joined together, no man can separate”;
and “whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery.”

And how can we exercise the freedom to marry
if we don’t even understand what marriage is?
For example, some say, marriage is just a contract
forming a temporary sexually-based emotional relationship,
even if it’s between 2 men, or 2 women.
So Jesus explains, no:
“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’?”

Beyond all that, what kind of freedom do we really exercise
when we bind ourselves in blind obedience to ideologies or popular opinion?
Most of all, what freedom do we really enjoy
if we choose to live as slaves of our passions,
rather than free in the love of Christ?

And so Christ goes on to tell us today:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Come to me with all the things that deny you the freedom to love,
to become who you were created to be.
whether it’s your own sinful choices, or your own limitations,
or the sins of others or the limitations others impose on you.
Come to me and I will give you my love, my freedom.

He says:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me”:
freely choose to love me, and to be guided by my love,
“For I am meek and humble of heart.”
learn from me because I don’t use my freedom to be prideful or selfish,
but I freely choose to humbly love.
And if you do this, if you exchange the burden of sin and the world,
“you will find rest”—you will find true freedom.
Because, he says, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light”:
because this will be the most natural thing in the world for you to do:
like a bird was created to fly freely in the sky,
you were created to live freely in love, guided by Christ’s love.
And not only guided by his love,
but lifted up by his love—in his love he carries the burdens of life with you.

We must freely choose to “take up” the yoke, the love, of Christ.
But if we do, the love of Christ will set us free,
and no obstacle will take away that freedom.
As St. Paul says elsewhere
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,
or peril, or sword?
…No,…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

July 4th, 1776 was truly a momentous day
in the history of our nation and the world,
and should be celebrated by all Americans, and, I think, by all mankind.
But let us never use the limited freedom we enjoy and celebrate as an excuse
to loose sight of the most fundamental freedom
God has in mind for all of us: the freedom to love.
Let us instead accept the yoke of Jesus Christ,
a yoke that is easy and light,
because it is a yoke of love, that guides in love and to love,
and thereby to true, perfect and everlasting freedom.

4th Sunday of Lent 2011

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

A few weeks ago Pope Benedict released his second volume
of his theological treatise “Jesus of Nazareth.”
As is usual some in the secular media have taken snippets of his writings
out of context and tried stir up trouble.
One thing some have been reporting that he supposedly wrote
that Catholics shouldn.t try to convert Jews.
Of course, if you read what he wrote that.s not what he said at all.
In fact, I had to laugh in reading the stories because they reminded me
that just a couple of years ago, at this same time of year,
the press was attacking Benedict for a prayer
that.s part of the Good Friday liturgy of “Old” Traditional Latin Mass.
Some said the prayer was anti-Semitic because it referred to “the blindness of”
the Jewish people, and prayed they may see “the light of ….Christ,
and “be rescued from their darkness.”

But the controversy got me thinking
about the fact that all mankind, including both Jews and Catholics,
are in need of conversion,
and that at one time or another, and all of us suffer from
spiritual blindness and darkness.
Which is why all of us need the one who called himself: “the light of the world.”

If we need any reminder of this all
we have to do is look at each of today.s 3 Scripture readings..
In the first reading from Isaiah we read:
“Not as man sees does God see.”
In the 2nd reading from St. Paul.s letter to the Ephesians we read:
“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”
And finally in the Gospel we read
the story of Jesus giving sight to the man born blind.

What is the meaning of all this?
Well, of course, light and dark, sight and blindness
are filled with rich symbolism in Scripture.
Let.s focus on 2 aspects of this symbolism today:
the symbolism of ignorance vs. knowledge,
and the symbolism of sin vs. holiness.

Let.s start with “ignorance.”
First, remember what the word “ignorant” means.
It doesn.t mean “stupid”, it means “not knowing,” or “unaware.”

