2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?

In 1954 a science fiction story appeared in a series of installments in Collier’s Magazine, a prominent U.S. magazine. It was called the Body Snatchers, and its plot was quite simple. A species of intelligent creatures from outer space begins to invade the earth in the form of seeds that produce and then inhabit perfect duplicates of the bodies of human beings who are then reduced to dust. The book was popular enough to be adapted for the movies and was reproduced 4 times over the years. Indeed, this plot of the human body serving as the nesting place for aliens has had many different versions in science fiction, and it is curious as to why this theme is so popular among a good many people.

Hopefully, this plot has been successful because it horrifies people, a successful form of fiction for centuries, and especially popular since the movie version of Mary Shelly’s horror novel Frankenstein. The very idea of the human body being an incubator for some alien life form is horrifying to any normal human being, as is cannibalism or a terrible mutilation of the human body. But why are these things so horrifying to normal people today? The answer surely has to be found in the influence of the revealed truth about man which over centuries eliminated horrors like cannibalism and mutilating form of punishment.

Respect for the human body as such was not the norm in pre-Christian societies anywhere in this world. Cannibalism was practiced in many places on this earth among our ancestors, and torture and desecration of the bodies of enemies were normal occurrences in war. If American immigrants were horrified by the scalping perpetrated by Native Americans, it was only because their own cultural evolution had removed such horrors from their past, and it was Christianity that caused that evolution by transforming their barbaric ancestral practices by inculcating in their souls the truth that man, the whole man, was made in the image and likeness of God.

The implications of that great revealed truth about man, that he is the image of God, took a great deal of time to transform those ancient cultural barbarities when it came to the body. It did not instantly transform the religious culture of Israel who first received that great truth about man. All we need recall is the action of David, who was truly a man after God’s heart, who beheaded Goliath as a war trophy, and who mutilated the enemies he killed to bring their foreskins to King Saul as a wedding offering for his daughter.

But the teaching of Jesus regarding the body, as we see in the 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, at last brings out the full implications of the meaning of man, body and soul, as the image of God. The body, just like the soul, is sacred, precisely as an effect of the salvation accomplished by Jesus. The Christian believer clearly affirms the sacredness of the human flesh of Jesus, the flesh offered up for our salvation on the Cross, the flesh raised from the dead so we could enjoy a new form of life, rooted in and made possible by that risen humanity of the Lord Jesus.

Paul on this basis teaches us: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with
him. If by virtue of Baptism, our bodies become true members of Christ, grafted onto his humanity, then our bodies must indeed become sacred because they share in the holiness of His risen flesh. Then Paul explains this more fully:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price.

In the first passage Paul teaches us that because we are members of Christ [by Baptism], we also become one Spirit with him. But to make sure that we correctly understand what it means to become one Spirit with Him, He adds that the spirit is the Holy Spirit, and thus our bodies like our souls becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. He means that quite literally, and thus is the ultimate dignity of our bodies established. God, from whom we receive the Holy Spirit, has determined that the human body is forever to be His temple. Thus we must no longer view the body as our own, in the sense that it is something we can do with whatever we choose. It is, by Baptism, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus must be treated as such and honored by our actions, just like the Temple in Jerusalem.

However, the Spirit taking possession of our bodies is not to be thought of like the aliens taking possession of the bodies in that fictional account. First, the deed is accomplished only if we wish it, unlike the “invasion” in the horror story. Secondly, by this possession the Spirit does not steal our bodies or destroy them or degrade them in any way, but rather the Spirit perfects them unimaginably and makes them live forever as God’s holy temple. It is all a matter of freedom and utterly transcendent perfection. And finally, the One who takes possession is no alien to us; for our divine guest is ultimately our creator, the one who sustains our existence, and the One who redeemed us. Thus He is truly, as St. Augustine says, closer to us than we are to ourselves since God is the wellspring and foundation of our very being.

Sadly, even centuries after this revelation, there still have been instances of things like bodily mutilation and bodily torture practiced, or at least tolerated, by some Christians. Hopefully that is something now overcome by a more accurate understanding of the implications of the doctrine that the baptized body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and member of Christ’s mystical body, and not simply by the Geneva Conventions!

But lest we to readily condemn our Christian ancestors, we must note that the desecration that what Paul focuses on here is not that kind of horror, but on what he calls immorality in the body. The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Paul here and elsewhere is talking about the reduction of the body to an instrument of immoral pleasure in sins of the flesh. The Christian must not fornicate or commit adultery or commit any sin of the flesh not simply because it is against the natural, moral law, the 6th commandment, but more importantly because the body is not longer simply ours, to do with as we wish, but is now truly the Lord’s and the temple of His Spirit! Indeed its true dignity will grow precisely by doing what Paul concludes this passage with as a command: Therefore glorify God in your body. Indeed, we must all keep our bodies holy because they are in fact, by Baptism, holy temples of God. And likewise we must honor the body of every person, even the unbaptized. For their bodies, though not yet temples of God, are nonetheless already marked out for holiness because being God’s temple is their true destination just like ours, whether they reach it soon or later, or not at all. God created all of us for this great and noble destiny, to be His dwelling place forever, and we must work diligently to keep that dwelling place holy here and now, until at last it comes to perfection as God’s Temple in Heaven, in the resurrection of the blessed.

Epiphany 2012

January 8, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “the showing.”
And so today’s Feast of he Epiphany celebrates that day when
the Lord Jesus was manifested, or shown,
not just to his family or his people Israel,
but to the whole world, symbolized by the arrival of the magi from the East.

Of course what was “shown” or “revealed” was not just a tiny baby,
but the Creator of the Universe, God himself, made flesh in this tiny baby.
But while the birth of Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God,
it’s not the first time God has revealed himself to the world.
For 1700 years before that God had been speaking to Jewish prophets,
and going back even further we see how God spoke to Noah,
and of course to Adam and Eve.
But even before all that, before a word was spoken,
God revealed himself in an even more basic way:
through the wonder of his creation.

As far back as we can tell man has been looking to creation
to understand what it has to tell us.
In fact, the magi in today’s Gospel probably spent quite a bit of time
dedicated to that very effort.
There’s been a lot of speculating about who these men were.
Some have said that since they were obviously rich
and were greeted with great deference by King Herod,
they themselves must have been kings.
That may very well be true, or not,
but one thing that seems certain is that they were essentially
scholars, learned in many subjects,
—the word “magi” refers to this, as does the term “wise men”.
In particular, they were clearly knowledgeable of astronomy,
—so they were able to not only spot the unusual “star”
that had arisen in the sky toward their west,
but to identify it as a completely unusual phenomenon.

That same fascination with nature and understanding it’s order continues today.
We spend billions of dollars every year for wise men—scientists—
to study the stars and the earth, and the whole creation around us.
At the same time we see a growing non-scientific appreciation of nature,
of its simple and yet majestic beauty and wonder.
And in all this interest a common theme seems to emerge:
an appreciation for the order of things in nature:
that there is a way things ought to be in nature.

We see this in the formulas and laws of scientists,
but also in the way non-scientists speak about the environment.
For example, we hear people talk about preserving “pristine forests”,
and protecting “delicate eco-systems.”

