1st Sunday of Lent 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
February 26, 2012

So we begin our 40 days of Lent, 40 days preparing for Easter.
But we do so as Jesus did: before Easter he endured Good Friday, and the Cross.
And so in Lent we prepare for Easter by entering into the mystery of the Cross,
uniting our acts of penance and love to Christ and His Cross.

It seems that almost from the very beginning the apostles and their followers
celebrated Easter, and spent time preparing for it, with some form of Lent.
But the length and nature of Lent seems not to have been very uniform
for the first 3 centuries of the Church.
It’s only in the year 325 at the first gathering of the bishops
at the Council of Nicaea
that we see the uniformity of the 40 days penance
become the rule throughout the Church,
and a very important part of Christian life.

But why did the long 40 day season of Lent suddenly become so important?
It seems to me that it relates to the ending of the persecutions:
just 10 years before the Council of Nicaea
the Roman Emperor ended the systematic persecution of the Church,
and soon thereafter made Christianity the official religion of the empire.
Before that, being a Christian required a unique commitment.
When you might die tomorrow for the faith,
the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel rang particularly true:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
And the differences between pagan values and Christian values were easy to see.

But when the persecution ended,
it became easier to blur the differences
and to identify less with the strict moral teachings of the Church.
So that it became very important once a year to stop and look at themselves,
to recognize their sins, and answer again the call of Christ:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

We see this same thing happening in our own world today.
In our own country, lulled to sleep by the blessing of religious liberty,
Christians, and Catholics in particular,
have come to identify less and less with Christ and His Church,
with all it’s moral teachings and practices,
and identified more and more with the culture around us.
This wasn’t so bad when that culture was largely shaped by Christianity,
but over the years secularists have more and more
stripped the culture and laws of their Christian values.
So that now even that religious liberty
that has been so critical to the amazing success of the American experiment,
is at risk of being thrown aside,
as a new persecution of the Church begins.

We see this in so many ways,
but most clearly in the President’s attempt
to force us to buy or provide insurance
for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients
—directly against the doctrine of the Church.

So this year, Lent is especially meaningful and poignant,
as the values of the secular world and values of the Church
come into stark relief.
Suddenly the suffering of Christ at the hands of his persecutors,
as public leaders had him bound and led where he did not want to go,
takes on a more personal meaning,
as we sense that the same may lay in store for his body on earth, the Church.
And so, as in the days of the early Church,
this year the words of Christ resonate more profoundly in our hearts:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

But other words of today’s gospel text also resonate with particular meaning today.
It tells us
“Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts…”

In 1968 Pope Paul VI drew a line in the sand, saying “this far, and no farther”
to the secular culture,
as he reasserted the Church’s apostolic and infallible teaching
on sexuality and procreation, and against contraception,
in his prophetic encyclical, “Humanae Vitae.”
Unfortunately, in response, Catholics in America largely
sided with the secular world against the Church.

And since then, this new alignment has only become more pronounced.
So that not for “40 days” but for over 40 years,
American Catholics seem to have gone “out into the desert,”
“tempted by Satan” to join in the decadence of the “wild beasts” around us.
And while the Church itself, under the protection of the angels,
has remained steadfast to the truth of Christ and apostolic teaching,
even so, too many individual members of the Church have not.
And Lord cries out to us: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

American Catholics have many sins to repent.
But in the last few weeks one of them has come to the forefront,
as it has become the whip which secularists
have used to scourge Christ’s body, the Church.
I speak of course of the sin of contraception.

Of course, this is no accident,
since in so many ways the acceptance of contraception
has been the root of the rejection of Catholic morality,
especially sexual morality.
Because when we remove procreation as an essential part
of the intrinsic meaning of sex,
we start down a road that ends up stripping sex of all its true meaning.
And if sex has no real meaning, no higher purpose,
then it is reduced to whatever lower purposes we choose,
and we become more like “wild beasts,” and less like human beings.

This is why I think the greatest sins of our 40 years of wandering in the desert
are not simply the sins of misusing sexuality
but rather the sins of failing to teach and defend the truth
about the true meaning of the great gift of sexuality,
beginning with the truth about the evil of contraception.

And while the president’s contraception mandate
is fundamentally an attack on religious liberty,
the irony is we would never be in this situation
if for the last 40 years we had used our religious liberty
to proclaim the truth about contraception.

All Catholics, but especially priests and bishops, have to repent this sin.
And so, in the Spirit of Christ coming forth from the desert,
we must not remain silent any longer.
And we must vigorously support priests and bishops who tell the truth,
even when it is inconvenient, or painful to hear.

And so my friends, I say to you,
contraception is fundamentally evil,
and destructive to the good of marriage and the family
and degrading to the true meaning of sexuality.

This teaching can be difficult to understand, and to teach,
especially as conditioned as we are in secular mindset.

But think of this:
there is probably no greater grief to a family than the death of a child.
When that happens it just tears your heart apart.
But why?
Because human life is so incredible,
especially when we see it in all its innocence and wonder,
with all its potential wide open, in a child.

But then ask yourself: where does that incredible human life come from?
The truth is it comes from a particular act of human intimacy
that our culture increasingly tries to tell us
is no more meaningful than a handshake.
But if human life is so incredible,
wouldn’t the unique and very human act it comes from
be something pretty incredible too?
If human life shouldn’t be wasted, but respected and cherished as wonderful,
shouldn’t something of that be reflected in its origin?

It’s kind of like at Mass, when the priest says the words of consecration
and suddenly, miraculously, there on the altar
is the body blood soul and divinity of Christ—his very life.
And we see that moment, those actions and words,
as incredibly holy and awesome.

Then why don’t we see something incredible, holy and awesome
in the moment and action that transforms
simple human elements into the body and blood and even the soul
of a baby human life?

This is the thing.
This intimate act is designed by God to be the life-giving act.
And we don’t need the Bible to tell us this, although it does.
Because we see it in nature: we look at the physiology
and that is what the act is all about.

But because it involves the creation, or procreation, of not a mere plant or animal,
but of a human life—that incredible human child,
with all it’s potential and wonder—
we may begin at the physiology,
but we immediately see its meaning goes well beyond that.
The physical nature expresses a moral or spiritual nature—human nature.

Let’s go back to that young child who dies, and the heartbreak that death brings.
That heartbreak comes not simply because the child is dead,
but because the family loved that child in life,
and death separates us from living with the one we love.
You see, at the center of the meaning of human life is love!
Life is meaningless and empty without love,
and love is meaningless and empty without life!
In human beings, life and love,
are inseparable and at the heart of the very nature of mankind.

And so, the act of intimacy that is about so awesomely giving life,
must also be about awesomely giving love.
And because his parents should have
an unwaveringly committed to the life and love of that child,
they should also have a committed partnership
of sharing life and love together—in marriage.

So, that act that gives life to a baby
is intrinsically about giving both life and love
—both to the baby, and between the couple.
Any time that intimacy is expressed
without both a love-giving and a life-giving purpose,
in other words purposefully and intentionally rejecting
either of the two essential meanings of the act itself,
that intimacy and the dignity of the human beings involved
is mocked, degraded and abused.

And that, my friends is what happens in contraception.
It turns this most profound human act into a lie and a farce
—and it is inherently contrary to our human nature,
and so we call it both “inhuman” and “unnatural.”
And it degrades both the man and the woman,
and any child who might be conceived “by accident.”

Which is why in 1968 Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae Vitae
that these intimate acts belong solely in the context of marriage and
“must remain open to the transmission of life.”

And it’s why he warned us that the wide-spread use of contraception
would quickly lead to
increased “[marital] infidelity…
the general lowering of morality…
[and] the man, …los[ing] respect for the woman
and…considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,
and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”

Look at the explosion of abortion, pornography, divorce, out of wedlock births,
and spousal and child abuse,
as well as the dramatic decline in marriage,
not to mention the widespread acceptance of homosexuality.
All this was made possible by the degradation of contraception.