So St. John and the Holy Spirit tell the true story of the man born blind
in part to remind us of all the people who are born into cultures or families
that have no real knowledge of Jesus, the light of the world.
Included in this group are, of course,
most Muslims and Hindus, Confucians, Shintos, and animists.
We also find some Atheists, especially so many raised in the
Communist and post-Communist regimes of eastern Europe and Asia.
And of course, we find our older brothers in the faith of Abraham,
the Jewish people.

Now, does this mean that all these folks are somehow intrinsically evil,
or less loved by God?
No, not at all.
As Jesus says:
“I came into this world…so that those who do not see might see.”

And it.s not just people from non-Christian cultures who are ignorant of Christ.
The 21st century finds so many people in the western countries
whose cultures are rooted in Christianity,
but who are now so ignorant of those origins.

And it.s worse than that, because so many people
who still call themselves Christians are also ignorant of Christ.
And their ignorance, is in many ways, worse than the others.
Because the have some knowledge of Christ,
but choose to live in ignorance of so much of what he taught.
In effect, they are, in a sense, not born blind,
but they choose to become at least partially blind to the light of Christ.
And to them Christ says:
“If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, „We see,. so your sin remains.”

So here we come to the 2nd meaning of blindness and darkness: sin.
Jesus said,
“I came …so that those who do not see might see,”
but then he added, “and those who do see might become blind.”
Those who are not ignorant,
choose to act as if they are ignorant—they sin—
and live a life with eyes closed,
choosing to be blind to what they should readily see.

You know, up until about 5 years ago
I had better than perfect 20/20 vision, physical speaking.
But years of overstraining my eyes finally caught up to me
and suddenly I.m up here wearing bifocals.
Some of this is simply aging,
but some is due to my own personal choices of behavior
that led me to loose some of my sight.
And the same thing happens to us when we sin:
my choice to ignore Christ weakens my ability to see Christ as he truly is,
and to see myself for what I.ve become.

I was reading the other day how people living in war zones
after awhile get used to seeing all the violence and hardship.
In other words, you sort of become blind to it.
It.s the same thing with people who live surrounded by other peoples. sins
or enmeshed in there own sinful lives.
They stop noticing the sin.

Think about this.
Imagine a good Catholic living in Northern Virginia in 1961
being instantaneously transported in time from 1961 to 2011.
They turn on the TV and find what they think is a channel
devoted entirely soft porn and sick humor.
And you come in the room and all you see is a primetime network sitcom.

[sp]
Now, in a certain sense,
like the man in the Gospel today and his physical blindness,
all of us are actually born spiritually blind.
Again this is in the same 2 ways: ignorance and sin.

This time let.s talk about sin first.
All of us are born with “original sin.”
One of the effects of Adam and Eve.s first sin is
that none of us is able to see as clearly as we were created to.
For example, you see someone cut in front of you in traffic
and you think you see the meanest dumbest son of a gun you ever met.
And then you notice that the driver is actually a diminutive nun
who looks like of Mother Theresa.
Your vision wasn.t acting the way it was supposed to—it confused good and evil.

This confusion—part of what theologians call concupiscence—
is the result of being born partially blind in original sin.

How do we solve this blindness?
The same way Jesus does in today.s Gospel:
First he puts mud on the man.s eyes
—perhaps as a symbol of the much and filth of sin blinding our eyes.
But then he tells him:
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam”
And the man washes, and he sees.
It doesn.t take a Scripture scholar to recognize this is a symbol of baptism
and the grace it pours out on us,
washing away the muck from the eyes of our souls
and opening them to see in the light of Christ.

[sp]
All of us are also born in the blindness of ignorance.
Did you know that when we.re born we really aren.t able to see very well?
—in a real physical sense we.re all born partially blind,
and have to actually develop and learn how to see
with normal vision.

But babies aren.t only physically blind, they.re also intellectually blind;
in other words, they.re ignorant: they know nothing.
So parents have the duty to teach their children
how to see the world as it really is
—especially the truth of the teaching of Christ
passed down to us in His Church.
Any parent—and I would include spiritual fathers like priests in this
—who fails to do this leaves their child in ignorance and darkness,
and shows their own blindness—either in sin or ignorance.
Like Jesus says of the Pharisees, these parents and priests are:
“they are like blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man,
both will fall into a pit.”