And as they recognize that there is an order in nature,
some also recognize that even the slightest disturbance in that order,
is a potential problem, either short term or long term,
And so many have come to see
the order written in nature as being inherently good,
and conversely that anything “unnatural” is somehow potentially bad.

What a great new insight.
Except it’s exactly what the Catholic Church has been teaching for 2 millennia.

The only surprising piece of news in all this is that for many
this appreciation for the nature of the world around us
ceases when it comes to 2 very important players in all this:
God and man.

It’s amazing to me that seeing the order, the logic and the beauty
of the environment
so many people cannot see that something, or someone, made it this way:
that all this is not simply “the environment” but “creation,”
which is laid out with an immeasurable genius by a Creator.
Even so, billions of people throughout the world and history
have made this connection.
And not just the uneducated or unscientific.
Take the words of Albert Einstein in the middle of the last century:
“The more I study science the more I believe in God.”
Or more recently, take the writings of Francis Collins,
currently Director of the National Institutes of Health,
and the former head of the Human Genome Project,
who wrote a book just a few years ago called “The Language of God”
all about how his study of DNA led him to belief in the Creator God.

But even if you can’t see God in his creation,
why is it that so many can’t at least see man as part of “nature”?
Why is it that so many don’t recognize
that man is also created to be a certain way?

Now, certainly everyone recognizes that man’s body works a certain way
—that’s what medical science is all about.
But more and more that information is used to manipulate the body
rather than to simply help the body do what it’s naturally supposed to do.
The more outrageous examples of this are things like sex-change operations,
or efforts to manipulate genes to make a sort of super race.
But a more common example would be the use of the contraceptive pill
—which is designed to prevent a woman’s body from doing
what a normal healthy female body naturally does.

But even more important, it’s clear that man is created to live a certain way,
in interpersonal social relationships.
Why is it that so many can recognize the need to protect “delicate eco-systems”,
but they look at man, study him,
physiologically, psychologically, and historically,
and can’t see that he is designed to function in certain normal healthy way,
and that any deviation from that causes a disruption the
“delicate eco-system” of human society.

Why, for example, can’t they see that man is created to love?
History and medical science prove
that human society is healthiest and happiest
when man lives in love with his neighbor.
And why can’t we see that some things people call “love” are
are not love at all, but rather are unhealthy because they’re not natural
—it’s not the way we are designed.

Nowhere is the social nature of man so clearly seen as the life of
marriage, family and sexuality.
Again, why can’t we look at the body and see it was made for,
or naturally ordered to,
certain kinds of acts of sexual expression,
and that acts outside of or contrary to this natural order
are clearly unnatural, and even physically unhealthy?

Why can’t we look at the way family life has been lived for all of recorded time
and see a certain natural form of family life
—and that anything else is less than desirable for human beings
and sometimes disastrous.
Why is it we can’t see that man’s nature leads him to live in a stable family,
of one husband and wife, open to the birth of children.

Why is that when we are so concerned how 1 degree of temperature change
might create global catastrophe,
but don’t think huge fundamental changes in the structure of families
will have an effect on society at large?

As Pope Benedict once stated:
“The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection,
but man merits no less than the creature…”
“[We] ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air
as gifts of creation….
[We] ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself.
What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man,
understood in the correct sense.”

“Ecology of man”: it’s a theme you hear him come back to over and over again,
in one way or another.

Benedict went all to say:
“When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being
as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected,
it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic.
It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation….”

Now let’s return to our magi from the east.
The thing is, they didn’t just study creation,
they also studied what other peoples had to say about the Creator.
In particular they were well versed in the Jewish Scriptures,
including the prophesy of Balaam
that one day God would send a great king to Israel
and that a star would be associated with his birth:
“A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a staff shall rise from Israel….
and Jacob shall overcome his foes.”
And so the magi asked Herod: ““Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”

Today, we can read many things in nature about the truth about man.
But as much as we learn, it’s hard, really impossible,
to know everything about man by observing nature alone.
But one thing nature does clearly tells us is
that man longs to communicate with his Creator:
belief in and prayer to the Creator is a common theme
throughout human history.
And this is what the magi did 2000 years ago, with sacred Scripture.

Unfortunately, today there are those among us who fancy themselves
“wiser men” than the rest of us
and try to manipulate and twist the clear words of Scripture
to convince others to support unnatural lifestyles.
For example, I remember a couple of years ago, right before Christmas,
the cover story of Newsweek Magazine.
was all about basically trying to argue
that the Bible supports homosexuality and homosexual marriage.
This is a lot like Herod in today’s Gospel,
who called in the scribes and Pharisees—the Jewish scholars—
to find out where Scripture prophesied the infant king would be born,
but then ignored the fact that the scripture said
Herod was supposed to worship the child,
and instead used the prophesy to try to kill him.
In much the same way people nowadays, like that Newsweek writer,
try to take some of the words of Scripture, ignoring the inconvenient ones,
and then twisting them in order to
put to death what they actually revealed.

This reminds us of something else: as I mentioned before, according to some,
the magi might have actually been kings.
If that is accurate, look at the contrast in the kings we find in today’s Gospel:
the kings from the east discover the Holy Family
by following nature and the Scriptures, and when they come to them:
“They prostrated themselves and did him homage…”
King Herod, on the other hand, plots to kill him.

Today many modern kings—and so called wise-men—have the same choice:
to humbly but rationally follow nature and Scripture to the Creator
and to a true understanding of man and the family,
or to ignore nature and nature’s Creator
and impose self-serving ideologies and policies
that spell the death of man and family.
To quote Pope Benedict again:
“It is a question here of faith in the Creator
and of listening to the language of creation,
the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man.”

Some say, but Father, look at all the messed up families and marriages,
is that your idea of nature?
No, it’s not.
The problem in these families is not nature, it’s going contrary to nature,
especially man’s nature to love:
to love God, spouse and children, our neighbor.
Most unhappy families are unhappy because of lack of true love
—not love that is self-centered
or warped beyond all truly human recognition,
but love that is truly human, unselfish and self-giving.

Which is, in the end, at the heart of the meaning of the Epiphany.
God loves us and has given us the wonderful gift of
coming to us to tell us about himself, and us, as the Baby Jesus.
In that Baby we see the pure love that man is naturally created for:
out of unselfish love for man,
God the Son strips himself of his heavenly glory
to be born in a dirty manger and die on a Cross.
Truly wise men learn from this and imitate this love:
like the magi who recognized the gift he gave them,
humbly bowed before him
and gave all they had to him in return.

In a few moments our Lord will come to us in the Eucharist,
just as surely as he came to those Magi in a stable 2000 years ago.
Like the magi, let us prostrate ourselves before him
and give him all the love we have.
And let us beg him to give us and our world the grace
to rediscover the simple truths
that nature reveals to us about God our Creator,
and “the ecology of man.”
And that the truth he revealed in Bethlehem and in his Scripture and his Church,
may lead us not only to understand God and man more completely,
but also to live and love as He created us to.

Christmas 2011

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

It was cold, rainy and muddy day in the winter of 1914,
when German and Allied forces faced each other
in the trenches of Belgium and France.
But as midnight approached, and the snow began to fall,
the Allied soldiers heard a strange but familiar sound
—the enemy soldiers were singing Stille Nacht: Silent Night.
Soon reports were widespread of German and Allied soldiers
coming out of their trenches to exchange Christmas greetings.
The spontaneous and unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 had begun.