My friends, this only scratches the surface.
There is much more to say—and to learn.
So go home today and read Humanae Vitae,
and look for opportunities to read or hear more about this teaching
—there are loads of solid books and DVDs and CDs easily available,
some in our library downstairs, but also on the internet.
And I promise to continue to try to give you more opportunities to learn about it..

But whatever we do, we must repent of our sin of silence.
We must reject the temptation of Satan,
and tell even the “wild beasts” of our culture about this beautiful teaching.
And we must support our bishops and priests, and pray for them,
that “driven” by the Holy Spirit and protected by the angels
they may bravely lead the Church in America out of its 40 years in the desert
to join Christ in proclaiming the good news of the Gospel,
especially the beautiful news about sexuality.

We are entering into a new time of persecution of the Church,
when we will see the stark differences between
the culture of the secular world and the life of the Church.
But from the Cross comes the Resurrection, through suffering comes redemption.
May this these 40 days of Lent be a time of true repentance and conversion
for each of us, for all Catholics in America,
and yes, for our beloved Country.

“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

1st Sunday of Lent 2012

This is the reason Christ died for sins once for all, a just man for the sake of the unjust, so that He could lead you to God.
– Pet. 3:18

For Christians, the Season of Lent is a special time of grace which enables us to repent, to undergo a deeper conversion, to fulfill the command of the Lord we just heard in the Gospel: This is the time of fulfillment … reform your lives and believe in the Gospel. With the coming of Jesus, this is indeed the time of fulfillment, the fulfillment of the promises made by God to rescue us from our self-destructive behavior. Jesus is the fulfillment, our redeemer, and his grace is our salvation. And the core preaching of Jesus is just that basic: we are to repent of our sins and believe in His Gospel. But what does it mean to believe in His Gospel? It surely means that we must submit our souls, our lives, to the work Jesus has accomplished on our behalf and then base our lives on the truth that Jesus teaches us.

In the second reading, St. Peter specifies the essentials of our faith, what essentially we are to believe in: that the just man, Jesus Christ has died for the unjust, us, in order that we might be saved and be led to God by Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God. By his death in the flesh he died for our sins, and by His resurrection he became, in the flesh, the source of of eternal life which was the source of his Resurrection. We receive that life if we put our faith in the saving death of Jesus, his sacrifice on our behalf. In faith in Jesus, we escape the death of the soul, just as Noah and his family escaped the death of the flesh by the faith of Noah.

In the days of Noah, only eight persons put their faith in God’s word and escaped the flood. The rest of men scoffed at Noah’s warning and were drowned in the great flood that overwhelemed the earth. This is for us a parable to help us understand the fate of those who believe in the Gospel, as contrasted with the fate of those who refuse to enter the ark of the New Covenant. Those who repent and believe in the saving word and deeds of Jesus Christ will be saved by the Cross which like the wooden ark of Noah, carries them on the waters of Baptism to a new life in God.

On the other hand, those who deliberately refuse to repent and believe in the Gospel will be like those men of old who stayed outside the ark, and were lost. The ark of Noah, then, is truly a prefiguring image of the Cross of Jesus; the flood is a prefiguring of the Sacrament of Baptism; and, finally, the new life of Noah and his family a prefiguring of the new life that comes to us through Baptism, the new life of Divine Grace, the supernatural life of divine sonship in the Lord.

For Christians, the Old Testament is God’s revelation, but it is to be understood as a foreshadowing of the New Covenant. Thus events like Noah’s ark remain significant for us simply because they are divinely intended as images of the realities that will be brought about by the Lord in the New and Eternal Covenant. As St. Peter says, the baptismal bath, which corresponds to the flood exactly, contains not merely a physical effect, the preservation of man’s earthly life. Or the purification of his body as in the baptisms of the old rituals of Israel or surrounding nations.

The effect of Baptism goes far beyond merely preserving physical life and beyond the purification of any ritual bath of the old religions. Baptism causes us, says St. Peter, to have an irreproachable conscience, and it does so by washing away our sins in the blood of Jesus. The Sacrament, in other words, causes a true interior transformation in our souls, cleansing them from all stain of sin so that we can stand before God as His true children, sharing His life, and pledging our fealty with an irreproachable conscience.

So Jesus begins his Mission by calling mankind to repentance of sin, and to belief in the Good News, that by His death and resurrection, we receive the gift of salvation, the forgiveness of all our sins, and the regeneration of our natures in Baptism which transforms us into God’s children and gives us a new, irreproachable conscience. This is the gift Jesus offers to all, but to gain it each of must do two things to begin with, repent for the sins we have committed and believe in the Gospel he proclaims. This the heart of the Gospel. He has died for us, and by his death he has merited the forgiveness of our sins. By his resurrection, he has become for us the source of eternal life and restored goodness to our consciences by making them irreproachable before God.

But, if it is necessary for the unbaptized to repent and believe in the Gospel, how much more necessary is it for the baptized who have lost that irreproachable conscience they received in Baptism by falling back into the slavery of sin. Because we have been baptized does not mean that we ever, in this world, escape the necessity of responding to this call of Jesus to repent and believe. Who among us can say we have never betrayed our Baptismal gift from Jesus, our irreproachable conscience, by some form of sin? Even venial sin compromises the irreproachableness of our conscience, while mortal sin destroys the very life of Grace in our souls. And we stand before the Lord with even greater responsibility for having betrayed the free gift of His death, and always in danger of betraying it in the future. His call to reform our lives should strike our consciences even more since we have been privileged to receive his gifts in Baptism, and have not remained true to our promises.

How merciful God is to continue to address these words calling us to repentance every year, every day. For we are not only sinners, but sinners who have betrayed our first troth! Yet how unlike us is the father of Mercies, who continues to offer us the possibility of reform, though we may have betrayed him so often. Think of how unforgiving we can be. Suppose you had a son who had sacrificed his life for someone who was really a ne’er-do-well, and then, that man, having pledged himself to be a better man in the future to honor your son, wasted his new life again and again, in little ways and often in grave ways. How often would we hold out the offer of our forgiveness?

Some might ask, does God never stop offering these words of mercy? And the answer is simple from God’s side: so long as the Church proclaims this Gospel, the offer of God’s mercy will be made to those who hear it and take it to heart. On Ash Wednesday, the Church calls us to repentance. Each and every morning the Church begins her daily prayer with the words, If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts. The only question is do we choose to hear his appeal to repentance with an open heart, or are we like the neighbors of Noah, who heard the warning, but did not take it seriously and never entered the Ark. The choice is ours. God is always merciful; the real question is are we always repentant?

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

Brothers and sisters: As God is faithful, our word to you is not “yes” and “no.”

The Bishop has asked us to read this announcement at all Masses: As many of you know, the president is trying to force virtually all private health care plans to cover sterilization, certain abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception. This will directly affect the vast majority of faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities, as well as individual Catholics and Catholic-owned businesses. As Bishop Loverde has said, .We cannot—and will not—comply with this unjust law. The Administration‘s February 10th .accommodation. does not remove this threat to religious liberty and conscience rights. To this end I ask you to support the .Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,. recently introduced in Congress. You will find an insert in today‘s bulletin explaining this in greater detail. I urge you to take action by contacting your Members of Congress. Also, we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that religious liberty may be restored.

Dear brothers and sisters, this message from our bishop makes it quite clear that the church is not about to surrender on this challenge to her religious freedom. Too much is at stake in what may appear to many, even many Catholics to be a minor issue. However, what is really at stake here is not only the freedom of the church in regards to this particular HHS mandate, but ultimately the freedom of the church to carry out her mission of teaching and governing her institutions in accordance with her teaching and the consciences of her people.