[vsp]
Which lead us to the fact that not all blindness comes to us at birth:
some of us are born into families and cultures
that teach us about the truth about the Gospel,
but we choose to become ignorant,
by letting our good training lapse,
or failing to keep learning as adults.

Many of us—if not most—learned our faith as children:
how many of us have actually tried to seriously continue
to learn about our faith as adults?
When was the last time you sat down read the bible?
or the Catechism?
or one of the great Catholic spiritual classics
—Augustine.s “Confessions,”
or St. Therese.s “Story of a Soul.”
Like the blind man we have to constantly strive to learn more about the Messiah,
asking: “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

[vsp]
And the blindness of sin can also return, even after baptism,
with every actual sin we freely choose to commit in our lives.
As St. Paul tells us in today.s 2nd reading, Baptism makes us “children of light.”
Even so, we can still chose, as he goes on to say,
to “Take part in the fruitless works of darkness.”

But when we do, all is not lost—Christ will not leave us in darkness.
Jesus didn.t just cure the man born blind
—he cured lots of blind people who became blind during their lifetimes.
And so Christ washes our eyes clean of sin not only in Baptism
but also in the sacrament of Penance.
If only we will come to him and confess our sins with sorrow.
As St. Paul goes on to say:
“Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them…
everything exposed by the light becomes visible.”

[sp]
We see in all this that ignorance and sin are very much interrelated.
And we see that ignorance can lead to sin:
But it.s also true that ignorance can actually excuse of the guilt of our sins:
as Jesus says: “If you were blind, you would have no sin”
If you don.t know something is wrong, how can you be guilty?

Sometimes we can.t help being ignorant about something.
Moral theologians call this “invincible ignorance.”
For example, sometimes young Catholics tell me they didn.t know
it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday,
because no ever told them
—in fact priests and teachers in Catholic schools
told them it was NOT a mortal sin.
In one sense, who can blame you for not knowing when you were never taught,
or were betrayed and not taught the truth?

But we need to be careful here:
does your responsibility to learn about Christ end
with the last word you heard leaving Catholic grade school or CCD?
Does having a priest tell you that adultery or contraception is not a sin
negate the fact that even the secular press knows the pope calls it a sin?
Again, are we so blind,
that we can.t read the Catechism or the Bible for ourselves?
Some ignorance we can.t help,
but some is as easily washed away as mud from our eyes.

And we can.t stop with our ignorance.
What about the ignorance of others?
Christ came to be the light of the world,
and he puts his light in you,
and warns you not to “light a lamp” only to “put it under a bushel basket;”
commanding you to
“set it on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.”

You do this first of all by your actions:
your life should be a shining example of knowledge of the truth,
not of your ignorance or you turning a blind eye to the Gospel.

But you also need to talk to people about Jesus:
especially when they ask you questions.
You say, but Father, I don.t know what to tell people about Christ.
Well, then learn—prepare yourself.
And even if you get asked a question you can.t answer, don.t panic.
Look at the man born Blind going toe to toe the Pharisees.
Twice he honestly says “I do not know”,
but then he adds the simple but powerful and irrefutable observation:
“One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”

Lent is a time for us to recognize that we all live in a world full of darkness,
and some of that darkness is in our own souls.
So now, at this Mass, as we enter into the mystery of the Cross of Good Friday,
let us pray for all the peoples of the world,
that they may come to see and live in the light of Christ,
We pray in a particular way for the Jews,
because we love them in special way:
after all, it was a Jew, the son of David,
who died on the Cross of our sins.
But most of all, we pray for ourselves,
that the grace of Christ
may wash away the ignorance and sin that blinds us,
“rescue[ing] [us] from [our] darkness”,
to “Live as children of light.”

3rd Sunday of Lent 2011

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

“I thirst.”
Jesus said these words as he hung on the Cross.
But he also could have said them as he came out of his 40 days in the desert
where he was tempted by the devil.
And he also probably said them to himself
in the scene recorded in today’s Gospel,
as, tired from his long journey, he sat down by a well in the hott mid-day sun.