What is it about this day that has this kind of effect on Christians
—even nominal, marginal or merely cultural Christians?
Why do wars pause?
Why are estranged families reconciled?
Why do strangers greet each other with warmth and good cheer?
More amazing still:
why are drivers kind to each other as they leave the church parking lot?

It is surely a day like no other day of the year.

And it’s been that way since that very first Christmas day, 2011 years ago.
A day that was so radically unlike any previous day
that it astonished even the angels in heaven.
The angels had seen so many amazing and wondrous things
almighty God had done.
They saw Him create the world out of nothing, and man in his very own image.

They had, literally, seen it all.
Still, they had seen nothing like this.

Majesty became humility.
Omnipotence became vulnerability.
Eternity entered time.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a baby boy.

How could this be, the angels asked?
And yet they knew the answer, and told us:
“nothing is impossible for God.”

And so, completely stunned, but with irrepressible joy,
they spontaneously broke into a jubilant song of praise to God,
As St. Luke tells us:
“And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host …
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

They were completely overwhelmed to see how far
the love of God would go to give his love
to sinful man.

For the angels knew man well.
They had seen how in the beginning Adam and Eve
had thrown away their unique friendship with God,
and how mankind had suffered from that loss ever since.
How, created in God’s image, man yearned and longed
to love and to be loved completely and perfectly.
And yet the angels also saw how men, in their weakness,
would be continually
confounded by God’s vastness and omnipotence;
confused by his incomprehensible wisdom;
and intimidated by his seemingly impossible call
to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
In short, the angels knew
that as much as man longed for God’s love,
man could never find the way to vanquish his fear of God.

But God had always known the way.
And he had told it to the angels,
but even they couldn’t completely understood it.
But now—now they understood it, because they saw it.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
“God chose a new way.
He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.
Now – this God …says to us
– ‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.’ ”

And so the angels proclaim to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid…”
They say:
“For today …a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

Think about that: God has been “born,” become a baby, “for you.”
Not because it pleased him, or would add to his glory.
But simply “for you.”

Christmas is about God coming to us for us,
so that nothing would keep us from sharing in his love.
How often do we think about God as if he were so far away from us.
That he’s so much greater than us, he has no time for us.
And so we excuse ourselves from making time for him.
But at the first Christmas he said, in effect:
“Look at me—I have stripped myself of the glory of heaven,
I made myself weak, so that you could know me and love me.
So that I could to enter into a personal relationship of true love with you.”

Sometimes people say that Catholicism fails to emphasize this critical truth,
of Christ’s invitation to have a personal relationship with him.
Some say we emphasize God’s power and majesty too much,
especially in our rituals, like the Mass,
at the cost of obscuring the importance
of having a personal relationship with Him.

Friends, I don’t know about you, but I have never, in all my life,
felt that way about the Catholic faith.
Because the Church sees God and man as the angels do—just as they truly are.

The truth is that God is Almighty,
and majestically sits on His throne in heaven
while angels adore him and sing his praise,
and not only did he create this vastly complex universal
but continuously sustains it and orders it according to His will.
And the truth is we are merely lowly, sinful creatures.
And yet, the truth is also that
that all-powerful God, came into the world as a tiny baby,
all so he could be our brother, our friend, our most intimate companion.

We can never forget this dichotomy.
If we do, we reduce this tremendous gift to almost nothing
—just another guy who wants to hang out.
So what?

But that is not Christ, and that is not Christmas.
And that is not what makes
enemy armies lay down their guns,
or feuding families lay aside bitterness,
or sinners lay aside their sins.
Yet all this can happen when like the angels,
we see the whole picture:
He is a baby, so we can’t help but love him,
but he his God so we can’t help but adore and praise him
for his incredible generosity.

And where do we see this more wonderfully than at Holy Mass?
Where do we encounter more profoundly his invitation
to enter a personal relationship with the eternal God?
It is no mere coincidence that we call this day “Christmas,” or “Christ-Mass.”

We begin Mass by recognizing our sins
—humbling ourselves before God has he humbled himself before us.
We then join in the very song of the angels on Christmas morning,
stunned with wonder at God’s offer of reconciliation and friendship:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Then, like the shepherds listening to the proclamation of the angels,
we listen attentively to the readers and priest as they,
“bring [us] good news of a great joy.”

Then we all stand and profess our faith.
We begin by acknowledging,
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things…”
But then we add:
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,
…[who] came down from heaven…and became man.”

Then we go on to the offertory.
Like the three kings offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,
we offer our gifts of bread and wine.
And this is where things start to get truly wonderful.
Because these gifts are meant to symbolize us
—they represent us giving ourselves to God.
That’s why we say “lift up your hearts to the Lord”
—meaning give your very heart to him, give your very self in love!
Friends, how can the Mass not be about a personal relationship with Christ,
if it’s about giving ourselves to him—person to person?

And then we pause to remember, yet again, that the angels are here,
and that the one we worship is not merely a baby,
but also the God of heaven and earth,
as we sing the song of the angels from Isaiah:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
And we sing: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Who is that, but the Babe in the manger?

And then, we enter into the most incredible part of the Mass,
where God the Son himself, once again,
comes down to earth to be with us, in the flesh!
Once again, he humbles himself to hide his glory,
this time not in the appearance of a Baby,
but a simple piece of bread.
All so that we can approach him not in fear of his majesty, but in love.

But how can God come to us as bread?
How can God come to us a baby?
As the angels remind us, “nothing is impossible for God.”
And just as surely as the angels testified that the
“the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God,”
Christ himself testified about the bread: “this is my body.”

And then we approach Our Lord in the sanctuary,
just as the shepherds and kings once approached Him in the manger,
and “fell down and worshiped him.”
Then, just as Mary tenderly received her Divine Baby
into her arms,
we receive our Lord onto our tongue or onto our hands.

And here the mystery of Christmas,
of God coming to us in the flesh to enter a personal relationship with us,
is manifest in a most profound way,
as he gives himself to us and we give ourselves to him
in our Holy Communion with the Body of Christ.

My friends, the mystery of the Eucharist and Holy Communion,
is nothing less than a renewal and strengthening
of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
And that is the heart of Christ-Mass:
Almighty God the Son once again comes to us saying:
“‘you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

Today is an incredible day.
But the thing is, as wonderful as this day is, every day can be this way.
Because Christmas is not simply about that one day 2011 years ago,
and it’s not even just about December 25th each year.
It’s about Almighty God’s tremendous love for us,
and his determination to let nothing hinder us from accepting his invitation
to enter into a deep personal relationship of love,
as his friend, his brother or sister.
And that invitation and friendship is renewed daily, constantly,
in the life of his family, his Church,
in so many ways,
most especially in this great gift we celebrate here today—the Eucharist.

Today is a day like no other day.
Warriors lay down their arms,
families set aside differences,
strangers cheerfully exchange acts of kindness.
And even angels are astonished by
the Almighty and Glorious Creator of the universe
who humbles himself to become one of his own creatures.
All so that he can beg man not to run from him in fear,
but to run to him in love.