The tactics of the supporters of this mandate to force Catholic institutions to act contrary to the teachings and consciences of the Church administration and other Catholics are deplorable. Their aim is clearly to divide the Catholic Church and render its influence in our society powerless. Their latest strategy is to publicize all kinds of polls that show that Catholics in huge numbers do not obey the law of the church when it comes to contraception. Unfortunately this is true, but it is not new news. Polls have been showing that unfortunate fact for many years. Nonetheless, the fact that a great percentage of Catholics violate the church’s teachings and use contraception has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue at hand, which is the Church‘s religious freedom to act in accordance with her moral teachings. The administration wants to change the subject, but it will not work. Nor does the fact that so many Catholics have chosen to live contrary to this moral norm prove anything about the truth of the church’s norm. The church’s teaching would remain true even if 100% of lay Catholics today chose to reject it.

However, the fact that the enemies of the Catholic Church have chosen to try to make this a debate about contraception rather than an issue of religious freedom is itself very interesting indeed. For 50 years, since introduction of mass contraception by means of the pill, the promoters of population control and sexual libertinism have had the Church and her rejection of contraception as morally permissible in their crosshairs. It has always been an objective of the advocates of birth control and sexual liberation to pressure the Church to change her teaching, and to force the Church to violate her own teaching by forcing her to provide birth control devices, and abortion eventually, in her insurance. Now, for the first time under the present administration, these enemies of the Church and her teaching have found a sympathetic ear in this administration and been given a gift in this HHS mandate. Their plot will not succeed, however, without a terrible blow being delivered to religious freedom and severe damage to this country that the present administration simply does not understand.

While the immediate issue is religious freedom, the long term issue is the freedom of the Church to teach her moral doctrine when it contradicts the current cultural values and the aims of those who control our public square. These advocates of the contraceptive culture see the Catholic Church as the last major witness against and threat to the contraceptive culture itself. The Church indeed does see this secular culture of abortion and contraception as a terrible threat to the future of societies, and that is why her witness has to be silenced or at least rendered powerless. The two .sacraments. of the reigning secular culture after all are contraception and abortion, and they must be protected and promoted at whatever cost to religious liberty and conscience.

For years the Church has been shouting a warning from the roof tops – but her message is not heard because it‘sblocked by the secular media – that the contraceptive culture is a deadly threat to cultures and even to the survival of nations. The results of the contraceptive mentality and the culture it has produced are now manifest after 50 years of the western world reversing the moral law of the ages banning contraception as contrary to the law of God, the natural law, and the law of nations. The Catholic Church, nevertheless, has stood fast on this moral teaching in the face of great opposition and great ridicule over those 50 years. As Paul said in today‘s second reading, .As God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no.’. For over 2000 years, the Church has taught .no. on contraception, that contraception is contrary to the law of God and harmful to marriages and to society and human culture, and she will never say a .yes. to what she knows is against God‘s law and so harmful to the her children and the future of this world.

A little History: until just 80 years ago, the whole Christian world, along with the Muslim world and Jewish world, was actually united on this teaching until one after another Protestant denominations began to say .yes. and reverse the teaching of the previous 20 centuries on this moral issue. In 1930, the Anglican Church reversed this 2000 year old teaching for its members under great pressure from birth control advocates. When that momentous decision was embraced by a Council of Protestant denominations in this country in 1931, a Protestant editor of the Washing Post that same year wrote this scathing dissent from the decision of this Protestant gathering to abandon the moral tradition of Christianity on this issue:

It is impossible to reconcile the doctrine of the divine institution of marriage with any modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation of or suppression of human life. The Church must either reject the plain teachings of the Bible or reject schemes for the =scientific‘ production of human souls. Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be “careful and restrained” is preposterous.

That Post editorial by a devout Methodist layman has proven very prophetic indeed. Who can doubt that marriage is no longer honored as a sacred institution by the great majority of our society in this modern contraceptive culture? Divorce really exploded after this official embracing of contraception and its impact on society and the stability of marriage. Today a dramatic and increasing number of young people in Europe and here in American are bypassing marriage altogether. And did not his prediction that it would .encourage indiscriminate immorality. come true in spades with the sexual revolution begun in the 1960s, not caused exclusively by the contraceptive culture but certainly fueled by easy access to the pill by everyone, married or not.

But contraception, and the contraceptive culture it spawned, turned out to be even far more deadly than anyone imagined. This culture and practice is quite literally slowly killing whole nations across the globe, as, one after another, they can no longer sustain a birth rate that is even at a replacement level. Indeed, all the nations of Europe in the next few decades will be begin to actually lose population in a kind of death spiral that will cut their populations drastically before the turn of the next century, and we will not be far behind. And that massive decline in births has tremendous implications not only for economies built upon mass consumption, but also on the ability of nations to defend themselves – young people mount the defense of nations – and the ability of nations to sustain social programs like pensions and health insurance that depend upon a larger body of workers than those who simply depend upon the working population‘s mounting taxes to pay their social benefits.

All of these social consequences weigh upon the Church‘s motherly concern, for like a good mother, she deeply loves also her erring children. It‘s
not simply that those who are caught up in the contraceptive culture harm their souls by violating God‘s law on this matter, but the fact that they are also blindly promoting the culture of death, that is, the deadly consequences of this immoral practice on the well-being and even the existence of their future society. The Church will take any amount of abuse to be able to teach the truth, when so much is at stake for her children and for their country‘s future.

Finally, this health care mandate is particularly disturbing by what it suggests about the unborn child. If preventing conception is a matter of .heath Care. what does that say about the dignity of the child. Pregnancy is being redefined as a health care matter, and the child must then be considered a kind of disease when unwanted. The disease must be prevented by contraception, and if that fails the conceived child must be destroyed by abortion like cancer that needs to be wiped out.

The Church always defends the glory of motherhood and the gift of life in the human child by her teaching. That teaching created a culture of life for centuries. Today it is being undone, and we are all the poorer for that fact and threatened in our very existence as a society and a nation. May God bless the efforts of our bishops and their spiritual children, starting with a victory for her religious freedom in the year ahead. Then we can begin the dialogue with our country on the deadly consequences of the culture that has embraced sterility and death rather than life, reversing the command of Moses centuries ago. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. Dt.30:19

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

February 12, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Have you ever wondered why, after exercising his divine power
in curing the leper in today’s Gospel, [why] Jesus tells him:
“go, show yourself to the priest …”
After all, Jesus is God,
why would he send the leper to a mere man, to be judged?

The thing is, Jesus recognizes
that for the leper to be welcomed back into the community
someone in authority had to determine
that he was physically “clean” enough to come back.
And he reminds us that the law, given to Moses by God himself,
in other words, by Jesus himself,
prescribes that only the priests have that authority.

Now, this was the law of the Old Covenant,
but we know that the Old Covenant foreshadows the New Covenant.
So in the New Covenant Jesus kept the office of priesthood,
but made it a new priesthood, and he was the one true priest.
Even so, he chose to share his priesthood with his apostles
for the good of the Church.
So he gave them the responsibility to offer the sacrifice of the New Covenant,
the Eucharist.
And he gave them the power to judge, not physical purity,
but spiritual purity:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.”
And he gave them authority to rule and teach in his name:
“whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
So just as by divine law the Jews turned to the priests of the Old Covenant,
the Church also turns to the priests of the New Covenant
for judgment and leadership.

This is especially so in the case of the successors of the apostles,
the Pope and bishops.

But there are many who would like to usurp that apostolic authority.
We see this nowhere more clearly than
in the current attempt to force Catholics
to purchase insurance to cover
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients.

We see, for example,
how the presidents of the Catholic Health Association
and the University of Notre Dame
have repeatedly placed their judgment over
the judgment of the bishops of the United States.
Some in the media, and even Planned Parenthood
think they should speak for Christ and his Church.
And some argue that opinion polls of Catholics should speak for the Church.