But, while Jesus’ thirst was genuinely physical in each of these cases,
his was also a spiritual thirst that came from being surrounded by sin
–from entering into sinful human life,
the life of those who had been cast out of the lush garden of Eden
into the starkness of the barren desert wasteland of sin.
The thirst of those deprived of the waters of ever-lasting life and grace.
It is not his thirst, just as it is not his sin, but he accepts it as his own.

And thus spiritually parched he encounters someone
who has contributed greatly to his thirst by her many sins:
A woman who comes out in the mid-day sun, the hottest time of the day,
in order to avoid her neighbors:
she is a notorious sinner–an adulteress—
both spurned by others and afraid of their animosity.

And yet this is exactly why Jesus is here
—he’s come specifically to meet her, because she is a sinner.

And Jesus deals with her the way he deals with all sinners.
First, he goes someplace he knows sinners will be.
For example, he goes to dinners with tax collectors,
because that’s where the sinners hang out.
And he goes to the temple, to meet the hypocritical priests and scribes
who worship God with their words, but not with their hearts.
And he goes to the Samaritan well in the middle of the day
to meet the woman who’s sins keep her away the rest of the day.

And just like he does with all sinners, he waits for her.
No matter how many times sinners ignore him or run from him,
he waits for them.
Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, he waits for them to return to him.
Patiently, he waits for you and me for years and even decades.
Tired and thirsty in the heat of the mid-day sun,
he patiently waits for the woman at the well.

And when she approaches, he is the first to speak
—he will not be silent in the face of sin.
And he speaks to her in very direct and clear tones: “Give me a drink”
Right to the point—and yet subtle in his own way,
as he draws her into conversation.
And right to the point—he quickly confronts her with the truth
Just as he spoke to the Pharisees, confronting them very directly with their sins:
“you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup …
but inside you are full of …wickedness.”
And to the money-changers in the temple:
“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
but you have made it a den of thieves.”
So he speaks to the woman at the well:
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.”

And finally, he treats each person uniquely
and does whatever is necessary to help the individual sinner:
—he knows very well that every sinner is different,
and that each needs a slightly different approach.
So sometimes, with sinners who needed it,
Jesus had to raise his voice in righteous anger:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
…You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
And sometimes he resorted even to physical force:
even making a whip to drive the money-changers out of the temple.
But sometimes, the sinner simply needs
a calm and gentle, but strong and clear, voice,
as with this broken, lonely woman at the well.
This is how Christ is: adapting to the person,
but always with directness and truth,
never compromising or backing down,
and no half-measures.

It’s incredible, all Jesus does just to save sinners.
He suffers for and because of our sins,
and yet he comes seeking us,
waits patiently,
tells us the truth
—even when that might mean we’ll walk away—
and he approaches each of us in the way best suited for us personally.

Yet even all this isn’t enough to win sinners back.
Because God loves us so much that he gives us the great gift of “free will”
–he gives us and respects our freedom to choose.
Two weeks ago we read how Adam and Eve made the wrong choice.
They chose in effect, as so many since them have also,
to live thirsty in the empty desert of sin,
rather than in the lushness of paradise
with its refreshing cool waters of grace.

And so it is with the woman at the well.
She must choose.
She brings her dry, empty water jar out
looking for a way to temporarily quench her thirst.
But rather quickly she discovers she has a choice.
She can choose to be satisfied temporarily with pleasures of the world,
and die in sin,
or she can accept the love and grace of Jesus and his Holy Spirit,
and live forever.
She can wallow in the filth of her own sin,
or she can be cleansed and refreshed in the waters of Baptism.

Like Eve before her, she must choose.
But unlike Eve before her, she chooses well.
So, unlike Eve, who hid from God when he came looking for her in the garden,
the Samaritan woman admits the sins of her past to God—Jesus—
and repents.
So that while before, she carried her empty jar as a sign
of her dependence on the pleasures of the world
now Scripture tells us:
“The woman left her water jar and went into the town.”
Now leaving her sins behind, she’s not afraid to run to her neighbors
and share the good news that she has found the Messiah.