“Do not be afraid…For today …a savior has been born for you
who is Christ and Lord.”

Christmas 2011

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad
tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation,
and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!”

Christmas is the truth that most confounds the human mind. God has become man, God has become a man-child, weak and defenseless as every human infant, while still remaining the almighty God who holds this universe in existence from beginning to end. What could be a greater wonder, a greater mystery to dazzle the human mind and soul than the truth we believe, that God, the Creator of the universe, which he infinitely surpasses in being and power, was conceived and born into this world as a tiny member of our human family, an infinitesimal creature compared to His infinite Being, and yet truly being both at the same time, one person, two natures?

The human mind boggles before this mystery; how can it be, is it not really simply another fantasy created by man’s poetic mind? And the answer of faith is immediate and without hesitation – this really has happened, the greatest has become the least, the King has become the pauper, God has become a man, and what may appear to some to be the greatest of fairy tales is in fact the greatest of truths, a mysterious truth that we will never fully understood till the end of time, and yet will ever fill believing hearts with wonder and joy, because it all happened, and it happened for us.

The human mind alone is really not equipped to deal with such a truth.

Grasp this great mystery. We can’t see why God should do such a thing because we would never think of it. We would not choose to become a piece of dust even for the greatest purpose, and so we wonder how could the infinite God possibly become something infinitely smaller than himself, for whatever reason?

The answer of the saints is quite simple. We mere mortals at least know something about love and the way mere mortals will sacrifice themselves for love, will lower themselves greatly for the sake of the beloved. But John’s Gospel tells us that God not only loves, but that God is Love. And as one novelist put it so succinctly, Love does such things. Love alone can help us begin to understand the deeds of love, and the Incarnation of God is the deed of Love beyond all others in our regard. God did this, became one of us, because He is Love, and He loves us so much that He did this infinite deed of love, for us.

Only faith and love then can open our eyes to accept the truth of this birth of God as man. Since the Middle Ages Christians became found of placing in their Christmas cribs the Ox and the Donkey which Isaiah mentioned in his very first chapter: The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The Fathers of the Church interpreted the phrase “my people do not would be joined with the Jews in the new People of God, like the ox and donkey. Neither Jew nor gentile, without the light of faith can embrace the truth about this child. But with faith, supported by love, their eyes are opened, and they become like the Ox and the donkey who miraculously seem to recognize their very creator in the crib they keep warm with their breath. Thus the ox and donkey in the traditional Christmas crib set are portrayed with eyes that are human and can see and recognize the one before them as their creator. These dumb creatures represent the two peoples who are transformed into adorers of the mystery which they see no longer with the empty eyes of animals but the human eyes which can see things in a whole others sense.

Man without faith, Jew of Gentile, is like the ox and the donkey, unable to recognize the child, and merely able to keep the crib warm with their animal breath, dumb creatures used by God merely to keep his child warm. Man without faith cannot see what is before his very eyes. He is like the dumb animal until faith enlightens his eyes, and his heart responds with love. Without these gifts man stands mute and stubborn before this mystery; with these gifts man is transformed and gazes upon this mystery with reverence, wonder and love. Like the Mother, Mary, the believer treasures these things in his or her heart, and bows before the mystery of God’s love which has gone to such lengths to rescue us from Satan’s power, as another Christmas Hymn

There is the full context of the mystery, God lowered himself to virtual nothingness to save sinners who were doomed to be slaves of Satan’s power because they had all gone astray, and then Love leapt down from heaven and rescued His creatures when they were all but lost. That is the great mystery before which Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi, and finally we ourselves must simply bow down. And if we bow down, then we arise new men, with a new vision of our human dignity and value. We learn our true value, our individual and collective worth, only in the mystery in which God lowered himself to be one with us, one for us, one of us, a true son of man.

What practical consequences this faith or lack of faith has for the world. Because God chose to take on our nature completely, he chose to become a helpless, defenseless babe, and thereby sanctified man’s life from the first moment in the womb. He was a child whom the world did not want. He was unexpected, inconvenient, unplanned by man, and the world reacted differently toward that child depending upon the presence of faith or its absence in the hearts of individuals. There was no room for him at the inn, and that inn represents the world at large today. There is little place for Christ today, and it is nowhere more evident than in the deadly rejection of millions of children who are unwanted, unexpected, unplanned. Men today are so often like the Ox and donkey who cannot recognize the face of God in the defenseless child in the womb, even though God was once just such a child. His mother, unlike the world, welcomed Him, even though He was most unexpected and certainly inconvenient because He brought her much suffering along with untold joy.

Openness to the child as a gift from God, one who bears the image of God from the first moment, just as Jesus actually was God from his first human moment, is a consequence of the great mystery of Christmas. Once God has become a human child in the womb, all human life becomes sacred. Moreover, this faith in the poverty of God is the basis of Christian charity toward the poor. Even today, Christians are the most charitable segment of the world’s population and by a substantial margin. Any society that is widely populated with truly believing Christians will have a greater concern for the poor, sick, orphaned and widowed. A world without Christ, and without his believers, is an impoverished, darker and much sadder world. He is the truth about man and the only hope for truly peaceful and joyful world. Christian faith and charity are the medicine that heals the deepest wounds of our humanity. May God give you a deeper faith and charity this Christmas, so that you can carry these into the world. It fill you with the joy of those who first celebrated Christ’s coming at Bethlehem so long ago, and yet always so near to the eyes of simple faith.

4th Sunday of Advent 2011

What is the one thing that is absolutely necessary for us to celebrate Christmas with the same ecstatic joy the enveloped the angels and the shepherds in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, when the good news of Jesus’ birth was first announced to the world? The one thing we absolutely need is given to us in the Gospel today as our final preparation for Christmas. The one indispensable thing we need to celebrate Christmas with unspeakable joy is faith, the faith manifested to us by the Virgin-Mother herself, whose deep faith enabled her to receive the Word of God so totally that He not only dwelled fully in her soul, but took flesh in her womb as well.

It is the faith of the Virgin that is presented to us as the key to our Christmas celebration, our Christmas joy, for only if we approach Christmas imitating Mary’s faith, will we be able to experience the coming of Christ into our hearts as she experienced the coming of Christ into her womb, filled with wonder and a joy which is indescribable to anyone who does not share that same faith. Without faith like Mary’s, Christmas becomes, at best, a sentimental holiday for families to get together, at worst a crass, materialistic, spending binge that makes merchants happier than those whose celebration is reduced to helping to spark the recovery of our economy.

We know what faith in Christmas means in terms of content; that we truly believe, as Mary did, that the child conceived in her womb and marvelously born on Christmas day is not simply another human child, even though he shares our human nature completely. No, true faith recognizes this child as Emmanuel, God with us, God made man, sharing our human destiny even to the point of lowering himself to become a weak and defenseless child, just as we all were one day. Jesus is the fulfillment of all human hope expressed by Isaiah in the first reading today: The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. . . . I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Jesus is himself the house established by God, the temple of God’s glory, a house in which all nations are to be gathered together and come to know the Salvation of our God.