But most appalling of all is that we see this same arrogance in our president.
He reminds me of King Henry VIII in the 16th century
who declared himself head of the Church of England
because the pope and the English bishops, at least initially,
would not consent to his judgment of what was moral and immoral.
In a similar way our president has the gall to claim
he has the authority to tell the bishops that they, and the pope,
are mistaken in teaching that contraception, sterilization and abortifacients
are contrary to God’s law.
And because of that he feels he has the authority to force the bishops,
and all Catholics, to do what they find morally repugnant.

In the reversal of today’s Gospel,
he treats them not like the priest, but like the leper,
not as leaders but as someone to be shunned
and cast out of the community.

Now, we all know that bishops make mistakes.
They are certainly not infallible in all things:
they are sometimes foolish, sometimes sinners,
and sometimes even heretics.
Look at the bishops in England under Henry VIII
–initially they fought his heresy but in the end all but one caved in,
abandoned the pope and joined Henry’s church.

But when bishops are in union with the Pope,
and pass on the moral teaching that popes and bishops
have consistently taught for 2000 years,
there is no doubt that they speak for Christ and His Church.
And that is exactly what our bishops are doing when they teach that
contraception, sterilization and abortifacients are gravely sinful.

So, when it comes the free exercise of religion,
we Catholics do so by following the Church’s ancient moral teachings
faithfully taught by our bishops.
No one else,
not Planned Parenthood,
not the Catholic Heath Association or Notre Dame,
not the media or public opinion polls,
and definitely not the President of the United States,
can tell us what is moral or immoral,
or what it means to exercise our Catholic religion.
And when we oppose them, they cannot treat us like lepers,
as second citizens.

I don’t really want to preach about this today:
the story of the leper is very beautiful,
and there are lots of things I’d like to say about it.
But I have to, because last Friday our president announced an “accommodation”
on this insurance issue.
The media is presenting it as a great compromise—but it’s nothing of the sort.
Once again, the president claimed the authority
to tell us what is moral and immoral,
and he continues to ignore our religious liberty.

Now, I’ve been paying pretty close attention,
and unless I’m gravely mistaken,
he really didn’t change anything—just played a little shell game.

He says he won’t make religious institutions, like hospitals and universities,
buy insurance to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Instead he’ll make the insurance company provide those “services”
“free” of charge.

First of all, does he really think that insurance companies will do that for free?
There is no law in this land that can force them to do that.
And there’s no such thing as a free lunch
—inevitably the overall premiums will simply go up,
and the church will wind up paying for it one way or another.

But even if somehow the laws of economics would be suspended,
it’s not really about the money,
it’s about being providing immoral services.
Think about this:
the policy before
forced church institutions
to buy insurance policies that provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion;
the policy after
forces church institutions
to buy an insurance policies that provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion.
Nothing’s changed.

Beyond that, the president’s accommodation applies only to
“Religious organizations”.
It does nothing the individual Catholics who buy insurance for themselves,
or the Catholic business man or woman
who buy insurance for their employees?
What about their right to free exercise of religion?

Right now the Bishops are still considering
the proper response to the president’s shell game.
So far I have been extremely proud of their courage and wisdom.
But like you and me, bishops can fall,
especially under the tremendous pressure that they are under.
Remember that in 16th century England, in the end
all the English bishops abandoned the Catholic Church to side with Henry.
All, that is, but one: Saint John Fisher,
who was martyred for his fidelity.

I think our bishops are made of stronger stuff than those English Bishops
—some are even made of the same stuff as John Fisher.
But they need our continued uncompromising support.
And they especially need our prayers.
Pray that they may take to heart St. Paul’s admonition today:
“whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
And pray that by standing strong together
with the grace of their ordination as priests of the New Covenant,
they may imitate the fidelity and courage of St. John Fisher
but be spared of sharing in his martyrdom.

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

Try to imagine, for a moment, that you were living in the time of Jesus and had contracted the horrible and incurable disease of leprosy. Leprosy was a fearful; and feared disease, and lepers were truly social outcasts; they could not come into populated areas and they also had to avoid coming close to people traveling outside the city or village. That affliction truly was a kind of living death.

Next imagine that you are a leper who comes into contact with a great miracle-worker, Jesus of Nazareth, and your desperate plea for a cure rouses the pity of the great miracle-worker You are instantly cured of your disease at the touch of his hand, and you feel your strength returning and your body once again feels whole and healthy. Can you imagine how grateful you would be to that man, how much you world owe to his mercy? What would your response be? How would the mercy of Jesus change your life from that moment?

But in fact there is a disease that we all can contract, and most all of us do at one time or another, which is indeed a kind of living death. Indeed it is more than a disease, for it is a living form of death, the death not of the body but of the soul. That disease of course is sin, and more precisely, mortal sin, because it kills the supernatural life of the soul, and the person in the state of mortal sin is truly a dead man walking.

Indeed, leprosy is more like venial sin, because it is not literally death of the body, but a disease that attacks the body which could be cured if man knew how to do it, and today we do. But mortal sin is really just that, mortal, a real death, the death of the soul, in so far as mortal sin kills the life of God in the human soul, and that we cannot “cure” in any way through medicine or science or any other human means. If we have mortal sin on our souls we are truly dead men, men without supernatural life and the is the most terrible death of all, because it means we will for all eternity remain subject to suffering since we will not have God’s life in our souls, unless we too encounter the miracle-worker, Jesus the Lord, who alone can raise us from the spiritual death that is mortal sin to the immortal life that is God’s, and restore our dignity as a human being, a child of God once more.

That last point is also very important. When Jesus raises us from death to life by his mercy in Baptism or Penance, he also restores our human dignity. You see, a disease like leprosy does not in itself take away the leper’s true dignity, even if he suffers being an outcast because people fear his disease. A disease of the body, no matter how terrible does not corrupt the soul, and a leper can be a saint, as Francis of Assisi recognized when he kissed the leper’s sores of Saint Damien of Molokai taught when he gave his life for his beloved lepers. But mortal sin destroys not only the supernatural life of our soul, but also corrupts the dignity of our humanity as such, since mortal sin alienates us from God and even from the communion of saints. We are still members of the Church, but we are dead members, and that fact is deadly to our dignity as men called to be God’s true children.

So if we honestly recognize what Jesus has done for us by raising us from the death of sin, the death of the soul, and truly saved us from eternal sorrow and suffering by that act of mercy, how does it affect the rest of our life here on earth? Do we return to the life of sin and alienation from God, or do we follow Jesus down the road of life? Are we not shocked how ungrateful the lepers cured by Jesus in today’s Gospel are after being cured by him? All that Jesus asked of this cured leper was not to make his identity known, since it would make his mission more difficult. But “He spread the report abroad, so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” Was it ingratitude or just thoughtless exuberance, we don’t know.

With us, on the other hand, if our life doesn’t change for the better after Christ raises us to the death of sin to the life of grace, it can only be terrible ingratitude. Christ does not raise us without a terrible cost. In the case the leper, Jesus simply exercised his creative power to restore the man to health. But, when he raises us to life, he does so by the power of his death and resurrection. The sins we commit caused his death, if only because Jesus had chosen to die for us, for our sins, to satisfy divine justice for our sins. He rose again for us, for us men and for our salvation, to communicate to us forgiveness of sins of the resurrection of our souls and one day our bodies. In other words, he didn’t just dismiss our sins as if they didn’t matter, but he absolved our sins and power of his blood.

So if we care so little for the price that He paid to show mercy to us, that we return to our life of sin, can we be anything but the most ungrateful of servants? And does not our sinful life even prevent Jesus from entering the lives of those who know us as Christians but who see us living anything but a Christian life? We need to meditate often on this gospel and how it applies to our life. Are we dead men walking, or are we alive in Christ, filled with gratitude, and making our way to the heavenly kingdom?

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
– I Cor. 9:16

What is the value of one soul? We can easily discover what the value of most material things is, but how do we come to understand the true or objective value of a single soul? The seller and buyer basically determine the value of material things through negotiation, whether it’s the value of a house, or a car, or a lamp or most any other material thing, there is some kind of market value or price. An artist sets his value for the work of art, but the collector has a role as well. But there really is no “market value” when it comes to souls, so how do we learn their value?