The choice might seem simple and obvious to us.
But if it’s so easy, why do you and I have such a hard time imitating her?
Why don’t we leave behind our sins like an empty water jar
and run out and tell the good news to our neighbors?
To choose Christ is hard
—especially when it means rejecting a whole way, or pattern,
of sinful living accumulated over years.

Consider for example 3 patterns of life
that effect almost everyone in one way or another today
—patterns as old as the story of the Samaritan woman.

First consider the debasing attitude she had toward sex
—she had committed the sin of adultery over and over again.
Today we’re surrounded by this same mentality.
And the incredible saturation of society with immodesty and lust
makes it so overwhelming
that for some, sexual sins become almost like an addiction.
Whether large or relatively small, mortal or venial,
from the way they dress to they way act,
otherwise good people get so easily and unexpectedly caught up in it,
and try as they might can’t seem to find a way out.

Look, for the example,
at the pressure on young couples dating and struggling to be chaste.
–and consider how falling just once,
makes it seem impossible to return to chastity again.

Or look at pornography—or rather don’t look at it.
But it’s everywhere—and God didn’t make us for this kind of
constant and unnatural barrage of the senses and appetites.
Then there’s the terrible debilitating habits of masturbation and contraception
—both so easy to fall into,
but both so degrading to sexuality and the human person.
The woman at the well knew how hard this type of life is to put behind you
—and unfortunately way too many people today do too.

Then consider the related pattern of life that degrades marriage itself.
It became too easy for the Samaritan woman to set one man aside
and take another
—or perhaps for one man to set her aside leaving her prey for another.
The same is true today:
look at all the folks who so easily set aside their marriage vows
when times get tough,
or because their spouse isn’t quite
as young and pretty or handsome as they used to be;
or look at all the people who marry for all the wrong reasons,
and who wind up in miserable marriages, and then in divorce.
Or look at all the couples who are not married
but act like they are by cohabitating
—just like the woman at the well with her current man.

And finally, consider the world’s attitude toward women.
The woman at the well lived in a time
when men were forbidden to even talk to a strange women in public.
Today we pride ourselves on the progress we’ve made in respecting women.
But have we really progressed?
Then why is spousal abuse and abandonment so common?
And why does pornography overwhelming involve
the degradation of the female body?
And why does society degrade the women who want to be mothers,
and even insist that a really liberated woman
must be free to kill her unborn babies?
And why do we deceive women into thinking that contraception
will somehow give them greater freedom,
when in fact the exact opposite is true.
The woman at the well knew how it was to be trapped like this,
and so do many here today.

Sin and patterns of sin are hard to overcome.
The apostles realized this and once asked Jesus in frustration:
“if this is the case, then who can be saved.”
No doubt the woman felt this most of her life, no doubt we often do too.
And there is only one answer—the answer Jesus gave to his apostles:
“With men it is impossible, but not with God;
for all things are possible with God.”

Most of us don’t get to see Jesus face to face, like the Samaritan women did.
But even so, Jesus promised the apostles:
“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
And on the first Easter he told the apostles:
“as the father has sent me, so I send you.”
…whose sins you forgive are forgiven.”
And so he continues to come to sinners
in the person of His priests and in His sacraments.
In particular he comes to us in the sacrament of penance:
he comes to us, waits for us, speaks to us,
and meets us with the compassion or correction we need to start again
And in Jesus’ name the priest washes us clean from sin
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, how few take advantage of this wonderful sacrament.
Think about this:
last week we gave Communion to maybe 3000 folks
at Sunday Masses in this parish.
And yet we heard maybe 200 confessions all last week.
That’s less than 7 % of Communions.
I gave up being an accountant 20 years ago
—but as a priest, something about those numbers troubles me.
Especially when you consider that a lot of those folks who came to confession
go to confession at least once a month, if not more often.
Which means a huge number of folks just don’t go confession.