Yes, true Christian faith rejoices not only in the fact of God’s appearance in human form, but in the astounding truth that He has come into this world for us, pro nobis, for us, and for our salvation. Indeed our faith tells us what this salvation really entails, that God has become man, has lowered himself to share our humanity so that he might raise us up to share his Divinity, His divine Life forever. Just as he has become our human brother in the Incarnation, so he enables us to become His divine brothers and sisters forever.

This is what authentic Christian faith believes about Christmas, and it is a body of truth that overwhelms our minds and hearts if we truly believe it with all our mind and heart as Mary did. But how many Christians believe these things, without reservations of any sort, with the simplicity of a child of God, the simplicity of Mary who said without any reservation, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary shows us the full meaning of faith, the perfection of faith, the complete surrender of her mind and heart, which means her total life, to the word of God. Only when our faith is imitating hers, only when it is moving toward a total faith, only then can we hold these truths in such a way that they give us the experience of the joy she felt when she conceived and then bore God’s son.

Notice the elements of the Gospel and how they teach us about faith. First, Mary is confused when she hears God’s word from the Angel, she does not understand it, and she is troubled simply by His greeting -full of grace ­and wondered what this meant. Mary is not unlike us in this at least, for she too is at first dazed by God’s word, and finds herself confused as to what it means. But unlike us, at least at times, she does not close herself off to this word, does not reject the message simply because she does not fully comprehend it, and so the angel expands his message. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.”

As to these words, Mary understands what he is telling her, that she is to be the mother of the Chosen One, and she does not hesitate to believe. Mary does not question that it will happen, as the Angel says – she accepts its unconditional truth, that God intends her to a mother -but now she simply asks how she can fulfill this vocation since she has evidently vowed herself to virginity, even in her marriage: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Her unconditional surrender of her mind and whole person is made clear by the fact that she is not struck deaf for her question “how” like Zachary was for his questioning. Zachary’s “how” had been a skeptical question, a real doubt that it could happen to himself and Elizabeth in their old age. But Mary’s “how” is simply a request for guidance as to how she can accomplish this, whether she will have to surrender her vow of virginity?

The Angel then clarifies this matter of how, that she will not be required to surrender her vowed virginity, pledged to God, but will be overshadowed by the power of the Spirit who will bring about this miraculous conception with no cooperation of man. The clarification made, Mary immediately responds with total faith, the total surrender of her whole person, body and soul to God’s will: “May it be done to me according to your word.” The beauty of the message is completed by the beauty of her faith.

The wording of this full surrender of Mary in faith is akin to and the imitation of Jesus’ own words on the Cross, “Into your hands, Father I entrust my spirit.” Mary’s“May it be done to me” is the total surrender of her will, which means concretely the total surrender of her very life into the hands of the Father. For Mary these words literally put her life in the Father’s hands, for if a Jewish wife were found with child before she lived with her husband, the law said she could be stoned as an adulteress. Mary could hardly prove her innocence, there were no precedents of a virginal conception, but she nonetheless entrusts herself completely into the hands of the Lord God, whatever may happen to her as a result of her yes to this child.

That is what perfect faith entails; nothing less will satisfy the full interior demands of the act of faith itself: total surrender. Faith in us means imitating the surrender of ourselves into the Father’s hands, in imitation of the act by which we were redeemed, the “into your hands Father: of Jesus Our Redeemer. Mary’s faith was perfect because her surrender was the most perfect imitation of her son’s.

Our redemption then actually began with Mary’s act of faith, her surrender of faith, and it was fully accomplished by Jesus sacrifice, his free surrender on the Cross, and that redemption is effected in us by our free surrender to the Father in faith and baptism. Christian faith will understand all this, and that is why Christian faith is the absolutely necessary source of the true Christmas spirit, the unrivaled Christmas Joy. The more perfect the faith, the greater the joy.

During this final week of Advent, our final preparation for Christmas, let us sincerely ask our Mother Mary, the woman of faith, how to say yes to God this Christmas as completely as possible for each of us, so that we may know proportionately to our faith God’s joy, know it together with her, the joy of the Christmas that never ends, the Eternal Christmas, where Jesus is eternally begotten from the Father, as his holy ones marvel at his human birth which brought us salvation, Amen.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2011

December 8, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Advent is a time of preparation,
preparing to celebrate the first Coming of Christ in Bethlehem,
and preparing to meet him when he comes again in glory.
And so its altogether fitting that we sort of take a pause
from the subdued nature of Advent,
and joyfully celebrate this feast of the Immaculate Conception today:
the feast of Mary being prepared from the first moment
of her tiny little life in the conception of her mother Ann’s womb
to greet and serve and love Jesus.
All this preparing for Christ.

In a sense though, she was prepared
almost from the beginning of the human race.
Because we know how in the book of Genesis, God promised the devil that
he would put enmity between the devil and “the woman”
and “between the devil’s offspring and “the woman’s offspring.”
That’s exactly what he did: from the moment of her conception
he placed a wall between her and the devil,
a wall of holiness, of grace, so that she could become
part of God’s plan for a new beginning in Christ,
–so she could be the complete opposite of Eve: be the new Eve.

And all her life, God continued to shower his grace: she was,
as the angel proclaimed, “full of grace”
with no trace of anything good or holy lacking.
Everything she needed, and more, full of grace, to be perfect in her humanity.
And remember….since she was not touched by original sin,
she had no concupiscence:
no confusion in her heart or mind between good and evil,
like the rest of us have.
All this to prepare her to receive and bring into the world,
and be the perfect Mother for God the Son.

Even still, even with God’s divine plan,
his creation of her in the womb of Ann without a touch of sin
even with her special protection,
and even with her clear mindedness, and pure heart,
Even still: God would not save us without us:
she like Eve, still had one of the greatest gifts
that God bestows on all human beings:
a free will.
Imagine, with all that preparation, all that protection,
all his plans could have been ruined,
all creation lost with no hope of salvation, without her:
“let it be done to me according to your word.”
Even though she had been as completely prepared as possible,
she could have said “no.”
And Christ wouldn’t have been born,
and we wouldn’t be preparing now during Advent
because there would be no Christmas.
There would be no sacrifice of the Cross for our redemption,
no resurrection of the dead bringing us new life.
But all of this did happen, but not without her “yes”

It is amazing to me that anyone could doubt the Immaculate Conception.
Apart from the Scripture references to it,
how can we even imagine that God the Father
would have entrusted his Son,
to someone corrupted by sin.
Or that God the Son would allow his Mother to be touched by his enemy,
and bear the mark of the traitor, Eve.
Or that the Father and Son would allow the enemy, the serpent,
the evil one, the father of lies,
the prince of darkness, and the murderer of man,
how could we imagine that God would allow that horrible creature
to have anything whatsoever to do
with this most magnificent creature,
mocking the Eternal and all-Powerful God by pointing to
the mark of his work in original sin
marked plainly on the core of her very being, her soul?
And on top of all that, how can anyone imagine that God would allow
his entire plan of salvation to hinge on the human will of a little girl,
without giving her every possible gift and protection,
from the very beginning of her existence in her mother’s womb.