The true value of every single human soul can only be found in one place, in the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of every single human soul. Jesus purchased every single created soul, but He purchased them not for his own ownership, but to restore their dignity and freedom to the same persons they belong to by natural right, but in fact were “enslaved / possessed” by another master because of sin. The value of each and every soul is beyond human determination, beyond any value system proper to this world. For we see that the creator of this universe valued each and every soul, individually, with the infinite measure of his love, and he was determined to pay the ultimate price to redeem each soul and every soul, the price of his own life, a life infinitely valuable to the one true measure of anything’s worth, the Father who is the origin of all that exists. That was the true measure of the soul’s worth and nothing else.

So the true measure of anyone’s soul, of my soul, your soul, is God’s creative love, and that love poured out in the Incarnate Son who gave his life, as St. Paul says, for me: “ I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20). Christ died for all, to redeem all, but not simply as a collectivity, but for each of us, to redeem my soul to be mine again, and your soul to be yours once more, and so on. And Christian faith has always believed that if only one soul were in need of redemption, He would have paid the same price as he paid for all, his life, indivisible and of infinite value to the Father because of who Jesus is, his only-beloved Son.

This truth about the objective, God-determined value of every single soul, and that means of every single person as the subject of the soul, is what drove St. Paul and the other Apostles to spend himself preaching the Gospel: he says, “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible … to save at least some.” So valuable is a single soul that Paul will spend his very life, in imitation of Jesus, to save even one soul. He hopes to same many, but that is going to be determined by God’s grace interacting with human freedom. Paul’s task is to bring the Gospel to men so that have an opening to that interaction with God in a human way, concretely, in the world of man.

Likewise, the value of one soul, and every soul, explains why Jesus does not allow the crowds to turn his mission into that of a miracle worker or earthly ruler. His purpose has to do with the salvation of souls which begins with the preaching of the Gospel: “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1:38) Jesus has come to raise dead souls to life, to heal wounded souls, to be the redeemer of man, which begins with redemption of the souls of men by his preaching and is accomplished by his death and resurrection. Healing man’s body is a great mercy, but it does not compare with the healing of man’s soul. The spiritual soul has a value that cannot be measured in any way; the body is of great value itself, but is of transcendent value only when united with a free soul enlivened by God’s life.

We can learn two great truths for our lives from all this. First, we can learn that the spiritual order of things is always of a higher and more transcendent value than the material order of things. Secondly, we can learn the value that God has placed on each of us by redeeming our souls, and ultimately our bodies as well, since we will not be resurrected souls in His final Kingdom, but resurrected men. Thus, if we learn to value ourselves as God does, and by God’s measuring stick, why he values us so much, surely we will never doubt our true personal worth, and we will never decide to live as if we were only material creatures with no destiny beyond this world. By God’s Grace, we will struggle to always live what we are: God’s children, purchased at such a great price.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

Some years ago a parishioner wrote to me about a Christian sect which had started up back in 1916 in England which had chosen the name Liberal Catholic Church. There is an American branch and in its literature it is said to be growing, but they seem to have only 14 small parishes in the whole country. This new schismatic sect describes itself as an open church that invites everyone to receive its sacraments regardless of their beliefs: This is quoted directly from their own literature:

The Liberal Catholic Church came into being in order that people who insist upon complete freedom of belief in their search for truth could have free access to the traditional Catholic Sacraments without having to give even lip service to creeds or dogmas to which they could, not honestly and wholeheartedly subscribe.

The parishioner wryly commented that she thought this was a religion tailor made for the me generation and folks who wanted to feel good about themselves without any obligations, even to God. Of course these new religious movements are anything but new – scepticism is a religion as old as western civilization. Religious scepticism can be found in ancient Greece, and its modern offspring is found in the Modernist religious notions of a century ago.

But religions without dogma seem a bit disingenuous when they say you don’t even have to “pay lip service” to any creeds to be a member or to receive their sacraments. I wonder how well received a member would be who started spouting beliefs like the Klan, say a belief that Jews were less than human, or that homosexuals were worse than animals. I mean how do you remain “open” and exclude people with those beliefs. Such an open attitude can only be sustained if we believe that truth is what each person thinks it is; so how do you exclude any belief from your open Church? It’s a problem.

Perhaps they would say that you don’t have to believe anything, but you can’t believe things that are opposed to what the leadership expresses in its own statement of doctrine, which is very brief, and which is not binding on anyone, and thus they avoid the term creed. In their statement of the leaders’ beliefs, number 6 states simply “Man has ethical duties to himself and to others” and then quotes the two-fold commandment of love. That’s it; that’s their ethical content in a sentence. The rest is left up to you.

So what does love of neighbor really entail? That’s up to each member to decide. So, if one decides that love of neighbor means having relations with the Bishop’s wife, what’s wrong with that? Or if love of neighbor means not wanting people to suffer, what’s wrong with killing a neighbor who is suffering, or is making me suffer? How far does one have to go down this line of reasoning to discover that in the real world love of neighbor cannot exist in any group without certain moral doctrines or convictions being held in common, and that the principle that this religion’s members can believe whatever they choose is simply an appeal to the anti-authoritarian attitude of so many people today when it comes to religion. Every religion, even this non-dogmatic, open sect, will in the end have some bottom line when it comes to required beliefs, a kind of basic orthodoxy demanded of all, for without some commonly held beliefs life in common is impossible, and authentic love an illusion.

Moreover, I don’t see how Jesus could possibly be at home in this religion which claims his name and authority for getting rid of any requirement of dogmatic belief. This new Catholicism even claims that Jesus never thought other religions had false doctrines, he was an “open” teacher, and one of its leaders’ stated beliefs is that in the end every man will be saved, because from the beginning every man has had the divine spark in him. Man is God without Jesus and God is not really man in Jesus, who’s just the best exemplar of the divine spark in every man.

But the real Jesus whom we heard in today’s Gospel was no relativist when it came to truth or doctrine. He was, as the people then said, a teacher who spoke with true, and we might add absolute, authority when it came to his message. Search the Gospels -you will look in vain for a Jesus who in any way qualifies his teachings by expressions like, “or so it seems to me” or “but that’s just my opinion” or “you may see it another way.” There are simply no such qualifications to be found. Jesus says simply this is the way it is. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, he even corrects the religion of Israel, his own inherited religious tradition: “You have heard it said,” such and such … ” but I tell you….”

There is no room for maneuvering here. You either believe Him or you don’t, follow him or walk away. Love Him, or end up despising Him.

What other great figure in religion said things like Jesus did with such absolute authority? That is what astounds the people who heard him then – he speaks with a real authority, and does not equivocate like the scribes of Israel, and that is what troubles the sceptics today. Note how the people of his own day first describe his preaching: “What is this? A new teaching with authority!” But we must ask, whose authority? God’s absolute authority, for only God can claim such absoluteness. That’s who the people recognized behind this new teaching, and they were “astounded!”

Just think about it, who but Jesus ever called himself the Truth? Who ever claimed that his teachings were Truth itself, and would, if they were followed with true faith, set the believer free, free from sin and free from falsehoods that enslave? These claims did not sit well with many then, and they do not sit well with anyone who thinks that truth does not matter when it comes to religious practice.

Now Jesus does proclaim a doctrine of universal love as the basis of true religion. And certainly Jesus loved all mankind and died even for those who would not believe him, as well as those who would. But the love that Jesus taught, lived and commanded us to live, is not a love which denies the importance of truth. For if that were possible, it would have denied the importance of his own person and mission -for Jesus, recall, claimed to be the Truth. Man cannot love his neighbor, in the way that God loves, and in the way that Jesus commands us to love, without also loving Truth. Without the love of truth, “love” of neighbor becomes very uncertain, and can lead to the death camp as surely as hate can lead to the killing fields. Without the love of truth to complement and support the love of neighbor, the lover can become as much of a threat to the beloved as someone who hates that person.