In just a few minutes we will call to mind how,
on the night before he died on the Cross
Jesus took bread and wine and said
first “this is my body… this is my blood”
and then “do this in memory of me”
So we know that in Holy Communion Christ comes to us sinners,
just as surely as he came to the woman at the well.
But remember, before Christ would give the Samaritan woman
the life giving water,
he first had her face and confess her sins,
and leave her life of sin behind, like she left her empty water jar.
How many of us need to confess and leave our sins behind
before we ask Christ to give us himself in the Eucharist?

Now, of course you only have to go to confession before Communion
if you have a mortal sin to confess.
Maybe you don’t have a mortal sin to confess
—but then again, maybe you do.
I’m not saying you’re all terrible sinners,
I just know that sometimes we just get so used to our sins
we sort of accept them as part of us,
like the woman at the well did—until Jesus confronted her with the truth.

But, even if you don’t have a mortal sin to confess,
why wouldn’t you want to go to confession
to be washed clean from all your sins—even venial?
To a get a brand new fresh start on life?
Why wouldn’t you want to take the time to examine your conscience well
and humbly confess your sins to Christ?
And more importantly,
why wouldn’t you go just to receive the grace poured on you
in the sacrament?
Remember, it’s not just a priest waiting for you in the confessional
—it’s Christ himself.
Just like he waited for the Samaritan woman at the well.

But in both of these sacraments, as in all things, he needs us to choose.
We can come to confession or not, we can make a good confession or not.
We can receive him worthily or unworthily in Communion…or not.
And we can be open to the grace of both Communion and Confession…or not.
We must choose.

This Lent, imitate the woman at the well
and recognize that Jesus comes to us and waits for us, and loves us
—sinners that we are.
As she leads us to Christ,
let us choose to allow him to change our hearts and our lives,
so that we will no longer seek the temporary satisfaction
of the empty pleasures of the world,
waiting to die in the thirst of our sins,
but instead choose to let Christ fill us to overflowing
with the waters of everlasting life,
and live in his love—now and forever.

2nd Sunday of Lent 2011

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

If we look careful at today’s Gospel story of the transfiguration
we see a story marked by stark contrasts:
We have first of all, the change Christ’s appearance, as we read:
“And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.”
And then we see the radical contrast between the transfigured Christ
and the ordinary human appearance of Peter, James, and John
And we also see the apparently contrasting attitudes of the apostles:
on the one hand Peter says: “it is good that we are here”,
and on the hand the text tells us:
“they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.”

This Gospel really is a window into the meaning of Lent.
We read:
“Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
Like the 3 apostles, we also go away with Christ during Lent to be alone with him,
and in the mystery of contrast we begin to
discover more about who he really is
and who we really are.

That’s what the apostle did.
They saw His glory, but they also saw how different he was from them
—and not just in appearances:
they saw the infinitely stark contrast between his holiness,
and their own sinfulness..
They saw him standing and talking to the Moses
—the giver of the Commandments of God.
And they saw Christ standing with the prophet Elijah
and remembered how all the prophets had called Israel to repent their sins
and promised a Redeemer who would save them from their sins.
And then they heard the voice from heaven say:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” And suddenly, in presence of the perfection
of the eternal God the Father and His only Son,
and reproached by the giver of the Law of God
and the warnings of all the Prophets of God,
as “good as it [was] to be there,”
they “were very much afraid,”
as they came face to face with their sinfulness.

Sometimes it is said that Lent is a season of joy.
But it can only be a season of true joy to the extent
that we allow it to first be a season of true sorrow.
A season of recognizing that, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus:
“it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured,….
he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”
The joy and glory of the resurrection
comes only through his suffering and death on the cross,
and the cross comes only because of our sins.

In short, what joy can be there if we don’t first feel sorrow for our sins?
Conversely, though…for a Christian, sorrow for sins
should never be a slippery slope to hopelessness or despair,
but the first step on the road to glory and the joy
of sharing in the love of Christ.