No, from the very beginning he planned to prepare her for perfection,
to be the perfect Mother.
To receive his love completely and without confusion or fear.
And to be able to return his love without hesitation, and in complete freedom.
And love must be freely given to be true love.
And so we read in today’s Scripture,
the magnificent creature, prepared from all time for this moment,
gives her love completely to God,
accepts his will perfectly.
Some point out that Mary seems to hesitate, asking
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
But this translation is rather misleading…what she’s actually saying is
“what am I to do….tell me, so I can do it.”
No hesitation, just asking for instruction.

And so, prepared from all time,
she begins to prepare for the birth of God the Son.
And she goes on to prepare him in his humanity to be the Saviour of the world.

Advent a season of preparation.
Today, we do not pause our preparation,
but instead look to the one who understands
preparation for the coming of Christ better than anyone.
We look to her and we see that we too are given the grace by Christ
to be ready for him.
We too are called to be without sin,
so that we can receive his love completely and without confusion or fear.
And so that we too can freely chose to give ourselves completely to him,
and without hesitation.
Today, let us turn to that most magnificent creature,
the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception,
and ask her to help us in our preparation.
Ask her to show us and teach us how to prepare,
and to protect us from sin in our daily lives.
And let us turn to her and ask her to pray for us, her children,
that we may be prepared, that we may be made worthy,
to receive the promises of her Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
this Christmas, and when we see him face to face.

Holy Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, pray for us.

Immaculate Conception of Mary 2011

Today the universal Church rejoices in the stupendous gift made by God to the human race of a woman who is conceived without Original Sin ever tainting her humanity. She is the immaculate one, the beginning of a new humanity, and she will become the mother of all who will be part of that new humanity. She is the New Eve who will give birth to the New Adam, the Son of God, who becomes flesh from and in her holy womb. The son she conceives and gives birth to is testified to by the Angel Gabriel: “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Our first parents brought death and destruction upon the human race by the first sin, the Original Sin that is inherited by all their children, except the Virgin Mary. She is to be the first of the redeemed, and because her mission is so great, God does not allow the guilt of Original Sin to touch her soul when he creates it. She who will one day give flesh to the Holy One of God, the Eternal Son who enters our humanity and human history to redeem us, is to be holy from the first moment of her existence, for she will be the immaculate Eve who says yes to God, unlike the first Eve who said no, and receives the power of the Holy Spirit in a marvelous way that allows her to conceive a man without the cooperation of man.

Thus all creation rejoices, said St. Anselm in an ancient homily regarding this Virgin, for as all creation was once corrupted by man’s Original Sin, so now the history of man is reversed, and creation itself can once again serve the primary purpose of its creation, to give glory to God through the ministry of the new humanity redeemed by her Son, and united to her Son in one great mystical body, the Church.

Moreover, Mary is conceived not only free from all sin, a negative privilege, but she is also conceived endowed with Grace, as the vessel of God’s grace and presence, as had been the case with the first Adam and Eve before their sin. They did not sin because they were lacking anything, including the life of God through the grace in their souls. They sinned in spite of that great endowment in their souls, as we do when we sin after Baptism. But Mary was full of grace, her soul being the special dwelling place of God from her beginning, and she would never lose that grace or even taint it by the slightest sin, so perfect was the harmony between hew will and God’s will.

Mary was given this extraordinary gift of grace not only because she was to be the mother of the Son eternally begotten by the Father, but because she was to suffer with her Son in the great struggle with the ancient enemy of mankind, the serpent who declared war on man and God by his role in the first sin. But recall the promise God made to mankind in the Garden: The Lord pledged future victory over the serpent, but only as the result of a great struggle of cosmic proportions. Genesis testifies moreover that a Woman would be intimately involved in the victory. God said to the serpent, I will put hatred between you and the woman, between your seed and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike at his heel (Gen. 3: 1).

Her Son will crush the serpent after he strikes at his heel by engineering His death on the Cross. He will crush him by rising from the dead and communicating the fruits of His victory over death and Satan, the grace of salvation, the new life of a new human race. Mary will be a player in that victory as she says yes beneath the Cross, accepting the will of the Father as her Son does. She will continue to share in that victory as she cooperates in the birth of the Church and in the rebirth of each of the Church’s children through her merits and prayers.

When one sees a great painting, a masterpiece by a great artist, one is filled with wonder and joy. Mary is God’s feminine masterpiece just as Her son is the masterpiece of all humanity. We rejoice in her privileges as the strokes of God’s artistry, her Immaculate Conception, her sinlessness, her fullness of Grace, her virginal motherhood as Mother of God, her role as Mediatrix of graces and her role as mother of the Church. She is the beginning, and what she now possesses we have hope to possess, because of her, the crowning of her mission and person in the Communion of God’s chosen ones. Holy Mary, pray for us your children now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

2nd Sunday of Advent 2011

The figure of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel makes it clear once again that the Advent Season is a preparation for the coming of Christ, and not only at Christmas, and most importantly for His coming in glory at the end of time, but also His coming to us here and now, in our daily life, and most especially in each and every Mass we celebrate. St. John the Baptist, after all, was not the herald of Christ at his birth – that was reserved for His angels. John was, rather, the herald of Christ’s coming into the public life and His mission. He was privileged to be the one who would prepare the way for Jesus into the hearts of his first disciples. He is recalled here on the 2nd Sunday of Advent each year to remind us that Advent has these three dimensions, a recalling and celebration of Christ’s first coming, a looking forward to His glorious Secon Coming when he will judge mankind and establish His Kingdom in power, and finally the present dimension, a confession of our faith that Christ is constantly coming into our world in word and Sacrament to bring us to salvation.
Christians with authentic faith approach Christmas very differently then from others who do not have this same deep faith in the meaning of Advent as a preparation for His coming into our world. We are not only recalling the first coming and its joyful message, but also stirring up our desire for Him to come and set our world free at last free from sin and suffering and death, and transformed into a glorious part of His Kingdom. Believing Christians know that their liturgical celebration of His Birth is given depth by its meaning as the beginning of salvation, the beginning of His coming brought about in Him.

Our faith tells us that Jesus’ birth is really the birth of the Son of God, as a member of our human family, the new head, of a new humanity which will spring from Him by the sacrament of rebirth that we call Baptism. Just as Christ took on a second life, a new existence, by virtue of his human birth, so by that birth he enabled all of us to take on a new life, a new existence by virtue of another form of birth, the birth of Baptism. Christ became part of our world by his coming into our world by human birth, and in turn, He enables us to become part of His world by our being drawn into His world by a divine birth in Baptism.

Thus hearing the message of John, who spent his life preaching and baptizing with water, as a foretelling of the greater Baptism Jesus would institute, by water and the Holy Spirit, is a most meaningful way to celebrate Advent and prepare ourselves for Christmas. John’s message about baptism immediately directs our attention to the deepest spiritual meaning of the event of Christ’s birth, it’s reference to our own rebirth to salvation. That faith connection between His birth and our rebirth to salvation is necessary to direct our attention to the proper preparation to meet Christ at His second coming, and equally important how we must prepare ourselves here and now to meet Christ as he comes into our lives in word and sacrament, above all in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, our Holy Mass.