In reality, Jesus taught a whole world of truths concerning the origin, nature, destiny and value of every human person, and it is this universe of truth about my neighbor that makes possible loving every neighbor as Jesus commanded, even the enemy, or the one who hates us. Jesus and his doctrine remains that rock for us always, for He is indeed the way, the truth and the life for man. He is the answer to man’s deepest questions, in this age, and every other age. But those who have never heard his message need to glimpse its absolute truth, its divine authority, and they can do so perhaps only in the way we base our lives upon its absoluteness. Indeed, the crowds today, blinded by such deep scepticism, will not likely see the real truth of His teaching unless we believers live it ourselves, in all its absolute demands, and thus bear witness to its divine authority. That is real love of God and love of neighbor, as Jesus taught it and lived it, and we must do the same today.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

January 22, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Today, is the 39th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court’s decision
in Roe v. Wade, establishing the right to abortion in our country.
To me, that day seems to be the most terrible day in American History,
as since then over 3000 innocent Americans have been killed every day
by abortions,
over 1.3 million a year, for a total of over 50 million dead since 1973.

But even as horrible as that death toll is,
we can’t forget that Roe v. Wade had other consequences as well
—consequences that slowly but surely have been eating away
at the moral and legal fiber of our nation and culture.

Of course, we cannot forget the consequence of
abortion’s devastating effect on women.
Especially the women who have been lied to and told,
“it’s okay, it’s just a formless clump of cells.”
But deep inside they know, or come to know as years pass,
the truth of what they’ve done.
These are the 2nd victims of abortion, but they are ignored and ridiculed
for expressing their pain and feelings of guilt.
We must not forget them, and we must do everything we can to help them heal,
and to make sure that the evil of abortion
will not continue to plague future generations of women.

But the consequences of Roe/Wade go beyond even that.
Because the Court’s decision to establish a constitutional right to abortion
has been like a virus injected into the body politic
slowly destroying every other constitutional right,
and the freedom that is the life’s blood of our great nation.

You see, there can not be any human rights
if human beings don’t have a right to life.
If you’re not alive, you have no rights at all.
What good is the right to vote, or freedom of speech
if someone else has the right to kill you before you can vote or speak?

This is why, in 1776 when Virginian Thomas Jefferson
wrote the Declaration of Independence
the only rights he felt it necessary to list were the most fundamental:
“the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”
—with the right to life being first.

Now, some point out that 15 Years later,
when fellow Virginian James Madison spearheaded
the ratification of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution,
it made no mention of a specific right to life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.
But that was because those rights were so well established already
—in so many places, including the Declaration of Independence—
that they were presumed as the foundation of the Bill of Rights.
Does anyone honestly think the founders changed their minds
between 1776 and 1791?
“Well, we need to protect the right to a speedy trial,
but forget the right to not to be killed.”

Now, some of you may be saying, Father,
this is supposed to be a Catholic homily, not in a U.S. government lesson.
True enough.
So let’s focus on Catholic moral teaching.
And that is this:
no government on earth has the right to deny
the fundamental human right to life.
And if they do deny the right to life,
they deny every other human right that flows from being alive.

It seems that sometimes Catholic morals and government laws overlap.
And necessarily so.

“Careful Father, remember the separation of Church and state.”
Okay, let’s remember the separation of Church and state.
And let’s begin by considering what Pope Benedict said in Rome
just this past Thursday
to a group of American bishops, including Bishop Loverde:
“The legitimate separation of Church and State
cannot be taken to mean
that the Church must be silent on certain issues….”
Now, when most of us think of the separation between church and state
most of us think of the Bill of Rights.
So I guess I have to go back to the constitution again.
Here’s what it says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Notice, it does not say anything about
the church, or priests, keeping out of the affairs of the state;
it’s not about protecting the government from the church,
but protecting the individual’s right
to belong to the religion he or she chooses
and to practice that religion freely
—it’s a protection of the individual and religion from the government.

Most people never notice, that among all the rights listed in the Constitution,
this right to freely choose and practice our religion
is THE VERY FIRST RIGHT mentioned,
in the very first words of the very First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
And this no accident.
In 1776, just a few months before Jefferson wrote
the U.S. Declaration of Independence,
George Mason and James Madison
wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
And while Mason was its primary author,
Madison’s contribution was the article on freedom of religion,
which Mason put as the very last right in the long list.
But 11 years later when Madison proposed the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791,
he deliberately moved it from last to first.

And rightly so.
Because the freedom of religion is essential to the freedom of thought,
the freedom to decide for oneself what one believes
to be true, right and good.
How can we defend any rights if we don’t have that right.
And how can we defend any rights as being given to us from God himself,
as the Declaration of Independence states,
unless we have a right to believe in God as we sees fit.

But as I said earlier, without the right to life,
there are no other rights, no liberties.
So that when someone embraces a theory of man and society
that rejects the right to life,
that system of thought makes all other rights and liberties
not fundamental, natural or God-given,
but simply invented by political expediency and political power.
And when those in power find that the exercise of a certain right or freedom
is not politically expedient to their political agenda,
they will dismiss that “freedom” or “right,”
just as quickly as they dismiss the right of an innocent unborn baby to live.

All this brings us to something that happened on just 2 days ago,
as the news reported that our president,
who has notoriously rejected the right to life of unborn babies,
called Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan,
Archbishop of New York
and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops,
to give him some very bad news.
That is, that federal regulations related to his new health care plan
will definitely require the Catholic Church in America
to pay for health care insurance, for the vast majority of its employees,
that will cover contraception – including drugs that cause abortion –
and sterilization.
A few Catholic entities like parishes, the bishop’s curia,
and maybe Catholic elementary and high schools
will be exempt.
But not Catholic colleges, or hospitals,
and not Catholic Charities,
or virtually any other Catholic group or institution.

Any Catholic knows, and any politician who’s breathing knows,
that this law is repugnant to the moral teachings of Catholicism.
And yet the president will attempt—attempt—to force us to comply,
and so has directly and willfully
dismissed our constitutional and human right to freedom of religion.

And this just a week after the Supreme Court unanimously held
that the first amendment broadly prohibits the government
from interfering in the hiring practices of churches.
The court ruled:
“The present case….concerns government interference
with an internal church decision
that affects the faith and mission of the church itself.”

I’m no lawyer, and this regulation isn’t about hiring anyone,
but who in their right mind would argue
that hospitals and colleges and assisting the poor
are not part of “the mission of the church itself”?

Apparently the president and his administration would.

Of course the administration will deny this.
They’ll say, as they have over and over again, that they completely support
the “freedom to worship.”
But the thing is, as Pope Benedict told the Bishops on Thursday,
we can’t allow governments to
“reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship…”
“Worship” is not what the 1st amendment is about
—worship is going to Mass,
and the administration doesn’t have a problem with that:
“just go pray and leave us alone.”
But exercise of religion is actually practicing the tenets,
putting faith into action.
In other words, the work of Catholic hospitals, charities etc.
—the very organizations the administration is attacking.

Is this intended as a direct assault on the Catholic Church?
Was it aimed to punish the Bishops and faithful Catholics
for their opposition to abortion
—especially as it comes out just 2 days before
the anniversary of Roe v Wade?
Or is it retribution for our defiance of the administration’s relentless promotion
of the gay agenda and sexual promiscuity?
You may disagree, but at the very least it looks awfully suspicious.