What is a sin, after all?
St. Augustine tells us that sin
is a turning away from the Creator toward the creature,
loving the things God created more than we love God himself.
To put it another way, sin is about not loving God the way we should.
Think about this:
God loves us so much, and yet we fail to love him so often,
or we love other things more than him.
That’s why the very first commandment is
“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”
But we do this all the time.
Sometimes we put things before God: money, power, being popular.
Sometimes we put people before God,
particularly by letting people tell us what’s right or wrong.
The most common person we put before God is ourselves.
We say, I know the commandments or the Bible or the Church
says I shouldn’t do this,
but I think in this case I can make an exception:
I know better…THAN GOD.

Sometimes we hear people say, I love Jesus and my neighbor,
so the commandments aren’t that important.
As if there was some sort of dichotomy between love and the commandments.
But the thing is, Moses himself summed up the 10 Commandments by saying,
in the old Testament:
“You shall love the LORD your God
with all your heart, …soul, and …strength..”
And on the night before he died, out of love for us, Jesus himself said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments….”
The commandments can never be opposed to love,
they are God’s explanation of how to love.

Some say, but father I keep the commandments.
I’m sure you do, most of the time.
But I’m also sure that everyday most of us break the commandments,
in large ways or small.
Remember, for example, how Jesus explained the 5th commandment:
“You have heard …it …said …., ‘You shall not kill…’
…But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother
shall be liable to judgment…
… and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire..”

That person cuts you off in traffic, you don’t get angry?
Your friend somehow unknowingly hurts your feelings,
and you don’t think, “that fool” or worse,
or go to someone else to gossip about what a fool he is?

We do this all the time—we fail to love: we sin.
Most of the time it’s in small ways.

Sometimes though we sin in more serious ways.
Children yell and scream at their parents,
or pick on or spread ugly rumors
about the weak or different kid at school,
Teenagers lie to their parents about where they’re going at night,
or use alcohol or drugs or other people’s bodies for entertainment;
Parents spoil their children with every material thing they can afford,
or they neglect them by not showing them affection, or correction,
or failing to give them the Catholic faith,
sometimes even failing
to simply bring them to Mass on Sundays.

Spouses act like they’re married to their careers or hobbies,
they abuse each other with ugly words or actions,
or by perverting their conjugal love with contraception.

And single adults honor their parents by graciously calling them….once a year;
career replaces commitment,
ambition replaces charity,
lust replaces love.

Older folks also…
some allow loneliness to turn to bitterness or fear,
physical disability to lead them to selfishness or despair.

And priests…
some spend more time working on their golf game than their homilies.
They preach more about things that make parishioners feel good,
than the truth of the Gospel—including things like the reality of sin.
Not to mention, of course, the other terrible sins we’ve read about.

Small or large, venial or mortal, we all sin.
And that’s why Lent is so great:
in the light of the Cross and Resurrection
we’re recognize the truth about Christ and about ourselves,
about his love and our failure to love.
Again, not to drag us into despair,
but lead us to love.

[pause]
Now, inevitably when we talk about sin during Lent,
the subject of “doing penance” comes up.
There are, of course, 3 basic forms of Penance:
prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving.
But the question is: what do acts of penance actually have to do with sin?
Or put another way: how does giving up chocolate help me love God.

Before we get to chocolate, though, let’s begin with the penance of prayer.
Prayer is essentially a conversation with God,
or with someone who loves God so much she or he is in heaven
—a saint or angel.
Prayer makes us realize that God and our heavenly family
are actually and really there: always with us, always loving us.
And how do you come to love someone if you don’t talk to them?
If you ignore them?
So we pray.

In prayer we go to God for his help, for ourselves or others.
We go to praise and thank him, and to tell him we’re sorry.
Prayer is the first essential step in knowing God’s love,
loving him back, and growing in love.

Second, almsgiving.
The Last few Sundays we spent some time at each Mass
talking about how we can give alms to the Diocesan Church this Lent,
and today I encourage you to give alms to the people of Japan
in the second collection.
But as noble as that is, there are a million other ways we do this:
because “almsgiving” is just another word for “giving to those in need.”
So it’s not just giving money to worthy organizations,
or even to individual people who come to you in financial need.