After all, John’s whole life was dedicated to this one goal, to help others prepare

they could receive and accept the Lord Jesus, and John’s own way of life was the best example of how one does that, how one is made ready to receive the Lord God properly, which is to say, receive the Lord God when he comes us to in the mystery of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

I think we would agree that John’s way of life was truly counter-cultural even in his society. Why did John live such an austere life? Why was he living in the desert ­a strange place for a herald to live if he wants to reach people? Why was his life-style so austere? The truth is that these practices of St. John point to the great mystery of man’s true and humble condition in relation to God, and not just because of man’s sin, but simply because of God’s Infinite Holiness and man’s nothingness in comparison to that holiness of God.
Of course sin is always a barrier to welcoming God, and welcoming God’s word. God will not abide where evil resides, so we must repent for our sins as John demanded if we are to make straight the way of God into our souls. But John’s own life of austerity cannot so easily be explained as doing penance for sin. There is no doubt about John’s great holiness; the people then recognized it, and even tended to think he himself might be the Messiah, something John had to firmly deny. At any rate, John is without a doubt the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets, and his holiness is unquestionable. So why the austere life style?

If this was not simply a matter of his doing penance for his sins, what good was prophet, which is first of all to receive God’s word Himself, so that in turn he can communicate that same word to others. The prophets understood that to be prepared to hear the Word of God when it came to them, they had to clear away the noise of the world -hence many lived in solitude. They had to detach their hearts from material goods that can often suffocate the voice of God within us. So John lived a simple and austere life which showed in his clothing and food, something we may well do for penance for our sins, but something the prophet must do regardless, if he hopes to hear the Word of God, to be ready to receive it when God choose to send it.

In that wilderness John learned how infinitely different was the holiness of God and His word from any mere human words or human perfection. Even were John without sin, he was still a bit of dust in relation to the One who was speaking to Him in the wilderness. At the same time John knew the danger of his own ego being a barrier to his mission. John was very holy, but he was still a child of Adam, and the human ego, the pretentious “I” of man, which can even set itself up as a rival to God, remains always a real threat to man’s salvation and his openness to God’s word. No matter how holy a man can become, the monster of egoism lurks deep in his soul, and it can always be roused by Satan to challenge God.

John’s temptation would come from those who loved him and admired him most ­they would be tempted to think he was the chosen one, and in turn they would tempt him to think this way. So John has above all to humble himself, for the greater the and cleared away every hint of self-sufficiency, every possible barrier of human pride. He did this for one purpose: to hear God’s word when God would choose to speak it; and to welcome God’s Word in person and point Him out to others, when God would choose to send Him. John’s task was to be ready to hear, to welcome, to direct others to the One who was being sent. He knew he was himself so much less than the One whom he heralds, that he is unworthy to even untie his sandal strap. he had learned this truth in the austerity of his life, in the desert, and it was his own preparation to welcome Christ when at last He appeared.

The lesson for us seems obvious. If we are to prepare ourselves to receive Christ at Christmas, in the Eucharist, in the Scriptures, at the Second coming, we must follow the example of John and clear away the clutter from our daily lives, simplify our existence so we can tame our own self centered ego and thus be able to recognize and welcome Christ in our daily life and direct others to Christ as well.

We are not called to a literal, slavish imitation of John’s life, to live in the physical desert wear camel hair clothes, but to a spiritual imitation of his profoundly self-denying life-style. We must be counter-cultural like John, for our society is filled with noise, with materialism, with human pride, and it is not an environment in which we can easily hear the Word of God, let alone welcome it. We must find solitude in our life, we must find silence, we must strip our souls of attachments that clutter our lives so that we can no longer hear our God speaking to us in the depths of our being.

Finally, more than John, we must do penance for our sins. We must open our ears to hear God, and open our hearts to receive Him when he comes, in the gentleness of the Holy Eucharist, in the quietness of the interior motions of His Grace in our hearts, in the soft but powerful words of love he speaks to us in the Scriptures and in our hearts. That is the deeper meaning of Advent: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His Paths, and your soul will know the glory of his coming.


1st Sunday of Advent 2011

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.

For how many centuries were the people of Israel waiting for the Lord to come and rescue them, his chosen people: “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage”! And then, when he did in fact come, most of the people of Israel were not ready, they did not recognize him, though he was their bridegroom and eternal lover. They were not ready and they missed his coming, and some so firmly rejected him that they conspired for his death. How tragic was that blindness.

You see they were looking for a glorious figure, a Messiah so utterly unlike the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. They wanted to have a Messiah whose coming would shake the mountains and would be accompanied by the great deeds of the past when God split the red sea and tumbled the walls of Jericho. They were not ready for a Messiah who would be born in a stable, grow up in obscurity and nothing of the royal trappings that would make his mission clear for all. They were not ready, and they missed their invitation to the banquet of life.

They were not ready, and so they were found wanting, not in the condition that Isaiah prayed they would be found: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful.” The vast majority were not found “doing right” nor being “mindful of His ways,” and only a small remnant was found ready to welcome him because they were the little ones, faithful to his ways which they had learnt from his own holy word.

In today’s Gospel we once again hear Jesus exhorting us, like Isaiah, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” The time He speaks of is the time of His return to judge the living and the dead, to separate the sheep from the goats, to establish His kingdom in glory, and hand over everything to His Father. The early Christians longed for and prayed that this day of the Lord would come soon, in their lifetimes so they would see the triumph of Christ and His kingdom over the enemies of God. They prayed, Come Lord Jesus, the final words of the final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of St. John, Come Lord Jesus!

Why do we not pray those same words with the same fervor today? Is it perhaps because we are not ready to meet the Lord in our present spiritual condition? But that’s dangerous because he could come anytime to be our judge, not simply at the end of time, but at our death as well. But if we watch and pray and struggle to be ready for the second coming and the final judgment, that is the surest guarantee that we will be ready for his immediate judgment upon our death. Long for his second coming and you will be ready whenever He comes.

Or even if we are not totally unprepared in that radical sense, perhaps we do not yearn for, prayer with fervor for, His second coming perhaps because we have become too materialistic, so tied to this world and its worldly attractions that we no longer have a proper sense for evaluating the Spiritual Kingdom and its infinitely greater value and happiness than this world can ever offer us? Should we not desire the end to all evil and all suffering and all death; should we not desire the eternal triumph of good over evil, where only good will envelope us and envelope the world transformed by His glory? But all this can only happen by His power, by his return in glory to judge, to transform, to glorify, to finally separate the good from the evil. Longing for his coming means longing for all that and more, for God as our Happiness.

Or, thirdly, perhaps we do not pray and yearn with fervor for His coming because we are just afraid that we will not be strong enough to survive the trials and tribulation that will accompany his Parousia, His return in Glory. But why should we be fearful if we are on guard, staying awake, living righteously, seeking forgiveness, making amends?

Moreover, in the 2nd reading, St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, promises us the powerful protection of the Father, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God Himself will keep us firm to the end, irreproachable on that Day of Judgment. Indeed, St. Paul expanded on this idea in His Letter to the Romans “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”

This is the faith of Christians, that God who has not even spared His Beloved Son, so much does he desire our salvation, will not abandon us. Since He has redeemed us in His Son, will He not by that same grace keep us firm to the end, if only we remain faithful to Him? If we do our part, if we do our best to live the new life He has given us, do our best to avoid sin and to live a virtuous life, do our best to repent when we fail and turn to Him for forgiveness and mercy, He surely will not abandon us at the end, anymore than He abandoned Jesus who died for us and was raised for us.