In any case, just as they tossed out the most fundamental right to life,
now they have thrown out the first right that flows from it.
And if they can so easily cast aside
the first right recognized in the First Amendment,
what will keep them from ignoring the rest of the rights
listed in the First Amendment.
You know, little things like:
“freedom of speech,
“[freedom] of the press,”
“the right …[to] peaceably …assemble,”
“and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

And if they can make Catholics pay for contraception and abortifacient pills,
what else can they make us pay for?
Direct surgical abortions?
Can they make priests officiate at gay marriages
—or prohibit us from doing any weddings
if we refuse to do “gay weddings”?
You might think it’s a stretch,
but according the reasoning of the Supreme Court,
the constitutional right to contraception
was the basis for both the right to abortion
and the right to sodomy.
Once you ignore the natural rights of man,
and replace them with their opposites,
then anything is possible.

And this new regulation is living proof.

I know some of you may be very angry with me right now,
but I cannot be silence.
As Pope Benedict, again, just this last Thursday, told us:
“…[I]t is imperative
that the entire Catholic community in the United States
come to realize the grave threats
to the Church’s public moral witness
presented by a radical secularism
which finds increasing expression in the political …spheres…
Of particular concern are …attempts being made
to limit …the freedom of religion.….
[and] to deny the right of conscientious objection…”

I am also sure that some of you aren’t agree with me, but at the government.
But at the same time you may feel helpless.

But you can’t think that way.
Because there are many ways we can effect change:
we can exercise our first amendment rights
of free speech to tell to our neighbors
the truth about what’s going on.
And tomorrow, 10s, even 100s of thousands
will gather on the Mall in Washington at the March for Life,
exercising our 1st amendment rights to
“peaceably …assemble, and to petition the Government
for a redress of grievances.”
And in November we can exercise our right to vote
to elect congressmen and senators and a president
who will defend our God given rights.

We can never give up hope.
In today’s first reading we read how even
the depraved ancient city of Nineveh
repented and reformed when confronted by the prophet Jonah.
And as Jesus says elsewhere: “but you have one greater that Jonah here.”

We do have one greater than Jonah: we have Jesus himself.
And by the grace of Jesus Christ our country can change.
And like the apostles Peter, Andrew, John, and James,
Jesus calls out to us today to help him bring that change about.
He says “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
He calls us to join him as he casts his net to draw all hearts and minds
from the dark confusion of the sea of lies,
into the light of His truth.

This week, as we remember Roe/Wade and that dark day exactly 39 years ago
let us also remember that by the grace of Jesus Christ,
oppression and lies can be overcome by truth and faith.
And let us freely accept the call of our Catholic religion,
boldly defending the unborn and their mothers,
and the freedom to worship the God who gives us
the right to life,
and all the other wonderful rights that flow from it.

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2012

Sermon on Religious Freedom

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
-Jonah 3: 10

Today’s first reading from the Book of Jonah concerning the conversion of Nineveh is especially appropriate on this Sunday, January 22, which is the 39th anniversary of an event that radically transformed this country, the decision of the Supreme Court that for the first time legalized the killing of the unborn in this country as a whole. Like Nineveh, which was judged by God to be a wicked city, our society has taken the path of evil in the sight of God, and we too are in desperate need of conversion. As with Jonah, the prophetic voice of the church has been enlisted by God to preach an unpopular message, that the killing must stop and the country must undergo of a deep conversion of heart and soul. But the response of American society has not yet been the positive response that Jonah received from that ancient pagan nation, who undertook penance for their sins and actually turned from their evil ways. But hopefully we are making some progress, as the polls tell us that more and more Americans are turning against abortion to one degree or another.

Unfortunately, this is not true for the powers that be, and the Catholic Church is facing a most determined adversary in the US government officials who do the work of the abortion/birth control industry, with the latest assault coming from the Department of Health and Human Services. Friday HHS has formally issued a new regulation that directly attacks the religious liberty of religious institutions and individuals. This new threat was addressed at the US Bishops’ annual meeting last November, and they issued a strong condemnation of the then proposed regulations, now confirmed regulations, connected with what has been called Obama-care, regulations that would force religious institutions to provide health insurance that gives free coverage for benefits opposed to Catholic teaching on the natural law. HHS has now notified the Church, on this weekend of her protest against abortion, surely no accident in that intimidating timing, that many if not most of her religious institutions must fund insurance plans for their employees that cover sterilization procedures, birth control pills, and morning-after pills that can act as an abortifacient. Planned Parenthood and the whole pro-abortion family planning world is in jubilation. Their dream to force the Catholic Church to fund birth control is now in place, and there is no reason by the logic of this rule why they will not take the next step and force her to fund abortions.

While the new regulations do have a religious exemption clause, it is written so deliberately narrow that it would not cover most Catholic institutions, like Catholic hospitals, universities, high schools and grade schools, Catholic Charities, etc. The logic of the HHS regulation is that because these kinds of institutions serve a broader purpose than simply religious instruction or worship, and because they serve a broader public than Catholics alone, they will not qualify for the exemption. Indeed, The pro-abortion / pro birth control lobbies, like NOW, the National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood and others, as well as the drug companies that make billions on birth control, are already pressuring the government to allow no exceptions whatsoever.

The Catholic Church cannot yield to this violation of her own institutional religious liberty and to the violation of the consciences of her faithful, those millions of Catholics who still remain faithful to her dogmatic and moral teachings. Thus, the most serious confrontation between church and state in the history of this country is about to unfold. Archbishop Dolan, President of the Bishops Conference, yesterday, in obvious dismay at this in-your-face announcement just before the March For Life on Monday, warned that “The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand.”

The bishops were generally in favor of a national health care bill until the bill was passed without a key amendment guaranteeing the religious liberty of the Church’s institutions. Since passage, which they opposed due to the lack of that freedom amendment, have been in favor simply of amending the bill as it stands to provide that exemption. Now the most pro-abortion administration in our history has responded with this in-your-face radical regulation that denies the broad exemption and would thus force the Church to provide coverage, as of this coming August, for these immoral procedures for most of her employees. And who can doubt that coverage of abortion procedures will not be far behind if the administration gets away with this attack on religious liberty?

We Catholics have been peaceful opponents of the laws that have enabled the destruction of 50 million human lives over these 39 years, according to the pro-abortion lobby’s own data. We have been peaceful opponents even when we have seen our taxes used by our government to promote abortion in our foreign aid programs, something that has grown under Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State. Now another governmental department would take away our religious freedom and freedom of conscience to advance the most radical increase of government intrusion into the affairs of religious institutions ever.

Birth control pills and sterilizations, were never, until now, considered a matter of health care, anymore than purely cosmetic operations. Yet some insurance plans are already arbitrarily designating the former as such under the pressure from the government and organizations like Planned Parenthood. And now the present government, much to the delight of the most radical anti-population and pro-abortion groups, and to be sure the drug companies who make billions from the sale of these prescription pills, is flouting the constitutional guarantees of religious liberty by these new regulations forcing Catholic institutions to violate their moral principles, drop their insurance plans or go out of business.

Surely this will end up in the courts, and we have reason, I think, I hope that it will be overturned. But the struggle will not end there. This is a determined enemy, hostile to the Catholic Church’s moral teaching, and they will if possible change the Court itself to force this on the Church. That is when the confrontation would reach its utmost and you may well see bishops and priests and laity going to prison in a country that has prided itself on its religious tolerance and religious liberty. But these foes have no tolerance, especially for the Catholic Church and her moral teaching, and they will not readily end their assaults on her liberty, until they are forced to do so.

Thus, Catholics who value their religious liberty must get involved and pray and take action in our various ways and capacities to overturn this unprecedented anti-religious regulation, certainly an immediate and hopefully an achievable goal. Likewise, we must work even harder to convert our country to recognize the humanity of the unborn child before it’s too late, and the country becomes hopelessly divided as it was in the days of slavery. Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, cried out Jonah to the ancient pagans of Nineveh. We hopefully have more time than that, but one thing is certain, if this country is not eventually turned around regarding the protection of innocent human life in the womb, it simply will not survive as we have known it. You cannot forever flout the God of Love and Life. For He is also the God of Justice.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

January 15, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Well, Christmas and Advent are over.
For most of you it means things like
putting away the decorations,
and going back to being grumpy.
But to priests it has a particularly unique meaning:
it means that when we stand up here on Sundays
we see a whole lot fewer people sitting in front of us,
at least until Easter.