Every day people come to you in need that has nothing to do with money.
Children, your parents come home from work tired:
they need you to help set the table,
and not to fight with each other.
Parents, I know you try hard to meet all your children’s needs,
but maybe sometimes you overlook the simplest things:
maybe sometimes they just need you to take time to talk to them.
And your spouses need you, your adult parents need you,
and your friends at work need you—in large ways or small.
And think of all the people you know
who desperately need to know about the love of Christ.
Who might even need you to point out that sins are not loving.

When you respond to any these genuine needs you are giving alms.
And you are replacing sin with love,
you are saying loving God and neighbor
are more important than my money or my time and effort,
or even my pride.
And you developing habits of love—you move toward true holiness.

And finally, sacrifices.
This is probably the most misunderstood and underappreciated
form of penance—yet it’s so important.
But how does giving up chocolate help you love God?

First, like almsgiving, it helps us to love God by recognizing that nothing
is more important than God.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
every time I look at that piece of chocolate in Lent I say
“I love God more than this chocolate.”
Small thing, but concrete, and effective.

Also, like almsgiving, sacrifice helps you recognize the sufferings of others:
every time your stomach rumbles or you crave that piece of cake,
you remember all the people who go hungry every day,
or suffer in any way:
the poor, the lonely, the oppressed, the ignorant.
And you hear the voice of Christ saying:
“whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

Beyond that is the aspect of self-discipline:
in the same way an athlete practices and exercises over and over again,
we practice self-denial we exercise our will, to strengthen our ability
to choose and do good even when it’s so hard,
and to persevere against evil even when it’d be so easy to give in.

Also sacrifice helps us to recognize that our sins
are in fact worthy of punishment.
We could never begin to repay the Lord for our transgressions,
but our willingness to accept self-punishment helps us to
express our sorrow and our deepest desire to make atonement,
and to recognize the depth of the wrong we have done.

Finally, and most importantly,
the penance of sacrifice helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ.
Every small pain or hardship coming from our sacrifices
reminds us how much he loved us,
that he would endure so much more for us.
And so, again, we return to the core of Lent:
the glory of his love for us,
a love that lifts us up even when we have freely chosen to fall.

[sp]
But in the end, no matter what we do, it’s all straw if we don’t
allow our penance to open our hearts to the power of his love.
As St. Paul reminds us:
“He …called us to a holy life, not according to our works
but according to …the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.”

So in Lent we seek his grace because we know that
what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.
And we find his grace in so many ways and moments of Lent,
but most clearly and powerfully in the sacraments
of the Eucharist and Penance.

As all of Lent looks to the Cross of Christ,
the Eucharist is the sacrament of his Cross.
At every Mass we go up the mountain with all the saints and angels
to see the glory of the Lord Jesus
giving up his body and shedding his blood,
so that sins may be forgiven—your sins and my sins.

And as the Cross points to the Resurrection,
we remember that on the evening of that first Easter
Jesus appeared to his apostles, breathed on them, and said:
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
So in the sacrament of Penance,
where we confess and express sorrow for our sins
before God and the Church, in the person of the priest,
we believe and know that the power of Christ’s merciful love
pours out on us, and every single sin is washed away.
And we receive the grace of that love,
the power to love him and one another just as he has loved us.

[sp]
During Lent we go away to be with the Lord
just as Peter, James and John once did.
And here, in the light of his glory,
we are stunned by the contrast between
the magnificence of his love for us,
and our own miserable failure to love him in return.
In this holy season the Lord calls us to recognize our sinfulness,
not so that we will wallow in self-loathing,
but to move us to change our hearts
and open our lives to his infinite grace.

Today, in the presence of our Eucharist Lord,
we imitate the apostles and fall prostrate before his glory.
Be afraid of what your sinful choices have done to you,
but see the Lord coming to you and saying
“be not afraid” to accept and return his love.
And let us thank the Lord
for the gift of this Holy Season of Lent,
saying with St. Peter: “it is good that we are here.”