Advent recalls the long desire of the Israelites for the coming of the Messiah. Christmas recalls the joy in the hearts of God’s faithful ones when he at last came into this world. But that first coming was not to end in joy for all. So Advent is also pointing us beyond the confines of this world, beyond the limits of time and human history to that much greater and more wonderful, triumphant return of the Lord of History and Eternity. What joy even the thought of that glorious coming brought into the lives of his faithful down through the ages, the faithful dead form ages past, and what even greater joy will it bring to those who will be the faithful living at that moment. It should also fill us with joy today, and that is why the Church through the ages cries out with one voice in her liturgy and Scriptures, Come Lord Jesus! Bring your promises to fulfillment and glorify your Church and the whole of creation with her.


33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2011

Just when people are saying, “Peace and security, ” then sudden disaster comes upon them, 1 Thes. 5:3

As the Church.s liturgical year draws to a close, the liturgy annually di-rects out attention to the world to come, to the so-called last things, death, judgment, the reward of Heaven or the punishment of Hell. Today many people living in this post-Christian world don.t pay much attention to these last things, either because they no longer believe there is another world – so these last things are meaningless to them – or because even if some do believe in a world to come, they no longer worry about a divine judgment, since it has become com-mon opinion today that most all go to heaven and almost no one goes to Hell.

This religious idea that there is no divine judgment or that most everyone goes to heaven certainly makes life more comfortable – it.s comforting to think we will never have to render a true account of our lives; so no matter what we do here in this world, God will not demand a strict accounting of justice from us, and simply give us a pass into heaven. And that’s exactly the way even many Christians do think today. So we have unbelievers who live however they want because they don’t believe in the world to come, and we have many Christians who live however they want because in the end they really don.t believe that God will demand a strict account in justice.

All of this, of course, is wishful thinking of the worst sort. It certainly leaves our world subject to the awful moral environment and cruelty we see in-creasing in our society. Do we really think that the horrible things we hear about daily in the news are unrelated to the loss of faith in God who is a just judge, and who will render to every man according to his deeds? Overthrowing God and religion may seem enlightened to growing numbers of people today, but with what sanction do they propose to replace a belief in divine justice so as to prevent moral chaos from engulfing us? Will more police and more prisons do the job that belief in God.s judgment once did? We are already spending fantas-tic amounts of tax money to secure our cities, and more prisons, more police are demanded, and with what result? There will always be crime even where belief in God.s justice is widespread, that.s true, but once that belief is gone, a belief that held most people in check from engaging in criminal behavior, should we be surprised that such criminal behavior becomes a temptation to more and more people?

Whether one believes in God or doesn.t believe in God cannot settle the question of God’s existence; and whether or not one believes that following death he or she will have to render a strict account of his or her life does not re-ally affect the truth of the final judgment. However it does affect the way we approach this life. If we see people escape justice in this world for terrible crimes, and we believe in divine justice, then we are less likely to turn to a de-sire for vengeance; we can leave the person in God.s hands. But if we don.t be-lieve in the justice of the next world, we are perhaps more likely to desire ven-geance for injustices, especially if the injustice was done to ourselves. People who don’t believe in a justice beyond this world understandably feel extreme anger that Adolf Hitler escaped true justice in this world, and his victims may well feel cheated that he somehow escaped the punishment he truly deserved.

And if we see that injustice is frequently unpunished in this world and that the unjust often grow rich while we perhaps remain struggling, there is the add-ed temptation to get involved in evil ourselves, especially if we have lost our faith in divine justice. Why try to be good if evil is often rewarded in this world, and good is unrewarded, and neither good deeds or evil deeds are subject to any justice or reward beyond this world?

But people who truly believe in the final judgment, and in divine justice, know that every single act of evil and injustice in this world, large or small, will ultimately be paid for, if not in this world, then in the world to come. God.s truth is that nobody gets away with anything when it comes to temporal justice. Even those who repent of their sins in this life, and are spared the eternal pu-nishment due to their sins by the merits of Jesus Christ, must still make satisfac-tion for their sins to satisfy the demands of temporal justice. This is God.s re-vealed truth that we believe as Catholics, that every sin we commit must be temporally satisfied for, either in this life through our suffering, voluntarily ac-cepted, or through doing penance voluntarily undertaken; or we believe that this satisfaction of temporal justice will take place in the world to come by suffering the temporal punishment due to our sins. This is substance of the Catholic belief in Purgatory, that upholds the truth of divine justice – that while Christ satisfied for the eternal punishment due to our sins by divine justice, nonetheless, there is a temporal punishment also due to our sins that we must satisfy, either in this life, or in Purgatory in the life to come. So, no evil act escapes the judgment of God and the demands of justice. No one gets away with anything forever.

It’s truly amazing how Christians can ignore the clear teaching of Jesus and of the whole New Testament regarding the truth of divine judgment and jus-tice, and the reality of heaven and hell. Belief in these realities gives men a rea-listic vision of divine justice against which to set the course of their lives. If we believe that justice is truly required for all of our evil acts, just as a positive re-ward will be granted for all our good acts, we come to understand that our life is short and the challenge is great to find the narrow way that leads to heaven and avoid the broad way that leads to Hell. We learn to leave vengeance for crimes to the state, and to leave unpunished crimes and the punishment due to them to the Lord in the next world. Our focus will then be on our sins and not our neigh-bor.s sins. Our whole value system will be different than that of the world.

The Church does a great service by each year by recalling to our attention this realistic vision of life, the big picture, and its termination in judgment. As Paul says “Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and so-ber.” You bet. Because at the end of time we are assured that just “When people are saying, „Peace and security,. then sudden disaster comes upon them, so to those who leave this world with a sense a peace and security based upon nothing but wishful thinking, will find sudden disaster has come upon them.” They will meet the Judge who will demand an accounting of every single act in their lives, and if they have not repented, they will hear those awful words of Jesus: I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.

Rather what we surely hope to hear at that final judgment are the glorious words of Jesus that we heard in today.s Gospel, “Well done, my good and faith-ful servant … come, share your master’s joy.” That positive judgment is the joy-ful side of belief in divine judgment and in eternal life for the just. We truly be-lieve that even if our good deeds go unrewarded in this life, all our good deeds will surely be rewarded in the life to come, and much more richly than they could ever be rewarded in this world. This belief strengthens our determination not to cave in and adopt the sinful and unjust ways that often tempt us precisely because evil so often goes unpunished and is so often a source of material well being in this world, while good seems to go so often unrewarded. That.s a very powerful temptation and it becomes almost irresistible if we lose our faith that evil and good are ultimately rewarded or punished only in the world to come.

For true followers of Christ, all that is finally desired here in this life is the strength to remain committed to doing the good and being faithful right to then end, and the grace to repent when we fail to do so. Then surely we believe that we will hear those glorious words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant, …Come, share your master’s joy!” What a joy that will be for us, and how infinitely compensating for all the evil we suffered and good we did in this life. That is our true hope, and hopefully that is the faith that guides our life in this world and leads us to eternal happiness in the next.