And so I’d like to take a moment to consider the question:
why is it that so many Catholics don’t come to Mass every Sunday?

If you ask the Christmas & Easter Catholics,
this question you get a lot of different answers.

Some will tell you they don’t come
because the Bible doesn’t say we have to go to Mass on Sunday.
And it’s true: the 3rd commandment only says: “Keep holy the Sabbath Day.”
Can’t we keep Sunday holy some other way than going to Mass?
maybe by praying at home,
or even by going to an Evangelical Church instead?

It’s true, the requirement to go to Catholic Mass on Sunday isn’t in the Bible.
But let me tell you what is in the Bible:
today we read:
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas”
– which is translated Peter.”
Jesus Called Simon “Peter” which means “Rock
and he told him
“and on this rock I will build my church, and ….
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.”
And Peter, or rather his successors, the Popes,
have for centuries bound us to going to Mass on Sundays.
It’s not a commandment,
but it is what we call a “precept of the Church”
And it is a mortal sin to disobey it.

Still, some would say,
but why does the Church make me come to Mass every Sunday,

Well there’s lot’s of reasons.
One reason is that we need to “keep the Sabbath Holy.”
Unfortunately, if we didn’t go to Mass, most of us
wouldn’t do anything at all to keep it holy.
By requiring we go to Mass the Church causes us
to center the whole day around God,
—even though it’s only one hour
it effects all of our plans for the rest of the day.

But more importantly,
by coming together to celebrate the same Mass
celebrated by 100’s of millions of Catholics all over the world.
we remind ourselves and the world
that there is one Christ, one faith one baptism, one Church
and that this oneness, this unity, must stay with us week in and week out,
in everything aspect of our lives.

Some offer other excuses for not coming to Mass every Sunday.
They say, but I just don’t enjoy going to Mass.
To them I quote the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
“What are you looking for?”
What is it that you’re expecting to find at Mass?
Some want to be entertained with lively music or beautiful Gregorian chant,
or by a erudite or funny priest.
Some want the priest to tell them how great they are,
or to make them feel good;
or they want their fellow parishioners to be particularly welcoming,
or even to be of a certain color, or a ethnicity.
And when they don’t get what they’re looking for
they become like Samuel in today’s first reading:
they fall asleep “in the temple of the LORD.”

But when Jesus asks Andrew and John: “What are you looking for?”
all they say is
“Teacher, where are you staying?”
They’re don’t have a set of demands or expectations,
all they want is to be with the “teacher”
so he can teach them what he has to teach them.

So the Gospel continues:
“[Jesus] said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.”

You shouldn’t come here today to be entertained,
but because Jesus is here.
Yes, I know, Jesus is God, so in a certain sense he’s everywhere.
But ever since Solomon built the great Temple in Jerusalem
God has made it clear that his temple was a special place of his presence
a place he wanted his people to come to,
away from all distractions,
just to be with him, in his house.
Because he knew that wherever we go there are all sorts of things to
distract us from recognizing his presence.
And Jesus also knew this, and repeatedly went to the Temple
to be with his Father
—even though He was never really not with the father
wherever he was.
Remember how the Gospels tell us
“he was filled with zeal for his Father’s house”
as He drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip?

And we come here and to other Catholic Churches on Sunday
because Jesus is here, like he is no where else.
He’s here in His People gathered as his Body, as St Paul tells us today.
And He’s here especially in His Word proclaimed in the Gospels
and in the preaching of the priest.
And so you come here listen to him, as Andrew and John did.
You come here to the temple, like Samuel when he finally wakes up, to say:
“Speak, [Lord,] your servant is listening.”

Sometimes people tell me,
but Father, the homilies are too complicated or too long
or simply useless and boring.
But in all the rambling of your priests is it not possible
to recognize something of the echo of the voice of God.

And even if you can’t hear Jesus in what I say,
or in the assembly of the Churcn
hear him in his own words in the Gospel, as it says:
“He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw ….and …stayed with him.

Hear him calling you to come to see him and to stay with him here.
Because here, and only here, do we see him truly present in the Eucharist.
“This is my body” Jesus said at the last Supper.
His body is in the tabernacle, right now.
And the bread on the altar will soon truly become his body.
Here and only here at Holy Mass can we truly say
–as the Gospel begins today, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
as he offers himself as the Lamb of sacrifice for our sins.
“‘Come and see’….So they went and saw.”

Finally, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a 1000 times:
Father, I just don’t get anything out of Mass.
Let’s think about that: I don’t GET ANYTHING out of Mass.
Again, I have to ask: “What are you looking for?”
Because you see, it’s not about us, it’s about Jesus.
And it’s not about what the priest or choir or the congregation give us,
but what we give to Jesus
and what he gives to us.

In a few minutes I’ll say to you:
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”
and you’ll respond: “it is right and just.”
This is what we come here to do:
to give God thanks!
We drag our lazy bodies out of bed or off the couch,
and sit and stand and kneel and bow and sing and pray out loud
in order, as St. Paul says, to: “glorify God in your body.”
And we come, as the psalm says today,
to sing “a new song…a hymn to our God”;
to “announce his justice in the vast assembly…”
And it is “right and just” to do so.

But that’s not all we come to give.
I’ll also say to you:
“Lift up your hearts to the Lord”
and you’ll respond: “We lift them up to the Lord.”
Have you ever stopped to think about what you’re saying here.
A lot of people think this is simply an expression of joy
—our hearts are lifted up.
But that’s not at all what we mean.

In the Old Testament, the highest form of worship
was the ritual sacrifice of an animal or grain.
But these sacrifices were primarily symbolic
of the sacrifice of the person:
you gave the life of the animal to God
to symbolize that you were giving your own life
completely and totally to God.

Unfortunately, over time people started just going through the motions:
offering the animal or bread as if that would placate God.
But God rebuked them in the psalms:
“Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”
And even as He continued to require ritual sacrifices
he taught Israel that he wanted their sacrifices to mean something
—he wanted them to give themselves,
to love him with all their hearts!
So we read in today’s psalm :
“Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
…and your law is within my heart!”

So today our sacrifice of bread and wine,
is meaningless if it doesn’t truly represents a gift of ourselves to God,
unless we lift up not bread and wine
but “Lift up our hearts to the Lord.”
And we lift up our hearts not by simply saying so
but by uniting ourselves, and conforming our hearts,
to Christ and his teaching, and to his Church.

Still, the gift of ourselves is very small thing,
and not very much to offer God
in thanks for the many gifts he has given us.
And so Jesus, in his infinite love for us,
takes our tiny gift and unites it to his own.
He perfects our thanksgiving by joining it with his thanksgiving,
and transforms our symbolic gifts of bread and wine
into the sacrifice the Lamb of God,
his very own body and blood in the Eucharist.
And then he unites us to himself as gives himself to us in Holy Communion.

This is amazing!
Where else could you find anything like this?
How could we think even the most entertaining choir,
the most welcoming congregation,
or even the most moving preacher could even touch this?
Much less, praying at home, or, God forbid, going to a soccer game?

I realize I’m sort of preaching to the choir today,
and I hope I haven’t put you all to sleep like Samuel (in the Temple).
But I also hope that in something I’ve said today
you’ve heard an echo of the voice of God calling out to you.
And as you leave here today I pray
that just as Andrew went to Peter
you will go to your own brothers and sister
and bring them back with you next Sunday
to this holy temple
to stay with the Lord for an hour or so,
to be united with His Church,
to listen His word,
and to lift up their very hearts to Him,
and to be transformed by the grace of the Most Holy Sacrifice Mass.

Ask them: “What are you looking for?”
And promise them: “Come, and you will see.”